With so many producers in Australia ostensibly chasing Chablis-esque expressions of Chardonnay, it’s refreshing to go back to the source. Although a tight, linear wine, this is far from lacking in fruit and provides a nice lesson in what makes Chablis such a refreshing style.
The nose shows some free sulfur at first; as this blows off, sulfide characters and floral aromatics dominate, anchored by bassier notes of white peach. High and low, then, with a definite fleshiness on the aroma, promising a taut but generous palate. There’s a precision to the aroma that I particularly appreciate, each component dovetailing neatly as it gives way to the next. It’s cool, even slightly dispassionate, perhaps a wine for a particularly analytical mood.
The palate is linear and quite steely, with an initially dominant saline note that gives way to fruit, herbs and flowers. There’s a subtle thread of much riper fruit, almost raisin-like in character, that is unexpected. I like the weight and flesh this gives, but the flavour itself is one I question. A keen thrust of acid drives the wine fairly hard, with chalky texture descending on the after palate. This is all precisely put together, the flavours varied, structure fresh and texture just so.
I have a slight obsession with still Pinot Meunier. I try to taste every example I can, which isn’t hard as I’m only aware of a couple of producers in Australia who pursue this Pinot Noir mutation as a single varietal. Best’s has two in its range, one from young vines and this, from some of the oldest Pinot Meunier vines known to exist (planted in 1869). I think part of my fascination comes from the knowledge that many legendary Great Western table wines had a significant amount of Pinot Meunier in them, and yet today the variety has almost disappeared from the table.
To this bottling, then. The aroma is expressive and sweetly-fruited, with caramel-edged red berries sitting underneath mixed spice and a herbal twang. There’s a lot going on aromatically, though its profile tends towards ease and approachability rather than density or forbidding seriousness. Layers keep building in the glass, with a fresh sappiness adding vitality as well as a savoury edge.
The palate is similarly approachable and shows tension between sweet, cuddly fruit and a spiced, sappy edge. Structurally the wine is more driven by acid than tannin, neither of which, however, are especially strident. Consequently, the wine is allowed to swell on the mid-palate, and its fruit really shines at this point. The after palate and finish are more savoury and spiced, and what tannins there are descend on the finish, adding textural interest as well as a nice, dry end to the wine’s line.
This wine flips between ease and angularity, fun and seriousness. I can’t quite figure it out, yet at the same time am enjoying it tremendously.
One of the more interesting recent wine initiatives is McLaren Vale’s Scarce Earth project, a region-wide effort to systematically highlight the character of specific plots within the region. It’s also a clever marketing idea, rebranding the Vale in a somewhat Burgundian mould; very much on trend.
This wine, from producer Dowie Doole, is drawn from the 74 Block of the California Road vineyard. Dowie Doole already releases a single vineyard California Road bottling, so this wine reprensents an even more specific look at a certain patch of McLaren Vale dirt. What’s immediately striking about the aroma is its savouriness. This smells of dirt roads, red fruits, vanilla and brown spice. It’s sinewy and adult and, in its refusal to yield to comfort, strikes me as somewhat Italianate. There’s oak here, and it plays an important part in the wine’s aroma, but it never smoothes over the fruit’s natural rusticity, so enhances rather than subverts its savouriness.
The palate is medium bodied and expressive, lobbing acid texture onto the tongue from entry onwards. Fruit swells a little on the middle palate, though the wine’s acid remains firm. There’s a lot of flavours here, from plum skins to spice by way of some leaf and snapped twig. The wine keeps coming back to a light, juicy berry note, which anchors the flavour profile and allows it to explore its earthier inclinations. Dusty tannins dry the finish. There’s something anti-fashion about the way this tastes; it eschews anything remotely slick-tasting and revels in its angles, textures and moderate weight.
An idiosyncratic wine, perhaps inevitably so given its conceptual origins. I think it will benefit from a bit of time in bottle, as it remains edgy, structurally. I love its character, though, and it’s wonderful to find an expression of McLaren Vale Shiraz that is so joyously old-fashioned. This is a fantasy version of your grandfather’s McLaren Vale dry red and, to one of our most historic wine regions, I can’t pay a higher compliment.
The other day, I found myself expressing the view that above all else, a wine should be delicious. Yet, tasting this wine, I feel that delicious flavours aren’t enough. There needs to be a sense of composition, a narrative, something overarching within which a wine’s flavours can be situated.
There’s no doubt this wine smells delicious; its aromas are those of a heavily worked wine, with oatmeal and cream pushing past fruit notes to take a primary role. These key notes are thick and prominent, communicating richness and signalling full, generous flavours.
The palate is where this wine’s story begins to falter. Flavours are, from beginning to end, quite delicious. Alongside mealy, caramel notes there is a strikingly fresh shot of grapefruit, tingling with sharpness and precision. It’s so crystaline that it seems to wander in from another wine, one that’s altogether less broad in flavour profile. And so the wine flips between heavy and light, neither side illuminating the other so much as coexisting in an uneasy truce. Each element would be lovely in the right wine, but as a composition the whole lacks finesse and balance.
Unusually for this label, a wine that doesn’t repay too much thought. I wonder if the sharpness of its fruit will subside, which I feel would be to the wine’s advantage.
Shaw and Smith
Price: $A77 (wine list)
Some wines taste a bit wild, and I don’t use that word as a euphemism for faulty. These are the wines that leap from the glass with abandon and offer aromas that suggest the forest floor, freshly picked wildflowers and other, not-quite-tamed scents. While not always appropriate, I’ve always appreciated Pinot Noir that shows this character, and feel it can be a great red carpet to Pinot’s often heady show.
This is one such wild Pinot. The aroma offers a mix of slightly feral vegetal aromatics and fresh fruits of the forest. It’s sappy, pithy and shows sensitive oak input. The overall profile is high toned and chaotic, but for me its vibrancy outweighs any lack of composure.
The palate shows a similar flavour profile, with quite masculine, blocky fruit flavours and some forest floor. Structure is firm and attractive, acid juicy and tannins fun and a bit unpredictable in profile. Although it lacks some intensity, this is a charismatic wine in the mouth.
Not a wine of great refinement, but it is compelling and fresh and I like it a lot.
In some ways, the styling of affordable wines is just as interesting to me as the achievements of great, no-holds-barred labels. It’s a mantra nowadays that with great fruit, the wine “just makes itself;” even allowing for hyperbole, that does suggest there may be a bit more thought required to make average grapes into wine that’s both accessible and enjoyable.
One option is to make the sorts of cheerfully anonymous wines that, I admit, have their place in the industry and in many peoples’ lives. Another is this – a clearly artisanal wine from a small producer in Puligny-Montrachet that comes in at, given the context, a decent price.
The approach here is one of moderation. The fruit that went into this wine seems of modest quality – it’s too sweet-edged and simply flavoured to be truly fine. But it’s clean, and the winemaking that surrounds it has given it enough counterpoint to frame it with graceful appropriateness. The aroma mixes bright, bouncy fruit with overlays of mealiness. The fruit, at first, showed a slightly distressing pineapple character, but that has mostly blown off and settled to a still-bright but more attractive melon note. There’s no complexity to speak of, but it’s a delicate, polite aroma that knows its boundaries and works well within them.
The palate is fresh and flavoursome, with moderately intense waxed lemon fruit and oatmeal. Here again the fruit edges towards a confectionary vibe and is held in check by savouriness that seems winemaker-led. The fact that it’s not overly driven works in its favour; there’s nothing outsize about this wine, and that means its limitations as well as its strengths are modest. A nice creamy after palate leads through to a finish that is fresh and juicy, with only a hint of sweetness marring the flavour profile. Acid is fine. Serving this wine on the cool side helps to temper the fruit’s more vulgar tendencies.
Some wines seem to squander their potential; this makes the most of its humble beginnings. Nothing more than cheap Chardonnay, really, but a little marvel of styling nonetheless, and attractive for its honesty.
Domaine Alain Chavy
Earlier in the week, I hurriedly tasted the current releases of Tapanappa’s three single vineyard wines. All are worthy and exciting but I was especially drawn to this one. I have been looking forward to spending a bit more quality time with it.
I’ve had some pretty strong reactions against some Australian Chardonnays over the past few years that have seemed, to me, stylistically forced. The swing against our now-reviled broader styles perhaps inevitably went hard, and on many occasions the new wave of Chardonnays seemed to me more a matter of fashion than a deeper engagement with variety and site. Interestingly, Tapanappa’s philosophy of wine is centered on the idea of distinguished sites, sites whose terroirs perfectly marry with the grape variety to which they are planted. Not a new idea, to be sure, but one that is pursued with some purity by this producer and one that, in theory, should cut through stylistic fashion. Is there a single truth of a particular terroir and variety? I’m not sure I know the answer…
Although this falls into the category of richer, more worked wines, it has a delicacy and clarity of expression that defies its weight and complexity. The aroma is full of distinct notes, tending towards savoury and taut yet underpinned by luscious stonefruit and caramel. It’s rich and nimble at the same time, perhaps a function of its youth (and, dare I say, the screwcap closure). Oak is present in a floral, vanillan thread that weaves in and out of the fruit flavours. There’s a lot going on here.
The palate, as with the nose, is a balance of nervous vitality and muscle. Again, complex in terms of flavour profile, moving from savoury lees notes through a range of stonefruit and citrus to beautifully balanced butterscotch and caramel. The architecture of the wine is most impressive: its flavours are clear and distinct, and sit within a large scale frame that exists without heaviness. Here’s a wine that shows the full range of winemaking input without it ever overwhelming the essential qualities of its fruit. One can indeed have one’s cake and eat it too.
I have it in my mind that I’m not very fond of Cabernet Sauvignon from places like the Barossa Valley and the McLaren Vale, a notion that seems of late to be in regular friction with the truth. Indeed, I keep coming across rather tasty examples of these styles.
It’s rather a pleasant task to change one’s mind when faced with a wine like this. I’ve been loving many 2010 McLaren Vale reds that have crossed my path, and this is no exception. Yet this is more surprising than most, because it sits at a price point that is one step above an inexpensive quaffer, a position that can yield disappointingly populist styles.
There’s a striking degree of elegance to the aroma: bright fruit, angular red capsicum, varietal dust. Not at all the simple drinker I thought it might be, but never losing the ease that is a hallmark of this maker’s wines. There’s not a lick of industrial winemaking in the way this smells. I feel a direct connection to the vineyard that’s rare at any price point, let alone in a red costing $25.
The palate is beautifully weighted – not too heavy, not insubstantial, acid-driven yet with a smattering of drying tannins. The flavour profile is clear and fresh, vibrant red fruit winding around more savoury varietal notes and light touch oak. Intensity is moderate, as is density of fruit. It’s not often Cabernet tastes casual, but this does. Its trick, though, is in being all these things — drinkable, approachable, inviting — without ever being dumb. Everything in moderation seems here to add up to a most attractive wine, and I sense straightforwardness and honesty in every drop.
This isn’t a $60 wine masquerading as something cheaper, but it never uses its affordability as an excuse either. Very much a Dowie Doole wine.
An inevitable companion to the Polish Hill. I’m having an easier time with this wine and, as I imagine it was on release, this is the more accessible, friendlier style.
Sometimes, I feel that we value difficulty in wine — if it’s a bit challenging, then it must be more sophisticated, more adult. This is far from a facile wine, but its approachability does beg the question: of two lovely Rieslings, which might be better, and why? Conventional wisdom often suggests the Polish Hill’s delicacy and finesse should win, and I have some sympathy for that view. But this is just plain fun to drink, while retaining the complexity and sophistication that rewards contemplative drinking. It’s just got more meat on its bones, and more swing in its backside. Not bad things.
The aroma’s thick, slightly juicy citrus character embrace hints of bottle age where the Polish Hill’s icy figure seemed to regard them with horror. This aroma is, if not luxurious, then at least harmonious: pulpy lemon and honey, micro herbs and sunlight soap. It’s just plain fun to smell, even though I’m even more excited to revisit it again in a few years’ time.
The palate structure is beautifully balanced – a clever interplay of chalky texture, fine acid and weighty fruit. These three sides take turns on top as the wine moves down the tongue, coating the mouth with intense flavour while freshening the palate at the same time. I like the savouriness of the after palate and finish very much; it’s quite herbal and grippy. So nice to see a Riesling that celebrates texture as much as pure fruit. My only criticism is a slight heaviness at the front of the mouth, as if the lusciousness of the fruit momentarily breaks out of the wine’s structure, only to be pulled right back again.
Delicious Riesling and yet another example — as if it were required — of our great way with this grape.
Price: $35 (ish)
I never tasted this on release, which is a shame. Pure laziness; I bought some fairly quickly, but it lay dormant in wine storage until recently. Working backwards from how it tastes now, I can imagine how it was as a newborn — powdery, angular, mineral. These sides of the wine are still very much in evidence, but age is making its contribution too. The result is, shall we say, transitional.
And a little odd, too. It’s easy to relax lazily into the idea that wine ought to, and always does, taste coherent in terms of its array of flavours. This goes with that goes with this; wine as a mid-priced women’s clothing store. This wine, though, shakes me out of my stupor, because its flavours clash and produce dissonance, tension, even ugliness. Uncompromising signs of youth bump up against prickly tertiary notes that want to be softer but aren’t capable of fullness, not yet.
The palate is where this wine’s future most clearly expresses itself. After the aggressive interplay of the aroma, the palate allows darts of sweet honey to weave in and out of what remains a bright, savoury, testy flavour profile. This promise of fullness softens the hardest edges and coats them in nectar, like golden syrup on ice. One eventually bites into the ice, of course, but the sweetness lingers and its promise is tantalising. The wine’s sophisticated, chalky texture provides appropriately adult support.
I’ll try this again in two or three years’ time.
Price: $A40 (ish)