Woodlands Margaret 2011

A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 14% Malbec.

This, like the 2011 Cullen Kevin John I wrote about yesterday, changed a lot over the course of my time with it. Unlike the Chardonnay, however, its evolution was entirely positive.

At first, I thought I might have wasted the $45 this cost me, as the wine I poured bore little resemblance to the deliciousness I had tasted at cellar door and on which basis I made my purchase. Masses of bright, sweet fruit — varietal enough but completely overwhelming — shot off in one direction while oak and structure scurried away separately, like friends who have just fallen out over who might be the prettiest of all. Hanging over the whole, like a toxic cloud, that unpleasant, faintly doughy malolactic fermentation smell, hammering one last nail into the coffin of a wine I was ready to write off as an unfortunate product of its warm vintage.

But what a dramatic difference on day two. After a bit of time and air, savouriness returns to this wine with a smack, and with it vastly improved integration of its elements. No doughy smells, either; indeed, this is squeaky clean. With a diminution of fruit volume, the wine’s elegance steps forward, a dusty note overlaying fresh mulberry fruit and snapped twig on the nose, brown spices and oak making a contribution, perhaps not quite as connected as they might be with more time, but nonetheless still very much part of the wine. The palate is medium bodied and, despite generous fruit, elegant, with abundant, fine tannins setting over the after palate and firm acid throughout. I was dissatisfied with the 2007 vintage due to its, for my taste, perversely light weight; the 2011 seems a more balanced wine in this regard.

I do feel this has been released very early and, hopefully, with a bit more time in bottle it will present better on opening. As it is now, be sure to give it plenty of air before any serious contemplation.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2011

Ideally, a wine will grow in the glass, evolving through an evening as it reveals new facets of itself. I liken it to a conversation that might meander over time, becoming deeper and richer as it goes. What’s not so pleasant is the ranconteur who seems fascinating at first, so full of delights, yet gradually reveals himself a bore, or otherwise disappointingly imperfect.

I tasted this wine at cellar door recently, then stayed with a glass over lunch and watched it develop. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but over the course of an hour or so, it became less fine, showing a broadness of fruit that went against a set of aromas suggestive of something altogether more taut.

The aroma profile shows a smokey influence, with hints of sulfide complexity and bright fruit. There’s also a background nuttiness. It’s not overly expressive but is complex enough to draw one in.

In the mouth, powerful and initially linear; flavours of citrus flesh, white stonefruit and oatmeal, with a decent amount of oak input. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and is redeemed somewhat by an after palate that is satisfyingly chalky. The issue is one of balance and, to be fair, one of taste too. The fruit’s countenance is generous and there’s a lot of it, such that it constantly threatens to overwhelm the wine’s structure and winemaking artifice. Temperature has a great effect here, the wine seeming less shapely as it warms.

While tasting recently in Margaret River, I saw a few 2011 whites that were quite broad, perhaps reflecting what was a warm growing season. This, then, shows admirable transparency to vintage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of fuller Chardonnay styles will find much to enjoy here. In the end, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Price: $A25 per glass (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Dodgy Brothers Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2011

There was a curious chap at the Geddes winery during vintage. Canadian, intense, always tending his myriad ferments, some of which were as small as a few hundred kilos. We had some good chats about yeasts and aroma compounds, and he taught me some neat cellar skills. Turns out this fellow is Wes Pearson, sensory analyst at the AWRI and the winemaking third of Dodgy Brothers Wines.

Before I get to the wine, let us pause for a moment to reflect on its packaging. I’ve seen a few tricks over the years to try and make labels more appealing, but never have I seen one applied upside-down, a design quirk which is carried through to the Dodgy Brothers Web site too. The whole is remarkably effective, helped in part by what is, on closer inspection, stock and printing of very high quality.

“Liberators of Fine Fruit” declares the label, and I suppose that’s a neat way of describing the approach taken here. Those endless parcels of fruit, from some well-regarded vineyards across McLaren Vale, come together in bottlings like this, a GSM blend from the oft-vilified 2011 vintage. Theoretically, cherry picking vineyards is one way to deal with a difficult vintage, so I’m curious to see what the Dodgy Brothers have managed to do here.

It’s certainly a lighter style, 15.5% ABV notwithstanding, and very expressive aromatically. Grenache is at the fore with pretty red fruits and delicate florals. Richer, meatier notes back this up along with a decent whack of oak. I like the way this smells; it has good freshness and definition, and doesn’t show any green or weedy notes. Placed up against a wine of a warmer vintage, it would no doubt look less dense, but that’s neither here nor there.

The palate is of medium weight and shows good continuity from the nose. Squeaky clean red fruits, snapped twig, dark chocolate and savoury dark berries. It’s not massively complex at this stage, and structurally it’s pretty easygoing, but its flavours are delicious and balanced. Alcohol gives a gloss to mouthfeel and perhaps adds to an impression of sweetness at the cost of slight heat through the finish.

Nice wine, then, and makes me curious to see what Wes has up his sleeve with his 2012s and 2013s.

Dodgy Brothers Wines
Price: $A29
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Crawford River Wines Young Vines Riesling 2011

Yesterday I travelled through the Henty region and called on two producers, Crawford River Wines and Hochkirch. Henty is a mystery to me. Vast, remote, few wineries and even fewer cellar doors, it isn’t a region that invites visitors. Rather, it almost dares one to try and locate its styles, to make sense of the boundaries that define it. I’m not sure I know Henty any better after visiting, but amongst endless farmland, from vineyards that appear like a shock, I found some remarkable wines.

Crawford River Wines is arguably the region’s most famous producer (discounting Seppelt’s presence in the form of the Drumborg Vineyard). Although it produces some lovely red wines, this is a winery defined by its whites, and in particular its Riesling. The vines used for this label aren’t terribly young now (over ten years of age, if I recall) but it is still produced as a separate bottling. I was fortunate to be helped at cellar door by Belinda Thomson, who is surely one of the more self-possessed and enthusiastic young vignerons I’ve met.

A wine of contrasts, this suggests delicacy and finesse before presenting a fullness of fruit that comes as a surprise. The nose is pretty, edging towards flowers rather than juice, soft rather than etched. It’s expressive and generous, but always careful, never even hinting at vulgarity.

The palate carries through with soft, pastel fruit on entry, filling the mouth without heaviness, and moving through a shapely palate structure. Although I can sometimes enjoy a wine with a boisterous structure, this wine is underpinned by ultra-fine acid, firm yet texturally detailed and chalky through the finish. It retains the prettiness of form seen on the nose without sacrificing length, expressiveness or flavour.

There are plenty of great Rieslings in Australia, yet I can’t help but admire one more that, like its region and maker perhaps, is determinedly its own creation.

Crawford River Wines
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Cellar door

Freycinet Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

I’m in Tasmania at the moment, enjoying as many local wines as I can. My hosts have arranged a big Pinot lineup tonight, but I’ve already sampled a couple, including this one from the east coast. In browsing the Freycinet Vineyard Web site, I was intrigued to see the winemaking notes indicate this, the winery’s premium Pinot, went through its primary fermentation in a rotary fermenter. Refreshingly new world.

To the wine itself, good varietal character on the nose, showing a prettiness of fruit alongside significant spice and forest floor. Getting those balances right is an obvious challenge but it’s amazing how often wines can seem slightly off in the interplay of these basic elements. This, by contrast, seems to elegantly move from bright fruit to black spice to sappy notes and back.

The palate, for now, is quite acidic and this overwhelms one’s impression of flavour a bit. There’s good flavour there, though, with reasonably intense red fruit and sap, backed up by spiced oak. Tannins take a back seat to acid, structurally, but they are prickly and textural when they make an appearance towards the back of the palate. Should the acid fold back into the wine, this may become a really elegant wine. The flavours are spot on.

Freycinet Vineyard
Price: $55
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Lake’s Folly Hill Block Chardonnay 2011

After a fun day of work at Lake’s Folly, on the spur of the moment we opened all four of the Estate’s Chardonnays from 2011 and 2012. I took this one home for further, leisurely tasting with dinner.

It must have been interesting and somewhat daunting to contemplate introducing a new Chardonnay into the Lake’s Folly range, given the renown the traditional label has accumulated over the years. The only thing that would make sense is a different expression of the vineyard, a wine that says something new but that remains fundamentally connected to the Estate. It seems to me that’s what this wine represents and, while it’s a delicious wine in its own right, it becomes even more interesting in context.

While the traditional label is linear and powerful, with an emphasis on length and drive, this tilts the balance towards complexity of flavour. Clearly, there’s more input from the winemaker here, and the range of notes in the aroma profile is noticeably wider, the flavours themselves more opulent in tone. There’s a edge to this wine too, flavour-wise, that takes it into much funkier territory, with hints of leesy cheese and general savouriness. Despite this — and comparative tasting draws this out — this remains highly identifiable as Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, with the same purity of fruit and relative restraint.

The palate is both rounded and quite textural, and its delicate raspiness accelerates through the back palate where a lovely twist of herbal, gin-and-tonic bitterness cleanses the palate. In form, the wine is quite up-front, with less overt drive through the after palate than the regular wine. Acid is fresh and firm, and the palate structure is never less than shapely.

Given the task at hand, an excellent performance and a new insight into an historic vineyard.

Note: I’m currently assisting the winery during the 2013 vintage.

Lake’s Folly
Price: $70
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Tesco Finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011

Marketed as part of Tesco’s Finest range, this sits at the upper end of what I’ve seen on the supermarket shelves here in the UK. The embossed bottle certainly looks the part, although for some (no doubt parochial on my part) reason it remains disconcerting to see supermarket own-brand wines. This was in fact produced by Les Vins Skalli.

The nose is quite pretty, showing clean red fruits, edging towards but not becoming confected in character, along with a bit of darker spice and even a hint of meatiness. It is very fresh smelling and well balanced, but lacks the sort of richness one might expect.

The palate highlights this wine’s lack of stuffing. There are more clean red fruits, a bit simple, surrounded by a framework of spice and vegetation. Palate weight is light to medium bodied, and the wine seems to lack texture, gliding across the tongue and not seeing fit to leave much of a trace either in mouthfeel or indeed persistence of flavour. What’s here is clean and correct, there’s just not enough of it.

Tesco Finest (but really Les Vins Skalli)
Price: £14.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mitchell Harris Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2011

There’s all sorts of chatter about 2011 in certain parts of Australia. There’s no doubt some good wines have emerged out of challenging conditions, but it’s equally true that some wines show the difficulties of the vintage. As a drinker, I’m sometimes interested in tasting the latter wines, because they are instructive and, at their best, can be differently enjoyable from those made in better years.

This wine, from boutique Victorian producer Mitchell Harris, shows a clean simplicity that, while ruling it out of contention as a wine worthy of extended contemplation, indicates a genuine and skilful attempt to make the most of the season’s challenges. On the nose, a meaty, peppery, nougat-like, red fruited aroma profile, which expresses as a series of loosely connected smells rather than something seamless and integrated. There’s a sharpness to the pepper note that I quite like, but the whole lacks definition and a coherent narrative.

In the mouth, a burst of red fruits, somewhat confected in character, along with more meat and leafy greens. It’s not especially intense, and it lacks a bit in texture. Its attractive flavours seem in search of a structure through which to express themselves, and this relative lack of form makes the wine drink as more of a quaffer than something especially demanding.

John Harris is a highly skilled winemaker, and expectations of this producer are high. In absolute terms, this wine may disappoint, but to craft something simple and attractive from a difficult year isn’t something to take for granted, and I look forward to subsequent vintages of this wine so I can better understand what Mitchell Harris is aiming for with this label.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A26.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen 2011

I picked this up at my local Dan Murphy while shopping for cheap stemware. Of course, I wasn’t going to buy any wine, so I choose to see the two table wines and two fortifieds I inevitably ended up purchasing as a nice and well-deserved gift to me.

This Grüner is varietal if nothing else. Masses of white pepper is the first impression on the nose, backed up by slightly dull citrus flesh and some decaying florals. I wouldn’t call it the sharpest aroma profile, and I am left wanting a bit more freshness, but it’s rich and characterful nonetheless. The nicest thing about the aroma is its dimensionality – the aromas seem to traverse a full spectrum of frequencies from low to high.

The palate shows good weight and richness while carrying the aroma’s suggested flavours through without skipping a beat. I especially like a touch of phenolic grip on the after palate and a lightly sandpaper-like texture. Structurally, this is reasonably well supported without being too edgy. A bit of extra acid wouldn’t go astray, really, and might add freshness to a flavour profile that, like the aroma, tends towards the dull. It improves in the glass, gaining layers of subtlety with air. The finish is clean and dry.

I suppose this delivers a decent hit of Grüner but, in some ways, it only hints at what’s possible.

Domäne Wachau
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Oakvale Limited Release Reserve Chardonnay 2011

Consider this note an alert to lovers of old school Hunter Chardonnay, for what we have here is a proudly rich wine of the sort that has become quite outmoded but for which, I suspect, many have affection. I include myself in that group.

Immediately the aroma signals this wine’s stylistic bent. The two main influences here are ripe nectarine and oak. There’s a range of flavours positioned alongside these core notes, but the wine keeps coming back to luscious, sweet, undeniably oak-rich aromas. Interestingly, the edges are most alluring; there are hints of herb, mandarin peel, spice and more.

The palate is predictably lush and mouthfilling. In particular, the wine’s slippery, almost gooey texture stands out for its total lack of edges. This is a wine that places no barriers between itself and your stomach. Flavours are again centered on ripe stonefruit and oak, with a collection of subdued complexities crowding around the edges. The overall effect is quite sweet. Despite its silicone mouthfeel, there’s plenty of acid to prop up the palate, though I wish it exerted more influence on the wine’s texture to give it a sense of light and shade. As it is, a fairly single minded experience.

No great finesse or detail here, but it carries an undeniable hit of Chardonnay flavour.

Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample