Zarephath Riesling 2012

I don’t think there’s a more quietly spectacular vineyard site in Porongurup than Zarephath’s. As one travels north on Chester Pass Road, most producers sit to the left on Mount Barker Porongurup Road. Turn right, though, and the road slips from bitumen to dirt, trees slowly becoming more ancient and stressed, tiger snakes winding their way over land that bears little of the stamp of human ownership. The Zarephath vineyard, then, seems placed in some sort of paradise, its small blocks carving a luscious oasis in amongst red dirt, granite and gnarled tree trunks.

None of which, of course, means the wine is any good, but it provided a lovely setting for my first encounter with this producer and perhaps played some role in my purchase of this bottle from cellar door. I remember a distinctive lime sherbet note when I tasted it, a flavour sufficiently appealing to make me want to spend a bit more time with it.

On extended tasting, first impressions are validated, as this is a delicious Riesling style. The nose is very expressive, with florals, lime rind, a hint of toast and a general impression of good times. It’s slightly louche, and I like that its flavours are so eager to please that they tend to jostle with each other a bit. So not the most refined aroma, but with great freshness and vibrancy nonetheless.

The palate is similarly robust, with that firm lime sherbet flavour the dominant note. I suspect there’s some residual sugar in here, which builds some flesh into the mid-palate and works as a positive foil to bubbly acid and phenolics. Again, not super fine, but in its way this shows impeccable balance and, more than many more intellectual Rieslings, is simply delicious drinking. The winemaking — by Rob Diletti at Castle Rock — seems top notch and the wine generous to a fault without being in any way too broad or lacking in definition.

It seems hard to make a bad Riesling in Great Southern; this is a particularly thirst-quenching one.

Zarephath Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2012

Taste through a region and its strengths become abundantly clear. Although many producers’ portfolios in Australia can lack focus and muddy the waters on paper, some variety and region combinations jump out with a bit of exploration. After a few days in Great Southern, it’s blindingly obvious to me that Riesling finds a natural home here, and I’m falling in love with the regional, and sub-regional, expressions of this variety. It’s no exaggeration to suggest I’m rediscovering the deliciousness of Riesling through these pristine, powdery, lime-infused wines.

Frankland Estate’s single vineyard Riesling portfolio is a nice crash course in Frankland River Riesling, itself subtly different from other sub-regional expressions such as that of Porongurup. I tasted all three 2012 releases at cellar door and took this one home for further examination. Grown on a strikingly chalky soil, this wine struck me as the most generous and fleshy, although this in the context of a collection of fairly austere wines.

The nose is quite expressive, though still with a bit of free sulfur, with pungent dried lime, sea spray, herbs and lemon juice notes. There’s a suggestion of something more tropical, and this edge gives the wine a fuller aroma profile than its siblings, but this thicker influence sits very much on the sidelines, more a faint imprint than something truly legible.

One expects a good dose of acid in these wines and I’m not disappointed here, though more important than quantity is character. The acid here isn’t ultra-fine; rather, it bubbles along close to the surface, pushing intense lime and herb flavours along the tongue briskly. There are savoury edges to the flavour profile, and I like the touch of mid-palate flesh that emerges before disappearing again in a cloud of torn herbs and firm texture, the latter less chalky and drying than in the other two wines.

More than anything, this is a delicious wine that, as I have discovered while tasting, pairs easily with food both savoury (green curry) and sweet (custard). I’ll have a few of these, thanks.

Frankland Estate
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2012

Given the dominance of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in Australia, it’s a brave producer who attempts something truly different. With this label, Mitchell Harris offers a true alternative to the floridly aromatic Kiwi style. Winemaking includes wild yeasts and oak maturation. The end result is a restrained, elegant Sauvignon Blanc.

The aroma shows hints of varietal character in the form of light gooseberry and nettle. The dominant aroma is a sort of slatey understatement, like a blanket of minerality under which fruit is bound. Mostly, though, it’s notable for how quiet it is, preferring to slowly release aromas than throw them in your face. Like a slow strip tease.

And as one might imagine of a stripper, there’s luridness too, with Sauvignon Blanc’s neon-and-fake-tan flavours very much present. Yet even in the mouth, it’s a slow burn of a wine, very fresh, but more sea spray than fruit juice; the varietal’s hallmark acid kicks in from mid-palate onwards. Despite the understated flavour profile, there’s actually significant intensity, and this wine shows greater persistence than one ordinarily might expect.

Sauvignon Blanc for grown ups.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A22.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Hoddles Creek 1er Pinot Blanc 2012

My rough notes on this wine contain the phrase “fruit-backward,” not something one might often observe of a young aromatic white from Australia. Which, of course, makes it a lot more interesting, especially as it’s clearly a wine made with skill and intent. Suffice to say, one smell and my curiosity was aroused.

The aroma is dry, powdery, floral, tight and flinty. That ought to give you a fair idea of its vibe, but it’s a lot more fun than the austere descriptors might suggest. There is fruit, buried under a pretty unyielding aroma profile, and it’s pithy and high toned when it does peek out.

The palate shows really unusual tension between a fruit character I can only describe as grapey and the sort of insistent savouriness that never quite feels comfortable. The fruit gives this wine a fundamental juiciness but it keeps bouncing up against a mealiness that seems to dovetail into assertive texture, which itself seems inseparable from some pretty fierce acid. I particularly like the textural dimensions and feel they make an excellent accompaniment to food that might be too rich for other aromatic styles. Intense, driven and probably in its least interesting phase of existence.

In context, a singular style, but much more than a curio.

Hoddles Creek Estate
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Eldridge Estate PTG 2012

Language is rarely as tortured as it can be in the hands of wine enthusiasts. I suppose this happens in any field, but one of the more interesting features of language in wine appreciation is the evolution of subtext. Drinkability is a particularly interesting word in this regard; for me, to describe a wine as highly drinkable is an entirely positive thing. And yet drinkability is often code for a simple quaffer, something not worth much thought or respect. As if good wines are somehow above being drunk.

So when I suggest Eldridge Estate’s latest PTG is outrageously drinkable, please take a moment to erase all subtextual baggage. I mean drinkable in the most positive, forthright way — this is a wine that fairly leaps down the throat.

And not because it’s simple or dumbed down, either. Here, drinkability is a matter of style. As you can probably infer from the age of it, this is released as a young wine and, to my palate, is designed to be drunk fresh. There’s an acid sourness to the wine that may sound like a negative but which, in fact, is the key to its moreishness. Flavours are bold, with prickly herbs and spice, bright red fruit, some meaty depth. Tannins are loose knit and well managed. So it’s not subtle, but who wants subtlety in a wine like this? No, this is about vitality and verve and, most of all, food.

Quite a brilliant early drinking red style and, on the strength of this, something other Mornington makers may well wish to consider.

Eldridge Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Lowe Tinja Preservative Free White 2012

One becomes so jaded. As soon as I saw this wine’s label, I immediately assumed its preservative free status was some kind of spin, a claim at natural wine status perhaps, or a cynical attempt at niche marketing. Shame on me — it turns out the winemaker is himself sensitive to sulfur dioxide and makes this wine for those similarly afflicted. As someone who erupts into fits of coughing when faced with too much sulfur, that’s an intent I can relate to.

The wine itself is a blend of Chardonnay and Verdelho. It’s quite low in alcohol (10% ABV) and shows considerable spritz when poured. Although ostensibly a still table wine, the dissolved carbon dioxide exerts a significant influence over the experience of this wine, its nose prickling with savouriness and its palate enlivening the tongue even if it doesn’t exactly flood the tastebuds with flavour. The overall impression is one of neutral freshness and crisp acid. Crucially with a wine such as this, there are no faults, but nor is there much personality.

It seems the purpose of this wine is simply to provide fresh, easy drinking to those with an aversion to sulfur dioxide. In this it succeeds admirably.

Lowe Wines
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2012

Dowie Doole is, somewhat daringly, a Chenin Blanc specialist when it comes to white wines. This isn’t entirely without precedent in the McLaren Vale, but remains unusual by any measure. This label, the standard Chenin, has evolved over the past few vintages to the point where it far outstrips its price tag in quality terms. Each year seems to bring greater nuance, more complexity, tighter stylistic focus; the current release continues this line.

It can be hard to know what to expect from Chenin, so divergent are the styles that can be crafted from this fickle, homesick grape. Dowie Doole takes its inspiration from Loire models, emphasising the varietal’s tension between apple fruit and nervy, mineral acid. Hence, although the nose promises some lusciousness of character, there’s an underlying savouriness, quite prickly and vivacious, that, for me, is the true feature of this wine. The aroma profile moves between apple flesh, the barest hint of tropical fruit, and the smell of rain on hot rocks. Unsettling and beautiful.

The palate delivers what the aroma suggests; a deceptively fruit-forward entry gives way to a much more complex, sweet-savoury middle palate, supported by deliciously vibrant acidity. I’d love to think Sauvignon Blanc is a gateway drug to this sort of wine, something equally refreshing but with an altogether more unusual flavour profile. The after palate sings with savouriness and apple skins, before a clean, fresh finish enlivens the mouth.

I can’t quite believe this is only $16 retail. It would be value at twice the price and strikes me as the best Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc (excluding the fascinating Tintookie wines) I’ve yet tasted.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample