Grosset Gaia 2001

Exotic and yet strangely familiar, this wine smells of California mission figs, damp soil in a shady redwood forest, freshly-baked German plum torte, the singing acidity of just-cleaved fruit, freshly baked brownies cooling in a suburban kitchen window, and cassis. It’s so wonderfully complex that honestly? I could probably sit here smelling it for half an hour; it’s as elaborate and fluid as a Guerlain perfume.Texturally, it’s fascinating, simultaneously hard and porous, with an initial impression of hard, ripe tannin quickly changing to a soft, slippery, sensual decay of just-melted chocolate. Beyond the texture, though, is still-present, still-youthful black cherry fruit, cheerfully slipping into warmer cigar box and cedar notes, finishing softly into a long, slow dissolve into dried herbs and dark bread baked in a wood-fired oven.Ironically, it’s the sweetness here that marks this wine as distinctly what it is. If that weren’t here, it would remind me of a Loire red, given its firm tannin and wonderfully complex notes of cherry, mineral, and herbs. However, it’s that beautiful, pure Australian fruit that elevates it beyond the merely really f***ing good and into the phenomenal. There aren’t many wines that can convincingly walk the line between Old World and New; just as Ridge Monte Bello does, this wine is simultaneously everything good about the Old and the New.I would imagine there’s another five or ten years’ life left here; simultaneously, I can’t imagine this being any better than it is right now.Grosset
Price: $27
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château de Bellevue Lussac St-Emilion 2005

Ah, coincidence. It’s been an interesting month: my partner was up in the Bay Area a couple of weeks back and availed himself of one of their May specials: a half-case of Bordeaux wine at a reduced price. This week, the New York Times published an excellent article quoting Paul Grieco of Hearth – a restaurant in New York City where I’ll hopefully be drinking myself into a stupor this coming Sunday – as being “sad” that no one’s come into the restaurant and asked for a glass of Bordeaux. I get that: I own barely any Bordeaux – heck – with this recent purchase I have nearly eight bottles, I think – and generally never think to buy any. Why? Well, the price thing, yeah, but also because I’ve never had one that, you know, really transported me. The ones I’ve had have inspired no personal connection, no rhapsodic waxing, nothing. Worse yet, I’ve been watching all ten hours of Mondovino (the TV series, not the movie) this week and have cringed repeatedly at the huge châteaux and their tacky yet expensive eyeglass-wearing marketing directors, etc. etc. etc.So. Here’s a bottle of not-quite-so-young Bordeaux. Kermit Lynch imported it; it’s thirty bucks or so, apparently. What’s it like?First off, the nose isn’t at all what I was expecting. It’s lush: full, rich, darkly scented, redolent of cassis and smoked tea. There’s just a bit of black cured olives, wet clay, and rich, savory meat that reminds me of Korean barbecued ribs. It’s wonderfully complex, to be short.My first thought upon tasting it, however, was “this isn’t fully ripe.” There are definite green, herbaceous notes here that seem surprising and slightly unpleasant, especially for someone used to California, Washington, South Africa: instead of delivering a wine as rich as the smell, you instead are presented with a distinctly mean, narrow flavor profile that’s disappointing at first. The trick, however, is to stick with it: suddenly, you find yourself flashing back to taste descriptors learned in college that you never use for your home state: lead pencil, cigar box, minerality, all of those things. Most of all, though, I taste a kind of slate-y stoniness; the wine is narrow in the mouth but upon closer reflection decidedly taut, beautiful in the same way that mannish women are: you sense a tension of beauty rooted in restraint. Yes, this could have wound up in Napa territory, all plushness, sweet tannins, cloying chocolate-plum perfume: instead, it’s been artfully arrested in a way that those qualities inherent to Merlot are arrested, paradoxically making them more compelling.Tannins are noticeably present, of course, yet perfectly correct; they’re currently working beautifully with a meat pie from the South African bakery down the road. Based on the rich fruit and good acidity, I’d reckon that I opened this bottle too soon: if I were you, I’d hold this back for another decade.To sum up: yes, my generation do not drink Bordeaux… yet. The trick is I think to work through the initial disappointment of encountering a wine almost, but not quite, familiar as the stuff of Pahlmeyer and Thelema; you need to sit with this one for some time and listen carefully. The story it tells is all the more beautiful for speaking so softly. Château de Bellevue
Price: $28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Blue Poles Allouran 2007

Ever since I comprehensively fucked up my student wine earlier this year, I’ve had a fondness for Cabernet Franc. While crushing the grapes by hand, I smelled the most distinctively peppery aroma, fresh and sharp, that I recognised from wines consumed in the past but had never smelled with quite that combination of purity and deliciousness.

Pleasingly, this wine, though a Merlot-dominant blend, captures some of that distinctive Franc aroma. To my nose, the Franc component is quite evident. That mélange of of pepper and sweetly roasted red capsicum, both sharp and pretty, sits atop deeper Merlot aromas and some powdery vanilla oak. This wine smells highly integrated, so it’s a little misleading to describe it in terms of separate notes; aromas melt into one another with pleasure. Overall, there’s a fresh liveliness to this wine’s aroma that is really attractive.

The palate shows genuine elegance. A rush of dark plum fruit flavour on entry, with some high toned pepper providing some light to the fruit’s shade. The mid palate shows some nervy acidity that provides tight focus to the line. Indeed, this wine has a way to go yet before it allows itself deep relaxation. The flavours, though tending towards a slight simplicity in the plum spectrum, are very well matched and balanced. Oak character is sympathetic to the fruit and interlocks with its flavours like a lover’s hands. The after palate shows the most sucrosité of any point along the line. The finish is decent, not thinning out until the last moments of its presence on the tongue.

Nice wine, exceptional value.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Breton Bourgeuil Trinch !

Poking around the house for a low alcohol wine – I’ve got a long flight tomorrow and couldn’t deal with a 15.8% monster from the likes of Michel Rolland – I happened across this one, another Kermit Lynch import. Only 12%, biodynamic, amusing label, crappy plastic cork. Sounds fun!

Appealing soft purple – you know, for kids! – the wine’s visually stunning. On the nose, fairly typical Loire red with that tell-tale minerality, but with somewhat more fruit than I’ve come to expect. Drinking some’s a pleasure, with full, rustic tannins nicely set off by what seems to me to be riper fruit than anyone would have a right to expect at this price point. The only tip-off that this is not especially expensive is that the range of the experience of this wine is relatively narrow, staying relatively the same from the attack to the sostenuto. In short, what you have here is a wine that’s best enjoyed in a very linear, La Monte Young fashion. What you get is very, very pretty – and yet that’s all you get. Still, when the music’s this good, why complain?

Domaine Breton
Price: €8
Closure: Synthetic cork
Source: Retail

Henschke Keyneton Estate Euphonium 2006

Travel for reasons other than leisure is surely one of the loneliest pastimes. I’m currently away from home and, to relieve the tedium yesterday evening, wandered about looking for something moderately interesting to eat and drink. The idea of dining alone in a restaurant didn’t hold much appeal, so I rocked up to a local wine and cheese shop hoping for a solution. Half bottles are ideal in such situations and, fortunately, a small range was on offer, including this wine. A few minutes after spotting it, I was on my way back to the hotel, also equipt with

Swedish Hill Cabernet Franc-Lemberger 2006

Noticeably light when poured, this wine doesn’t offer up much in the way of anything to smell other than suggestions of tomato leaf. Taste-wise it’s a real dog, with unpleasant, leafy, green, underripe flavors leading to a flat, almost sour, disappointing finish; with aeration, it improves somewhat to offer up something like a synthetic cassia and wild strawberry combination, but it’s still just not quite there.Let me at least praise the winemakers’ decision to leave well enough alone and not drown this wine in residual sugar; it is decidedly dry in and could be passed off as a lesser Loire red in a pinch. However, it doesn’t strike me as possessing any sense of place or even much of a reason for existing: at sixteen bucks a bottle, this wine is redonkulously overpriced. If you’re going to spend this much on wine, might as well get two bottles of Washington lemberger instead (which tends to be much more enjoyable thanks to the warmer climate) or an actual Loire wine (which at least will probably have some minerality and perfume there as well). I really, really don’t see the point of this wine at all – at least not at this price point.Swedish Hill
Price: $16
Closure: Cork

Grosset Gaia 2001

I suppose we all come to a point in our drinking lives when we open yet another bottle of yet another respectable, well-regarded wine and shrug, jaded, resigning ourselves to yet another evening of predictable pleasure. What is to be done? Well, for starters, we train ourselves to pay more attention, to reach back into memory to remember why we’re here in the first place, what that first bottle was like, the time when the wine was the focus of everything, not the alcohol that washes away the cares of the day, not the hastily prepared food that serves as a haphazard coda to the day’s endeavors.So! This wine is getting on in years, its bouquet shot through with violets and summer strawberries and cream, edged with darker leather and tobacco. It’s as if someone spilled cassis liqueur in tobacconists with a significant overstock of paperback novels; it’s eating ice cream at a wake, it’s watching the London winter rage outside from within a greenhouse at Kew.Vibrant, acidic, with tannins that surprise quickly before fading entirely from view, I find the wine to be distinctly peppery and just a little bit simple; it’s much more an Old World model in terms of body, opting for nerve instead of plushness. Still, there’s a certain creaminess, languidly unfolding, that trails off into a finish that reminds me of unsmoked cigars you never knew your Dad smoked, but that you found poking around the basement as a child. All in all, this wine tastes like something unexpectedly retreived from memories you aren’t sure are yours to begin with, like a memory of wine drinkers past. It’s good.Grosset
Price: $28
Closure: Cork

MadFish Premium Red 2006

Tasting obscure, limited run, single vineyard wines from boutique producers is just so… obvious. Let’s face it, for those on a limited budget, much of our satisfaction must derive from more accessible wines. Quite apart from affordability, I have to admit I’m more than a little fascinated by the challenge that surely faces producers of cheap, larger volume labels. In this space, MadFish has developed an admirably positive name for itself. What, then, to make of this current release Premium Red?

Not as much as I would have liked, I’m afraid. A full nose of dusty Cabernet fruit mixed with softer, round berries. Quite fragrant, part of its personality is a good dose of green leaf, verging on astringent twig. I’m not bothered by some green notes in Cabernet, but this one verges on excessive, at least for my taste. Still, good volume. The palate confirms a borderline unripe flavour profile, although there’s also a decent amount of sweet dark berry fruit alongside. It’s actually a very well-formed wine, structurally, with a nice swell to the middle palate and a gently tapered after palate and finish. Waves of sweet fruit push through entry and mid-palate in particular. But astringent, marginal tannins intrude towards the end and roughen up what is, otherwise, a good BBQ red.

MadFish Wines
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin

Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes Saumur-Champigny 1998

An older Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.

Some bricking but mostly a rich, dense garnet. The nose is appealing, with sweet hay and a touch of dusty library, plus a bit of mushroom. We’re a long way from fruit bomb land here, the aroma profile being quite angular and savoury. There’s also, perhaps, a hint of brettanomyces here, coming across as a meaty (verging on shitty) note, but it’s certainly subtle enough to slide into the mix without overwhelming anything.

The palate is all about line, slinky elegance and elusiveness. It’s also about fruit, quite sweet really, and unexpected considering the savouriness of the aroma profile. On entry, a cool burst of leather and sweet berry fruit, the latter taking over as the wine moves to the mid-palate. There are also assertive tannins, very fine, a little unevenly distributed, and very drying. Some good complexity here, with a range of barbecued meat type flavours in addition to the core of fruit. Overall, the impression is lean and bright and a little unclean. Leathery notes float over the top of the wine’s finish, which is of good length.

If ever a wine were a matter of taste it would be this one. It’s a bit stinky and I suspect this isn’t terroir-related. If you can get past the faults, though, there’s some interest here, not least a lithe, elegant line that communicates the pleasures of structure better than many wines.

Domaine des Roches Neuves
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2008