Pig in the House Shiraz 2011

When I last reviewed this wine (2008 vintage), I noted the producer was certified organic. Things have moved on to the next plane of cosmic vineyard management, as Pig in the House is now a certified biodynamic winery. No mean feat, mind you – I appreciate the rigour that goes into running an operation in this manner.

It’s what’s in the bottle that counts, though, and I’m pleased to say that this strikes me as a better wine than the 2008, more subtle and complex, but retaining the appealing freshness of the earlier wine. The aroma shows very crunchy red fruits, snapped succulent, copious black pepper and other signs of cooler climate Shiraz. It’s quite lean and may strike some drinkers as lacking in generosity, lacking in ripeness, even. For me, its freshness outweighs any sense of thinness, and makes it immediately appealing as a sort of bistro style.

The palate shows decent intensity and a good dose of fresh acid. It’s not the most articulate wine in the mouth, delivering its flavour in a rather haphazard way. No matter — there’s plenty of it to go around, and the fact that it zips by a bit too quickly just means another sip is in order; easy to do with a wine this fresh-tasting. Plenty of dark fruits and spice, some lightly powdery tannins overlaying the finish. Again, some may consider its flavour profile indicative of marginal fruit ripeness. The fruit flavour edges on the obvious and confected at times, but in the context of the style it’s forgivable.

Mixed experience here, but I rather like its edgy vibe.

Pig in the House
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Swinging Bridge Reserve Shiraz 2010

I’m a bit conflicted about this wine. I previously enjoyed this producer’s Sauvignon Blanc and felt it could have been pushed harder into less compromising stylistic territory. I feel very much the same about this wine, which pitches at quite a different level but which is similarly torn between distinctiveness and a desire to be crowd pleasing.

The nose shows a mix of peppery spice, slick oak and ripe, sweet red fruit. The spice is wonderfully adult and the oak sharp, which makes the character of the fruit stand out a little, as if an everyday quaffer had wandered into something altogether more elevated by mistake. It’s not that the fruit is of poor quality; indeed, I feel the reverse is true. But the expression that has been coaxed of it is bouncy and sweet, a little too much so, such that the aroma profile never quite coheres.

The palate tells a similar story, though its structure provides some added delights. Acid, in particular, is fine and sharp, adding real zing to the fruit’s bright flavour profile and helping it to stay within more adult parameters. I like the way this flows over the tongue, and the clean, firm articulation of its flavours is truly delicious. I just wish, though, the fruit weren’t quite so eager to please. A more savoury expression would allow the brown and black spice to shine, and the delicious oak to be a more integrated part of the wine’s overall flavour profile.

As with the Sauvignon Blanc, this shows genuine potential and is in many ways a delicious and interesting wine. Some finessing of the fruit’s character would bring out the potential I see here.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Gardners Ground Merlot 2008

Onwards with my train wreck obsession with Australian Merlot. This one’s from the Cowra region (well, Canowindra actually) and is a pretty good rendition of a quaffing red. A bonus is that it’s organic.

The nose is robust and relatively complex, with juicy, jube-like blackberries, crushed ants, subtle oak and a bit of snapped twig for good measure. The straightforward fruit flavours are pleasing enough, but what I like most is the savoury notes are quite assertive, bringing interest and an edge to an otherwise plump aroma profile.

The palate shows similar characters and a pleasingly rough mouthfeel. Entry is quiet, the most significant influence being quite bright acid. Fruit weight builds towards the middle palate, and there’s a fun medicinal edge to the flavour profile. I like the rustic savouriness of the flavours; there’s a sappy, wood-like note that comes across as dirty, in a positive sense. The main issue I have with the palate is what appears to be an excess of residual sugar, which adds body but also prevents the wine from reaching an extreme of style that I’d be interested in experiencing. Still, it’s well judged for pleasurable, mid-week drinking. And I’m not going to argue too much with that.

Gardners Ground
Price: $A19.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mulyan Cowra Shiraz 2007

It must be a Mulyan thing; the reaction I’m having to this wine is quite similar to that I experienced when tasting the 07 Block 9 Shiraz Viognier: fascination mixed with a sense of the wine sitting out on a limb in terms of correctness. I may be completely off the mark, but my first impression was “stuck ferment”, though I hasten to add the offending aromas have blown off to reveal a much cleaner wine. Certainly, if you try this wine, give it a chance to show the positive side of its character.

The nose is peppery and meaty, with ripe blackberries wedged into the spaces that remain. Pretty classic cool climate Shiraz aromas, in fact, though certainly on the wilder side, with less floral spice and more meat than some. There’s something masculine, almost brutal, about this aroma profile, but whatever one might think of the styling, my feeling is there’s an intent and sophistication here that sits well above the wine’s $20 price point.

The palate is nicely textured, with well integrated acidity and loose knit tannins that run most of the wine’s length. Entry is positive and fruit-driven, flavours becoming more complex towards the middle palate. This is a medium bodied wine, showing moderately intense flavours in the context of an edgy, slightly aggressive architecture. A bright after palate is full of blackberries and pepper steak. The finish is reasonable.

It’s impossible to dismiss this wine, despite that it comes across as over-eager and lacking the poise one might wish for. In some ways, it has me stumped. But I simply can’t discount it. Well worth trying, especially at the price.

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

Gardners Ground Shiraz 2008

I don’t know much about this producer other than what I’m reading on the bottle (and website): based in Canowindra, organic viticulture, reasonably priced. Again, I’m struck by the number of producers in this region who are overtly pursuing organics.

First impressions are of overripeness, but this freshens quickly to show an aroma of savoury black fruits, gentle spice, a hint of volatility and cuddly oak. I don’t find it especially complex but it’s friendly and home-made in a positive sense. My key criticism of the aroma profile is that it is a bit blunt, lacking the finesse I’d ideally like to see. However, the spice is lovely and there’s no shortage of expressiveness.
The palate adds some lively acidity into the mix, and this helps the wine to express more sprightly fruit. Quite a flavoursome entry, with prickly acid and perhaps a hint of minerality, leading to a mid palate that is focused on savoury berry fruits. It’s refreshing to find a wine at this price point that is determinedly savoury, with just a hint of fleshiness. Any sweetness seems to come more from nougat oak, which becomes more prominent as the wine lifts through its after palate to an edgy finish.

Gardners Ground
Price: $A19.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Pig in the House Shiraz 2008

An organic (certified) wine from the Cowra region; 440 cases made. Quite a few producers in this region seem to be pursuing an organic and/or biodynamic approach. Probably not a bad way to define a winemaking community at the moment. I remember only a few years ago organic wines seemed to be held in distinctly low regard.

This is an entirely fruit-driven style that seems designed for immediate, unpretentious pleasure, and in this goal it succeeds admirably. The nose shows expressive dark plums and raspberries, some brambles and just a hint of spice. The fruit seems sweet, and verges on confectionary, but in this context works well. 
In the mouth, a big rush of fruit flavour. The entry is very flavoursome, with dark berries and a sense of immediacy that speaks of freshness and the happy bursting of blueberries. Things only get fresher and fruitier towards the middle palate, though at this point one also realises there are some chocolate-like tannins that are quite assertive and which certainly hold things together. The fruit, again, almost expresses that industrial confectionary edge, but pulls back just in time. Berries and chocolate sauce on the after palate, before a surprisingly long finish of slightly rustic dryness.
A straightforward, attractive wine that seems ideally suited to easy drinking. I’d prefer a lower price, but there’s no doubting this is a fun, well-made wine.

Pig in the House
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mulyan Block 9 Shiraz Viognier 2007

Some wines tread a fine line between angular and offputting. This wine (or this bottle) is certainly a good example; at least at first, where the overriding impression is one of tacky New Zealand geothermal theme parks (“Craters of the Moon!”) and mud. But just as I was about to reach for the term “European” to describe what felt like a borderline faulty wine, it has zapped into focus, becoming a peppery, meaty expression of Shiraz Viognier that is decidedly improving with air.

Full-on pepper steak aromas smother core of dense berry fruit, quite dark in character and brambly in expression. The aroma is actually quite fascinating in its cacophony; I can’t decide whether it’s disjointed or a radically different interpretation of coherence. I suppose that it prompts such aesthetic flights of fancy is a point in its favour, irrespective of taste.
The palate is also curiously styled, with a plump apricot presence alongside red berries and more cooked steak. It’s flavoursome for sure; the entry has good immediacy and zips along in the mouth, thanks mostly to some fairly prominent acidity. The middle palate relaxes a little, though it’s still bright. Medium bodied, this wine’s mouthfeel is slippery despite the acid, and reminds me a little of the way apricots feel when you bite into a ripe one. Fruit character is quite sweet, which is a provocative counterpart to the funky, meaty notes and makes for a flavour profile that is full of contradictions. Good continuity through the after palate, and a nice flourish on the finish helps berry flavour to linger on for a good while.
Despite its oddity, I’m fascinated by this wine. Its profile is far from conventional, and tends towards exaggeration. But it’s also more beautiful than many conventionally styled wines. 

Mulyan Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kalari Chardonnay 2008

My second Cowra Chardonnay for this evening; always fun to do some comparative tasting. Against to the just-tasted Cowra Estate, the balance of this Kalari is notably different, tending more towards a generous, peachier style, though still far from the sort of peaches and cream buxomness of old school, now-maligned Chardonnays. 

The nose shows some vanilla ice cream oak along with a tiny bit of sulphur and not a lot of fruit. This doesn’t sound great, but in fact it’s attractive to smell, and the fruit is there, it’s just bound up in the oak character at present. The palate is quite a different story. Here, the fruit flows more freely, an even mixture of white and yellow peach. On entry, sizzlier acidity than the Cowra Estate and a bigger presence in the mouth; this seems to present a bit more of everything across the board. The middle palate smoothes out with ripe peaches and cheap ice cream (you know, the ones that are more ice than cream), all underlined by lively, somewhat rough acidity that contributes level of sourness to the profile. The after palate thins out compared to what has come before, but the finish more than makes up for it with good continuity of fruit flavour and surprising length.
Another solid, straightforward Cowra Chardonnay, and one I might give a few months’ further in bottle before drinking. These don’t scale great heights but nor do I believe they set out (or need) to, as they present attractive fruit in a food-friendly package. Good value drinking.

Kalari
Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cowra Estate Chardonnay 2008

Australia’s oldest Chardonnay vineyard – so proclaims the label, even though an establishment date of 1973 reveals the relative youth of this variety’s presence on the local wine scene. I’ve got a couple of Cowra Chardonnays on the table this evening, both reasonably priced (as a lot of Cowra wines appear to be).

On the nose, some smokey, burnt match overlays tight, white stonefruit notes and a bit of minerality. It was a bit yeasty at first but those funky notes blew off fairly quickly, leaving behind this lean, quite stylish aroma profile. No overt complexity, just balance and a bit of tension between notes that don’t quite go together — I mean this in a good way.
The palate follows a similarly lean route, emphasising the nose’s attractive minerality and elaborating a little on the fruit character. A cool, clean entry that shows firm, fine acidity. Things don’t get terribly flavoursome until the middle palate, where a mostly-savoury character relaxes a little on the tongue. Fruit begins to leak: grapefruit, white nectarine, very much a cooler climate flavour profile. This expands through the after palate, whose acidity shows some hardness but which nonetheless is well-shaped and straightforward. There appears a minimum of winemaking here and the consequently simple style comes as something of a relief; also, it seems well-matched to the fruit character. The clean finish is quite mineral and very refreshing.
Good value, utterly unpretentious Chardonnay.

Cowra Estate
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Spring Ridge Merlot 2007

There’s something to be said for a well-executed commercial style. These are wines that I often tend to gloss over, but it’s wrong of me to do so, at least in terms of my own philosophy of enjoyment. As tempting as it is to indulge in singular, ultra high quality wines whenever possible, I’m not sure they are always an appropriate choice, especially when in mixed (wine freak and normal people) company. 

For example, I was having a very fun afternoon with some work colleagues during the week, and we ended up at a typical inner city eatery that surprised me with its thoughful, diverse wine list. Of course, I immediately geeked out and suggested a bottle of Seppelt’s 2008 Drumborg Riesling which, while full of interest, is a difficult wine to approach due to its austerity. Once we had made our way through that one, the group’s next selection was a much friendlier Pepperjack Shiraz, a plush Barossa style with plenty of oak and very low stylistic barriers to entry. And it was a much more enjoyable wine, with company, on the day.
Which brings me to this wine. I feel a train wreck attraction to Australian Merlot, which isn’t renowned for stylistic coherence nor, indeeed, for elevated quality. And, to be sure, this wine won’t change any of that. What it can do, though, is provide a well made burst of enjoyment. 
The hue is ruby-like, of moderate density, and in general looks slightly older than it ought. The nose immediately signals this wine’s intent: assertively cuddly, peanut brittle oak over fresh plum fruit. Digging slightly deeper, there are hints of olives in brine, but this isn’t a wine of overt complexity. The palate is fresh and flowing, with good clarity of fruit. On entry, flavour slowly accelerates towards the middle palate. Medium bodied, there’s better integration of oak and fruit in the mouth than on the nose, which creates an easygoing, smoothed out flavour profile. The addition of some lightly spiced notes add interest. Structurally, things are very much in line with the curvy flavour profile, with enough acid and pleasingly fine tannin to add shape and a drying, very slightly raspy mouthfeel towards the back palate. Decent enough finish.
If I scored wines (which, of course, I don’t), this would sit in the mid to high eighties, as a wine of straightforward, well-made charms. It has no pretensions other than to offer accessible, cost-effective pleasure to as many tired office workers as possible as they share a bowl of deep fried something-or-other after work. As one such office worker, I’m very cool with that.

Spring Ridge
Price: $A19
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample