Toppers Mountain Gewürztraminer 2013

Today’s delightfully unnecessary luxury product comes to me courtesy Topper’s Mountain Wines in New England. I first tasted wines from this producer about two years ago and it was immediately obvious there’s a slightly off-centre point of view at play. Not just some unusual varieties, but unusual handling of familiar varieties. This Gewürztraminer is a good example.

I fear Gewürztraminer a little because, with its monoterpene-heavy Muscat vibe, it can go from fragranced to Grandma in the slip of an incontinence pad. This treads that line finely. The aroma is, indeed, classic Gewürztraminer. Lychee and rose petals, musk and must. As with the best perfumes, though, there’s something delightfully rotten at its core, a subtle note of civet perhaps that drags the shamelessly florid dimensions of the aroma back into uncomfortable territory.

The palate is strikingly fine. What I like most here are its balance and form, which showcase a fullness appropriate to the flavour profile without ever broadening too much through the mid-palate. Flavours aren’t grotesquely proportioned either; there’s almost incredible restraint considering the variety, though this doesn’t come at the expense of any flavour ripeness. A chalky texture roughs up the after palate, absorbing some of the wine’s excesses and allowing the finish to be clean, vibrant and long.

A really excellent expression of Gewürztraminer and one I’d be happy to drink with an extravagant salad.

Toppers Mountain
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer 2009

Te Whare Ra draws on one of the older vineyards in Marlborough, some vines having been established in 1979 and the rest of the vineyard over the following two decades. To have a reputation for great Gewürztraminer isn’t perhaps an accolade sought after by many producers, but Te Whare Ra’s version is highly regarded, and this was my first taste of it.

Really gorgeous aromas, robust and spicy, fruit expressing in a tropical spectrum and showing good ripeness without tipping over into too much tinned lychee. It’s an immediately complex wine, which isn’t something I was expecting, although I wouldn’t describe it as especially elegant either. It’s too forthright and changeable to communicate any sense of poise. It also throws savoury, somewhat challenging aromas that are a nice counterpoint to the varietal perfume that initially dominates the aroma.

The palate shows more of these slightly unfriendly flavours, adding some shade to a flavour profile that is even more complex than the nose suggests. There’s a bit of sweetness on the palate that pumps up a core of fragrant fruit, all surrounded by spice and other more floral notes. This, like good perfume, moves past individual flavours drawn from nature into a more interesting realm of abstract notes and flavour accords. And always, it has a sharper edge that never quite yields to the prettiness evident throughout the rest of the wine. Mouthfeel starts slippery and progresses to a chalky, slightly grippy after palate, phenolics fine and without bitterness. Slight heat coasts over the finish.

This is a fascinating, delicious and challenging wine.

Te Whare Ra
Price: $N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

2009 Scholium Project Midan al-Tahrir

Let’s start with the finish, shall we?

The thing is it has to be the truth to really go over, here. It can’t be a calculated crowd-pleaser, and it has to be the truth unslanted, unfortified. And maximally unironic.

– David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

If the experience of drinking a sip of this wine somehow included an involuntary oblivion, slyly eliding the first four-fifths of the line, it would have been enough. Heck, it would have been more than enough; the final, sneaking outro, the slouching into the past on little cat feet, soft scratch of nails against slate and clay, that alone’s far more interesting than most wines manage.

Let’s start with what this wine is not: it’s not identifiably varietal, it’s not faithful to a style (and in that sense is assuredly not a vin d’effort, it’s immoderately alcoholic, and it may well be de trop in terms of food pairings (although it might work wonders where pale, cool sherries would).

In the glass, the color’s nothing; it’s undifferentiated white wine product, visually unexceptional… but don’t be fooled. The nose is as subtly differentiated as a Rothko painting; subtle variations unfold towards the margins. The effect is akin to watching an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie: in the center of the frame, a water buffalo escapes its post, slowly, leaving you to experience the beauty of the moment. This wine requires patience.

There are peaches, simple canned peaches, with a hint of the fresh linens worn by the cafeteria ladies who served you those peaches when you were in fourth grade. There are spices, refreshing and clean. They smell like Mom. There’s a wonderful, nutty oxidation, like a steel-green Chardonnay. The closest thing I’ve ever smelled to this was a sparkling Scheurebe from Saxony, all fresh bright fruits with a subversive edge of fresh sugar snap peas. If you’ve ever taken the time to watch – and I do mean really watch – a simple Dan Flavin sculpture of fluorescent tubes shimmering bright white light against a smooth concrete wall, you might have experienced something like the calm, hazy torpor this wine induces.

Alcohol, of which there is plenty, lends a fat happiness here, but thankfully relatively little heat. Not sweet, you can choose your own adventure here if you’re so inclined: this could be slightly oxidized Chardonnay, this could be from Franconia, this could be very fresh and clean. Peaches and cream, spice and almonds seem to be the main themes here; however, it’s only when it goes quiet that it really sings.

After the wine is gone – and I have no idea how the gods have arranged this – there’s that final, languid pause before unseen pleasures surprise you. If you’ve ever heard Evelyn Glennie play a note that she didn’t actually play, it’s something like that. This wine tastes like memory feels.

Scholium Project
Price: $24
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dopff Au Moulin Gewürztraminer 2007

I’ll be tasting a range of wines under $A20 (retail) in the near future. Yes, the bank balance is looking iffy, so what better excuse to explore the value end of the market. Again.

Thick, syrupy aromas of lychees and white flowers. I struggle a bit with Gewürztraminer in terms of how it’s usually described. Lychee and rose petals I get, but these tend to be so obvious and dominant that I struggle to discern much else. In the case of this wine, there’s perhaps a touch of ginger cake baking in the oven, but more a suggestion than anything else. Distinctive and varietal without much complexity. 

In the mouth, good impact and immediacy thanks in part to a fullness of body that exaggerates the fruit flavours (more lychee and ginger cake). I thought at first this was presenting some residual sugar, but I think it’s just sweetly tropical fruit. There’s more and more flavour as the wine moves through the middle palate, again assisted by a round, pumped up mouthfeel that reminds me of a boob job one might have seen on the cover of People magazine. And then, all of a sudden, it deflates (just like many boob jobs in the 80s), flavour falling away precipitously through the after palate. The wine is quite long, but there’s not much there either, more a persistent echo of flavour than anything with substantial drive, with a bit of alcohol burn to boot.
It’s a wine that might alleviate the facelessness of many a Pinot Gris, if only to replace it with a sense of style akin to gaudy Tokyo street fashion. Your call.

Dopff Au Moulin
Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin

Scholium Project Riquewihr 2008

It’s Friday evening, and I already finished a bottle of their La severita di Bruto with friends, insisting that I wasn’t going to be blogging anything this evening – but one smell of this and yeah, well, I lied.This wine smells of tinned litchi fruit that someone is eating in the middle of a peat smoke fire on the beach. Seriously. I don’t know what to make of it; I’ve never had a wine that smelled like this before. It smells like someone is dredging rose petals through a smoky sludge of decaying leaves and tar. It smells like someone banging chalky erasers against each other in the middle of dusty warehouse of discarded library books. It smells like ground basalt stirred into a solution of sea water and orange flower water. In short, it smells kind of awesome.In the mouth, it gets even stranger. It tastes slightly oxidized, yet fresh, with all kinds of outré notes ranging from off-brand cling peaches to orange blossom honey from Provence to smoked horse meat to, I don’t know, bruised rambutan mixed with gravel. In short, it’s all over the map, delightfully so. The finish lasts for ages, it’s wonderfully rich and fat in the mouth, and opens up a weirdly panoramic vista of fresh air and sunlight.Yeah, it’s weird, but this wine is both sui generis and a real keeper. By the way, the La severita di Bruto?  Also very good if not as much of a look-at-me-I’m-crazy showstopper of a wine. That being said, it’s probably the best sauvignon blanc I’ve had from California; yes, the finish is a bit hot, but it works well with the peppery aspects of the wine, and the aromatics are in a class of their own – kind of like high end Marlborough sauvignon minus the pneumatic passionfruit aromas + some of the mineral aspects of Sancerre in one big, goofy package. Recommended.The Scholium Project
Price: $30 (500 mL)
Closure: Cork

Mission Estate Gewürztraminer 2008

Hawkes Bay Gewürztraminer from a label that appears to have a considerable presence at the lower end of the market here in New Zealand. Varietal lychee on the nose is quite promising. Beyond this, however, the aroma profile becomes dull, lacking the character and assertiveness one might wish for in this variety. There’s some floral influence but otherwise it’s all a bit simple and blunt.

Things don’t get a lot better in the mouth, unfortunately. It’s thick and a bit flabby, owing to an acid structure that is overwhelmed by the wine’s viscosity and what appears to be some alcohol heat too. There doesn’t seem to be much intensity of flavour either, with wisps of lychee and spice disappearing into a vortex of blandness.

Disappointing, and overpriced too.

Mission Estate
Price: $NZ20
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008

Kathy Lynskey Gewürztraminer 2006

This wine, impossibly pale – approaching a sort of white tea, white grape juice clarity – smells of good quality rose petal tea from China: smooth, floral, beautiful, perhaps not terribly complex, but then again Gewürztraminer seldom is, at least on the nose.There’s also a sort of clove oil spiciness, but only just.In the mouth, this wine is a big surprise. It’s full, fleshy, but not fat; oily, but pleasantly so, and all in all strangely austere, restrained. It’s got a marzipan fruitiness combined with a dry finish, good length, and a miraculous ability to keep you going back for another taste. If anything, it reminds me of French orange blossom honey combined with Dresdner stollen: all gentle spices, orange peel, hay, and quiet. Delicious.When summertime rolls around in another few months, I’m looking forward to reading on the back patio with a glass or two of this; it’s delightful, elegant, and just the sort of thing to have with a burrito al pastor.Kathy Lynskey WinesPrice: US $13.99Closure: DiamDate tasted: February 2008