Howard Park Riesling 2009

It’s endlessly contested, but beauty (if it exists at all) is something I search for in wine as in most things. Perhaps that marks me as profoundly romantic, or foolish, but if something so inessential, so essentially frivolous as wine doesn’t encapsulate an aesthetic of a kind, then I really do wonder the point of it at all. Hence my difficult relationship with wines that express themselves on a purely functional level – I’d rather drink beer. 

Riesling is a varietal that gets me excited because it sometimes reminds me, more than any other wine, of perfume. I, along with my excellent co-author Chris, are fans of fragrance, and Riesling, in its expressive austerity, comes closest to the manufactured landscapes of man-made smells. Which is quite remarkable, really, as a commercial smell is carefully crafted, layered and assembled to be both distinctive and reproducible; one might reasonably assume a relatively haphazard aroma like that of wine would never come close. Yet it does, to my delight and endless fascination.
This wine isn’t perfect, but it has a sense of construction and layered complexity that excites me. The aroma is awash with high toned, aldehydic aromas that echo the extravagant top notes of an old-fashioned, French whorehouse-type cologne. There are some deeper, lemon rind notes underneath the florals that provide an anchor of sorts, something fleshier around which more fleeting aromas can circle.
The palate is quite generous and, compared to some Howard Park Rieslings I recall from the late 1990s, much less austerely acidic. This isn’t such a bad thing, especially for present drinking. There’s a dramatic but cuddly entry onto the palate, followed by a wash of soft lime juice through the mid-palate. It’s a bit lazy, but it’s also very pretty, content to be admired for its easy charm. A tangy after palate and long finish round things off well.

Howard Park
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Howard Park Riesling 2001

There’s not much left here by way of fruit, only a muted quince-like suggestion of faded summer apples long since dried. At first glance, this could almost pass for a severely dry English cider, but there’s also an interesting subtle perfume of talc and (almost) roses mixed in with that tell-tale kero smell that quickly hides itself from the rest. All in all, what there is on the nose is slight, elegant, delicate: this isn’t a screamer.At first apparently sleep with almost a slight spritz left, it turns out to not be sweet at all. Surprisingly (to me, at any rate), the acidity isn’t as searing as I would have expected (I have memories of tasting their 2002 at the cellar door in Denmark (I think it was) and being taken aback at the sheer nerve of the thing). The overall effect is of a very soft wine with some acidity at the tail, almost flabby (but not quite), with very still apple-y flavors and a moderately short finish. The overall effect is quite like seeing a cover band play your favorite band’s songs: it’s good enough to remind you why you like that band in the first place, yet also not good enough for you to really break right down and enjoy it.Then again, it turns out that all this wine really needed was to warm up just a bit from its ice bath. Served slightly warmer than usual, it mellow out into a lovely wine that still has distant glimpses of freshness; the overall effect is strangely English – it’s like a genteel, polite floral drink best served with cucumber sandwiches. I do like it and yet I’m not bowled over by the style; a bit of residual sugar would do wonders towards making this a great wine. I’m glad to see that Howard Park are now doing that and suspect their greatest success might lie with a sweeter style – especially after lengthy bottle ageing.Howard Park
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin

Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz 2000

Have you ever wanted to review a wine but were too tired to think for yourself? Well, today’s one of those days. As a result, I’d like to contrast the winery’s tasting notes for this wine with my personal experience of it tonight…Ad copy: “Cellaring Notes:

The 2000 Howard Park ‘Scotsdale’ Shiraz has the structural complexity that will reward long medium term cellaring (8 years).“Reality: It’s been just about 8 years on the dot since this wine was originally released. It’s been carefully cellared at 58 degrees F all the while. And what does it taste like? Old wine. Really old wine. If there was a peak to this wine, it was easily during the Bush administration. If you like your wines dead, this one’s for you. It’s got all of the creepy sweetness without sugar that old wines do and none of the freshness and verve that make it worth drinking.Ad copy: “The resultant fruit surpassed all our expectations being some of the most intense, deeply coloured and flavoured grapes to be harvested in the region.”Reality: Unless I’m totally off base here (which is possible; I’m no expert on the geography of Western Australia), Mt. Barker is also in the Great Southern region. Plantagenet Mt. Barker shiraz from 2000 is a damn sight better than this wine; yes, it’s deeply colored but if there ever was a surfeit of flavor here, it’s long since dried up and blown away. What little flavor that’s left is reminiscent of overapplication of lilac perfume at a funeral parlor: floral, cloying, and unappealing.Ad copy: “This wine has masses of character evident with a palate spilling over incomplex flavours and textures.” Reality: If anything, this reminds me of a Hometown Buffet patron with masses of fat evident spilling over a polyester pantsuit with an elastic waisband. There’s an awful lot of something here, sure, but I’d really rather look away and find something else to drink.Ad copy: “Such layers of flavour are rare in such a young wine suggesting extreme promise.” Reality: You know how some kids do really well up until they go to high school and then suddenly disappear to a rural Queensland cupboard or what have you, completely disappointing pretty much everyone that knew them? Well, this is one of those wines. I know that no one can predict the future, but if there was ever extreme promise here, I sure as hell missed the boat. I’m definitely about five years too late to this party, I think.Verdict: If you’ve got a bottle of this, drink it now. If you drank it earlier on and enjoyed it, I’m envious; I’ve had other wines from Howard Park and generally found them satisfying in every respect. Heck, even their Mad Fish fighting varietals still tasted pretty good after a few years’  bottle age on them (the shiraz, at least). This one, though, phew. Not good, and I’m probably sticking to their rieslings alone from now on. (Note to self: find their Tesco riesling from 2002 and drink that soon.)Howard Park
Price: $24
Closure: Cork

Kalgan River Riesling 2007

Forever the underdog is Riesling, at least in Australia. In a way, though, it parallels our most successful grape, Shiraz, in its diversity of regional expressions. Within the generally dry style in which it is made here, there is a range of worthwhile variations across the country. Most enthusiasts have added (at least) Tasmania, Canberra and Great Southern to the Clare and Eden Valleys as regions of note for Riesling. In this case, we have a Great Southern example from the 2007 vintage.

A nose that is all about citrus flowers and talc sprinkled on a bowl of more tropical fruit. This latter, richer aspect takes a while to emerge from an aroma that, at first, seems typically austere and very much of the region. It’s one of the things I like about Great Southern Riesling — it can be so uncompromising. 
This is definitely a softer expression of the grape, though,  and one that is confirmed on the palate. Here, notes of mandarin and paw paw-like fruit flow over a chalky mouthfeel and a structure that is very much about steely acidity. An interesting contrast, I suppose, although there’s something a little jarring about it too. Perhaps it’s a matter of balance; the fruit here lacks the sort of intensity to do the acid justice, so structurally the wine does overreach itself a little. However, the individual elements are attractive and the whole is refreshing and terribly easy to drink. The finish in particular is long and precise. 
As it sat in the glass, it seemed to tighten a little, and I found fascinating how this wine’s more generous fruit notes began to interact with its strongly textural mouthfeel. If it’s not quite coherent at this stage, the general style points in an intriguing direction.

Kalgan River
Price: $22
Closure: Stelvin

Plantagenet Eros 2007

A rosé style made from predominantly Merlot grapes. First, a word of warning: I served this wine quite cold, in accompaniment to an Indian curry. Whoops. Not an experience I’m keen to repeat, and not entirely the fault of the wine.

Quite a deep colour; one might mistake it for a light red rather than a rosé. On the nose, somewhat reticent aromas of strawberry and herb. It’s nicely savoury but lacks the sort of outré character that I (guiltily) enjoy in a rosé. The palate is livelier, with more light strawberry fruit and herbal overtones. There’s some astringency here, initially driven by acid but carried forward on fine tannin. This aspect of the wine is less than satisfying because, although its structure is quite prominent, the wine lacks a sense of freshness, perhaps due in part to a certain lack of intensity of fruit flavour. Although generally in fear of gratuitous residual sugar, I wonder if this wine might benefit from a less austere approach in the winery. Certainly, it lacks stuffing and, in a style that is often all about effortless enjoyment, I’m having to work fairly hard to get flavour from it. A nice lift kicks in towards the after palate and brings some aniseed-like flavour to the finish.

I’m not sure where this wine sits in the scheme of things. On the one hand, its savouriness demands more concentration than fruit-driven, breezy rosé styles. On the other, it lacks the attributes of a truly fine wine: intensity, balanced structure, complex flavour.

Price: $A14.25
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: October 2009