Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2011

Time to check in on the new release of one of Australia’s few deadly serious renditions of Merlot.

This always tends to savouriness, and the 2011 vintage is no exception. On opening, firm aromas of char, black olive, charcuterie and bitumen. There’s a sappy freshness that underlines these robust notes, giving the aroma a sweet tension that bounces between hard and soft. I like the contrasts, and it’s so beautiful to smell an Australian Merlot that has been made with angularity and savouriness in mind. Keeping in mind this is a very young wine — not yet released in fact — it’s somewhat churlish to note the oak aromas are ever-so-slightly prominent right now, but nothing that suggests any fundamental imbalance.

The palate is as uncompromising as the nose suggests. Structurally abundant, this is a fairly firm experience right now, driven by fine tannins and a firm yet well-integrated acid line. Flavours hit the tongue with impact and clarity, and it’s here the wine’s red fruit is most in evidence, gliding through the mid-palate with a certain elegance. The after palate is quite high toned and edgy at the moment, attributes I suspect will become less apparent as the wine ages. A particularly fine finish closes the line on a positive note.

History with this label suggests some medium term cellaring will bring substantial benefits, and I’d be giving any bottles a rest before tucking in. Though young, it’s a wine that shows fundamental balance and satisfying savouriness.

Update: day two and the wine is opening up nicely. Its fruit has stepped forward and is showing a sweeter countenance, making the wine somewhat easier to approach.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Blue Poles Shiraz 2011

It appears I’ve not reviewed a Blue Poles Shiraz before, despite having tasted several. Time to fix that with this 2011 vintage release.

The fine folks here at Full Pour have never made any pretence to objectivity, and I’m certainly not going to buck that trend now. The fact is, I’m not a huge fan of what Margaret River does to Shiraz. That’s a massive generalisation, to be sure, but over the years I’ve learned to expect a middle-of-the-road expression of this variety, neither truly cool climate in style nor embracingly warm, such that it ends up occupying a middle ground that satisfies few of my urges.

Not that you, valued reader, are required to feel the same way. Indeed, for lovers of the regional idiom, this is a cracking quaffer, full of red fruited generosity and a hint of spice. There’s nary a bump along the way here, save for some acid that has yet to integrate and which ends up seeming slightly orange juicy through the after palate. But it fits within the overall briskness of the wine, all crunchy cranberries and strawberry tops, privileging freshness above complexity, movement above weight. As such, it’s a good lunch style and one that should pair with a wide range of food. In this, it reminds me of many light Italian styles.

A light, bright pop of a wine. Style aside, this would be vastly more interesting to order off a list than yet another large volume Shiraz blend of the sort that exists with depressing regularity at this price point.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Blue Poles Allouran 2010

Although its Reserve Merlot is positioned as the flagship, Blue Poles Vineyard’s Allouran is usually my favourite in the range. For starters, I do enjoy a bit of Cabernet Franc. To this label, it contributes a light elegance that has always struck me as especially attractive, and this 2010 vintage wine is no exception. This might be the most refined expression yet.

Aromatically, this blends the floral and ripe red capsicum notes I associate with Cabernet Franc with the graphite I associate with Merlot from this vineyard. It’s a good combination, the aroma profile capturing a full range of notes from high toned to bass. It’s not especially fruit-sweet, but there’s a core of the prettiest, most luxurious red berries surrounded by ripe flowers. Oak is there, providing a few extra notes around the edges.

One would have to enjoy a bit of acid to really love this wine and, as it happens, I do. Entry is bright with red fruit and sap, moving to a mid-palate of good focus and precision. There’s a hint of expansiveness here that suggests the wine will grow in weight and generosity with time. Even now, it’s intense and complex. The after palate is strikingly savoury and presents a mix of red capsicum and coffee grounds that move naturally into a tannin structure of considerable finesse. Indeed, texture becomes the primary pleasure as the wine moves through its extended finish.

Although this is a 2010 vintage wine, it’s not yet released and rightly so — it’s still incredibly young-tasting. Very good value. I do believe I’ll be buying some.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Woodlands Margaret 2011

A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 14% Malbec.

This, like the 2011 Cullen Kevin John I wrote about yesterday, changed a lot over the course of my time with it. Unlike the Chardonnay, however, its evolution was entirely positive.

At first, I thought I might have wasted the $45 this cost me, as the wine I poured bore little resemblance to the deliciousness I had tasted at cellar door and on which basis I made my purchase. Masses of bright, sweet fruit — varietal enough but completely overwhelming — shot off in one direction while oak and structure scurried away separately, like friends who have just fallen out over who might be the prettiest of all. Hanging over the whole, like a toxic cloud, that unpleasant, faintly doughy malolactic fermentation smell, hammering one last nail into the coffin of a wine I was ready to write off as an unfortunate product of its warm vintage.

But what a dramatic difference on day two. After a bit of time and air, savouriness returns to this wine with a smack, and with it vastly improved integration of its elements. No doughy smells, either; indeed, this is squeaky clean. With a diminution of fruit volume, the wine’s elegance steps forward, a dusty note overlaying fresh mulberry fruit and snapped twig on the nose, brown spices and oak making a contribution, perhaps not quite as connected as they might be with more time, but nonetheless still very much part of the wine. The palate is medium bodied and, despite generous fruit, elegant, with abundant, fine tannins setting over the after palate and firm acid throughout. I was dissatisfied with the 2007 vintage due to its, for my taste, perversely light weight; the 2011 seems a more balanced wine in this regard.

I do feel this has been released very early and, hopefully, with a bit more time in bottle it will present better on opening. As it is now, be sure to give it plenty of air before any serious contemplation.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2011

Ideally, a wine will grow in the glass, evolving through an evening as it reveals new facets of itself. I liken it to a conversation that might meander over time, becoming deeper and richer as it goes. What’s not so pleasant is the ranconteur who seems fascinating at first, so full of delights, yet gradually reveals himself a bore, or otherwise disappointingly imperfect.

I tasted this wine at cellar door recently, then stayed with a glass over lunch and watched it develop. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but over the course of an hour or so, it became less fine, showing a broadness of fruit that went against a set of aromas suggestive of something altogether more taut.

The aroma profile shows a smokey influence, with hints of sulfide complexity and bright fruit. There’s also a background nuttiness. It’s not overly expressive but is complex enough to draw one in.

In the mouth, powerful and initially linear; flavours of citrus flesh, white stonefruit and oatmeal, with a decent amount of oak input. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and is redeemed somewhat by an after palate that is satisfyingly chalky. The issue is one of balance and, to be fair, one of taste too. The fruit’s countenance is generous and there’s a lot of it, such that it constantly threatens to overwhelm the wine’s structure and winemaking artifice. Temperature has a great effect here, the wine seeming less shapely as it warms.

While tasting recently in Margaret River, I saw a few 2011 whites that were quite broad, perhaps reflecting what was a warm growing season. This, then, shows admirable transparency to vintage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of fuller Chardonnay styles will find much to enjoy here. In the end, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Price: $A25 per glass (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Moss Wood Semillon 1999

If Semillon had fashion on its side, I wonder how many more interesting wine styles we might see? Moss Wood seems to stubbornly stand by its terminally daggy Margaret River Semillon and, on the basis of this wine, I’m grateful it does.

I’ve not previously had a Moss Wood Semillon quite this old, so was very interested to see how a truly evolved examples tastes. The aroma shows notes that evidently derive from time in bottle, but the trick here is these notes show no coarseness whatsoever; instead, remnant primary notes of lemon and grass move meltingly into butter and honey, the latter more suggestions than full-throttle renditions of these broad aromas. It’s still vibrant at its core, but the overall impression is soft and elegant, like soft fabric with a subtle, tasteful sheen.

The palate has good presence and body right down its line. There’s a bit of primary sharpness both in terms of flavour and structure, but mostly this wine’s flavours are soft and delicate, rich in their way but not at all cloying. Mouthfeel slips this way and that, a slight waxiness lubricating movement over the tongue. This is the pleasure of aged white wine: sharp meets mellow, muscle becomes flesh. Quite seamless from entry through to finish, this moves with the confidence of someone only becomes more attractive with age (and who knows it).

Thank you to Mark Gifford of Blue Poles Vineyard for donating this to the party.

Moss Wood
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Offcuts: Blue Poles dinner

Wine dinners aren’t something I make a habit of; at least, not those run by producers. It’s not an in principle objection – I simply prefer, most of the time, a wider range of wines with dinner than might be offered by a single maker. The temptation of back vintages and verticals, however, can be strong, as can the promise of highly amusing company. Mark Gifford from Blue Poles Vineyard is most certainly that, so it was with pleasure that I attended the recent Blue Poles dinner in Brisbane.

The boutique producer’s dilemma must seem intractable at times: what to produce? How to get noticed? Whose attention to court? I won’t venture to suggest I have any answers, but I know I respond to a focused portfolio that communicates identity and intent rather than a wide range of wines that, together, lack coherence. Although it contains a highly drinkable Viognier and Shiraz, the Blue Poles portfolio stands out for its beautiful, uncompromising Bordeaux-inspired wines, as well as a quirky Teroldego.

Dinner was the first time I have tasted all the Blue Poles Reserve Merlots side by side, and they really do justify the praise I and many other wine writers have given them. The 2007 is by far the richest of the three and is starting to show an aged character that meshes superbly with its primary fruit. Very Bordeaux-like, this one, and quite mouthfilling. The 2008 and 2010 are both very tight, still, and it took about half an hour of swirling to coax from the 2010 more than the aroma of iron filings. When it did start to unfold, I felt it was the most precise wine of the three. The way it lands in the mouth, articulating its flavours with such clarity, is truly impressive. They keep getting better, these Merlots and, although there isn’t a great deal of competition, they are surely amongst the best of this varietal made in Australia.

The Allouran, a Merlot Cabernet Franc blend, is a lighter wine, less masculine than the straight Merlot. Both the 2007 and 2008 seem quite primary, with fresh fruit and bright, acid-driven structures. I can see these being overlooked in favour of the Merlot, but for my taste their flavour profiles show a light and shade that is subtle and attractive. Quite unforced as a style.

There was some discussion regarding the clear influence exerted by Bordeaux on these wines. Blue Poles has never been shy of admitting this stylistic lineage, and is far from the only producer to explicitly claim Old World wines as a starting point. However, what is emerging from the portfolio over time is a coherence on its own terms. These wines don’t taste like imitations of something else, despite strong nods to classic models. I look forward to further releases and the ongoing conversation between style and terroir.

The new release Teroldego is a fascinating interpretation of the “drink now” red wine. What often typifies this category of wine is a simplicity and fruit-forwardness the Teroldego almost entirely lacks. Its argument, rather, is one of chewy tannin, charismatic masculinity and an apparent absence of fruit. To be sure, dark berry fruit underlines the flavour profile, but it’s so joyously secondary that one is drawn immediately to other aspects of the wine. Despite this, it’s highly drinkable, a term not often associated with primarily structural wines. A contradiction, then, in all sorts of ways, and one I look forward to drinking again.

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007

Somewhat of a showstopper. To be sure, this is in some respects a no holds barred wine, with what appears to be plenty of winemaking contributing to its flavour profile. The nose shows an enthusiastic cascade of aromas, ranging from popcorn and butter through stonefruit, more tropical fruit notes, lemon, minerals, and plenty of toasty oak. I list this number of descriptors to give a feel for the amount of stuff going on here; there’s genuine complexity in both fruit and winemaking inputs, and as I smell this I’m reminded of why Chardonnay is often considered the greatest of all white grapes. Few varietals could take this treatment and come out looking good.

The palate is an absolute powerhouse, but what I like most here is that all its flavours are so cleanly, precisely expressed within an frame that is as contained as it is impactful. There’s something beautiful about power so tightly focused, and the way this wine unfolds in the mouth is its primary pleasure. As much sophistication as there is by way of individual flavours, there’s also a surprisingly louche side to the fruit here, pushing against a tropical, pineapple note that I found amusing in this context.

This will surely polarise drinkers, and that’s okay, because there’s great value in an unapologetic style made with skill and integrity.

Price: $A110 (restaurant wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Blue Poles Allouran 2006

I’m enthusiastic about this producer’s wines. They are invariably informed by a seriousness of intent that makes them difficult to dismiss, even if the wines themselves are not always perfect. So it was with this wine when I first tasted it some time ago. 2006 was a notoriously difficult vintage in Margaret River, red grapes often proving difficult to ripen sufficiently to make an acceptable wine. I chose not to write this up initially, as I found it challenging to the point of significantly reduced enjoyment. Too green, too aggressive, too hard. But I pulled out a bottle tonight and thought it might be time to see how it has moved along.

As it turns out, it’s significantly more drinkable at this stage of its life. It will never be a charming beauty like the 2007, but the astringent aggressiveness I remember has faded significantly. The nose shows typically Cabernet Franc aromas – fresh red capsicum mostly – floating over the top of richer, more plush Merlot fruit and a pile of pencil shavings. It’s completely varietal, though certainly on the lean, mean side. I can still see the green edges that I found difficult, but they’ve softened into the wine, becoming part of its aroma profile rather than pulling it apart.

The palate tells a similar story, though the transformation is perhaps more dramatic here. Again, I doubt this will ever shed its fundamentally lean vibe, but the elements are now well balanced for drinking enjoyment. In particular, the acid works really well to create impact on entry and power through the middle palate. It’s the sort of orange juicy red wine acid that is mouthwatering and a bit edgy. Fruit flavours are bright and firmly in a red berry spectrum, though edges of oak drag the flavour profile in a somewhat darker direction at times. Light to medium bodied, there’s a slight lack of drive through the after palate and finish, and the wine threatens to expose its slightly green core at times. It manages to complete the journey, though, thumbing its nose at a bad vintage even as it works hard to deny the scars it bears.

A very pleasant surprise.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
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