Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2011

I’m not one who believes things like transparency of vintage or site are ends in themselves, but at the same time it’s nice to see a vintage shine through, making its mark on a wine and reminding us that we’re dealing with an agricultural product. Over the course of the last few releases of this label (see my notes on the 2009 and 2010), Stuart Olsen has apparently worked with, rather than against, the qualities of each vintage. Having observed that, I will also add that this, despite being a leaner, more exposed wine, is also showing a degree of polish that seems a step above what has come before.

The aroma certainly signals the sort of sappy freshness that speaks of whole bunches and considerable acid. It’s not signalling any dramatic underripeness, but there’s a lean crunchiness to the aroma that banishes any hint of abundance. It’s also emphatically spicy, which I like in the context of these aromas. Fruit isn’t the driving force here, but to the extent that it winds its way around the spice, it’s dark and sinewy in character.

The palate is a replay of the nose. There’s lean, rope-like fruit within an acid-driven structure that is both fresh and tight. If you’re coming off the back of a fuller wine, this might seem quite anaemic, yet I think it finds its own balance, even if rather tilted towards acid. On the negative side, it pulls up a bit short, exposing the finish to oak’s influence, as well as that of its alcohol.

In the context of Stuart Olsen’s oeuvre so far, this is a worthwhile, distinctive addition to his evolving Shiraz Petit Verdot project. I don’t think it’s a complete wine, but it’s one I’m glad to have tasted and which, in its own sprightly way, provides good pleasure.

Update: this certainly rounds out with some air. The winemaker believes it’s suffering from bottle shock, and my own experience with it over several days is that it benefits from considerable time after being opened. Fruit steps forward and the wine gains a distinctly more expressive balance. A very interesting wine.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Eloquesta A Boy with Fruit No. 1 NV

With his previous releases, Stuart Olsen with his Eloquesta label skirted the edges of eccentricity, but this release blasts through any vestigial sense of convention. Hipster-bait to be sure, this non-vintage mixed black blend (along with some Viognier) is, so declares the press release, more about region and winemaker than variety.

As an aside, how nice to see a producer acknowledge that, yes, people do play a role in winegrowing, and not just as impossibly romanticised shepherds of Nature’s Will as grapes make their way into the bottle.

No, this is a celebration of the winemaker, and it’s a good argument for placing an interesting person at the centre of a wine project. I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with Stuart Olsen aside from the occasional online interaction, but clearly there’s a curious, exploratory mind at work, even if some of the ideas being juggled (harvesting “in line with the lunar cycle”) are less interesting to me than others.

In the end, we judge these ideas through the wine produced, and I’m happy to note this is a very distinctive, enjoyable wine. It wears its eccentricity on its sleeve, and this smells notably unlike the mainstream. Its aroma is deeply fruited and forward, with a sappy edge and a general air of savouriness that underline the fruit and take it into less familiar territory. There’s an interplay of fresh, vibrant fruit, nougat oak and aldehydic cocoa powder that, for me, strikes a good balance.

The palate is very supple and establishes this as a wine that drinks well right now. It’s very giving, with a relaxed acid line that allows the mid-palate some expansiveness, perhaps at the expense of some tension and precision. Flavours are, again, an interesting mix of freshness and age, just as successful as on the nose, but with the added attraction of ripe, rather plush tannins through the after palate. Not a wine of great impact, perhaps, but drinkability is high, and the flavours are most distinctive.

I really like what’s happening with this label and I look forward to more.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dodgy Brothers Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2012

The last of Dodgy Brothers’ three new releases to grace my tasting bench and one that, in some ways, I’ve been slightly apprehensive about tasting. You see, I’m a fairly recent convert to McLaren Vale Cabernet. I used to feel the Vale’s warmer climate did strange things to Cabernet and its siblings, smoothing out some of the edges that I enjoy with this variety and substituting a certain Shiraz-like roundness. It’s true this region doesn’t produce the sort of spiky, angular wines one associates with “classical” Cabernet style. Working in the region last year, though, I saw quite a few parcels of Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Yes, these wines can be structurally quite cuddly, but at their best they are astonishingly fragranced, showing recognisably varietal aroma profiles with a rich, regional twist.

And that sums up this wine quite well. It is unquestionably expressive aromatically, and the dominant Cabernet Franc component contributes a lovely red capsicum note alongside a range of florals, spices and purple fruit. There’s a relaxation and composure to the way this wine smells that is very accessible and should be quite crowd-pleasing.

In the mouth, quite a rounded presence that seduces at first with its volume before ushering in the sort of tannin structure Cabernet lovers demand. Tannins are abundant and slightly rambunctious, giving the wine some texture and helping the wine’s darker flavour notes to persist through the after palate and finish. Flavours are full and ripe, with berries tending towards purple and black, and oak making a toasty, spiced contribution. This is very much the hedonist’s Cabernet blend, one that is unashamedly voluptuous without sacrificing the fragrance and tannin structure that makes these varieties so wonderful.

Dodgy Brothers Wines
Price: $A29
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Alkoomi Cabernets 2011

I lingered a little in Frankland River last May. Of all the sub-regions in Great Southern, this felt the most isolated and pastoral and, in being so, made flesh what I had until that point only been able to imagine about the region. To drive from Manjimup to Frankland River is in some ways to travel into the vastness of Australian agricultural life. Magnificent forests of impossibly tall trees give way to farmland that, in its cultivation, shows another side of the landscape’s beauty. I’d say it’s a pity it’s so isolated, but that isolation is an integral part of Frankland River’s appeal. To know you’re hours from a city of any significance makes the experience of being there so much more vivid.

I sometimes wonder about the challenge of marketing Great Southern wines. It’s as if the region’s remoteness translates to an equally remote connection those of us on the east coast feel for the producers who toil there. In any case, even a cursory taste of the region’s wines is sufficient to demonstrate this vast region, with its varied sub-regions, is capable of wines of exceptional quality. I had great visits with Alkoomi and Frankland Estate while in the sub-region, and was lucky to spend some time with Alkoomi’s winemaker Andrew Cherry when I popped in on a Sunday. Lots of wines impressed, but this particular wine stood out not just for its taste but for the value on offer.

It’s a real Bordeaux blend, this one, with all fruit harvested from the estate’s vineyard in quite a warm year. The aroma is thick with purple and black berries, and the floral lift I associate with Petit Verdot in particular. There are darker edges too, of damp twig and black spice, that add depth and savouriness to the aroma. What marks this, perhaps, as a wine of value is a certain lack of definition, of delineation between notes, that means the aroma tends to blurriness. Nonetheless, a nice wine to smell.

The palate tells a similar story. Berry flavour floods the mouth and is of a quality and character that far transcends its price point. This wine has especially good continuity down its line, with no unseemly peaks or troughs. It’s medium bodied and fresh-tasting, with ripe tannins that tighten the after palate and introduce a welcome textural dimension. As with the nose, flavours tend to blur into one another, and the wine lacks the sort of precise articulation one sees at higher price points.

Still, a real bargain at $18 and a great taste of Frankland River Cabernets.

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Geddes Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2008

Petit Verdot seems to come and go in Australia. If it has a home, it’s McLaren Vale, with some makers (notably Pirramimma) highlighting it momentarily as a varietal wine before it disappears again, declared or not, into blends. I’m not aware of it being consistently associated with another Australian wine region. Tim Geddes plays with Petit Verdot quite a bit, as did Wayne Thomas before him, and it appears as part of his eponymous label’s range with regularity.

Although he produces a varietal Petit Verdot, which I may review later, Tim has here combined it with its traditional partner, Cabernet Sauvignon. What’s really successful about this wine is its combination of intense flavour, generosity, detail and refinement. These aren’t traits that always go together, but the push-pull of this wine’s density and its fine structure makes for an ultimately elegant wine. The nose shows Cabernet notes, thicker and juicier as they sometimes can be in McLaren Vale, combined with an assortment of dried herbs and higher toned, floral notes. Berry flavours are dark and oak is assertive, positioning this wine firmly at the fuller end of the Bordeaux blend spectrum.

The palate is incredibly juicy, with masses of black fruits and herbs, underlined by black tea tannins. Weight and line are both impressive, as is a flavour profile that alternates between fresh fruit and more complex dried herb characters, with an edge of dried fruit adding further interest. Tannins develop firmly through the after palate, with good presence in the mouth and confident dryness. An extended finish.

This is an excellent wine with a complex, attractive flavour profile and a bold, well-formed structure. Although Cabernet is an evident component, I can only assume Petit Verdot accounts for its extra dimensions of floral aroma and juiciness. Certainly a wine worth some serious contemplation.

Geddes Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Topper’s Mountain Red Earth Child 2009

Despite a seemingly never ending quest to communicate a “sense of place,” it’s remarkable how few vignerons in Australia put site ahead of variety. The privileging of varietal wines comes at the expense of the idea that site is best expressed through a mix of varieties. This is not a new idea, nor is it completely absent from Australian wine, but it remains rare.

This, then, stands out like the proverbial dog’s balls. Let me count the ways in which it differs from the mainstream: it’s a wine of New England, with nary a grape variety listed on the (front) label and, when one discovers what varieties are in it, there’s an unlikely mix of Petit Verdot, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Tannat. Sui generis.

This is as close to blind tasting as I’ve come without, you know, actually tasting blind. I had no idea what to expect, but the aroma’s absence of expressive fruit still came as something of a surprise. This is a dark, muscular, somewhat closed nose at present. There are hints of black berry fruit, spice, snapped twig and baked goods. I find it somewhat inscrutable, in fact, which is no bad thing. There’s certainly enough density, complexity and coherence to hint at significant potential.

The palate is similarly intriguing and fiercely structured. Both acid and tannin are prominent, which isn’t surprising given the presence of Barbera and Tannat in the mix. The same dark, savoury fruit flavour profile seen on the nose is very much present here, but it runs underneath the wine’s structural framework for now, like a bubbling underground stream. Again, density is a feature and, without any experience of this label, I suggest a bit of age will be kind to it. The after palate is the most generous moment in the wine’s line, where fruit is allowed to bulge slightly before tightening again in a highly structured finish.

A brave, and in many ways successful, wine.

Update: day 2 and the wine is opening up in the most interesting ways. It has become quite floral, with rose petal and Turkish Delight distinct notes on the nose. Fascinating.

Topper’s Mountain
Price: $A38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2010

Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing my note, the 2009 edition of this wine seems to have become something of a favourite amongst wine tweeters and bloggers. I admit to having mixed feelings about it, finding it more worthy than achieved. The refreshingly honest notes that came with this sample suggest 2010 was a difficult year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, I prefer this in many ways to the 2009, and am intrigued to taste more in a way that I wasn’t after trying the earlier vintage.

What it comes down to is that this wine, despite superficially similar characters (presumably due to some of the same winemaking techniques), shows quite a different view of the fruit, one that is more subdued and subtle. It’s also more savoury, a fact the nose immediately establishes, as some cheerfully sweet fruit is quickly swept aside by waves of stalk and oak, the latter happily less intrusive in character than in the prior vintage. It still smells home made, but it’s also less chaotic, more resolved.

The palate carries these good qualities through. It’s rough-hewn like its predecessor, but the fruit’s calmer demeanour suggests a sophistication that, to me, is a real step up. Good flow through the middle palate, all dark fruits and spice, before tannic texture kicks in on the after palate. The structure here is very well balanced, with enough grip and astringency to please wine nerds without demanding much, if any, extra time in bottle. The fruit, darker though it is, could still use a notch more complexity. A nice, sharp finish, fruit and oak flavours carrying right through the back palate.

Can less than ideal growing conditions bring out a more interesting side to the fruit? It’s hard to generalise, but I feel it’s the case here.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2009

Wine labels tend to look somewhat samey after a while, so it’s always a nice surprise to open a box and find something distinctive staring back at you. The label is really quite pretty in an almost handmade way, and the chosen bottle has a nice, subtle curve to its side. All in all, lovely packaging. I’m particularly interested (even before tasting) in how this wine is being marketed. This is, in all apparent respects, a labour of love. Complex, quasi-natural wine techniques are used throughout; there’s carbonic maceration, whole bunch fermentation, minimal sufur, and so on. That’s a lot of quirk to pack into a $28 bottle of wine, and it all very much taps into the zeitgeist as far as wine appreciation is concerned.

To the wine itself. An immediate fruit lift signals the carbonic maceration. It’s a technique that can yield cheap-smelling wines, but I like the playfulness of the sprightly fruit in the aroma profile here. This otherwise smells as one might expect: characterful, dark fruited, anything but slick. The oak character stands out as too nougat-like. I would have preferred less of it, and something spicier.

The palate’s structure is appropriately rustic. There’s some raspy acid and the tannins are loose and drying; it all fits well with the artisanal vibe. Flavours are bright and fruit-driven, and for someone reared on dense Australian red wines, this may come across as too acidic as well as too thinly flavoured, and certainly there’s a hint of alcohol on the palate that I find intrusive. That’s a matter of taste; what interests me more is an impression that this wine is risky, walking a tightrope between characterful and home made. It’s certainly clean, and in all respects feels attentively crafted on a very small scale. Heaven to some, no doubt, even as it perhaps mystifies others.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kingston Estate Petit Verdot 2010

While I rather enjoyed Kingston Estate’s upper end Petit Verdot, my memory of the prior release of this wine isn’t an especially fond one, so much so that I don’t believe I wrote it up. There’s interest for me in these accessible wines, though, especially those made from alternate varieties. It’s good to have options at the lower end apart from Shiraz and Cabernet (and the occasional Merlot), and I believe any encouragement of variety in drinking ought to be positively noted.

So I wholeheartedly applaud the idea of this wine, which is, needless to say, a different thing from enjoying the wine itself. Again, as with the previous release, this doesn’t entirely satisfy me. There’s the more expensive wine’s purple fruit and plushness of character, but with a coarse edge and sense of less than ideal ripeness. Volume isn’t in question, though. There’s plenty of aroma to go around, and just the slightest hint of confected berries.

The palate flows cleanly, starting with a soft entry that rests almost entirely on ripe red berries. The middle palate shows a touch more acid and, less happily, a distinctly overripe fruit note. Density seems to recede the further the line progresses, with the after palate speaking more of soft structure than fullness of fruit. The finish is lean and mean, lacking the soft landing such a style would really benefit from.

This isn’t without merit, and would go down a treat as a slightly different BBQ red. There’s just a little too much to distract, though, for it to be truly enjoyable in more contemplative circumstances.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A14.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kingston Estate Echelon Petit Verdot 2008

This makes an interesting comparison to the Echelon Shiraz I reviewed the other day, in that it’s quite a different beast in ways one might not expect. Petit Verdot is, of course, a relatively niche varietal compared to Shiraz, our most planted red wine grape by far. This wine hails from the Riverland, a region usually associated with large scale wine production – again quite a contrast from the Shiraz’s origins in more obviously prestigious parts of South Australia. It’s all in the drinking though, and it’s here that this wine delivers.

I wasn’t a fan of Kingston Estates low end Petit Verdot, but this is the goods — if you value drinkability above all else, that is. Everything about this wine encourages smelling and tasting. The aroma is soft and purple fruited, showing a plushness of character combined with the sort of easy, rich berry notes that can be so inviting. Riding atop is a sprinkle of brown spice — presumably oak-derived — and a cooler edge of plum skin. All in all, a gorgeously accessible aroma, without ever smelling cheap or simple.

Thankfully, the palate is well structured; arguably rather too acid-driven, in fact. Entry is clean and well-fruited, showing more of those purple and red berries. Things don’t get overly expansive through the middle palate, though the wine does open up a little and spread over the tongue. It’s no more than medium bodied, which is charming considering the wine’s buxom flavour profile. Fine, silty tannins descend on the after palate and the wine tightens up through the finish, a hint of bitterness marring what is otherwise an elegant descent.

So, an easyoing adult quaffer then, quite different from its more serious Shiraz sibling. Both are good; I prefer this.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A27.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample