Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2013

Mitchell Harris has evolved a clever direction for its Sauvignon Blanc. Whilst remaining recognisably varietal, this wine benefits from a range of winemaking inputs including a portion of wild fermentation and maturation in oak. The result is a style that contains the variety’s signature flourishes in a slinky, sophisticated package.

The aroma is equal parts gooseberry and wood, each well balanced with respect to the other, all underlined by some subtly funky notes. There’s something substantial yet crystalline about the aroma profile. Its notes possess the freshness of the variety, giving up some of the sharp distinctiveness of a Marlborough wine in exchange for an attractive depth and gloss. I can see a lot of happy noses buried in this wine in Summer.

In the mouth, a slippery, bright experience. Entry is slick, fruit flavour riding a glossy texture through to a mid-palate that broadens with tropical fruit and caramel. It’s not a confrontingly complex wine, but there’s a good range of sweet and savoury notes, and the whole is quite expansive. Texture becomes progressively more layered as the wine progresses, the after palate showing a really substantial mouthfeel, slightly reminiscent of a caramel chew. The finish is clean and herbal.

This is such a nice style.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2013

There are those, I suppose, who will continue to trash Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc because there are so many (figuratively) watered down examples of the style. But we don’t write off Australian Shiraz because of [yellow tail]; a style owes more to its best examples than to its mass-market derivatives. That’s self-evident, but I’m amazed how often many wine lovers use Oyster Bay and its ilk as a crowbar with which to trash a key member of wine’s stylistic lexicon.

Try this instead. As with the 2010 version previously reviewed on this site, this is a great example of the refinement, complexity and transparency a good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc delivers. Firstly, it smells clearly of what it is. Ferns, capsicum, passionfruit, citrus; this is a catalogue of correctness and, more importantly, balances its aromas so that no one element dominates. It’s also a delicate aroma within its style, avoiding the shoutiness than can plague lesser examples.

In the mouth, textbook balance and structure. I particularly like the way the acid line is completely folded into the fabric of the wine — helped by some weight on the mid-palate — which means the wine is bright without any harshness. Flavours continue their delicate presentation and show really remarkable complexity. Again, I’m reminded of how Riesling can be when it’s young – so transparent, refined yet full of flavour. This is definitely a wine that rewards close tasting. A decent finish, all things considered.

Top wine.

Dog Point
Price: $A23
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2012

Given the dominance of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in Australia, it’s a brave producer who attempts something truly different. With this label, Mitchell Harris offers a true alternative to the floridly aromatic Kiwi style. Winemaking includes wild yeasts and oak maturation. The end result is a restrained, elegant Sauvignon Blanc.

The aroma shows hints of varietal character in the form of light gooseberry and nettle. The dominant aroma is a sort of slatey understatement, like a blanket of minerality under which fruit is bound. Mostly, though, it’s notable for how quiet it is, preferring to slowly release aromas than throw them in your face. Like a slow strip tease.

And as one might imagine of a stripper, there’s luridness too, with Sauvignon Blanc’s neon-and-fake-tan flavours very much present. Yet even in the mouth, it’s a slow burn of a wine, very fresh, but more sea spray than fruit juice; the varietal’s hallmark acid kicks in from mid-palate onwards. Despite the understated flavour profile, there’s actually significant intensity, and this wine shows greater persistence than one ordinarily might expect.

Sauvignon Blanc for grown ups.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A22.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Sauvignon Blanc 2011

It’s turning summery all of a sudden here in Brisbane, which has reminded me with a slight pang of guilt that I have not yet trimmed my passionfruit vines. Not a metaphor. It has also reminded me that I’ve had this wine for a little while, waiting to be tasted. There aren’t too many $30 Sauvignon Blancs from Orange, let alone ones that have experienced some fancier treatment in the winery like whole bunch pressing and wild fermentation. I’m curious.

Yet again, the whites from Orange impress. This is a long way from the pungency of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and an equally long way from tropical fruit basket that some of our regions tend to express. It’s lean and tight, as much suggestion as flesh, edging on green without being offensively unripe. It’s marginal in the positive sense, communicating the effort with which it was brought into being.

The palate is equally taut, a nice line of citrus fruit and heady vegetation riding fine, bright acid. There’s definitely some funk here, perhaps a result of the wild fermentation, that pushes this wine’s flavour profile into distinctive territory. There aren’t any magic tricks; the wine still lacks presence through the after palate, but that goes with the territory with this varietal. What’s here is clever and interesting.

It’s so nice to come across a Sauvignon Blanc that tries to be something new.

Ross Hill Wines
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Waipara Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2010

I review a fair few Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, even though it is often difficult to see new and interesting things in what can be a fairly homogenous style. One path to further interest is to head down the terroir route, seeking variety and insight through specialisation. Another, and this wine is an ideal exemplar of what I mean, is to look for the essence of the style in the most mainstream context.

The wine that originally got me hooked on the style, many years ago, was the standard Geisen, a humble drop by any measure. It was explosive, full of flavour and immersed in the utter vulgarity that is, in my view, an essential ingredient of good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We often celebrate delicacy and restraint in wine, but there’s a gaudy beauty in excess, and I believe we miss something if we choose not to engage these particular aesthetics.

To the wine at hand; what I like about this is that, without pretense, it exemplifies the drinkability and character of the style. It’s a great mainstream wine. The nose is tropical and heady, with passionfruit, some papaya, a bit of green. This isn’t the complex, edgy wine some producers are exploring in the region. But in its way, it is perfect, showing all that’s good about this varietal, including a degree of loucheness, without unattractive exaggeration or insulting timidity.

The palate is simply delicious, with well balanced acid supporting an array of simple but typical flavours. More passionfruit and lemon curd, tangy and moreish. The trick here is that it sidesteps the least attractive tendencies of the style: an excess of acid, too florid a flavour profile. The middle and after palates are of moderate intensity and good flow. The finish is short, as one expects, but clean, with a nice lift of grassy aromatics cleansing the palate.

A great, highly commercial example of why this is a classic wine style.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A21.90
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Swinging Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Rightly or wrongly, I approach Australian Sauvignon Blanc with a degree of nervousness. Few would argue we do this varietal consistently well and I’ve struggled to identify regions with the sort of notable character achieved in other areas famous for the grape. Orange may yet surprise us. As with Pinot Gris, I’ve been impressed with the region’s ability to produce some Sauvignon Blancs with zing and freshness, hinting at a distinctiveness that makes a region/varietal combination truly shine. This is a great example of what I mean.

The aroma is pungent and forthright, showing a range of notes from tropical fruit to nettles via a good old backyard lemon tree. It’s utterly varietal and, if it doesn’t quite reach the distinctive heights of a Marlborough example, neatly avoids the insultingly confected vibe one still encounters way too often amongst local wines. I’d like to see this taken a step or two towards the edge; I feel there’s an angularity here that is being held back by conservative winemaking but which might make this something truly special.

Perhaps the level of residual sugar is the culprit, a component that is clearer on the palate thank on the nose. Entry is bright and vivid thanks to a decent whack of acid, backed up by a gush of sweetish citrus flavour. Things threaten to become disappointingly conventional until the middle palate injects all sorts of mineral, savoury complexity. All of a sudden, this looks like it’s punching well above its weight, a continuation of sizzly mouthfeel propping up an increasingly adult flavour profile. The after palate and finish die somewhat, as is typical for this varietal, though there’s a half-strength dose of sweet fruit that persists stubbornly well beyond the point at which this wine ought to have departed.

I think there’s real potential here; I’d love to see the style making fewer concessions to perceived popular tastes.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $A18.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mud House The Woolshed Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010

A single vineyard wine and, at $A29, occupying the upper end of the price range for this style. As single vineyard and smaller production Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs become more visible, it interests me to see what makers consider to be worth highlighting in terms of varietal character. Here, Mud House has gone for a fairly extreme end of the style, full of spiky passionfruit, nettles and aggression.

It’s not all harshness, though; far from it. The fruit character here is actually quite complex (once you get past the overt aromatics), with some nectarine flesh and citrus in amongst the more tropical notes. The edginess, too, is detailed and relatively complex, though one might argue these qualities don’t make up for what is a slightly unbalanced overall profile. There’s no mistaking this for any other style.

In the mouth, one’s first impression is of chalky, textured acid, rather breathtaking really, followed by a cascade of bright fruit notes and an edge of leaf. Interestingly, it’s not thin-tasting; there’s a bit of flesh to the flavours, round enough to combat the wine’s structural tendencies. Typically, it dies a bit on the after palate and finish. For my taste, this is de trop, pushing the harsher side of the style too far to the fore. Having said that, those looking for a vibrant, somewhat explosive wine will find it here in spades.

Mud House
Price: $A29
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

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

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Just the other day, I was reflecting on the nature of quality and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, on how to tease apart a bunch of wines whose obviousness of style tends to cause them to be lumped into a single, undifferentiated lump (I’m just as guilty as the next wine writer on this count). Along comes this wine to provide some answers.

It really is excellent. I’ve always liked Dog Point wines and feel they are especially sophisticated expressions of their regional styles. And it’s sophistication that immediately lifts this wine above any number of others. It’s complex, aromatically, with honey and grass and capsicum and gooseberry and, well, you get the idea. Typicité in spades, then; what’s rarer is how this almost magically balances each element and has them weave in and out of the overall profile, all with the most beguilingly supple liveliness. It’s what separates a great dancer from a merely good one, such nuance and seamless transition between attitudes. A pleasure to smell.

The palate is in no way a let down. Crisp and quite minerally, it again shows amazing complexity for such a simply made style. Here, I’m reminded of the best Rieslings and the way they can at times possess an infinite, fractal-like depth of flavour; do we underestimate this varietal? The more vulgar aspects are kept in check, but not through any artificiality in the vineyard or winery designed to pull back the style; there are no extremes here at all. An intriguing, slightly candied finish rides what has become by this stage a drying, chalky mouthfeel.

Dog Point
Price: $A11/glass
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Given the recognisable — some might say obvious — character of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, trying to establish a hierarchy of quality is more difficult than it can be with other wine styles. Once a wine has passed the threshold test of “yes, it taste like what it is,” nuances of balance and emphasis arguably play a disproportionately large role in sorting the best from the rest. As an aside, they’re also terribly difficult wines to write about, not least because I can’t think of any wine style that discourages analytical tasting more vigorously than this.

Loaded with that baggage, I taste the Mud House Sauvignon Blanc tonight, and note initially that it stresses the capsicum and cut grass (methoxypyrazines) aspects more than some. The aroma profile is stridently, though not forbiddingly, tilted towards green notes, backed up by typically passionfruit-laden fruit and a hint of citrus peel too. Absolutely of its style, if more lively and aggressive than some.

The palate is predictably abundant of acid and sharp of flavour; these are, after all, the characters that make this style so successful. Again, it treads a fine line between zingy and flat-out harsh, falling back onto the right side in the end, and mercifully avoiding the sort of crass accessibility that inevitably involves noticeable residual sugar. Indeed, this is a well-judged wine, unafraid to indulge the more controversial aspects of this varietal without becoming a caricature of itself. Big entry, brisk mid-palate, a smidgeon of length, plenty of lively flavour and structure. There’s no complexity to speak of, but nor is there any pretension.

It certainly won’t convert anyone to the style, but lovers of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc needn’t hesitate.

Mud House
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample