Yelland & Papps Second Take Shiraz 2013

Another in the 2013 Second Take range from the lovely folks at Yelland & Papps. I’ve come to expect good drinkability from this producer’s wines over the years, and this release continues in that line, adding a few twists to its flavour profile along the way.

For starters, the aroma reminds me of synthetic musk as much as fruit; you know, those gorgeously childish Musk Sticks that still provide the occasional guilty pleasure to we adults. These sweet/floral aromas overlay some fairly young-smelling berry notes and cedar oak. I like the layers to the aroma profile, though there are also angles that remind me of primary and secondary fermentation smells — I think it needs a bit more time to lose its raw edges.

Medium bodied at most, this flip-flops between a certain voluptuousness and prominent acid. On entry, it’s the wine’s rounder side that dominates, ushering fresh berries and spice through to the mid-palate. There’s a hint of expansiveness here, curtailed emphatically by increasingly visible acid as the wine moves down its line. I wish the wine’s structure were more connected to its fruit, and that its oak didn’t jut out so much through the finish; this is, though, a very young wine at the beginning of its life. For now, a good spell in the decanter or in your cellar will pay dividends. Certainly, the flavours at its core are most attractive.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003

Time to test a theory: that this wine would benefit from a few years in the cellar. I was underwhelmed when I tasted it in 2009 and, while combing through my cellar the other day, thought I’d drag a bottle out to try.

Sadly, it’s different, but not substantially better. Structurally, the edge I noted in my previous note has calmed, though it remains a fairly tannic wine through the finish. There are regional aromas of blackcurrant and dusty leaf that I appreciate, and the wine’s line shows even density. The straightforward fruit character it showed as a young wine persists, though, leading to an impression of simplicity and bluntness on the palate. There are certainly some tertiary flavours now, and these are welcome, yet the wine never transcends the lump of indistinct berry fruit at its core.

Only okay.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Cherubino The Yard Acacia Vineyard Shiraz 2011

A counterpart to the Riversdale Vineyard wine, this is a catalogue of things that are good about Frankland River Shiraz. It’s also by far the more accessible of the two Cherubino wines, being a more suave, slinky wine than the rather forbidding Riversdale.

The nose is dark, as befits a wine of the region, yet it expresses the most wonderful range of spice notes alongside concentrated, savoury berry fruit. Despite its spiciness, there’s a restraint at play and a sense of full ripeness that allows fruit to cushion more angular notes, including some fairly glossy oak. Mostly, though, this smells cool, pure and vibrant, hallmarks of this region’s Shiraz at its best.

The palate’s structure strikes me as beautifully balanced, and tannins in particular are a highlight. On entry, a bright, brisk expression of red and black berries, flowing to a mid-palate that remains taut while allowing the fruit’s considerable intensity to shine. It’s only medium bodied, but such is the impact of the fruit and deliciousness of the tannins, it quite fills one’s mouth. The after palate connects cleanly and carries through to a savoury, slightly oak-driven finish.

This is my favourite of the various Frankland River Shirazes I’ve tasted of late and, at $35, is good value.

Update: a couple of days on and this is still firing on all cylinders. Wonderful velvet tannin.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Frankland River Shiraz 2009

Given the isolation of Great Southern, it’s not surprising several producers don’t bother with a cellar door. Shame, though, for those who do make the effort to visit, as I did last year. Not much to do other than order a mixed dozen or two, as I recently did from Castelli Estate. This is the second Castelli wine I’ve tasted from my experimental order, the first being a 2010 Shiraz that seemed quite lean and mean alongside a selection of other cool climate Australian Shirazes of the same vintage.

This edition is, if my memory is any sort of guide, a tad more generous, though it remains a firmly savoury wine. The aroma is quite lifted, with some fairly blunt oak alongside dark fruit, twig-like vegetation and less spice than one might expect of Frankland River Shiraz. I wish it were more defined and precise in the placement of its aromas. Although it’s distinctive and, in its lean way, regional, it’s also a pretty difficult aroma to warm to, mostly due to the directness of its oak component and the aggressiveness of its lift.

The palate is more satisfying, primarily due to an acid structure that delineates each flavour clearly and provides the wine with shape and articulation. There’s also a bit more substance and flesh to the fruit here that rounds out what threatens, aromatically, to be a fairly lean experience. Tannins are well-placed and slightly hard, giving the wine a firm finish. There are flashes of humanity here and there, some fruit to sink into, but these are the exception. The style here is, generally, rather unyielding.

I’ve certainly tasted Frankland River Shiraz with greater purity of fruit, vibrancy and complexity, and respect the region’s potential. Although this shows a genuine sense of place, for my palate it lacks the tension and interest that characterises really exciting Shiraz of the region.

Update: day 2 and the wine has settled somewhat. The aroma remains dark, with a hint of reduction I hadn’t initially noticed, while the palate has evened out and is showing brighter, quite attractive fruit. Still lacking in definition, but I suspect some time in a decanter will help it show to its best advantage.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Topper’s Mountain Red Earth Child 2011

As perhaps the only Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Tannat blend made in Australia (the world?), this piques one’s curiosity simply because of what it is. Such a blend might scream “left overs” to some, but this is Topper’s Mountain’s flagship red blend, which in itself signals a seriousness of intent. The project here, as was discussed in my review of the 2009, is to create the best blend possible in any given year from the Topper’s Mountain vineyard. The approach is appropriately responsive – this blend bears little resemblance to the earlier wine in its varietal composition.

And, indeed, there are marked sensory differences too. This is a bright, fragranced wine, the aroma infusing one’s senses with tea leaf, red fruit, brown spice and the sort of intensely aromatic florals that suggest eucalypts rather than anything more exotic. There’s quite a lot going on in fact, the whole light and transparent. It’s a nice wine to smell.

In the mouth, the wine’s light weight and high toned flavours are immediately evident. This is such a delicate wine, with more red fruit and spice winding their way around fine acid and subtle tannin. Yes, despite Nebbiolo and Tannat in the mix, this doesn’t come across as especially tannic, though the tannins present are fine and ripe, more velvet than grain. For me, this wine’s pleasures centre on its gentle, savoury flavours — which are surprisingly intense — and a general sense of effortlessness.

Another interesting entry in the Red Earth Child project, then, if not one inclined to call attention to itself.

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

Clarnette & Ludvigsen Shiraz 2010

One of Australia’s most visible viticulturists and long active in the industry’s practice and governance, Kim Ludvigsen died late last year. His vineyard in the Grampians, which I visited mid-2013, is one of the most carefully established and tended I’ve ever seen. Clearly, he was deeply thoughtful regarding his profession, a fact his long running monthly newsletter amply demonstrates. So sad, then, he’s no longer able to share and learn as he was so clearly passionate about doing.

This wine, made in partnership with winemaker Leigh Clarnette, comes from that beautiful vineyard nestled in the rolling hills behind Rhymney. It’s a startlingly elegant expression of Grampians Shiraz, quite different from relative heavyweights like Best’s Bin 0, Langi’s flagship or Simon Clayfield’s wines. The aroma is bright, almost cherry-like in its fruit character and quite floral. With some air, spice encroaches on this core of red fruit, along with a hint of snapped twig. It’s sweet and savoury in equal measure, always fleet of foot and playfully elusive.

In the mouth, an almost Italianate acid structure. This wine is formed around a line of bright, crunchy acid that lends a freshness to its red fruit and an urgency to its loose-knit tannins. Fruit seems too sweet at first but is quickly rebalanced by tart plum skins and spice. I’d say it’s only light to medium bodied, trading the sort of liquerous intensity one often finds in this region’s wines for a clarity and elegance that are totally unpretentious. Length is good, with a particularly persistent finish of fine, bright cherry fruit.

I believe the 2012 is currently available direct from the winery.

Update: day two and the wine is quite pleasing. It’s savouriness has become more marked, as has its texture. Still a nimble, light wine, but with plenty of interest. A couple more years in bottle will be kind.

Clarnette & Ludvigsen
Price: $30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.

In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.

I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.

Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.

Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25

The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013

This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60

I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.

Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25

What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.

Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85

A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200

This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.

And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Shiraz 2011

Frankland River Shiraz, if I may generalise for a moment, is the sort of wine the modern wine lover feels she ought to like. A friend of mine who has worked with fruit from the region considers it Australia’s closest approximation to a Northern Rhône style and, in its often uncompromising spice and savouriness, the style provides ample support for this view. In a line-up of Australian Shirazes tasted recently — blind — with a friend, the Frankland River wines showed poorly, seeming underdeveloped in fruit flavour by comparison even to other cooler climate expressions like wines from Canberra and the Grampians. Yet I can’t help but be drawn to the purity and edge these wines so often bring, and feel they benefit from a more contemplative tasting approach. Sometimes, drinkers need to meet a wine half way.

This wine, a companion to the Riesling tasted earlier, seems archetypal. It’s forcefully savoury in its aroma, throwing notes of clove, liquorice, savoury red fruit and crushed herbs. It’s not as spiced as a Canberran and lacks the generous fruit character most Shirazes from South Eastern Australia seem to effortlessly deliver. In their place, a sense of concentration and focus that is both slightly confrontational and impressive. Smelling this wine is almost a challenge.

The palate carries through with a wonderfully clear structure and good articulation of flavours. There’s a finesse to the way this wine moves down its line. It remains savoury in terms of flavour, with a distinctively reductive gunpowder note, and its slinky palate structure only serves to draw attention to the angularity of its other components. Tannins are well managed, presenting at the right level and with just a hint of aggression. Although clearly a young wine, this shows impressive coherence and stylistic integrity.

Unquestionably a wine of considerable sophistication, if somewhat forbidding character. It’s the party guest who’s just too good looking to talk to.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Dodgy Brothers Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2012

Six parcels from four different vineyards make up this wine. Having seen winemaker Wes Pearson at work, I know the lots were probably quite small, perhaps just a few hundred kilos each. The work’s in the number of parcels rather than their size, so a wine with this many components takes a fair bit of effort despite being made in tiny quantities. Still, it’s an approach I find interesting and one, as I noted in my review of the 2012 Shiraz, with considerable heritage in Australia.

Unlike the Shiraz, this opens with a range of savoury, borderline difficult notes. To be sure, there’s fruit too; I smell raspberries and plums. But the wine’s crack of undergrowth, licorice and sea spray speak of some seriously characterful fruit and it’s only with some fairly vigorous swirling that the wine finds, to my palate, its balance. Once settled, the aroma is charged with complexity, and expresses wisps of vanilla oak in counterpoint to dense, not-overly-sweet fruit and further savoury nuances. If the Shiraz is exuberant, this is sexier, slinkier and edgier too.

In the mouth, a wine of real line and length. It slips onto the tongue with a lick of dark spice and darker fruit. The mid-palate is quite taut, held in check by both acid and tannin that betray this wine’s youth, but nothing can disguise the power and density of the fruit here. I like the tannin structure more than I did in the Shiraz. It’s finer, more textured and more even. The after palate is full of dense black berries which continue right through to the back of the mouth. Length is a highlight.

Restraint isn’t a word typically associated with McLaren Vale Grenache, but this wine demonstrates how Grenache-dominant blends from this region can show ripeness and flavour while remaining savoury and well-structured. Again, delicious, and a considerable step up from the interesting 2011 edition.

Dodgy Brothers Wines
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dodgy Brothers Shiraz 2012

Wes Pearson and the Dodgy Brothers; it could be the name of an 80s cover band. Wes, though, is the winemaker for one of the more intriguing new labels out of McLaren Vale. I tasted the 2011 Dodgy Brothers Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre and felt it in many respects transcended the well-documented difficulties of that vintage. It’s with some anticipation, then, that I taste the first of three Dodgy Brothers releases from the kinder 2012 vintage.

The Dodgy Brothers approach is to source numerous small parcels of fruit from vineyards across McLaren Vale. In many respects, this is the classic Australian way – blend-driven wines with material sourced from a range of vineyards. The twist here, though, is these vineyards are dragged into the foreground and given the respect they are due. This blend is from two vineyards, both located in the Sellick Foothills, both duly named on the informative back label.

The aroma is so regional it brought a smile to my face. Full-fruited and fresh, this shows a range of notes, from plum to blackberries, spice to Kirsch. Although it’s very fruit forward, there’s immediate complexity and the dense aroma profile is quite difficult to tease apart, such is its coherence. This, more than anything, smells like McLaren Vale Shiraz.

The palate, though flavoursome, is surprisingly restrained, and there are quite prominent, slightly grainy tannins that run right down the wine’s line. This gives the wine shape and tension as well as emphasising a range of more subtle, savoury flavours. As the nose suggests, there’s plenty of fruit packed into this wine, and it flows freely on entry only to be held somewhat in check from mid-palate onwards. It’s clearly a young wine and one that should become more generous with short to medium term bottle age. I’d be reluctant to leave this for a long time, though. One needs to taste these attractive fruit flavours while fresh and vibrant.

A truly delicious wine.

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