Collector Reserve Shiraz 2007

Considerable hesitation before deciding what to drink tonight. For some reason, my wine rack (the high-throughput, on-site portion of my cellar) is full of white wines at the moment, none of which I felt like drinking. This, therefore, stood out, and when I looked up my previous note I saw a reminder to try it again about now.

On the basis of this and the recently tasted 2006, I’d say the later vintage is drinking better right now. While the 2006 is still quite youthful, this is developing some really attractive tertiary aromas and flavours that complement its full plum fruit and spiced edges well. The nose has an appealingly ripe richness, with dark plum flesh and brown spice now accompanied by truffled notes and leather. These are the flavours of good old red wine, polite enough to make themselves felt without taking centre stage. The effect is harmonious; I like where this aroma is at.

The palate is similarly balanced, though the primary fruit here is perhaps more assertive. In particular, there’s a lift of plum juice through the after palate that remains fresh. Black pepper falls over the wine’s entry and mid-palate, along with an increasingly dense thread of fruit and underlying coat of leather and earth. There’s a lot going on here, all quite discernible even if the wine lacks an ounce of precision and definition. Tannins are mostly plush, with a slight bite of astringency through the finish, while acid feels reasonably relaxed.

One would lose nothing by drinking this wine now.

Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Robert Stein Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2009

I’m quite sure the tide will turn in favour of Australia’s heritage styles eventually. Right now, the (often deserved) attention being paid to our Chardonnay and Pinot wines comes at the expense of wine styles with genuine lineage. I’m thinking of dry Riesling, fortified wines and, of course, the Cabernet Shiraz blend. As things stand today, this wine from Mudgee is firmly on the wrong side of fashion.

Which is a shame because, as many have remarked before me, there’s a lot to commend this particular blend. Shiraz’s tendency towards flesh on the mid-palate can work well with a leaner Cabernet, giving weight to the latter’s focus and structure. I sense when tasting this wine that the components are working in harmony. The dominant influence is certainly Cabernet, and the wine is quite linear on the palate. But there’s some sweet juiciness too, a swell on the mid-palate, that screams Shiraz. The balance struck between the two seems right to me and, while it’s not a wine that prioritises finesse, it does retain an elegance of fruit despite its fundamentally ballsy character. The wine’s region also sings loudly, with a characteristic red dirt/dust note featuring on both nose and palate.

I do find, though, that oak plays a fairly strident role in the wine’s flavour profile at present. It’s glossy and glamourous for sure, yet I can taste it quite separately from the fruit, which suggests a bit of time for it to integrate would be of benefit. Acid is also a smidge disjointed at the back of the palate, leading to an orange juice, sweet-sour impression as the wine moves through its final moments. So, a wine that remains youthful and edgy, in need of time.

Robert Stein
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2006

Looking back over my notes, I first tasted this in 2008, and again in 2009 with Chris. What’s striking about the glass in front of me now is how little it has changed from, in particular, my initial encounter.

This is still massively primary on the nose, the density of fruit I noted back in 2008 remaining a feature of the aroma profile, as is its just-out-of-the-gate freshness. Rich red and black fruits, pepper and other spices, firm oak; this certainly has the spice of a cooler climate wine along with the assertiveness and rich depth of a warmer climate one. Part of me feels this is Australia’s sweet spot in contemporary Shiraz – wines that show the ripeness and generosity of fruit achieved in our classic styles combined with the sort of spice and meatiness colder weather can bring. Best of both worlds, in a way.

In the mouth, still spicy and dominated by dense, muscular berry fruit. As I originally noted, this isn’t a wine of subtlety, but it never feels caricatured to me, always retaining a sappy, spicy edge to counterbalance its rich fruit. Here on the palate I’m getting a greater contribution from bottle age, with some lightly leathery flavours edging in and adding a sheen to the wine’s primary flavours. I previously suggested this wine was soft in acid, but on this tasting I’m getting good structure, both acid and tannin, which is keeping the wine brisk and firm. The after palate is perhaps starting to lose some fruit weight now, signalling the wine’s future as an altogether mellower experience.

If anything, this wine plays it a bit safe. It’s perfectly formed in its way, yet I wish it showed a wilder streak, something to lift it above being the excellent wine it already is and turn it into something truly memorable.

Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

All Saints Hogshead Matured Shiraz 1983

[Editor’s note: as is our occasional habit, we here publish the work of a guest author, Simon Clayfield of Clayfield Wines.]

My son was out of bed unusually early last Sunday morning and presented me with a Father’s Day card and gift: a really neat waiter’s friend corkscrew. A lovely thought and truly appreciated, but a strange gift considering that most wines these days are sealed with a screwcap.

I have a moderate collection of corkscrews and my favourite is the “screwpull,” which has coaxed the most fragile and stubborn corks from many bottles. Teenagers often forget that mums and dads exist, let alone appreciate the slightest moments of love and caring, but this gesture made my day. Our boy is about to complete secondary school and if all goes according to plan will be moving away early next year to start a career in the defence forces. I will make a habit of carrying this tool with me at all times and not just for practical reasons.

Tonight we cooked a simple but flavoursome pasta carbonara. I went rummaging through my special stash of older wines and, after a few minutes, pulled out a bottle of 1983 All Saints Shiraz to accompany the meal. The cork looked to be in sound condition and still offered some resistance, christening the brand new corkscrew; it came out nicely and without any offensive odour of cork taint. I have a habit of pouring a little straight into the glass and sniffing it before decanting just in case, to avoid cleaning the decanter un-necessarily. Decanting left a small deposit and the wine had good clarity.

The initial aroma was inviting but somewhat closed from all the time spent confined; it needed a little while to reveal the beauty within. Its ruby red colour defied its thirty years’ age and, after a while, a brick red hue appeared in the meniscus — definite signs that the cork had done satisfactory job of protecting the contents from excessive oxygen. According to the label, the wine was matured in French Nevers Oak hogsheads; clearly evident early but not obtrusive and gradually changing into wonderful cigar box/cedary character. The fruit showed defining peppery Shiraz notes that soon morphed into attractive glazed fig and plum. These nuances carried onto the palate, balanced with grainy tannin and a slight aftertaste similar to Morello cherries.

Overall, I this wine is a splendid example of aged Australian Shiraz which was most likely made in the traditional way. 1983 was drought time. I think the winemaker made a good call to pick the grapes early, avoiding excessively jammy and overripe fruit characters, considering also that the vineyard is located in a relatively hot viticultural region made famous its fortified wines styles.

The wine made a good partner with dinner and a great excuse to use the corkscrew — something we don’t do often enough these days. Thanks son.

All Saints
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: George’s private stock

Sandstone Cellars X 2009

80% Syrah, 15% Touriga, 5% Nebbiolo.

Syrah, or Shiraz as I have labelled the ferment at Pontotoc Vineyard, features fairly regularly in Texas Hill Country wines. As a representative of the country that owns this grape, I’m naturally curious to see how it translates to an even hotter, dryer climate than we typically subject it to. This wine also contains a bit of Touriga Nacional and Nebbiolo, which is, at the very least, unexpected.

This wine is all about tannin; fine, rich tannin that blankets the tongue from mid-palate onwards. Syrah provides the dominant flavour components, which in this context means bright, red fruit, a bit of chocolate and a lot of floral notes. There’s also a gentle spiciness that lifts the flavour profile and adds layers of complexity.

This is a gentle wine to smell and taste, which is ironic given its abundance of firm, fine tannin. The whole is medium bodied at most, and at this stage it tastes entirely primary. More red fruits, spice, tea leaf and bitter chocolate. As with the aroma, this wine’s palate gives the impression of being built in layers, one placed softly over the next until a complete flavour profile is constructed. There’s a soft prettiness to this that I really admire.

While tasting, I wished for more strangeness from this wine, an odd note or something structural to mark this as more eccentric. Perhaps my reaction to it comes from a certain familiarity with its flavour profile, given my background with Shiraz-based wines. To be sure, this is very far from any Australian wine I can think of in terms of palate structure and character, but compared to some other Sandstone wines, its flavours are less challenging, and more immediately understandable.

Note: I am currently an intern with Don Pullum, the maker of this wine.

Sandstone Cellars
Price: $US35
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2010

On my first day at Bonny Doon Vineyard, I helped to wash and fill several hundred glass carboys with 2012 Le Cigare Volant. On my second and third days, we washed and filled several hundred more. While doing this work, it occurred to me more than once that maturing wine in this manner had better be worth the effort.

As it turned out, the timing of my visit to Bonny Doon coincided with this annual event, reserved for the very top wines of the estate (the reserve Le Cigare Volant and reserve Le Cigare Blanc). The first step in preparing the carboys for the 2012 Le Cigare Volant was to decant from them the 2010 vintage, which went to tank and, later in the week, to bottle. I assisted with bottling the ’10 and was given a freshly bottled example to taste. I wasn’t sure how the wine would show, given the many phases through which it had passed in just a few days, but found it already-enjoyable with its essential character intact.

The point of ageing these wines on lees in carboys, it seems, is to create for them a highly anaerobic/reductive environment in which freshness can be maintained and desirable flavours developed. On tasting, I was especially interested to see what, if anything, I might discern in the wine from this method of cellaring, and it seems to me the most striking influence is a savoury minerality that asserts itself through the latter half of the wine’s line. This creates for the wine’s palate a nice sweet-savoury narrative. It begins with almost-plush red berries and spice, deceptively friendly given the progressively more savoury countenance the wine adopts from mid-palate onwards. There begins notes of dried meat, minerals and a range of quite subtle reductive components (of the struck match and smoke sort) that create an impression of seriousness and detail. Tannins are fine and firm, meshing well with the after palate’s angularity of flavour.

Although it’s difficult to assess a wine so recently bottled, I do feel the way in which it was raised has contributed a distinctive character to the wine. These more savoury influences add further sophistication and interest to a wine that already benefits from pretty, restrained fruit aromas and flavours. I will look out for this when it’s released.

Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Cayuse Armada Vineyard Syrah 2009

A true sense of discovery is one of the most exciting and, for we jaded drinkers, rarest pleasures in wine, especially when it concerns an object of some familiarity like Shiraz. There are any number of sound, delicious expressions of this variety around the world, some more distinctive than others. But to stumble across a region that seems capable of something truly new is rare. With this Cayuse wine, I feel confident that Walla Walla, in Washington state, is one such region.

This isn’t the first Cayuse wine I’ve tried. Several years ago, Chris shared the Cailloux Syrah with me and, looking back on my notes, I was quite blown away by it. Since being in the States again, I’ve tasted two further Cayuse wines, of which this is the second (and best). They are unified by an entirely peculiar flavour profile, filled with savouriness and angularity, spiced but not warm, full but not plush. Winemaking seems consistently clever, with oak and reduction used delicately to season cores of distinctive fruit flavour.

This particular wine, though showing a consistency of regional and house style, blows the roof off in terms of layered complexity. It’s terrifically vibrant, with aromas of dark berries, meat, spice and reduction, each well balanced with respect to the whole. It’s both sinewy and muscular, bouncing between an almost floral dimension to the depths of savouriness and back again, like a fragrance no-one would dare make. So pure, so elegant.

The palate maintains form, a certain heft being offset by the wine’s fundamentally angular set of flavours. This is a big wine, but it’s not a blockbuster, and this balance between body and delicacy is a key pleasure. There’s real definition here, each group of flavours shooting down the line with clarity and freshness. Palate structure is firm without undue assertiveness; the focus here is very much on a kaleidoscopic flavour profile, moving from sweet to savoury, almost-plush to linear. It’s quite a performance.

Tasting this wine was an invigorating experience, like immersing one’s self in a novel that yields a new pleasure with each page. I will be watching Walla Walla Syrah.

Cayuse Vineyards
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Lindemans Bin 9003 Hunter Valley Shiraz 1995

I tasted this alongside the Tyrrell’s 4 Acres from 2006 and, although the younger wine provided more satisfaction, it was nice to see two distinctively regional expressions of Shiraz at different points in their lives.

On the nose, intensely tertiary notes of leather, sweat, spice and the sort of fruit that has become liqueur-like moments before it vanishes altogether. The aroma profile reminds me of how confronting older wines can be; while completely sound, this smells so odd, so unlike one’s idea of wine, that it may well send some drinkers fleeing to the nearest bottle of Pepperjack Shiraz. I love, though, the distinctively leathery notes this wine throws from the glass.

The palate is harder work because it has lost just slightly too much fruit through the after palate to mask its (still quite prominent) acid. There’s still pleasure here, though. I especially like its flow through the mouth. Up front, surprisingly fleshy, with leathery, spiced flavours and that residual dark berry fruit. The mid palate shows some purity before it begins to fall apart through the after palate. Flavours aren’t perfectly integrated, and there’s some oak that, for me, sticks out a bit. But this is an old wine, on its last legs really, and one oughtn’t be too impatient with its imperfections.

A gentle pleasure.

Lindemans Wines
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Dodgy Brothers Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2011

There was a curious chap at the Geddes winery during vintage. Canadian, intense, always tending his myriad ferments, some of which were as small as a few hundred kilos. We had some good chats about yeasts and aroma compounds, and he taught me some neat cellar skills. Turns out this fellow is Wes Pearson, sensory analyst at the AWRI and the winemaking third of Dodgy Brothers Wines.

Before I get to the wine, let us pause for a moment to reflect on its packaging. I’ve seen a few tricks over the years to try and make labels more appealing, but never have I seen one applied upside-down, a design quirk which is carried through to the Dodgy Brothers Web site too. The whole is remarkably effective, helped in part by what is, on closer inspection, stock and printing of very high quality.

“Liberators of Fine Fruit” declares the label, and I suppose that’s a neat way of describing the approach taken here. Those endless parcels of fruit, from some well-regarded vineyards across McLaren Vale, come together in bottlings like this, a GSM blend from the oft-vilified 2011 vintage. Theoretically, cherry picking vineyards is one way to deal with a difficult vintage, so I’m curious to see what the Dodgy Brothers have managed to do here.

It’s certainly a lighter style, 15.5% ABV notwithstanding, and very expressive aromatically. Grenache is at the fore with pretty red fruits and delicate florals. Richer, meatier notes back this up along with a decent whack of oak. I like the way this smells; it has good freshness and definition, and doesn’t show any green or weedy notes. Placed up against a wine of a warmer vintage, it would no doubt look less dense, but that’s neither here nor there.

The palate is of medium weight and shows good continuity from the nose. Squeaky clean red fruits, snapped twig, dark chocolate and savoury dark berries. It’s not massively complex at this stage, and structurally it’s pretty easygoing, but its flavours are delicious and balanced. Alcohol gives a gloss to mouthfeel and perhaps adds to an impression of sweetness at the cost of slight heat through the finish.

Nice wine, then, and makes me curious to see what Wes has up his sleeve with his 2012s and 2013s.

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

Geddes Wines Seldom Inn Shiraz 2006

As unfashionable as it may be, I’m a true believer in the importance of people in wine. To be clear, I’m not advocating a brutish obliteration of place, but rather for the inclusion of humans, from viticulturist through winemaker to drinker, in our concept of what makes a wine compelling. Wine is natural only in the most basic, uninteresting sense, and it truly comes alive when its agricultural origins collide with a raft of cultural practices and, ultimately, with the aesthetics of the people who drink it.

The role, in all this, of the consulting winemaker, is problematic. Often charged with the task of bringing to life a client’s vision, the consultant risks losing his voice and becoming simply the guardian of best practice and sound outcomes. Which makes this particular wine interesting to me. Tim Geddes is the consulting winemaker behind some of the hottest young brands coming out of McLaren Vale. I’ve gotten to know Tim a little, as the winery I’m doing vintage with, Dowie Doole, makes its red wines in Tim’s winery. Though Tim is clearly in demand as a winemaker for others, I’ve been more and more curious to know what he might make under his own name. This wine is my first clue. The Seldom Inn range forms a second label for Geddes Wines.

The nose here is fragrant and spicy, with cedar oak and forest floor characters complementing fresh berry fruit. Brown spice and bottle aged notes back up higher toned aromas. As an aroma profile it’s all well and good, but what’s especially interesting is its finesse. This is no McLaren Vale fruit bomb. Rather, the aromas are subtle, intertwined, thoughtful, not light so much as well defined and nimble.

The palate creeps up on you, with fresh berry fruit the first flavour to register, followed by gentle brown spice, cigar box and elegant hints of bottle age. Acid structure is still very present, and the wine has fantastic length. Tannins are firm and drying, complementing attractive tobacco notes on the finish. As with the nose, flavours are well articulated and adult, with as many savoury as sweet characters. This is a wine of subtlety and, at this stage, notable complexity, and happily it does not overreach in terms of intensity.

In many ways this is a quiet wine, knitting together its flavours gently, never thrusting its qualities into the drinker’s face. If this is what Tim Geddes thinks good wine should taste like, I may just go along for the ride.

Geddes Wines
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample