Lowe Tinja Preservative Free White 2012

One becomes so jaded. As soon as I saw this wine’s label, I immediately assumed its preservative free status was some kind of spin, a claim at natural wine status perhaps, or a cynical attempt at niche marketing. Shame on me — it turns out the winemaker is himself sensitive to sulfur dioxide and makes this wine for those similarly afflicted. As someone who erupts into fits of coughing when faced with too much sulfur, that’s an intent I can relate to.

The wine itself is a blend of Chardonnay and Verdelho. It’s quite low in alcohol (10% ABV) and shows considerable spritz when poured. Although ostensibly a still table wine, the dissolved carbon dioxide exerts a significant influence over the experience of this wine, its nose prickling with savouriness and its palate enlivening the tongue even if it doesn’t exactly flood the tastebuds with flavour. The overall impression is one of neutral freshness and crisp acid. Crucially with a wine such as this, there are no faults, but nor is there much personality.

It seems the purpose of this wine is simply to provide fresh, easy drinking to those with an aversion to sulfur dioxide. In this it succeeds admirably.

Lowe Wines
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Windowrie The Mill Verdelho 2011

To the extent that one thinks at all about Verdelho, I’m willing to bet most people in Australia associate it with the Hunter Valley. I’m somewhat partial to a good Hunter Verdelho actually; their simplicity and robust flavour can be charming. So I was quite disappointed the other night to taste an almost undrinkable example of the genre. Luckily, I had a couple of other Verdelhos in the sample pile, though from regions other than the Hunter.

This one, for example, is classsified Central Ranges but, from a comment left on my review of the 2008, the fruit is sourced from Cowra. Re-reading my impressions of the earlier wine, I found it lacking compared to my favourite Hunters, but the current release suggests I may need to re-evaluate. Granted, it’s hot and slightly phenolic — two classic Verdelho traps — but its boisterous character and generous flavour more than compensate.

The aroma is bright but not sharp, expressing citrus and richer tropical fruit in equal measure. The palate has a particularly good acid structure, firm and a bit edgy but well balanced with respect to the weight and richness of the wine’s fruit. There’s a thickness to this wine’s flavour profile that reminds me of tinned things; not so much a lack of freshness as a slightly blunt opulence that, I must admit, I quite enjoy. The after palate and finish are unremarkable, but for that burst of alcohol at the tail end.

As an affordable quaffing wine, this succeeds well.

Price: $A16.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

The Scholium Project the wisdom of Theuth 2010

Here in San Diego, it’s a balmy 25.7°C – sure, it’s technically winter, but it sure doesn’t feel like a good time to bust out the high octane Zinfandel that goes so well with a fireplace (bearskin rug optional, of course). Instead, I’m splitting the difference with a heavy white wine.

On an aside: I’m even more confused about the whole verdejo-verdelho thing after a recent trip to Spain; I came home with a bottle of godello, which is apparently the same as verdelho, which is apparently distinct from verdejo. Go figure. Anyhow: Australians and Californians say verdelho just as surely as we say mataro, so verdelho it is.

You could easily mistake this wine for Asturian cider if you served it in the wrong glass: it’s got that fat, rich, flat sparkling wine color to it. As is usually the case for this winery, there’s obviously a metric ton of alcohol involved, with the kind of legs that would be banned in Utah. The nose is wonderfully complex, with an initial hit of cucumber cold cream, lemon zest, bitter almonds, and empty, waxed wooden floors in a cold German hallway in the countryside, with traces of hay and old leather bookbags.

Unctuous and slippery, the wine is bone dry; all of the texture is strictly alcoholic. There’s a fine-grained acidity that works well against the bitter chalkiness of the wine; there’s an elegant tension between a sense of fresh baked bread with slightly green edges on the nose and the bottom-heavy, quince marmelade of the wine. Finally, apparently only to drive home the point that this wine is serious business, there’s a seductive hint of stony minerality.

Should you age this wine? No, probably not. What you should do is obvious (and a categorical imperative): buy some, cool it (but don’t chill it), and serve it to friends with marzipan or strong cheeses. I know it’s a vanishingly small category, but The Scholium Project is (I believe) far and away the finest producer of verdelho in North America. If you don’t know what verdelho tastes like, this is your best introduction to the genre.

The Scholium Project
Price: $28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

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

Two Verdelhos

Last Friday, I invited some friends over to the house so that we could open two wines, drink them together, and talk for a while about the differences between the two.

I’ll start with some background: both of these wines were Verdelho. Being a Californian (and not an Australian), Verdelho basically means absolutely nothing to me. If I hadn’t had spent so much time in Australia, I likely wouldn’t have been familiar with the grape at all: it has no role in my nation’s cultural history (whereas it absolutely does in Australia’s). The first Verdelho I ever drank was most likely something I encountered whilst on vacation in Western Australia in early 2002; they seemed to be legion, with most wineries having at least one on offer. (Capel Vale, perhaps? Dang it, I should have taken better notes.)

After nine months’ travels throughout Australia, I eventually came to know Verdelho as a generically rockin’ good time: you could count on it to taste good in a simple, pleasing manner without giving you all too much to think about, and that was just fine by me. After returning home to California, I’d occasionally see Australian Verdelho gathering dust in the “miscellaneous white wine” bin in a shop; I usually picked up a bottle, took it home, and drank it mindlessly. Thanks to a strong US dollar and the utter unfashionability of the wines, prices never hit double digits and I never grew tired of them.

As always, however, I digress. I’m here to talk about these two wines in particular: the 2009 Mollydooker The Violinist Verdelho and the 2009 Scholium Project Lost Slough Vineyards Naucratis. These are both straight varietal Verdelho from the same vintage year, albeit from opposite ends of the globe. Climactically, both wines are produced from similar geographic origins; McLaren Vale, in South Australia, is relatively warm with daily summer temperatures around 90 degrees, Clarksburg, in California, is warmer still with daily summer temperatures in the high 90s. (For you Australians, that would be 32 and 36 degrees C, respectively.) In short, nothing too dramatically different.

Soils, too, are probably not wildly different; the California wine is presumably grown on poor soil, and I imagine the Aussie wine isn’t that different either. In short, probably not hugely different either.

The major difference, then, at least superficially, would be between the two wineries. One is a spinoff (or, rather, the logical next step arising from) a once phenomenally successful Australian-American wine import business that made its name during the Bush administration importing, well, hedonistic fruit bombs; Dan Philips (and Marquis-Philips, his joint venture with the Marquis family, who became Mollydooker) had the brilliant idea of critter wines on steroids: double or triple the price of cheap and cheerful Aussie imports, but with vastly superior label design, bi-national critters (google Roogle if you’d like), and delicious, high octane, pleasurable wines that seemed just the perfect thing to serve at a megachurch BBQ celebrating to invasion of Iraq.

I will pause here for a moment and apologize for the intrusion of the political in to a nominally aesthetically oriented wine blog: one of these wines was a press sample, and God knows the generosity of the winemakers should not be abused. However, if one of the objectives of shipping samples is to potentially result in interesting ways of thinking about the wine, then I suppose they’re getting their money’s worth, even if obliquely. These sorts of wines – high alcohol, usually Shiraz, occasionally lavishly yet softly oaked – seemed to have sprung up shortly after that Mission Accomplished banner did, and it seems no mere coincidence that The Grateful Palate, Dan Philips’ importing business, ceased to exist shortly after President Obama took office and not too much longer before the cessation of combat operations in Iraq. In short, I am unfairly and hopefully amusingly positing that there is an odd synchronicity at work here between the go-go Bush years, filled with foreign policy adventuring beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and the heyday of massive, plush, jammy, hedonistic wines (at this point, I am imagining someone with a distinctly non-West Coast accent spitting them into a football helmet on YouTube, for some reason), an odd crosstalk where one informs the other, a mad rush of consumption and decadence leading… well, I’m still not sure, exactly, except for the wines, which always, always led to massive ibuprofen consumption the morning after.

Of course, again, I digress.

The other wine, the Californian one, was produced by a small winery founded by a one-time professor from a notoriously obscurantist liberal arts college where they (shudder) still teach Aristotle… in the original Greek, no less. Again curiously coincident with the disastrous economic meltdown of 2008, his wines slowly but surely came to prominence not through glowing Wine Advocate reviews, but rather through one-off New York Times articles and general Terroir (the wine bar) fandom; most reviews I’d read were faintly reminiscent of early Dooniana , filled with remarks along the lines of “I can’t drink this, but I’m excited that it exists.” Much in the mode of recent newcomers such as Field Recordings, Abe the winemaker traveled California, hunting down vineyards that might produce interesting wines; in this case, a wine from a grape no one’s ever heard of (here, at least) from an area that’s generally as well regarded as Redfern (amusingly, the small hamlet of Woodbridge, which gave its name to an ocean of crappy wine that helped bring the Mondavi family to its doom, isn’t too far away to the south).

But again: I digress. On to the tasting notes; these are courtesy of a group of six friends. Both wines were placed in the refrigerator Thursday night and removed about forty-five minutes before tasting; we were hoping for a happy medium between “cold and doesn’t taste like anything” and “warm and tastes gross.” Wines were served in two identical glasses (Spiegelau Authentis red wine); we drank slowly, talking about these for a good half hour, before finishing up for the evening.

  • Both wines smell towards the sweet/syrupy end of the spectrum
  • This wine… well, it doesn’t quite smell like canned peaches because it doesn’t have that tinned smell to it that California viognier does. It’s kind of like viognier, but smoother, I guess.
  • This almost has kind of a sugar cane factory, cut cane, simple syrup, pineapple effect here with not much spice, just a happy go lucky sugar factory really.
  • It’s a little bit floral to me, but hard to say exactly what I’m smelling here. There might be a slight amount of spiciness to it, almost a hint of black pepper… celery salt or perhaps something slightly green there? Really hard to say.
  • Candied/salted spinach perhaps?
  • Seems hot to me.
  • Seems a much richer wine, more concentrated, perhaps even a bit of residual sugar here? Definitely very mouth filling, unctuous rich.. almost flabby. I think this might be going too far.
  • This wine seems… whiter? More like white peach than yellow peach. Some minerality here, really a striking difference. Generally more “serious” and more northern Rhône than the other one; better acidity, tighter, just a tiny bit of astringency to it.
  • Almost bitter, definite complexity on the finish, which lasts for quite a bit of time.
  • This almost has a sort of quinine note, reminiscent of bitters, which it desperately needs to give it complexity and style.
  • Strange to think these are the same grape from roughly similar climates; the simpler one has a deeper, richer yellow color, but the more complex one seems lighter, less imposing in the glass

There was, alas, one thing we all agreed on by the end of the evening: the one wine would have been just fine on its own, but it suffered by comparison with the other wine. It’s funny how things go sometimes: often, in the midst of unbridled enjoyment, it’s hard to imagine how an experience could possibly be better. I’ve personally bought both of these wines in the past – it was happy coincidence that I was given a bottle as a press sample – but having now had them simultaneously, I’m not sure I’d buy any more, especially considering that the pricing is roughly the same for the both of them.What it boiled down for me was this: I know it’s cliché to point this out, but every profoundly beautiful thing has to have a flaw – or at least something there that serves as a counterpoint, a foil, a dissonance to draw the beauty of the object in sharper, finer focus. The real reason I came away from this evening finding one wine profoundly beautiful and deeply satisfying was this: it showed restraint. Similarly high in alcohol, it seemed to have better acidity, more minerality, less residual sugar, but most of all that subtle, quinonic, bitter, savory edge that suddenly shifted it all into vibrant, ecstatic focus. You’d be hard pressed to expect more from a wine like this, especially at $20.My advice to the other winemaker? Simple: The boom years are behind us. It’s time to go beyond simple fruit ripeness, high alcohols, and straight-up appeal; it’s time to find the subtle beauty that’s probably always been there, time to experiment with phenolic aspects, time to consider the joys of Italianate bitter notes. I now know that there is Verdelho beyond the simple, fruity joys I’ve known from Australia from years; it’s there if you want it. Go for it: if you do, I’ll be there to buy it. And I’ll even go out on a limb here and groundlessly speculate: the Americans that were buying your wines in the past were probably buying them using home equity loans on houses that have already been foreclosed. The days of reckless consumption of shiny pretty wines with high point scores seem to have gone missing over the last two years; instead, we’re looking for subtlety, complexity, something with pain, something to match the anxiety and frustration we’re all feeling in these, the empty, anguished dog years after the binge of the Oughts. Give us something we can relate to; your wines remind me too much of those years where we weren’t thinking.

Mollydooker + Scholium Project
Price: $20-$26; average retail price $20
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Windowrie The Mill Verdelho 2008

A few years ago, I remember asking someone to whom I wanted to make a gift of some wine whether she had any favourites. Her answer was “Cowra Verdelho,” a singular response that sticks in my mind to this day. Needless to say, I didn’t hold high hopes of tracking any down. Halliday’s Wine Companion site lists just two Cowra-based producers with a Verdelho in their portfolio, of which this Windowrie is one. Further, the label lists this as a wine of the “Central Ranges,” the zone into which Cowra falls, so the fruit may not be entirely sourced from the Cowra region. No matter – this is the closest I’ve come to Cowra Verdelho since the memorable, unfulfilled request.

And hey, it’s a Verdelho alright, presenting straightforward, crisp fruit salad-like aromas. The particular fruit salad here isn’t anything fancy; it’s the salad I remember seeing (and not especially liking, though I was a fussy child) at numerous barbeques in the 80s; a bit heavy on the unpeeled red delicious apple, not much in the way of tropical fruits, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon to keep it all from browning. I quite like it.
The palate is lightly flavoured, with a rounded, hot presence that speaks to this wine’s 14.6% abv. Despite this unexpected scale, it’s curiously satisfying and certainly pleasant to drink. Verdelho is one of those wines one tends to approach without many expectations, save those relating to drinkability and simple pleasure; within that context, this delivers well and is squeaky clean. Entry and middle palate are both quite fruit-driven and mouthfilling in a decidedly hydraulic manner. The after palate shows a line of bitterness that offsets the fruit flavour particularly well. The acid seems a bit low to me, or at least overwhelmed by the mouthfeel. 
On the whole, if this is representative of Central Ranges Verdelho, I prefer the Hunter style, which seems more robust and fully flavoured. However; what’s here is tasty and very easy drinking.

Price: $A17.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tulloch Verdelho 2008

I opened this wine tonight because I was looking forward to drinking a 1997 Château de Besseuil. Clearly, Hunter Valley Verdelho isn’t white Burgundy; the Tulloch is also different in that it’s not corked to a nostril-shocking degree. After smelling the tell-tale wet cardboard on my Besseuil, I reached for the wine in my immediate vicinity least likely to be faulty. And here we are.

Perhaps not a very generous way to introduce this wine; the reality is, this label has been most consistent over the past few years, and the Hunter Valley does a solid line in Verdelho more generally. So there’s some pedigree at work here. 
The nose is really friendly and almost joyously perfumed, with bubblegum fruitiness alongside floral notes that remind me of my favourite outmoded “French whorehouse” fragrances. It’s also very, very clean. It’s a very commercial style, but in a way its flavoursome anonymity is refreshing in a sea of Sauvignon Blanc on the one hand, and Pinot Gris on the other. 
The palate seems to be a step up from previous vintages, with a sense of calm sophistication that I wasn’t expecting. Mostly this is due to a full, slippery mouthfeel that carries a whole fruit salad of flavour over the tongue. The acidity is notable, as it’s both lively and very fine at the same time. In character, this wine is fruity with a high toned powderiness that recalls perfume and a persistent sense of levity that is, finally, quite convincing. It’s not complex, intense or long, but who cares? 
A really fun wine that would be perfect Summer afternoon drinking. 

Price: $A13.30
Closure: Stelvin

Domaine des Baumard Vert de L'Or Doux 1999

A big mushroom cloud of oxidised stink at first, settling to a less big mushroom cloud of oxidised stink after a few minutes. There’s no doubt this bottle could be in better condition, but it is keeping it together long enough for me to have a good taste.

An interesting companion piece to the dry 2000 version, this wine is less identifiably varietal yet weightier in fruit at the same time. Gentle acidity provides a backdrop for gentle, sweet flavour and some bitterness that both freshens the palate and overwhelms the fruit somewhat. It’s all very easygoing in flavour profile and, thanks to that acidity, brisk on the tongue. A simple, slightly confected after palate leads to a decent finish that is quite textural and slightly bitter.

A little hard to judge this bottle, but what’s here is tasty enough, though fading a little disgracefully into old age.

Domaine des Baumard
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Domaine des Baumard Vert de L'Or Sec 2000

Hard drive failures, like acts of God, can offer a useful perspective on what’s important. But mostly, they serve to highlight how badly prepared you are. In any case, my data are now residing on a redundant store whose blue LEDs periodically, reassuringly, blink at me. Time to open another bottle of wine.

Here’s a curiosity, then. The Baumard web site, combined with my spotty French lead me to believe this wine from the Loire Valley is made from the Verdelho grape. I gather, also, Verdelho is rather a novelty in France, or has increasingly been so since the 1950s. In any case, it appears some of it was found within the estate’s plantings, from which this wine (and a sweeter variant) is produced.

This wine bears some resemblance to Australian Verdelho-based wines but, perhaps unsurprisingly, tastes more of the Loire Valley than anything else. An aged aroma profile of some residual freshness but mostly of a waxy minerality that reminds me of the Loire Chenin-based wines lately consumed. This wine currently lacks the complexity and detail of, say, the 1995 Baumard Savennières, although it’s certainly interesting enough. There are edges of softer tropical fruit that, to my palate, are this wine’s nod to its varietal origins.

The palate is more varietally-identifiable, showing a high toned, vaguely tropical fruit character. Not hugely flavoursome on entry, it shows good palate weight and some more intensity of fruit flavour towards the middle palate. Again there’s no great complexity here, but the flavour profile is undeniably distinctive and, to my taste, quite attractive. Intensity drops off quickly through the after palate, and there isn’t an especially remarkable finish. Some lift at the back of the mouth carries things through to a soft conclusion.

A tasty, characterful wine that pairs well with fresh, strongly-flavoured food.

Domaine des Baumard
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Krinklewood Verdelho 2007

I seem to end up drinking more Hunter Verdelho than I intend to, partly because they are often keenly priced and, well, there. This one is no exception, and has the added advantage of originating from a biodynamic vineyard. Straightforward, juicy fruit salad aromas with the faintest hint of herbal astringency on the nose. There’s no significant complexity but there’s sufficient volume, which is the point with a wine like this. The entry is immediately flavoursome, with more Verdelho fruit salad riding a slightly slippery, glycerol influenced mouthfeel through to a generous, flavoursome middle palate. Acidity is gentle but present enough to add some firmness to the wine’s otherwise easygoing palate. Unlike many Verdelhos, this wine shows well controlled phenolic bitterness — enough to cleanse the palate without disrupting the sweeter fruit notes. A nice lift of slightly medicinal flavour characterises the finish, and the wine has decent length, tapering slowly to a close.This is the nicest Verdelho I’ve had in a while. Its combination of mouthfilling flavour and perfectly balanced bitterness is delicious and fun. Drinks well and is great value.KrinklewoodPrice: $A16Closure: StelvinDate tasted: February 2008