Pizzini Rubacuori Sangiovese 2005

Self-appointed benchmark wines perform an interesting function in our wine scene, especially when made from varieties still considered “alternate” in Australia. Unlike wines that sit atop the tree of our few truly indigenous wine styles, wines like the Rubacuori seem to inevitably prompt comparisons, both stylistic and pecuniary, with their Old World counterparts. However, I prefer to see these wines as arguments for local expressions of their varieties, ones that are, in this case, joyously Australian in their richness and generosity.

This opens with a lot of oak, but give it some time in the decanter and it rebalances most pleasingly. The aroma blossoms with a whole pantry full of notes – bitter almond, white flowers, sawdust, broom cupboards, dried fruits, even a bit of mint. Pretty evocative, then. It’s a changeable aroma profile that benefits from slow contemplation rather than hurried evaluation.

The palate is remarkable for its slap of intense fruit within a dense, medium bodied frame. The mid-palate simply lights up with pure, clean red fruit, then splinters into an array of notes as the wine drifts towards the back of the mouth. Here it settles in its fragmented beauty, intensifying as abundant tannins release seemingly unlimited reserves of fruit and texture. Length is most definitely a highlight. Flavours are sweet and savoury, texture alternately silky and velvet.

A truly delicious, fine wine.

Price: $A110
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Eldridge Estate Estate Pinot Noir 2009

It was on a recent visit to David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate that I was gifted a half bottle of this wine, to help warm one of the many lonely motel evenings ahead of me. I’m finally tackling it, somewhat later than I thought I would, though the delay accounts for no loss of pleasure, as this is drinking really well.

Heady, obvious pinosity leaps from the glass along with a good deal of sweet, red fruit. There are sappy edges to the aroma profile too, all underlined by well controlled oak. Although this isn’t a wild, heady style, varietal definition is crystal clear and it presents as very well balanced on opening. Savouriness does creep in with some air, and this tempers the fruit’s sweeter tendencies, which is to my taste.

Mouthfeel is voluptuous and slippery, with edges of acid and tannin texture giving way to a rather buxom impression on the tongue. Flavours are fresh in the mouth and not outsize or exaggerated. As with the nose, the palate strikes me as balanced and refined; it’s an engaging wine that also values quiet moments, those pauses that make sense of sound. The after palate is sappy and refreshingly sour, acid tightening but never quite swamping a core of red fruit.

Not a blockbuster, just a delicious Pinot.

Eldridge Estate
Price: $A35 (375mL)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Crawford River Wines Young Vines Riesling 2011

Yesterday I travelled through the Henty region and called on two producers, Crawford River Wines and Hochkirch. Henty is a mystery to me. Vast, remote, few wineries and even fewer cellar doors, it isn’t a region that invites visitors. Rather, it almost dares one to try and locate its styles, to make sense of the boundaries that define it. I’m not sure I know Henty any better after visiting, but amongst endless farmland, from vineyards that appear like a shock, I found some remarkable wines.

Crawford River Wines is arguably the region’s most famous producer (discounting Seppelt’s presence in the form of the Drumborg Vineyard). Although it produces some lovely red wines, this is a winery defined by its whites, and in particular its Riesling. The vines used for this label aren’t terribly young now (over ten years of age, if I recall) but it is still produced as a separate bottling. I was fortunate to be helped at cellar door by Belinda Thomson, who is surely one of the more self-possessed and enthusiastic young vignerons I’ve met.

A wine of contrasts, this suggests delicacy and finesse before presenting a fullness of fruit that comes as a surprise. The nose is pretty, edging towards flowers rather than juice, soft rather than etched. It’s expressive and generous, but always careful, never even hinting at vulgarity.

The palate carries through with soft, pastel fruit on entry, filling the mouth without heaviness, and moving through a shapely palate structure. Although I can sometimes enjoy a wine with a boisterous structure, this wine is underpinned by ultra-fine acid, firm yet texturally detailed and chalky through the finish. It retains the prettiness of form seen on the nose without sacrificing length, expressiveness or flavour.

There are plenty of great Rieslings in Australia, yet I can’t help but admire one more that, like its region and maker perhaps, is determinedly its own creation.

Crawford River Wines
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Cellar door

Best’s Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

I have a slight obsession with still Pinot Meunier. I try to taste every example I can, which isn’t hard as I’m only aware of a couple of producers in Australia who pursue this Pinot Noir mutation as a single varietal. Best’s has two in its range, one from young vines and this, from some of the oldest Pinot Meunier vines known to exist (planted in 1869). I think part of my fascination comes from the knowledge that many legendary Great Western table wines had a significant amount of Pinot Meunier in them, and yet today the variety has almost disappeared from the table.

To this bottling, then. The aroma is expressive and sweetly-fruited, with caramel-edged red berries sitting underneath mixed spice and a herbal twang. There’s a lot going on aromatically, though its profile tends towards ease and approachability rather than density or forbidding seriousness. Layers keep building in the glass, with a fresh sappiness adding vitality as well as a savoury edge.

The palate is similarly approachable and shows tension between sweet, cuddly fruit and a spiced, sappy edge. Structurally the wine is more driven by acid than tannin, neither of which, however, are especially strident. Consequently, the wine is allowed to swell on the mid-palate, and its fruit really shines at this point. The after palate and finish are more savoury and spiced, and what tannins there are descend on the finish, adding textural interest as well as a nice, dry end to the wine’s line.

This wine flips between ease and angularity, fun and seriousness. I can’t quite figure it out, yet at the same time am enjoying it tremendously.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

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

Mitchell Harris Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2011

There’s all sorts of chatter about 2011 in certain parts of Australia. There’s no doubt some good wines have emerged out of challenging conditions, but it’s equally true that some wines show the difficulties of the vintage. As a drinker, I’m sometimes interested in tasting the latter wines, because they are instructive and, at their best, can be differently enjoyable from those made in better years.

This wine, from boutique Victorian producer Mitchell Harris, shows a clean simplicity that, while ruling it out of contention as a wine worthy of extended contemplation, indicates a genuine and skilful attempt to make the most of the season’s challenges. On the nose, a meaty, peppery, nougat-like, red fruited aroma profile, which expresses as a series of loosely connected smells rather than something seamless and integrated. There’s a sharpness to the pepper note that I quite like, but the whole lacks definition and a coherent narrative.

In the mouth, a burst of red fruits, somewhat confected in character, along with more meat and leafy greens. It’s not especially intense, and it lacks a bit in texture. Its attractive flavours seem in search of a structure through which to express themselves, and this relative lack of form makes the wine drink as more of a quaffer than something especially demanding.

John Harris is a highly skilled winemaker, and expectations of this producer are high. In absolute terms, this wine may disappoint, but to craft something simple and attractive from a difficult year isn’t something to take for granted, and I look forward to subsequent vintages of this wine so I can better understand what Mitchell Harris is aiming for with this label.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A26.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Yarra Yering Pinot Noir 2006

Happily, I have found myself drinking well of late. The lead-up to Christmas affords many opportunities to open those special bottles, and I am availing myself of every opportunity to do so. Last night, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with friends and we sampled a range of wines, all of which were excellent. This stood out as the wine that changed the most with air.

When it was first poured, it smelled musty and closed, and I worried a little for the condition of our bottle. That worry was entirely misplaced; this soon blossomed into a stunning wine. One thing good wine can do is constantly change in the glass, providing a great ride for the drinker. This seemed to shift a bit every time I smelled it, aromas sliding around as if constantly forming and reforming. First, blowing off the residue of its life in bottle and becoming sweeter, cleaner and less awkward. Then showing meaty notes alongside its relaxed red fruits, some minerality too, one element folding into another and producing something new before for my next smell.

In the mouth, outstanding coherence and line. Once settled, the palate was a seamless expression of dark berries, minerals, toast, meat and a myriad other notes. Bottle age is beginning to make a contribution too, easing the wine into a relaxed phase of its life and adding truffled leather notes. While the flavour profile is delicious, for me this wine’s most notable features are its detail and balance, traits that allow flavours to be heard without having to jostle for attention. I felt drawn into this wine and tasting it was an exercise in looking more closely.Very fine wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $A148 (wine list)
Closure: Cork
Source: Other

Hoddles Creek 1er Pinot Blanc 2012

My rough notes on this wine contain the phrase “fruit-backward,” not something one might often observe of a young aromatic white from Australia. Which, of course, makes it a lot more interesting, especially as it’s clearly a wine made with skill and intent. Suffice to say, one smell and my curiosity was aroused.

The aroma is dry, powdery, floral, tight and flinty. That ought to give you a fair idea of its vibe, but it’s a lot more fun than the austere descriptors might suggest. There is fruit, buried under a pretty unyielding aroma profile, and it’s pithy and high toned when it does peek out.

The palate shows really unusual tension between a fruit character I can only describe as grapey and the sort of insistent savouriness that never quite feels comfortable. The fruit gives this wine a fundamental juiciness but it keeps bouncing up against a mealiness that seems to dovetail into assertive texture, which itself seems inseparable from some pretty fierce acid. I particularly like the textural dimensions and feel they make an excellent accompaniment to food that might be too rich for other aromatic styles. Intense, driven and probably in its least interesting phase of existence.

In context, a singular style, but much more than a curio.

Hoddles Creek Estate
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Eldridge Estate PTG 2012

Language is rarely as tortured as it can be in the hands of wine enthusiasts. I suppose this happens in any field, but one of the more interesting features of language in wine appreciation is the evolution of subtext. Drinkability is a particularly interesting word in this regard; for me, to describe a wine as highly drinkable is an entirely positive thing. And yet drinkability is often code for a simple quaffer, something not worth much thought or respect. As if good wines are somehow above being drunk.

So when I suggest Eldridge Estate’s latest PTG is outrageously drinkable, please take a moment to erase all subtextual baggage. I mean drinkable in the most positive, forthright way — this is a wine that fairly leaps down the throat.

And not because it’s simple or dumbed down, either. Here, drinkability is a matter of style. As you can probably infer from the age of it, this is released as a young wine and, to my palate, is designed to be drunk fresh. There’s an acid sourness to the wine that may sound like a negative but which, in fact, is the key to its moreishness. Flavours are bold, with prickly herbs and spice, bright red fruit, some meaty depth. Tannins are loose knit and well managed. So it’s not subtle, but who wants subtlety in a wine like this? No, this is about vitality and verve and, most of all, food.

Quite a brilliant early drinking red style and, on the strength of this, something other Mornington makers may well wish to consider.

Eldridge Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2008

This has been a long time in the making. I remember talking with John Harris about it a couple of years ago and, even though it was a long way off release, I sensed his excitement. And I feel excited too, because his tenure as sparkling winemaker at Domaine Chandon creates what I feel is a reasonable expectation of quality to this tasting. Mr Harris should know what he’s doing, a fact his still wines have amply demonstrated to me, but to which this wine brings an extra frisson of anticipation.

The nose keeps me excited and shows evidence of the wine’s three years on lees. There’s a clean, pure vibe to the aroma that absorbs bready notes into a matrix of bright fruit, clear juice and the sort of lean florals that aren’t heady so much as piercing. It’s the integration of notes that impresses most – this aroma profile is quite coherent. In the mouth, good texture and relatively fine spritz pave the way for a surprisingly generous set of flavours. The aromatic citrus fruit is as much pulp as rind, and there’s a sense of weight that carries this wine through a few levels of complexity. It’s not the most aggressively savoury wine I’ve ever tasted, and there’s enough sweetness to soften and swell the palate. The sweetness is never intrusive, though, and does not mask an inherently funky streak to the flavour profile. Notes of crusty bread and tropical fruit alternate, vying for first place. Neither wins, but it’s awfully fun to taste them fighting it out.

A very impressive first sparkling release for Mitchell Harris. The maker is serious about this style, and I look forward to the next release.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample