Te Mata Woodthorpe Vineyard Viognier 2007

There’s something unpleasant about the way this wine smells, but what is it exactly? It doesn’t really smell like viognier, that’s for sure. To me, it smells more like powdered milk, inexpensive celebrity perfume that’d excite Humbert Humbert, and low-grade canned peaches. There’s also something like unventilated FEMA trailers duking it out with bitter phenolics in a disused corner of your high school chemistry lab. Oh man, this is fascinatingly bad. I mean, yeah, I don’t really want to taste it but if you’re gonna go off, you might as well do it in a really interesting way, right?Greasy and plastic in the mouth, it does nothing for a minute before surging up on a Bit-O-Honey wave of sugary fruit worthy of a trashy Serge Gainsborough song before making a quick right turn into an unpleasant, gritty, almost milky finish with flashes of peppery notes that’s just a touch hot as well, making sure that virtually everything that can go wrong with viognier has in fact gone wrong by the time you’ll finish the bottle. And that, by any objective observation, is no mean feat. Congratulations to Te Mata for a job well done! Te Mata
Price: NZ $22
Closure: Stelvin

Bonny Doon Cigare Alternative A 2001

The marketing materials suggested that this wine would greet 2010 “in fine fashion,” so how is it doing in 2009? I never did try it when originally shipped to wine club members many years ago, but here it is now, after two interstate moves; I’m tired of schlepping it around and now it’s time to slug it back.Immediately after opening the bottle, the smell of this stuff managed to overwhelm the homemade tamales I bought from a door-to-door vendor and has for dinner earlier tonight: this stuff is pungent. Boys and girls, the word of the day is Sauerkirschen: this smells like sour cherries, Moravian I suppose, or whatever those large, cheap glass jars contained back when the USSR still existed and you could buy them cheaply at any American grocery store. Whoa. Really strong, bright, dark, sour cherries. There’s also a hint of something that reminds me of freshly polished shoes: a light leathery note with the sharp tang of shoeshine polish. Pretty cool.What this wine taste like? Again, strong, sour cherries with only the faintest hints of darker flavors. There’s also a rather strange, herbal note here that is something like off-brand spearmint mouthwash; that sounds worse than it is, I know, but it’s very distinctive and not something I’ve encountered before. All of this is tightly grasped by still present, still somewhat hoary tannin, which at first was so unpleasant I considered throwing it out – but over time, it does loosen up enough to get past. Overall, the mouthfeel is pretty strange; it’s like a tug-of-war between not-yet-resolved tannins taking place in the shallow end of a pool. The color of this wine is dark and foreboding, yet it all seems fairly medium-bodied in the mouth, which is I suppose normal for a mature wine like this.All in all, I really don’t know what to make of this wine. Is it too old? Probably not. Was it better young? Who knows? Is the overall disorienting mouthfeel a relic of Bonny Doon’s then-obsessions with spinning cones, microbullage, and other weird winemaker tricks? I’m thinking yes; there’s something just not right about this wine, something getting in the way of the direct transmission from Mother Earth. I get the feeling that if Randall Grahm had made this ten years later it would be OK – but as it is, I imagine that he’d be recherching an awful lot of temps perdu if he were to open this puppy now.To paraphrase Stephen Malkmus: A for effort, B for delivery.Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $30
Closure: Cork

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2005

What a few days it has been — a busy schedule combined with the sort of low-level cold that is mind altering in an irritatingly subtle manner. It’s one thing to be demonstrably ill, each messy blow of the nose fully justifying the most outrageous self-pity and prompting those wonderful moments of over-the-top affection from one’s partner. The curse of the slight cold, however, is to want to complain knowing no-one will take you seriously. It’s also to taste wine (as I did last night) and realise that you have a totally screwed palate. Hence no tasting notes.

Tonight’s a completely different story, though. I’m as fit as a fiddle (well, I could lose a few kilos but let’s not get hung up on details after surviving a vicious sniffle) and things are again tasting of themselves. I remember this wine created quite a stir on release. It was as Bin 389 is to Grange — a way to get a good hit of Canberra Shiraz Viognier goodness without shelling out for Clonakilla’s top drop. I enjoyed it a good deal on release, but this is the first time I’ve tried it in a while.

Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz 2007

Many enthusiasts will be familiar with the reason for this wine’s existence. Clonakilla’s estate crop was devastated by the elements in 2007, prompting the release of this wine, made from non-Estate (though still Canberra region) fruit. A small amount of Viognier was cofermented here too.

Typical Canberra Shiraz on the nose, with a big hit of spicy red fruit that projects edgy sweetness alongside more elegant, savoury notes. This really is very spicy, with black peppercorns and more exotic notes that tend almost towards potpourri. Expressive, characterful and, to me, seductive.

The palate emphasises savouriness, relegating the sweet red fruit to an intriguing supporting role. Masses of flavour immediately on entry, there’s a good deal of acidity to tingle and refresh the tongue. The fact that it’s light to medium bodied, and quite angular in structure, only serves to intensify the fruit flavours, though it also suggests some time in bottle will be beneficial. There are crunchy red fruits, spice galore and a delicious barbecued meat dimension. Tannins are very fine and evenly distributed, such that there’s considerable dryness on the finish without any obviousness of tannin. Good extension through the after palate and finish.

I really like Canberra Shiraz so I suppose I’m biased towards this wine’s flavour profile and weight. Having said that, it’s an especially good example of the breed, perhaps lighter and more acid driven than some, but with ample flavour and good typicité. Really well priced.

Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2008

Clonakilla Viognier 2006

I hope I’m not alone in feeling a daggy sense of anticipation whenever a favourite winery’s newsletter drops into my mailbox (virtual or otherwise). Clonakilla’s gets the heart racing more than most. The Spring 2008 edition is now here, and, as someone always in search of an excuse to celebrate, I thought I’d open a bottle of Clonakila’s 2006 Viognier.

A rich, unctuous nose, thick with apricot (part kernel, part syrup), fresh vanilla ice cream and a little astringency. It seems quite responsive to temperature, showing lush opulence when relatively warm. I remember tasting a Petaluma Viognier with Chris way back when and it smelled of raspberry coulis — this wine has the same richly acidic fruit flavour. It’s brassy, no doubt, but controlled, too.

The palate is deceptively austere compared to the nose, although it’s still true to its variety. This perceived austerity derives from the wine’s acid structure, which is (happily) assertive in the context of such a luxurious style. So, a crisp entry, lively and fresh. Movement to the mid-palate is quite controlled and precise — one can feel acid reaching down either side of the tongue as an altogether more slippery component drives down the centre line. Soon, we’re in decidedly plush territory, the mouth awash with crisp apricot kernel and vanilla, plus some fresh phenolic bitterness as a background note. Good impact, impressive intensity. Flavour complexity is decent, but I’m fascinated most by the three dimensional texture of this wine. There’s no drop-off in intensity through the after palate, and the finish is quite long.

I suppose most wines are subject to personal preference and taste, and this is no different. I still struggle to understand where Viognier fits in my life as a wine style. Despite all that, this wine is all quality and is, quite frankly, delicious. From memory, it’s a broader wine than the 2005, but no less enjoyable.

Price: $50
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: September 2008

Arrogant Frog Lily Pad White Viognier 2006

Full marks for creativity. As a name and label concept, the “Arrogant Frog” range is all very New World, and I’m sure you don’t need me unravel the various ironies here. The angle is “best of both worlds;” New World approachability combined with Old World character. This is so fraught with stereotypes that I won’t even attempt to engage it, but I can certainly taste and write about what’s

Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn Rosé 2006

At first sniff, I thought I’d happened across an egregiously overpriced South African version of white zin: this wine smelled simple and fruity, that’s it. Turns out I was wrong: it was just too cold to smell like anything. After a few minutes’ reprieve from the fridge, the smell turned to something like flowers that smell like meat in order to attract insects: florid, yeah, but also very, very meaty. Overall, it’s something like bacon that’s sitting in front of an open window in the countryside; very odd. It almost smells like Malbec, but there’s a definite uplift to the nose.Anyhow: the wine is rich and full in the mouth, starting on a generic red berry note and then quickly resolving to an almost oily, honyed sort of feel combined with black pepper and cherry. There’s good freshness here, a bit of residual sugar, and a lovely aftertaste of strawberries and cream that persists well.All in all, this is an odd one: I don’t know of anything like this from the States, Europe, or Australia. It’s not cheap, but it’s distinctive enough to be good value. Solms-DeltaPrice: US $17.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: April 2007

The Black Chook Shiraz Viognier 2006

The modern, and painfully fashionable, Shiraz Viognier blend exists on a knife edge, stylistically. Too much Viognier and the wine, for my taste, slips into clumsy territory, the extroverted Viognier dominating partner Shiraz and creating a wine of cloying obviousness (if that is even a word). The right amount, however, adds perfume and mouthfeel and complexity that is quite rewarding. What can we expect from a McLaren Vale blend of these varieties selling for about $A17?Alas, a whole bunch of dried apricot and boiled lollies. On the nose, dried apricot, bright red fruit and, well, not a lot else. The aromas have a confected and slightly thin character that feels, to me, a bit industrial. The palate shows more of the same, with slightly less apricot and a whole lot of bright red fruit, wrapped up in a medium bodied palate that lacks significant structure or direction. Rather, it’s an easygoing wine of generous, though again rather confected, fruit flavour, nothing too heavy or challenging. Mouthfeel is slippery. The wine sort of disappears away on the finish; not that it dies prematurely, but rather it simply fails to register anything notable as it slides to a close. I didn’t like this wine much, as the bright, sweet fruit flavours were, for my taste, not balanced out by structure or any savouriness of flavour. I should note, however, that the other half rather liked it. I’d serve this wine at BBQs, and make sure it was a bit below room temperature.Ben Riggs (winemaker)Price: $A17Closure: StevinDate tasted: December 2007