Alkoomi Cabernets 2011

I lingered a little in Frankland River last May. Of all the sub-regions in Great Southern, this felt the most isolated and pastoral and, in being so, made flesh what I had until that point only been able to imagine about the region. To drive from Manjimup to Frankland River is in some ways to travel into the vastness of Australian agricultural life. Magnificent forests of impossibly tall trees give way to farmland that, in its cultivation, shows another side of the landscape’s beauty. I’d say it’s a pity it’s so isolated, but that isolation is an integral part of Frankland River’s appeal. To know you’re hours from a city of any significance makes the experience of being there so much more vivid.

I sometimes wonder about the challenge of marketing Great Southern wines. It’s as if the region’s remoteness translates to an equally remote connection those of us on the east coast feel for the producers who toil there. In any case, even a cursory taste of the region’s wines is sufficient to demonstrate this vast region, with its varied sub-regions, is capable of wines of exceptional quality. I had great visits with Alkoomi and Frankland Estate while in the sub-region, and was lucky to spend some time with Alkoomi’s winemaker Andrew Cherry when I popped in on a Sunday. Lots of wines impressed, but this particular wine stood out not just for its taste but for the value on offer.

It’s a real Bordeaux blend, this one, with all fruit harvested from the estate’s vineyard in quite a warm year. The aroma is thick with purple and black berries, and the floral lift I associate with Petit Verdot in particular. There are darker edges too, of damp twig and black spice, that add depth and savouriness to the aroma. What marks this, perhaps, as a wine of value is a certain lack of definition, of delineation between notes, that means the aroma tends to blurriness. Nonetheless, a nice wine to smell.

The palate tells a similar story. Berry flavour floods the mouth and is of a quality and character that far transcends its price point. This wine has especially good continuity down its line, with no unseemly peaks or troughs. It’s medium bodied and fresh-tasting, with ripe tannins that tighten the after palate and introduce a welcome textural dimension. As with the nose, flavours tend to blur into one another, and the wine lacks the sort of precise articulation one sees at higher price points.

Still, a real bargain at $18 and a great taste of Frankland River Cabernets.

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Lost Lake Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Partly out of perversity, I was on a Pinot kick while visiting Western Australia earlier this year. So, while driving around the Pemberton, Manjimup and Great Southern wine regions, I sought out as many examples as I could. Pemberton offered up plenty in this regard, with Pinot something of a regional speciality.

Pemberton’s a funny wine region; the vast, well-funded cellar doors of Margaret River are a long way away and the mix of local producers ranges from hobby to medium sized family. Larger wineries like Houghton have historically obtained grapes from Pemberton too, though the number of derelict and decommissioned vineyards I saw in the area suggests this may have recently changed.

Back to this wine, though, which is handsomely packaged in a bottle of sensible weight and represents Lost Lake’s entry level Pinot. The nose is utterly, screamingly varietal, with the lifted floral aromatics and bright red fruit of the variety at its most recognisable. There are edges of dark spice and undergrowth too, not loud enough to distract, but certainly adding some welcome complexity. Balanced, bright and attractive.

The palate is more challenging in that it feels quite extracted given the flavour profile of the fruit. Entry is light and bright, with good acid carrying fresh fruit onto the mid-palate. Here, tannin starts to emerge and the wine’s weight seems to grow. The after palate becomes quite savoury and textured, tannins again a primary feature. There’s decent extension through the back palate, though the fruit here seems less fresh and the flavour profile almost caramelised. It’s not at all unpleasant, but I miss the simplicity and vibrant freshness of the aroma and attack. I’d be interested to taste Lost Lake’s barrel selection, as some more fruit power and density could carry this sort of structure more easily.

Still, a very pleasant wine for not a lot of money.

Lost Lake
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Zarephath Riesling 2012

I don’t think there’s a more quietly spectacular vineyard site in Porongurup than Zarephath’s. As one travels north on Chester Pass Road, most producers sit to the left on Mount Barker Porongurup Road. Turn right, though, and the road slips from bitumen to dirt, trees slowly becoming more ancient and stressed, tiger snakes winding their way over land that bears little of the stamp of human ownership. The Zarephath vineyard, then, seems placed in some sort of paradise, its small blocks carving a luscious oasis in amongst red dirt, granite and gnarled tree trunks.

None of which, of course, means the wine is any good, but it provided a lovely setting for my first encounter with this producer and perhaps played some role in my purchase of this bottle from cellar door. I remember a distinctive lime sherbet note when I tasted it, a flavour sufficiently appealing to make me want to spend a bit more time with it.

On extended tasting, first impressions are validated, as this is a delicious Riesling style. The nose is very expressive, with florals, lime rind, a hint of toast and a general impression of good times. It’s slightly louche, and I like that its flavours are so eager to please that they tend to jostle with each other a bit. So not the most refined aroma, but with great freshness and vibrancy nonetheless.

The palate is similarly robust, with that firm lime sherbet flavour the dominant note. I suspect there’s some residual sugar in here, which builds some flesh into the mid-palate and works as a positive foil to bubbly acid and phenolics. Again, not super fine, but in its way this shows impeccable balance and, more than many more intellectual Rieslings, is simply delicious drinking. The winemaking — by Rob Diletti at Castle Rock — seems top notch and the wine generous to a fault without being in any way too broad or lacking in definition.

It seems hard to make a bad Riesling in Great Southern; this is a particularly thirst-quenching one.

Zarephath Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Woodlands Margaret 2011

A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 14% Malbec.

This, like the 2011 Cullen Kevin John I wrote about yesterday, changed a lot over the course of my time with it. Unlike the Chardonnay, however, its evolution was entirely positive.

At first, I thought I might have wasted the $45 this cost me, as the wine I poured bore little resemblance to the deliciousness I had tasted at cellar door and on which basis I made my purchase. Masses of bright, sweet fruit — varietal enough but completely overwhelming — shot off in one direction while oak and structure scurried away separately, like friends who have just fallen out over who might be the prettiest of all. Hanging over the whole, like a toxic cloud, that unpleasant, faintly doughy malolactic fermentation smell, hammering one last nail into the coffin of a wine I was ready to write off as an unfortunate product of its warm vintage.

But what a dramatic difference on day two. After a bit of time and air, savouriness returns to this wine with a smack, and with it vastly improved integration of its elements. No doughy smells, either; indeed, this is squeaky clean. With a diminution of fruit volume, the wine’s elegance steps forward, a dusty note overlaying fresh mulberry fruit and snapped twig on the nose, brown spices and oak making a contribution, perhaps not quite as connected as they might be with more time, but nonetheless still very much part of the wine. The palate is medium bodied and, despite generous fruit, elegant, with abundant, fine tannins setting over the after palate and firm acid throughout. I was dissatisfied with the 2007 vintage due to its, for my taste, perversely light weight; the 2011 seems a more balanced wine in this regard.

I do feel this has been released very early and, hopefully, with a bit more time in bottle it will present better on opening. As it is now, be sure to give it plenty of air before any serious contemplation.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2011

Ideally, a wine will grow in the glass, evolving through an evening as it reveals new facets of itself. I liken it to a conversation that might meander over time, becoming deeper and richer as it goes. What’s not so pleasant is the ranconteur who seems fascinating at first, so full of delights, yet gradually reveals himself a bore, or otherwise disappointingly imperfect.

I tasted this wine at cellar door recently, then stayed with a glass over lunch and watched it develop. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but over the course of an hour or so, it became less fine, showing a broadness of fruit that went against a set of aromas suggestive of something altogether more taut.

The aroma profile shows a smokey influence, with hints of sulfide complexity and bright fruit. There’s also a background nuttiness. It’s not overly expressive but is complex enough to draw one in.

In the mouth, powerful and initially linear; flavours of citrus flesh, white stonefruit and oatmeal, with a decent amount of oak input. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and is redeemed somewhat by an after palate that is satisfyingly chalky. The issue is one of balance and, to be fair, one of taste too. The fruit’s countenance is generous and there’s a lot of it, such that it constantly threatens to overwhelm the wine’s structure and winemaking artifice. Temperature has a great effect here, the wine seeming less shapely as it warms.

While tasting recently in Margaret River, I saw a few 2011 whites that were quite broad, perhaps reflecting what was a warm growing season. This, then, shows admirable transparency to vintage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of fuller Chardonnay styles will find much to enjoy here. In the end, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Price: $A25 per glass (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2012

Taste through a region and its strengths become abundantly clear. Although many producers’ portfolios in Australia can lack focus and muddy the waters on paper, some variety and region combinations jump out with a bit of exploration. After a few days in Great Southern, it’s blindingly obvious to me that Riesling finds a natural home here, and I’m falling in love with the regional, and sub-regional, expressions of this variety. It’s no exaggeration to suggest I’m rediscovering the deliciousness of Riesling through these pristine, powdery, lime-infused wines.

Frankland Estate’s single vineyard Riesling portfolio is a nice crash course in Frankland River Riesling, itself subtly different from other sub-regional expressions such as that of Porongurup. I tasted all three 2012 releases at cellar door and took this one home for further examination. Grown on a strikingly chalky soil, this wine struck me as the most generous and fleshy, although this in the context of a collection of fairly austere wines.

The nose is quite expressive, though still with a bit of free sulfur, with pungent dried lime, sea spray, herbs and lemon juice notes. There’s a suggestion of something more tropical, and this edge gives the wine a fuller aroma profile than its siblings, but this thicker influence sits very much on the sidelines, more a faint imprint than something truly legible.

One expects a good dose of acid in these wines and I’m not disappointed here, though more important than quantity is character. The acid here isn’t ultra-fine; rather, it bubbles along close to the surface, pushing intense lime and herb flavours along the tongue briskly. There are savoury edges to the flavour profile, and I like the touch of mid-palate flesh that emerges before disappearing again in a cloud of torn herbs and firm texture, the latter less chalky and drying than in the other two wines.

More than anything, this is a delicious wine that, as I have discovered while tasting, pairs easily with food both savoury (green curry) and sweet (custard). I’ll have a few of these, thanks.

Frankland Estate
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Moss Wood Semillon 1999

If Semillon had fashion on its side, I wonder how many more interesting wine styles we might see? Moss Wood seems to stubbornly stand by its terminally daggy Margaret River Semillon and, on the basis of this wine, I’m grateful it does.

I’ve not previously had a Moss Wood Semillon quite this old, so was very interested to see how a truly evolved examples tastes. The aroma shows notes that evidently derive from time in bottle, but the trick here is these notes show no coarseness whatsoever; instead, remnant primary notes of lemon and grass move meltingly into butter and honey, the latter more suggestions than full-throttle renditions of these broad aromas. It’s still vibrant at its core, but the overall impression is soft and elegant, like soft fabric with a subtle, tasteful sheen.

The palate has good presence and body right down its line. There’s a bit of primary sharpness both in terms of flavour and structure, but mostly this wine’s flavours are soft and delicate, rich in their way but not at all cloying. Mouthfeel slips this way and that, a slight waxiness lubricating movement over the tongue. This is the pleasure of aged white wine: sharp meets mellow, muscle becomes flesh. Quite seamless from entry through to finish, this moves with the confidence of someone only becomes more attractive with age (and who knows it).

Thank you to Mark Gifford of Blue Poles Vineyard for donating this to the party.

Moss Wood
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Offcuts: Blue Poles dinner

Wine dinners aren’t something I make a habit of; at least, not those run by producers. It’s not an in principle objection – I simply prefer, most of the time, a wider range of wines with dinner than might be offered by a single maker. The temptation of back vintages and verticals, however, can be strong, as can the promise of highly amusing company. Mark Gifford from Blue Poles Vineyard is most certainly that, so it was with pleasure that I attended the recent Blue Poles dinner in Brisbane.

The boutique producer’s dilemma must seem intractable at times: what to produce? How to get noticed? Whose attention to court? I won’t venture to suggest I have any answers, but I know I respond to a focused portfolio that communicates identity and intent rather than a wide range of wines that, together, lack coherence. Although it contains a highly drinkable Viognier and Shiraz, the Blue Poles portfolio stands out for its beautiful, uncompromising Bordeaux-inspired wines, as well as a quirky Teroldego.

Dinner was the first time I have tasted all the Blue Poles Reserve Merlots side by side, and they really do justify the praise I and many other wine writers have given them. The 2007 is by far the richest of the three and is starting to show an aged character that meshes superbly with its primary fruit. Very Bordeaux-like, this one, and quite mouthfilling. The 2008 and 2010 are both very tight, still, and it took about half an hour of swirling to coax from the 2010 more than the aroma of iron filings. When it did start to unfold, I felt it was the most precise wine of the three. The way it lands in the mouth, articulating its flavours with such clarity, is truly impressive. They keep getting better, these Merlots and, although there isn’t a great deal of competition, they are surely amongst the best of this varietal made in Australia.

The Allouran, a Merlot Cabernet Franc blend, is a lighter wine, less masculine than the straight Merlot. Both the 2007 and 2008 seem quite primary, with fresh fruit and bright, acid-driven structures. I can see these being overlooked in favour of the Merlot, but for my taste their flavour profiles show a light and shade that is subtle and attractive. Quite unforced as a style.

There was some discussion regarding the clear influence exerted by Bordeaux on these wines. Blue Poles has never been shy of admitting this stylistic lineage, and is far from the only producer to explicitly claim Old World wines as a starting point. However, what is emerging from the portfolio over time is a coherence on its own terms. These wines don’t taste like imitations of something else, despite strong nods to classic models. I look forward to further releases and the ongoing conversation between style and terroir.

The new release Teroldego is a fascinating interpretation of the “drink now” red wine. What often typifies this category of wine is a simplicity and fruit-forwardness the Teroldego almost entirely lacks. Its argument, rather, is one of chewy tannin, charismatic masculinity and an apparent absence of fruit. To be sure, dark berry fruit underlines the flavour profile, but it’s so joyously secondary that one is drawn immediately to other aspects of the wine. Despite this, it’s highly drinkable, a term not often associated with primarily structural wines. A contradiction, then, in all sorts of ways, and one I look forward to drinking again.

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007

Somewhat of a showstopper. To be sure, this is in some respects a no holds barred wine, with what appears to be plenty of winemaking contributing to its flavour profile. The nose shows an enthusiastic cascade of aromas, ranging from popcorn and butter through stonefruit, more tropical fruit notes, lemon, minerals, and plenty of toasty oak. I list this number of descriptors to give a feel for the amount of stuff going on here; there’s genuine complexity in both fruit and winemaking inputs, and as I smell this I’m reminded of why Chardonnay is often considered the greatest of all white grapes. Few varietals could take this treatment and come out looking good.

The palate is an absolute powerhouse, but what I like most here is that all its flavours are so cleanly, precisely expressed within an frame that is as contained as it is impactful. There’s something beautiful about power so tightly focused, and the way this wine unfolds in the mouth is its primary pleasure. As much sophistication as there is by way of individual flavours, there’s also a surprisingly louche side to the fruit here, pushing against a tropical, pineapple note that I found amusing in this context.

This will surely polarise drinkers, and that’s okay, because there’s great value in an unapologetic style made with skill and integrity.

Price: $A110 (restaurant wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Blue Poles Allouran 2006

I’m enthusiastic about this producer’s wines. They are invariably informed by a seriousness of intent that makes them difficult to dismiss, even if the wines themselves are not always perfect. So it was with this wine when I first tasted it some time ago. 2006 was a notoriously difficult vintage in Margaret River, red grapes often proving difficult to ripen sufficiently to make an acceptable wine. I chose not to write this up initially, as I found it challenging to the point of significantly reduced enjoyment. Too green, too aggressive, too hard. But I pulled out a bottle tonight and thought it might be time to see how it has moved along.

As it turns out, it’s significantly more drinkable at this stage of its life. It will never be a charming beauty like the 2007, but the astringent aggressiveness I remember has faded significantly. The nose shows typically Cabernet Franc aromas – fresh red capsicum mostly – floating over the top of richer, more plush Merlot fruit and a pile of pencil shavings. It’s completely varietal, though certainly on the lean, mean side. I can still see the green edges that I found difficult, but they’ve softened into the wine, becoming part of its aroma profile rather than pulling it apart.

The palate tells a similar story, though the transformation is perhaps more dramatic here. Again, I doubt this will ever shed its fundamentally lean vibe, but the elements are now well balanced for drinking enjoyment. In particular, the acid works really well to create impact on entry and power through the middle palate. It’s the sort of orange juicy red wine acid that is mouthwatering and a bit edgy. Fruit flavours are bright and firmly in a red berry spectrum, though edges of oak drag the flavour profile in a somewhat darker direction at times. Light to medium bodied, there’s a slight lack of drive through the after palate and finish, and the wine threatens to expose its slightly green core at times. It manages to complete the journey, though, thumbing its nose at a bad vintage even as it works hard to deny the scars it bears.

A very pleasant surprise.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail