Skillogalee Shiraz 2004

Skillogalee does a good line in approachable, generous red wines, so I thought this one would be a good way to unwind after a busy weekend. For some reason, I’ve lost the use of one nostril just in time for this tasting. Let’s hope the wine gives up its secrets easily.A big hit of blackberry jam on the nose, along with some nutty vanilla and what is either a vegetal note or somewhat raw oak. The fruit is ripe and clearly of good quality.  Entry is bright with flavour and shows lots of dark berry fruit in the context of an attractive, powdery texture. The mid-palate presents more blackberry jam, quite intense and full in body, with oak increasing its influence as the wine moves to its climax. It’s all very flavoursome for sure, but a little clumsy also, as if the elements are all “oversized” and paying insufficient attention to each other. The wine’s line is consistent through the after palate, and sweet berry fruit sings through the finish. I’m not sure about this one. The fruit is good, but the oak treatment strikes me as obvious and heavyhanded. The wine also lacks a clear sense of structure. Still, it’s a lot of quality flavour for a reasonable price. Try this one with spicy Asian food (the fruit weight and lack of tannins work well in this context).SkillogaleePrice: $25.50Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Bitch 2005

Immediately after pouring this in my glass, I thought that this wine smelled like just-fermented grape juice that someone had bunged in the bottle quickly and then shipped over to California. After a few minutes, though, it settled down into something a bit more recognizable as Barossa grenache: dusty, high alcohol dried cherries with a hint of spiciness. What’s really appealing here, though, is a distinct sourness that you don’t often find in wines at this price point or in this style; for every sickly sweet, tiring super-alocholized grenache out there, this wine makes a good counterpoint. Although it’s still huge, alcoholically speaking (15%), the sourness makes it all work. The overall rawness of the wine – even after fifteen minutes, it still tastes freshly made, somehow – is actually kind of fun and would make this a great match for tacos al pastor.Sure, there’s really not much here in the way of tannins, or structure, or complex aromas… but c’mon, the label is kind of awesome, it’s amazingly cheap, and it tastes pretty damn good.R WineryPrice: US $7.99Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Mount Pleasant Mount Henry Pinot Shiraz 2002

Pinot Noir and Shiraz. A little odd, you might say, yet not without precedent. As the back label explains, some of wine legend Maurice O’Shea’s most renowned wines were blends of these two varieties. So, Mount Henry is a tribute of sorts to these iconic wines. It’s pure Hunter Valley, of course, wrapped in a heavy, somewhat monumental bottle of chunky proportions. First impressions are marred somewhat by a big whiff of brett that never quites dissipates as the bottle empties. It’s not, however, beyond tolerance, at least for my palate. Rather, it’s a metallic sheen over deliciously earthy red fruits, quite sweet really, a bit of custardy oak and some funkiness. It smells of Hunter Shiraz but shows a marked divergence at the same time, with some bright complexity pushing it away from the straight Shiraz style. On entry, the wine smacks the lips and tongue with generous flavour almost immediately. It’s got good presence, this wine. The mid-palate shows good fruit weight and a fine, powdery texture, and tastes of raspberry liqueur poured on a dusty dirt road. Characterful, if not hugely complex. The after palate and finish are quite textural, thanks to chewy tannins.There’s a slight lack of focus to this wine’s progression through the palate, but why quibble over something so tasty? Parallels between Hunter “Burgundy” and Pinot Noir have a lot of history to draw on, if only at the level of nomenclature and general “style.” But there are synergies there, as O’Shea and this wine show. It’s a wonder more producers in the Hunter don’t experiment with this blend. I’m led to believe some Hunter enthusiasts are taking matters into their own hands.McWilliams Mount PleasantPrice: $A30Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Collector Marked Tree Red 2005

I bought some of this wine on a whim after reading that it had won some awards. That’s me, a sucker for a few medals stuck on a bottle. Actually, I’m a fan of Canberra District Shiraz for its often elegant, medium weight style, so usually jump at the chance to acquire a new example. A bright, expressive nose that presents dried flowers, peppery spice and clean red fruit in equal measure. A bit of funk in there too. It’s got good complexity (more so as it sits in glass) and, to me, is extremely attractive. To digress for a moment, wines like this make me acutely feel the inadequacy of using flavour comparisons when describing wine. I suppose, at a molecular level, there’s some validity to describing wine through flavour analogues, but good wines, such as this one, defy such descriptions because they are seamless, they taste of themselves, and all I can hope to do in saying “spice and red fruit” is roughly approximate the impression of this, or any other, wine. With that over and done with (much to everyone’s relief, I’m sure), I will continue with the wine’s entry, which is lightfooted and slippery, maybe more textural than flavoursome at first, but quickly building brightly fruited flavour as it moves towards the mid-palate. It’s medium bodied and characterful by way of red, sappy fruit and edges of spice. Mouthfeel is supple and soft, but there’s also some subtle acidity contributing flow and structure to the wine. Balance is very “drink now,” though. The after palate gets spicier and trails to a finish that shows some attractive, lingering sweetness. Overall, it could do with a notch more intensity, but it’s a lovely Shiraz style (in my view) that places elegance before power. It reminds me of a more subtle version of Gimblett Gravels Syrah. Good value.Collector WinesPrice:  $A26Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Skillogalee Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Malbec 2004

With a name this long, it had better be good. I don’t know about you but, in my experience, a wine’s label can bear little resemblance to the liquid in bottle. Mercifully, here’s one that shows a bit of truth in advertising. The label says: “soft and full with sweet, leafy fruit flavours, rich vanillin oak and fine tannins…” Basically, yeah.An acceptably expressive nose that shows rich, full fruit of the red and black type, with an edge of “dried fruit” character. There’s a good dose of dusty leaf that is pleasingly varietal. The palate is where this wine truly shines, though. Bright, rich fruit flavour strikes the tongue  quite early and builds as it moves to the mid-palate. The fruit is not monumental in scale, but it is tasty and really quite ripe. Mulberry leaf and well balanced oak also contribute. This is a wine of generosity and soft, full fruit flavour, counterbalanced by a firm acid framework. It is not a simple or industrial wine, and remains characterful despite its easygoing style. Good consistency through to the after palate, with sweet, ripe tannins that sing through the decent finish.Sometimes, you just want a nice, giving red wine that gushes with personality and flavour. Give this one a go if you’re in such a mood. It’s not overly structured, but is full of good fruit and will be killer with juicy rump steak.SkillogaleePrice: $A25.50Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Wendouree Muscat of Alexandria 04/05

An oddity. Wendouree, known for its distinctive reds, also makes this fortified wine from the Muscat of Alexandria grape (better known for its contribution to Nanna’s Cream Sherry).

A golden honey colour. The nose is fresh and somewhat grapey, with a lovely rich honeysuckle note, as much floral as sweet. There’s a striking, viscous texture on entry, very fresh, soft yet supportive acidity, more sweet florals and fruit. The mid-palate is again rich and full, with good intensity of flavour. The acid structure is very slightly rough, which I like as it adds some complexity and interest to what is a sweet and slightly spirity wine. In style, it’s far from your regular botrytis-affected “dessert sticky” wine, both lighter and fresher, and more obviously alcoholic. The fruit’s flavour profile is also quite different. The wine’s finish is satisfyingly long.

What I like most about this wine is the way it unfolds in the mouth, at once precise and voluptuous. I suspect this style will be “love it or hate it,” and from an objective point of view, it’s a simple wine with an oddball balance between its elements. But I like it. Perhaps I am a lush. Potential food matches are tantalising. I’m thinking something sweet yet not too heavy — just like the wine itself. Passionfruit sponge, oh my.

Price: $A25 (375ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: March 2008

Ngeringa J.E. Shiraz 2004

McLaren Vale Shiraz that clocks in at 13.5% alcohol? Yes, it does exist, as this wine from Ngeringa proves. I’ve been meaning to try more Ngeringa wines ever since I had a very pleasurable encounter with its Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. This wine shows an equally clear sense of style.Quite an intense, balanced nose that mixes savoury and sweet fruit, stalky brambles, plus some vanilla and spice. Altogether attractive and relatively complex. Entry confirms this wine’s true character as a rather Italianate, savoury wine of medium body and firm acidity. There’s good intensity to the fruit, which has a lovely “candied peel” edge. The wine is quite lightfooted, with flavours that dance on the tongue rather than smother or overwhelm. It’s really quite complex without being overly intellectual. Some green, undergrowth-like notes emerge on the after palate, reinforcing the savoury fruit notes. The finish trails off in intensity but retains good length. This style really appeals to me. Although it’s a quality wine that you could drink analytically, it’s the kind of wine to throw back with friends, marvelling at how delicious it is while you get stuck into dinner. An example of what the McLaren Vale is capable of when it is not pushed too hard. Brilliant value for money.NgeringaPrice: $A20Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

A blind tasting of some coffee liqueurs

I really don’t know what they are. Chris poured them into little South African wine tasting glasses. [Ed: These notes are in random order; the tasting glasses came from South African wineries, hence the names below.]”Fairview”:
creamy coffee, good mouth feel. There’s a nice low subtle bass note and
a hint of vanilla. It feels sophisticated; I can see drinking this
straight up when I want to feel mellow and curl up and read a fluffy
travel book. My favorite.”Bouchard Finlayson”: hot alcohol,
some coffee flavor, lingering finish of burnt coffee beans. Not all
that attractive, it tastes like the bourbon I drank in 9th grade out of
a styrofoam cup with John Zebala and Mike Matsuda one night and it
compelled us to write bad haiku on my brother’s underwear. The one I
liked the least.”Neil Ellis”: Toffee more than coffee, but not
in a bad way. Tastes like a high quality Chinese Kahlua knockoff that’s
served in a low rent Macau gambling den.”Groot Constantia”:
more cream; moderate coffee flavor–and that coffee flavor is almost
minty. Call this “Nestle International Coffee Liqueur” , it’d go great
in some hot chocolate drinkypoo at some Canadian ski lodge with whipped
cream and cinnamon on top and one of those tubular cookies that looks
like a taquito.[After Dan wrote up his notes, I let him know which glasses had which coffee liqueurs: Fairview was Kahlúa ($15), Bouchard Finlayson was Kahlúa Especial ($18), Neil Ellis was Starbucks coffee liqueur ($17), and Groot Constantia was Trader Vic’s Kona Coffee Liqueur ($12).]

Bonny Doon DEWN Central Coast Viognier 2003

First of all, it’s a mistake to even think about drinking this wine straight from the fridge. I mean, seriously? Cold, this wine tastes no different than that bottle of Inglenook Chablis that your Mom had in her fridge back in the 1970s: no smell, no taste, no nothing.Given enough time to warm back up again, this wine smells of beeswax, honey, Marconi almonds, Bosc pears, jasmine, ginger, and maybe even tonka bean. Wild. To be perfectly honest, this wine really seems to be heading in the direction of a Tahbilk marsanne: eminently strange, not as floral as you feared, and altogether delightful. [As it turns out, the wine is actually more of a fake Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc – it’s only 80% Viognier, with a bunch of other stuff in there as well – marsanne, roussanne, and grenache blanc.]In the mouth, virtually none of the stereotypical viognier oiliness is there on the attack, but the wine fans out in the mouth to end on a rich, full note. There’s definite spice and not a whit of sweetness; this wine is SERIOUS BUSINESS. With some air, it began to remind me of salt water taffy: sea air mixed with the promise of sweetness and honeycomb, with a salty tang, some spice, and almost a hint of violet leaves. On the whole, this is one of those rare Bonny Doon wines that is an unqualified success on its own terms: this tastes like something that could only have been made in California, and it’s all the better for it.Bonny Doon VineyardPrice: US $20Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Le Vieux Mas de Papes Red 2001

Yesterday, after a trip to the recyclers’ to rid ourselves of the accumulated shippers and empty cases that built up over the winter, my partner and I headed to downtown San Diego to pick up a dozen or so cases of wine. Having just moved here last July, I’ve been without access to most of my wines until just this month; we finally cleared out enough space in the garage to install a modest refrigerated cabinet, and now it’s time to begin hauling the thirty or so cases in storage back home.There are only twenty cases left in storage at this point: all of the Riesling and most of the Rhône type stuff are now safely home. To celebrate progress, I picked the ugliest bottle I could from the cellar: a generic Châteauneuf-du-Pape that I don’t remember buying (perhaps it was a gift?) with a washed out yellowish label and absolutely nothing interesting on the front of it.I poured a couple of glasses, noticed that the wine looked as washed out as the label, and steeled myself for watery disappointment. Instead, I found myself enjoying one of the best bottles I’ve had in weeks. The nose of the wine eventually reminded me of French sunflower honey, all summer sunlight with notes of hay and dried herbs. Distinctly acidic, the wine offered up smokey gravel, dried Montmorency cherries, dust, dirt, and something like ocean breezes washing across cool ocean meadows and onto hot sand. The smokey note reasserted itself on the finish, with a decidedly sweet (and I mean in the sense of sucrosité, not California super-ripe sweetness) finish trailing off into lazy trails of autumn hay.What an incredible wine, and what a wonderful reminder that restraint often pays incredible dividends. We finished the bottle over a course of several hours, unwilling to put a stop to the experience; at first, the acidity was unsettling, but it settled down with some air. All in all, this was as wonderful as a walk through the redwoods here in California: cool, majestic, quiet.Vignobles BrunierPrice: likely around US $25Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008