Craggy Range Sophia 2005

Craggy Range has by far the most glamorous tasting facility of all the wineries I visited in Hawkes Bay late last year. Its natural setting is glorious, but the spacious room itself is all glass and shiny surfaces — very upscale indeed. Worth a visit, for sure. There’s also a large range of wines available for tasting, including this, one of Craggy Range’s premium cuvées. It is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and, on tasting at cellar door, was almost impenetrable. I took this as a personal challenge, of course, and purchased a bottle for later tasting.

Dark and dense, with flashes of purple. The nose is initially compact and savoury, with a good dose of iron filings and minerality and not much else. With time and some energetic swirling, a range of other notes emerge to add complexity. There’s a sense of purple flowers, dark berry fruit, perhaps a slight saltiness too. The nature of the wine’s oak gains some clarity too, and it’s quite present, though totally integrated. A hint of volatility rounds things out. The pitch never rises above a bass register, and there’s an ongoing sense of depth and power to this wine’s aroma.
The palate is very much in line with the nose in that it’s both dense and reserved. Flow over the tongue is very tightly controlled, and from entry to mid-palate a slither of iron, complex berry fruit and sappy oak slides confidently along. It’s medium to full bodied and certainly substantial, yet measured and never clumsy. The after palate is marginally more relaxed and slightly sweeter in profile. Flavour is most complex at this point, and the wine’s lift helps each strand of flavour to fully define itself as it lands on the rear of the tongue. Just as it reaches its peak, it starts to fall away to a very long, satisfying finish. Tannins are remarkably fine and approachable, though their abundance suggests the capacity to age well.

Grosset Gaia 2002

Style is, I think, of the essence when it comes to wine appreciation. Formal qualities such as complexity and structure are all well and good, but it all comes to nought if you don’t like the wine’s character and personality. I remember tasting Pinots in Central Otago a couple of years back, and being struck by how boring some (though certainly not all) the wines were, despite being quite correct and certainly well made.  There was nothing extra, no idea or beauty beyond what was in the glass.
Dark, somewhat impenetrable colour with flashes of crystalline ruby.  The nose is heady with cedary spice, brambles, clean fruit and higher toned powdery florals. There are also some light touches of sweet bottle age. In its delicacy, it’s closer to fine fragrance than wine, but none the worse for it. The aroma profile became more integrated and assertive through the evening.
The palate disappointed me initially, and here I return to the question of style. For the first hour or so, I found the wine correct, full of quality, but somehow underwhelming and perhaps a little boring. A very clean entry, with cool fruit and savoury leaf winding their way towards a medium bodied mid-palate. Additional notes of vanilla, dust and a bit of eucalyptus add themselves to the mix with time. Excellent delineation of flavour components. Bottle age becomes more evident on the after palate, with a lovely, lingering sweetness sitting alongside loose-knit yet still quite dry tannins. A nice lift through the after palate shows higher toned leafiness plus hints of plush ripe fruit too. The finish is excellent, clean and long, and leads naturally to the next sip.
It all sounds quite good. What changed after an hour is critical to the wine’s success but sits outside of a tasting note. The flavours clicked, merged and became utterly persuasive. It’s as if I was able to step back and see the wine as a whole rather than as individual components of flavour and structure. Its style, in other words, transcended the mechanics of its delivery and became the wine’s dominant face. And, happily, I think I got it.
GrossetPrice: $A50Closure: StelvinDate tasted: July 2008

Mount Ida Shiraz 2001

An older Shiraz from one of Australia’s more renowned regions for this variety, Heathcote in Victoria. This wine is, interestingly, sealed under Stelvin, which is somewhat unusual for red wines of this age. Although Mount Ida is a famous vineyard in Heathcote, I’m not especially familiar with its output, so this tasting was quite exploratory for me.

A savoury nose, some volatility, with earthy minerals, some astringent eucalyptus, roasted meats, slightly edgy oak. Far from a fruit bomb, this one. I find the nose complex and a little challenging in its angularity. 
The entry has good impact and delivers flavour early in the wine’s line. There are lots of distinct flavours here and, unusually for me, I found myself identifying a fair few. At last count, we have: pepper, sappy vanilla oak, some sweet leathery bottle age, dusty dark fruit, some cedar and slight ecualyptus character, plus a dash of sweet granite-like minerality. Phew. It’s medium bodied and presents its flavours assertively. It’s also curiously flat and almost cartoonish in its “surface level view” of flavour. The wine lacks a sense of depth and stuffing that, even in a lighter red, assures continued interest beyond any initial impact. So, despite a lot of qualities usually regarded as positive (complexity, intensity, distinctiveness) I wasn’t especially drawn to the wine’s flavour profile or structure. Fine tannins help the wine’s dry finish to linger well.
This wine (or perhaps this bottle) isn’t really my style, although some elements of the flavour profile (the minerality in particular) are pleasing. The other half loved it.
Mount Ida (Fosters)
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: July 2008

Clonakilla Riesling 2005

It pays to check on wines now and then. The slightly old Rieslings I’ve tasted lately are proof enough, and this wine continues the trend. I remember tasting this at cellar door and finding it a steelier, more austere style than the usual Clonakilla. I loved it and bought several, expecting it to age slowly.

Hence, I was quite surprised to smell this and find savoury toast the dominant aroma component. But it’s not a static wine, and the initial aroma soon disappeared, only to emerge half an hour later as a more complex profile comprising more toast, aggressively sour lime and a hint of honeyed opulence too. It’s beguiling, perhaps forceful, definitely characterful.
The palate is even more surprising. As an aside, people always say aged wines, and aged white wines in particular, are a matter of taste, and perhaps they are right. But there’s no doubt older wine is an education, and for my money a good aged Riesling (or Hunter Semillon) is worth cellaring purely to see how much it changes. This Clonakilla, for example, still shows powdery acidity, but a whole spectrum of bottle aged complexity overlays this firm structure. It’s not a very old wine, for sure, but hints of honey and savoury edge (the unkind might call it slightly kerosene-ish) push their way into the dominant blanket of lime marmalade and floral talc. Quite unexpected in terms of the austerity of the young wine. Intensity is dramatic and, although part of me is tempted to think of this wine as vulgar, I’ll settle for “confident.” Lovely and clean through the after palate, with a finish that lingers very well without undue weight or clumsiness. 
Quite a masculine Riesling style, and oh-so distinctive. It’s interesting to see various Australian regions offer alternatives to the mainstream Clare/Eden Riesling style. A wonderful thing from the drinker’s perspective. 
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: July 2008

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Once you get past the ridiculously overwrought bottle – it’s so big and heavy that no foil cutter I know of could possibly work – what you get is a wine that smells, well, expensive: generic New World Napa-esque fruit + some very expensive Bordeaux toast oak. Hm.The surprise is entirely in the mouth: the weight is much more French than Napa, and it tastes mostly of very high quality oak. It seems just a little bit watery and then it’s gone. There’s a very small amount of tannin – frankly, it feels wimpy – and then it’s gone. Again: Hm.I’ll come back to this later on and see if it improves, but as of right now, the bottle is the only thing that’s impressive here, which is odd considering their $8 wines are pretty good (the Porcupine Ridge line).Later: After an hour’s aeration, this started to taste like mesquite or cedar incense, the kind you’d be in an American national park on summer vacation. Cedar, cedar, cedar, and more cedar. Yawn. Kind of tasty, but utterly lacking in personality. Avoid.Boekenhoutskloof

Price: US $47
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2005

It’s a balmy Summer’s Winter’s evening here in Brisbane, and I’m in the mood for Chablis. Handily, I had this lying around the house. This particular wine sees no oak at all, so in theory should express pure Chardonnay fruit and, one hopes, its corresponding terroir

Nice light golden colour with a hint of green. The nose is complex with powdery florals and a hint of sweetness, along with edgier notes that suggest minerals or crushed shells. There’s also a slight smokiness or perhaps mushroom that I find interesting. It’s attractive and bounces between austerity and generosity without landing firmly at either end of the spectrum. The palate, by contrast, sits more clearly at the generous end, albeit with a firm mineral backbone to keep things shapely. Mouthfeel here is quite round and smooth, creating a seductive impression on entry. Underlying this mouthfeel is fine acidity of the slightly relaxed type, but in balance and firm enough to hold the wine’s line. Fruit is crisp and brisk whilst showing excellent intensity. Some pear, perhaps, and a sweeter edge that’s not quite honey but more ripe stonefruit. I wonder if there is a bit of Botrytis here? Just when you think the mid-palate will collapse under its own weight, minerality kicks in and carries the wine home through the after palate. Finish is mostly savoury and quite long. 
Admittedly, it’s not the most elegant style, but I find a lot to enjoy in this wine. There’s flavour in abundance, nice three-dimensionality and a very seductive texture in the mouth. Good value, I think. As an aside, the cork on this bottle was ridiculously tight. Worth the effort, though.
Price: $A38
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Another wine from the cellar, this time a Coonawarra Cabernet from a vintage perhaps somewhat overshadowed by its immediate predecessor. 

A lovely colour that still shows flashes of purple in amongst its ruby clarity. On the nose, one’s first impression is that of sweet silage, backed by clean blackcurrant fruit. It’s a lovely nose and shows a nice mix of tertiary notes alongside a substantial chunk of fruited youth. There’s also a good dose of vanilla and spice oak, which accompanies the other flavours well and strikes me as assertive without being unbalanced. 
The palate is just lovely. A clean, mellow mouthfeel registers immediately on entry, and ushers in a range of flavours on the mid-palate. Here, more clean blackcurrant fruit sits alongside sweetly decaying foliage, some mint and another whack of oak. It’s medium bodied, really quite intense, and complex enough to keep my brow wrinkled with each sip. As a youngster, I’d say this would have been on the fuller side, yet its structure is still firm enough to give the palate shape and flow. As the wine moves through the after palate,  flavour flows quite linearly over the tongue. Grainy tannins also emerge, still quite drying and tea-like, and carry the wine to a persistent finish. It’s one of those wines that seems to settle on the tongue like a blanket and sit there most happily. The sweet leather of bottle age is most evident towards the finish.
I’m really enjoying this one for its complexity and generosity. Lovers of aged flavours will want to leave it for a few more years to allow further flowering, but it’s also a nice wine right now, with its mixture of young and old. 
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008

Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Albariño 2007

Several decades in to the ongoing, evolving project that is Bonny Doon Vineyard, it looks they may finally be arriving at the most interesting place yet – and ironically, it’s an arrival that sort of predates the winery’s founding. By that I mean that they’re now trying to produce wine the way you would have done it a hundred years ago in France, except presumably with a few newfangled tricks such as refrigeration and proper hygiene.This wine is one of the first Demeter-certified biodynamic wines they’ve grown, and the complexity of it suggests (to me, at least) that they might well be onto something. This is a far cry from the weirdly plush, microbubbled oddities they’ve been crapping out for a while now; instead, what you get here is a beautifully light-colored wine with a floral nose that’s oddly like what I imagine Portuguese laundry detergent might smell like: rose petals and generic “clean” with an edge of cucumber.In the mouth, this is fatter than you’d expect, with a finish that tapers off quickly to reveal a note of crushed seashells and faded lemon rind. Before it goes, it’s a sort of dilute orange blossom honey note you’ve got along with, well, a sort of drying minerality. It’s fairly distinctly itself, whatever that is, and as such it gets two big thumbs up from this drinker. I only wish I had a plate of fresh oysters to accompany it.

Price: US $20
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: July 2008