Tyrrell's Single Vineyard Old Patch 1867 Shiraz 2007

The renowned GW called my attention to the trophy recently awarded to this wine at the 2008 Hunter Valley Wine Show. Congratulations, Tyrrell’s. What better excuse to taste it now?

A deep, dark purple hue, dense and inky. I really didn’t get anything from this wine for the first hour or so. It’s so tight. I must admit, I shook the bottle up before pouring my second glass and, after some further mistreatment in the glass, I’m smelling a range of aromas. First, black pepper and spice, then blackberry, clean and deep. A bit of sappy oak, then aniseed and ripe brambles round things out. It ends up being quite distinctive and characterful, but it’s not a wine that reaches out to you. Not right now, anyway.

The palate shows an interesting mix of elements, all tied to a core of assertive but integrated acid. Despite its primacy, somehow the acid feels unforced and already it sits within the overall context of the wine, rather than apart from it. But back to the entry, which is dark and alive with tart, clean blackberry flavour. Things open up as the wine moves confidently through a medium bodied mid palate, and it gathers quite remarkable intensity of flavour along the way. There’s some fruit sweetness and savoury spice, all of which is currently subservient to acid. I love the way it widens in the mouth, creating an impressive sense of scale without any hint of heaviness or excess. In fact, the whole wine strikes me as architectural in the precision of its form. The finish lingers well, although it lacks a sense of weight that, I imagine, will come as the acid softens.

This is a very clean, characterful wine, and its quality is undeniable. It’s also an infant. I suspect it needs a few years, if not decades, to blossom and reveal the full spectrum of its personality. It is completely different in style from the 4 Acres, being a much darker, more brooding wine, less exuberantly fragrant and expressive.

Irrespective of whether you like this wine, it’s nice to be given the opportunity to taste the fruits of remarkable vineyards (or sections therein) that would otherwise disappear into larger production labels. Viewed from this perspective, the Old Patch and 4 Acres wines are an instant lesson in Hunter Valley Shiraz, its common character but also the range of styles that exist within its ranks. Perhaps the outmoded “Burgundy” nomenclature was appropriate in ways we’re only now beginning to see.

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

Tyrrell's 4 Acres Shiraz 2007

This label seems to have gathered quite a following over its short life. I count myself amongst its fans. Ever since Gary Walsh created a stir with his review on Winorama, I’ve been particularly excited to taste the 2007 vintage.

The most lovely purple-red hue, deep and moderately dense. To smell, it’s very “4 Acres” but in an altogether deeper register. The characteristically pretty red and blue fruit is there yet, compared to previous vintages, it  demonstrates greater, quite extraordinary extension into the bass octaves. With only minimal swirling, an array of other aromas; earth, minerals, purple flowers, the slightest hint of gum leaf; emerge to create significant complexity. There’s also a slightly funky, barnyard dimension that strikes me as essentially regional, though very much secondary. I’ve been smelling this for a good half hour now and remain fascinated by each twist and turn the wine takes.

To the palate, then. So much goes on here, and it’s so attractive, I find it hard to respond analytically. But I’ll try. First, the acid. Structurally, this wine is driven by acid rather than tannin, so the acid’s quality is both critical and highly exposed. The attack is not overwhelming in this regard; instead, acidity builds linearly over the tongue, like a wedge that opens up from front to back of the mouth. It’s finely textured, three dimensional, and would be enough on its own to make a lesser wine worthwhile.

But it’s not on its own here. Flavours that precisely echo the nose run in and around the acidity, winding their way across the palate. The 4 Acres is always intense and finely etched but, as with the nose, there’s a density and depth here that goes beyond my previous experience of this wine. Body is also up on previous vintages. When you add acid to the mix, the effect is not unlike the richest textured velvet caressing one’s tongue. Silt-like, ripe tannins make a contribution to this texture. There’s a climax of acidity on the after palate, and then it all relaxes into a shapely finish that goes on for some time. Sensuous, complex and delicious.

If I were to highlight one quality this wine possesses above all others, it would be an immaculate line. From initial smell to lingering finish, there’s a sense of wholeness and integrity here that unifies each individual component and delivers a wine that, in the end, has its own philosophy. Whether you enjoy it as much as I do will, I suspect, hinge on whether you can relate to its point of view. It had me enthralled.

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

Lake's Folly Chardonnay 2006

This is the current release Lake’s Folly white, although I believe it sells out rather quickly, so its currency is rather academic. Lake’s Folly, as a winery, fascinates me. It is historic in terms of the modern Australian wine industry, has deviated little from its original purpose (releasing just two wines each year, and white and a red), exists in a currently daggy wine region and seems to fly under the radar most of the time. And yet its wines remain sought after. I think that’s pretty cool.

The appearance of wine is usually of secondary importance when I’m enjoying a glass, but this wine has such a lovely golden green hue, it deserves mention as its own particular pleasure. Distinctive, slightly sharp nose of marzipan, lightly caramelised stone fruit and more astringent citrus. It’s full and luscious but shows beautiful restraint, and I love this ostensible contrast. In the mouth, fresh acidity contributes impact on entry, but there’s so much flavour packed into this wine it doesn’t take long for texture to assume second place. Quickly, the mouth is awash with fresh peach, almond and a hint of vanilla cream. There’s good intensity and attractive fruit character, but overwhelmingly a sense of poise and balance that defies the rich flavour profile. This

Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz 2002

Do we overrate the importance of vintage when assessing wine? Vintage conditions have an effect, at times profound, on the character of wine, but I wonder how productive is an absolute view of quality? Does our obsession with a “best” vintage enhance our ability to enjoy the drink? Or do we, in fact, neglect wines that have something interesting to say in favour of the latest “vintage of the century?”
More and more, I find myself happy, indeed quite interested, to taste wine from supposedly inferior vintages.

Ramblings: Wedding wine

First off, please allow me to apologize to Julian for being conspicuously absent from these pages for what feels like two months: I sent out my wedding invitations just over two months ago, I began a job at a new company four weeks ago, and I’ve been busier than I ever have been for months as a result.

Thankfully, the firestorm is now over. I’m slowly returning to my usual routine of drinking wine thoughtfully and writing about the experience of it (as opposed to just hunkering down with a glass of something a couple of nights a week and not bothering to write about it). Julian, thank you for keeping things running smoothly here at Full Pour. Oh, and apologies in advance: the honeymoon is in three weeks, so I’ll be disappearing again for a while shortly… 🙂

When I decided to get married, I decided to do everything at my home here in San Diego. After all, our weather is predictably beautiful and I’m fortunate to have a small back yard with a fairly beautiful garden. Of course, once the invitations were printed, the next thing up was “how the heck am I going to feed and water one hundred guests?” To keep costs down (wait – I mean “to give it a more personal touch”) I thought it’d be good to source everything from within my ZIP code (that would be 92104 – North Park, San Diego), which meant trips to Eclipse Chocolat and Schatzi’s Catering to set up food and wedding favors. My buddy Henry offered to bake the grooms’ cake and my friend Chris delivered Sprinkles cupcakes from Beverly Hills (what would a wedding in Southern California be without the obligatory trendy dessert du jour, you ask?). All that was left to me was the beverage service.

This is a list of what was drunk over the course of the entire weekend, along with tasting notes (if I remember much of anything about the wines; I didn’t write anything down at the time) and other notes that I think may place things into context.

The basic ground rules of serving wine at a wedding – to me, at least – would be these:

  • If you’re serving Champagne, it had better be cold.
  • Don’t go by your own tastes – think about your guests.
  • Don’t forget children and teetotallers – not everyone drinks wine.
  • Visual presentation counts, so don’t grab odd lots from your cellar.
  • Spending a lot of money is of questionable taste and effectiveness; most people won’t remember the wine, and ostentation isn’t worth it.

In addition, I have now learned that you should have more water on hand that you ever imagined if you are holding a wedding under the Californian sun. Thankfully, I live two blocks from a supermarket, so a scouting party headed over to fetch another hundred bottles (it took five minutes total). Yes, I had amazing guests.

Anyhow! Back to the wedding. First of all, I married a fellow Californian, so Champagne was right out of the question. I had originally wanted to go with Costco rosĂ© Champagne because it’s delicious and also vaguely cheeky (Costco, after all, isn’t exactly elegant – but their pink Champagne is very, very good). That was vetoed immediately, so I had a quick look at the major Californian labels: Mumm, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer. I’d just had Chandon Étoile rosĂ© at a public wine tasting a few weeks back and it kind of sucked – too sweet, too bland – and Gloria Ferrer’s label isn’t the snazziest, so I went with Mumm. At $12 a bottle, two cases nicely covered our 110 guests (we had 2 bottles left over afterwards). I had some two days after the wedding: it was as good as any other $12 California sparkling wine, and the color was a beautiful pink. The guests generally liked it very much, although it was definitely a touch too dry for the standard American palate. Mumm CuvĂ©e M would have been more widely acceptable, but I didn’t like the label (too blue) or the taste (too sweet). That being said, it’s probably an overall better choice for weddings.

Up next: I’ve often seen weddings where the couple actually getting married has a separate, fancy bottle that they use for their own toast. Being generally shameless, I figured that this was a great idea, so I joined the Mumm Napa wine club (there was no other way to get it) to get some Mumm Napa DVX rosĂ© for the grooms. The DVX rosĂ© was delicious, really – elegant mousse, kind of a strawberries on brioche thing – and (most importantly) the bottle was very beautiful.

We also needed two or three cases of wine on hand to serve with dinner – and I didn’t want to buy any more, so I raided my own cellar for anything that was moderately good and (more importantly) I had a lot of. This is what I decided on:

  • White: 2002 Mitchell Watervale riesling
  • Red #1: 2002 Jacob’s Creek Reserve shiraz
  • Red #2: 2002 Rosemount GSM

A couple of notes here: I guessed that folks would mostly want red wine, and that was true. Only 4 bottles of the white were served, but 18 bottles of the red went out the door. I didn’t taste any of these three, so I’ll only go by what guests had to say: the caterers (who were German) very much liked the riesling, most guests absolutely loved the Jacob’s Creek (which I suspected – it really is a good wine, and it’s good for most people because it’s less tannic than others), and the wino geeks present very much dug the Rosemount, although they also noted it was better with the food.

Oh! As we spent most of 2002 in Australia, it was also important to me to have Australian wines only with dinner, all of them from 2002.

Now, we can move on to the eclectica. The night before the wedding, we celebrated with a sort-of bachelors’ party: after sharing a couple of pizzas, we moved on to these wines:

  • Rockford Shiraz 2000, 2001 (half bottles)
  • Luigi Bosca Gala 1 and Gala 2 (malbec and cabernet blends)
  • Ridge Monte Bello 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 (half bottles)
  • 2004 Hamilton Russell pinot noir
  • 2004 J. K. Carriere Anderson Family pinot noir
  • 2004 Ridge Geyserville (magnum)

It was a special night – what can I say – so we busted out the good stuff. My short take on all of this was that the J. K. Carriere outshone everything else by a mile. I pulled it out of the cellar by accident – I had originally meant to share that bottle with you, Julian – but I decided to just go for it and open it. That is one of the two best pinot noirs I have ever tasted (the other being a Bouchard Finlayson from South Africa): it had everything going on. People just fell in a hushed reverie when they tasted that. Amazing.

The Hamilton Russell was okay but was probably just suffering by comparison. The Geyserville was predictably good. The Monte Bello was lovely, but really demands more time in bottle (for the 2001 especially). I loved the 2004 right now, though. The Rockfords found favor with my brother in law Tom, who’s a chef – I think he appreciated the distinction and originality of the wine. Finally, no one bothered to finish the Gala 2, although the Gala 1 disappeared almost immediately. I didn’t try either so I wouldn’t know what to say.

Saturday night after the wedding I sat down with a small group of friends: my neighbor, old friends I hadn’t seen in years, and three people whom I had never previously met. We stayed up for a couple of hours talking – it was lovely – and went through these bottles:

  • 2002 Grosset Polish Hill
  • 2002 Steingarten
  • 2002 mesh
  • 2000 Clonakilla shiraz viognier (magnum)

It was truly a beautiful way to end the evening. The Grosset riesling was harsh, demanding, and very very strange; everyone else was unfamiliar with the general style (dry Aussie riesling) and I think it’s safe to say that no one particularly liked it. The Steingarten by comparison was powdery soft, lemony, elegant… and then the mesh blew the other two out of the water. It was almost a synthesis of the other two: style and power, soft and mineral, hard nose, long, gentle finish. That was a truly beautiful bottle of wine and a wonderful experience to share with friends.

Finally, to close it all down, to say goodnight, I went for the bottle that I had long ago decided I would drink on my wedding day: the Clonakilla. We bought that bottle from Mr. Tim Kirk himself back in 2002 and hand-carried it all the way back to San JosĂ©. I babysat it through our subsequent move to Washington state and then drove it down to San Diego last year; I put it in the front seat footwell to make sure it would stay cool until I could get it into a wine storage locker. It’s been there for six years and now it’s stained and empty.

How did it taste? Beautiful. It’s a melancholy wine, really; there’s still a hint of sourness and decay among the petals, but very, very little. Temperamentally it’s a lot like J. K. Carriere pinot noir: minimal winemaker intervention, elegant taste, moderate alcohol, everything in perfect balance. I don’t know why I don’t drink their wines more often: that is something I aim to work in the future. It’s been fun trying dozens of oddball wines, and I suspect I’ll always enjoy it, but when I know with moderate certainty that a J. K. Carriere, Ridge, or Clonakilla wine will truly move me, shouldn’t I be drinking more of those?

After a quick detour into beer territory on Sunday – we had a small after party at an elegant brasserie called The Hole (oh, who am I kidding – it’s a dive bar over near the airport) – I went back home and got ready for the final toast of the weekend.

At some point during the wedding – I was busy with guests and didn’t notice – someone snuck in to the party, filled up the sink in the laundry room with ice, and deposited two bottles of 2000 Cristal. I didn’t notice until I went to get the Clonakilla much later in the evening, only to discover it hiding underneath the Cristal. My first though: Cristal? WTF? I mean, in my house? I had briefly considered splurging and buying a bottle the week before – I mean, if your wedding isn’t the right time to blow $250 on a bottle of wine, when is? – but caught myself about to do something stupid, and stopped.

We chilled that bad boy down, put out five glasses, and shared it with three of our closest friends. It was a truly special moment, thankfully unsullied by gratuitous Showgirls references. As for the wine itself: yes, I can see why it would cost that much. The bead was spot on, the mousse beautiful, the packaging and color of the wine truly elegant. Taste-wise it had an awful lot of the breadiness that I love so much – and most intriguingly a sort of oyster-esque quality to it (iodine perhaps). It kept going and going on the after palate, and it got better as it warmed up a bit (note to self: ice bucket for only 10 minutes next time, not 15). It was fantastic.

We then moved on to pizza in the back yard. We next had a bottle of 2002 Giaconda shiraz which I found terribly disappointing – $80 for what I have no idea. It might have required more time, or decanting, or something. It wasn’t bad, just kind of… average. (I’ve had their chardonnay once and that was truly special, hence my disappointment here.)

We followed it up with a bottle of 2002 Ridge syrah (I think; I need to double-check some pictures; if it was, Julian, then that was the matching twin to the one we shared in Sydney way back when), which had a strange yeasty flavor to it. I didn’t finish my glass; most of it wound up down the sink. And then we were done: every good weekend has to come to an end, after all!

Mitchell Sevenhill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

How things change. I tasted this a couple of years ago and found it lean, mean and a little green. It’s still the same wine, of course, but time has been kind.
A heady nose of powdery, dusty cabernet fruit, tobacco, eucalyptus leaves on a hot day, perhaps a hint of oak. There’s some bottle aged complexity in an edge of leather, but the wine is surprisingly youthful in its aroma profile. Quite complex, but certainly not one for those with an aversion to eucalyptus/vegetal aromas.
Good presence on entry, with an attractively clean run over the tongue. Cool cabernet fruit and dusty eucalyptus beat a path to the mid-palate. Texture begins to roughen up at this point, and some additional flavour elements introduce themselves. There’s some varnishy oak, a bit of dusty library, some bramble. In short, it gets a whole lot more interesting. Medium bodied at most, and with still-prominent acid, there’s a rough and ready character to the mouthfeel and structure of this wine that suggests additional bottle age will be of benefit. Overall, the flavour profile is quite savoury, with cabernet fruit distinctly sweet but largely subservient to the other elements. Fine, powdery yet slightly raw tannins are a dominant element on the after palate, and the wine does hollow out a bit at this point. The reasonably long finish is consequently quite dry, with little fruit weight to counterbalance the tannins. A lovely counterpoint of bottle aged sweetness emerges at the back of the mouth.
An angular style, then, and not the most elegant. But not at all bad and worth a try if your tastes lead to the more intellectual face of Cabernet. I have one more bottle and will let it sit for year or two before retasting.
MitchellPrice: $A30Closure: CorkDate tasted: August 2008

d'Arenberg The Stump Jump Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2006

And so we come to the end of our bargain dozen. I’ve enjoyed the tasting and, for the most part, have been pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety available at around the $10 mark. I came across remarkably few corporate lolly-water type wines, and it’s nice to know one can buy a dozen wines at this price point whose flavours are willfully different from one another. To finish, I’m tasting a well-known quaffer, The Stump Jump, d’Arenberg’s entry-level blend of McLaren Vale fruit. 

Nose is slightly hot, with some green funkiness alongside savoury red fruit and sweet spice. It’s got personality. On entry, it’s surprisingly acidic, with a fresh and quite textured mouthfeel establishing early and carrying right through the line. Riding this acid wave is bright red fruit, some round spice and an astringent, sappy edge. Light to medium bodied, this wine has an almost Pinot-like flavour profile in some respects, initially savoury but gathering fruit sweetness as it moves through the after palate. There’s nothing outrageously complex here, and the acid is, to my taste, somewhat too aggressive, but it’s good drinking. The finish is perfectly acceptable, with subtle, plush tannins blanketing the tongue. 
A good wine to finish with, then. Rustic, unsophisticated, real. 
Price: $A10.45
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: August 2008

Deen De Bortoli Vat 1 Durif 2006

Durif isn’t a variety you see too much of, especially outside the Rutherglen and surrounds. This wine, made from Riverina grapes, is part of De Bortoli’s value-priced “Deen” range. De Bortoli does better than most with its wines at the lower end of the market, so I’ve been looking forward to tasting this curiosity.

An attractive nose, with plum, some spice and a darker, slightly vegetal oak character that adds depth without any hint of unripeness. A bit of lift too. The fruit character is ever so slightly confected, but because the aroma profile is dark and dense, it’s not unduly distracting. The palate shows an interesting array of flavours. There’s a rich, very ripe plum note, teetering on overripe, held in check by a range of savoury influences (including quite prominent oak) that, together, create a flavour profile miles away from the sweetness of many cheaper red wines. Definition isn’t all that great, but it’s a very generous wine, with heaps of flavour and good presence in the mouth. Mouthfeel is interesting, being a little rough and almost spritzy, whilst also showing ripe, slightly chunky tannins. Intensity of flavour tapers off through the after palate and the finish isn’t all that long.

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV

We’re celebrating tonight. Chris will know why. He will also, I hope, enjoy the fact that we’re using him as an excellent excuse to have some nice wines. The irony with wines such as this is that they are incredibly fun to drink but boring to write about, as the aim is consistency, year-on-year. I shall soldier on, though, no matter how arduous the task.

Lively mousse, moderately fine bead. A lovely, fresh aroma of mushroom, yeast, citrus and some rounder, strawberry-like notes. It’s all very refined and “just so”, but never difficult and certainly savoury enough to stimulate one’s appetite for more. Balance is the key word on the palate too, with a variety of dimensions showing just enough of themselves to add complexity without dominance. Flavour profile is refreshing, with citrus, some smokiness and an impression of clean, delicate fruit. Good complexity. Mouthfeel is clean and refreshing without undue coarseness or aggressive acidity. Certainly on the finer side, and appropriately so — it’s a wine clearly weighted for immediate, joyous consumption.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Riesling 2008

Riesling has provided me and many other wine lovers with a fabulous hunting ground for labels that vastly outperform their price points. Consider: the pinnacles of Australian Riesling; singular styles recognised internationally; routinely sell for $20-40. Even Hunter Semillon costs more at the top end. Here, though, is a $9.50 Riesling from the Barossa Valley, a region not renowned for the variety. On the plus side, Peter Lehmann is a winery that has a history of solid, well-priced wines.

A forward nose of candied pineapple and other tropical fruits, plus a bit of spice. I’m not getting the “crisp citrus and floral” notes referred to on the back label. Instead, this seems a broader Riesling style. In the mouth, some initially welcome acidity fades as lemon and candied fruit notes take over. These flavours are assertive but lack intensity at the same time. I suspect a level of residual sugar contributes to this flavour profile, though there’s nothing overtly sugary about the wine. A dip in intensity through the after palate precedes some bitterness on the rather chalky finish.