Tir na N'og "Old Vines" Grenache 2006

Is it possible to be entirely prejudiced against a wine merely from smelling it quickly, walking up the stairs to the computer?

Simply put, this smelled like some kind of fruity New World red, with some kind of yeast with a flashy brand name – FermentXtreme™ or what have you. It smelled like UC Davis checked into the Motel Quickie in Roseworthy, SA and snogged its way to a Parker 90+. It smelled like something the wine waiter sells to folks who don’t like wine but who want to look sophisticated when they’re dining at the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Toorak. I dunno. It just smelled kind of lame.

That was twenty minutes ago, and it’s finally shaping up a bit with some air. Now it smells of lovely oak, Rainier cherry and allspice. Kind of a cocoa, bay leaf, eucalyptus mint, white pepper sort of thing. It’s lovely but it still seems to be missing some sense of place.

The way it actually tastes, though, is the surprise here. It smells overlarge, Partonesque, but surprises you; it’s lithe, sleek. It doesn’t taste at all like it smells; it’s more of a blackcurrant flavor I’m getting here, and the tannins seem to be out for lunch. Coming back to it again, it is decidedly New World, but there’s this twinge of cassia there that’s unusual and attractive; it finishes quietly, wandering off to the back of the spice rack where the things your Czech grandmother brought to Christmas dinner back in the late nineties still moulder behind labels you can’t understand. Basically, the trick here is that you’ve got a wine that meets the high-octane, Parker fruit bomb mold – judging by the way it looks and smells – but it tastes far more interesting than most of those. I’m pleasantly surprised by this and would gladly drink it again.

Tir na N’ogP
rice: US $25
Closure: Diam
Date tasted: September 2008

Tyrrell's Vat 5 NVC Shiraz 2003

This label seemed to disappear from the Tyrrell’s portfolio after the 2004 vintage. I recall reading something about damage to the NVC vineyard, but the details escape me. In any case, I have enjoyed it on numerous occasions, and the vineyard seems to impart an earthiness that’s quite regional and perhaps even more prominent than in some other Hunter wines.

A forthright, savoury nose of wet earth, cooked meat, an iodine-like note and concentrated, slightly stressed fruit. It’s deep and dark, and bulkier than many of its regional siblings. In the mouth, intriguing despite dimensions that extend towards clumsiness. Savoury berry fruits flood the mouth on entry, and are joined on the mid-palate by assertive minerality and an equally assertive, astringent mouthfeel. Despite the benefit of a few years in bottle, this wine is still vibrantly primary, with rustic acidity and chunky tannins key to its current balance. The after palate and finish are puckeringly dry.

To be critical, the fruit is slightly dead tasting, and the overall impression is one of heft rather than elegance. Still, it’s a clear view into vintage conditions and perhaps all the more interesting for it. In fact, if you ever find yourself facing a bottle of the 2003 and 2004 NVC Shiraz, they provide a great insight into how vintage conditions can influence a wine’s character. Personally, I loved the 2004 wine. Not a renowned red wine vintage in the Hunter by any means, 2004 nevertheless gave birth to a light, funky, elegant NVC Shiraz. I wish I had more bottles of it.

Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Bouchié-Chatellier Pouilly-Fumé La Renardière 2004

An altogether excellent friend recently sent me a few wines to try, in the spirit of education and vinous exploration. I hadn’t intended to write any of them up, but this one surprised me and suggested a few notes were in order.

Quite a luscious nose showing tropical fruit and some honeyed apricot, offset by a solid streak of high toned flint. An interesting balance between overripe fruit notes and the sort of minerality one usually associates with ultra-dry wines in the Australian context.

This theme continues through the palate. On entry, lots of ripe flavour and a slippery mouthfeel, though with enough acid to ensure a sufficiently fresh impression. Though certainly influenced by some residual sugar, the fruit character reminds me of preserved lemon: sharp citrus character by way of pungently savoury syrup. This sits on top of a shard of flint that adds detail and shape to the wine’s line. Good density through the after palate, and a good lingering finish.

Interesting style that worked well for us as an aperitif. It would also suit canapes well, and I imagine would cut through a degree of oiliness thanks to the minerality. Wines like this help to remind me that, although it’s great to revisit favourite styles, there’s a tremendous diversity of wine just waiting to be tasted.

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Lake's Folly Cabernets 2006

In amongst Max Lake’s considerable oeuvre is a slim volume of memoirs, richly recounted and highly enjoyable. It colours my view of the Lake’s Folly wines. It’s tempting to view wine solely in terms of what’s in the bottle but, perhaps inevitably, knowing something about its maker, the vineyard from which it came, regional history, and so on, makes for a more complete experience. The difference between wine evaluation and wine appreciation, perhaps. In any case, Max Lake’s memoirs are a nice view into what he originally set out to do with this label, and where it sits in the grand scheme of Australian wine.

A striking, pungent nose showing tobacco leaf, raw spice, fragrant cabernet fruit, sweet earth and a whole lot else besides. It’s really quite complex and distinctive — no doubt too distinctive for some tastes. Certainly not one for Cabernet purists. Very flavoursome entry that starts cool and savoury, but quickly reveals a wider range of flavours. There is a core of moderately sweet dark fruit around which revolve a number of high toned notes: some vegetal, some earthy, some oak-derived. As with the nose, complexity of flavour is a standout. The wine is medium bodied and full of interesting textures, from detailed acidity to ripe tannins that seem to land on the tongue in silty globs. The latter become a gorgeous influence on the after palate, and help flavour to persist with good intensity through a decent finish. It’s young but very well balanced and extremely drinkable now.

This is quite a funky number and, looking back over my impressions of the 2005 Cabernet, perhaps more immediately accessible than its predecessor. I probably prefer the 2005 but this is a lovely wine, full of personality.

Lake’s Folly
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 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

Moss Wood Semillon 2003

One from the cellar.

Shy nose with hints of cream, astringent herb, grapefruit and a touch of tropical richness too. I’m smelling an aged dimension to the aroma profile in the form of light toastiness, but it’s still quite primary. A pretty, complex whisper of a nose.

The palate shows greater generosity. A cool, crisp entry that bristles with fresh acid texture. You’d never know this wine had already spent several years in bottle. Steely acidity carries astringent citrus flavours through the mid-palate without significant pause. Here, mouthfeel shows a softer, creamier face, without subverting the wine’s significant structure. Intensity is quite impressive, and there’s some complexity of flavour too, although it’s all quite austere in profile and, consequently, challenging to describe in terms other than “flint” or “mineral.” A pleasant lift through the after palate precedes a long, clean finish. It’s in these last stages that some fruit weight finally appears, and it is of the grapefruit and citrus pith variety.

The last bottle I tried, perhaps two years ago, showed quite differently. It was more generous, softer and quite luscious, and the winemaking treatment (battonage, etc) was clearly evident. I wonder if this wine is going through a phase, or perhaps there’s some bottle variation at play? On the basis of this example, I’d be looking to check on its progress in two to three years’ time. I don’t have a lot of experience with this label, though, so others’ insights are welcome.

Moss Wood
: $A30
: Stelvin
Date tasted
: September 2008