Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d' Alba Barolo 1999

This bottle is a celebration: Mark and John, old friends of mine, signed a lease for an apartment in San Diego this afternoon, which means they’ll be leaving their home in Omaha in two weeks and moving in down the block from us. Fans of Italian wines that they are, they gave us this bottle many years ago – and now it’s time to share it back and celebrate their impending move.

First of all, I have no idea if I’ve titled this entry correctly. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to Italian wines, so I don’t know if I should simply say “Falletto Barolo” and leave it at that – or write out everything that’s on the label that doesn’t seem like a legal term. (Google tells me that “Giacosa Barolo Falletto” might be accurate as well.) I’m even so clueless that I had to ask Mark to remind me what grape is used in a Barolo. (Thanks, Mark!)

Anyhow: on to the wine. There was a bloom of fragrance released into the room immediately upon removing the cork (which, of course, was an ultralong, very healthy looking one). In the glass, it’s obviously an older wine at this point, smelling something like Hansen’s organic cola, albeit with notes of molasses, dark chocolate, and dried herbs. There’s also something subtly citrus – it reminds me (almost) of dried orange peel and thyme.

Tannins don’t appear to be fully resolved yet, which is surprising at first, but oh, what a lovely texture this wine has – it’s medium-bodied, smooth, almost slippery, but with a definite undercurrent of heavyweight tannin. The overall effect is very surprising to me: this doesn’t even remotely remind me of anything I’ve encountered before, which is probably not surprising given my limited exposure to Italian wines at all. There’s sort of a dried-cherry note here, but on the whole the fruit flavors, such as they are, are decidedly backgrounded in favor of other things, none of which I feel well equipped to describe. The overall effect is somewhat disorienting: it’s more reminiscent of a Hungarian herbal liqueur than what I know as “wine.” To be honest, the intense texturality of it throws me as well: it’s impossible to drink this wine and note be acutely aware of the tannins present, which suggests to me that it might be better to wait another ten years before having a whack at it.

Meanwhile, Mark’s just reheated some Chicago style pizza from Lefty’s, which might work extremely well with this; the tannins really seem to be demanding some kind of meat to counterbalance them. “Yum,” Mark just said, and I think the look on his face sums it up perfectly. According to Mark, the tannins really complement the meat on the pizza, and the combination is what makes this wine work so well for him.

Sadly, I overindulged at dinner earlier on, so I can’t really manage trying some with the pizza, but I’m finding the style more and more interesting the longer I spend with it. The finish certainly does stick around for a couple of minutes, and it reminds me, oddly enough, of something like a wassail bowl: citrus notes hovering around the edge of something sweetly dark.

If anything, this wine seems to be utterly itself, which is a rare enough thing. I fear I’m not well situated to say much more about it, though, given that I’m not knowledgeable about or experienced with Italian wines – and I’m also far to used to drinking wines on their own (rather than with food) to fully appreciate the style, as it really isn’t at all designed to be drunk on its own. Ultimately, though, the true mark of friendship is sharing things that you enjoy with your mates even if they’re not quite up to the task of appreciating it, and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Welcome to San Diego, Mark and John!

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Domaine des Baumard Vert de L'Or Doux 1999

A big mushroom cloud of oxidised stink at first, settling to a less big mushroom cloud of oxidised stink after a few minutes. There’s no doubt this bottle could be in better condition, but it is keeping it together long enough for me to have a good taste.

An interesting companion piece to the dry 2000 version, this wine is less identifiably varietal yet weightier in fruit at the same time. Gentle acidity provides a backdrop for gentle, sweet flavour and some bitterness that both freshens the palate and overwhelms the fruit somewhat. It’s all very easygoing in flavour profile and, thanks to that acidity, brisk on the tongue. A simple, slightly confected after palate leads to a decent finish that is quite textural and slightly bitter.

A little hard to judge this bottle, but what’s here is tasty enough, though fading a little disgracefully into old age.

Domaine des Baumard
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2005

At the risk of turning Full Pour into the Clonakilla Wine Appreciation Society, I cracked open a bottle of the 2005 Hilltops Shiraz this evening. On its release, I remember liking this wine a great deal, more so than the subsequent vintage at least, and finding it especially dense and serious. So, it’s with particular relish that I am checking in on its progress.

It’s certainly moved on since release. Not that it’s looking tired at all; this wine has just relaxed enough to allow its fruit fuller expression. The nose is a dense rush of violetty, dark berry fruit mixed with some savoury, meaty edges. There’s perhaps a hint of stalk too, though it’s certainly in the background. This label usually strikes me as displaying what I characterise as purple fruit. To elaborate, in my mind it’s a cross between frozen berry desserts and Hubba Bubba Original Flavour; in other words, a little sweet but mostly intense and delicious. Here, now, the fruit is moving freely, structure having relaxed enough to let berry juice flow into the mouth. It maintains poise and an element of restraint, though. There are cough medicine complexities too, quite high toned and aromatic, plus some lovely cumquat-like citrus. Vanilla oak provides a soft and cuddly backdrop. The palate is notably voluminous from entry to finish, with nary a dip in intensity. A very long finish.

A generous, truly delicious wine. For my taste, I’d like to see some more bottle age show itself here, as I feel some decay and additional flow will add extra beauty to this wine’s flavour profile. This label really tends to blossom after about five years; I’ll try another in two to three years.

Price: $25
Closure: Stelvin

Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling 2004

On the nose, there’s something approaching canned pineapple or peaches mixing it up with the distinct smells of an aged riesling – but only a little. Although there is a whack of kerosene stank, it’s quickly subdued by something of a cosmetic, talcum powder note that reminds me of Victorian drawing rooms and dust.

Rich and mouthfilling, the wine jumps to a finish of spiced pears, but not before touching on all kinds of stone fruit notes, largely in the direction of Asian pears and fresh peaches. The trick here is the finish, which is distinctly savory and powdery soft. Still, there’s also a core of sweet, ripe fruit here that’s quite appealing; this may be “dry” but it’s not quite dry in the way that Clare rieslings are dry. It’s also not lieblich in the way that yesterday’s Finger Lakes riesling was – it’s as if there’s at least a suggestion of some sugar to balance out the acidity here. It’s very well judged and seems to have a distinct sense of place that the New York riesling was lacking just a bit. Then again, it’s a different price range, so it’s also theoretically possible that it’s simply a matter of getting what you pay for. Who knows?

Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin

Swedish Hill Finger Lakes Riesling 2007

I’ll confess that the only reason I bought this wine is because it’s from New York. I know, don’t laugh. Thing is, pretty much every book that’s published about wine in the USA has to mention non-West Coast wineries at some point – I assume largely because those markets are pretty darn big, so you don’t want to upset anyone from New England by not mentioning that winery on Long Island that does cab franc or the relatively old New York wineries up on the Finger Lakes that have been growing riesling for decades. To make a bad guess at an Australian equivalent, it’s like writing a book on Australian wine without mentioning wineries in Roma, Queensland or the Swan Valley near Perth: sure, there’s not much there (Houghton excluded), but you just include it out of tradition.

Or so I thought.

This wine is a surprise to me: the nose is entirely varietally correct, with a very pretty beeswax and honey combination that’s the equal of any fine riesling out there. No, it’s not to the heights of a Schlossgut Diel or a Trimbach, but it’s absolutely fine, better than anything from Idaho and more than a few cheesy California rieslings. There’s crisp acidity nicely balanced by a touch of sweetness; it’s all ripe enough (check) and if the finish is a little short perhaps, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it at all.

At ten bucks or so, it isn’t smashing value (those Idaho riesling are only five or so), but it’s far from overpriced too. It also manages to walk the fine line between a wine everyone will like (because it’s delicious and a touch sweet) and wine that pretentious snobs will like too (because it’s varietally correct and tasty, too). In short, this is an unqualified success.

Sadly, I now wonder what a high end New York riesling might taste like – and living in California as I do, my chances of ever seeing that in a shop are basically nil. (This wine came from wine.woot.com – kudos to them for thinking outside the West Coast box for a change. If they ever have Missouri Norton wine, I’d probably spring for that too.)

Swedish Hill
Price: $10
Closure: Cork

Rosemount Show Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet 2002

Smelling somewhat like children’s strawberry-flavored breakfast cereal at first, the wine doesn’t seem to change much over time: the nose is attractive if simple, not identifiably Coonawarra, and doesn’t display much in the way of overt oakiness or aged notes.

In the mouth, though, the oak suddenly reveals itself rudely, taking over the texture of the wine and adding an only moderately pleasant charry note to the midpoint of the wine. The finish is fairly long, but again fairly straightforward: a bunch of toasty oak riding roughshod over some fruit that frankly isn’t quite up to the task here.

Is this wine any good? That’s hard to say. I wouldn’t say it’s bad exactly, but it seems like an otherwise decent red wine – competent if somewhat lacking in actual Coonawarra flavor – was lost in the process of making it “reserve” by oaking it to death. I’m not a fan of this style unless the fruit’s as huge as the wood, and in this case it just doesn’t measure up.

Price: $15
Closure: Cork

Clonakilla Cabernet Merlot 2001

It probably won’t come as a relevation that Chris and I are fans of Clonakilla’s wines. I remember once visiting the cellar door and having a chat with Tim Kirk about this Cabernet blend, and was surprised to hear him express reservations. I suppose the Canberra District calls to mind Shiraz and, to a lesser extent, Riesling, with Cabernet-based wines tending to fall into the same “why would you” territory as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Still, I’m always on the lookout for glorious exceptions, and I’ve usually enjoyed this label a great deal.

High quality cork. Beautiful, heady aroma of violets, blackcurrant fruit, cedar and some underlying decay. It’s quite a thick, enveloping aroma profile, though it retains some of the angular elegance I associate with Cabernet Sauvignon. I love smelling this wine, and for my taste it is showing enough bottle age to add significant complexity without challenging those who have a distaste for old red wine.

Really good continuity from nose to palate. There are a few striking aspects to this wine as it currently stands. Firstly, the flavour profile echoes the aroma’s complexity and balance of aged versus primary notes. It reminds me a little of aged Hunter red wines, with some light earthiness alongside more classically Cabernet flavours. Secondly, mouthfeel is soft and gently textural, and for a moment hides the degree to which flavours adhere to the tongue. There’s a really interesting interplay between luxurious flavours and structure, which moves from slippery to textured to almost crunchy on the after palate. Here it becomes evident there’s still considerable acidity keeping the wine fresh, and I imagine guaranteeing it a few more productive years in bottle.

Cabernet may not contribute to the Canberra District’s renown, but here’s a wine that, eight years after vintage, is still continuing to improve. Not bad. A beautiful wine.

Price: $35
Closure: Cork

Chard Farm Finla Mor Pinot Noir 2007

This label is one of Chard Farm’s lesser Pinot labels, though this doesn’t imply any less integrity in terms of region or winemaking approach. 100% Central Otago fruit, from the Parkburn area, which is nearer to Cromwell than it is to the winery’s location in Gibbston. I mentioned in my writeup of Central Otago wineries that, often, I have enjoyed lesser labels in preference to their “reserve” siblings, because they can represent a fresher, less scaled-up expression of Central Otago fruit, and so showcase the essential attractiveness of this region’s character more directly.

This wine is a good example of my point. A forthright, full nose of savoury Pinot fruit and cough syrup, herbs and light oak. Luscious, very ripe, very fruit-driven, it gives the impression of considerable complexity deriving from the fruit itself rather than any winemaking trickery. In the mouth, impressive presence and generosity. The entry delivers flavour very quickly, along with a slippery, somewhat viscous mouthfeel. Things get fuller towards the middle palate, with savoury fruit washing over the tongue. There are some high toned flavour components here, herbal in character, but the berry fruit is so full it tends to dominate. Good extension through the after palate, with a nice lift and very fine, ripe tannins that create good persistence of flavour on the finish.

A fuller, more luxurious style than many, but one that focuses on fruit character rather than anything more complicated. If I were to level a criticism, it would be that the fruit may lack a little freshness, pushing the boundaries of ripeness somewhat. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Update: retasted the following morning, this wine showed greater delicacy and layers of perfume. The impression of overripeness was reduced slightly. Nice wine.

Chard Farm
Price: $NZ39
Closure: Stelvin

Tulloch Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2005

Pure Hunter on the nose: red berries squashed on a dry dirt road. Nuances of roast meat and herbs contribute complexity, and subtle oak underlines what is a piercing, relatively high-toned aroma profile. The more I smell this wine, the more I get from it; it’s definitely a wine to savour through the evening rather than slam down fast.

The palate is restrained and tight, showing little evidence of a rest in bottle. Acid! Really, lots of it, keeping the fruit in check and the line in shape. Not that there’s a lack of enjoyment — in fact, within the constraints of youthful structure, the fruit is remarkably intense and detailed. Medium bodied, there are bright savoury red berries along with more herb and lightly spiced oak. Totally consistent from nose the palate. I love the way this wine feels in the mouth, with very fine acidity and equally fine, ripe tannins creating a large-scale textural underlay for the fruit. Very long finish.

Loads of quality here for sure, but it’s way too young to drink right now. Reminds me a little of Chianti. I’ll be cracking another in five years.

Price: $A40
Closure: Cork

Bonny Doon Vineyard Critique of Pure Riesling 2004

This is presumably the last riesling produced under the Bonny Doon label, and the only reason I’m drinking it now is because the hock bottle it comes in is so absurdly tall that it wouldn’t fit in my storage cabinet after I reorganized it to make room for a couple of Magnums Julian sent over for Christmas (thanks again Julian!)

Anyhow, on to the wine. It’s a few years old at this point, and the nose has taken a turn for the diesel station down the block – but only just. Honeyed peaches are there in full force as well, so it’s not overwhelming. Overall, the effect is of ethereal clover honey and springtime blossoms – it’s lovely.

Surprisingly rich and full in the mouth, the flavors are closer to Ethiopian honey wine than to a classic German riesling; there’s a subtle steely minerality behind it all, but at first taste what you’ll get is largely sweet honey (rocks come later). It doesn’t feel like there’s much in the way of sugar here, but it’s decidedly nowhere as austere as a typical Clare riesling, so I’m guessing there is; acidity is perceptible on the finish, but only just. The texturality of the wine is highly unusual; it’s got heft to it that isn’t apparently based on sugar or alcohol. Instead, it’s reminiscent of Japanese gel candy somehow: it’s tangibly there, but only there to carry the flavors.

Over time, a sort of hazy woodsmoke enters into the picture, taking it all to kind of a martime conclusion; strangely, I imagine that ordrinary oysters might be improved by serving this wine with them, lending them texture and taste that they might otherwise be lacking. The finish is fairly long, lazily shifting between honey, honeycomb, lavender water, and wet stone. Pretty amazing stuff for the money, to be sure.

Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin