Sarah's Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate 2004

The nose on this guy is very smooth, fruity, and somehow worked (if that makes any sense). It doesn’t seem terribly complex; however, this is an undercurrent of something like molasses or burnt sugar which lends some interest to the proceedings.

Initially frankly dull, the wine quickly rears up with a blast of ripe Pinot fruit – and then quickly finds itself buried under alcohol; at just under 15%, this is kind of a bruiser. The finish is short – or, rather, you think it’s going to be. Suddenly, the flavors come back and then ride out on a note of rich strawberry fruit and toasty oak. The tannins aren’t noticeable; this wine seems generally built as a New World fruit bomb.

Overall, how is it? I’m afraid I’m not a good judge of this: it seems fairly well constructed, but it’s all to ends that I don’t particularly care for. There’s no funk, no subtlety, no strangeness, no real beauty here – at least not to me. If you’re a fan of rich, fruity California wines, you might very well like this one. Me, though, I’ll pass.

Sarah’s Vineyard
Price: $26
Closure: Cork

MadFish Premium Red 2006

Tasting obscure, limited run, single vineyard wines from boutique producers is just so… obvious. Let’s face it, for those on a limited budget, much of our satisfaction must derive from more accessible wines. Quite apart from affordability, I have to admit I’m more than a little fascinated by the challenge that surely faces producers of cheap, larger volume labels. In this space, MadFish has developed an admirably positive name for itself. What, then, to make of this current release Premium Red?

Not as much as I would have liked, I’m afraid. A full nose of dusty Cabernet fruit mixed with softer, round berries. Quite fragrant, part of its personality is a good dose of green leaf, verging on astringent twig. I’m not bothered by some green notes in Cabernet, but this one verges on excessive, at least for my taste. Still, good volume. The palate confirms a borderline unripe flavour profile, although there’s also a decent amount of sweet dark berry fruit alongside. It’s actually a very well-formed wine, structurally, with a nice swell to the middle palate and a gently tapered after palate and finish. Waves of sweet fruit push through entry and mid-palate in particular. But astringent, marginal tannins intrude towards the end and roughen up what is, otherwise, a good BBQ red.

MadFish Wines
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin

Bonny Doon Vineyard Syrah Cuvée Splendide 2006

This one slipped in under the radar somehow; not a wine club selection from Bonny Doon, this was a one-off purchase from last summer. I’m a sucker for Randall Grahm’s wolf-cries; just as his Heart Has Its Rieslings was said to be the veritable bomb back in the fall of 2001 (word to the wise: there are still a number of bottles of that for sale at the main Glengarry shop in Auckland to this day), this was another one of Mr Grahm’s “OMG yum” mentions to wine club members; as a result, it’s open in front of me now.

Nothing surprising about color here; what is surprising is the smell. It’s a witness to the change in philosophy at the winery in Santa Cruz, I reckon: no more weird, microbullage-d to death velveteen aromas. Instead, there’s a sour dust lazily orbiting the wine in in the glass. It’s a surprise, a good surprise. Hell, I’ll even go out on a limb here and say that there’s something like Slim Jims and truckstop chili: a stale meatiness with the suggestion of warm asphalt.

Appealingly restrained, upright, dry in the mouth, the finish is solidly tannic, shot through with uptight French fruit. Overall, the effect is one of unexpected minerality: the fruits are very much sitting at the back of the room, patient, yielding the stage to structure worth of an Irish nun’s lesson plan. The overall effect is deliriously delicious and would surely benefit from a fresh joint (of lamb, not Humboldt County’s finest) on the side.

Surprisingly, I think this one might actually last a long, long time: it’d be interesting to see what happens with the arthritic grip of the wine’s bones loosens and lets some of that California fruit steal the spotlight.


Bonny Doon
Price: $24
Closure: Stelvin

Three Miners Pinot Noir 2005

One sub-region of Central Otago I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting (as opposed to driving through) is Alexandra. This wine, purchased from the Central Otago Wine Company’s cellar door, was recommended as fairly typical of the sub-region. As an aside, I can highly recommend the drive South from Alexandra, as there’s a stretch of the most spectacular scenery, dotted with schist and scarred by dramatic slits as the Clutha river cuts through the landscape. Quite lovely.

Bang, we’re back in Central Otago. The nose is fragrant, meaty, with a big dose of pepper and dark spice. There’s also a bit of vanilla, a sprig of fresh thyme and rather savoury fruit. Though I’ve listed a lot of descriptors, this isn’t an overwhelmingly complex wine, or perhaps I should write that it’s not an overtly complex wine. There is a fair bit going on here, but its aroma profile has a coherence and integrity that suggests itself more than a collection of independent notes. It’s also quite similar to some cool climate Shirazes I’ve tasted.

In the mouth, more straightforward than suggested by the nose, with a clean shot of fruit dipped in fresh thyme. There’s a bit more sweetness to the fruit, although its core remains savoury. The oak here stands out more, pleasantly so, as its character meshes well with the fruit. Slippery mouthfeel of some elegance, this wine is light to medium bodied at most. Tannins, while adding some grip to the finish, are subdued and gentle.

As a whole, the wine exists mostly in the middle to high registers. By way of comparison, I poured myself a glass of the 2006 Hoddles Creek Pinot while tasting this one. Side by side, the Hoddles Creek was almost all bass notes, lacking presence and detail in the upper registers. Of course, they are completely different wines, both showing integrity in terms of their particular expressions of Pinot. Perhaps less crowd-pleasing, this wine strikes me as a Pinot for enthusiasts who don’t mind a thinner, funkier expression of the grape. I must taste more wines from Alexandra.

Three Miners
Price: $NZ25
Closure: Stelvin

Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2002

Honestly, I didn’t mean to keep this bottle for so long – it’s just that Ridge’s wine club sends nearly two cases of wine a year, and I just can’t keep up. This is a members only bottling from a while back that someone got lost in the back of the wine chiller; upon pouring it’s clear that some of the normally dense color has gone missing over the last six years or so.

I’m not making this up – this wine smells almost exactly like gingerbread. At first, a softness of raspberries and then boom, gingerbread just like your Bubbie used to make. It mutates into blueberry at some point, but the spice and ginger hang in there.I’ve had more than my fair share of Zinfandel, and this one really does stand out.

At first threatening to be elegant and medium bodied, the wine quickly fans out in the mouth to a more varietally appropriate stance; it’s fairly rich, somewhat jagged (the acids and the tannins are all jostling for place here), and offers a surprising range of flavors, ranging from something like candied damson to Rainier cherry to Christmas pudding to sage honey and cedar wood. The only fault I can find (if indeed it is one) is a slight tendency for the acidity to surge up on the finish – but of course if you’re raising a wine (as opposed to making a wine) this is entirely to be expected.

Even at its advanced age, I don’t detect any aged notes; the wine is fresh and lovely and quite a pleasure to drink at this stage. Just add meatloaf and roasted veg and you’re good to go.

Price: $30
Closure: Cork

Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc NV

This wine is so clean that it’s practically devoid of any personality whatsoever. The nose is of… white wine, perhaps with a hint of lime rind. The palate is basically… white wine with good acidity, a tiny, tiny bit of residual sugar, a lovely finish of white peach, perhaps.

Sure, it’s generic – no year or geographic region indicated – but the bottle is lovely and it’s fairly priced. There are plenty of insipid wines out there for ten bucks, but this one does at least give you an unerringly positive experience.

As an aside, I purchased this bottle at a fresh&easy shop here in San Diego. Judging by the condition of the store, it looks like Tesco’s failing with the fresh&easy experience: the ATM was out of order, the store had huge pallets of merchandise blocking an aisle, half of the endcaps seemed to be randomly stuffed with discontinued items marked down to pennies on the dollar, the liquor section had disappeared entirely (the staff said that “maybe teenagers are grabbing it and running out the door”), and an awful lot of things have either disappeared or were just missing from the shelves. It didn’t look at all good – and they’ve raised the price on their Champagne back up to $28 from last December’s $24, so the one undisputed wine bargain they had is also gone now. Oh well.

Pacific Rim
Price: $10
Closure: Stelvin


The 2006 Clonakilla Syrah no doubt deserves a full tasting note, but I was much too caught up in the moment when sharing this wine with Chris in New Zealand, and much too lazy to write it up while it was still fresh in my memory. I remember, enough, though. Chris and I found this a tad darker in flavour profile than its Viognier-partnered sibling, perhaps a little denser and meatier. But without a comparative tasting, one can’t be sure. I can say that we found it an extraordinary wine, complex, almost labyrinthine, but in the best way. It seemed less obvious than the Collector Shiraz tasted a few days earlier, with more integrated oak and a slightly more sophisticated, detailed flavour profile. Quite a feat, as the Collector wine is lovely.

More recently, I retasted my favourite 2005 Riesling, the Seppelt Drumborg Riesling. Amazing how little this has moved, but fascinating now to see where it is starting to head. For the first hour, this seemed even more austere than I remembered, consisting almost entirely of texture and minerality. Not that I mind this at all — in fact, I’m a sucker for wines that seem to exist on the edge of impossibility. The next day, a wholly new dimension had opened up that may indicate this wine’s future. No obvious bottle age (eg toast, honey), but a relaxation of structure, allowing crystalline citrus fruit to cascade over the tongue. Still incredibly tight, mind, but moving slowly from acid and sherbet to vibrant, focussed fruit. I will continue to track its evolution with interest.

Thomas Braemore Semillon 2006

There is a group of small, energetic producers in the Hunter Valley exploring classic regional styles with considerable success. Thomas Wines presents a portfolio of single vineyard wines that aim to showcase the individuality of each site. I see from its website that it was established in 1997, so well over ten years ago at this stage. The last few vintages have generated quite a bit of excitement, though, especially the KISS Shiraz and this Semillon label.

Some toast quickly blows off to reveal a still-youthful aroma profile. Tangy citrus juice collides with higher toned, powdery florals. There’s perhaps a bit of rubber too, but it’s not especially intrusive and, for me, adds an interesting funky undertone to the aroma. Very nice to smell. 

The palate is structured like a polished jewel, with consistent, linear acidity from tip to toe. Like a wedge, it starts from nothing and builds smoothly through to the finish. Along the way, intense and complex citrus notes land precisely, with good detail and definition. By the time the middle palate arrives, the mouth is awash with crisp yet full fruit flavour. Although the acidity is firm and beautifully structured, it’s not forbidding, a well balanced foil to the generous fruit. Elegant, long finish that becomes quite chalky in texture.

A really excellent Semillon that should be fascinating to watch over time. Cracking value.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

Tulloch Julia Semillon 2005

The question of how long to age wine seems, to me, one of the most vexed of all, and something about which there’s rarely agreement amongst enthusiasts. Ironically, it’s also one of the most reliable crutches for wine snobs wanting to throw a bit of weight around, a phenomenon to which I am, I’m ashamed to say, painfully allergic. I remember walking past a group of rather tragic-looking men at Wine Australia a few years ago as one tossed his head back triumphantly and crowed: “Of course, it won’t age.” As if that were the ultimate mark of a wine’s quality (or at least a wine lover’s discernment).

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I shall relate it, somewhat tenuously, to this wine. The back label states it will benefit from “three or so years” in bottle. Quite conservative for a reserve-level Hunter Semillon, even one from a relatively forward vintage like 2005. The Tulloch website suggests eight or more years is appropriate. I guess we’ll just need to be the judge. I definitely have a preference when it comes to this sort of thing, enjoying fully mature Semillon that has lost most of its primary citrus character. Vastly more experienced tasters than I have often suggested Hunter Semillon passes through an awkward, “adolescent” phase on its way to glorious maturity, and this wine, right now in any case, provides an interesting illustration of this point of view.

Not that it’s unpleasant. In fact, my first sniff was very promising with definite signs of toasty bottle age and a generally forward aroma profile. Powdery citrus and honeyed lanolin predominate. I find the aroma a little blurry, as if each note isn’t quite distinct and detailed enough to claim its place, but it’s comfortable and generous. The palate is more telling. It pulls in all directions, youthful citrus colliding uncomfortably with the first signs of that waxy, slippery mouthfeel that is every Hunter Semillon lover’s joy. There are hints of honey and toast, but they amount to little more than coming attractions, and don’t yet possess the full flourish they will, no doubt, one day have. Consequently, there’s a bit of a hole in the palate, not enough citrus on the one hand and not enough bottle aged flavours on the other. Honey is developing weight as the wine sits in my glass, but it’s not quite there yet. Nice long finish.

This may seem like a negative tasting note, but in fact I’m quite excited. This will be a quickly-matured, deliciously easygoing wine in a few years’ time, and I’m particularly looking forward to how the mouthfeel develops.

Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin

Clonakilla Chardonnay 2003

It’s been two years and five months since the FAA banned liquids on airplanes, and to be honest I’m still miffed. One of the joys of travel was always coming home with a rucksack full of wine to be enjoyed over the next several years; sadly, that’s become far trickier than it used to be, given that you have to pack liquids in your luggage.

Back in 2005, Julian and I took a trip to Canberra to see a rugby match (among other things). We also were fortunate enough to stop by Murrumbateman on the way back to Sydney; this bottle is from that trip.

Time has been kind to this bottle; it’s survived both the trip back to Seattle and, two years ago, the move to California. On the nose, you have rich, buttery, oaky overtones reminiscent of serious California chardonnay; think Kistler. Pear freshness is edged with smoky barrel notes; I’m guessing there was lees stirring involved here too. The color is an impossibly bright, clear, medium yellow, shining in the glass.

On the palate, it initially seems thinner than I had expected, but then it settles in to a medium weight wine. The palate seems a bit hollow towards the finish; however, the wine is still agreeably fresh, tasting largely of fresh hay, butterscotch, and smoky barrel notes. It’s delicious, but at the same time not quite at the level of, say, Giaconda. Remarkable value, though.

Price: $na
Closure: Stelvin