Bunchgrass Winery Founder's Blend 2003

This is a friendly wine. Immediately appealing, the somewhat confected nose offers up straightforward red licorice characters as well as an intensely Walla Walla character: bright, forward fruit with just a twinge of brambly dust. Over time, some other flavors arise; these remind me somewhat of baked blackberry jam and old leather-bound books.Tannins sneak up immediately upon tasting the wine, however, and come to dominate the finish entirely, setting up an odd dynamic between the fruity plushness and the somewhat inert tannins. Then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, nervy acidity rears up to finish it all off, leaving you with a still-puckery mouthful of tannin, harsh acid at the back of the mouth, and yet that same delicious fruitiness sailing on at the front of it all. It’s disjointed as hell, but I have to admit that I like it quite a bit for what it is.After a long weekend in Walla Walla a couple of years back tasting any number of perfectly decent, flawless, boring, expensive wines, this one really stood out for having a sense of character. Is it a great wine? No. But is it itself? Yes, and I’m grateful for that.Sadly, it looks like the winery is no more these days. Roger & Cheryl – thank you for a wonderfully idiosyncratic bottle of wine, and I hope you’re doing well.Bunchgrass Winery
Price: $30
Closure: Cork

d'Arenberg The Stump Jump Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2007

Bright ruby colour, very clean and not very dense. Bang, we’re in commercial red territory with the nose, and I mean that as only half an insult. Let’s face it, there’s something comforting about the easygoing aroma profile of a well made, mainstream red wine. This one has pretty aromas of sweet red berry fruit, grilled meat, an interesting medicinal note and subdued brambles, along with a hint of gentle oak. Everything in its place.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2004

It’s customary to bang on about this classic label in terms of its value for money. To be sure, I love that I’m able to purchase a wine held back from release until its point of maturation for under $A15 (and I paid somewhat over the odds,too). It’s especially ironic that McWilliams persists with its release strategy across the Mount Pleasant range when other labels, including some premiums, are pushed out earlier and earlier, very much to the detriment of the consumer who might like to obtain at least a little enjoyment soon after purchase.

Biondi-Santi Rosato di Toscana 2006

Thanks to a good friend, this bottle showed up in my house last night. As it was imported sub rosa, it’s difficult for me to tell what kind of wine this is, who produced it, you name it – the label is confused and resembles a Mexican lottery card more than it does anything else. I gather – thanks to Google – that this is some kind of Brunello di Montalcino, or maybe not: the producer’s Web site seems to indicate that they invented that DOCG or something, but who knows?Anyhow, on to the wine itself. The color’s beautiful – basically somewhere between blood orange and watermelon. Better yet, it doesn’t have the look of a wine that’s been filtered to death; it’s a bit hazy, which is appealing (to me, at least).On the nose there’s a huge whack of sulfuric acid: this positively reeks of the stuff. Ouch. You want the smell of the cold country? Well, there you go. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to get beyond that sulfur smell – is there a trick to this? Just drink it?As far as drinking it, it doesn’t taste like “wine” at all to me, but rather like some kind of very low alcohol ápertif based on grapefruit rind with a pepper edge to it. Curious! If New World pink wines are all about little red fruits, and if French pink wines are all about strawberries and herbs, then this Italian wine is all about bitter citrus. It was a shock at first, but it’s growing on me.Texturally, the wine is fascinating, exhibiting a kind of creaminess that surprises me. The acidity, present as you’d expect for an Italian wine, is bright and perfectly balanced against the fruit, and it all ends on a long, smooth note of creamy strawberrie and lemon curd with that same bitter edge to it. All in all, a remarkable wine.Franco Biondi Santi
Price: €36
Closure: Cork

Ridge Zinfandel Stone Ranch 2004

Rich and dusty, there’s also the suggestion of medicine here, medicine that’s hiding something darker underneath an allegedly friendly façade. To me, it’s suggestive of dusty, decaying leather and no longer fashionable roses, a perfume that’s not friendly enough to sell well at Target. But that’s fine by me; a famous Frenchman once said that a perfume should smell of a woman who neglects herself, and this wine is heading in that same direction. It’s the smell of a wine that doesn’t particularly care what you think – kind of punk rock, I suppose.Deeply purple, youthful, and unapologetically alcoholic (if the jambes are to go by), it begins to give it up for fruitiness after a few minutes’ worth of exposure to air. Still, the fruity jam is nicely framed by that savory, dusty edge of dirt and restraint.Brighter than you’d expect in the mouth, what you get is a very floral, bright wine with hints of an aged character. In fact, it almost seems like there’s a skosh of volatile acidity lurking here; it just seems to… well, perky. It’s all moderately good… and yet it seems like there’s something every so slightly out of balance here. Even so, the character of the wine sneaks to the foreground from time to time, with a dusty, frankly kind of generically Zin-ny characteristic that’s good enough… almost. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t disappointed by this; all of the elements of a good Ridge zinfandel appear to be here; the problem is that they aren’t coherent, interrupted as they are by that acidic brightness and the odd sharpness of the wine. If I have anything particularly nice to say about this wine, it’s probably simply that it’s relatively inexpensive for a Ridge.Tannins, by the way, seemed missing in action for me, but my friend Mark says “wow, it’s all chunky tannins!” It could be simply that my taste buds have gone walkabout for the evening!Update: Ten minutes on, it’s warmed up a bit from the cellar, and now it’s going a sort of cassia bark path, devolving into a sort of vanillin spice box character. Interesting.Ridge
Price: $24
Closure: Cork


A few wines tasted lately. Apparently, Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc continues to be the default white wine selection when dining out, and so it was the other night when enjoying the company of some colleagues after work. The Te Whare Ra Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is made in an approachable manner (within the context of the style), with good typicité unhindered by any excesses of capsicum flavour or acid. Seems to be outside the mainstream, with rounder, perhaps simpler flavours than usual. I thought I’d be traditional and have this with a goat cheese-based entrée but I can’t say the match worked especially well.

Altus de Gualallary Grand Vin 2000

With this wine you start with a quick huff of New World grapey goodness, but it quickly settles down into something with a bit more gravitas. The fairly richly scented, ripe Malbec fruit seems to have some good oak behind it, but not too much; this wine (surprisingly to me, given the name) seems to have avoided over-oaking in favor of something, well, more Spanish in style.Acidity is fine and frankly delightful, stealing center stage from the fruit, which is decidedly in the summer red berries stage here, strongly reminiscent of a fresh raspberry tart. Not decidedly complex at all, it seems much younger than it actually is, with barely a hint of aged character. It’s only towards the finish that – again – it seems briefly Serious Wine, but again not very much. Then again, thinking about it a bit more, the tannins are substantial but unobstrusive; they seem to have aged to the point where they’re just playing a supporting role here; this is why this wine seems a bit of a lightweight. But is it? I don’t know. Is it delicious? Yes, but shouldn’t I be expecting some heavy barrel toast and puckery tannins? Is it OK to like a good wine just because it’s summery and delicate?I can’t make my mind up about this wine at all. One moment it seems a trifle, the next an elegant, restrained wine in the Bordelais style that is way too sophisticated to be drunk with the food that’s on my table. This one’s an odd duck: probably not Serious enough to please folks who are expecting a massive bruiser of an Argentine malbec in the style of Clos de Los Siete and Michel Rolland, and way, way too sophisticated to be mistaken for your average supermarket quaffer labeled Los Gauchos del Sur (or whatever they call cheap Argentine Malbec where you live).I’ve decided it’s pretty damn good.Note: We bought this at the winery on vacation a couple of years ago; if you’re in the neighborhood (the Tupungato valley), the restaurant is absolutely worth a visit – that lunch in the vineyard was perhaps the best meal we had outside of Buenos Aires.Oh, and lest I forget: the encépagement is not listed on their Web site or on the bottle, so my guess of Malbec is just that: a guess. Apologies if I guessed wrong!Altus
Price: Can’t remember, probably around $25
Closure: Cork

O'Leary Walker Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

In a nice nod to sub-regionality, the back label identifies this wine’s fruit as having been sourced from Armagh and Polish Hill River. Work was a slog today, so much so that I just had to swing by the local Dan’s Choice and pick up a bottle of something I haven’t tried before. Usually, my wine purchases are a lot more deliberate. The obsessive side of my personality, if I can be so euphemistic as to call my defining characteristic a “side,” usually demands my choice of beverage be the result of some consideration. But I just grabbed this at the shop without much thought. And here we are.

I guess I should rely on chance more often. This is a really honest wine, well-made and flavoursome. Swirly, rather high toned aromas of spice and mint encircle dust and moderately well-defined Cabernet fruit. We’re a long way from Coonawarra or Bordeaux with this wine, but that’s alright because it’s a comfortable, even slightly plush place. The aroma profile seems warmer, somehow, cuddlier than more restrained Cabernet styles, even as it challenges with a bit of savoury tar, cooked meat and slightly sharp oak.