Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2005

What a few days it has been — a busy schedule combined with the sort of low-level cold that is mind altering in an irritatingly subtle manner. It’s one thing to be demonstrably ill, each messy blow of the nose fully justifying the most outrageous self-pity and prompting those wonderful moments of over-the-top affection from one’s partner. The curse of the slight cold, however, is to want to complain knowing no-one will take you seriously. It’s also to taste wine (as I did last night) and realise that you have a totally screwed palate. Hence no tasting notes.

Tonight’s a completely different story, though. I’m as fit as a fiddle (well, I could lose a few kilos but let’s not get hung up on details after surviving a vicious sniffle) and things are again tasting of themselves. I remember this wine created quite a stir on release. It was as Bin 389 is to Grange — a way to get a good hit of Canberra Shiraz Viognier goodness without shelling out for Clonakilla’s top drop. I enjoyed it a good deal on release, but this is the first time I’ve tried it in a while.


Friends for dinner and, consequently, a few bottles consumed. We ended up having a nice range of wines through the evening, the most interesting of which are briefly elaborated below.

The 2007 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige is a straightforward, refreshing white that continues the grand tradition of wines made from this grape by largely bypassing things like intensity and flavour. I’m being unfair — it’s actually very easy to throw back and drinks much like the Aligoté we had next; it is crisp, texturally pleasing and just weighty enough, with a hint of pear fruit. Sometimes, oodles of flavour isn’t the point.
The 2002 Arras Chardonnay Pinot Noir, by contrast, is all about complex, powerful flavour. This is just a lovely sparking wine, quite forthright in style but without the fruity vulgarity that sometimes characterises local sparklers. There are all sorts of things going on here — freshly baked croissants, savoury lees flavours and very crisp fruit, all wrapped in a relatively weighty package that nevertheless communicates a pristine sense of structure and flow. Delicious. Was sad to see the bottle end.
We jumped to reds at this point and worked our way through a nice village red Burgundy. The 2005 Domaine du Prieuré Savigny-les-Beaune Vielles Vignes is an easygoing Burgundy style, quite fruit driven but with some savoury elements to the flavour profile that add some sophistication. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this wine, I must admit, but in a way that’s a great compliment — by this time, I was tucking into a meal of roast pork and the wine simply served to enhance the experience.

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Although I was fortunate enough to visit Neudorf last January, I completely neglected to write anything about my visit there. However, I did find a bottle of their wine (the only one in the entire shop!) upon returning to San Diego, and here it is:The nose is intensely tropically fruity and reminds me of pineapple more than anything else; it’s exuberant and nine-tenths of the way to a Mai Tai. However, the simplicity of the nose is deceiving: once you get some of this in your mouth, it goes in unexpected directions. First of all, the texture of this wine is unusual for sauvignon blanc (at least to me, New World kid that I am). It’s vaguely reminiscent of, I don’t know, Mexican fresas con crema, which is basically a light whipped cream dessert; this wine seems to me to have similar light-yet-creamy characteristics, a lovely balance between fruit and cream. Going back to the nose for a minute, the wine seems to have more in common with gewürztraminer than sauv blanc; it seems to be slighlty floral, tending towards roses, with some black pepper sneaking in at the side. Very, very curious.The mid-palate to finish of the wine return to relative normalcy; it does in fact wind up at the somewhat stereotypical gooseberry note you’d expect from a NZ sauv blanc. However, what’s exceptional is that it doesn’t dissolve into a shrill hoot of acidity; instead, it somehow maintains its composure and sneaks out on a soft ebb of sweet cream.This is really, really good stuff.As for visiting the winery itself, well, I don’t regret it, but I also was nonplussed by the experience. Obviously, Neudorf do great business; their parking lot was entirely full with Land Rovers and other Toorak tractor-esque metal, leaving little choice for many but to park on the grass. Once inside, the entire tasting room experience was one of those uncomfortable commerce-oriented experiences designed mostly to sell you product; although tasting room staff were friendly and knowledgeable, they turned decidedly cool when I declined to purchase anything opting instead to put $5 in the charity box they kept on hand for “gold coin donations” to their favorite charity for anyone who dared not buy wine on the premises. If there’s anything I truly despise at a tasting room, it’s being hounded to buy wine, no matter how good it is. Yes, Neudorf, your wine is amazing, but do you have to make us feel so little for not buying any on-site? It’s not always easy for international visitors to get wine home; some of us have to wait until we get home before hunting down some locally.That being said, I’m glad I did, and I’ll buy it again – I’m just bummed at the lingering bad taste your tasting room experience left behind.Oh, and would you please export your Pinot? It was amazing. kthxbye!Neudorf
Price: $16
Closure: Stelvin

Ridge Buchignani Ranch Carignane 2004

Honestly? The first word that comes to mind here is naff. This isn’t a stylish wine, it’s not fashionable, never has been, never will be. The only reason this stuff exists is because Italian immigrants to California took it with from the old country; it’s survived here and there for over a century, and this wine is produced from some of those ancient vines.It’s a wine-y wine in that it smells like generically good wine. There’s not a lot of complexity; I’m not imagining old libraries, fresh mushrooms, straw in autumn sun, none of that stuff. Instead, it smells like bright, rich, clean, wholesome fruit. There is also a kind of fall-off to the smell that is hinting at bottle age, but it doesn’t necessarily seem like a bonus: instead, it seems like a reminder not to keep the wine around so long the next time.Once drunk, the wine is fairly simple and bright, with a chunky, tannic finish that’s quickly rescued by sprightly acidity. There’s a certain weight to the palate that’s attractive, but ultimately this isn’t one for the ages; it isn’t compelling enough to drink on its own, but would probably shine with charcuterie or a leg of lamb. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about this wine is simply that it exists at all. When I drink this, it’s satisfying to know that a small part of my state’s heritage exists in a consumable form to this day.Ridge
Price: $24
Closure: Cork

Ramblings: Max Lake's Folly

Tonight, after news of Max Lake’s passing, no other wine would do but a Lake’s Folly Cabernet. And so I have a glass of the 2006 in front of me, richly regional and lip-smackingly delicious.

Truly creative people are frequently driven to publically, exhibitionistically realise their vision — not so much out of pure ego as out of a strongly held conviction that what they have to say is worth saying. The monuments that result can be sublime, grotesque, revelatory or ridiculous, depending on your point of view. But as time marches on, a canon forms, constantly evaluated and re-evaluated, challenged and affirmed. This hierarchy born of informed consensus validates the artist’s drive, and transforms an artefact into a standard against which other contenders are judged.

And so it is with Max Lake’s vinous legacy. Anyone who has taken the time to read his books can be in no doubt as to the passion he felt in matters of sensual pleasure, nor in the confidently expressed perspective from which his work sprang. I see Lake’s Folly as an integral part of Mr Lake’s oeuvre, as expressive and intellectual an artifact as his written works. Lake’s Folly wines are often discussed in terms separate from the mainstream of Hunter wine, and yet his Cabernet and Chardonnay are glorious exceptions that prove the two Hunter rules of Shiraz and Semillon. By being different, and successful, Lake’s Folly wines have carved a niche for themselves but also, ironically, have reinforced the Hunter’s classic styles. So Mr Lake’s belief both in the Hunter and in Cabernet are truly vindicated.

It is widely suggested that Lake’s Folly had a huge impact on the Australian industry. I’ve no doubt this is the case. For me, though, it’s about what I have in my glass tonight: Max Lake’s vision mediated via the (not to be underestimated) care and attention of Rodney Kempe. This is a beautiful expression of what wine should be. There’s nothing wishy-washy about its style or the intent behind its creation. That a wine can be simultaneously coveted, detested, discussed and dismissed speaks to its integrity. Tonight, I’m thinking about what wine in Australia might have been without Max Lake, and what it might be without him now. Surely, a glass of Lake’s Folly red is my only consolation.

Domaine de Durban Cru Beaumes de Venise Cuvée Prestige 2006

There’s no sense in beating about the bush here: this is one of the best wines I’ve drunk so far this year. I had to look this one up: Beaumes-de-Venise is an AOC in the southern Rhône that is primarily known for a VDN/fortified sweet white wine; until this bottle showed up at the house last week (as part of a special offer mixed dozen from Kermit Lynch in Berkeley), I had no idea that they made red wine there as well.This is in a sense your bog standard southern Rhône: it’s mostly grenache, there’s some syrah, and just a little bit of mataro there as well. The strange thing here is this: at first, this seemed to behave like a fairly typical New World fake Rhône: the nose was wonderfully rich, promising cherries and leather and rich, easy-drinking fruit. However, it also suggested caramelized sugars, still-drying tobacco, and medium-dark molasses as well; it was frankly fascinating.Things really kick into high gear once you get a taste of this wine, though, because it quickly morphs from New World fruit fiesta into a very, very traditional French wine, with thick, assertive tannins quickly demanding attention combined with that peculiarly French minerality that shows up in kind of a nearly-harsh, high-toned, almost-sour character that dominates the finish. It’s like sucking freshly pressed raspberries through finely crushed gravel in a Kentucky tobacco drying shed. All of it put together is utterly entrancing; I wish I’d ordered more than just the one bottle of this.Domaine de Durban
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

B3 Barossa Semillon 2006

This is the latest wine to take part in what I fondly refer to as my ongoing “neighbourhood Chinese takeaway wine matching” experiment. One of life’s little pleasures.

Really typical Barossa Semillon aroma, showing quite fleshy fruit notes of citrus and perhaps pear, plus some composting hay and a hint of honeyed age. The aroma profile is relatively thick and even, if not hugely expressive. In the mouth, a lot more forward, thanks partly to an acid structure especially well balanced for approachability. The acid is very fine and even, delivering good impact without being forbidding. A big wash of flavour starts right at the tip of the tongue and widens out towards the middle palate. This is a relatively weighty wine, and its structure, whilst present, is counterbalanced by a juicy mouthfeel that’s all about flavoursome drinking. There are definite indications of bottle age, and these nascent flavours add some complexity to primary flavours of citrus, sweet hay and soap. The overall effect is vividly autumnal and recalls slowly decomposing leaves. It’s also a bit rustic and unrefined, in the best possible way.

Barossa Semillon is quite a different beast from Hunter, and I often choose the former for more immediate gratification and a less intellectual drinking experience. This wine isn’t as full-on as some Barossas can be, with no discernable oak influence and little in the way of winemaking artifact. It’s also fresh-tasting within the context of the style, neatly avoiding vinous obesity. It could probably be a bit tighter but I kind of like its easygoing nature. A delicious and straightforward wine that would go well as a picnic quaffer. Not bad with the Chinese either.

Tower Estate Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2007

This no doubt seems absurd to normal people, but one of the reasons why I still look forward to tasting wine after ten or so years of considered consumption is that, over time, my tastes have changed quite dramatically, and with it my opinions on a range of wine-related things. So tasting wine isn’t all about that moment — it’s also about the whole journey. Chardonnay, for example. A few years ago, I found Chardonnay difficult to understand and enjoy, especially larger scale styles with a lot of winemaker input. I instinctively reached for the purity and accessibility of Riesling, and approached Chardonnay most comfortably from a Chablis angle.

Brookland Valley Merlot 2004

Who first said that Merlot should taste soft, fruity and generous? It’s an oft-repeated opinion, usually trotted out apologetically in conjunction with some mass-market, sub-$15 bottle of wine. On this view, Merlot ends up a bit like that mentally challenged second cousin who turns up to all the family functions and who is at least, you know, nice.