Karra Yerta Eden Valley Riesling 2005

Is it possible to know a vineyard after tasting its output only twice? Hardly, or at least not in every respect. But those sites of special interest are so partly because they impart a particular character, hopefully attractive, to the wines made from their fruit. A truism, perhaps, and something of an abstract religion to those who place importance in the idea of a

Tintara Reserve Shiraz 2003

I’m a sucker for McLaren Vale Shiraz, and tend to prefer its flavour profile to some other nearby regions. There often seems a thread of bitter chocolate running through the most typical wines that meshes well with a what is frequently a dark fruit flavour profile. Yes, I declare a decided preference for this style, and it’s gratifying to have an especially good example in front of me now.

Really complex aromas of cocoa, fresh plums and freshly harvested root vegetables (pulled out by the stalks). There’s also smoky oak of the high quality kind. The smells are great, but what impresses me most is the nose’s density and coherence. It’s akin to the highest quality drapery; luxurious, textured and totally seamless. A bit of bottle age too, as much a mellow glow as any particular aroma.

Karra Yerta Eden Valley Riesling 2008

Lately, I’ve been thinking about wine styles and how some come to be defined as classics over time. In a way, it’s more complex than the literary canon, for example, in which a single, unchanging artifact is evaluated and re-evaluated over time. With wine, a particular combination of variety and region remains static but a whole set of variables — everything from particular vintage conditions to winemaking to long term climatic variations — ensures a constant evolution. So, how to pin down the essentials?

This wine poses the question because it seems to present atypically at first. The nose is heady, hinting at tropical richness without feeling at all broad. There are wisps of paw paw, honey and the sort of spice that would feel at home in a Gewürztraminer. These elements are at the fore, and for a moment mask a backbone of fine, detailed minerality and a curl of lime rind that are all about the Eden Valley.

Curlewis Bel Sel Pinot Noir 2006

Together with the Stefano Lubiana tasted yesterday, this wine falls in a sparsely populated class that I shall call “second label Australian Pinot Noirs that don’t taste like second label Australian Pinot Noirs.” Breaking new ground, as always.

This wine reeks of winemaking cred. Really funky aromas of tomato sauce, barbecued snags, sparkling red fruit and spice. A touch of merde too. Personally, I love it, not least for the fact that it will probably divide drinkers in an instant. Despite everything that’s going on here, fruit flavour seems quite straightforward, which is a nice foil to the winemaking artifact. Above all, it communicates an immediate, confident sense of style.

Stefano Lubiana Primavera Pinot Noir 2008

Visiting Central Otago with Chris late last year was instructive in many respects, not least in the opportunity it afforded to taste many producers’ second label Pinots alongside their premium offerings. As much as I’d like to believe in the romanticism of wine and winemaking, more often than not I am struck by how calculated a particular range of wines can be. A simple, fruity second label, a heftier mainstream wine, an excessively extracted and oaked reserve label. Very much by the numbers, and quite uninteresting as a set of implicit assumptions around what constitutes quality and value. 

Wine, for me, should be anchored in a sense of context and appropriateness. Some wines facilitate a casual weekday meal, others challenge the intellect, and yet others can create a sense of occasion. Variations in structure and flavour profile reflect these roles, rather than a perceived hierarchy of quality. I’m not a relativist when it comes to quality, but I do believe the question isn’t simply a matter of “more” or “bigger.”
I mention all that in passing because this Pinot challenges the idea that a second label wine should be an easy, straightforward drinking experience. It’s a little different from some previous vintages of the Primavera which, while rarely being simple, have sometimes shown to more immediate advantage. The aroma here, by contrast, strikes one with depth and savouriness. It’s almost a difficult aroma profile, with odd notes such as sweet foliage (not quite tomato vine), juicy yet savoury cherry fruit and oak that seems smokey, sappy and a bit raw. Some attractive five spice notes on top too. Some of this angularity is no doubt due to its youth, but this wine seems to have a fundamentally dark aroma.
The palate confirms the density of this wine’s fruit flavour. It’s quite sombre, full of crushed black cherries and plums, sweet and sour sauce, chocolate and some sappiness. Entry is immediate, packed with fruit flavour and pushed along by a good dose of acidity. The middle palate is full of flavour but manages to avoid feeling heavy thanks to the acid and a framework of tannins that are loosely defined yet quite assertive. The flavour profile seems somewhat medicinal at this point, showing mostly in savoury terms and turning in a sappy, slightly oaky direction on the after palate. The finish is clean, long and full of fruit flavour. 
I’m not at all confident I have the measure of this wine, and that in itself pleases me. It’s a tasty, deeply fruited, sophisticated Pinot, packed with fruit flavour and happy to exist in a spectrum of flavour that might be regarded as difficult. I understand 2008 was a warm growing season in Tasmania, and the level of fruit ripeness here seems higher than in some previous vintages. In any case, it’s very distinctive and perhaps even brave. I suspect given a few months in bottle it will be even better. A pleasure to taste such complexity and distinctiveness in a second label wine.

Stefano Lubiana
Price: $A27.55
Closure: Stelvin

Amberley First Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

An inviting, lush nose with just a hint of varietal leafiness. It’s not the gravel-fest one might expect from Margaret River Cabernet but, if you can get past the absence of outré regional character, the aroma profile is gently approachable and attractive. Good complexity, with oak playing a relatively prominent role in vanilla custard mode. The fruit character seems rounded rather than intellectual and angular, perhaps a function of bottle age as well as style.

Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc 2007

Looking over at the glass, I initially mistook it for Martinelli sparkling cider, the fake Champagne every child gets at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s an unusual color for a white wine, brittle and clear, fairly pale and somewhat off-putting (at least to me). The nose is something like salt-water taffy, sweet with a hint of pineapple, possibly like hot buttered popcorn (oily, salty, with a hint of sugar). Pretty strange stuff, but of course pinot blanc isn’t something I drink often, so I don’t know if this is typical or not.I’m none too thrilled by this wine; it seems flat, flabby, not very refreshing. There isn’t much flavor here that I can discern; it’s mostly just generically wine-y, with the vaguest of off flavors that I can’t pin down entirely. The acidity leaves a bit of a burn in my throat, and all in all this wine leaves me cold. There’s more flavor and complexity in a bowl of Corn Pops than in this bottle; this isn’t one I’ll be finishing.Kuentz-Bas
Price: $14
Closure: Diam

Frogmore Creek FGR Riesling 2008

With respect to the apparent fashion towards wine labels that consist of cryptic collections of letters and, at times, numbers, I’m not a fan. To be honest, it reminds me too much of the sort of corporate-speak that surrounds me every day; when I come home, I’d rather sit down to something vaguely romantic and aspirational instead of a label that describes the result of a scientific trial.

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2008

Such a beautiful color, this wine; it’s blindingly clear transparent watermelon candy, crimson rose petals leaching into a luxurious bath, cherry fruit leather drying in Andean sunshine. Strangely enough, I’m enjoying looking at this wine more than I am drinking it: this is a wine that doesn’t demand attention or thought, just enjoyment. Obviously, though, not every wine has to be some kind of profound experience; some are just fine as an accompaniment to White Castle sliders and the dying light of a cool May evening in the back yard. On the other hand, that’s really selling this wine short; there are many, many pink wines out there that are vacuous, boring, sweet, or insipid, and this isn’t that either. It smells of simple grapey strawberries, tastes pretty much like that too, but ends on a stylish pivot towards warm spices and refreshing, palate-cleansing acidity. This might not be the focus of my evening like a great wine would be, but it isn’t detracting from anything else, either.Plus: nine bucks? C’mon, that’s a steal. The Cayus Edith rosé I had last week was nowhere near the wine this one is and cost four times as much; I don’t know of any other sub-$10 wines that deliver as much pleasure as this one.Dominio del Plata
Price: $9
Closure: Stelvin