I had to leave this wine overnight as, on opening, it seemed excessively sulphurous, to the point of being undrinkable. It’s better tonight, although there is a hardness that seems reluctant to depart. I’m not enough of a guru to know whether this is a technical fault or a function of fruit, so I’ll just call this wine as I find it.
On the nose, softly fruited with quite luscious plum and strawberry characters. There’s also an edge of minerality and an underlying hardness that speaks to me of woody stalks. It’s actually becoming less expressive as it sits in the glass, although what’s there is interesting in an elusive way. The entry shows similarly contradictory characters. There’s a thread of the same juicy fruit, but it’s almost completely overwhelmed with hard, savoury characters. Things remain thin through the middle palate, with a thrust of bitterness that obscures pretty much everything. There’s a bit of joy on the after palate, with some sweetly floral characters, before an astringent, hard finish.
I’m not really getting a lot from this wine in terms of enjoyment, though I will persist with it through the evening to see where it goes.
Domaine du Prieuré
This is one of those wines that you can tell someone’s opened even if you’re deaf – the smell’s going to hunt you down right quick like. Absolutely massive, tending towards pruny, and very much in line with an Australian port wine style, the nose is wonderfully rich and fruity, sporting a jaunty undercurrent of saddle leather and cigar wrapper. Thing is, though, it doesn’t smell sweet as much as it does rich; we are in emphatically New World territory here and it makes me just a bit giddy smelling this, especially as I attended a wedding in Marin County last weekend and spent some of Sunday driving around Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. It’s beautiful up there, rolling hills and redwood forests, California oaks loping across the hills, and it’s no surprise this wine came from there.Initially just a bit hesitant, the wine comes across as fairly prickly with aggressive tannins; if you were expecting a silky-smooth, velvety fruit bomb that will sell by the pallet at Costco, this wine sure isn’t it. (This is my not very subtle way of saying that the resemblance to Mollydooker, Marquis-Philips, and other New World huge-smelling wines ends right here). This wine tastes much more serious than the nose would have you believe; it’s a bruiser. If Tim Burton ever developed a violet pastille candy for sullen goths, it would taste like this wine does. Black, black fruit oozes murkily behind a veil of arrogant dark chocolate spice, sneaking out on a rough-hewn plank of to-die-for oak that leaves you with nothing but a haunted memory of those few languid moments where you enjoyed this wine. The overall effect is of dark beauty; this wine sure smells like you’re going to get a snootful of over the top California fruit, but the winemaker has chosen instead to foreground the heaviness. This is an absolutely stunning wine and something any Californian should be proud to point to as a wine style that is peculiarly ours – even though this is essentially the same as a Rutherglen durif in terms of genetics, the grape seems to go darker here than it does in Victoria, providing a somewhat less earthy and (to me) even harder wine that (if treated well by the winemaker) results in a profound beauty that reminds me of port (the hugeness), Chinon (the hard edges), and Argentine malbec (the darkness) all at the same time.Best of all, this wine is absurdly underpriced for what it is. Buy it now before the cultists discover it.J. Rickards
There’s not much left here by way of fruit, only a muted quince-like suggestion of faded summer apples long since dried. At first glance, this could almost pass for a severely dry English cider, but there’s also an interesting subtle perfume of talc and (almost) roses mixed in with that tell-tale kero smell that quickly hides itself from the rest. All in all, what there is on the nose is slight, elegant, delicate: this isn’t a screamer.At first apparently sleep with almost a slight spritz left, it turns out to not be sweet at all. Surprisingly (to me, at any rate), the acidity isn’t as searing as I would have expected (I have memories of tasting their 2002 at the cellar door in Denmark (I think it was) and being taken aback at the sheer nerve of the thing). The overall effect is of a very soft wine with some acidity at the tail, almost flabby (but not quite), with very still apple-y flavors and a moderately short finish. The overall effect is quite like seeing a cover band play your favorite band’s songs: it’s good enough to remind you why you like that band in the first place, yet also not good enough for you to really break right down and enjoy it.Then again, it turns out that all this wine really needed was to warm up just a bit from its ice bath. Served slightly warmer than usual, it mellow out into a lovely wine that still has distant glimpses of freshness; the overall effect is strangely English – it’s like a genteel, polite floral drink best served with cucumber sandwiches. I do like it and yet I’m not bowled over by the style; a bit of residual sugar would do wonders towards making this a great wine. I’m glad to see that Howard Park are now doing that and suspect their greatest success might lie with a sweeter style – especially after lengthy bottle ageing.Howard Park
This wine’s a ripper and pleasingly distinct from its 2005 counterpart. The latter’s style (and alcohol level) prompted MA-rated strong language and drug references in my tasting note, but I suspect this won’t call for such colourful descriptions. This is more University professor than the tits-out-in-the-back-of-a-ute-at-SummerNats 2005
But who said intellectuals can’t be sexy? Big handfuls of white pepper and spice on the nose, along with the sort of deep berry fruit that immediately signals impressive concentration (if the dark, dense colour weren’t enough). It’s a very stylish aroma profile, as much for the balance of its expressiveness as any particular element. There’s a decent amount of cedar oak too, noticeable and still a bit raw, yet very well matched to the fruit character.
In the mouth, a wonderfully sensuous experience. The entry swells elegantly with dark berries and spice, plus a liqueur-like note that speaks of concentration rather than overripeness. Texturally, there’s a lot going on, and it’s structurally coherent in a way that makes it difficult to know where the acid stops and the tannins begin. No matter — the whole is shaped with a firm, precise hand. There’s such intensity of flavour on the middle palate that it’s tempting to label it full bodied, yet it’s not really, perhaps medium to full at most, retaining a sense of proportion even at its most fruit-dense point. The after palate lightens in tone, with some red fruit poking in, and spice becoming more prominent. Extremely fine tannins carry a residue of flavour through the finish for some time.
The 2005 is drinking well right now, which works out well because this wine is a bit edgy and, I suspect, has its best days still ahead. A very satisfying, generous expression of Grampians Shiraz whose fruit and structure should persist through the development of bottle aged complexity.
Have you ever wanted to review a wine but were too tired to think for yourself? Well, today’s one of those days. As a result, I’d like to contrast the winery’s tasting notes for this wine with my personal experience of it tonight…Ad copy: “Cellaring Notes:
The 2000 Howard Park ‘Scotsdale’ Shiraz has the structural complexity that will reward long medium term cellaring (8 years).“Reality: It’s been just about 8 years on the dot since this wine was originally released. It’s been carefully cellared at 58 degrees F all the while. And what does it taste like? Old wine. Really old wine. If there was a peak to this wine, it was easily during the Bush administration. If you like your wines dead, this one’s for you. It’s got all of the creepy sweetness without sugar that old wines do and none of the freshness and verve that make it worth drinking.Ad copy: “The resultant fruit surpassed all our expectations being some of the most intense, deeply coloured and flavoured grapes to be harvested in the region.”Reality: Unless I’m totally off base here (which is possible; I’m no expert on the geography of Western Australia), Mt. Barker is also in the Great Southern region. Plantagenet Mt. Barker shiraz from 2000 is a damn sight better than this wine; yes, it’s deeply colored but if there ever was a surfeit of flavor here, it’s long since dried up and blown away. What little flavor that’s left is reminiscent of overapplication of lilac perfume at a funeral parlor: floral, cloying, and unappealing.Ad copy: “This wine has masses of character evident with a palate spilling over incomplex flavours and textures.” Reality: If anything, this reminds me of a Hometown Buffet patron with masses of fat evident spilling over a polyester pantsuit with an elastic waisband. There’s an awful lot of something here, sure, but I’d really rather look away and find something else to drink.Ad copy: “Such layers of flavour are rare in such a young wine suggesting extreme promise.” Reality: You know how some kids do really well up until they go to high school and then suddenly disappear to a rural Queensland cupboard or what have you, completely disappointing pretty much everyone that knew them? Well, this is one of those wines. I know that no one can predict the future, but if there was ever extreme promise here, I sure as hell missed the boat. I’m definitely about five years too late to this party, I think.Verdict: If you’ve got a bottle of this, drink it now. If you drank it earlier on and enjoyed it, I’m envious; I’ve had other wines from Howard Park and generally found them satisfying in every respect. Heck, even their Mad Fish fighting varietals still tasted pretty good after a few years’ bottle age on them (the shiraz, at least). This one, though, phew. Not good, and I’m probably sticking to their rieslings alone from now on. (Note to self: find their Tesco riesling from 2002 and drink that soon.)Howard Park
Usually, I’m too lazy to plan ahead when it comes to food and wine matching. Today, however, I was organised to a superhuman degree (for me, anyway) and actually thought about what I would drink with what I had planned to cook. So, a venison and beetroot pot roast is just finishing up in the oven, while I am enjoying my first sips of this Pinot Noir from Geelong.
Remarkably funky and characterful nose, the complexity of which seems fruit driven rather than forced through winemaking (who knows if this impression is accurate — kudos to Nick Farr if it’s all his doing). Riotous aromas of char siu, five spice, beetroot, minerality and hessian are neatly wrapped in a brightly expressive package. The aroma profile is truly interesting and seems full of the smells of childhood in a Chinese home (how I miss my mother’s cooking!).
A very flavoursome entry showing more markedly sweet fruit, red currant-like in character. It’s no simple fruit bomb, though. In fact, the flavours here are again complex, with spice and sour-edged rhubarb intruding in on the lusciousness of the fruit. It’s juicy without flab and savoury sans excess. Well balanced, in other words, though I would not call it delicate or elegant. In fact the flavour profile is a bit jingly jangly; it’s about contrast and glitter rather than harmony. The after palate shows some sappy oak and perhaps a bit of stalk action too, again well judged. Decent finish that seems to descend to the bass registers, slowly fading away with time.
Wish me luck with the food match.
After all this chardonnay, it’s kind of awesome to be hit smack in the face with a huge faceful of cat piss. Honest. There’s also a strange emptiness hinting at celery seed and fresh unsalted butter somehow; I know that’s a bit precious but it’s frankly quite difficult to describe what this thing smells like. It almost reminds me of unmilled wheat; there’s a potentiality in the smell that suggests raw materials, not finished product. Turns out the cat piss was only temporary anyhow; on second thought, it’s much more herbal than that. Hrm.Surprisingly broad on entry, this isn’t a wispy-thin, steely, acidic white. Oh, no, not by a long shot. Acids aboud, yeah, but there’s a surprisingly rich, nearly honeyed aspect to the mid-palate that slyly, teasingly turns like a cat that doesn’t want its belly scratched to reveal other aspects of mineral bananas, carbon honey, I again am at a total loss for words here. It’s like a Karo spill in the dried-herbs cabinet: it’s like licking white sage honey off of stony pebbles.Seriously, I don’t know how to describe this wine at all, and that’s a good thing. Every connection it suggests; every experience it conjures is playful and unexpected. It’s all a bit overwhelming and unnerving as I was just looking for a simple sauvignon blanc, but this wine is the opposite of that.Régis Minet
This wine ticks so many boxes. It’s a single vineyard bottling (tick) celebrating an ostensibly remarkable site (tick) full of old vines (tick) in a classic region that is on the comeback (tick). It’s also a quintessentially Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (tick). What could go wrong?
The answer is: something, but I’m not exactly sure what. It’s not that it’s unenjoyable; I’m finishing the bottle as I type. But I’m feeling unsatisfied somehow, as if the intent behind the wine is mismatched with what ended up in the bottle, promising a level of interest and sophistication that just isn’t there.
Perhaps I should just focus on what’s in my glass. It’s my second night with this wine. The first was characterised by a sweetness of fruit that was, frankly, unbalanced with respect to the oak character and marginalised savoury complexity. After being open for a while, it’s showing to greater advantage. The nose strikes me as heavily influenced by the Cabernet component, with a distinct leafiness sitting atop cedar oak and deep berry fruit. It is composed and just restrained enough to create tension and some mystery.
The palate, thankfully, is calmer in fruit character than yesterday, though still deeply sweet in profile. Bright red fruit has been replaced by a compote of darker berries doused in vanilla cream oak. In contrast to the nose, the Shiraz appears dominant on the palate, contributing generous blackberry jam fruit flavour. The oak is borderline overdone for my taste, though I must admit it appears of high quality and is delicious in its own right. I’m missing a sense of detail and complexity, and the wine is bludgeoning me a little with its density and flavour profile. Thankfully, a sweep of acidity livens up the after palate, in conjunction with well-structured, abundant tannins. I’m sure one could leave this wine alone for a few more years yet if so inclined. In fact, I suspect that’s the ticket to greater interest. Perhaps those with greater exposure to old Coonawarra wines can chime in here.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate
I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to find a bottle of chardonnay that’s a color I want to see in front of me. Once again, this has got that buffed to a sheen glare I’d rather see in a Manhattan lobby than in a glass in front of me. Whatever, though, I should probably find something more serious to talk about than mere looks. Right?There’s a hell of a nose on this wine. It’s like a Supermarket Sweep contestant was so stressed that they filled the cart with Lemoneheads and Fleischmann’s Yeast, sort of: it’s kind of a hypnotic twisting in the breeze between fantastic cleaning products, 1950s style, and something a bit funkier – Thanksgiving Parker House rolls, perhaps, glistening with eggwhite fresh out of the oven. And yes, yes, there’s also subtle vanillin oak there as well, giving you pretty much everything you could hope for in a New World chardonnay.Nowhere near a California butter bomb in the mouth, the bright, sunny fruit is well preserved indeed, not taking a back seat to any kind of winemaker intervention. remaining squarely in the center here. I’m disappointed that the yeasty notes on the nose largely disappear once you taste it, but the texture is lovely indeed, slightly creamy, finishing on a every so slightly bitter note well hidden behind perky acidity. There’s also a subtly woody note on the midpalate which seems slightly off – it’s a little more overt than everything else deserves, I think – but all in all this is a lovely bottle of wine.That being said, I’m not sure what marks this as distinctly Kiwi. I find it slightly hard to distinguish between this, the Neil Ellis Elgin chardonnay from last week, and any number of New World wines. Thankfully, though, this is a fine example of the genre.Te Kairanga
Price: NZ $29
First impressions consist of a freshly picked field mushroom tossed on last night’s campfire. Quite a puzzling nose, actually. Pleasantly so, for it’s elusive and smart, like a subtle conversationalist who prefers to hover at the edges of the discussion. I’m trying, a little unsuccessfully, to pick out threads. There’s the aforementioned mushroom and charcoal, but what is most striking after some time in glass is a thrust of minerality that sits right between sour cherry fruit and musk. This wine is making me work and I’m really enjoying it.
In the mouth, an elaboration of the aroma with some elements filled out. The entry is subtle, consisting more of a sulphur-like prickliness than any sort of substantial flavour. This fans out to a decidedly savoury middle palate. There is fruit of a sort, again in a sour cherry spectrum, yet flavours are so integrated it’s unsatisfying to pick this out as a discrete thread. Rather, there’s a detailed tapestry of elements, all bouncing atop a layer of well textured acid. The whole is light bodied, lacking much in the way of bass notes aside from some vanilla-nougat oak. It tastes marginal, as if ripeness were only just achieved. Raspy tannins rattle along the tongue with increasing presence. Sappy flavours take off on the lifted after palate and persist through a peacock’s tail finish that resonates with attractive flair.
I like this sort of wine. It never yells yet has so much to say. The way it is building in the glass suggests a happy future.
Domaine du Meix Foulot