Château Rocher-Calon Montagne-Saint-Émilion 2006

I’m in the teeming metropolis of Morgan Hill, California at the moment on another business trip. This is pretty countryside just a ways south of San José; the Besson vineyard that gave us the inestimable Clos de Gilroy grenache is nearby. Thinking I’d drink locally, I headed to the local Trader Joe’s – the Aldi-owned cheap-gourmet grocery store – and intended to buy a bottle of something local. However, what they had was mostly stuff from Napa and Sonoma, and the French wines were keenly priced by comparison – I didn’t want to put $25 worth of alcohol on an expense report – so I wound up with the second most expensive Bordeaux that they had. (Interestingly, the most expensive French still wine was a $20 Ch.-de-Pape.)How is it? Very good indeed. It looks young, all majestic purple and vibrancy. The nose, such as I can make it out given the, ahem, inadequate stemware at the Courtyard Inn, is very soft, with hints of red berries and spice. The entry of the wine onto the palate is all lightfooted elegance, but before you have a chance to notice it firm-footed tannins come sneaking in, which broadens the wine out into a fairly impressive heft. Rich, ripe primary fruit is offset by tannins and smoky, spicy notes presumably from barrels; this is (let’s be straight here) very impressive given its price, and a good introduction to what decent French claret tastes like.The finish lingers, tannins gradually overcoming the supple fruit, until all that’s left is a memory of a distant wildfire. All in all, probably the best wine I’ve drunk at this price point in some time, and probably what the Wayne Gretzsky meritage from the other night wants to be when it grows up.Château Rocher-Calon
Price: $13
Closure: Cork

Wayne Gretzky Estates Meritage 2006

At the fairly ritzy SAQ Sélection on boul. De Maisonneuve Ouest Saturday afternoon, I put the bottle of Osoyoos-Larose I’d gone there to buy in my card… and then I noticed a pitiful clump of neglected bottles nearby. What? One of Canada’s best known sportsmen had produced a wine? What the hell? The capsules were dinged up, the back labels all had French language labels hastily applied, peeling already, with typefaces that didn’t match anything; underneath were labels that appeared to have been designed for US export. The URL on the back didn’t work (it’s outdated), there were still more slapped-on labels talking about a charitable foundation… ugh, what a mess.Of course, I immediately put back the prized bottle of Osoyoos-Larose and bought this wine instead. After all, Wayne Gretzky, eh?So: how is it? Fairly ordinary looking in the glass, the nose offers up simple, attractive, cherry-berry flavors with just a hint of oak and/or glue; I’m not sure which. In the mouth, you get a somewhat thin, somewhat fake wine with body that seems largely derived from alcohol with maybe a little bit of residual sugar, not extract; there really isn’t much by the way of flavor here, but at least what little you get isn’t bad, especially not compared to the Jackson-Triggs merlot from last week. With some aeration, it improves a bit to the point where voilá, you’ve got a decent pizza wine: little red fruits, some smoky oak, decent acidity, and a good enough finish. Not too shabby! Overpriced by Californian standards, it didn’t seem that expensive in a Canadian context. I’d be interested to see how their current wines are faring; there could be some potential here for a exceptional sub-$20 wine in the future.No. 99 Estates Winery
Price: C$17.99 (US $17)
Closure: Synthetic cork

Gilligan Marsanne Roussanne 2009

Why is Coke so popular? Why isn’t Passiona taking the world by storm? Personally, I adore Passiona and think it has a lot to offer the soft-drinking community. Yet Coke flies off the shelves. It all begs the question: are some soft drinks inherently better than others? Ditto grapes; do some varieties, barring easy targets like Trebbiano, simply make better wines than others? 

I don’t care to attempt an answer but, given the role fashion plays in wine appreciation and commerce, it seems dangerous to use market acceptance as an indicator of a variety’s potential. (Hunter) Semillon is a great example, and I wonder about the white Rhône varieties too. Viognier is, of course, enjoying an odd sort of resurgence, though I’m buggered if I can figure out what to eat with it. Marsanne and Roussanne are even more interesting. Tahbilk continues to make its iconic Marsanne at Nagambie Lakes, and a street price of about $A10 should tell you how scandalously little it is valued by the market (not that my wallet is complaining). Australian Roussanne is even thinner on the ground, yet my infallible fashion radar indicates a growing interest in these two varieties, even if the local industry’s collective expression suggests a degree of puzzlement rather than confidence. 
Enter McLaren Vale producer Gilligan with the first vintage of its Marsanne Rousanne blend (about half each). It’s a striking label, and I mean that literally; its bold typographic treatment on reflective silver should stand out on a shelf. It should also stand out when smelled, because it delivers a big hit of honeysuckle and bubblegum with the eagerness of an overweight teenager deciding what to order at McDonald’s (I speak from personal experience). If it had lingered too long on this note, it would have quickly become cloying, but the nice thing about this wine is that it keeps defying my expectations. From its Britney Spears start, it evolves to show subtle yet lively fruit flavours (in a sort of pineapple and orange spectrum) and, a little unexpectedly, savoury minerality too. The aroma profile never lives up to the impact of its first impression; whether this is good or bad is probably a matter of taste. 
The palate starts full and generous, as one might expect from these varieties, with a shapely flow into the mouth herded by fine, fresh acid. Again, intensity of fruit wanes a little towards the mid-palate, and it’s here more than on the nose that I was left wishing for just a bit extra. Compensation comes in the form of decent complexity and a pleasingly nuanced structure. That same savouriness as on the nose (is it sulphur-derived?) presents through the after palate and tastes very grown up. A fresh finish of unremarkable length.
You could throw this back as a simple quaffer if you chose but, like an unexpectedly smart movie, it prods and provokes more complex responses. This intelligence, combined with a still-unusual mix of grape varieties, is a lot of wine for $A21. Nice.

Price: $A21
Closure: Stelvin

Seppelt Grampians Chardonnay 2008

Moyston, in the Grampians GI, is renowned as the birthplace of Aussie Rules, so it seems fitting on this Grand Final evening, as Cats supporters all over the country (including my family in Melbourne – hi Trav!) celebrate a hard fought win, that I open something with a connection — albeit a ridiculously tenuous one — to the game. 

Interesting wine this one – there’s no great intensity on the nose or palate, but it’s made within a style that seems pitched above its station, and that makes it worthy of closer attention. It’s tight and controlled, with delicate white stonefruit and a funky, cottage-cheese astringency on the nose. Some prickly minerality too; indeed, there’s no shortage of things to note in the aroma profile, even if the whole feels like it’s underachieving. This reminds me a little of Seppelt’s Jaluka Chardonnay without the same level of fruit impact and certainly with less oak (not a bad thing). 
The palate shows more prickly minerality, and I wonder whether there isn’t a bit of sulphur in there too, contributing a savoury note and some pleasant funkiness. The fruit itself seems delicate, floral, a bit dilute perhaps. The after palate has the greatest presence, with a peak of fruit flavour and an appealing roundness of mouthfeel. A soft, gently fading finish that is deceptively long.
If the style is a bit aspirational with respect to the fruit, at least it makes for a thought-provoking experience. It’s not a great wine in any respect, yet it has held my attention through the evening and continues to deliver interest with each sip. An artist in the making, perhaps. Good value.

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin

Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Merlot 2005

It’s Friday night here in Québec, and I just got back from the long walk to the local state-owned liquor store. I asked (in bad French) where the red Canadian wines were, and the clerk switched to English, joking that they didn’t have many owing to the “border skirmishes” between here and Ontario. Sorry, folks, but it was either this wine or the Dan Aykroyd, so I went with what they had.If there’s a nose to this wine, I’m sorry, but it’s escaping me at the moment. Although it’s a lush reddish color with just a hint of browning (presumably due to the somewhat iffy plastic cork), it doesn’t smell of much more than somewhat dusty (ready: oak-chip-y) red fruits with a whiff of something not quite right like nail varnish. It’s not exactly appetizing, alas.Rich, full-bodied, and nicely tannic in the mouth, the primary flavor is something that I don’t associate with Merlot, and I’m not sure exactly how to describe it. There seems to be an unwelcome greenness or stalkiness here, which suggests to me that this wine has been chaptalized; there’s plenty of alcohol here (beaucoup de jambes, mes amis), but the flavor profile doesn’t match. It reminds me of frozen Supreme Pizza, the kind with a lot of green pepper on it and industrial pepperoni that tastes of little more than pepper. In short, folks, this wine is kind of nasty. Unfortunately, it’s all I have until I can get into Montréal proper tomorrow (I’m out by the airport in a generic business hotel at this point), so it’ll just have to make do. In the meantime, let’s hope that room service gets here quickly.Jackson-Triggs
Price: C$16.35
Closure: Synthetic cork

Karra Yerta Eden Valley Riesling 2009

ev riesling 09.gifThe Karra Yerta vineyard has a flavour that is partly Eden Valley but otherwise all its own. This is the third vintage I’ve tasted and there’s a striking family resemblance between the wines. The 2008 was full and soft, communicating a luxuriant plushness while remaining in the mainstream of Eden style. The 2005 was austere and acidic, clearly built for the long haul, and what one might consider a more typical wine of the region. This most recent edition is different again, yet its core of pastel, shimmering fruit is all Karra Yerta, clearly showing the terroir of this special vineyard.

A most interesting range of aromas — watermelon, apples, lychee, cut grass, spice, lemon — seem to glisten and evolve from the glass like shiny scented pillows. There’s excellent complexity and cohesiveness for such a young Riesling; this is absolutely ready to drink now as a striking aromatic white, although I’m quite sure it could take a good deal of bottle age if one likes that sort of thing. 
A wallop of acidity announces the palate in no uncertain terms; this is definitely a young Riesling, but it’s not undrinkably tart as some can be. Instead, its fine texture and delicious sourness present alongside quite rich, full fruit flavours of a similar character to the nose, but for more prominent apple and lemon flavours. The middle palate is strikingly intense, yet what I like most is the shape and flow. Generous flavour is contained within a couture-like silhouette that cuts a dashing figure through the mouth. Everything’s in line, flowing as it should, with perfect control. An intriguing note, savoury and spicy in equal measure, kicks through the after palate before a sour, delicious finish of very impressive length rounds it all off. Indeed, this seems to go on and on for ages.
I don’t pretend to be an objective taster by any means, so although this is a quality wine made by a passionate producer in tiny quantities, it all comes to nought, because drinking this is like falling in love. Nothing else matters. 

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

Hill of Content Sparkling Red NV

I have a small confession to make: the first two bottles of this were so delicious that I didn’t bother to write about at them at the time: my apologies. Let’s try this again, shall we?A fine, persistent bead builds to a solid mousse, ringing the glass with faint cranberry, set off nicely by a dark, rich, deep crimson red. The nose offers up straightforward rich, creamy red fruit, with a hint of dusty library and book bindings: it smells like there’s some age on this bad boy, and yes, there was; the label mentions two and a half years in French oak, which shows itself again on the palate, which is (and I hate to use this word) hedonistic in the best possible way, beautifully tannic and supportive of the delicious rosy fruit. It all comes together as fresas con crema served in a cedar bowl might: wonderfully young, exuberant, and yet with hints of pedigree and age making it all seem somehow more serious than it really is.Absolutely delicious and a steal at this price, even the packaging makes me smile: it’s a wonderful thing buying sparkling wine under crown seal, I think; just as Chandon markets their high end New World sparklers this way, the effect is of industrial elegance; after all, the church key is far from a Laguiole corkscrew and reminds you that this is, after all, just another agricultural product and not a hedonistic lifestyle accessory. But still: wow, what a wine.Hill of Content
Price: $14
Closure: Other

Moxie Sparkling Shiraz NV

mox.pngSome wines work a treat over a long, Summery lunch.  Others make a roast beef taste twice as good as it normally would (especially if consumed before dinner). In my constant quest to categorise wine according to its most suited purpose, this shall hereafter be known as “the wine that goes great with Dominos pizza on a night where you decide to chuck all the hard work you did last week in the gym because it’s rainy out and you just can’t be rooted walking on a treadmill for an hour.” Admittedly, a niche category, but one I suspect some of our valued readers can identify with.

Indeed, it can be hard to find a good pizza wine, and I don’t mean a good gourmet crocodile and chermoula pizza wine, but a good pepperoni, or a good ham and pineapple, pizza wine. When confronted with such nourishment, most options seem either to lack robustness (causing one to feel a sense of loss with every barely discerned sip), or are of an excessively Italianate manner (compelling a sense of approval, if not satisfaction). This sparking Shiraz from Langhorne Creek, though, seems to hit precisely the right note. 
Aromas of cured meat, spice, garlic, tomato and yeast; yes, a delicious slice of pizza indeed, after which smelling this wine is like inhaling a barrel full of crushed blackberries. It’s somewhat one-dimensional but, more importantly, cuts through heady flavours of pepperoni and crust with a thrust and parry of juicy black fruit and high toned vanilla. It’s pure fun, quite vulgar and, somehow, exactly what one wants to smell after a mouthful of savouriness. 
Being a sparkling wine, the mouthfeel is tingly and refreshing almost by default; again, a desirable trait when coupled with a potentially greasy, overpowering food like cheap pizza. As it is, any trace of oiliness is whisked away with each sip, leaving behind echos of sandalwood oak and your current waistline. It’s not a sweet wine, but neither is it excessively dry, so the fruit has fullness without becoming cloying or heavy with time in glass. As with several other Dowie Doole wines I’ve tasted, this seems designed for pleasurable drinking rather than contemplation; a worthy goal indeed.
The label design, which I feel compelled to reproduce here, suggests nightclubs, fast times and thoughtless consumption. To me, though, here’s a wine that makes fast food a bit special on a Monday night. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $22.50
Closure: Diam

Yalumba FDW[7c] Chardonnay 2007

I wonder what sort of feedback Yalumba gets regarding the nomenclature? It’s all satisfyingly boutique in effect, though word of mouth marketing may result in some hilarity. But hey, it worked for me. Purely for the name, I remember tasting the 2005 vintage at cellar door with Chris, and being seriously impressed; for some reason I’ve not sought out another bottle since then. So much wine, so little time (and money). 

Classy nose; some sulphur, some lees-derived aromas, some watercolour stonefruit and honeydew melon, and some other things that are too fleeting to capture in words. It’s quite funky overall, and seems reasonably manipulated within the context of its style, which is fine and tight. For me, it’s treading a fine line regarding the struck match aromas; one sniff seems balanced, the next just that bit too astringent. Very much a matter of taste.
In the mouth, a complex, savoury experience. The mouthfeel is really interesting, seeming to alternate between luscious and sharp, like cutting into a ripe peach with a cleaver. Mostly savoury on entry, it really kicks up a gear on the middle palate, which shows decent complexity and hints of the cushioned generosity that is the point of some Chardonnay styles; not here, though. Before the word “flab” can even begin to form in one’s mind, we’re whisked away to a lean after palate that introduces an interesting hint of vegetal, almost stalky flavour. A very long finish rounds things off well.
An intellectual wine, and an expression of Chardonnay that I find somewhat lacking in easy sensual pleasure. That’s not a criticism per se; in fact, it marks this wine as one of the more important essays in contemporary Australian Chardonnay style. 

Price: $A23.75
Closure: Stelvin

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2008

I feel truly ungrateful. A few days ago, this bottle was purchased for the very reasonable sum of $A16.15 at my local Dan Murphy. In the scheme of things, that’s not a lot to pay for a bottle of wine, let alone a bottle of Australian Pinot, a sub-species that, until recently, was difficult to obtain for under $A25 or so. And, to jump to the end, this is a very sound wine, tasty and clean, with confidently expressed varietal character. Hence a niggling sense of ungratefulness as I reflect that, as good as this is, there are others in its price range that may be even better. Truly, we are spoiled.

Give this a bit of time in the glass, and firm aromas of spice, plum and a little beetroot, plus some stalkiness perhaps, start wafting aloft. It’s totally varietal and quite elegant, holding back an overt sense of fruitiness in order to express more subtle pleasures. There’s a point to be made here about the chosen style and price point, and one shouldn’t underestimate De Bortoli’s obvious conviction to produce a stylish wine at a price point where many consumers might expect obvious delights. 
In the mouth, a textural pleasure with much more tannin than expected and fairly bright acidity too. Structurally, this means business. Flavour takes a little while to build on the tongue, and seems held in check for now by that rather imposing tannin/acid framework. Nonetheless, there’s a clear sense of ripe, plummy fruit on the middle palate, along with more stalk-like influence and a bit of sweetly spiced oak. Medium bodied, the whole seems poised and balanced. If I’ve a criticism, it relates to a lack of intensity that, for me, needs to be at the next level to match the ambitions expressed elsewhere on the palate. A nice, sweetly fruited after palate and quite a long finish to boot. 
If given the choice, I would drink a Hoddles Creek wine in preference to this, the latter being of the same region and variety, and only a couple of bucks extra. By comparison, this wine feels slightly calculated, perhaps too much of a sweet talker. But, frankly, I’d never turn it down if I were offered a glass, because it just tastes so good.

De Bortoli
Price: $A16.15
Closure: Stelvin