Groom Sauvignon Blanc 2008

James Halliday thinks this is the best sauvignon blanc in Australia.Sadly, it smells mostly of kraft paper, banana peels, and girls’ Olsen Twins perfume – there’s a strange, plastic-y fake fruit smell here that is somewhat unsettling. Acidity is good, but the mouthfeel is somewhat strange – it reminds me of cheap ice cream with an overdose of carrageenan –  and the finish is reminiscent of cheap imitation almond extract and the taste left in your mouth after playing a wax paper comb for too long at summer camp.Honestly, I don’t get this wine. Sauvignon blanc isn’t riesling: if needs something other than itself in the bottle unless it’s grown in Sancerre or Marlborough, I reckon. What could have been an elegant wine is undone by the lack of oak or other winemaker input that would have attenuated the inherently boring characteristics of the grape; I don’t think that this terroir is enough in and of itself to create a wine of interest. Yes, there are absolutely brilliant wines from the Adelaide Hills, but in my experience they tend to be chardonnays which benefit from some creative input on the part of the winemaker. The fruit is good; I’d just like to see something more complex than what’s in this bottle.Groom
Price: $13
Closure: Cork

Balnaves Cabernet Merlot 2007

Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash (6.6%, or thereabouts) of Merlot. 

A cool, clean, currant-like nose of moderate expressiveness. Some varietal, leafy notes too, and a fair amount of spicy cedar oak. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s also an undercooked aspect to the aroma profile – as if a banana cake hadn’t quite finished baking in the oven. Not unpleasant so much as curious.
The palate is notable for a good amount of grainy tannin. This isn’t a wine for those who seek “smooth, fruity” experiences. Being a tannin enthusiast, however, I’m just fine with that. Quite sweet, clean red and black fruits flow through the entry and middle palates, along with an assertive level of vanilla custard oak, all of which ends up tasting rather Christmassy, if astringent. This is a lean wine, verging on underdone in terms of fruit intensity, and I wonder at the level of oak present given the relatively subtle fruit contribution. I understand 2007 was quite a challenging vintage, so perhaps the fruit character is to be expected. For all that, a pretty impressive, long finish that is squeaky clean.
There’s no question this is a drinkable, generously oaked wine whose tannin structure in particular is quite daring given the lean fruit. 

Balnaves of Coonawarra
Price: $A24
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2008

Obviously still a young pup – the purple is so purple that it could even give Grimace a run for his money – the nose smells mostly of serious oak with well-tended Mendoza fruit, a very nouveau-riche kind of smell that smells more like a lifestyle candle from Pottery Barn – nay, scratch that, probably something from Theo Fennell – you know the drill: expensive, a little generic, best drunk with a French manicure or cufflinks. Hm.There’s also a bit of smoky-sweet, lifted cheery red fruit here, which is very appealing. Thankfully, there’s good acidity that hits you before anything else does, keeping things moving right along to a lovely, broad, mouth-filling midpalate that offers up toasted coffee, plums, and finely grained tannins. It all finishes slowly, very slowly, definitely quite young, not insanely complex, but with great finesse and subtlety.The wine I’d most like to compare this to would be Michel Rolland’s Clos de los Siete, which is sold at a similar price range, but which is grown, I believe, a bit further to the south towards Lujan de Cuyo. The difference between the two is subtle but important: Clos is fatter, richer, more Parker; the Felino is nervier, racier, less plush, more Robinson. There’s actual space to think about it between all of the notes that must be hit; there’s an elegance and modesty here mixed in with the obligatory new oak and full ripeness. Honestly, it’s damn good for what it is and good value to boot. Recommended.Viña Cobos
Price: $16
Closure: Cork

Collector Marked Tree Red 2008

I blinked and, in addition to putting on a few kilos, missed the last couple of vintages of this wine. Which is a shame, as I thought the 2005 rather good.

This looks a lot darker and more serious than the earlier wine, an impression borne out by the nose. This is dense, full of squishy dark plums, laced with black pepper and spice. There’s a sappy edge too that contributes sophistication and a bit of funkiness to the aroma profile. I especially like the spiciness of the aroma – it tends towards dark, roasted spice and nuts rather than a lighter, more floral character one sees in some other cooler climate Shirazes. To level one criticism, the whole is a bit blunt, taking a caveman approach to seduction. It may be that time will teach it more subtly persuasive ways.

The palate remains dense and dark within a medium bodied frame. The entry is precise and cool, hitting the tongue with a satisfying sense of controlled movement. There’s no great widening on the middle palate, as acid and tannin combine to keep things on the straight and narrow. I find I like this type of wine more and more; there is a tantalising aesthetic tension when hedonism is combined with tautly expressed structure and shape. The middle and after palates pull their punches a bit, never delivering the sort of intensity demanded by the other elements. The flavour profile turns towards a sappy, savoury, oaky expression as the wine moves towards its reasonable finish.

My kind of wine stylistically; I’m just left wanting a bit more oomph from the fruit. I doubt, however, there’ll be any left in the bottle tonight.

Price: $A26
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Old Vine Grenache 2007

There’s a lot of waffle about wine, to which I’m sure I contribute my fair share. So to read the back label of Yelland & Papps wines is a breath of fresh air: “[Yelland & Papps]’s sole aim is to enjoy all aspects of the process and sharing this with others.” Hard to argue with that.

The nose was initially sweet-fruited, slightly one-dimensional, definitely generous. It’s gained some complexity through the evening, with malty oak and a savoury, stemmy edge that runs alongside the main event: luscious, jammy Grenache fruit. It’s not a facile wine, yet it’s not intellectual either; the priority here is sensual enjoyment, which I respect absolutely as a stylistic goal. The fruit is quite dark in character, like a mixed berry conserve slathered over a fresh scone. 
The palate is very much more of the same, with a nice rush of fruit quite early that accelerates through the middle and after palates. There’s no stopping the fruit, except perhaps a personal aversion to fruit-driven, relatively sweet flavour profiles. Certainly, if one’s bent were strictly towards Bordeaux, this might seem hopelessly naive as a wine style. Yet within its stylistic bracket, this wine delivers a nice hit of clean, varietal fruit without pretense. It’s not flabby either, acid in particular propping up flavours and providing well-defined shape to the palate. The finish is quite long and doesn’t thin out until it’s almost out of steam; the fruit here really does have good thrust and penetration along the entire line.
Perhaps a matter of taste more than many other wines, this is a solid example of fruity, exuberant Barossa Grenache that fans of the genre needn’t hesitate purchasing. Worked rather well indeed with spicy Thai food.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Balthazar Shiraz 2005


There are few things in art, and indeed life, more tantalising than a mistaken first impression.
The bottle in front of me is festooned with gold stickers (much more so than in the accompanying photograph); so much bling threatens to overwhelm a striking label design. To certain weary enthusiasts (that’s me), it might also signal an unsubtle, “show” style.  So its true character, when revealed, comes as a surprise. Indeed, what is remarkable about this wine is its powerful intimacy. It draws you in quietly, peeling itself back one translucent layer at a time, until you’re lost in its grasp.
I was advised by this wine’s mother to give it a good hour and a half of air before attempting serious evaluation. In fact, I left it overnight to breathe, and feel on day two its expression is close to complete. At first, a nose that is all mocha oak and deep, ripe plums. It’s complex yet utterly restrained from flowing as it ought. A couple of hours later, the aroma profile is wider and more expressive, though still deeply coiled and suggestive of untold generosity. Finally, a day on, there’s some freedom, structured yet moving without restraint, a multi-coloured kimono of aroma. Black fruit, complex spice, hot sun on brambles, some vanilla. It’s all quality, with good integration and poise, yet it’s subdued and subtle, in a positive sense. There’s no yelling, just sweet harmony and rhythm.
The palate is equally seductive, and it’s difficult to tease each element apart.  Flavours are in line with the nose, though a successful balance between sweet and savoury fruit is more evident here. There’s a voluptuous slipperiness to the mouthfeel that is also notable. On entry, inky fruit and coffee grounds create a dark flavour profile that carries through to the middle palate. Here, it lightens a little, red fruit and plums emerging alongside orange juice acidity and brown spice. There’s a lot going on. The after palate is positively fruit driven, and very clean in presentation. It sustains the momentum of the front palate through to a musky, powerfully soft finish of ultra-ripe tannins and sweet fruit.
What a lovely wine. It’s striking and intense and all of those good things, yet somehow manages to communicate with understatement. A most intriguing, satisfying wine.

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A50
Closure: Procork

Balnaves Shiraz 2006

Shiraz plays second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Coonawarra, and one might suggest this is a good thing, considering the classic status of Cabernet from this region. Indeed, I’ve sometimes wondered at the local tendency to plant a fruit salad of grape varieties with little apparent regard for established regional styles. Two points, then. Firstly, if it tastes good, I want to drink it regardless of region or variety. Secondly, and more specifically, Shiraz has a lineage of some magnificence in the Coonawarra. The Wynns Michael Hermitages from the 50s are an obvious card to play in this regard, and on more personal terms I’ve had many lovely Coonawarra Shiraz wines over the years, including a remarkably ephemeral Redman Claret from 1976, consumed about 3 years ago. So yes, I’ve a soft spot for Shiraz from this region, and it’s with some anticipation that I taste this reasonably priced Balnaves from 2006.

Despite 15% abv (per the back label) and an impressive sense of scale in its flavour profile, this wine manages to retain a degree of elegance on both the nose and palate. Certainly, this isn’t due to restraint in oak treatment or a lack of ripeness. The nose shows lashing of blackberry brambles, coffee grounds and a certain (attractive) twiggy aroma. It’s dense and quite heady, hints of spice adding complexity and sophistication. There’s a hot edge to the aroma, which isn’t overly distracting to me. 
The palate follows through with a good dose of blackberry and spice, framed by oak that appears less dominant than on the nose. Indeed, the oak is remarkably well integrated into the flavour profile, adding a cedary, coffeed frame to generous fruit that, after a little tussle, grabs centre stage. The entry is subtle and creeps up slowly, showing mostly oak flavour underneath a rising surge of fruit that finds its full expression on the middle palate. Though the flavour profile suggests rich, ripe berries, this wine stops short of full-on hedonism, and seems between medium and full bodied to me. I think this is a good thing; as the body is contained, a nice tension develops between flavour and structure. There’s plenty of acid and tannin to keep things lively in the mouth; all in balance and well integrated. The after palate is quite light, with transparent fruit flavours and an astringently sappy, twiggy note. The finish is quite satisfying, if a tad hot.
Given its dimensions in terms of flavour and alcohol, this is refined and elegant. Most of all, though, it has that drinkability “X factor” that is rarer than it should be. Go Coonawarra Shiraz!

Balnaves of Coonawarra
Price: $A24
Closure: Stelvin

Yelland & Papps Delight Grenache Rosé 2009

Sometimes, I wonder why I ever moved to Brisbane. Sure, it’s beautiful today, and I’m sure it will be perfect tomorrow, but I’m a Canberra boy at heart. I like cold, mercilessly windy Winters and hot, dry Summers, not least because they tend to be framed by idyllic Springs and Autumns. Brisbane, on the other hand, goes from warm to ridiculous, with days (like today) that feel hot well in excess of the measured temperature. Natives say it’s the humidity, and assure me I’ll get used to it, but like many acquired tastes I’m not sure whether it’s worth the effort.

In any case, I needed some refreshment this afternoon and reached for this Grenache-based rosé from Yelland & Papps, a small producer in the Barossa Valley. A lurid strawberry colour, not overly dense but certainly pretty in its neon way. A party colour. The nose is exuberant, with boiled lollies and a counterpoint of savoury, medicinal notes. Simple, fun and certainly generous. It might present too much confectionary for those who prefer a more savoury rosé style; it’s all about context I guess. 
The palate is quite full, with a round mouthfeel and surprisingly intense flavour. The entry is soft and a little underwhelming. The middle palate, by contrast, is full of bright flavours that echo the sweet/savoury profile of the aroma. Things get even more interesting through the after palate, where the acidity contributes a strong, sour thread that accentuates the savoury aspects of the flavour profile. There seems to be a bit of heat on the finish (13% abv). 
An honest, flavoursome wine that would suit casual Summer quaffing for those not averse to the sweeter (and more alcoholic) side of Grenache.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin

Green Point Chardonnay 2005

A lovely, pale yellow color, bright and clean, this wine looks like your garden variety cheap chardonnay. However, one sniff and you realize you’re dealing with something a lot nicer than what the price would lead you to expect. It’s got a lovely burnt matchstick, slightly sulfurous nose that makes you think Burgundy, not cheap Aussie imports. There are also hints of sea salt and butterscotch, spun sugar and lemon zest. Pretty awesome, to be honest.On the palate, there’s lively acidity leading the charge here, tempering itself quickly into a fairly weighty mid-palate with hints of marzipan and fresh-baked bread, again changing into lemon curd and shortbread on the finish. It’s all extremely delicious, very much more-ish (as they say), and honestly one of the better chardonnays I’ve had in a while. In terms of the obligatory French comparison, this is more a Chablis than anything else, with nervy, lemony acidity dominating over any of the yeasty, oaky characteristics.Entirely delicious and a ridiculous deal at just under $8 Australian, this is probably the best white wine deal I know of at the moment. They had a truckload or so at the San Diego Wine Company when I was there two weeks ago: if they still have some, now’s the time to stock up. This could easily last another two to three years, so if you’ve got space, don’t hold back.Domaine Chandon
Price: $7
Closure: Stelvin

Lake's Folly Chardonnay 2008

The first Lake’s Folly Chardonnay under screwcap. 

Characteristically Folly on the nose, with complexity aligned to a sense of balance and subtlety. It seems lighter and less opulent than the 2007, which was quite a powerhouse in relative terms. This, on the other hand, is veiled and delicate, with a similar aroma profile expressing itself on different terms. It also smells very young, with some overly bright edges that should fall back into the wine with a few more months in bottle. 
The palate confirms a svelte silhouette; a taut balancing act between youthful structure and a flavour profile that aches to break free of its acidic confines. A sophisticated entry, tingling with fine acidity and a thread of classy minerality. Moderately intense peach, lychee and citrus fruit begins to emerge towards the middle palate, along with some subtle cream and caramel inputs. The mouthfeel follows a notable line, beginning with a textured burst of acid then transforming seamlessly to a glossy platform for the flavour components. It’s fascinating. The after palate shows greater oak influence and a curiously leafy flavour, before the finish takes one on a peachy keen ride to deep satisfaction.
It’s young and probably needs some time to show at its best, but I do love it. A light, bright expression of the Lake’s Folly vineyard.

Lake’s Folly
Price: $A55
Closure: Stelvin