Morandé Reserva Chardonnay 2006

Sometimes, a string of busy days leaves you with few reserves towards the end of the week. I’m in that space right now, and wasn’t sure what to open tonight. There’s lamb on the stove, but somehow I don’t feel like the robust Shiraz that, in most cases, would be an obvious choice. No, tonight I need some space, and am taking a chance on this Chilean Chardonnay. Another Southern Cross Wines import. 

There’s no lamer descriptor than “grapey” (ok, “smooth” comes close), but sometimes you just need to call it how it is. And this smells instantly, unashamedly like fresh grape juice. That’s not all there is, but the point is it’s fresh and sunny in ways one might ordinarily associate with Australian wine. There are certainly complexities to the aroma profile; a hint of wheat, a little nougat oak, and some more tropical fruit like papaya. But this wine’s value seems to lie in the straightforward expression of its attractive fruit. So far so good.
The palate is unexpectedly acidic; in fact, it seems a little unbalanced to me and, as a result, quite nervy. On the plus side, it has good impact on entry, with a sizzling mouthfeel and bright, clean fruit. The line widens progressively until it reaches a mid-palate of quite gushy fruit, underlined by that chalky acidity. There’s no shortage of flavour, including some oak and winemaking influence that is caramel-like in nature. The flavour profile itself is straightforward and attractive, tending to leanness in terms of its character. A lightfooted after palate leads to more reverberant flavour through the finish. The finish itself is a highlight, and goes on for much longer than it has any right to. 
A lighter style, then. Structurally, I’m not convinced that it hangs together, due mostly to the character and volume of the acidity. The clean fruit flavours, though, keep me coming back. A good Summer white, and keenly priced.

Price: $A20
Closure: Cork

Leasingham Classic Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

First off, thank you Julian for passing along this bottle. Once I got past the crumbling, decrepit cork and strained out all of the nasty bits, I was left with a fairly young, Port-like looking wine, which was a bit of a surprise. Yay! It’s not dead yet! Heck, it’s not even all that brown or watery at the rim just yet, which is very much a surprise after all these years.Jammy, stewed prunes blanket the glass; soft, warm smells of cedar boxes and patent medicines complement it well. It all smells like something you’d find at a bake sale in rural England, suggesting sweet spices from the Empire juxtaposed against fine local dairy products, the buttery esters bumping up against clove and ginger.The line of the wine seems a bit confused at this point, starting off mostly just acidic, but it recedes quickly to reveal a very soft, slightly sweet, definitely relatively old wine that offers up fairly simple blackcurrant and cassis notes at first, supported somewhat on the finish by tannins that seem pretty much entirely resolved at this point. It all finishes in a very gentle, smooth glide towards something like a blackcurrant jam and maple syrup tart; there’s still enough tannic backbone to make it come across as ‘serious’, though, if that sort of thing is important to you.All in all, it seems to me that this wine is just about ready to head for the door for all time, though, so drink ’em if you’ve got ’em. If you’re a fan of mature cabernet, this comes pretty close to good, although I would have liked a bit more oak influence here, a bit more spine.Leasingham
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Ishtar Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2006

I don’t envy wine show judges. Quite apart from the difficulty of appearing dignified with purple teeth, there’s the challenge of judging a wine based on a quick tasting, in a lineup of fourty, perhaps even fifty like wines, after what may have been several flights earlier in the day. Even if I had the tasting perspective, I’d no doubt make a hash of the process, simply because I feel terribly disappointed when I derive no enjoyment from wine, and therefore tend to give most wines a chance to show a positive side.

And that can take time, sometimes days. Or, in the case of this wine, about half an hour. Still, I was ready to write it off at first. My initial sip was as follows: bright red, aggressively confected aroma preceding a sweet, medium bodied palate of considerable simplicity. Next!
But oh, how it’s evolved in the glass. After a little time and air, the nose is quite transformed. While it remains within an easy drinking idiom, there’s plenty of interest to the aroma profile, with meaty Mourvèdre and spicy Shiraz framing fruit that, though confectionary in nature, is well balanced against the savoury elements, and has evolved both sour and sweet faces. 
Similarly, the palate is a long way from its initial presentation and shows surprising sophistication in terms of its movement through the mouth. It’s medium bodied at most, with subtle tannins and enough acidity to stay fresh. Well-judged for frictionless consumption, then; this extends to intensity and density of flavour, neither of which call too much attention to themselves. In fact, it threatens to become a bit weedy, but is saved somewhat by a nice surge of sweet fruit as the middle palate transitions to the after palate. A meaty savouriness leads into the finish, which shows cough-syrup flavours and goes on for a decent amount of time.
There’s cheeky intent behind this wine, or at least a reluctance to forego interest for drinkability. Smart quaffing.

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A19.50
Closure: Stelvin

Simply Sunshine White 2009

From my perspective, this is a curio: an inexpensive white wine made for the German market. I was sent samples by the apparently indefatigable Leigh Gilligan, whose various ventures enjoy strong distribution, and seem to resonate strongly, in Germany. The interest for me, apart from the wine itself, is the marketing approach, which draws explicitly on Australia’s reputation for “sunshine in a bottle” wine styles. While this approach is now hotly contested in the local industry, there’s no doubt Australian wine is known in export markets largely for this type of wine, so if nothing else I’m eager to taste wines with a claim to representing the style and, hence, a certain face of the industry.

The interest in terms of what’s in the bottle relates to a particular concept of wine at this price point, something Chris recently touched on. He described a certain kind of wine as “fermented grape juice beverage product;” drinks that are technically wine but stylistically about as far as you can get from the generally accepted definition. Of course, I’m applying a massive, snobby value judgement to this description, even though I have no desire or ability to argue with the enjoyment many gain from imbibing [yellow tail]. Then again, what I do have is a desire for authenticity at all price points, and I believe well-priced wine does not need to taste like an industrial, wine-flavoured beverage.
I’m vindicated in this belief by this wine, at least. It’s not a secret Grange by any means, but it looks, smells and taste like real wine. It’s easygoing, with bubblegum florals, a bit of sharp citrus and sweeter, rounder fruit that oddly reminds me of Lipton’s peach iced tea.  There are no varieties listed on the bottle, and from the aroma profile I thought there was some Rhone action in there, but no, it’s mostly Chardonnay with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The palate is soft and cuddly. More peach tea, a hint of crisper florals and, well, not a lot else. So complexity isn’t a high point, nor is it the aim I should imagine. Rather, this wine delivers generosity, a round mouthfeel of satisfying viscosity and perhaps just a hint of residual sugar to help it go down. It’s a bit low in acid, which translates to a somewhat clumsy progression through the mouth, if not outright flab. But it’s hard to argue with the tasty flavour profile here. 
Great barbeque wine. Nicely done.

Simply Sunshine
Price: €5.45
Closure: Stelvin

Tesco Finest Great Southern Riesling 2002

“This wine will improve if carefully stored for up to 3 years from purchase,” it says on the back of the bottle… and I bought it something like six and a half years ago. Whoops. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, although the nose is definitely full on kero funky and somewhat of a shock. It’s also got notes of grapefruit rind, minerals, and honey, but mostly it just smells kind of bad in that “yeah, I know, but it’s going to taste better than it smells, right?” kind of way.Does it? Well… yes, but it’s beyond pretty much anything I’ve tasted before. If anything, it tastes like cosmetic jars from an antique store; there’s a hint of face cream or jasmine or something here, but in just barely perceptible amounts. Still, though, there’s just enough sugar (or the perception of sweetness) to mix with the strenuous acidity and offer up something that is thankfully still appealing. Not particularly complex, and not particularly aromatic, it’s still ticking along just fine at this point and makes a great accompaniment to hummus or a Portuguese octopus stew.Howard Park

Closure: Stelvin

Torre Oria Cava Brut NV

God only knows why I’m suddenly drinking what are essentially holiday party wines – cheap sparklers that most folks should enjoy – but what the heck, why not, right? This is another inexpensive sparkling wine that’d probably work best served to friends and family around the winter holidays. It’s a fairly pale yellow and appears to be somewhat bubblier than most sparkling wines, which makes it look incredibly appealing in the glass. The nose is subdued, offering up white sage, honey, and Meyer lemon, but the taste of the stuff is all smooth white flowers, clover honey, and gentle acidity (to me, much less than is usual in cava).Fun, nothing too challenging, and just sweet enough to be acceptable to basically everyone, this would be another great choice for your next holiday party. Yes, there are better sparkling wines out there, but they cost at least four bucks more than this one does, so get out there and get drinking!Torre Oria
Price: $9
Closure: Cork

Clonakilla Riesling 2009

I tremble whenever a Clonakilla newsetter arrives, as much at the anticipation of its new releases as their unfortunate effect on my wallet. Yes, I’m somewhat of a junkie. I have especially enjoyed the Riesling over many vintages and consider Canberra Riesling in general one of our more interesting regional expressions of this variety. 

To this fresh one, then, the nose seems quite typical at first, with floral, bath salt-like aromas, the strange of impression of chalk dust and very little of the full-throttle citrus juice that can characterise this variety from some other Australian regions. It’s actually quite piercing; almost aggressive, more so than I recall of previous vintages. The exhuberance of youth, perhaps, or something more essential? I’m not sure. Certainly, it’s settling a little in the glass and becoming less insistent, though also a tad indistinct too.
The palate is surprising because there’s a big whack of pineapple juice on the middle palate that isn’t at all signalled on the nose. But I’m getting ahead of myself. A clean entry, slippery and pleasing. Quickly, that intense sharpness from the nose (sulphur? slate? minerality?) asserts alongside surprisingly full tropical fruit and leaner citrus flowers. There’s good thrust through the after palate, with really delicious fruit flavours framed by savouriness and powdery texture. Indeed, texture is a highlight with this wine, roughing up the tongue with fine yet prominent acidity. A lovely, citrussy finish of good length.
This strikes me as somewhat atypical, at least according to my dodgy palate memory. It’s flavoursome, textural and lively; it’s also a bit disjointed, strident and, ultimately, poses more questions than it answers. I have a few of these in the cellar and will open another bottle in, say, a year’s time.

Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

Cricova Soviet Red Sparkling Wine

Much to my amazement, this wine is available in the USA. It’s been nearly eleven years since I first had a glass of this stuff; back then, my parents were Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova and welcomed us to their apartment for Christmas with some of this stuff, bread, and salt.If you can get past the packaging – it’s frankly pretty dire, which isn’t a big surprise considering how poor Moldova is, and the whole ‘Soviet’ thing seems designed to cater to Russians living in the USA – this isn’t at all bad for the price. The color is similar to an Australian sparkling red: this isn’t even remotely pink, but rather a rich, dark red with some browning at the rim. The bead is good and steady, the mousse a little anemic but really not too bad. The nose is somewhat simple, basically simple red fruits with a whiff of camphor and toast, there’s really just a bit too much sugar here (but again, consider the target market; Russians like their wines sweet), but the finish is satisfyingly complex, with full tannins, good acidity, and note of clove, cinnamon, and plums.Oddly enough, this stuff should be an absolute smash at Christmas parties: it’s sweet enough for everyone to enjoy, it looks fantastic and festive, and it’s cheap enough to serve with reckless abandon. Still, though, I’d argue that this is secretly better than it has any right to be. It was produced using the traditional method – I’ve visited the winery and yes, they still do things the old fashioned way there – and lurking behind the sugar is a wine of real character, interest, and complexity. Just don’t let the sugar put you off too much – it’s worth it!Cricova
Price: $9
Closure: Cork

Pascal Janvier Jasnières 2008

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way this wine smells. Fruity and exuberant, all soft spring blossoms and chalky minerality, this smells like the first sunny day of springtime feels. And how does it taste? It’s a revelation, a reminder that yes, something approximating pure joy can in fact be found with little effort on your part. I find it difficult to describe this wine; it’s, well, ineffable. It’s full, rich, fruity, not sweet, and there’s a wonderful twist towards the finish: suddenly, the texture changes to elegant silk, shell middens under overcast skies, seagrass waving in the breeze, suggesting childhood seaside vacations and an absolute lack of care.I only wish I had some oysters.Pascal Janvier
Price: $16
Closure: Cork

Gilligan Shiraz 2008

Apparently, this is a one-off. The Gilligan red is usually a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro, but for 2008 it’s a single varietal. 

This is a disconcerting wine because, in a sense, it’s nothing like what I expect from McLaren Vale Shiraz. The flavour profile is familar: juicy blackberries and plums, dense brambles, a subtle hint of cocoa powder. But the framework in which these flavours exist is extraordinary: light, fleeting, ephemeral. It’s like seeing someone you think you recognise only to realise you’ve been duped by a particular feature — a noble forehead or fine cheekbones — and each time you look you feel the same flash of recognition. 
The aroma was a bit wild at first, not stinky so much as uncontrolled. This quickly settles to a sharp expression of McLaren Vale Shiraz, lithe and piercing in effect. Again, it’s not at all what one expects, yet taken on its own merits it’s very attractive, and almost Pinot-like in manner. There are some underlying complexities too; I’m not sure if there’s any stalk here but it wouldn’t surprise me.
The palate is again brisk and light, with sharpish acidity and loose-knit tannins. I can imagine it lightly chilled, which isn’t something that comes to my mind very often when drinking the region’s red wines. No matter; bright red fruits and orange juice-like sourness dance over the tongue in a lively if indistinct manner. It’s developing an extra degree of depth and richness with time and air, but the fundamental vibe is still bright. No significant development along the line, but the finish is a little surprising in that it seems to end prematurely, then returns to reverberate at the back of the mouth. Quite fun. The alcohol is marked at 15% abv but you’d never know it, which is surprising in itself considering the style. 
I’m rather enjoying this. 

Price: $A21
Closure: Stelvin