Balthazar of the Barossa Shiraz 2006

Without wanting to suggest this wine is all about its 15.4% abv, smelling it reminded me of something a very clever fellow said to me the other day. And I paraphrase: alcohol can have its own smell, and it may, perhaps, be legitimate to enjoy a sweet tingle of ethanol as much as any other aroma. Food for thought, and a challenge to the reflexive position often taken that perceptible alcohol is a fault. 

And yes, this wine does show a whiff of alcohol on the nose, as well as that characteristically swollen, slinky mouthfeel. It’s also a complex and seductive wine that I am enjoying very much. The alcohol lends an air of louche decadence and seems appropriate within the context of the style. Hence, it bothers me not in the slightest. 
On the nose, hospital floors, rich earth, dark berries, cedar and tobacco. It’s quite approachable and well integrated, yet also shows quite serious levels of density and concentration, befitting its position as the premium label in Balthazar’s portfolio. It seems more approachable in some respects than its older sibling, with perhaps a slightly different oak flavour (going by my previous note, anyway). 
The palate is very impressive. On entry, quite a fruit driven flavour profile, showing sweet blackberries and some astringent plum skins alongside attractive, supportive oak. The suppleness of the mouthfeel becomes apparent as we hit mid-palate; it glides and winds its way over and around the tongue, scattering complex flavours of cigar box, blackberry, salami, spice and dirt roads. The fruit is sweet, but the overall impression is savoury. Really satisfying intensity of flavour, and the density isn’t so great as to be forbidding. Indeed, this is quite approachable right off the bat. Very good, flavoursome finish.
As with all of Anita Bowen’s wines (that I’ve tasted), this wine shows serious intent and possesses an ability to jump around under one’s nose, delivering a series of shifts and changes through what I’d suggest should be a lengthy drinking experience. Sip slowly, deliberately, sensually. 

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A49.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2007

Tension is an underexplored dimension of wine that, in some respects, goes against the grain of conventional aesthetics. Balance, harmony and elegance are all buzzwords of significant currency, dictating a serene, classical conception of beauty that, I’ll admit, often holds a lot of appeal for me.

I also like Italian horror films from the 1970s. And Sandra Bernhard’s lips. And Michel Houellebecq’s politics. All angular, difficult things that, on some level, fill me with a sense of beauty. Lately, I find myself wondering on a regular basis whether a wine that is less than composed in its structure and flow can be equally, perhaps even more, beautiful than one which is perfectly built. I know the answer is “of course it can;” articulating why is more challenging.

In some respects, this wine is all over the place. Its flavour profile leaps from sulfur to rich, aromatic fruit to crystalline minerality. Its mouthfeel lurches from spritz to unctuousness to chiselled dryness. Yet, somehow, it all comes together in the most exciting, delicious way. The aroma shows slightly blunt sulfur, the dull ache of carbonated mineral water, tart marmalade and, strangely, the smell of white pepper. It’s a question mark of a nose, darting this way and that. It’s also subtly alluring, redolent of the smell of spice markets that I suspect have only ever existed in the pages of books.

The palate is a rollercoaster ride. Spritz registers on entry, cutting through what becomes a rich expression of Riesling fruit on the middle palate. Mango skins and lime juice, mostly. It’s delicious, if sweet, and begins to cloy just as a swell of minerality rises to temper any excess of residual sugar. I have been sipping this wine all evening, and have not remotely tired of the contrasting interplay between sweet fruit and dry flintiness. It’s one of the hardest things to get right with off-dry Riesling styles, and this wine makes it seem just effortful enough to help one appreciate the achievement. A lovely, long finish.

I see this wine as a contest of sorts, between elements that clash and come together not to cancel each other out, but to give rise through conflict to something quite lovely. It’s fabulous.

Willi Schaefer
Price: $A42
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Flaxman Shiraz 2007

This one’s certainly got me thinking. I was quite partial to Flaxman’s 2007 Stranger, largely because of its luxurious flavour profile and mouthfeel. This, by contrast, is an entirely different beast. For starters, it is made from estate grapes hailing from a dry grown vineyard at the top of the Barossa Ranges (so says the back label). Very Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush, not Emily Brontë). More meaningfully, it is quite distinct, stylistically, from its cheaper sibling. 

Quite savoury on the nose, some twiggy, brambly notes sitting alongside dark berries that present in a restrained yet liquorous manner. There’s an element of sous-bois and dirt to the aroma profile, a little unexpected perhaps but also quite interesting. The oak influence, such as it is, consists of a mocha-like note that remains subservient to the fruit aromas. I found it slightly hard going at first, its charms subtle, but its seduction has proved surefooted; an hour in and I’m enjoying the aroma very much.
The palate is equally coy, initially hiding its plush fruit behind a veil of savouriness. On the minus side, there’s a hardness to this wine’s flavour profile that, through an evening’s tasting, never quite disappears. But wow, what impressive length and structure. In a top year, I’m sure this wine would be quite remarkable; as it is, it’s still all quality, and transparent in a way many wine lovers will value and be fascinated by. Fabulously intense berries and coffee on the mid palate, with tannins that are both abundant and velvet smooth as the after palate gathers steam. And again, a satisfyingly extended finish, full of rich fruit flavour and textured tannins. There’s a lot to enjoy here.
A really worthwhile wine. 

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mike Press Chardonnay 2009

Or: the art of the perfect quaffing wine.

At $8.33 per bottle, this wine positions itself squarely at the “everyday drinking” end of the market. This can be scary vinous territory, swinging unpredictably from surprisingly good to revoltingly cynical in the twist of a corkscrew. And it’s fair to ask: what ought a wine to be at this price? I don’t pretend to have an answer, but I know a good attempt when I taste one, and this certainly is a good attempt at the ideal quaffing white.
The nose shows alcohol and sweet basil, but mostly juicy white nectarine (including the skins). It’s all quite simple and fresh, with little in the way of confectionary overtones, nor worked characters that might suggest a sense of obesity. The palate adds to these simple, attractive flavours by delivering a slippery, borderline syrupy mouthfeel that speaks of cost-effective luxury.  Intensity is quite decent, and there’s a surprisingly sophisticated streak of minerality running underneath all that peachy goodness. Indeed, this is the Hyundai Sonata of quaffing wines; aiming above its station and, for the time it takes to smell and swallow, more or less delivering. That it evaporates from one’s memory almost as quickly as the dramatic impact of Avatar is quite beside the point. It’s awfully fun while it lasts.
And isn’t that what quaffing wines are all about?

Mike Press Wines
Price: $A8.33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Climbing Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Curious wine, this one. Without quite knowing why, I was anticipating a boring, commercial style and, insofar as this wine avoids insulting levels of residual sugar, I was pleasantly surprised.  But I’m still scratching my head in terms of what this wine is

What’s here is indeed dry — almost austere — in its flinty restraint. The nose shows wispy varietal character, far from the scream of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, just hinting at some grass and passionfruit. There’s a nice basil note too. Volume is turned way down, though. The palate is more textural than flavoursome, with a chiselled form that is two parts acidity and one part flavour profile. The latter shows similar restraint to the nose, with more grass and light passionfruit, plus a streak of flint that reminds me of some dry rieslings. It lacks outré impact, though there’s a nice intensity of flavour through the after palate, and the acid certainly creates an impression in the mouth. Unremarkable finish.
Neither here nor there, perhaps, but ironically may appeal to those who dislike Sauvignon Blanc. For me, I’m looking for something more to latch on to here, and I would be curious to see how far this style could move in a minerally direction. The flavour profile also suggests a bit of lees or barrel work might yield interesting results. Again, curious wine.

Cumulus Wines
Price: $A21.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Lovely inky black in the glass, this wine promises to be a good one, if only by the winery’s reputation and the fact that nearly half of their entire production is this wine. Pouring it into the glass, I was a little bit surprised that it seemed a bit watery, but the label tells me that this is only 13.5% abv, which seems odd given the place it came from – I’ve had a lot of Paso Robles zinfandel that contains a guaranteed hangover in every bottle – but then again the Agent for Change cab I had from Paso was also held to these relatively low alcohol levels.Anyhow! There’s a very fresh, simple smell to this wine, tinged with an edge of coconut-fruity-banana that seems to promise a good time. (I ordered this through the mail, but I almost imagine this being packaged in a plain brown wrapper at a liquor store – there’s just something risqué about it.) The oak on the nose seems a bit raw; it’s more reminiscent of bourbon than Bordeaux.Somewhat voluptuously overwrought at first, my initial impression is of a blowsy, gone-to-seed wine – it’s all very louche in a Plato’s Retreat kind of way. Yes, there’s enough acidity here to stop the wine from being completely flabby, but it strikes me as a little bit harsh and not particularly well integrated. Flavors, such as they are, seem to be stuck in a high-pitched giggle more appropriately found in strawberry fruit leather; that being said, the wine does display some complexity after aeration, but it’s all a lot like listening to the Bee Gees: yes, the singing is good, but it’s all disconcertingly way high up there. I’d ordinarily prefer some bass to counterbalance all the treble, but I’m not getting it much here. Tannins are present, but they seem clunky and somehow flown in from another wine entirely; there’s almost a hard Loire edge to them, but only just.All in all, drinking this wine is rather like Cubist art: all very well and good if you’re in the mood for it, but sometimes you just want to look at something pretty. This is not a bad wine; there is quality here, but I’ll be damned if I can puzzle it all back together right now. Ultimately, this is probably best drunk with steak: it’s got a sort of sweetness that is initially pleasing, but on its own it just doesn’t work.Justin
Price: $25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole California Road Shiraz 2008

This single vineyard wine is, in some respects, the ideal Dowie Doole red. Incidentally, Dowie Doole must surely be amongst the more satisfyingly alliterative names in the wine world. It’s the name of a card game, or perhaps a bubble gum and, whether deliberately or not, its wines often reflect a sense of relaxed playfulness.

What I like about this wine is the depth and richness of its fruit. Forget reflexively fashionable words of the moment like “elegant” and “restrained” and instead revel in old school McLaren Vale Shiraz, complete with bold oak flavour and lusciously abundant fruit. A slightly lifted nose shows cedar and toasted coconut, dutch cocoa and very squishy mulberries. There’s a raw, sappy edge to the aroma (and indeed palate) that speaks of youth more than anything else, and which should calm down with a few months’ rest. 
In the mouth, quite strikingly full and fruit-driven. The entry is slippery and dark, plum fruit mixing it with vanilla oak and hints of licorice. Flavours open out through the middle palate, with a wide range of fruit notes — ranging from raspberry to plum to much darker berries– combining in a liqueur-like expression of notable sucrosité. Underlying this sweet fruit is a savoury note that reminds me of tarragon. It’s quite distinctive, in fact, and satisfyingly regional too. Oak is supportive and acid surprisingly firm. Tannins are of the ultra-fine, soft variety, making the wine approachable despite its young flavour profile. Time will be of benefit, though, as its constituent parts operate somewhat independently at present. A really long, delicious finish follows an after palate that sings with fresh fruit juice.
A bit less showy than its Reserve sibling, this wine possesses the easy flow I look for from this maker combined with the characterful fruit one expects from a single vineyard wine. I like.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A35
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz

Dried and/or stewed prunes compete with pencil lead and cedar shavings on the nose; this is obviously getting to be a fully mature wine, and still there’s life yet in it. However, this wine isn’t quite the best it could be – although it’s certainly better than it should be given the price; there’s a hint of rubbing alcohol on the nose that isn’t exactly welcome, and the palate really doesn’t speak up to say anything other than “yes, I’m old, I hope you don’t mind”. The body of the wine is still good, and the texture is pleasing; the finish is medium-short but pleasant as well.To sum up, this wine is neither flawed nor exceptional; if you have some of this in your cellar, at least you can take pleasure in knowing that it’s still drinkable. Other than that, though…Penfolds
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Reserve Shiraz 2008

I’ve tasted quite a few Dowie Doole wines over the past few months, and in most cases they have been an unpretentious pleasure. This wine, the flagship Shiraz in the range, is interesting to me as it’s the first “serious” red I’ve tasted in the portfolio, and I wonder how the approach shown in the standard range translates to something more upscale.

The most evident artifact of this wine’s position is a hell of a lot of oak, of the Bounty Bar sort, and a density of fruit not seen in the lower rungs. On opening, the wine fairly yelled its seriousness across the room. Give it a good decant — or in my case a couple of days of air — and the seriousness remains intact, minus the outré oak character and volume. So do give it some time, and you’ll be rewarded with a powerful nose of fleshy, liquerous fruit and luscious oak, young but quite well integrated, and curiously attractive subsidiary notes of licorice and spice.
The palate is characterised mostly by a flood of clean fruit. Despite the oak and dense structure, the fruit flows freely through the mouth, showing that especially nice red/black berry McLaren Vale character that fans of the region will recognise and rejoice in. More licorice and oak flavours accompany the berry fruit, along with a slightly astringent, bitter finish that should calm with some more time in the bottle. Certainly, the fruit remains present and attractive along the entire line. Nice long finish.
This is a good wine and what I was hoping for from this maker — a reserve-level wine that, in some respects, takes an obvious approach (oak, density, etc) but which nevertheless retains the fun of its lower priced siblings. 
Update: subsequent conversations with the winery reveal this was bottled in November 2009, for release mid-2010. I should imagine my day 2 experience will be closer to the wine as it will be on release.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A50
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Qupé Marsanne 2007

It looks like I have Jancis Robinson to thank for one more thing: the third edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine has turned out to be not only an invaluable reference but also heavy enough to serve as a flat surface to park my wine while lounging on the sofa, MacBook at hand, to blog.My first, fleeting impression was of dried sugared pineapple, but that quickly dissipated in favor of something not unlike popcorn flavored jellybeans. In short, it smells strangely buttery, salty, mineral, sweet, tropical, nutty, and flowery all at the same time – overwhelming, almost, but of course charming as well.The palate is much more restrained than the aromatics; it tastes much more French than Californian, with firm structure and a mouthfeel reminiscent of beeswax. The finish is lovely, with hints of wildflower and length to spare; acidity is present, not unsettling; color is elegantly pale (think Tilda Swinton, perhaps).If this wine were French, it’d cost a hundred bucks; this wine isn’t, and I’m thinking I should lay some down for a good, long time. Just as Tahbilk marsanne lasts decades, I suspect this one would as well.Qupé
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail