Who are those tossers?


I happened to be browsing through some photos the other day and came across this one of Chris and I, taken at the Wooing Tree cellar door in Central Otago. I missed it entirely at first; in the original photo, we are very much in the background, surreptitiously tasting our way through the range. Some judicious cropping brings out the full glory of our situation. If I recall correctly, we had been tasting all day and were quite tired; evidently not too tired to pull some pretty awesome wine wanker faces, however. 

Yelland & Papps Devote Old Vine Grenache 2008

As nice as it was, the 2007 vintage of this wine pales in comparison to the current release 2008. This is seriously good Barossa Grenache in all respects.

Part of the reason why it’s good is that it doesn’t try too hard. Rather than going down the “more is better” road to quality, I feel this aims for a distillation of the style’s potential, cleanly articulating instead of overreaching. The colour here is certainly approachable, quite see-through really, showing some vibrant purple hues and flashing brightly due to its moderate density. 
The nose is complex and bounces between sweet and savoury. There’s certainly a hit of sweet Grenache fruit, but there’s also musk, nougat, deeper plum fruit, coffee and more, wrapped in an expressive, almost piercing bundle. Though there’s clearly oak here, it’s not the dominant element. Good integration for such a young wine, and any slight edginess that is showing at the moment will no doubt calm further with short term bottle age (or some air).
The palate is simply awash with fruit from entry through to finish. It’s quite tingly at first, fine but edgy acidity pushing bright red fruits onto the tongue, at which point they take a fast ride to the mid-palate and are joined by an altogether darker series of notes. A slightly meaty element asserts at this point, along with black fruits and coffee grounds. Nervous structure aside, the flavours are well harmonised. Brisk movement through the after palate, where a medicinal note lifts and carries the wine through a high toned finish.
There’s lots going on here, most of it attractive and compelling. I suspect this will be a ripper in two to five years’ time.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Moppity Vineyards Chardonnay 2008

Though this producer is based in Hilltops, the fruit for this wine was sourced from Tumbarumba. Curious region. It would have to be one of our lower profile regions, yet carries a reputation for exceptional Chardonnay (amongst other things), its fruit often ending up in premium Penfolds table wines, for example. It’s a beautiful part of the world too, and part of me wonders how special a destination it might become should a critical mass of cellar doors ever be achieved. I can think of worse places to visit.

Anyway, to the wine itself, which is a good rendition of lean Chardonnay in a contemporary Australian idiom. I thought at first sniff it was quite worked, and it’s true there’s some winemaking going on, but as I’ve continued to smell this, its fruit has come to the fore, pushing past some mealy and lightly oaked flavours. There’s white nectarine and a bit of grapefruit mostly, clean and fleshy.
The palate shows impressive power; it’s at this stage I am prompted to reflect on the price of this wine and conclude there’s an awful lot of value here. Real thrust onto the tongue, with preserved lemons and stonefruit flowing freely, followed quickly by some higher toned flavours, including roasted nuts and oatmeal. The point is, it’s coherent and strong, with good presence in the mouth and a real sense of dashing and style. There’s perhaps a lack of subtlety, an absence of light and shade, that separates this from the next tier of wines. But what’s here is so convincing, it’s hard not to enjoy.
A really worthwhile wine.

Moppity Vineyards
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Patina Pinot Gris 2008

I’m shallow and pretentious; there’s no other explanation for leaving this wine untouched at the bottom of the sample pile for so long. In my defense, some kind of filter is more or less a necessity when there’s so much wine out there; one can’t simply taste it all. And if I instinctively gravitate towards varieties and regions I am experienced with and attracted to, is this really so wrong? 

It is if I miss out on nice wines. This bottle is a lesson in something unexpected (Pinot Gris d’Orange?) turning out to be bloody good. Perhaps not so unexpected, though; Orange has been steadily working its way towards some serious cool climate cred over the past few years, and Pinot Gris is a variety I usually prefer to drink when made into a wine that retains some elegance and shape. Add some clever winemaking and you’re almost there.
The rest comes through on tasting. The aroma is full and lush, with a sharp edge of citrus helping notes of subtle oatmeal and stonefruit to express with fresh vitality. There’s real complexity and depth to this wine’s smell, which is both unexpected and fascinating. I’m not used to tasting a reasonably-priced Pinot Gris with such character. It’s reads as an odd combination of Hunter Semillon and slighty busty Chardonnay, but with its own sense of integrity.
On entry, an immediate rush of fruit flavour and a level of intensity that confirms the nose isn’t a fluke. Flavours are simple and citrus-driven at first, building towards a lees-influenced middle palate that takes several steps up in sophistication. While it’s a bit of a sledgehammer of a wine, and its fruit flavours show a little too much sweetness for my taste, there’s good detail in its flavour profile and several layers to its texture. Mealy stonefruit peaks through the after palate, and the finish is impressively long.
What a pleasant surprise. Went exceptionally well with a simple omelette of ocean trout and goat’s cheese.

Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz 2004

People seem to have very strong reactions to Tahbilk’s red wines; not like or dislike so much as love or hate. I wonder both why this is and what it means; in any case I’m tempted, from an aesthetic perspective, to value Tahbilk’s wines all the more highly because of it. Increasingly, I am impatient with wines that don’t display intent beyond correctness and technical perfection. Especially at a price point such as this, I feel we ought as drinkers to demand personality, a provocation, a point of view.

So, for lovers of Tahbilk reds, here’s one for you. It’s the companion wine to the Cabernet Sauvignon tasted a while back and, while I don’t like it quite as much as that wine, it’s unmistakably of this maker. The nose is expressive and grainy, with red earth, gum leaf, rustic fruits, nuts, some vanilla. The trick it pulls off is to be both distinctive and multi-dimensional, which is rarer than one might think. 
The palate is pure elegance and moderation. Not to suggest intensity of flavour is the casualty; in fact, this is quite a piercing wine in its way. Entry is fruit-driven and soft, with berry juice flavours and a sense of warm sunlight pushing the wine towards an earthy, detailed middle palate. As with the Cabernet, and most Tahbilk red wines it seems, the tannins are especially remarkable, here being both smotheringly textural (like a woolen blanket) and somehow unobtrusive too. It’s medium bodied, with bright-enough acidity and a clean, brisk flow through the mouth. The after palate sings cleanly with savoury dark fruits, and the finish is gentle and elegant, not to mention bloody long. A slight excess of sweet oak towards the end of the line is almost forgivable.
Regional, complex and authentic. 

Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

JK Carriere Anderson Family Pinot Noir 2006

After a drink of this and a long, slow exhale I turned to my partner and said “yeah, this has it all.” A distinctly groovy blackish red, straight out of a 1960s steakhouse, the color itself is appealing enough to make me want to overfill my glass. Beautiful, really, and enough to telegraph the intentions of this pinot: rich enough and ripe enough to be New World, yet distinctly holding back before going off the Californian deep end, it suggests you’re in for a best-of-both-worlds kind of experience – and you are.Wonderfully complex on the nose, I’m having trouble keeping track of it all. Rich, ripe red fruit is seamlessly counterbalanced by politely serious French oak, but only just enough to support the fruit; this is not one of those oaked-to-death, overripe pinots that are all too easy to find here. The wine also smells incredibly youthful: at this point, I don’t see any secondary aged characteristics, but I get the sense there’s enough stuffing here to last at least a decade.At first sip, the wine is shy, hesitant, refusing to offer much of anything up save for a brief, surprising wallop of acidity. That’s quickly replaced by a wonderfully lush, silken, voluptuously textured ribbon of sensible red fruit with hints of roasted coffee, caramel, and violets. Not as dirty as Burgundy, the overarching effect is of a very smooth customer: however, what really sets this wine apart is the balance and elegance of an incredibly well crafted, peculiarly Oregonian experience. The finish does go on for quite some time, again subtly meandering between refreshing acidity, soft earth, and that wonderful, spicy red fruit peculiar to Oregon.Look, I’ll be honest here: if you wanted to try the best the USA has to offer, this is probably as good a pinot as you’re going to find, full stop. Less tannic and earthy than Burgundy, fuller and richer than Otago, and perhaps most resembling Bass Philip pinot noir, this is for my money one of the best wines made in North America. Best of all, it’s the kind of wine that doesn’t take a lot of explanation to enjoy: pace Parker, this really is a hedonistic experience in the best sense of the word. My only complaint is that I only had the one bottle and that I won’t get to try it again ten years from now. J.K. Carriere
Price: $65
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Gardners Ground Shiraz 2008

I don’t know much about this producer other than what I’m reading on the bottle (and website): based in Canowindra, organic viticulture, reasonably priced. Again, I’m struck by the number of producers in this region who are overtly pursuing organics.

First impressions are of overripeness, but this freshens quickly to show an aroma of savoury black fruits, gentle spice, a hint of volatility and cuddly oak. I don’t find it especially complex but it’s friendly and home-made in a positive sense. My key criticism of the aroma profile is that it is a bit blunt, lacking the finesse I’d ideally like to see. However, the spice is lovely and there’s no shortage of expressiveness.
The palate adds some lively acidity into the mix, and this helps the wine to express more sprightly fruit. Quite a flavoursome entry, with prickly acid and perhaps a hint of minerality, leading to a mid palate that is focused on savoury berry fruits. It’s refreshing to find a wine at this price point that is determinedly savoury, with just a hint of fleshiness. Any sweetness seems to come more from nougat oak, which becomes more prominent as the wine lifts through its after palate to an edgy finish.

Gardners Ground
Price: $A19.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Vinoterra Mtsvane 2005

I have never, ever seen a wine of this particular color before. This is an ungodly shade of sherry-peach-cream that I had no idea was possible outside of a 1970s makeup counter. Honestly, I’m surprised. Just when you think you’ve seen and drunk it all comes something completely outside and unthinkable to surprise you.I would have expected some oxidation on the nose given the color; instead, I get something like toffee and walnuts… for a moment until that tell-tale Sherry-like smells kicks in too. There are also wildly varying notes of cold cream, fine leather gloves, and cucumber. Overall, it has the effect of suggesting an English garden complete with ladies enjoying a cream tea: all kinds of curious, elegant smells suggesting flowers, finger sandwiches, kid leather, and freshly washed faces. Bizarre, I know, but honest: I’m not ridiculously far off the mark here.Relatively light at first, the flavor quickly solidifies in the mouth, showing slight oxidative notes as well as what feels like moderate tannin. However, things change up in the middle of palate, suddenly broadening out into tea roses, Brazil nuts, macadamia, and burnt cream. Although not a big wine (there is neither residual sugar nor noticeable alcohol), it nevertheless feels serious, solid, and frankly a bit like homework: the noticeable tannin prevents a sense of freshness and all of the fine aromatics on the nose are lost in the kerthunk of the wine driving its point home. However, there is also a fairly unbelievable suggestion of violet-encrusted strawberries, somehow, hiding in there among the oxidative notes and tannins. In short, I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on here. If there was ever a wine so complex as to be bewildering, then it’s probably this one: my only real complaint is that there are so many things going on here and yet so few of them seem to belong in the same bottle.If this wine were a perfume, it would be Odeur 53 by Comme des Garçons: truly, this is remarkable, but drinking it is feeling awfully postmodern somehow. Serve with lavender crème brûlée, Marcona almonds, macaroons, and a bowl of Corn Pops. Why not?   Vinoterra
Price: $20
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Maison Nicolas Potel Santenay 1er Cru "Les Gravières" 2006

Do you enjoy chocolate-covered cherries? You do? OK, how would you like chocolate covered cherries if they were wrapped in musty used teabags? You would? OK, well, how would you like them if you were eating them next to a barnyard? Oh, you still would? Well, would it be even better if you were eating them in acid rain generated by a nearby sulfur producing chemical plant? Oh, it would? Well then! I believe I’ve found just the wine for you. Enjoy!In all seriousness, this wine is moderately good, but marred in my opinion by a deliberate stalkiness, excess sulfur dioxide, and a lack of any character other than simple cherry fruit with an anemic lashing of oak. It’s not strange enough to be Burgundy and not fruity enough to be a New World pinot. If you were looking for something along these lines but which was actually, you know, delicious, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Sherwood pinot noir from the south island of New Zealand: it’s half the price and twice the fun.Nicolas Potel
Price: $24
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Flaxman Shiraz 2005

In response to my write-up of the 2007 Shiraz, Colin Sheppard of Flaxman Wines very kindly sent me a bottle each of the 2005 and 2006 versions so I could compare the site and its wine across vintages. After having tasted all three, and quite apart from notions of quality, one thing I can confirm is this wine’s transparency.

This one, from 2005, is my firm favourite. The nose is slightly muted but terribly rewarding once you find your way in; there are aromas of fresh, damp earth, plum skins, crushed granite and ripened twigs. In short, it’s complex, dark, etched and very adult, but with a core of plum fruit that issues a seductive call to taste. There are oak flavours in there too, in a gently nutty, nougat mode, very much secondary and well-integrated. I’m not getting a lot of age on the nose, though admittedly I never tasted this on release.
The palate is quite full in presence and volume, though this strikes me above all else as an elegant wine, despite its dimensions (and 15% abv). This is mostly due to a flavour profile that is precise and delicate, with a firm streak of minerality that cuts through juicy plums and tart skins. The whole is linear and direct in terms of how it moves through the mouth, with steadily increasing complexity and less fruit influence through the back palate and finish. 
If you have some of this in your cellar, consider yourself lucky.

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