Plantaže Vranac Pro Corde 2007

In lieu of having much of anything interesting to say about this wine, I’ll posit that this wine is good for the following things:

  • Advancing the typographically correct argument that ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro’ would put the producer at an unfair competitive disadvantage, what with having to spend even more money on a longer label, potentially advancing a similar argument for Macedonia
  • Assuming that there is in fact an ex-pat Montenegrin community somewhere in the world, this would be the perfect thing to sell at a reasonable markup to make the joint feel classier than it is
  • Helping wine geeks advance their quest to join the Wine Century Club
  • Should the negotiations to join the EU stall, sending a few cases of this to highly placed Party members in Brussels probably couldn’t hurt
  • Drinking

Grapey, straightforward, and clean, it’s hard to pick out anything exceptionally good about this wine. On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it either. It’s well made, modern, slightly thin at first on the palate, but quickly firms up a bit, offering spicy, plummy fruit before falling off into a surprisingly long finish with hints of fruitcake and brandy. In short, nothing wrong here and also nothing to make you want to buy another bottle right away. Being old enough to remember the bad old days of truly wretched Eastern European wine, I’m delighted that this is so good; even more importantly, any country that makes wine of this quality sure feels like they belong in the EU. Good luck!Plantaže
Price: $17
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Ishtar Goddess White 2009

I find it interesting that Viognier seems to polarise not only drinkers, but winemakers as well. It’s perhaps not unexpected for a variety that is still quite new in mass market Australian terms, but there’s a diversity of styles (see our recent mega-tasting for some examples) that, it seems to me, speaks more of uncertainty than confident choices. 

By contrast, one of the things I enjoy about Anita Bowen’s wines is that they are all about confidence. Not showiness, but a certainty that enables them to reveal themselves slowly, never crying out too loudly for either love or admiration. Her 2008 Viognier stood out in the mega-tasting lineup for its appropriate winemaking and sense of stylistic resolution. This more recent vintage is no different, though apparently achieved with more subtle winemaking inputs.
A heady, perfumed nose of honeysuckle, spice and nectarine skins. It’s an entirely coherent aroma profile without being especially complex (in the sense of having a cascade of different flavours). It is, however, very well defined and precisely layered, and becoming more expressive the longer it sits in glass. 
The palate is similarly etched, with an additional, quite adult, streak of phenolic bitterness that strikes me as entirely positive. First, the entry, which is immediate and fleet, depositing bright fruit flavours onto the tongue before reaching a middle palate that shows good balance between acidity and the sort of viscous mouthfeel that can easily sink Viognier. The tension between these two elements is more interesting to me than the flavours here, which are very correct but slightly simple and “grapey.” The after palate shows that lovely bitter, pithy streak before the wine tapers off through a reasonable finish.
This wine just feels right in the way it has been judged and executed. 

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A19.50
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Bonny Doon Vinho Grinho 2009

How a Whitman we were always wanting, a hoping, an America,
that America ever an America to be,
never an America to sing about
or to, but ever an
America to sing hopefully for All we had was
past America, and ourselves, the now America,
and O how we regarded
that past

– Gregory Corso, Elegiac Feelings American

To smell this wine, to pause, to reflectSummer softness, spearmint gum softeningPavement and boardwalk, salt water and taffyWintergreen neighbors and smokeless tobaccoSkål, then, faded circles in back pocketsUnder the bleachers, awakening to summerDandelions abloom, horizons unfoldIn this America I drive all night longReaching towards lovers, ribbons unfurlSmoke in the distance, welcoming homeIt’s alright, alright, all of it’s right

– Me, indulging my inner Beat (with my apologies)

In all seriousness, this is an enchanting wine. Ever so slightly green, the nose reminds me of a wintergreen-tinged relation to muscat, with a lovely, fresh, sweet, spearmint smell. There’s also a very soft, gentle, warm effect that reminds me of summer evenings at home, sweet hay smells drifting in from the fields; together, it’s an especially tranquil wine. Pleasantly tart, this is a fairly full-bodied wine, but with a fascinating penchant for rotating through widths as you drink, ranging from California to Galicia and back again, somehow. Dry, and yet with the suggestion of sweetness due to its size, it returns ever again to the same acidic backbone and finishes long, long, long with a wonderful hint of pears, green apples, and woodruff.I bet this would be amazing with green papaya salad. For now, though, I’m happy to drink it on its own.  Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Palumbo Family Vineyards Tre Fratelli 2005

Somehow, a conversation over barbecue and Michelob last Saturday night turned to Temecula. Temecula (or, more properly, the Temecula Valley) is a wine region just up the road from my house here in San Diego – it’s about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s known for two things: casinos and wineries. Every time I drive past, I see at least one mini-coach filled with a good half-dozen party types doing the circuit of the local wineries, drinking, not tasting, and obviously enjoying themselves. Me, though, I’ve never been. I’m a native Northern Californian, which means I tend to be suspicious of any wine from the Southland (i.e. Southern California) – and no, Sideways country doesn’t count as it’s north of Los Angeles, you know – and the one time it was mentioned in wine school (in Washington state), Temecula was briefly noted as a success story, but only in terms of the hospitality industry (i.e. not as an actual wine producing area, just as a pleasant place with fake Tuscan villas making a living selling crap to daytrippers in mini-coaches).

However, there are most definitely locals who absolutely swear by the quality of the local wines. One of them (an ex-coworker) was nice enough to give me a bottle of wine from Palumbo Family Vineyards a couple of years back, and here it is in front of me. The packaging is lovely and the cork extra long: it looks exactly what a moderately expensive wine should look like. But what’s the wine like?

First of all, it’s inky black with a very slightly watery rim. The smell, well, it quite frankly reminds me of vanilla ice cream with a trace of dill pickle. There are definite notes of dusty cocoa, baker’s chocolate, roasted coffee, and espresso: it smells like someone went a little bit overboard with the char here, but then again heavily oaked wines are of course usually highly palatable to Americans. Even so, I find it disappointing because I don’t smell fruit, minerals, earth, or for that matter anything other than wood here. Hrm.

The wine, once drunk, is deeply unpleasant. Imagine if you will a new brand of Lipton Cup-a-Soup called “Consommé du Parker” – this consists of nothing other than tannin extracts with a peel-off sticker that says “90+” on the package. Now, dump that in a bottle of uneventful grape juice. Shake slightly – not enough to truly distribute the tannin – et voilá, you’ve got a bottle of Tre Fratelli. A mouthful of this is as unpleasant as drinking a bottle of Yoo-Hoo you forgot to shake: the initial sweet fruit attack is quickly displaced by a sensory nightmare of tiny bits of particulate matter that quickly turn into harsh, grating tannins that cover your teeth like a cheap rug. The fruit flavor, such as it is – it’s a simple, boring red-fruit aquarelle – is quickly overshadowed by the mouthfeel, and there’s no finish, no line, absolutely nothing to recommend this wine at all.

In short, this is strictly amateur hour. I’m sure the people that make it are lovely people, and I’m sure that their tasting room is a lovely place to visit, but this isn’t as good as even the cheapest Jacobs Creek wine I’ve tasted. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Palumbo Family Vineyards
Price: $35
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Château de Bellevue Lussac St-Emilion 2005

Ah, coincidence. It’s been an interesting month: my partner was up in the Bay Area a couple of weeks back and availed himself of one of their May specials: a half-case of Bordeaux wine at a reduced price. This week, the New York Times published an excellent article quoting Paul Grieco of Hearth – a restaurant in New York City where I’ll hopefully be drinking myself into a stupor this coming Sunday – as being “sad” that no one’s come into the restaurant and asked for a glass of Bordeaux. I get that: I own barely any Bordeaux – heck – with this recent purchase I have nearly eight bottles, I think – and generally never think to buy any. Why? Well, the price thing, yeah, but also because I’ve never had one that, you know, really transported me. The ones I’ve had have inspired no personal connection, no rhapsodic waxing, nothing. Worse yet, I’ve been watching all ten hours of Mondovino (the TV series, not the movie) this week and have cringed repeatedly at the huge châteaux and their tacky yet expensive eyeglass-wearing marketing directors, etc. etc. etc.So. Here’s a bottle of not-quite-so-young Bordeaux. Kermit Lynch imported it; it’s thirty bucks or so, apparently. What’s it like?First off, the nose isn’t at all what I was expecting. It’s lush: full, rich, darkly scented, redolent of cassis and smoked tea. There’s just a bit of black cured olives, wet clay, and rich, savory meat that reminds me of Korean barbecued ribs. It’s wonderfully complex, to be short.My first thought upon tasting it, however, was “this isn’t fully ripe.” There are definite green, herbaceous notes here that seem surprising and slightly unpleasant, especially for someone used to California, Washington, South Africa: instead of delivering a wine as rich as the smell, you instead are presented with a distinctly mean, narrow flavor profile that’s disappointing at first. The trick, however, is to stick with it: suddenly, you find yourself flashing back to taste descriptors learned in college that you never use for your home state: lead pencil, cigar box, minerality, all of those things. Most of all, though, I taste a kind of slate-y stoniness; the wine is narrow in the mouth but upon closer reflection decidedly taut, beautiful in the same way that mannish women are: you sense a tension of beauty rooted in restraint. Yes, this could have wound up in Napa territory, all plushness, sweet tannins, cloying chocolate-plum perfume: instead, it’s been artfully arrested in a way that those qualities inherent to Merlot are arrested, paradoxically making them more compelling.Tannins are noticeably present, of course, yet perfectly correct; they’re currently working beautifully with a meat pie from the South African bakery down the road. Based on the rich fruit and good acidity, I’d reckon that I opened this bottle too soon: if I were you, I’d hold this back for another decade.To sum up: yes, my generation do not drink Bordeaux… yet. The trick is I think to work through the initial disappointment of encountering a wine almost, but not quite, familiar as the stuff of Pahlmeyer and Thelema; you need to sit with this one for some time and listen carefully. The story it tells is all the more beautiful for speaking so softly. Château de Bellevue
Price: $28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Karra Yerta Bullfrog Flat Eden Valley Shiraz 2005

There’s a reason why I’ve not posted recently, and it’s not entirely related to a lack of time. I have indeed tasted several wines this week. And they were all crap. Which does wear one down after a while. The point of my drinking, or so I have convinced myself, is to enjoy moments of abstract sensual pleasure. I drink wine for the same reason I listen to music; to hear, feel, disagree, discover. In other words, I drink to experience beauty. So a series of ugly wines gives me absolutely nothing to write other than tiresomely self-reflective introductions like this.

Anyway, it’s Saturday night and I’m worth a good wine. So out popped this sample from my tasting pile, a wine that has been waiting a few months to be experienced. I tasted the companion Barossa Shiraz a few weeks ago and found it intensely pleasurable. So it was with pleasure that my first smells and tastes of this wine revealed a similarly characterful, regionally-driven wine. Which you prefer may simply come down to your passion for one region’s flavour profile over another. 
Fabulous aromas of dirt roads and crushed stone, along with warm blackberries and well-judged, nutty oak. This is one to smell through the course of an entire evening, and to watch duck and weave through its full range of expressions, including the merest hint of aged leather. To be sure, there’s a lot in here, yet it’s not a self-consciously difficult wine. It just is, with a sense of easy, natural vibrancy that speaks both of its origins and its intent. 
Entry brings dense, liqueur-like fruit into focus at the temporary expense of some minerality, but the latter is flung back into the picture on the mid-palate, which is the wine’s high point of complexity. The structure is notable at this point, with firm underlying acidity and plush tannins keeping things in shape without ever seeming like the main event. A bit of vanillan oak pokes out its head through the after palate, but this wine is and remains all about spectacular fruit character; squashed blackberries and stones and dusty summers. 
What a treat. This is easily a $40 wine.

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Printhie Shiraz 2008

Packaging is certainly the goods; nice label and a sensibly weighted bottle. 

The aroma shows gentle spice and a floral element, all wrapped around a heady but slightly confectionary berry fruit mix, with oak aromas that sit in a lump alongside the fruit. There’s plenty of immediacy on offer, even if the aroma profile wears its commercial heart on its sleeve a little much for my liking. To be fair, the spice here is interesting and attractive, and the oak character well matched to it.

Similar contradictions on the palate, which shows a bit much sweetness for me. There’s a slippery viscosity as well, which suggests some Viognier may be part of the mix. Nothing on the bottle to suggest it, though, so who knows? Entry is gentle and flavoursome, with dark berries and icing sugar sweetness continuing through the middle palate, which simplifies its expression to a clean plum jam note and some nutty oak. Some nice tannins and lively, orange juice acidity on the after palate break through an overly glossy mid-palate mouthfeel, before a sappy, slightly astringent finish takes over.
This is a very solid commercial style for not much money; my only wish is that it were more characterful. Orange has the makings of a distinctive cool climate wine region, and as a wine lover I yearn to see that distinctiveness present in all the region’s wines, from top to bottom.

Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Teliani Valley Khvanchkara 2006

If this wine were used as a prop, I wouldn’t believe it was real. Alternatively, just looking at the glass makes me wonder if my internal color correction software is off; there’s an odd, unreal purple-mauve thing going here that’s just a little bit unusual.Grapey-yeasty-sweet on the nose, it’s clear this isn’t profoundly complex, but it’s appealing enough in its own way. With some aeration, the nose shifts into a less cherry-candy spectrum, suggesting instead a bit of sourness, stalkiness, and other almost Pinot-like flavors.Although advertised as a semi-sweet wine, the sweetness isn’t appreciably more than many wines made for the American palate: yes, there’s just a bit more residual sugar than you’d find in something like [yellow tail] shiraz, but it’s far from a full-on sweet wine. What’s more immediately apparent is that there are wonderfully present tannins here, firm and ripe, supporting a wonderfully textured, unctuously rich wine that has traded alcohol for sugars in order to get that texture. In short, if you like high octane New World red wines with that tell-tale high alcohol rich, filling mouthfeel, then this might be a fairly good substitute if you like the taste and feel but don’t like the hangover the next day.Returning to the wine again, there’s almost a suggestion of green olives on the nose; another glass and I’m almost reminded of eating liver pâté with cornichons and sweet pickled onions. I don’t mean to suggest that this wine smells like liverwurst – it doesn’t at all – but rather that there’s the same interesting juxtaposition between a sweetness and something, well, a bit more trying than that. The supporting acidity keeps the wine fresh, not cloying; the tannin makes it all seem rather more serious than it has any right to be.Ultimately, it’s a very good wine indeed. I’d be interested to see how it works with cheesecake and foie gras, but alas my cupboards are bare at the moment. If you have some, chill it down slightly and try it out as a kind of gateway drug with friends who don’t drink wine: it’s approachable enough to please just about anyone, and yet there’s enough going on the background to open the conversation about the pleasurable complexities of good wine.Teliani Valley
Price: $22
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Shiraz 2008

Make no mistake, the Dowie Doole California Road and Reserve Shirazes from 2008 are very good wines. The single vineyard wine, in particular, is a beautifully characterful, limpid expression of McLaren Vale Shiraz. One could argue, though, this producer’s stylistic philosophy finds its most satisfying expression in the regular Shiraz, reviewed here. 

The nose is a little spicy and a lot fruity in a typically straightforward McLaren Vale manner, all liquorous red plums and dusted cocoa powder. There’s some savoury aniseed too that is part sweet and part herbal. The aroma profile has a clearly defined shape to it, simple and forthright. If it’s slightly blunt, it’s also enticing, very much in the manner of an old-fashioned baked dessert.
The palate is where things come together. Entry starts small but quickly crescendos to a mid-palate of bright, fresh berry fruit and edges of fennel. The fruit flavours are clean and well-defined, if straightforward, and (as with the nose) suggest an expression akin to the guilty pleasures of liqueur. The acidity is quite bright and causes the wine to jump around over the tongue as it progresses to the after palate. Here the flavours lift and become quite savoury, aniseed and coffee pushing the wine towards a decent finish.
What I like most about Dowie Doole reds is they chase deliciousness above all else. So despite this wine’s relatively simple flavours and a bright structure, it is absolutely delicious, and there’s something deeply attractive about a reasonably priced Shiraz that drinks as this wine does. Don’t hesitate.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Blue Poles Allouran 2007

Ever since I comprehensively fucked up my student wine earlier this year, I’ve had a fondness for Cabernet Franc. While crushing the grapes by hand, I smelled the most distinctively peppery aroma, fresh and sharp, that I recognised from wines consumed in the past but had never smelled with quite that combination of purity and deliciousness.

Pleasingly, this wine, though a Merlot-dominant blend, captures some of that distinctive Franc aroma. To my nose, the Franc component is quite evident. That mélange of of pepper and sweetly roasted red capsicum, both sharp and pretty, sits atop deeper Merlot aromas and some powdery vanilla oak. This wine smells highly integrated, so it’s a little misleading to describe it in terms of separate notes; aromas melt into one another with pleasure. Overall, there’s a fresh liveliness to this wine’s aroma that is really attractive.

The palate shows genuine elegance. A rush of dark plum fruit flavour on entry, with some high toned pepper providing some light to the fruit’s shade. The mid palate shows some nervy acidity that provides tight focus to the line. Indeed, this wine has a way to go yet before it allows itself deep relaxation. The flavours, though tending towards a slight simplicity in the plum spectrum, are very well matched and balanced. Oak character is sympathetic to the fruit and interlocks with its flavours like a lover’s hands. The after palate shows the most sucrosité of any point along the line. The finish is decent, not thinning out until the last moments of its presence on the tongue.

Nice wine, exceptional value.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample