Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008

Look, I know I really shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m sure we can all admit that we’re innately predisposed to like certain wines and not others – and that before having ever even tasted them. The name alone of this wine makes me smile: as an old school music nerd, I’ve got plenty of CDs around that are, well, field recordings: right now, I’m listening to Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Dartmouth Street Underpass just, you know, because.

The packaging of the wine is beautiful: beautiful typography, very fresh and clean, and the overall vibe is that of a winemaker who is content to get out of the way and let the wine be itself: fine by me. Heck, even the wine itself appears cloudy, unfiltered: if your idea of vinuous beauty is liquid that looks more like an agricultural product than lemon crush, then you’re in excellent territory here.

Speaking of territory, it’s always delightful to see lieux-dit on the label: there seems to be a growing trend of bottling wines with labels that emphasize where they’re from and not “what they are” (in a varietal sense), and I think that’s pretty awesome as well. The overall effect is undeniably kinda awesome; I would expect to see this on Terroir’s wine list before the year’s up… but of course only if the wine itself measures up.

Does it? Thankfully yes. Beautifully textured, displaying golden yellow clouds in the manner of fresh cider, the wine smells of chalky gravel, fresh lemon zest, and neroli. It also smells very wine-like in a way few New World wines tend to: it’s got a real edge of steely austerity to it as well, smelling less like primary fruit and more like a Serious Adult Beverage.

Texturally the wine tends towards medium weight, with not much haptic impact. Stylistically it reminds me more of oaked South African chenin blanc than it does of anything French – there’s something in the texture that’s reminiscent of lees – but there’s no obvious oak here at all, so my guess is that it saw bâtonnage but no new oak.

The experience of a drink of this is exceptional at this price point. It begins with a calm, almost barley water-like note, backed by forceful acidity, before fattening out in the midpalate to be almost Meursault-like, with suggestions of hazelnut and cream, before slinking away into a soft, gentle, lengthy finish with an almost-bitter edge to it. It’s a beautiful thing, lovely to drink, and I’ve replayed it a dozen times just now, marveling at the experience.

Best of all, I distinctly get the feeling that the winemaker’s input here was indeed minimal: there’s no obvious chicanery going on here, just good wine made from good grapes grown in a good place. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an American chenin blanc this good before; here’s hoping he’s able to not only make more in the future, but that it finds the audience (and market) it so richly deserves.

Field Recordings
Price: $15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Ramblings: missive from Dookie

I’m at the Dookie Agricultural College at the moment, enjoying a week-long residential session as part of my studies. As with the last session, I’ve had ample opportunity to taste many average wines and indulge in some navel gazing. There are certainly some very experienced palates amongst my fellow students, which is both enlightening and enjoyable. Several group tastings, and more than a few conversations, lead me to make the following random observations.

Palate variation is astonishing. We often talk about bottle variation and, as real as that is, I’ve been more interested this week in how different people perceive wine so very differently. On several occasions, I’ve been struck by how differently I have seen a wine from some, and how similarly to others. This certainly gives credence to the idea that one ought to align to critics whose palates are sympathetic to one’s own, but more interestingly it highlights both the (perhaps beautiful) futility of writing tasting notes altogether, and the uselessness of blood sport tasting.

On blood sport tasting — by this I mean an attitude to wine tasting characterised by a repellent competitiveness at the expense of almost everything else (enjoyment, propriety, humanity) — I find my tolerance to have diminished to almost zero.  I like to think I’m fairly accommodating of others’ views, but on this topic I am satisfyingly inflexible. As a lover of wine, to me wine is about enjoyment, quality of life, beauty, generosity. Anything else is just missing the point.

Which leads me to average wines. I realise that many, if not all, of our tastings this week were pedagogical in intent, and that great wines don’t necessarily assist with learning. As a selective taster who generally chooses wines I actually want to drink, however, it has been rather soul-destroying. I don’t know how wine judges do it.

A parade of average wines also raises the question of benchmarking. It’s clear that, amongst my fellow students, there’s a large range of tasting experiences, some at the lower end and some at the extreme high end. I find I sit somewhere in the middle, having regularly tasted local premium and decent international wines, without often having scaled the heights of vinous stardom. This would be neither here nor there, except that my fellow students and I are, in theory at least, studying to become vignerons. I suggest in this case that exposure to top wines becomes of critical importance, and wonder what might happen if we collectively fail to benchmark our palates and winemaking efforts in a meaningful way.

Champalou Vouvray Sec Tendre 2008

I had a glass of this with a friend and some friendly pork rillettes. Not sure of the match, but the wine was very enjoyable, if initially served way too cold.

The nose is quiet at first, evolving to show ripe apple flesh and a sharp, detailed minerality that elevates and organises the whole aroma profile. There’s also a sense of sea breezes here, a light brine influence that I find tantalising and quite visual.

Nothing on the subtle nose flags the dramatic intensity of the palate, though. Instant impact on entry, this wine doesn’t hold its apple and lemon fruit flavours back at all. There is plenty going on if you value complexity; for such a young and relatively affordable wine, I’m impressed by the array of citrus rind flavours, moving between floral and fleshy then back again. There’s also an architecture of minerals here, contesting and ultimately overpowering the fruit, though the effect isn’t nearly as brutal as my words might suggest. Acidity is quite sensational, zipping things along and remaining a firm influence right along the line. The impression is crystalline, precise and driven; flavour, sure, but this wine’s strength is more figurative. Loved it.

Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Gardners Ground Merlot 2008

Onwards with my train wreck obsession with Australian Merlot. This one’s from the Cowra region (well, Canowindra actually) and is a pretty good rendition of a quaffing red. A bonus is that it’s organic.

The nose is robust and relatively complex, with juicy, jube-like blackberries, crushed ants, subtle oak and a bit of snapped twig for good measure. The straightforward fruit flavours are pleasing enough, but what I like most is the savoury notes are quite assertive, bringing interest and an edge to an otherwise plump aroma profile.

The palate shows similar characters and a pleasingly rough mouthfeel. Entry is quiet, the most significant influence being quite bright acid. Fruit weight builds towards the middle palate, and there’s a fun medicinal edge to the flavour profile. I like the rustic savouriness of the flavours; there’s a sappy, wood-like note that comes across as dirty, in a positive sense. The main issue I have with the palate is what appears to be an excess of residual sugar, which adds body but also prevents the wine from reaching an extreme of style that I’d be interested in experiencing. Still, it’s well judged for pleasurable, mid-week drinking. And I’m not going to argue too much with that.

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

Eroica Riesling 2002

After patiently waiting seven years, I now have an answer to a simple question: Is this wine any better with age on it?


What was a beautiful, moderately complex, refreshing Washington state riesling in its youth is now a moderately complex aged riesling with notes of tarry white peaches, white flowers, slate, stone, and nowhere near enough acidity to balance the wine, alas. If less successful Clare riesling tends to be not quite sweet enough when it ages, then this wine is a different side of a similar coin: although there’s just enough residual sugar here to work with aged riesling notes, there isn’t enough acidity to balance it out (event though I do detect some acidity here). It’s just too soft, somewhat flabby, and a disappointment (although better than a Chehalem riesling from Oregon that I tried earlier in the week; that one only had six years on it, but it had sadly become flabbier than your average Outback Steakhouse patron).

Thanks to Terroir wine bar in New York, I now know that New York riesling can age. So: where are the Left Coast rieslings that can survive a decade?

Chateau Ste Michelle

Price: $20
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mulyan Cowra Shiraz 2007

It must be a Mulyan thing; the reaction I’m having to this wine is quite similar to that I experienced when tasting the 07 Block 9 Shiraz Viognier: fascination mixed with a sense of the wine sitting out on a limb in terms of correctness. I may be completely off the mark, but my first impression was “stuck ferment”, though I hasten to add the offending aromas have blown off to reveal a much cleaner wine. Certainly, if you try this wine, give it a chance to show the positive side of its character.

The nose is peppery and meaty, with ripe blackberries wedged into the spaces that remain. Pretty classic cool climate Shiraz aromas, in fact, though certainly on the wilder side, with less floral spice and more meat than some. There’s something masculine, almost brutal, about this aroma profile, but whatever one might think of the styling, my feeling is there’s an intent and sophistication here that sits well above the wine’s $20 price point.

The palate is nicely textured, with well integrated acidity and loose knit tannins that run most of the wine’s length. Entry is positive and fruit-driven, flavours becoming more complex towards the middle palate. This is a medium bodied wine, showing moderately intense flavours in the context of an edgy, slightly aggressive architecture. A bright after palate is full of blackberries and pepper steak. The finish is reasonable.

It’s impossible to dismiss this wine, despite that it comes across as over-eager and lacking the poise one might wish for. In some ways, it has me stumped. But I simply can’t discount it. Well worth trying, especially at the price.

Mulyan Wines
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Riesling 2007

I know I’m biased because I lived there for a few years, but honestly: is there any better state than Washington when it comes to producing excellent quality wine at reasonable prices? Take this wine: it’s not expensive, but it gives you pretty much everything you’d want from a glass of riesling. Beautifully pale, a straw-gold yellow, it smells of white sage, orange-blossom honey, and wet stones. It’s got just enough residual sugar to please anyone who likes wine, not just wine nerds, and yet there’s enough acidity there to balance it out, resulting in a lovely, lush, yet not yet over the top summer’s drink. This is one of those rieslings that I’d be proud to server at Thanksgiving dinner: complex enough to provide interest to anyone paying attention, and yet straightforward enough to be liked be everyone at the table.

In short: good job.

Postscript: Judging by the winery’s Web site, this is the last vintage finished with cork. I’m glad to see that.

Milbrandt Vineyards
Price: $12
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Thomas DJV Shiraz 2007

I bought some of this ages ago on the strength of some writeups but this is the first time I’ve sat down to taste it. What interested me about this wine — and it was a sufficient hook to prompt me to buy untasted — was a stated intent to create an “old school” Hunter red, lighter in body and acidified courtesy of Semillon rather than tartaric acid from a packet. All this by one of the hottest producers in the Hunter Valley, a region whose wines I enjoy beyond reasonable measure.

The nose is fleet yet intense, with floral notes, crunchy red berries, nutty caramel oak and a light dash of regional red dirt. A hint of minerality too? Perhaps. This is an elegant aroma profile in all respects, not battering the senses but rather suggesting its character slowly, building complexity as it speaks.

The palate does that wonderful Pinot-like trick of combining fabulous impact and intensity with deceptively light structure and body. Anyone who tends to mistake weight for substance should have sip of this wine. Entry is quite tingly, with bright red fruits and assertive acidity winding around each other towards the middle palate, where the flavours open out a bit. There’s a curiously juicy green streak here — green in the sense of flower stalks and the sap of succulents — that creates a really fresh overlay to more red fruit and dirt. The tannin-derived texture is fabulous, being light and loose yet even at the same time. Intense flavours ride right through the after palate and finish.

What a curious wine; it seems so modest in its styling, yet shows all the hallmarks of quality: complexity, intensity, persistence. Surely one to follow.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

I really liked the 2007 vintage of this wine, so approached the current release with some anticipation. As an aside, it amuses me sometimes to read winery press releases on wines from hot years – it seems no-one ever picks after a heatwave. And so it is with this wine, picked before the heat, with the intent of producing the lighter and more easygoing Dowie Doole house style. For the most part, I would say this is a success.

But vintage conditions will shine through, and here they translate to a very slightly cheap-smelling confectionary fruit note that, thankfully, seems to blow off fairly quickly. Once settled, the wine expresses as much darker, with black fruit and sexy nougat-marzipan oak the key aromas. It’s chewy (if an aroma can be described thus) and dense, and smells very honest to me. This is the smell of a winemaker getting the best from a difficult vintage, even if that involves applying a liberal dose of oak.

The palate flows freely, and is full of clean fruit and more of that obvious, but tasty, oak. Entry is clean and brisk, leading to a more complex middle palate where a nice earthiness contributes a sense of rusticity. Body is medium, as is intensity. The after palate is a bit lighter and shows caramel flavours plus quite simple berry fruits. The finish lingers well with fruit flavour.

Not a wine for lovers of sharply varietal Cabernet. Definitely a wine for those who want to enjoy their winter evenings. Tonight, I fall in the latter camp.

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

Morandé Edición Limitada Cabernet Franc 2005

I’m developing a mini-obsession with Cabernet Franc lately; it’s such a distinctive variety, and has a relatively low profile as a varietal wine. I’m sure weedy (or worse) Loire reds haven’t done it any favours over the years, even they have a certain austere appeal. This wine, from Chile, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from something like a Chinon, being full flavoured and bodied. It manages to retain some of the angular elegance that I like in Cabernet Franc, though, and for that at least strikes me as worthy of attention. This is imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

In the past, I’ve sensed a red capsicum note in Cab Franc that I’ve assumed is one of the more obvious varietal characters. This wine doesn’t have that note, but it still shows some vegetal influences, here — and oddly enough — closer to the crunchy gooseberry skins of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a fresh and frisky influence on what is otherwise a dense aroma profile, with ripe raspberries, tobacco and dash of the earthy rusticity that I associate with many Chilean red wines. Coherent and fun to smell.

The palate was initially too tannic to approach with much enjoyment, but a night’s rest has turned formidable tannins into a much more velvet-like mouthfeel. In fact, texture is now a real highlight of this wine. Lots of savoury berry flavour on entry, the sharper edges to the flavour profile provide movement to the middle palate, where pepper and tobacco spread over the tongue. Although it’s quite a structured wine, there’s good generosity of flavour and relatively unimpeded flow through the mouth. It’s fairly complex and what impresses me most is how well integrated the flavours are. Lovely buzzy texture through the after palate, and a decent finish, if perhaps slightly too influenced by nougat vanilla oak that is otherwise quite well behaved.

Good wine, well priced.

Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample