Domaine Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2007

It’s new year’s eve and I’m cracking open the good stuff.

A striking mix of lean minerality, powerful citrus fruit and well-controlled winemaker input. The nose is reticent for now, allowing mere wisps of prickly slate, freshly cut pear, grapefruit rind and green nuts to escape its grasp. If drinking now, best not to serve it too cold; allow it to warm and release as much aroma as it is willing. I sense a slow strip tease, one that may unfold over several years and whose narrative will only resolve at some uncertain point in the future, if ever.

The palate confirms what the nose only hints at: this is a wine of confident power and effortless complexity. What’s immediately obvious is the sustained thrust of the fruit; it really explodes on entry and carries right through the finish. This is, however, a wine made in a restrained mould, so one doesn’t get slutty gobs of peachy fruit. Instead, there’s a crisp steel mineral line that underlines the whole, challenged and softened by citrus and white peach fruit that seems to float above the more angular flavour components, not exactly integrated but rather acting as counterpoint. This wine isn’t about harmony, but nor is it about noisy contrasts. It sits somewhere in between, each side of its character pulling and pushing the other, creating tensions right along the line and never letting go their grip of the drinker. In objective quality terms this wine has the stuff: intensity, structure, line. But it’s the aesthetics on show that fascinate me and that elevate this wine above others of a similar level of technical accomplishment.

A beautiful, challenging wine.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A78.50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stanton & Killeen Vintage Port 2001

A tasting earlier this year at the Stanton & Killeen cellar door was notable for a lineup of quite spectacular vintage ports (and for the relative lack of excitement generated by its muscats and tokays, usually the highlight of any Rutherglen cellar door). These wines are interesting in part through their mixing of Portuguese grape varieties with Shiraz, traditionally used in Australian VP styles, and Durif, a variety strongly associated with the Rutherglen. What’s pleasing is how achieved the resultant wines can be.

A light yet piercing, complex aroma showing grilled nuts, dried fruits, old wood, and a streak of banana-skin freshness that I’m probably describing badly but which strikes me as distinctive and attractive. In short, there’s plenty going on, yet there’s a mellow, relaxed vibe to the whole that suggests settled confidence and encourages contemplative consumption.

The palate is again both light and powerful. The wine’s essentially savoury character established by the aroma carries through here, with few stylistic concessions to the Shiraz component. Indeed, this is very far from a typical Shiraz VP, a style I happen to love but which typically shows much richer, fuller fruit flavours than are present here. So, the key to enjoying this is to observe more delicate flavour components and savour the transparency that comes with lighter wines. Deliciously savoury fruits, peel, nuts, nougat. A well-balanced line that maintains strength right through the rather long finish.

I had this with some plum pudding on the big day, and it was somewhat overwhelmed. It’s much better tonight on its own, a light yet utterly indulgent dessert.

Stanton & Killeen
Price: $A28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Field Recordings Koligian Vineyard "Chorus Effect" 2008

This is American wine.

Fabulously complex, this wine shows the very best America has to offer while still maintaining a respectful echo of Old World tradition. The nose is cedary (without smelling like a wardrobe), spicy within tasteful bounds, and displays a finely layered, overlapping, intricate mesh of little red fruits. It’s reminiscent of balsamic vinegar in which strawberries have steeped, or perhaps of dried plums and brandy. More intriguingly, there’s a faint hint of cold, wet granite and faded violets: the initial sweetness of the nose is quickly replaced by something more serious, more complex, more interesting.

Texturally, the wine is a marvel, rich and full in the mouth without being sappy or fat. The firm tannins resolve quickly and firmly into a sharp, precise stop; then, the finish then creeps forward ever so slowly with hints of molasses and dried cherries, smoke and fading embers. In the distance, you can feel the cold northern lights fading, wisps of wintergreen and peat in the air.

No two mouthfuls taste exactly the same: it’s much like listening to a La Monte Young drone piece. Imagine a six channel audio setup in which every speaker is playing something different at the same volume; if you can will yourself to cede concentration and lose yourself to the moment, you’ll experience overlapping washes of physical experience. Pretty cool, come to think of it: if some wines bowl you over with sheer power and others with delicate beauty, the joy to be found here seems to exist in the tension between its multiple, unresolved elements. Difficult as hell to pull off, this is an excellent example of the genre.

The best New World wines are like this one: wonderfully ripe, exuberant, and bold – and yet restrained enough to give you time and space to appreciate the subtleties of place. There is absolutely no possible way this could have come from Bordeaux; that is a strength, not a fault. Just as Ridge Geyserville or Hedges Red Mountain are distinct, unique wines that don’t feel like they could have come from anywhere else, this wine only leaves me with one question: Why hasn’t anyone made this before? It just feels right, somehow.

Field Recordings.
Price: $27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Divine Shiraz 2008

At $65, this wine sits firmly in “icon” territory on price alone. What’s interesting to me is that its producer, Yelland & Papps, typically produces joyously, perhaps even excessively, easy-drinking expressions of the classic Barossa Valley varieties (Grenache, Shiraz). How will this approach translate to a price point at which drinkers will undoubtedly expect so much more?

Once I recovered from pouring a glass from what is surely the heaviest bottle I’ve ever encountered, the nose screamed immediately “more.” More fruit, greater density, a surplus of oak; this wine is quite packed with elements, and they struggle at first to make their way coherently from the glass. It’s like the Boxing Day sales of yore, shoppers trampling over each other to get to the single, ridiculously discounted fridge freezer on Level 3. There’s plum essence, fruit cake spice and rather glossy cedar oak in the main. Perhaps slightly lifted, which helps the red fruit notes sing. I don’t think there’s an excess of complexity; rather, the focus is on impact and sheer quantity.

If anything, the palate is even more forceful. There’s a thickness of mouthfeel and generosity of flavour that’s immediately evident on entry, and it fairly forces the mouth open in order to accommodate all that it has to offer (including a fairly visible alcohol level of 15% abv). Super concentrated plum juice, all manner of red and black berries, more spice, more oak. There’s so much here I’m not sure where to look, but I can remark with some certainty that few will be left wanting more flavour than is here.

All of which causes me to return to my starting point, which is to question the stylistic implications of a reserve-level wine. Yelland & Papps has taken a relatively conventional approach of “more is more,” and within the style this is a really good wine, full of quality fruit and showing well-handled oak in particular. And, although it’s not what I’d class as an easy drinking wine, this somehow feels right within the context of the producer’s house style. Yet I can’t help wondering what the alternate options might be. A finer wine, perhaps, more detailed and characterful? Something challenging, with more adventurous winemaking or angular flavours? A style that mines less well travelled implications of Barossa terroir?

It’s no doubt wrong to criticise something for what it isn’t, and I hope my note makes clear that this wine has several outstanding features. Perhaps my own craving for novelty is the issue in this instance; drinkers are advised to crack open a bottle of this and enjoy what the Barossa does best.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Flaxman Riesling 2010

There’s a collection of quality-focused producers, rather micro in scale, in and around the Flaxman Valley who are together creating a real stir amongst the cognoscenti. Flaxman is one such producer, and I’m pleased tonight to be tasting the latest estate Riesling, sourced from vines considerably older than myself.

The Flaxman Riesling style is typically a fuller, richer interpretation of the grape, and this is no exception. Where the Karra Yerta wines from the same area, for example, play with delicacy and pastel hues, this is a full throttle streak of sunlight, yet still identifiably Eden Valley, preferring floral and talc notes to the Clare’s juicy flavours. The nose first, which is full of bath salts, powder, puffs of citrus oil and spongey pith. It isn’t out-and-out powerful so much as firm and persistent, carving a clear line into one’s senses and never letting up until it’s time to sniff again.

The palate is an icepick of a thing, so cleanly articulated are the flavours and sharp the impact. But it’s not clumsy; indeed, there’s masses of detail as the wine unfolds from entry, notes of slate, talc and citrus rind each dovetailing neatly, culminating in a cool, crystalline climax on the middle palate. From here the wine softens marginally, some tropical flavours like pineapple adding a rich opulence to the flavour profile. Nice dry texture kicks in as the finish takes over, ending things on a flinty flourish of Riesling goodness.

You won’t go wrong with this.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine du Clos Salomon Montagny le Clou 2007

I tasted the 2006 edition of this wine, and on balance feel the 2007 vintage is more achieved. It retains the essentially funky character of the fruit while rounding out the style to a more generous level. Still an off-centre aroma profile, with prickles of sulfur introducing fleshy yellow peach, roasted cashews and Thai basil. It has really blossomed after a couple of hours in the glass, so don’t serve this too cold, and be prepared to give it time. It ends up in a gentle place; this is never going to knock your socks off with power, but it glows with nuance and character.

Some oxidative character not evident on the nose asserts itself in the mouth, quite pleasantly so. There’s an essential discordance to the flavour profile that I am enjoying, though I suspect it may turn some drinkers off. If, however, you can get past the idea that wines ought to be neat and tidy aesthetic experiences, you may value the clash of peach, grapefruit, bitter herbs and creamy nuts that tumble over each other as this wine rushes past the middle palate. The after palate and finish are more focused, concentrating on yellow grapefruit flavours and very fine, firm acid. Intensity does not rise above a moderate level, and there’s a nice irony, I think, to the quiet way in which this wine seeks to argue with itself.

A really interesting, smart wine for lovers of the offbeat.

Clos Salomon
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

De Bortoli Rococco Rosé NV

This is an attention-grabbing wine. Despite the classically Champenoise varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), this is about as far from Champagne as you can get. The nose is fruit-driven and almost tropical in profile, with red fruits, citrus, florals and sharper, sourer aromas akin to kiwifruit. There are some sweetly bready complexities but they are reticent and ultimately don’t hold a candle to all that fruit. If I have a criticism of the aroma, it relates to a slightly messy, confectionary edge that may be a result of the level of dosage as much as the inherent fruit character.

In the mouth, a very smooth and easy experience. I really got the point of this wine once I tasted it; this is the silicone breast implant of Australian rosé sparklings. Niche, I know, but there’s a time and place for most things, and in the case of this wine, I feel it should be served at the start of a very messy evening. Quite full-flavoured, the palate is all about quite luscious red fruits with edges of passionfruit and tropicals. For the most part, mouthfeel is soft (within the constraints of the style) with just a hint of texture through the after palate. Again, it’s a bit sweet for my taste but there’s certainly enough acid to keep it lively. A bit more bready complexity rounds the flavour profile out.

Labelling notwithstanding, this is a thoroughly modern wine style.

De Bortoli
Price: $A22
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

La Linda Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Tell you what: This is the new deal. If you send me a sample of your wine, I will do my very best to provide you a piece of writing which may or may not have anything to do what’s in the glass. Think of it as something for nothing (other than a small ding in your PR budget): you send me wine, and you get (hopefully interesting, probably rambling) free association about the semiotics of your wine, random commentary, and maybe even an actual tasting note.

On to this sample, then, courtesy of an East Coast public relations agency who offered it up unbidden. (I replied thanking them and asking them for information on Australian availability, given that many of our readers don’t live in the eastern USA. They didn’t reply to that question, but they did send a bottle, which is lovely.) I initially agreed because I’d heard of Luigi Bosca; I have vague good memories of them from a weekend in Mendoza that was preceded by an incredibly long bus trip thanks to a general strike at the nation’s airports.

I’ll start by saying this: Screw Flash. Really. It’s just annoying. I went to load their Web site (linked below) and had to wait for a lame-ass animation of YAY A CORKSCREW uncorking white space in my browser. You know what, guys? Save the money and put it in your product. All I want from a winery’s Web site is technical sheets about their products (with tasting notes, perhaps), information on where to buy some, and maybe even a list of upcoming events at the winery. That’s it. And you know what else I really don’t want? One of those annoying “Please enter your birthdate!!!” pages. Hint: It’s the Internet. I’m sure that 20-year-olds will see that pages and say “You know what, never mind. I’m not old enough to drink, so I had better leave this Argentine wine site and go back to talking about Justin Bieber on Facebook with my little sister.” Please. It’s just irritating, ESPECIALLY when you have to enter your birthday using a Flash UI. STOP IT. (For the record, I was born on 1 January 1910.)

On to the wine, but before I begin, I’ll note that Luigi Bosca seems to have erupted in a mad bout of branding, PR dollars, and marketing a go go. This is cool; I loved their Gala wines, but if they want to sell twenty different wines at multiple price points with different branding entirely, that’s just fine. This wine, La Linda, or “the beautiful,” is their cheap stuff, selling for well under ten bucks in the USA. With that in mind, I’ll start by looking at the packaging: the foil is a little cheap looking, the cork has some kind of laser-printed inventory or other number on it, but once that’s gone, you have a fairly splendid looking bottle that exudes class. The label is well printed and looks like a twenty dollar wine; there’s exactly enough information on the back label to help your average supermarket consumer decide if this is the wine they’re looking for (geographical information, a straightforward, honest tasting note, and food pairings (red meats!)). In short, everything is perfect here; it looks like it was destined for Oddbins or any decent supermarket.

So what have we got in the glass, then? A bruiser of purplish-black, inky wine, blackberry sweet on the nose, but with an attractive seam of rich, toasty, vanilla oak (chips?). The real surprise is on the palate, where the wine pivots into something much more interesting (and useful to restaurateurs): a higher-toned, nicely acidic, brightly lifted red wine that seems purpose built for the wine list at an all-you-can-eat churrasceria joint in Dallas or Washington. The palate is classy, friendly, and slowly gives way to a firm but friendly tannic finish that should do incredibly well with charcuterie or, well, huge frickin’ steaks. Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: it’s only 13.5% alcohol, which means you can share a bottle with your partner and not have to call a cab home afterwards.The only competition I can really see for a wine like this – at least locally – would be something like a Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot from Washington, which offers an approximately similar drinking experience at a similar price point. Where this wine shines by comparison, though, is the classier packaging, the more complex taste, and perceived value (hey, it’s an import!).

If you run a restaurant, this would be perfect for a steakhouse, upscale Mexican restaurant, or themed Brazilian dining. There’s no reason you couldn’t charge $30 for this and profit handsomely; if I were the importer, I’d concentrate on hospitality sales and avoid retail, where it might not fit in to the standard retail mix (two wines from Argentina, one Torrontés, one Malbec).

Luigi Bosca
Price: $8.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne 2007

I’ve had some delicious encounters with the wines of this Puligny-Montrachet based producer over the past few years, but until now have never had occasion to taste his basic white Burgundy. In my experience, Chavy’s wines are very cleanly made and tend towards austerity in style; this wine is no exception.

Immediately, it lacks the intensity and crystalline crispness of the 1er cru wines in Chavy’s portfolio, yet this in no way offers a disappointing aroma. In fact, it’s much finer and more complex than one might reasonably expect from a wine at this level, with subtle nutty aromas sitting atop crisp honeydew, lemon and even a touch of prickly minerality. It seems just right for a straight Bourgogne; moderate in volume, accessible in profile, quite easygoing.

These qualities carry through to the palate, which is softly generous without losing its essentially crisp character. What I like most about this wine is the way it swells in the mouth without pretentiousness, pitching its intensity at a moderate level and its flavour profile at a reasonable, not overwhelming, degree of complexity. Indeed, this is a lesson in entry level Chardonnay, and embodies quite a different approach from the often sledgehammer-like flavour profiles of local Chardonnays at this price point. There’s nothing wrong with intensity, to be sure, but I believe a “more is more” approach to winemaking often loses sight of a wine’s function and purpose for drinkers. This is a great food wine, caressing the tongue with gentle flavour and lightly mineral texture, begging for the sort of comforting meal one might look forward to on a special weeknight.

Lovely and delicious. Great to see a Diam seal, too.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A30
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Mitchell Harris Rosé 2010

Another adventurous rosé, this time from Victorian producer Mitchell Harris. This is a multi-region blend of unusual varieties; Pinot Noir from the Macedon Ranges and Sangiovese from the Pyrenees. This might seem a bit of a hodge-podge but for the fact that both regions tend towards boutique production and the price of this wine is anything but low-end. At $22 or thereabouts, it sits firmly in the “serious rosé” price bracket.

Quite a pale colour, more like dilute strawberry than salmon. The nose is controlled, with layers of piercing spice, pale red fruit and slightly muskier notes. It’s getting noticeably more complex the longer it sits in the glass, with some feral earthy notes adding depth and texture to the aroma profile. Ends up savoury and quite singular, with some juicy rough edges.

In the mouth, a bit more relaxed than suggested by the nose, with some fruit sweetness to temper the more angular elements of the flavour profile. I like this wine’s structure very much; the acid seems right and there’s some lightly drying texture through the after palate. There’s also a pleasing sense of fullness here that does not come at the expense of brisk movement through the mouth. What’s challenging is the set of flavours; they veer from sweet cherries to wet leaves and back. There’s a sense of boisterousness verging on disorganisation in how they present. Yet it’s so flavoursome and fun, I keep wanting to take another sip.

Really interesting wine that communicates a sense of exploration and seriousness in the context of a style that is, ostensibly, all about mindless enjoyment.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A21.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample