Clayfield Thomas Wills Shiraz NV

Browsing back through my notes, I see I never wrote up the 2008 Thomas Wills Shiraz in a comprehensive manner, though my first impressions are to be found within this post on Clayfield’s range as a whole. This wine forms part of an emerging collection of labels the makers of which seem intent on engaging more deeply with the regional and stylistic histories within which they are working. I’m thinking of the Mountain X project, for example, as well as producers like The Story, who are applying modern thinking about terroir and style to ultra-traditional regions such as the Grampians.

In the case of this wine, Clayfield takes inspiration from an idea of what wine might have been like one hundred years ago in the Grampians. Whether real or imagined, the style is full-throttle and robust, very much take no prisoners in vibe. It has been especially interesting to show the 2008 to several friends over the past months. Their reactions have been far from neutral, and on the whole very positive, which suggests an earthy appeal to its powerful delivery of flavour. Alcohol levels approaching 16% abv also provoked interest, though my feeling was the wine held its heat perfectly well.

To this, the current release. Unusually, Clayfield has taken a non-vintage approach, blending material from the 2008 and 2010 vintages and, although the same liquerous earthiness I liked so much in the 2008 remains present, this release has a degree of finesse that elevates it above the previous wine.

The nose is heady with ultra-ripe plums, hints of dry earth and a whole rack of brown spices. Those looking for a peppery expression of Grampians Shiraz may not find what they’re looking for here. However, this is clearly a wine of the region, and the character of the fruit is, in particular, highly regional. There’s something extremely cuddly about the way this smells; like a prickly wool jumper. It’s not a regressive or simple aroma profile, though; its emphasis on powerfully savoury plums and rich spice is both complex and sophisticated.

The palate is where this wine departs most from its predecessor. There’s a whole dimension of detail and finesse here that wasn’t present before, and this brings another level of pleasure to what remains a muscular wine. It’s as if all the brawn has more shape and definition this year, transforming from a slightly brutish physique to one with some dashing and swing. One must put this into context, though; the flavour profile remains idiosyncratic and quite rustic, full of ripe plums, bark and spice. In particular, the tannins recall the 2008, coarse-grained and prickly, sweet and spiky.

If you liked the rough and ready vibe of the 2008, you may miss a degree of wildness in this wine. For my palate, though, this is the superior release, blending the same intensity and power with a finer flow through the mouth. This label remains a daring experiment, albeit one whose maker is clearly intent on refining year after year. This is a lot of wine for $35.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes 2007

I’ve enjoyed my recent foray into affordable white Burgundy from the 2007 vintage, and this wine from also-ran village Pernand-Vergelesses is one of my favourites so far. It’s slutty in the way only Chardonnay can be, yet retains a measure of restraint and a streak of minerality that make it difficult to write off as pure hedonism.

The nose, in fact, has evolved a significant mineral component that sits alongside billowy peach, caramel and fresh herbs. The aroma is rich and somewhat obvious, the latter in no way detracting from its deliciousness. Curiously, there’s also the smell of unscented soap, though the power of suggestion looms large over this impression.

One thing the aroma doesn’t do is adequately signal the generosity of the palate. It’s here the wine comes alive with gushy flavour, helped along by a mouthfeel that in less kind moments I might describe as “pumped up” but which here I shall call “slippery” and “voluptuous.” Funny how a single element can come across well or badly depending on its context. Though there’s enough acid to keep a mound of peaches and cream in line, there’s nothing especially racy or fine about the way this moves through the palate. No, this is designed for immediate gratification and proves a wine that’s ready to drink young doesn’t need to insult one’s intelligence.

Delicious and worthy.

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

You ever pop the cork on a bottle, pour some in a glass, smell the wine, and say to yourself: Is that it? I mean, really? Well, this might just be one of those bottles… at least right away. After waiting fifteen minutes – actually, baking a frozen pizza – the nose finally did get somewhere. Unfortunately, though, that somewhere was more like the Greyhound station in Modesto than, you know, Pomerol or something.

This wine smells like wine. It doesn’t even smell like expensive wine: it just smells bland. There’s a little bit of sour kirsch, some spicy plums, and an awful lot of dead air. Moderately fat on the palate, there’s also an unnerving sense of absence: instead of fatness and plush, classic Napa merlot, you get the vinous equivalent of a receding hairline: as quickly as you can latch onto something worth noticing, it ebbs away into a thin, acidic, spicy, uninteresting puddle of a sweet, alcoholic cash drain. Over the course of a glass, the only marked change is that of the tannins, which tend to build over time into a thick fuzzy wall of sorts; they’re not sweet, refined, or pleasant, but they’re definitely there in an obstinately retro, oaky kind of way.

I really don’t know what to make of this wine. This was a present from some very generous coworkers a few years ago, and I was looking forward to it in a sort of ‘so this is what the other side drinks’ kind of way. I imagine that Napa merlot was Very Big Indeed in the 1990s; those were the days when every marketing executive at a company holiday party would hold forth on how the cheap crap they were pouring was no match for Pahlmeyer or what have you. Is this just a brand name coasting on reputation, hoping that rubes in less with-it parts of the country will keep on paying fifty bucks for this because they don’t know any better?

Seriously: Just grab a bottle of Hedges Red Mountain wine for a third the price and tell me why the Duckhorn even needs to exist with competition like that. Yeesh.

Duckhorn Vineyards
Price: $50
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Yelland & Papps Delight Grenache Shiraz 2009

This is a very tidy release from Yelland & Papps. Increasingly, I’m interested in the wines I choose and the reasons why I might feel like one style versus another. Tonight, I didn’t want to be challenged. I wanted a wine to caress my palate with generosity and warmth, ripe fruit, lighter coloured berries. The trade-off with these styles can often involve limited complexity and an obviousness of structure that can mitigate one’s full enjoyment. But I reckon this one’s got it about right.

There’s no doubt this is is a buxom, fruit-driven wine, as befits its varieties and regional origins. The nose is full of stewed plums, fresh raspberries and other fleshy fruits, all tinged with a hint of earthiness and the sort of alcohol heat that may be objectionable to some but to me, tonight, promises guilty enjoyment. But it’s the fruit that’s the star in this aroma profile, pulpy and ripe and more than a bit loose.

The palate is a genuine continuation of the nose, flavours translating authentically to middle and after palates of some lushness. It’s not as intense as one might like, and this fact leaves me wanting a little more with each sip. So, in this sense, the wine never fully delivers on its olfactory promise. No matter; a slippery mouthfeel adds the requisite sense of luxe to one’s experience, and there’s enough prickly acidity to prevent ripe plum and red berries from overstaying their welcome. Slight, powdery tannins overlay a finish that is part heat and part hollow. It’s all over much too quickly.

I’m enjoying this beyond what is reasonable and, despite its flaws, feel this really works.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A19.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Am I wrong to have firmer expectations of Cabernet’s flavour profile compared to, say, Shiraz? Where one tends to celebrate the regional differences between many wines, I find myself occasionally knocking a Cabernet for tasting un-Cabernetish. Perhaps one of my resolutions this year should be to keep an open mind when it comes to this particular variety. Who knows, I might even start enjoying the Barossa version.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First up, this wine from the Pyrenees in Victoria. It’s regional, moderate of body, cleanly made, and offers a clear alternative to Coonawarra and Margaret River styles. So far so good.

Except of course if you have an aversion to those typically Pyrenean gum tree influences. Personally, I’ve never had an issue with a balanced intrusion of these aromas, so for me the nose is attractively supple, with crisp black berries and slightly raw oak forming the balance of notes. The aroma is prickly and young; elegant is perhaps the wrong descriptor. Light oughtn’t automatically be equated with elegance, and here the impression is more one of youthful enthusiasm, of an underdeveloped frame showing some muscularity but lacking the bulk one might expect of a fully grown specimen.

This carries through to the palate, though I am very much enjoying what seems to me an adolescent work in progress. Very clean and correct in its progress down the line, this wine starts with savoury red and black berries, progresses through some leaf and cedar to end up with a slightly aggressive astringency that should calm with time and air. Perhaps it’s a little dilute in absolute terms, but its style is such that this seems an asset rather than a fault. It’s terribly easy to drink, goes well with food (in my case a robust pasta bake) and isn’t so expensive that one would feel guilty for polishing off a bottle rather too quickly. There’s something to be said for such a lack of pretension.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A24.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Flaxman Shhh Cabernet 2008

I was home late this evening, a consequence of having too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. Being generally indecisive when faced with too much choice, I was amused to observe an instinctive lunge towards a box of Flaxman samples as I was pondering what to drink. My experience of this producer’s red wines is one of generous deliciousness, perhaps going the extra mile in ripeness and oak to achieve more giving wines. Just the ticket.

Interestingly, although this shows no shortage of flavour, there’s an essential elegance to this wine that remains true to its variety. The nose is a nice blend of Eden earthiness and Cabernet purity, the former adding edge and texture to red fruit character that would otherwise tend towards confectionary. Hints of twig, crushed leaf and tart skins add complexity. There’s some oak in there for sure, and it tends to sit in the background, contributing some subtle spice and nougat aromas.

The palate is medium bodied and acid driven, surprisingly so in a way, and what I am enjoying most about this wine is the clean way it moves through the mouth, leaving trails of intense fruit flavour behind, but never cloying or appearing heavy. Entry is lively and immediate, building quickly to a middle palate that is both textural (mostly acid) and powerfully flavoured. If you can accept the fruit flavour profile on its own terms (and it’s very different from cooler climate Cabernets), this will be a pleasure. If not, you may wish for a less exuberant, more subtle wine. It’s all a matter of taste and occasion, I suppose; this is a wine that gives plenty without asking for much in return. And, as attractive as a bit of mystery can be, there’s a place for easy charms, even when it comes to Cabernet. A bit dippy through the after palate and finish, with a light dusting of charmingly coarse tannins.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Scarborough Green Label Semillon 2010

Hunter Semillon’s renown is due largely to its ability to age in the most astonishing fashion. From young liquid neutral in flavour develops a complex, funky, rich wine that wears its bottle age with pride. It’s a style revered both in Australia (though arguably not as much as it should be) and abroad.

All of which is potentially problematic for Hunter Semillon made in a style designed for early drinking. The attraction of fresh young white wines is self-evident, but the most popular tend to be highly perfumed and of obvious charms. How to handle a variety, then, that wants to hold itself back until it has rested for more than a few years? The obvious answer is to mitigate the most challenging aspects of young Semillon (acid, neutrality) and bring forward those dimensions mostly likely to charm (fruit flavour, fullness of body). A winemaker risks vulgarising the varietal in the process, though, so it’s a fine line to tread.

This Scarborough wine makes a reasonable case for the value of drink-now Semillon. What I like most about it is that it doesn’t try too hard to please. There a few things more distressing than Hunter Semillon pushed in the direction of Sauvignon Blanc (even though, in other contexts, the two varieties are classic bedmates), and this wine certainly avoids an impression of unnatural styling. The nose shows relatively forward but still austere aromas of pebbles, herbs and tart citrus juice. No great complexity but, happily, good typicité. This reminds me of lawns mowed in Summer, the sound of cricket on the television, curtains drawn to keep the heat out.

The palate capitalises on the strengths of this varietal, with good presence and lively acid. It’s not forbidding, structurally, just fresh and zingy, which suits the style. Again, complexity of flavour isn’t a strong point, but I like the slightly mineral edge to what is a mostly citrus-driven flavour profile. Overall, it’s softer and blurrier than Semillons designed to age, and the lack of definition that results seems a well struck compromise, given the intent behind this wine.

Clean, clever and as tasty as one might reasonably expect.

Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Dublère Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Peuillets 2007

Interesting wine, this one. Compared to the Alain Chavy and Giaconda Chardonnays I had the other day, this is a much funkier, more discordant wine. So that’s three out of three; three Chardonnays with strikingly different fruit flavour profiles, leading to three completely different wines. This is as it should be; what becomes interesting now is how (or indeed whether) one pegs the wines at different levels of quality.

Certainly, this lacks a little in the conventional quality stakes; it’s moderately intense, there’s probably a bit too much sulfur to consider its presence a stylistic conceit, its flavours tumble over each other and collide inelegantly. And yet it’s quite magnetic in its chaotic fashion, and with each sip I become more interested in what it will tell me, in how it will disintegrate and recombine, and whether or not I’ll love it or feel repelled.

The aroma combines lean oak spice with sulfur, vanilla, clumsy bubblegum notes and an amalgam of citrus and bruised yellow peach. It’s hot and mealy and heady in turn, and although I can’t honestly describe it as pretty or luxurious — it’s not that sort of wine — its effect on me is consistent: I just keep wanting to smell it over and over again.

The palate shows a more straightforward character with juicy peach fruit taking centre stage. It’s a bit hot, perhaps, and the level of spicy oak may challenge some drinkers’ feel for ideal balance. As with the nose, however, there’s a magnetism to its character that cuts through what is a relatively dissonant flavour profile and, on some level, brings an odd coherence to the style. The middle palate comes closest to the sense of luxe that many Chardonnay drinkers will value, but it’s fleeting and almost ironic in its transition to a much more sculpted, slightly bitter after palate and finish. A lovely mealy texture is surely a highlight.


Domaine Dublère
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail