Dowie Doole Shiraz 2009

I’m slowly recovering from the most unpleasant cold I’ve had in years, and tonight I thought I’d ease back into tasting with what is usually an easy wine to enjoy — Dowie Doole’s regular Shiraz. As impressive as this producer’s upper echelon of wines can often be, I enjoy the regular release for its extreme drinkability and unpretentious style.

I suspect the tricky 2009 vintage is showing through here in a slightly harder flavour profile than usual; there’s a woody, spicy, vegetal influence that competes with the wine’s lush, sweet fruit, though the latter is never overpowered by it, ensuring the style’s fundamentals still shine through in the end. The aroma starts with spice and transitions quickly to cherries and plums and rich, dark chocolate. It’s a guilty pleasure candy bar of an aroma profile, again with that slightly hard edge but also a soft, gooey core.

The palate echoes the nose quite precisely, wood and spice giving way to slightly stewed plum fruit that dominates the middle and after palates. This is a pricklier wine than usual, more angular and challenging. Still, it’s also a Dowie Doole Shiraz, so remains firmly in easy drinking territory, still showing as much freshness and drinkability as possible. The finish is a lovely surprise, long and spiced and red fruited.

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

Giaconda Pinot Noir 2008

As luck would have it, I’m enjoying my Easter long weekend in bed with a messy, feverish chest cold for company. Rather than attempt to taste wine in this condition, I thought I’d reflect on a bottle drunk a week or two ago. This was a gift from my ever-generous co-author Chris. I shall save the other bottle to taste with him, as I’d really like a second opinion here.

It’s clear this wine is all quality, with intensity, power and drive to spare. Stylistically, though, it raises an equally clear question: do these ostensibly desirable qualities contribute to drinkability? I’m not so sure. But first, my impressions of the wine itself. The nose is massively complex, even at a young age. The character of the fruit is alternately sweet/savoury, the Yarra component evident in what strikes me as a luscious, if somewhat blunt, slice of juicy fruit pie. There’s a good deal of oak here too, charry and bold. I was quite bowled over by this wine’s impact at first, and it took me a moment to realise I was being overpowered by the wine, pushed around and told what to do.

The palate is equally powerful and somewhat front-loaded in shape, with good acid and a lovely, drying chalky finish. Flavours echo the nose, with rhubarb and strawberries bursting through an underlay of savoury complexity and an overlay of glossy oak. Again, quite an overpoweringly awesome wine, but at the same time one that doesn’t encourage onward consumption. Indeed, one glass was quite enough, and though there’s no denying the skill and fruit at play, I ended up feeling slightly cornered.

Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Fecha 2006

I’ll keep this short. Three weeks ago, I joined Turista Libre! for an art tour to Tijuana. After visiting the Tijuana cultural center and seeing one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve seen in years (largely to do with the visual language of Tijuana), I was fortunate enough to have lunch at cielo, an amazingly good restaurant in the brand new Via Corporativo building, Tijuana’s first high-tech green office building, which also houses Mision 19, the hottest new restaurant in Mexico, as well as a new branch of la CONTRA, an impossibly stylish Mexican wine shop.

Earlier in the week, I’d seen the label for this wine on their Web site and decided that it was a categorical imperative that I buy a bottle. As luck would have it, it was not only far more expensive than I was expecting – I had to beg my partner for cash to complete the purchase – but it wasn’t even made from noble grapes, whatever that means. Oh, hell no. It’s made from Carignane, which is about as low rent as grapes get in this part of the world.

Flash forward to this evening: it’s a work night, and I’ve convinced a coworker who also knows a thing or two about good wine to come over after work and share a pizza. We start with a 1998 Clonakilla shiraz viognier, which is beautiful, elegant, tranquil, and calming – and then I figure, oh, what the hell, might as well open this bottle of Mexican wine that is probably wildly overpriced and not terribly good.

I haven’t been more wrong about a bottle of wine in years. I’ll keep this mercifully short: this is one of the best wines I have tasted in years. Much like the Mogor-Badan chasselas from the same part of the world, this wine is simultaneously breathtakingly beautiful and deceptively plain. With a sweet nose of bacon-smoked cherries, hickory wood, and dried plums, the wine suddenly detours into a wonderfully somber, heavy-tannined, plush murmur of serious bass (think Orange amplification, of course) along the lines of, say, an Om LP. This wine does all of the things that good wines do: every time you smell it, it changes: sometimes it smells of oranges and Christmas spices; other times, it smells of finely ground white pepper in a blazing white kitchen with sauerbraten cooking. The acidity is rude in the best possible way, reminding you that, hey, this is carignane, you know, and not some brain-dead Napa cab. The finish goes on so long that Rebecca Black is probably responsible for it. More than anything, else, though, is the overwhelming, ecstatic sense you get that you’ve never, ever drunk anything like this before. This, my friends, is Mexico.

Price: $75
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château Laffitte-Teston Madiran Vieilles Vignes 2007

The generosity of wine lovers is endlessly fabulous. On Friday evening, I had the pleasure of Mark Gifford’s company, and not only did I retaste part of his Blue Poles portfolio (go the Allouran), but I was given the opportunity to taste this wine, which Mark had brought back from his last stint in France. Like Mark himself, this wine proved a deliciously easygoing dining companion, and one that demonstrates structure does not come at the expense of drinkability.

Tannat is renowned for its tannins, so I was looking forward to a mouthful of sweet sandpaper with this wine. But first, the nose, a balancing act of gorgeously voluptuous red fruits and strong savoury overtones strongly reminiscent of smoked herbs. Am I over-romanticising things to suggest that wines from warm climes smell like the summer days through which they evolved as fruit on vine? Perhaps, but this wine’s aroma strongly evokes lazy summer days, ripening berries, wild herb gardens and the thirsty laziness of balmy afternoons.

This wine’s contradictions come to the fore on the palate. It’s beautifully balanced for drinking, a gush of bright, medium bodied red fruit immediately presenting on entry. It comes across slightly sweeter on the palate, perhaps due to a relative absence of the distinctively herbal thread seen on the nose. Here, instead of savouriness, fruit is balanced by tannins that are both prominent and well distributed. This isn’t a monstrous wine, structurally, nor is it a wine that “demands food” like, say, Sangiovese. The tannins sprinkle, then shower, the tongue with loose-knit sweetness, while all that red fruit keeps driving down the line. So easy, delicious and unpretentious.

Château Laffitte-Teston
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 1998

One of the lessons of this wine is that old Hunter Shiraz is a great way to screw with a wine options game. Great wine, though, and the highlight of an evening that featured several big names failing to live up to their reputations.

On the nose, a Mataro-like meatiness along with dirty leather, some residual red fruit and what is best described as “the smell of old red wine.” It’s not overly developed for a wine of this age, though, and as we worked our way through the options game, most of the group thought it was a much younger wine (five to eight years old). There’s a bit of oak riding through the aroma profile, chocolate-vanilla in character and quite well balanced. Just a really interesting, not-quite-mellow nose.

The palate shows the full extent of this wine’s development, which is to say it remains a structurally youthful wine whose flavours are developing but not yet fully mature. Given the nose’s reticent fruit, what jumps out first here is a roundness and generosity of red berry fruit that screams this wine’s origins, if not its age. This fruit is quickly overwhelmed by savoury notes and the tertiary sweetness that I especially enjoy with older reds. This particular bottle has thrown quite a sediment, and the glass I’m tasting right now has more than its fair share of muck, so it’s possible the muscular tannins I see have a bit of grit mixed in. Structurally, though, this remains an impressively primary wine, with bright acid and well-formed tannins contributing real sophistication to the overall tasting experience. A long, gentle, vibrant finish.

Excellent wine, and one with many good years ahead of it.

Meerea Park
Price: $A110
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Ocean Eight Aylward Pinot Noir 2010

When attending a residential school for the course I’m doing, many wines are inevitably dragged out for tasting, some more interesting than others. Last night, they ranged from blandly commercial to full-throttle odd. This Pinot was the undoubted highlight of the evening’s selection, so I will write it up in full, noting that it’s not yet released and in fact has only been bottled for a month.

Cloudy in appearance, this is immediately savoury and dark on the nose, with stalk, edges of oak, bubblegum and marzipan, pinosity leaking from every pore. It’s complex and moody, and what I like most is the way the aroma profile draws you in despite what are some challenging and offbeat aroma components.

The palate is all over the place, which is understandable, but shows the hallmarks of a wine that will sing with time: power, intensity, drive and, most of all, length. The flavours balance a swell of sweet red berry fruit with a range of more savoury fruit notes and vegetal influences. It’s a very textural wine, partly due to some short-term CO2 and more interestingly through a good deal of acid, a big whack of slightly green tannins on the middle palate (stalk?) and a decent layer of puckery sweet fruit tannins on the finish. There’s minerality here too, just one of the many flavour components this wine throws into the mix.

This is exactly what I look for in Mornington Pinot — a broody, structured wine whose fruit shows an inherent complexity of flavour, and whose winemaking isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. Look out for this one.

Update: check out Andrew’s review over at the Australian Wine Review.

Ocean Eight
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Other

Angullong A Shiraz 2009

I’ve been impressed with the Angullong wines I’ve tasted in the past. Though priced affordably, they have shown a level of character and drinkability that would be desirable at any price point. For a region that, in my view, is still struggling to find an identity, Angullong’s accessible and distinctive wines are just what Orange needs.

At a RRP of $17, one might reasonably expect a stylistically bland wine, yet this shows a good deal of cooler climate Shiraz character. My first impression of the aroma is intense spice, pepper, cloves and coriander seed. It’s classically cooler climate, but instead of the juicy plum fruit of, say, Grampians Shiraz, this shows a brighter, crunchier red fruit character. There’s not a lot of refinement here, just plenty of distinctive aroma.

The palate is a marginal disappointment, not through lack of flavour but because the fruit tips into slightly confected territory, which simplifies and drags down the overall flavour profile. On the plus side, there’s good intensity and thrust, acid playing a prominent role in the wine’s structure. Oak is present throughout, most notably through the after palate, and the finish tastes like a cross between boiled lollies and mixed berry compote, with a side of vanilla ice cream.

Despite its rough and ready demeanour, this is a very enjoyable wine and one that goes especially well with spicy food.

Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Garnacha & Tempranillo 2010

This wine’s packaging, with which I was so taken when I tasted last year’s release, still made me grin when I unpacked the sample box this evening. It’s just so bold and fun, without resorting to the sort of immediately dated look that so many other producers seem to arrive at when trying to make their wines stand out on the liquor store shelf.

I was also impressed with the wine in the bottle last year; for my taste, though, the 2010 is a marked step up in sophistication and style. If I were to level a criticism at the 2009, it would be at its fruit character, which was quite sweet, perhaps too much so for some, and overpowering the positive, dirty influence that Tempranillo can bring. This is still a lusciously generous wine that wears its Grenache on its sleeve, but there’s a savoury dimension that seems more prominent this time around, taking the aroma profile to a darker place and helping the whole seem more complex.

The palate is perhaps a tad more gushy than the aroma suggests. Viscosity and intensely gorgeous red fruits on entry, this moves to the middle palate with a whoosh of acid and several licks of sweet/savoury character. I’m sure if I had a very savoury red wine alongside, this would seem hopelessly naive, but on its own terms it is positively delicious and, given the style sought, it seems quite perfectly judged.

Bloody good quaffing wine for the drinker with attitude.

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