Hoddles Creek Chardonnay 2006

On release, I gave what now strikes me as a rather lukewarm impression of this wine in my original writeup. Its firm acid structure prompted me, at the time, to put a few in my cellar for a rest, and I’m now tasting this again for the first time in three or so years. Of all the wines one might age, an $18 Australian Chardonnay wouldn’t be considered a sure bet. Indeed, the question of whether any Australian Chardonnay can productively age still pops up now and then. I’ll leave that debate to those more patient; for now, I have this wine in front of me and I do believe it’s better than it was as a fresher, younger wine.

As with most things vinous, the point at which one prefers to drink a particular wine is very much a matter of taste. So, to help you decide whether your stash of 2006 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay is ready for you, I’ll observe that this wine is in the initial stages of becoming more complex and, at the same time, more relaxed. The acidic nervousness I originally noted has mellowed to allow a looser, more expansive movement over the tongue. Flavours, which at first seemed so citrus and oak dominant, now express more cohesively, are perhaps harder to separate from one another, are certainly more numerous. There’s an especially delicious honey note that is just starting to emerge on the after palate. This will never be a fat, old fashioned style, but it’s starting to inch towards a fullness of palate weight and flavour profile that, to be honest, pleases me a lot more than a simpler, tighter style, especially given the inherent power of the Yarra Chardonnay flavour profile.

More of everything except edginess and simplicity; I like.

Hoddles Creek
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Domaine Alain Chavy Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2007

I’m a fan of this label, having enjoyed recent vintages (2005, 2006) very much. Though Chavy allows a clear view into vintage conditions, there’s a delicate power that unites these wines; detail above impact, complexity above density. This 2007 is clearly the most forward of the last three vintages, a real surprise considering growing conditions, which generally led to whites rather higher in acidity than usual.

The nose retains En Remilly’s fundamentally minerally, high toned profile, with sparks of flint, wet wool and florals. Fruit, however, is broader than usual, showing hints of yellow peach where before there was only white. There’s less citrus than usual, and less talc, stonefruit flesh taking its place. To be clear, this remains a restrained, tight aroma profile, but certainly looser than in previous years.

The palate is far less tightly structured than the 2006 in particular, and even in its first year after retail release the peach is flowing freely. What’s wonderful about this wine, though, is the clash of site and vintage conditions, plus perhaps a touch more oxidative handling in the winery. This is what happens when a wine of fundamentally mineral character goes wild; it’s full of savoury fruit and sweet prickliness, of blunt faces and angular asides. Citrus, rather than invoking delicate grapefruit or lemon, tilts towards juicy orange. Do I prefer it in its more restrained, delicate guise? Perhaps, but this is fascinating too, in the same way a favourite artist’s least achieved work is still valuable for being an expression of something fundamentally worthy. And this is far from a bad wine; indeed, it’s constantly improving in the glass, gaining complexity and almost justifying its portly middle.

For enthusiasts (and the fools who love them).

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Angullong Bull's Roar Tempranillo 2010

Tempranillo is new enough to Australia that trying a new one is still a lottery; in terms of quality, in terms of style. I admit to never having tasted one from the Orange/Central Ranges areas, so was curious to see what Angullong, a maker of solid, cleanly commercial wines, might do with the variety.

At first, the nose presents a hit of the sort of confected, carbonic maceration derived fruit character that, I regret to say, is a big turnoff for me. While it calms with time, the essential character of this wine stays true to that first impression: this is Tempranillo made for mass appeal. For a varietal that can, at times, be quite meaty and challenging, the aroma profile here is remarkably accessible, a hint of cola the only suggestion of savouriness. There’s also some cuddly vanilla, signalling a friendly approach to oak treatment.

The palate is rather acid-driven in structure, bringing additional sunlight to what is an already bright fruit profile. Red boiled lollies and tart berry skins are first to appear, followed by a welcome dose of twiggy, vegetal sappiness and a smattering of prickly tannins. It’s not an especially distinctive or complex flavour profile, but it’s different enough from a typical Shiraz or Cabernet to provide some interest. It’s an open question for me whether Tempranillo is best served by this style; I’d like to see less bright fruit, less oak, and a bit more difference. However, someone looking for an easygoing yet “different” wine may find a lot to like here.

Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2009

This is serious Hunter Shiraz. Compared to the De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz tasted recently, this single vineyard wine has an altogether more intense vibe, and one might suggest this is appropriate given its price point.

Neatly, this is both ultra-premium and totally drinkable, a balancing act that surprisingly few wines manage. The key here is that, despite a decent dose of very classy oak, this remains quite fruit driven, a strikingly intense burst of red fruit at the core of its personality. The nose first, though, which at first was too bound up to be truly pleasurable, but which relaxes with about an hour in the glass. When it does, the most fabulous, liqueurous plum and cherry fruit emerges, along with a spice profile that’s part oak and, surprisingly, a peppery part that recalls cooler climate Shiraz. There’s also a distinctly meaty dimension. It’s cohesive and generous and really luxurious, just a delight.

The palate goes through a similar transformation, initially fruitless but quickly evolving into a model of intense shapeliness. If one thing stands out above all else with this wine, it’s the precision with which it articulates its flavours, never losing composure, always maintaining form and poise. Clean black and red fruits, cedar, spice, vanilla, not very much earth. The acid takes a primary structural role, sweet tannins backing up through the after palate and finish. It’s not so structured as to be forbidding, but certainly seems set for medium term ageing (three to five year) at least.

Such a different wine from the equally excellent De Iuliis and indeed many other 2009 Hunter Shirazes, this strikes me as an essential expression of the style.

Meerea Park
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Offcuts: tasting Dookie

It’s a strange thing, tasting in a classroom. In a sense, it’s completely divorced from wine’s natural context: with food, with friends. I’ve long been an advocate of structured tastings, though, as the best way to learn about wine and, hence, to get more from it when consumed for pleasure. There’s simply nothing like a well chosen lineup to draw out the differences between wines and to build confidence in tasting acumen. So, although many of the wines I tasted last week as part of my wine studies weren’t enjoyable on their own terms, I appreciate their educational value.

What was truly fun, though, were the wines that just couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face, and to those of my fellow students.  These wines shone through a somewhat clinical setting and suggested the enjoyment they are capable of providing. Some of the more interesting wines tasted during the week are briefly noted below.

The 2010 Petaluma Riesling is a fairly exuberant expression of Clare Riesling, with the sort of wild, high toned aromatics and reasonably weighty fruit that can be very appealing if you’re in the right mood. It’s a broader interpretation of this regional style, for sure, and this translates to an approachable wine in relative terms. No bad thing. By contrast, the 2004 Petaluma Riesling is only just showing signs of development, which suggests it was a tight little monster on release (I don’t remember tasting it young).  Butter menthol, a bit of toast, with some youthful citrus fruit remaining. For my tastes, this isn’t in an ideal state for full satisfaction, lacking fruit on the palate but not yet showing the full spectrum of bottle aged characters. Perhaps it’ll sing in a couple of years’ time.

Another new-old couple, the Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignons 2007 and 1997 both showed very well. The younger wine is, as expected, a straightforward expression of this quite distinctive regional style, with not-especially-varietal red and black fruits, earth and nougat. Heaps of delicious silty tannins, of course. The older wine is everything one could wish for from an older Tahbilk Cabernet, full of tobacco, leaf, surprisingly pure cassis fruit and sweet earth. It’s drinking well right now.

I was out on my own in enjoying the 2008 Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay. I found it a balanced drink whose fruit has relaxed back into the fabric of the wine, bringing a fine acid structure into clear focus and creating an impression of gentle elegance. Mostly, the group preferred the 2008 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay for its generosity and power, though I must admit I found its peach fruit a little blunt, its acid spiky and its oak too straightforward.

Two exceptional Hunter Semillons graced the week. First up was the 2003 Mount Pleasant Lovedale. Only just starting to show development, this wine is all potential, with lemon curd, soap and the beginnings of that most delicious waxy mouthfeel that lovers of Hunter Semillon adore. Intense, highly structure and just so shapely. I hope I get to taste this again at some stage. Even better, in my opinion, was the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1, which is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect expression of this style. I remember it being fairly approachable on release and it remains quite drinkable in its adolescence, but surely one would be advised to leave it alone for a few more years yet, so that its nascent flavours of toast and honey can evolve much further.

As nice as the Lovedale was, it was equalled in its bracket by the 2008 Best’s Bin 0 Shiraz. This wine stopped the class in its tracks and seemed to be most peoples’ favourite wine of the session. Utterly typical ultra plum fruit character, plenty of complex spice and fine, chalky tannins. An excellent wine and an emphatic validation of the style.

Mount Avoca Merlot 2009

And so I return from university sans a few layers of tooth enamel after tasting my way through a week’s worth of wines with solidly pedagogical intent; not entirely a pleasure, but I do feel in the zone. I may write up some of those tastings later on but, for now, I’m eager to try this new Mount Avoca release and see how it fits into the confusing, incoherent, yet lovable landscape that is Australian Merlot.

Thankfully, it doesn’t occupy the little stagnant pond where overripe Merlot goes to ferment and die. No, this is satisfyingly savoury on first sniff, with nary a hint of crassly pumped up fruit, an impression reinforced by tasting. Quite dark in character, the aroma presents black fruits and sour cherries, twigs and brown spice. It’s quite a generous nose and, at the same time, one that communicates restraint, as if the fullness of the fruit is somehow kept in check. Oak handling is especially good here, adding complexity and framing the fruit sympathetically.

The palate is quite friendly, and it’s here the wine becomes more like what some drinkers may expect from New World Merlot. There’s a softness to the black berry fruit that registers early on the palate and expands through the middle, at which point vanilla and spice oak pick up the line. Acid is certainly present but not firm enough to bring things out of relaxed territory. Tannins do a bit more in this regard as they settle on the tongue through the after palate and lightly dry the finish. What really makes this wine for me is the decided savouriness of the fruit; it turns what might have been a caricatured style into something adult and interesting.

Mount Avoca
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir 2008

Even if it’s unintentional, I pride myself on my reliability. The last time I tasted this wine, I gave it fairly short shrift and suggested I might taste it again in a year or two. Here I am, two years after that first tasting, sampling this little number again after quite randomly having selected it from my stash tonight.

The years have been kind. Where on release this was closed and quite gruff, it’s now able to express itself with more relaxation, even as it remains a highly textural, almost rustic experience. The nose thankfully avoids the sort of glossy fruit character that dodges criticism for lack of varietal definition but which is otherwise completely without value – in its place, there’s plush Pinot fruit, bundles of damp twigs and a rough whiff of vanilla. Also bacon fat, rotting white flowers and bubblegum. Not your typical $20 wine, then, and I can’t quite believe I’m getting so much out of a wine at this price point.

The palate is bold, intense and a bit rough. There’s no doubt, in an absolute sense, that a bit of extra refinement would be welcome, but I really can’t fault this wine on many levels: its impact, its concentration of flavour, its complex and savoury flavour profile. It registers with a nice slam of fruit flavour and progresses briskly through a middle palate full of expansive savoury berries and edgy, slightly hard vegetal notes. There’s still a way to go here before the wine sheds its aggressiveness; for now, you’ll need to put up with traces of overly firm structure on the after palate in particular. But why quibble when each mouthful offers up so much distinctive flavour?

Drink this with pungently flavoured food – Peking Duck, for example – to get the most from it right now. I’ll come back to this in about two to three years’ time. Promise.

Hoddles Creek
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Mount Avoca Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Though its Shiraz wines can be of the highest quality, and tend to hog the limelight, my view is that Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pyrenees is seriously undervalued. It often combines a muscular structure with the sort of clear, supple fruit character that draws you right in. This wine from Mount Avoca exemplifies these qualities, and is well-priced to boot. What’s not to like?

The nose rings with clear, clean cassis fruit character, flanked by a bit of minty goodness and brown, textural oak. The more I swirl and sniff this wine, the greater the influence of that brown, earthy character, which creeps over the fruit and warms it through. It’s a remarkably coherent aroma profile for such a young wine, though it’s equally clear this is a raw beast, leaking undigested primary aromas in all directions. Still, there’s the beginnings of some focus and elegance here, and I suspect once the wine rests it will present even more impressively. As it is, full of potential and certainly not unenjoyable.

The palate is just all about structure at the moment, and whether you enjoy it as a young wine may depend mostly on your tolerance for acid and tannin. That’s not to suggest there’s no flavour or that it’s completely overpowered; indeed, there’s a strong, firm core of dark fruit that runs in a rather compressed line right the way along. But structure keeps it all in check, perhaps too firmly for now, suggesting some time in bottle is required. There’s a lovely gravel-like texture and flavour here, like licking berry-covered asphalt on a hot day. It’s the highlight of a flavour profile that is very correct and ultra-clean. Also notable is this wine’s length, which seems to springboard off all those tannins and carries a ribbon of crisp berry flavour right through the back palate.

This wine would be impressive at $35; at its recommended retail price, it’s a no brainer.

Mount Avoca
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample