Flaxman Dessert Semillon 2010

A cordon cut style, this wine hails from boutique producer Flaxman Wines. It’s shot through with authenticity, at least as far as the back label is concerned: hand pruned, hand picked, old vine, dry grown, low yielding. It’s a veritable checklist of cred. What I like most about the packaging, however, is the exceptionally attractive label design, something it shares with all the Flaxman wines.

To what’s in the glass, an initially funky, almost musty, aroma gives way to unexpectedly savoury notes mixed with tinned peach and pear. The savouriness is, I suspect, somewhat sulfur-driven, so may blow off with some time. I hope it does, because the fruit here is quite lovely, and surprisingly subtle for what can tend to be a straightforward style. The key to its interest is that it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, it holds something in reserve, which makes the whole thing a lot more sniffable.

The palate shows good freshness and balance, thanks to a pleasing interplay between sugar, fruit intensity and acid. Again, the wine surprises with its subtlety, being neither too sweet nor too bracingly acidic. Entry splashes the palate with cool, structural refreshment, taking a while to build a level of fruit intensity that is ultimately satisfying without ever being especially impressive. The middle palate is awash with a range of fruit flavours: fresh citrus, candied peel, ripe stonefruit, some syrup. The after palate becomes more savoury and textural, with perhaps a hint of minerality edging in. A nice, gentle finish brings things to a close.

The back label also says of this wine that it has “no story.” While its provenance and production suggest otherwise, it loses nothing by being judged purely for what’s in the bottle. Nice wine.

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

Angullong Fossil Hill Pinot Gris 2011

Although I’ve only tasted a few, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Pinot Gris from Orange has a lot of potential, and might be one of the most pleasing white varietals to come from this very cool region. This isn’t to be underestimated; I think in general we’ve struggled in Australia to produce interesting expressions of this grape.

This wine is no exception to the Orange rule. The nose starts by suggesting the neutrality that can plague this varietal, but quickly evolves to release quite rich fruit notes of candied peel, ripe pear flesh and some surprising savoury minerality. Sure, it’s not a complex aroma, but its character is fresh and appealing, quite juicily delicious in fact.

The palate is where this wine really shines, thanks to a tingly acid structure and impressive generosity of flavour. Entry is fresh and quite textural, leading to green pear flavours that carry through to a middle palate that is both expansive and lively; this wine proves that a lot of acid doesn’t necessarily translate to a tight, linear experience in the mouth, partly because there’s a nice viscosity on the middle palate that balances the wine’s acid structure and creates a really interesting tension between the two. More of that savouriness creeps in as the wine moves along, becoming more prominent through the after palate. A decent finish tapers gently away, leaving a residue of savouriness and an impression of fresh fruit.

Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Yelland & Papps Delight Grenache Shiraz 2010

To my mind, Yelland & Papps is a bit of a Grenache specialist, or at least I consistently like its Grenaches more than any other wines in its range. There’s something about the Yelland & Papps style that lends itself especially well to Grenache’s generosity and sweet fruit character. I’ve enjoyed this label in the past, perhaps more than the straight Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Delight range.

In 2010, though, the Shiraz remains the best release. The nose here is expressive and smells of artificial vanilla essence, a slightly edgy sappiness and gobs of sweet, somewhat stewed fruit. The fruit is red and black, ranging from plums to blackberries, all arguably overripe, showing a jammy rather than fresh fruit vibe. To my palate, more freshness would have led to a better aroma profile, along with more subtlety of oak character and volume.

The palate is again very generous, fruit driving a flavour profile that backs up with abundant, rather edgy oak and some pretty spiky acidity. I like the wine’s consistent volume through its line; there’s certainly plenty of fruit to go around. Again, fruit character has a question mark over it, with an overripe edge contributing hardness and detracting from the suppleness this wine occasionally hints at but never achieves.

A pretty good quaffer, then, but not quite up to the same year’s Shiraz.

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

Peregrine Chardonnay 2009

Descriptors are unhelpful enough without having to endure the mangling to which we often subject them. The fruit analogues are one thing; “peach” is at least somewhat determinate; the stylistic descriptors are altogether more problematic, which is a shame, because they’re often the most telling words we use as wine writers. Describe a Chardonnay as tasting like grapefruit, and I sort of know what you mean. Describe it as elegant, however, and I’m much less confident I understand the wine’s style. Yet I reach for these stylistic descriptors often in my writing, because I feel they communicate much more of the experience of drinking a wine than fruit notes, or perhaps even structural descriptions.

Partly, the problem arises because we tend to use these descriptors interchangeably, or as euphemisms for one another. To describe a wine as elegant represents an enormous (positive) value judgement, but often it’s code for “lean,” which is, to me at least, less unequivocally good. Indeed, heavily worked styles can be elegant, and lean wines clumsy. Is elegant a worthless descriptor, then? Not at all, but something so abstract must be used with precision and perhaps even caution.

This wine is a case in point. It’s not a lean wine, nor is it nimble, or dainty, or even especially fine. It is, however, complex, worked, generous and, in its way, gaudily elegant. It’s Versace to Chablis’ Armani, a wine dripping with ornament, very much a more is more aesthetic. Yet this is somehow contained within a bright, firm-enough acid structure, so that it stops short of being overwhelming and remains simply a mouth full of pea

ch, butterscotch and herb flavour, slightly hot on the finish, lacking in intensity, making up for it with some fine detail and complexity. Peregrine
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Delight Shiraz 2010

It’s easy to heap praise on premium wines, for there’s often an outstanding quality to their fruit or winemaking that attracts easy attention. And we expect a lot from expensive wines, so it’s no surprise when they display excellence of style. I often think the task of the quaffing wine is so much more difficult. These are wines that are made to a certain price point, perhaps limiting the winemaker’s options with regard to fruit and oak. It’s the difference between the architect designing a luxury villa versus affordable mass housing. Yet, does the latter demand less intent or attention? I don’t think so. The challenge is simply different, and should be appreciated differently.

I’m thinking these thoughts as I taste this sub-$20 wine from Barossa producer Yelland & Papps, whose house style is firmly oriented towards easy drinkability at all price points in its range. What I’m looking for here is regional character and a total absence of the sort of insultingly simple fruit character that, all too often, gets trotted out at these price points. Happily, this wine delivers.

It’s not a wine of refinement or delicacy, nor does it need to be. The nose, in fact, is quite blunt, with highly regional ripe plum fruit character bursting from the glass, tangles of spice swirling around its core. That’s it, more or less, with little in the way of nuance or layers, but its total honesty carries it through and gives it attractive appeal.

The palate is of moderate weight and intensity, carrying a consistent line from the aroma through to entry and middle palate. There’s a simple rusticity to the flavour profile; red fruit and brown spice sharing equal billing; that makes this an easy, generous experience, despite its modest dimensions. Is the oak a little obvious (even synthetic) in character? Perhaps, but that only slightly detracts from the straightforwardness of the experience.

This seems really well-judged, as much for its lack of pretension as anything else. Drink, enjoy.

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

Dowie Doole Cane Cut Viognier 2010

For some reason, I don’t often reach for a sticky, even though I have thoroughly enjoyed many bottles over the years. I suppose it’s the, perhaps unfair, anticipation of flabby, sweet vulgarity that keeps me away; to my palate, there are few things as undrinkable as a low acid, high sugar, sweet white dessert wine. So, despite almost tasting this on several occasions, I’ve restricted myself to admiring its spectacularly pretty packaging and thinking about the various ways in which a cane cut Viognier might go off the rails. Not known for its subtlety, my greatest fear was too overt an expression of Viognier varietal character; I imagined great gobs of apricot flopping over yet more gobs of apricot, cloying its way along my palate, making me wish I’d stuck to admiring how well-judged the slightly blingy label is against the lovely hue of the wine.

The reality of this wine is diametrically opposed to my fears for it, and in fact shows an exceptionally well-judged sense of style in its making. It’s a light sticky, fleet in the mouth, with just enough fruit flavour to fill out its delicate vibe. In fact, the nose could be that of a rich dry table wine, showing apricot kernels, firm stonefruit flesh, light vanilla and heady florals. There’s an almost savoury tone to it that is a lovely counterpoint to the relative richness of the fruit character; certainly, everything seems in balance. Mostly, this aroma speaks simply of fresh fruit, picked and eaten at the point of early ripeness.

The palate shows great continuity of style, echoing the nose’s nimble aroma profile with a palate structure that is gentle but shapely, well matched to the wine’s moderate weight and body. It’s here the wine’s sugar content has an impact, creating good intensity of fruit flavour from entry onwards, and rounding out the mouthfeel. There could probably be a touch more acid, as the fruit just starts to cloy through the after palate. The whole is so light, though, that this isn’t a serious flaw.

Mostly, this is fun, delicious, and just sophisticated enough.

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

Stockman's Ridge Outlaw Shiraz 2009

There are several things that drew me towards this wine. Firstly, it garnered some serious bling at the recent NSW Small Winemakers Wine Show. Three trophies or thereabouts. In reading a bit more about the producer, I discovered this is only the second vintage ever of Shiraz, from vines planted in 2004 and 2005. On the face of it, then, a list price of $35 seems quite ambitious: no provenance, young vines, and so forth. My skepticism was, I admit, active.

If ever a wine proved that it’s what’s in the glass that counts, it’s this. Simply put, it’s a serious, distinctive, fascinating cool climate Shiraz that instantly marks this maker as one to watch. The aroma starts a little reductive, but this stink quickly blows off to reveal a cascade of dried flowers, spice, pepper, meat and savoury black fruit. Its character is forthright and confident, leaping from the glass, not at all afraid to flaunt a cool climate profile that dares the drinker to look past plush fruit.

The palate is equally distinctive, sharing the nose’s savoury character while adding a subtly handled palate structure and gently modulating texture. Flavours are pure cool climate: spice, meat, dried cranberries, dark fruits. A good whack of vanilla oak is the most obvious input from its maker; otherwise, this has the sort of distinctive fruit character that I strongly associate with single site wines, a kind of positive exaggeration that is so beautiful. Mouthfeel moves between silky smooth and gently tannic, suggesting sophisticated luxe. A nice long finish cruises on savoury dark fruits.

Excellent cool climate Shiraz, and a great example of what Orange is capable of.

Stockman’s Ridge
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kurtz Family Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2006

This is the kind of wine I’d usually consume soon after release, in expectation of the sort of plush fruit that can carry 15% ABV; it’s interesting to try this now, after a little time in bottle. That a sub-$20 wine can age few years shouldn’t be taken for granted, so I’m pleased to note this is, at the very least, still very drinkable.

Whether it’s preferable now compared to as a youngster is less sure. There are definite signs of decay here, starting with an aroma that is somewhat liquerous, overlaid with autumn leaves and leather. It’s relaxed, speaking of middle age rather than boisterous youth, perhaps having lost the naive enthusiasm that can make Barossa reds so attractive on release. My only complaint is a thinness to the aroma profile, as if it has lost a tad too much stuffing.

The palate confirms these mixed impressions, from fruit character to leanness of profile. Overall, it’s a dark, brooding wine, treading on the right side of portiness while flowing over the mouth in a surprisingly elegant, quite seamless way. Acid and tannin are both fairly relaxed, creating plenty of space for a clean expression of gently ageing fruit to flow down the line. I wish there were a bit more roundness to the palate structure, more fullness of fruit, because its tendency towards leanness exposes the alcohol, which circles back around to further compress the fruit. It’s also pleasantly warm, though, and a hint of mixed herbs adds to the impression of rustic comfort.

Kurtz Family Vineyards
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Mount Avoca Shiraz 2009

I recently had an interesting conversation with Jeremy of the newly reborn Wine Will Eat Itself 2 (The Main Course) about the use of whole bunches in a particular Grampians Shiraz we were tasting together. I reacted very strongly, negatively, to the way the wine was made, because I felt the stalks intruded on the character of the fruit in a distractingly unsympathetic way. Just as some flavours naturally go together, this wine showed me that some flavours don’t, or at least that they should be handled sensitively, subtly, to enhance the overall flavour profile of the wine.

This wine reminds me of that conversation, not because it has an obvious whole bunch influence, but because it shows the clear influence of another component that has become so much more common in Australian Shiraz over the past ten years: Viognier. To my palate, Viognier can be a seductively positive component in many Shirazes, adding perfume and texture and whole layers of additional complexity. Tip it over the edge, though; and there are a few ways in which winemakers seem to have managed to do this; and it can utterly ruin a wine, cheapening its flavour profile and adding an unattractive gloss to its texture. This wine really treads on the edge for me, and ultimately tips over to the dark side. To be clear, it’s completely well made and, as these things go, a damn good drink.

The nose shows earthy, savoury Shiraz characters alongside a bit of dusty chocolate and perhaps some mint. It’s meaty and a bit peppery and all sorts of good things. Rising above it is a nice floral lilt, brightening the aroma profile and adding a sweetness to it that would be entirely positive if it didn’t, each time I smell it, seem a step apart from the earthy savouriness the wine otherwise displays.

The palate is a bit more clearcut; I simply don’t like the way its mouthfeel is smoothed out and pumped up, though I admit that it’s superbly glossy at the same time. This is where personal preference plays so much into wine appreciation; for me, the incredibly seductive savoury rusticity of the Shiraz fruit ought to be the feature here. And it is, or at least tries to be, but is consistently shoved aside by that damned Viognier, all pretty and siliconed up, smoothing away any rough edges and masking what is, for me, the very centre of attraction of this wine.

I’d be curious to taste this with others, as I suspect it would be tremendously popular with a lot of people. It’s flavoursome, clean, texturally slick and just plain generous. Alas, though, the style just isn’t for me.

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