Domaine du Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru Clos du Château de Montaigu 2002

Cheap Burgundy. I can see you shuddering from here.

A lovely orange-red Pinot colour, not especially dense. The nose is really appealing and quite youthful considering the wine’s age and modest status. Prickly mushroom and fresh red fruits, some sap and minerality as well. The whole is laid back, a comforting blanket of nougat oak underlining the fundamentally quiet, almost cuddly aroma profile.

The palate is similarly constructed: light, nimble, pleasing flavours and a distinct lack of aggression. Entry is brightly acidic, flavours starting at red fruit and moving through to a more complex mix on the middle palate, then turning quite savoury through the after palate and finish. It’s a lean flavour profile, focusing on astringency and savouriness rather than fullness of fruit. I like it, but can see that it would puzzle some. Certainly, it would be misleading to call this wine generous in any way, but in a sense that is its strength and charm. It caresses the palate so easily, with such little effort, that its relative lack of stuffing matters very little. Its pleasures are to be found in its ephemeral presence on the tongue, the clarity of its components and the way it never forces any of its points.

A delicious, refreshing Pinot for not a lot of money. I think it has a few years left in it too.

Domaine du Meix Foulot
Price: $A42
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2011

Given it is one of the few producers in Australia serious about Chenin Blanc, Dowie Doole’s Chenins always get me extra excited when they arrive in the mail. Straight into the fridge for this and a tasting at the first opportunity.

Riesling is often championed as the most transparent of grapes, clearly showing variations in site and vintage. I’d argue that Chenin shares a good amount of this transparency, and certainly Dowie Doole’s regular label shows interesting variation year-on-year. Having said that, this shares a degree of stylistic DNA with its immediate predecessor, particularly with regard to a sense of tautness and a thread of minerality that runs through the whole.

The nose is cool and steely at first, a nice edge of flint leading to suggestions of fuller, almost tropical fruit. There’s a wild streak of overgrown weeds in the aroma profile, somewhat heady though not nearly as obvious as the grassiness one sometimes sees in Sauvignon Blanc, for example. The palate hasn’t quite come together yet, but it’s on its way. True to the varietal, acid is present in abundant quantities, lending a sandpaper texture as well as a sherbet edge to the lemon and stonefruit characters. There’s good impact and reasonable intensity, the wine’s weight counterbalancing its edgy structure.

I think a few months in bottle will help the individual elements to settle a bit, though for lovers of a more extreme style, the wine in its present state may be preferable. Either way, the flavours are extremely unusual in the Australian context, and I’m quite blown away by how daring this label has become for a mainstream $16 white. A curio for sure, but so much more too. This is one of the better alternative summer whites on the market.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Spinifex Esprit 2009

Mataro, Grenache, Shiraz, Carignan, Cinsault; why not?

Some performances consist of one idea. Sometimes this is enough to carry the weight of the show; it all depends on the strength of the idea and how well the audience connects with it. And so it is with this wine. It says one thing clearly and consistently, which may be the most wonderful thing if you like what it has to say.

The nose is dense and savoury, a strongly liquerous character instantly emerging from the glass, speaking of dark berries and darker oak, shadowy corners and even shadowier conversations. I  see dark tones each time I smell this wine; it’s moody if somewhat monochromatic and blunt. The blend seems beautifully executed in terms of coherence.

The palate is of a piece with the nose, stylistically. It strikes a dense, flavoursome note immediately on entry, the extra dimension here being textural, driven mostly by a streak of acid that sits a little uneasily alongside the fruit’s density of flavour. More dark berry liqueur and velvety plushness on the middle palate, though an element of hardness starts to creep in gradually, perhaps related to the character of the oak. Things get progressively more savoury as the line progresses, before an oak-driven finish of vanilla curls and ice cream rounds things off.

There’s a lot in here by way of flavour and interest, but at the same time I am left wishing for some light and shade, a bit of nuance, less emphatic a statement. Sometimes, less certainty can be charming.

Spinifex Wines
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Second Nature Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010

This, Dowie Doole’s second label red, has been a reliable visitor to my house over the last few years. It’s invariably drinkable and full of flavour, showing the best face of a quaffer with surprisingly few compromises. It’s not a rarified wine in provenance or intent, but it’s usually tasty, which is quite enough to please me, most days.

The 2010 red is an especially good release. It’s so easy, so juicy, so luxurious. The nose is warm and fully fruited, showing red and black fruits embedded in a comfortingly spiced lattice. The vibe is plush and generous, as it always is with this wine, but what lifts this vintage above most is its quiet balance. This is, despite the style, a gentle wine, almost delicate in its placement. Totally unforced, this wine doesn’t so much prompt extended sniffing as it does a taste, and quick.

My lack of patience is repaid with a mouthful of easy flavour. Entry prickles a bit with acid, ushering bright red fruit onto the middle palate, where it is joined by some extra layers of fruit flavour as well as spice and soft oak. Intensity is impressive for a wine at this price point, as is the flavour profile’s avoidance of easy sweetness. There’s sweet fruit, for sure, but overall the profile tilts towards savouriness, without sacrificing drinkability. The after palate is slightly muted, while the finish rises strongly with spice, some edgy oak and more dark fruit.

I have long admired Dowie Doole wines for their ease and lack of pretension. As lovely as the higher priced labels can be, I think this producer’s particular stylistic biases mean its everyday quaffer, this wine, stands above the crowd.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A19
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils Fixin La Place 2006

Ever chosen a wine because you liked its name? I was browsing through my “cellar” tonight, looking for pleasure, and came across a bottle of this. “Fixin,” I muttered to myself. What a funky village name. Equal parts slang and exoticism, I figured its catchiness was as good a reason as any to pop the cork. I have, in fact, pondered this wine before. It’s not a great wine by any means, and its value is questionable, but I still rather like it, perhaps even more in its slightly mellowed current form.

Largely, my earlier note remains valid. The nose is a curious mixture of the mellow and the coarse, lumbering nougat oak trampling over seductive, gamine red fruit. It’s the Noomi Rapace of Red Burgundy, petite frame disrupted by too-large boots and a generally put-on punkish demeanor. The palate is perhaps more attractive, and I especially enjoy the rough and tumble character of the tannin. Satin berries against spiky acid, sharp flavour atop blunt weight. This is, if nothing else, a clash of components and, whilst this could be read as a sign of coarseness, I find its discord exciting. The restraint I noted in my earlier impression has receded, and this is now flowing more freely than I remember. It’s all the more enjoyable for it.

Brash, clumsy and a good deal of fun.

Jean Tardy & Fils
Price: $A52
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stefano Lubiana Collina 2008

It’s hard not to engage in a conversation about style when tasting Australian Chardonnay, as the varietal is currently convulsing its way through various winemakers’ ideas of what it ought to taste like, not always happily. It’s disappointing to see ongoing comparisons to Old World styles; surely the point is for us to discover, through experimentation, the most appealing expressions of the grape within our various regions. In any case, it’s a process I am watching, and in a small way contributing to, with interest.

This wine struck me as particularly interesting when it arrived in the mail. A cellar door only release, its pricing marks it as determinedly up-market. And, more or less immediately on pouring, it justified its price point. Ultimate quality aside, this wine throws a whole lot at you without so much as a breather. Aromas leap from the glass: gunpowder, oatmeal, cantaloupe, waxed lemon. It seems a heavily worked wine, but one that expresses its complexity with tight, almost brutal, focus. This isn’t a wine to relax into; rather, it’s at the top of its game, demanding that you, too, stay on your toes.

The palate begins on a cool note, sharp lemon pushing through a luxuriously slippery mouthfeel. The middle palate is marginally wider in line, though one could never describe this as loose. Fine, tight acid supports a flavour profile that is one part lemon and three parts savoury complexities. Intensity is very impressive, a sharp lift of citrus fruit through the after palate particularly striking in this regard. Oatmeal, hessian and nuts take over as the palate moves towards its close, the finish itself showing good extension and an even, elegant diminuendo.

An excellent wine, full of quality winemaking and fruit in equal measure. This makes a very convincing argument for a particular view of Tasmanian Chardonnay.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2007

Now and again, I’ll resume my search for Great Australian Merlot. Granted, I could probably be putting my time and effort to better use; weeding my herb garden perhaps, or learning how to make my bed neatly enough so that it actually looks inviting instead of slightly sad. But the ragged way this varietal is often treated at the hands of many Australian vignerons keeps me coming back to the question: who amongst us is doing the grape justice?

Tasmania is an unlikely place to look for answers, perhaps, though the Wine Companion site lists several producers across the state making wines from Bordeaux varieties. This particular wine is a cellar door only offering from high profile producer Stefano Lubiana. Its price of $35 suggests it aspires to be more than just a fast moving quaffer. The nose immediately establishes a seriousness of intent. This is an introspective wine, studiously layering gentle aromas of red fruit, twig and black olive on a base of calm caramel. Ripeness seems ideally achieved here, fruit character showing the fullness one might expect without ever hinting at overripe excess. There’s a bit of funk too, a whiff of undergrowth and rotting leaves, that may be a function of age as much as inherent character.

The palate is medium bodied and structurally centred on acid. A gentle, clean entry shows sweet fruit and some leaf. The middle palate is tightly focused and cleanly articulated, never generous, impressively intense. There’s a ease here that feels breezy and light, and I’d be tempted to characterise this as a bistro wine were it not for a level of complexity and detail that could never sit well in a carafe. There’s no doubt this aims to be the real deal, a Merlot of elegance and complexity that never gives up the grape’s natural, easygoing advantages. Wines like this are apt to be underrated and will certainly never capture the attention of drinkers the way more extroverted styles can. But it’s a lovely drink, put together with care and a respect for the grape.

I’d be happy to drink this while I keep searching for the Great One.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Waipara Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2010

I review a fair few Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, even though it is often difficult to see new and interesting things in what can be a fairly homogenous style. One path to further interest is to head down the terroir route, seeking variety and insight through specialisation. Another, and this wine is an ideal exemplar of what I mean, is to look for the essence of the style in the most mainstream context.

The wine that originally got me hooked on the style, many years ago, was the standard Geisen, a humble drop by any measure. It was explosive, full of flavour and immersed in the utter vulgarity that is, in my view, an essential ingredient of good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We often celebrate delicacy and restraint in wine, but there’s a gaudy beauty in excess, and I believe we miss something if we choose not to engage these particular aesthetics.

To the wine at hand; what I like about this is that, without pretense, it exemplifies the drinkability and character of the style. It’s a great mainstream wine. The nose is tropical and heady, with passionfruit, some papaya, a bit of green. This isn’t the complex, edgy wine some producers are exploring in the region. But in its way, it is perfect, showing all that’s good about this varietal, including a degree of loucheness, without unattractive exaggeration or insulting timidity.

The palate is simply delicious, with well balanced acid supporting an array of simple but typical flavours. More passionfruit and lemon curd, tangy and moreish. The trick here is that it sidesteps the least attractive tendencies of the style: an excess of acid, too florid a flavour profile. The middle and after palates are of moderate intensity and good flow. The finish is short, as one expects, but clean, with a nice lift of grassy aromatics cleansing the palate.

A great, highly commercial example of why this is a classic wine style.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A21.90
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Stockman's Ridge Outlaw Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I was quite taken with this wine’s Shiraz-based sibling; its styling was distinctive and communicated something new about Shiraz and Orange. But then, I’m forgiving of Shiraz and its stylistic diversity. For some reason, I have firmer views on what Cabernet “should” taste like, preferring more angular, crisper expressions of this grape.

Smelling this wine, my heart leapt and then quickly sank. Ah yes, there’s some leaf, dust, capsicum even, rising out of the aroma profile with exuberance and the same muscularity shown by the Shiraz. But then a thick, dark wave of fruit washes under and over the high toned aromatics, bringing the wine into “big red” territory and, for a moment, robbing me of the sort of Cabernet pleasure I was just getting ready to enjoy. Interestingly, as I’ve continued to smell the wine, I feel more and more it is a legitimate expression of the varietal, different from both our classic cooler and warmer climate styles. Some finessing, though, is required. For starters, the oak intrudes far too prominently for my tastes, pushing a high powered gloss into the wine that feels inappropriate. It’s also hot and less than resolved. However, it has a charisma and an integrity that draws me back.

The palate echoes this story. Quite aggressive on entry and full of flavour, this moves briskly to the middle palate and opens out with dark, very ripe fruit. There’s an edginess to the palate structure that amplifies the character of the oak, creating a focus that may seem at odds with the  fruit. If I’m making it seem all over the place, then perhaps it is a little, and it’s not up to the same standard as the Shiraz. Yet it’s a serious wine, aiming for something particular, if unsure how to quite get there. I think the fruit here would work best in a less blustery style, focusing on the intricacies of the flavours rather than dressing up as a self-consciously “reserve” wine.

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