Aborigen Ácrata Portada 2006

This wine’s presumably grown somewhere near Ensenada – that’s the only address on the back of the bottle – but exactly where, I have no idea. All I know for sure is that this wine is half grenache, nearly half carignane, and a little bit durif. Period. Sorry.

Clearly unfiltered, swirling the wine leaves the glass with a sparkly coat of residue. The color is that massively purple purple that carignane seems to do so well; it still looks joyously young, even if the wine itself is a hair over five years old at this point. The wine is all sweet fruit with a backing of toasted acorn mush; there’s a savory, umami edge to the cheery/cherry Pop-Tart fruit and thankfully very little of the varnished carignane note I was expecting.

The first big surprise is the weight of the wine; although there appears to be quite a bit of alcohol judging by the legs, there’s not very much at all for a New World wine: just over thirteen percent. As a result, the fat, unctuous Rolland-esque mouthfeel the visuals suggest is absolutely nowhere to be found. Instead, you get a savory mouthful of dried grape and date pudding, with a long, dusky finish of subliminal oak and soft, gentle tannin.

On the whole, I really do like this wine. On the other hand, it’s something of a surprise to drink a carignane that is so tasteful and/or elegantly restrained. The other wine I’ve had from this winery was 100% carignane, twice the price, and was a massive sensorily overwhelming experience that was pure visceral pleasure. This wine, on the other hand, reminds me of what French wine is like when it’s very, very good: mineral, savory, elegant, and yet fruity without being trashy. It’s exceptional, and yet I almost find myself wishing it were more rambunctious.

Price: $30
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

The Scholium Project the wisdom of Theuth 2010

Here in San Diego, it’s a balmy 25.7°C – sure, it’s technically winter, but it sure doesn’t feel like a good time to bust out the high octane Zinfandel that goes so well with a fireplace (bearskin rug optional, of course). Instead, I’m splitting the difference with a heavy white wine.

On an aside: I’m even more confused about the whole verdejo-verdelho thing after a recent trip to Spain; I came home with a bottle of godello, which is apparently the same as verdelho, which is apparently distinct from verdejo. Go figure. Anyhow: Australians and Californians say verdelho just as surely as we say mataro, so verdelho it is.

You could easily mistake this wine for Asturian cider if you served it in the wrong glass: it’s got that fat, rich, flat sparkling wine color to it. As is usually the case for this winery, there’s obviously a metric ton of alcohol involved, with the kind of legs that would be banned in Utah. The nose is wonderfully complex, with an initial hit of cucumber cold cream, lemon zest, bitter almonds, and empty, waxed wooden floors in a cold German hallway in the countryside, with traces of hay and old leather bookbags.

Unctuous and slippery, the wine is bone dry; all of the texture is strictly alcoholic. There’s a fine-grained acidity that works well against the bitter chalkiness of the wine; there’s an elegant tension between a sense of fresh baked bread with slightly green edges on the nose and the bottom-heavy, quince marmelade of the wine. Finally, apparently only to drive home the point that this wine is serious business, there’s a seductive hint of stony minerality.

Should you age this wine? No, probably not. What you should do is obvious (and a categorical imperative): buy some, cool it (but don’t chill it), and serve it to friends with marzipan or strong cheeses. I know it’s a vanishingly small category, but The Scholium Project is (I believe) far and away the finest producer of verdelho in North America. If you don’t know what verdelho tastes like, this is your best introduction to the genre.

The Scholium Project
Price: $28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve NV

The world of moderately priced Australian sparkling wine can be mouth-puckering in its disappointment, so I’m always on the lookout for good wines at prices cheaper than low-end Champagne. My go-to wine for a while has been the regular Brown Brothers NV, but this slightly more expensive wine is also an attractive proposition.

On pouring, an alarmingly abundant mousse that settles quickly to a subdued, spare bead. The nose is initially savoury, with hints of mushroom and yeast, though this could never be described as a style that is heavy on these elements. Rather, they are an accent to fine, crisp fruit notes, part apple and part strawberry, delicate and bright. The palate is stirring while, thankfully, avoiding the edgy acid that can plague our affordable sparklings. Entry is lively and surprisingly full, rounded fruit flavours becoming more prominent as the line progresses. This fullness does come at the expense of defined incisiveness; whether this is a good or bad thing is, I imagine, a matter of taste. For me, it robs the wine of that last ounce of freshness. No matter; there’s plenty of flavour and a well-balanced amount of spritz. Dosage seems restrained. The after palate is brighter, tilting towards a citrus sharpness that becomes bleached as the wine moves through its ultra-clean finish.

This is a cleverly made wine that privileges drinkability above clarity of articulation. A real crowd-pleaser.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A34
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Domaine Dublère Puligny-Montrachet 2006

On reflection, I was rather too dismissive of this wine on first tasting for, although I clearly enjoyed it, I pegged it as a “drink now” wine, something it certainly was, but it’s now showing some bottle age to distinct advantage too. A wine not to be underestimated, then.

My earlier note stands, except now there’s both more volume and better integration. Any hint of restraint on the nose is gone; this is a minerally delight, complex and distinct and etched all at the same time. It’s still a lean wine in terms of its aroma profile, preferring angularity to flesh. There’s also a depth to it, in the way layers of glass can have depth as well as brilliance.

The palate remains powerful but has lost the boisterousness of three years ago that suggested a slight clumsiness of flow. This is now very much in the groove, with strong, clear melon fruit tumbling over firm acid and a range of savoury notes. The winemaking is here most evident, with a range of oak and lees derived notes, from oatmeal to cashews and more. The after palate fans out most pleasingly, and the finish is well extended.There’s no obvious bottle age here. The wine has simply relaxed and learned to express itself without angst, earning a sense of poise it lacked as a youngster.

Quite delicious.

Domaine Dublère
Price: $A63
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Divine Grenache 2009

I think of Yelland & Papps as something of a Grenache specialist, something that isn’t necessarily reflected in its portfolio of wines. Indeed, all the usual red suspects are equally represented; the reason why I associate this variety with this producer is that I feel there is a special synergy between the two. This reserve-level wine is a great case in point. As significant as is the companion Shiraz, this is quite a different wine in the glass, more fruit-focused and hedonistic.

The oak intrudes at first, throwing coffee grounds into your face as you smell the wine, but (unlike with the Shiraz) these notes develop quickly and fold back into an aroma profile that is lusciously typical: red fruits, a medicinal note, some confection. The curse of cheap Grenache can be an overly sweet fruit character, akin to boiled lollies and, for me, quite unattractive. While this wine hints at that character, it escapes completely its destructive side, expressing an altogether denser, though still bright, set of flavours.

The palate’s structure and mouthfeel are notable. There’s a sense of freshness here, thanks in part to an acid line that is firm and textural (though somewhat disconnected at this stage). Tannins are soft and quite plush, seeming to disappear into the density of the wine’s mouthfeel at some points. That’s not a bad thing; this is a big wine in the mouth, rounded and smooth, and I like how the tannins simply add stuffing rather than create contrast. Flavours are again utterly typical and gorgeously delicious. I guess when you have 130 year old vines to play with, it makes sense to highlight what they bring by way of fruit and structure, rather than to smother the fruit with winemaking artifice. Not minimal intervention so much as a sensitivity to what makes this particular wine special.

Stylistically, this probably represents what Australia is often criticised for making, but there’s a legitimacy to these fruit-driven Barossa wines, especially when the fruit is clearly this good. I liked it a lot.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Grosset Springvale Riesling 2011

It was remiss of me not to review the 2010 Grossets, though I did purchase some as usual. I’ll remedy that soon. For now, I’m tasting the newer wines, starting with this Watervale-sourced number.

In some years, this wine can be explosively aromatic (see, for example, the 2008). 2011 isn’t such a year, though it’s far from reticent. No, this remains an expressive aroma, but its apparent restraint comes from the particular notes to which it tends. Rather than gobs of citrus juice and flowers, this presents citrus rind, talc and herbs. Still relatively full in profile, it shows good presence and immediacy, without perhaps the etched detail one sometimes sees in this style. Very much a chiselled profile, though, and somewhat more intellectual than usual for this label.

The palate totally reinforces these impressions through alignment of flavour and sympathy of structure. The citrus element comes across more strongly here, and there’s a strong run of lemon juice on the middle palate. The dominant notes are, though, more minerally; talc and flint are the best analogues I can muster. The structure is lovely and contributes to the powerdery impression given by the flavours. Acid is firm and textured, drying the after palate in particular. It’s very moreish and pleasingly angular.

Given the peculiar vintage conditions, this is something of a surprise and is certainly a very fine wine.

Grosset Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2005

If old wines in general are an acquired taste, then surely old white wines in particular are especially so. Without suggesting one must like these wines, I do feel there’s value in at least understanding how a wine ages over time, whether it adjusts its balance and flavours and, ultimately, whether it tastes better at some points than others. This well-priced Chablis is a good example of a wine that has really come into its own over the last three years. When previously tasted, this came across as tasty but awkward and clumsy, fighting within itself for poise and balance. What a transformation. I believe it’s delivering maximum pleasure right now.

The nose is highly expressive and distinctly honeyed, floral and mineral. In other words, showing a range of aromas from primary to tertiary. What I like most, though, is that it presents as a single, complex note rather than a series of discrete ones, no matter how complementary. The sign of a wine in its prime.

The palate’s greatest feature is its multifaceted texture. The acid has folded back into the wine, allowing its fullness of mouthfeel to present unobstructed, yet it’s a still firm, shapely wine in the mouth. Flavours are again tightly integrated and complex, with more mineral notes, honey and citrus. Intensity isn’t outrageous, nor does it lack flavour; just enough, I’d say. Good extension through the back palate.

This is drinking far better now than three years ago and, although it’s not a blockbuster style, it’s an extremely enjoyable, sophisticated wine.

Domaine Gautheron
Price: $A38
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail