Clayfield Massif Reserve Shiraz 2009

Some Clayfield wines are luscious in the Grampians ultra-plum and spice mode. Others, like this, occupy a different space, one of finer, more sinewy aromas and lower levels of alcohol (in this case, a mere 13.6% ABV). Spice is still present (this is a Grampians Shiraz, after all), but the vibe is darker and more angular. Interestingly, it comes across as no less luxurious than more plummy styles, no less full of quality materials and attention to detail. It’s simply the difference between a tasseled velvet cushion and a hard, modernist bench: less comforting but utterly upscale nonetheless.

The aroma is tightly coiled, with dark, dense plum skin and woody spice mixing with cedar oak and an iodine note that sometimes makes its way into Clayfield wines. The palate is totally up front about how much flavour is packed into its crouched frame. Sometimes, it’s quite tangible how much a wine needs some age, not because one can’t discern its content, but because it’s all there, in plain sight, simply held in check, frustratingly so, at times. In the case of this wine, this compression darkens the flavour profile, communicating muscularity and concentration and, more than anything, seriousness. Acid is tight and very fine in texture, tannins deceptively gentle (until you realise how much they have dried the finish). What’s wonderful about this wine is how its compaction and density aren’t in any way related to oak, as can so often be the case. It’s the fruit that holds so tightly to this wine’s secrets and which, one day, in a few years’ time, will finally relax into free flow.

Update: two days on and it has hardly moved. This has years in it.

Price: $?
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Thomas Wines Motel Block Shiraz 2010

My first taste of this wine came after a flight of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines; it was a complete shock to my palate, so I set it aside for later tasting. I’m so glad I did, because it’s full of interest and delicacy, very little of which I was able to discern at the earlier tasting.

The aromas has firm base notes but what is really impressive is a high toned, floral aroma that wafts above juicy berries and aromatic vanilla oak. Those white, honeysuckle flowers lead the aroma through a range of turned earth notes that, more than any other element, mark this as a product of the Hunter. When I first smelled this wine, each strand felt somewhat separated, but some air and swirling has brought the aromas together quite well, such that there’s now a coherent flow from top to bottom. This a rich, energetic wine to smell.

I thought it might be a little overwhelming, but this is a surprisingly elegant wine, taking the fullness of flavour hinted at on the nose and translating that to an almost serene expression of Hunter Shiraz on the palate. Although its flavours are regional, this wine has little of the rusticity that some Hunters can show. Instead, it shows a poise and sophistication in the way it unfolds in the mouth, sweeping savoury red berries, spice and earth along in one big glossy package. Intensity is significant, as is tannic structure through the after palate.

This is just a really really good wine, and I can’t see too many lovers of this region’s Shiraz turning away from it. To be sure, a contemporary expression of the style, but no less interesting for it.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Cumulus Chardonnay 2010

Although deeply problematic, one of the most positively provocative aspects of Jonathan Nossiter’s book, Liquid Memory, is its questioning of the manner in which we talk about wine. I’ve half-written a post expanding on these thoughts, and who knows if I’ll ever finish it; I have, though, been more mindful since reading Mr Nossiter’s book of the part, however small, I play in privileging a particular sort of wine conversation, one that centres on descriptors and a particularly banal narrative of wine, over a more aesthetically inclined view, in which one puts one’s self and one’s reaction to a given wine above a purely descriptive story of tasting.

This wine prompts me to think of such things because there’s a schism between what I taste and how I feel. What I smell, first, is an incredibly clean wine with a range of aromas that is textbook with regard to how a cooler climate Chardonnay ought to taste. There’s clean citrus fruit, a hint of white peach and the sort of tasteful, just-savoury-enough winemaking artifact to trigger an appreciative reaction. This wine is, in its way, perfectly formed, and I have no wish to deny the achievement associated with it (goodness knows I’m an expert in the art of fucking up winemaking). Yet I’m unmoved by it, in the same way I might pass yet another cleanly executed minimalist interior without so much as a “wow.” What is, I wonder, the point of such lithe shapeliness? What is there for me to grab hold of and caress?

The palate is, again, beautifully executed. The oatmeal flavours are a real feature of the wine, taking quite severe fruit flavours and granting them dimension and texture. Balance is exceptional, as is shape and line. This really is a good wine, well-judged and full of inherent quality. It’s just that I’m desperate for something human and sensual, a flaw or outsize dimension to give me an aesthetic hook on which to hang my own sense of beauty. It’s as if I’m not good enough for this wine, that it doesn’t care especially if I like it or not. But, in a profound sense, I need a wine to need me back, otherwise there’s no dialogue, no reason to stick around and keep talking.

This wine deserves the deepest admiration for provoking such a reaction. A second date, however, is out of the question.

Cumulus Wines
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Reserve Shiraz 2010

And now for the big guns. I’ve deliberately tasted the 2010 Dowie Doole Shirazes in ascending order of price, as I find it endlessly fascinating how producers differentiate wines at various price points within their range. If the standard wine is all about drinkability, and the Cali Road character, the Reserve is concerned with packing as much in as possible.

Without wanting to suggest its proportions are ridiculous (far from it), this wine is by far the most dense, firmly flavoured of the three. Oak is present, but I’m pleased the nose throws primarily fruit-driven aromas, really liquerous and rich, very much in the plum spectrum. These flavours aren’t challenging; in fact, the aroma seems simply a much bigger, denser version of the entry level wine, more of everything in every way but never losing the rich ease of the region’s Shiraz, which I adore.

The palate, while fully flavoured, is most striking for its ease and flow. This is such a mellifluous wine, moving gently through the entry and middle palate, pushing intense plum fruit out from its brisk line to cover the tongue with flavour. There are prickles of acid at the edges, nicely fresh but mostly undisturbed by the thickness of the wine’s flavour and its generous body. It’s probably full bodied, but comes across more medium, because it’s fundamentally a relaxed wine, keen to be drunk rather than dissected.  I like the bright red swell through the after palate, and the silty tannins that settle on the finish are delicious.

I’ve felt that some previous Reserve wines have been a bit oak-dominant and showy, but this is all high class deliciousness; sexy, sensuous and worth the money.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A60
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2010

Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing my note, the 2009 edition of this wine seems to have become something of a favourite amongst wine tweeters and bloggers. I admit to having mixed feelings about it, finding it more worthy than achieved. The refreshingly honest notes that came with this sample suggest 2010 was a difficult year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, I prefer this in many ways to the 2009, and am intrigued to taste more in a way that I wasn’t after trying the earlier vintage.

What it comes down to is that this wine, despite superficially similar characters (presumably due to some of the same winemaking techniques), shows quite a different view of the fruit, one that is more subdued and subtle. It’s also more savoury, a fact the nose immediately establishes, as some cheerfully sweet fruit is quickly swept aside by waves of stalk and oak, the latter happily less intrusive in character than in the prior vintage. It still smells home made, but it’s also less chaotic, more resolved.

The palate carries these good qualities through. It’s rough-hewn like its predecessor, but the fruit’s calmer demeanour suggests a sophistication that, to me, is a real step up. Good flow through the middle palate, all dark fruits and spice, before tannic texture kicks in on the after palate. The structure here is very well balanced, with enough grip and astringency to please wine nerds without demanding much, if any, extra time in bottle. The fruit, darker though it is, could still use a notch more complexity. A nice, sharp finish, fruit and oak flavours carrying right through the back palate.

Can less than ideal growing conditions bring out a more interesting side to the fruit? It’s hard to generalise, but I feel it’s the case here.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clayfield Massif Shiraz 2010

Simon Clayfield has many talents, but one of the most magical is an ability to make relatively high levels of alcohol completely disappear into his wines. I’ve seen him do it again and again, and so it is with this wine. Not that all Clayfield wines are high in alcohol; indeed, there’s a striking variability across the range and across vintages. The approach here seems to respond to flavours rather than a particular measure of ripeness, and the consistently outstanding quality of the wines validates the method. I dwell on this for a moment because it’s terribly fashionable to bag high alcohol wines, but in my view it’s misguided to single out one aspect of a wine and, in so doing, forget that great wines are about balance, not fashionable measures of stylistic worth.

This wine is made of 100% Shiraz grapes from Moyston. Immediately, the nose establishes firm regional credentials; this is awash with heady brown and black spice, which sits atop ripe plum fruit. The fruit’s character is appropriately plum-like and very ripe; I suggest grapes were picked at a point of significant maturity. Oak is, as always with this producer, immaculately handled and matched to the fruit flavours. If it lacks the punch and detail of the first label wine, it gives up nothing by way of regionality.

The palate is delightful. It’s here I find the wine’s 15.1% abv hard to believe, as it’s nowhere visible in the wine’s structure. Indeed, this is an elegantly casual, medium bodied wine, with a dash of bright orange acid freshening the palate and velvet tannins for grip and texture. Flavours as again in the regional spice and plum fruit spectrum, oak playing a seamlessly subtle supporting role. The marvellous ease with which this unfolds in the mouth provides such sensual pleasure, it doesn’t matter terribly that flavours don’t smash any records for precision or intensity. This is, above all else, a wine for sophisticated drinking.


Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample