The Last Dookie Show…

So ends my last period at Dookie Agricultural College, which amuses me not just because it’s a tidy milestone but because I still can’t quite believe I ever started this pedagogical folly of mine in the first place. And yet here I am, just weeks away from finishing my studies for good (for now). The two weeks just passed have involved plenty of lab work and a fair few tastings, the latter of which I will summarise here. Those interested in my creative writing as it relates to spectrophotometry may contact me directly.

All wines below were tasted blind.

The most interesting session of the fortnight was a Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. A modest pair kicked off the Semillon flight: a 2011 Peter Lehmann and a 2011 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth, the latter showing some distinct lettuce characters. These were followed by an altogether more interesting 2004 Elizabeth. With an absolutely classic flavour profile of lanolin, honey, toast and waxed lemons, this was delicious and still youthful in the mouth. By contrast, a 2002 Elizabeth (under cork) was tasting tired and washed out. I know this wine can go for a good deal longer, so I suspect we simply encountered a dodgy bottle.

A 2005 Lovedale followed; this was clearly the group’s favourite, although I felt it still too young to fully enjoy (I say this as someone who has a stash of this wine in his cellar). Quite fleshy and fruit sweet, this showed waxed lemons, a curious sense of spice and a very attractive smokey note. As an aside, am I the only non-smoker who has an embarrassing affinity with the smell of old tobacco smoke?

A bizarre 2003 Tyrrells Vat 1 was up next and, although I’ve not tasted this wine before, it struck me as highly atypical. A very neutral aroma with a whiff of cheesiness, this led into a palate that showed more lees character and a rounded mouthfeel. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has more experience of this wine than I.

Lastly, we tasted the most extraordinary Brown Brothers single vineyard wine from 1987 – the vineyard being Mount Major on Dookie Campus. Although it did not scale the heights of a great Hunter wine, this was still a wonderful bottling, showing great complexity and overwhelming notes of butter, toast and honey. The mouthfeel was rich and well matched to the wine’s deliciously indulgent flavour profile. A fabulous experience.

The Cabernet tasting was more difficult, and I struggled to locate as much pleasure. Two unexciting wines got us into the mood: the 2010 Katnook Founders Block and a 2005 Dookie Cabernet that seemed much too advanced for its tender years. The Katnook was a lot better and was a good drink, though not especially exciting either.

I quite liked the next wine, an Oakridge 2008, though no-one else seemed to. Lovely dusty nose, cedar oak and velvet mouthfeel. The finish started a bit hollow but filled out with air. The next wine, a Howard Park Leston from 2008, also confounded the group, me amongst them. Not a bad wine by any means, but it just seemed angular and unresolved. I was beginning to feel like the odd one out when the group went nuts for the next wine, a Bowen Estate 2009 Cabernet, whereas I found it initially hard and lean. Air did the wine a great many favours though, and it ended up gaining more plushness in its mouthfeel and a richer core of red fruit. Not bad.

My second favourite wine of the Cabernet section was next. With a browning rim and some sediment, this evidently aged wine showed classic dust, leather, soy and hints of dark berries. The palate was soft, elegant in the mouth and still well structured. I found the fruit fresh and extended right through the finish. The reveal showed it to be a 2003 Mildara Rothwell. From memory, this was not a hit with the group (too much oak, I think).

The last wine was clearly a different breed. All of a sudden, we had cigar box, tobacco leaf and gravel, savoury black fruits and a lighter countenance overall without sacrificing length and presence. I liked this best of all, as it seemed to have a balance and elegance missing from the other wines. This turned out to be a 2006 Moulin de la Lagune.

Taylors Riesling 2008

In the throes of Dookie madness at the moment, although I’m enjoying a quiet weekend in between residential sessions. I’m staying on campus over the weekend, and there’s only one other student here – the lovely Lyn Rochford from Viridian Wines in Tasmania. We’re working our way through a six-pack purchased at the surprisingly spacious Liquorland in Shepparton. Amongst the delights we obtained (at 30% off, no less) was this wine, a bin end.

Not a terribly glamorous life for the wine so far, then, but it has redeemed itself on opening. Considering its price, this is very satisfying. The aroma immediately shows aged notes of toast and spice alongside a core of primary lemon juice fruit. It’s not as finely delineated as some, but this is a very correct aroma profile that shows the wine in the early stages of development. The palate is aggressively structured and the acid remains somewhat formidable, despite a few years in bottle. I don’t mind a bright wine, though, so I’m going with this Riesling’s flow of lemon, honey and toast. There’s a tropical dimension to the flavour profile that thickens it, aided by what might be a bit of residual sugar. There is some pithy texture on the back palate that contributes a fresh twist.

Overall, this is still very young-tasting, and I’d be happy to let further bottles go for a few years yet. Very nice richer style that should keep improving.

Price: $A15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Louee Nullo Mountain Riesling 2011

As good as they are, I often find myself seeking out expressions of Riesling that are different from our classic Clare and Eden Valley wines. Canberra and Henty are two regions that show distinctive styles in their own right, and I’m excited to think that yet more regions may have some surprises in store for us. While not to the same extent as with Chardonnay, local producers seem to be playing with Riesling style too, and it’s more common than it was a few years ago to see some wines with a bit of residual sugar, or more complex handling in the winery. I’m not sure I’ve found any such wines that I’d place above our long established benchmarks, but one ought to keep an open mind in such matters.

This wine comes from a site in Mudgee that sits 1100 metres above sea level. If Riesling likes cooler weather, then that sort of elevation is not a bad place to start. The nose suggests a good deal of austerity, with aromas that are fruity but with a good layer of chalk dust sprinkled on top. There’s an interesting contrast at work, as the fruit is quite full (think citrus flesh rather than pith) and the dryer notes quite prominent.

The palate allows this tension to play out. An apparent touch of residual sweetness plumps up fruit flavours, suggesting some tropicals alongside citrus juice. Running alongside are dashing streaks of acidity and equally prominent minerality. The structure of this wine is quite breathtaking in its severity, which would be fine except that it never quite reaches out to the lusciousness of the fruit, leaving the wine to flip-flop between fruit and acid then back again. This impression of a disconnect between two halves persists for most of the line, until the finish almost, but not quite, unifies the components in a sherbet flourish. I don’t think this is a fully achieved wine, but its angularity and genuine difference keep me coming back for another taste.

I’ve no idea how this will age, but it might be worth chucking a couple in the cellar for interests’ sake.

Lowe Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clayfield Grampians Shiraz 2010

I was extremely impressed with Clayfield’s Ton Up Shiraz and wasn’t sure how this wine, the producer’s flagship, might propose to better it. And, for some tastes, this may be the less desirable wine. Certainly, it takes a denser, more concentrated view of Grampians Shiraz, trading the Ton Up’s surprisingly lithe palate weight for a brawnier, more forceful line. However, for my tastes this is ultimately the better wine, a touch more complete in flavour and perfect in form.

The nose is dark and mysterious, showing a definite family resemblance to the Ton Up (this wine is 39% estate Shiraz, so a similarity of aroma profile is not surprising). There’s deep plum fruit and mixed berries alongside woody spice and cedar twang. Totally regional and possessing a calm perfection that speaks of balance and harmony between each element. There’s a touch more light and shade here, more red fruit sitting alongside the dark, that marks it as a wine of subtlety as well as impact.

The palate brings a view of texture that is quite seductive. Some wines are felt as much as tasted and, in my view, texture is too often pushed behind flavour in terms of its sensory pleasure. This is a wine to reverse the trend; its tannins are plush and velvety, its acid swallowed up by dense fruit without losing its ability to support the line. This just feels so bloody good in the mouth. Flavours are, needless to say, correct and balanced. There’s a rawness to the flavours that is quite expected, given this wine isn’t yet released. More to the point, this is a wine to taste at all stages of its life: on release, through its discovery of aged character, in mellow senility. I suspect it will have something to give at each point.

Whereas the Ton Up is beautiful, this is magnificent. Up there with the best of the region.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tasting the Royal Queensland Wine Show

It never feels good to walk in half way through a speech.

There I was, confident I had made good time (the invitation had said 5.30pm for 7pm, hadn’t it?), making an evidently tardy entrance while Iain Riggs was in full flight recounting amusing anecdotes in front of a small, intimidatingly well dressed crowd at the RNA Showgrounds. I slipped into a corner as quietly as I could and took in the rest of the speech, which included an interesting point of view on the Queensland show’s recent conversion to one hundred point scoring.

I’ve never been to a post-show tasting before; some of my friends seem to be regular attendees, though, and through them I have formed an impression of lots of wine and an equal number of pointy elbows. Fortunately for me, I obtained an invitation to a smaller tasting of the wines entered into the show. There were perhaps a hundred very well behaved people there, and some strategically placed cheese platters, so no elbows were required.

A few impressions, then, of the wines. Firstly, the gold medal wines I tasted were without exception excellent, though I did start to understand what people mean by “show” wines. I tasted the medal winners after having made my way through the losers, and the latter never quite had the same impact as the top wines, whether as a matter of style or quality. It would be so hard for quieter wines to shine in these lineups. Nonetheless, the 2010 Annie’s Lane Copper Trail Shiraz, Grand Champion of show, is indeed a lovely wine, full of flavour and really well formed. I was especially taken with the 2010 Yalumba Signature Cabernet, which I thought excitingly pure and finely structured. Some nice Wynns Cabernets from 2010 also impressed. So no complaints in terms of the winners, at least the ones that I was able to taste.

The wines that were awarded lesser medals (or indeed no medal at all) were a mixed bunch and there will be always be, I think, outliers that should have been ranked higher or lower. Simply a function of the task at hand. What I found more interesting were the trends across styles and years. 2011 Rieslings, for example, were hard work. There are still very few Australian Merlots that seem worth the effort. And who the hell is buying all that Verdelho, Vermentino and Pinot Gris (not to mention the Viognier and Marsanne)? So, fascinating to wander through each class, and across classes, looking for connections. My palate was fairly tired after about a hundred wines, and I stupidly ensured it was ripped to shreds by tasting some Rare fortifieds at the end of the evening (I simply couldn’t resist). Still, I rarely get the chance to taste through so many wines in one go, so I enjoyed availing myself of the selection. Those show judges have a hell of a job.

Waipara Hills Chardonnay 2011

What with all the Chardonnay play of late, it can be disconcerting to taste an example that isn’t trying to say something new (or old) and bold about how the varietal should taste.

This wine, at first, is self-effacing to the point of blandness. It’s not overtly worked, nor it is self-consciously lean. It’s not much of anything, really, until you realise that it just is, throwing straightforward fruit notes that are part citrus, part stonefruit. It’s totally varietal, if not terribly exuberant in its expression. There’s just a hint of winemaker input in a caramel edge that seems the only embellishment on what is otherwise a pure, fruit-driven style.

The palate maintains the simple purity shown on the nose. It is, again, all about fruit flavours — pineapple, nectarine, lemon. Quite simple and not massively intense, but pretty and unpretentious. Acid is firm and fresh, and the wine fans out softly through the finish in an attractive manner.

In the end, that this wine struck me because it does not sit at a stylistic extreme perhaps says more about me than the wine. It’s nice, though, to taste a straightforward Chardonnay now and then. A pretty antidote to all the fuss.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Estate Chardonnay 2010

A fascinating companion to the Estate Pinot Noir from 2010, this swings in altogether a different direction. Where the Pinot is a brooding, masculine style, this becons more openly, flaunting its charms with little reserve.

The nose gives its game away quickly. At a time when many Australian Chardonnays are shedding pounds in the pursuit of a lithe line, this wine positively flops into one’s nostrils, offering full stonefruit, spice, caramel and other luscious aromas. Don’t let me be misunderstood, though; I have a lot of time for more opulent Chardonnay styles, and feel at their best they represent the apex of the grape. A few sniffs suggests this might be a good one, as there is good complexity and harmony amongst the wine’s aromas. I particularly enjoy the hint of struck match that sneaks in alongside more fruit-oriented notes.

The palate contains these flavours in a framework that is tauter than one might expect. There’s real shape and flow here, thanks in part to an acid line that is fine but firm where it needs to be (notably through the after palate). The wine is mouthfilling, due in turn to the intensity of its flavour and a certainly slipperiness of mouthfeel. There are some prickly, refreshingly bitter phenolics too, which add a nice twist to the flavour profile. Spiced oak sings through the finish.

Not a wine of subtlety, then, but quite delicious and cleverly balanced. I like it.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A48-50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample