It’s been a surprisingly restrained Christmas chez Coldrey; numbers of both people and wine are slightly down on last year, so I’ve made it out the other side with my liver relatively intact. Of the bottles we did open, a theme seemed to emerge, that being old Australian white wines.
This was one of them. It’s been a few years since I had a bottle, and I see from my last note there’s been some variation in the condition of each bottle. Happily, this one was in excellent condition, sealed by a tight, clean cork. Considering I paid about $12 for it, it’s ageing remarkably well, gaining some additional flavours and softening ever so slightly in mouthfeel. It’s not, however, gaining intensity and, if this wine disappoints at all, it’s due to an impression of slightly dilute fruit. Aged notes, attractive as they are, haven’t yet filled in the gaps, and I don’t know if they ever will.
Even as one notes this about the wine, it remains a nice example of the style, with a set of flavours that is absolutely typical and an acid line that grants focus and precision to the palate. Honey and toast are in evidence and sit alongside primary fruit, with hints of the lovely waxy flavour and mouthfeel lovers of these wines crave. It’s pretty, light and starting to glow with bottle age. Bottles in good condition could no doubt be left for several more years.
McWilliams Mount Pleasant
There’s an interesting conceptual tension at play with this wine. The Oakridge range is structured, at the high end, around ideas of vineyard differentiation, terroir and the progressively more precise identification of sites and blocks of special interest. A highly Burgundian view of wine, then, and one that is certainly au courant in the Australian wine scene.
The wine itself is, simply, spectacular. It’s surely one of the best Australian Chardonnays I’ve tasted in a long while, and blasts into one’s palate memory through a combination of balance, impossibly fine detail and the sort of good taste that speaks of highly attentive winemaking. The flavour profile mixes crystalline fruit with a whole heap of prickly sulphides and other funk, which sounds like modern Chardonnay gone wrong but which, in fact, comes across as an utterly coherent collection of notes. It’s the clarity and detail of the wine that really allow each element to shine. Rarely are flavours articulated with such precision and placement. It’s a controlled experience from head to toe, with only a flash of lemon juice flavour and acid on the after palate standing out as somewhat separate and simple.
The complex rush of flavours and sense this wine gives of having been orchestrated brings us back to its origins as a single-block-within-a-single-vineyard wine, one that by its nature might suggest a fashionable minimising of intervention in the winery. This is anything but a hands-off wine, though; it’s one made in a very specific style, using obviously beautiful fruit and applying a series of winemaking techniques with real skill and a very firm view of how Chardonnay should taste. This is a wine of its maker as much as of its vineyard and, in being so, honestly engages the reality of winemaking: it doesn’t just happen on its own. I can’t help but think this is a far more intricate and interesting view of wine than one where the role of either the vineyard or the winemaker is pushed into the background. This Oakridge wine, delicious as it is, is a veritable narrative of the way people and nature collide in the course of making wine.
Who’d have thought I’d be revisiting an $18 Chardonnay from 2006 with such curiosity and enthusiasm? Such is the state of Chardonnay in Australia. A golden age of sorts, led at the entry level by this label amongst others. The Hoddles Creek Chardonnay (and its Pinot Noir sibling) has quickly become the sort of “must purchase” wine beloved by wine enthusiasts of good taste and limited means (that surely covers most of us). I’ve visited with this wine on a few occasions, two of which I’ve documented on Full Pour (in 2007 and subsequently in 2011). Here we go for a third time.
The lean character of this wine has remained pretty constant over its life so far, and this tasting reveals a wine that in some respects hasn’t moved much since my first tasting. It’s worth pausing to reflect on the fact this is a cheap wine in absolute terms; that it still has life at this point is in itself remarkable. There are some tertiary flavours for sure — honeycomb and nuts mostly — but the wine retains plenty of primary freshness and white stonefruit flavours.
Where it isn’t evolving so much is in weight and opulence; I wondered on previous tastings whether it might gain some weight, and at this stage it seems destined to retain its linear, quite driven movement through the mouth for a while yet. Will it ever become an expansive wine? I’m not sure; in any case, there are plenty of other Chardonnays to satiate that particular craving. A more interesting question is whether its fruit is starting to fall away here; it does seem to lack that last ounce of intensity, and I don’t recall whether it provided greater impact and flavour in previous tastings. In any case, it has a poise right now that flows from a nicely resolved structure and flavour pitched at a moderate level of intensity.
For my taste, I’d like an ounce more generosity, something the flavour profile suggests but never quite gets around to delivering. Still, that’s probably a question of taste more than quality; certainly, this is a striking, important wine in terms of contemporary Australian Chardonnay.
A strong regional imprint is often celebrated: we seek evidence of region and site with Pinot, we love that Shiraz is a chameleon, and Riesling’s transparency gives regions their raison d’être. Sangiovese produced in McLaren Vale isn’t so lucky. The variety’s been in this beautiful, historic region for a while, and the impact of certain early wines like Coriole’s have imprinted this particular region-variety relationship on my consciousness. Yet it’s often criticised for tasting nothing like Sangiovese, by which we presumably mean Chianti, and too much like McLaren Vale. I think I may have even contributed to that line of thinking.
This wine, a modest example of the genre, has me wondering whether tasting like McLaren Vale isn’t such a bad thing. It is, after all, a region that effortlessly produces full-flavoured red wines of considerable appeal, despite being in many ways the stylistic antithesis of Tuscany. The key here is that this wine, and many McLaren Vale Sangioveses, inherit enough of the region’s imprint to take the variety in a new direction. As I smell this, it is a curious mash-up of the red berried exuberance of McLaren Vale and the more angular savouriness of Sangiovese. Some might argue it falls into a stylistic no man’s land as a result; that’s simply a matter of taste. For mine, this is luscious enough to satisfy my cravings for a slutty red wine, and odd enough to mark it apart from more familiar Shiraz and Cabernet siblings. It also has a reductive edge I’m not so hot on, though this seems to be blowing off with some air.
The palate tells a similar story, with little of the structural aggressiveness Sangiovese can show. In its place, rather pillowy tannins and plump fruit that slips and slides all over the tongue as it leaves behind ripe, pleasingly savoury flavours. Acid is quite firm and brings to life some of the more varietal flavours present here — almonds mostly. It’s medium bodied at least and, in terms of shape and size in the mouth, very regional.
It’s a humble wine to hang so much on, but I think it does show some varietal interest while being true to its region. Just don’t expect an Italian.
Partly out of perversity, I was on a Pinot kick while visiting Western Australia earlier this year. So, while driving around the Pemberton, Manjimup and Great Southern wine regions, I sought out as many examples as I could. Pemberton offered up plenty in this regard, with Pinot something of a regional speciality.
Pemberton’s a funny wine region; the vast, well-funded cellar doors of Margaret River are a long way away and the mix of local producers ranges from hobby to medium sized family. Larger wineries like Houghton have historically obtained grapes from Pemberton too, though the number of derelict and decommissioned vineyards I saw in the area suggests this may have recently changed.
Back to this wine, though, which is handsomely packaged in a bottle of sensible weight and represents Lost Lake’s entry level Pinot. The nose is utterly, screamingly varietal, with the lifted floral aromatics and bright red fruit of the variety at its most recognisable. There are edges of dark spice and undergrowth too, not loud enough to distract, but certainly adding some welcome complexity. Balanced, bright and attractive.
The palate is more challenging in that it feels quite extracted given the flavour profile of the fruit. Entry is light and bright, with good acid carrying fresh fruit onto the mid-palate. Here, tannin starts to emerge and the wine’s weight seems to grow. The after palate becomes quite savoury and textured, tannins again a primary feature. There’s decent extension through the back palate, though the fruit here seems less fresh and the flavour profile almost caramelised. It’s not at all unpleasant, but I miss the simplicity and vibrant freshness of the aroma and attack. I’d be interested to taste Lost Lake’s barrel selection, as some more fruit power and density could carry this sort of structure more easily.
Still, a very pleasant wine for not a lot of money.
I like it when wines surprise me, whether it’s a matter of quality or, as with this wine, by showing unexpected dimensions that lift it beyond what I initially believe it to be. This wine, from relatively old vines in the Orange region, is one of two produced by Bloodwood. The other, labelled Schubert, seems intended to be the more outré in style (I’ve not tasted it).
Orange tends to cool climate due to the elevation of its vineyards, so it’s no surprise the aroma here is in a fairly restrained mode, with white rather than yellow stonefruit and aromas tending towards taut flintiness. It’s firmly fruit-driven, though, and quite straightforward as a result.
The palate is what surprises me about this wine. On the basis of the nose, I expected a straightforward flavour profile and equally simple mouthfeel, but this really takes off, texturally. On entry, it slips and slides with stonefruit, but from the mid-palate onwards a nice, raspy mouthfeel creeps in, along with a corresponding tightening of flavour profile, such that the wine ends up expressing tangy aniseed and a sea spray freshness alongside its bright fruit. That salty-sweet tang echoes the addictive qualities of something like Dutch licorice and strikes me quite distinctive. It’s a nice story on the palate and helps this wine to be both more refreshing and more delicious.
Looking back over my notes, I first tasted this in 2008, and again in 2009 with Chris. What’s striking about the glass in front of me now is how little it has changed from, in particular, my initial encounter.
This is still massively primary on the nose, the density of fruit I noted back in 2008 remaining a feature of the aroma profile, as is its just-out-of-the-gate freshness. Rich red and black fruits, pepper and other spices, firm oak; this certainly has the spice of a cooler climate wine along with the assertiveness and rich depth of a warmer climate one. Part of me feels this is Australia’s sweet spot in contemporary Shiraz – wines that show the ripeness and generosity of fruit achieved in our classic styles combined with the sort of spice and meatiness colder weather can bring. Best of both worlds, in a way.
In the mouth, still spicy and dominated by dense, muscular berry fruit. As I originally noted, this isn’t a wine of subtlety, but it never feels caricatured to me, always retaining a sappy, spicy edge to counterbalance its rich fruit. Here on the palate I’m getting a greater contribution from bottle age, with some lightly leathery flavours edging in and adding a sheen to the wine’s primary flavours. I previously suggested this wine was soft in acid, but on this tasting I’m getting good structure, both acid and tannin, which is keeping the wine brisk and firm. The after palate is perhaps starting to lose some fruit weight now, signalling the wine’s future as an altogether mellower experience.
If anything, this wine plays it a bit safe. It’s perfectly formed in its way, yet I wish it showed a wilder streak, something to lift it above being the excellent wine it already is and turn it into something truly memorable.
As I mentioned in my review of the 2010 Tempranillo, a barrel fermented Petit Manseng isn’t something one comes across every day in Australia, so this wine’s very existence is notable. It takes guts to produce a premium-priced varietal wine without the benefit of a recognised noble variety behind it, so hats off to Topper’s Mountain for putting their faith in Petit Manseng on the line.
Of course, it’s foolish to judge the potential of a wine style from a single tasting, but one has to start somewhere, and my impression is there’s some interest here. The aroma is soft and subtle, with florals the dominant element along with a hint of beeswax. It’s the sort of soft focus aroma that finds its equivalent in Flake ads from the 1980s — all smears of Vaseline and sexiness without really showing much.
In the mouth, a good interplay of textures, and I see the wisdom of the winemaking approach here. There’s fullness and generosity on the mid-palate, presumably in part stemming from barrel work, that balances out some reasonably strident acidity through the after palate. There’s a definite textural story here. Flavours are, as with the nose, soft and perhaps a little indistinct, though certainly quite pleasant. For me, though, the interest here is in mouthfeel and the way the wine’s weight modulates along its line. It’s unusual and quite compelling. Incidentally, alcohol sits at a restrained 12.25%.
They’re an interesting bunch at Topper’s Mountain. Working in a — to put it kindly — low profile region, this estate produces a vast array of wines that start at familiar and end at unique (I’m not aware of any other spontaneously and barrel fermented Petit Mansengs being made in Australia, though I’m sure my knowledgeable readership will correct me if I’m wrong). Indeed, there seems to be plenty of experimentation going on, and the quality can be high.
This shows a cuddlier side of Tempranillo. It’s not all savouriness and structure; instead, we get cherry fruit, cola and spice. There’s a lightfooted generosity to the aroma that I like and, although it’s not especially complex, its flavours are well delineated. Oak makes a slightly spiky contribution.
In the mouth it’s less coherent than it smells, with a few elements jutting out. Acid jangles a bit and collides with a rather voluminous, fruit-driven mid-palate. I wish for more evenly textured tannin to counterbalance the wine’s slippery fruit and complement its savoury flavours. But I’m nit-picking. Mostly, this shoots a nice dollop of flavour onto the tongue, with plenty of red fruit, spice and oak. It’s generous but only medium-bodied and generally easygoing, so shouldn’t overwhelm food.
As I sit here jet-lagged and generally puzzled to be back in my study in Brisbane, I resort to sparkling wine to inject levity and the spectre of some kind of celebration into my evening. This wine is from always-interesting Stefano Lubiana in the Derwent Valley in Tasmania. I was fortunate enough to visit Steve earlier this year and saw a most impressive new winery and cellar door facility in the last stages of development. I believe it’s all up and running now, and I suggest it would be well worth a visit to anyone in the area.
To the wine, then: quite a rich nose that mixes lees-derived aromas with weighty fruit and edges of caramel. This seems a much riper wine than the 2004, though its tendency towards savouriness and off-the-wall flavours remains consistent. There’s a lot to enjoy here if one isn’t terminally prejudiced against fuller, more powerful sparkling styles. Personally, I miss a certain lightness of touch that, for all its muscularity, this doesn’t quite manage to retain.
In the mouth, predictably full and rich. Acid, the curse of Australian sparkling wines, is fine and controlled, and benefits from the fruit’s weight. Mouthfeel isn’t quite as creamy as a top Champagne, but it’s far from coarse and, to the extent that it’s a little rambunctious, is well matched to the wine’s weight and intensity. An impactful mid-palate leads to a clean, fresh after palate that extends well back into the mouth. Indeed, this is a long wine.
Not the last word in refinement, then, but a truly interesting wine for its range of flavours, power and outright generosity.
Stefano Lubiana Wines