Clarnette & Ludvigsen Shiraz 2010

One of Australia’s most visible viticulturists and long active in the industry’s practice and governance, Kim Ludvigsen died late last year. His vineyard in the Grampians, which I visited mid-2013, is one of the most carefully established and tended I’ve ever seen. Clearly, he was deeply thoughtful regarding his profession, a fact his long running monthly newsletter amply demonstrates. So sad, then, he’s no longer able to share and learn as he was so clearly passionate about doing.

This wine, made in partnership with winemaker Leigh Clarnette, comes from that beautiful vineyard nestled in the rolling hills behind Rhymney. It’s a startlingly elegant expression of Grampians Shiraz, quite different from relative heavyweights like Best’s Bin 0, Langi’s flagship or Simon Clayfield’s wines. The aroma is bright, almost cherry-like in its fruit character and quite floral. With some air, spice encroaches on this core of red fruit, along with a hint of snapped twig. It’s sweet and savoury in equal measure, always fleet of foot and playfully elusive.

In the mouth, an almost Italianate acid structure. This wine is formed around a line of bright, crunchy acid that lends a freshness to its red fruit and an urgency to its loose-knit tannins. Fruit seems too sweet at first but is quickly rebalanced by tart plum skins and spice. I’d say it’s only light to medium bodied, trading the sort of liquerous intensity one often finds in this region’s wines for a clarity and elegance that are totally unpretentious. Length is good, with a particularly persistent finish of fine, bright cherry fruit.

I believe the 2012 is currently available direct from the winery.

Update: day two and the wine is quite pleasing. It’s savouriness has become more marked, as has its texture. Still a nimble, light wine, but with plenty of interest. A couple more years in bottle will be kind.

Clarnette & Ludvigsen
Price: $30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.

In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.

I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.

Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.

Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25

The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013

This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60

I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.

Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25

What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.

Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85

A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200

This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.

And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Shiraz 2011

Frankland River Shiraz, if I may generalise for a moment, is the sort of wine the modern wine lover feels she ought to like. A friend of mine who has worked with fruit from the region considers it Australia’s closest approximation to a Northern Rhône style and, in its often uncompromising spice and savouriness, the style provides ample support for this view. In a line-up of Australian Shirazes tasted recently — blind — with a friend, the Frankland River wines showed poorly, seeming underdeveloped in fruit flavour by comparison even to other cooler climate expressions like wines from Canberra and the Grampians. Yet I can’t help but be drawn to the purity and edge these wines so often bring, and feel they benefit from a more contemplative tasting approach. Sometimes, drinkers need to meet a wine half way.

This wine, a companion to the Riesling tasted earlier, seems archetypal. It’s forcefully savoury in its aroma, throwing notes of clove, liquorice, savoury red fruit and crushed herbs. It’s not as spiced as a Canberran and lacks the generous fruit character most Shirazes from South Eastern Australia seem to effortlessly deliver. In their place, a sense of concentration and focus that is both slightly confrontational and impressive. Smelling this wine is almost a challenge.

The palate carries through with a wonderfully clear structure and good articulation of flavours. There’s a finesse to the way this wine moves down its line. It remains savoury in terms of flavour, with a distinctively reductive gunpowder note, and its slinky palate structure only serves to draw attention to the angularity of its other components. Tannins are well managed, presenting at the right level and with just a hint of aggression. Although clearly a young wine, this shows impressive coherence and stylistic integrity.

Unquestionably a wine of considerable sophistication, if somewhat forbidding character. It’s the party guest who’s just too good looking to talk to.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Swinging Bridge m.a.w. Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Now we’re talking. I like this a great deal more than the companion single vineyard Chardonnay. It has character, a bit of wildness and, most of all, the sort of distinctiveness that is its own justification.

The aroma is totally Pinot in its least plush, most sinewy mode. Sap, sous-bois, spice, orange peel and crunchy red fruit. There’s a good deal of complexity, but what I like most is its sense of abandon. This is a wine that’s barely in control, and that makes for some exciting tension within the aroma. This all leads me to suspect a rather acid-driven wine in the mouth, yet it’s far from overly structural. In fact, there’s a certain plushness within the context of a light to medium bodied wine, and that helps the predominantly high toned flavours to fully express themselves. Oak provides some nice flavour inputs, deepening the wine’s registers a little. Length is merely adequate.

This is a very one-sided wine: flavours are pitched at a certain level, body is light, intensity only moderate. Yet it clearly comes from somewhere specific, and therein lies its value and interest. Most worthwhile.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Riesling 2012

While in Great Southern last year, I didn’t get to taste all that I wanted to. In particular, the entire Cherubino range remained unknown to me, mostly due to the absence of anything I could find resembling a cellar door. I’ve been curious about these wines for a while though, so I went ahead and ordered a few to taste. This, from a sub-range designed to highlight single vineyards throughout Western Australia, is the first.

One anticipates a certain austerity, combined with delicious fruit flavours, when it comes to Great Southern Riesling, and this wine is in the main line of regional style. The aroma contains as much boulder dust as it does lime blossom, which creates an immediately savoury, and slightly funky, impression. At the moment, because of the relative dominance of mineral aromas, there’s no easy way in, but it’s an impressively taut performance, and one that doesn’t sacrifice aromatic body in the service of clarity.

In the mouth, even more tight than the nose suggests, with a dashing line of acid that carries flavours, and one suspects a few particles of cheek lining, straight to the back of the palate. Despite this structure, it’s not a thin wine, and I like the flesh this carries, noting that its body consists mostly of savoury, mineral flavours rather than anything more approachably fruity. A clean jet of lemon juice through the finish is its most obvious fruit note.

This uncompromising flavour and structure makes the whole slightly hard work as a young wine, but it all points to some productive time in bottle. I’ll be retasting in about five years, I reckon.

Note: three days on and the wine is just starting to open out on the palate. Plenty of juicy, attractive fruit. Nice wine, if quite masculine in style.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Swinging Bridge Mrs Payten Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

I want to love every wine I taste. It seems to me there’d be no greater pleasure for a wine enthusiast than to find in each wine, familiar or not, a world of pleasure and revelation. Wines that fall short, then, aren’t just less enjoyable, they’re a little bit heartbreaking too.

Wines often brashly flash their most prominent assets — single vineyard! old vines! French oak! — and why not? In this age of obligatory opinions, snap judgements and forced rankings, producers must surely feel they are putting their wines into the vinous equivalent of a speed dating night, if not a boxing ring. You’ve got mere seconds to establish credibility and generate an attraction. So I don’t begrudge the, of late, spectacular proliferation of single vineyard wines in Australia. I will note, though, that a single vineyard wine, for me, creates a certain expectation. Of distinctiveness perhaps, and quality too, something worth singling out. I approach this wine, then, with heightened anticipation.

So as it presents as slightly blurry, without sufficient articulation of and insight into the flavours it obviously has, I feel frustrated by the opaque view it gives me of its raison d’être – the vineyard from which it came. It’s far from generic tasting, and there are some funky flavours atop fruit that veers between ripe pineapple and much more nuanced, savoury citrus. There are also darker notes that speak of lees and a certain minerality. But there’s a dull edge to the whole that, for me, obscures each component. Structure is relaxed, robbing the wine of tension and fattening its mid-palate, although I do like the chalky texture through the finish. There’s also a lack of intensity to the fruit, making the wine feel like it’s playing too quietly to get me moving. I just want more — more intensity, more definition, more overt distinctiveness. I want this wine to sing its vineyard, so I can hear its colours and enjoy its view.

It might fairly accuse me of not being a good listener; I’m just a bit sad about what we could’ve been, this wine and me.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürzig Würzgarten Riesling trocken 2007

I could enjoy writing up German wines almost entirely because of their wonderfully extended names. This wine, from Mosel-based producer Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben, is a dry Riesling made from Ürzig Würzgarten fruit. Because I was located in Wehlen during the 2013 vintage, my tasting naturally focused on wines from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Domprobst and Graacher Himmelreich vineyards. I never made it around the bend to Ürzig, which is a shame because its wines carry a reputation and I would have liked to have gotten to know the area. There’s always next time, I suppose.

In the meantime, I can at least taste the wines. The nose is showing some age at this stage, with a hint of harsh kerosene over dominant notes of preserved lemon and minerals. This wine smells cold and chiselled, not precise so much as hard and masculine. I really like the depth of minerality on the nose, although I do feel it’s quite unyielding too. In the mouth, a fairly dry experience with phenolics bringing up the rear and adding plenty of texture. Flavours remain in the sour lemon, mineral and toast spectrum. Acid is quite prominent and combines with the wine’s dry extract to create a powdery mid- and after-palate. Reasonable length.

What’s here seems correct for the style, and it’s definitely showing signs of age without any sense of tiredness. I do wish for a bit less affront, though; there’s precious little fruit weight to dig into, and the wine rests mostly on its austerity and angles. One for purists.

Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Turkey Flat Grenache 2010

This has long been one of the Barossa’s ridiculous bargains: $25 buys you a Grenache made from estate vines that are about a hundred years old, by a winery that has long cultivated a slightly quirky view of how the region’s key varieties are best expressed.

In this case, there’s a scale and mid-palate sweetness that might challenge some drinkers, but for those who get the style, there’s a lot of pleasure here. It opens sweet and not-quite-confected with an expressive nose of red fruit and spice. This definitely falls on the side of Grenache as variety of approachable fruit and generosity, showing little of the extraction and density (not to mention oak) some makers strive for. In the mouth, quite a seamless palate structure that delivers clean, bright fruit onto the mid-palate, all the while framing it in quite delicious tannin and well balanced acid. With air, the flavour profile loses some of its initial boisterousness and becomes altogether more interesting, fruit stepping back into a network of other more savoury flavours like some snapped twig and a just a hint of spiced oak.

It does swell a bit with alcohol, and the wine’s character isn’t going to satisfy drinkers who simply must have Shiraz, but I feel this wine is an old fashioned one in the best sense. If you were wondering where Australia’s “Burgundies” went, look no further.

Turkey Flat
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail