Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010

Langi is a curious beast in the context of Grampians Shiraz. Its site is notably apart from the bulk of the region’s vineyards, clustered as they are around Great Western, Rhymney, Moyston and Ararat. This comes through in the wines too, but what’s perhaps even more interesting is the difference between sites within the estate vineyard. The Cliff Edge is quite a different beast from the flagship label, and I’ve often found it a wine that’s easier to love. I’m revisiting this wine some time after first having tasted it, and was fortunate enough to have a glass of the 2012 in front of me at the same time. The differences are striking, as are the similarities.

Over the course of several hours, this changed quite a few times, going from a notably stalky wine on both nose and palate to something almost shockingly approachable, redolent of sweet licorice allsorts and brown spice. Initially, a certain astringency of tannin pinches the after palate, truncating the wine’s line compared to the significantly less constricted 2012. It was interesting to watch the wines even out somewhat; while the 2012 flows freely down its line right from the start, this takes its time to open out, eventually reaching a liquidity of palate structure that I find seductive.

What unites both these wines is a particularly attractive flavour profile that drips of dark fruit, spice, florals and lusciousness. While some differences in winemaking between the 2010 and 2012 are evident, the character of the fruit sings clearly and unites the two wines. I’ll save the debate on how best a winemaker can illuminate the special qualities of the fruit he or she works with for another time. The upshot here is that it’s a fucking delicious wine.

Mount Langi Ghiran
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Cherubino Shiraz 2009

Stylistically, this occupies a middle ground between the Acacia and Riversdale Shirazes I tasted recently (although this wine is from an earlier vintage than either of those two). It has suggestions of the Acacia’s palate weight while channeling the Riversdale’s almost brutal savouriness and sinewy palate structure. Interestingly, the 2010 and 2011 vintages of this wine come from the Acacia and Riversdale vineyards respectively, whereas the vineyard source here isn’t specified (on the Cherubino Web site at any rate).

It’s also quite fascinating, because it’s a wine that, over several hours of contemplative tasting, never entirely yielded to me. It’s not a matter of being somehow unresolved; this is drinking quite well, really. Its style, though, with a focus on muscular savouriness, is one that can’t help but dodge easy deliciousness. I wondered at one point whether a wine style that keeps insisting on its form and sophistication at the expense of much else takes the idea too far; whether some fruit might have been brought further forward to provide a way in, and whether its noticeable reduction might have been dialled back at bit. But, in the end, I’m glad of its balance, and I enjoy the way it insists the drinker rise a little in his seat to taste.

It’s a wine that shows great tannin, and its relatively high — by mainstream Australian standards — pH of 3.9 came as something of a surprise when I looked up the technical data. Not forcing it down to a more textbook level, though, shows great winemaking judgement, because the wine’s palate structure is fantastic as is, and a brighter streak of acid might destroy the dark, dense way this moves through the mid-palate in particular. Fruit weaves in and out of this rope-like architecture, occasionally swelling to a point stopping just short of generosity, then folding back into the dark fabric of the wine. Oak, though present, seems to work at the level of density and mouthfeel rather than adding any obvious sweetness or overt flavour.

It’s been good to taste a few Frankland River Shirazes of late. It has confirmed my view that this region, and its neighbours in Great Southern, is capable of producing some of the most distinctive, challenging and sophisticated Shiraz in Australia.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Gilligan Shiraz Mourvèdre Grenache 2012

In this slippery world of wine writers’ ethics, best to begin with a few disclaimers. Leigh Gilligan, proprietor of Gilligan Wines, is:

  1. a McLaren Vale legend;
  2. a friend; and
  3. a partner in Dowie Doole, the winery with whom I did vintage last year.

That said, I had no involvement in the making of this wine and approach it, as usual, with the perspective of a curious onlooker. I’ve tasted previous vintages of this label and have always found it a surprisingly sophisticated, savoury interpretation of the GSM blend. This continues in that line and, to my palate, is the best release so far.

The aroma is as much McLaren Vale as anything else: rich plums of liquerous intensity, fairly generous oak and a fluidity of character that is the hallmark of this region’s delicious red wines. Indeed, the Vale’s tendency to impart a round, angle-less character to its reds is one of the things I like most about this region, and it’s in full evidence here. There’s a savoury depth, though, that becomes quite striking with some swirling and glass time. Having worked with Shiraz from the Old Rifle Range vineyard, I know it tends towards a dark savouriness with overtones of aniseed. Mourvèdre, too, makes a noticeably meaty contribution to the aroma, such that the whole ends up much darker and more adult than it first seems.

The palate gives more of the same, a rush of fruit onto the mid-palate its most notable feature. It’s all so easy, one could overlook the fact that there’s some good complexity of flavour at work, with licorice allsorts playing alongside vegetal Mourvèdre and some bright red Grenache fruit. I like that it’s both plush and quite savoury, and that its tannins are chalky and fine, just prominent enough to lightly dry the finish.

There’s an honesty at work here — a connection both to region and varietal composition — that translates to a generous, delicious wine. Truly a wine for drinking.

Gilligan Wines
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils Bourgogne Rouge 2010

I’m getting old.

The last time I tasted this label was a few years ago when the 2005 was current. Re-reading my earlier note, much might apply to this wine save for a firmer acid structure, not surprising considering vintage conditions. The same light (and quite pleasing) colour, slightly confected red fruits and general air of simplicity. There are a few savoury angles too — a hint of undergrowth, some snapped twig, the suggestion of a child running through a favourite patch of forest — that add interest, although one would never accuse this wine of being overly complex.

This wine begs the question: what’s the point? As an Australian drinker with access to — at last — a selection of great local Pinots at reasonable prices, what’s the value of a cheap Burgundy that isn’t any great shakes in the distinctiveness department? I suppose this proves, at the very least, that small French producers can make technically sound wines at a reasonable price point, which hasn’t always been something to be taken for granted. Otherwise, as pleasant as this is, it lacks dimensions of character and intensity that might elevate it beyond an easy weeknight drink.

Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils
Price: $A23
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Marc Brédif Vouvray 1985

There are many ways one might frame a definition of “good friends.” For now, though, my working formula is:

People who save an evening from your bottles of disappointing white Burgundy and corked biodynamic Pinot Noir with a superb aged Vouvray and a few luscious, late-night glasses of Penfolds Grandfather Port.

Indeed, dinner yesterday was bookended by beautiful wines offered by my companions, the first of which I shall discuss in a moment.

To digress briefly, wine can be the most frustrating of things, and it sometimes feels as though those frustrations come in multiples. I rocked up to dinner with a couple of bottles that promised much pleasure: a 2010 Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles — not previously tasted, but for which I had high hopes considering Chavy’s powerful ’10 Puligny-Montrachet Folatières and St Aubin En Remilly bottlings — and the ’09 Hochkirch Maximus, enjoyed several times previously.

The Chavy was only okay; surprisingly for a 2010 Burgundy, it’s quite blowsy through the mid-palate, its evident complexity of flavour undermined by indistinct articulation and a general sense of blurriness. The Hochkirch would have been delicious, I’m sure, were it not for a massive dose of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (thanks, cork). And that was pretty much that.

Perhaps the disappointment wouldn’t have been so great had the first wine, this old Brédif, been less enjoyable. There’s something about old white wines in particular that I find fascinating and, in a way, more remarkable than old reds, because they are so unlikely. Chenin Blanc gives great acid, sure, but there’s an obviousness to many red wines, structurally, that makes ageability a foregone conclusion. By contrast, when a white wine grows old with grace, I can’t help but marvel a little at how it’s happened.

This is, surely, at its peak. There are subtle signs of oxidation now — a hint of flor sherry, some aldehydic nuttiness — that overlay core notes of baked apple pie and spice, creating a wonderfully complex flavour profile that moves between these primary and tertiary notes without skipping a beat. Indeed, this kept changing over the hour or so we tasted, with some luscious dried fruit notes creeping in towards the end. It’s in the mouth, though, where this truly comes alive. An off-dry style, this still has the acid structure to create brisk movement down the line and counterbalance a lovely swell of residual sugar through the after palate. Flavours range from savoury to sweet, giving some angularity to the wine but never robbing it of its comfort. Texturally, there are several dimensions, a slippery, waxy mouthfeel giving way to raspier textures through the finish. And what a finish; exceptionally long by any measure.

A truly delicious wine.

Marc Brédif
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2008

A tale of three Rieslings, several digressions and a good deal of tension.

Palate memory, for those of us not blessed with fantastically good recall to start with, can be frustratingly unreliable. For me, writing about wine functions primarily as a sort of personal aide-mémoire, a way to record previous experiences and subsequently recall, as much as possible, the experience of a particular wine. Words, though, are only so rich a medium, which perhaps explains why we sometimes overreach with increasingly obscure descriptors to differentiate one wine from another. Point scoring, too, can be another way of adding semantic richness to a note. Indeed, one’s perhaps feeble attempts to capture something as abstract as wine starts to make sense of, for example, Proust’s extreme longueurs in describing flowers, social behaviours and the experience of jealousy.

Given all that, it’s gratifying to encounter a wine and have it taste so familiar. Such was my experience of this Joh. Jos. Prüm Spätlese from the racy, high-acid 2008 Mosel vintage. As Mosel Riesling goes, this is right in the zone, showing the striking minerality and structural finesse I associate with a good Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Flavours are light yet rich, moving between high toned florals and richer cumquat notes. Naturally, this lacks the impact and weight of some auslese-level wines but is utterly correct and delicious nonetheless.

I tasted this wine, and those discussed below, with wine writer Jeremy Pringle. As ever when we taste together, the semiotics of wine appreciation became a topic of conversation, in this case idea of balance versus tension. I feel the J.J. Prüm shows great balance, even if tilted towards a firmer-than-usual line of acid. Jeremy chimed in with the word tension and, while I agree with his assessment of the wine, it does call into question the relationship between these two dimensions.

In a recent post on his site, Jeremy drew a distinction between the two, suggesting balance doesn’t necessarily connote the excitement that some wines generate through the interplay of their elements. Whether he is suggesting that tension, by definition, requires a subversion of balance I’m not sure. My own view is they can coexist; tension can be generated entirely within the context of a perfectly balanced wine, as with the J.J. Prüm, whose gorgeously proportioned acid structure acts as an ongoing counterpoint to the wine’s other elements. This interplay is thrilling and full of tension, as in a freeze-frame whose compositional elements are dynamic yet perfectly placed with respect to one another. It’s the character of each component, and indeed the countenance struck between them, that builds tension. This, within a wine whose balance and proportion are classically formed, whose sense of placement and symmetry are quite pristine. In this, ideas of tension in wine aren’t unrelated to those in the visual and plastic arts.

Two wines tasted alongside the J.J. Prüm amply illustrate this. A conceptual counterpoint, if nothing else, the 2012 Timo Mayer “Dr Mayer” Remstal Riesling Kabinett trocken is, unsurprisingly, of a drier persuasion than the J.J. Prüm. It’s also, structurally, quite different. Phenolics play a big role here, creating textural waves through the after palate and finish, tightening the wine’s moderately relaxed structure. Its relative lack of acid sits in stark contrast to the J.J. Prüm and, tasting them side by side, I couldn’t help but feel the Mosel wine’s even line was in all respects preferable to the Mayer’s undulating palate structure. This is an example of a wine with contrasting elements — acid and phenolics — whose lack of balance robs the wine of tension. Because there’s no unifying proportion at work, one half of the wine simply exists with respect to the other half, without sufficient connection.

Similarly the 2010 Mac Forbes Tasmanian RS20 Riesling. If the Mosel wine’s acid is high even by its own region’s standards, then this takes it several steps further, placing an even but searingly firm line at the centre of the wine and tilting its balance too far in one direction. Unlike the J.J. Prüm, this wine’s uneven proportions drain it of tension, because one element dominates all others. If a sense of precariousness can, at times, build excitement in a wine, this disqualifies itself because there’s never any question acid will end, as it starts, in first place.

All of which brings me back to the Mosel wine. The secret of great Mosel Riesling is, I believe, the interplay of acid, fruit weight, flavour profile, minerality and structure; this is true of most wines but for Mosel Riesling the balance struck between all these elements seems unlikely, almost magically achieved. Tasting the J.J. Prüm made me think back to a moment towards the end of harvest last year. I was picking grapes in terrible weather — cold, wet, foggy — in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, just wanting it to be over. It occurred to me that all this effort simply wasn’t worth it for something as frivolous, as unnecessary as wine.

And perhaps it’s not. But if one’s going to make the effort, a good Mosel Riesling isn’t a bad place to end up.

J.J. Prüm
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Yelland & Papps Second Take Shiraz 2013

Another in the 2013 Second Take range from the lovely folks at Yelland & Papps. I’ve come to expect good drinkability from this producer’s wines over the years, and this release continues in that line, adding a few twists to its flavour profile along the way.

For starters, the aroma reminds me of synthetic musk as much as fruit; you know, those gorgeously childish Musk Sticks that still provide the occasional guilty pleasure to we adults. These sweet/floral aromas overlay some fairly young-smelling berry notes and cedar oak. I like the layers to the aroma profile, though there are also angles that remind me of primary and secondary fermentation smells — I think it needs a bit more time to lose its raw edges.

Medium bodied at most, this flip-flops between a certain voluptuousness and prominent acid. On entry, it’s the wine’s rounder side that dominates, ushering fresh berries and spice through to the mid-palate. There’s a hint of expansiveness here, curtailed emphatically by increasingly visible acid as the wine moves down its line. I wish the wine’s structure were more connected to its fruit, and that its oak didn’t jut out so much through the finish; this is, though, a very young wine at the beginning of its life. For now, a good spell in the decanter or in your cellar will pay dividends. Certainly, the flavours at its core are most attractive.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Alain Chavy Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2010

I’ve enjoyed many Alain Chavy wines over the years and value this producer for the straightforwardness of his wines. These are vins de terroir par excellence, quite reasonably priced to boot. His 1er Cru Puligny-Montrachets are especially fine, but I’ve enjoyed this wine, from the lesser village of Saint-Aubin, over several vintages, and this edition is one of the most pleasurable.

Forthright aromas of hessian, sulfur, white stonefruit and flint emerge immediately from the glass, even when served quite cold. There’s a good deal of complexity, in fact, which isn’t immediately evident because the fruit seems so up-front and voluptuous at first. With time, it turns increasingly savoury, a reductive influence becoming more prominent as fruit tightens into the grapefruit spectrum.

On entry, what’s immediately striking is the power and impact of the wine’s fruit. I’ve noticed quite a few 2010 white Burgundies from Puligny-Montrachet and surrounds share this aggressiveness, which seems to stem not only from solid intensity but also from firm acid. Perhaps there’s a tendency towards shoutiness, but I value the muscularity on show and feel it may achieve better balance with some time in bottle. The mid-palate is quite minerally, though with plenty of fruit too, and leads to an after palate of powdery texture and taut flavour. Quite long.

While it may lack the subtlety and nuance of a really fine white Burgundy, this is a lot of wine for the money. There’s plenty here to enjoy.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2011

Aside from an older vintage of its delightful Zibibbo Muscat of Alexandria, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never properly written up a Wendouree wine on Full Pour, despite having drunk many over the years. Time to fix that.

This, from the legendarily difficulty 2011 vintage in South Australia, represents my favourite Clare Valley regional blend. Interestingly, growing conditions have resulted in a wine that’s far more approachable and coherent than many a young Wendouree I’ve tasted. There can, indeed, be an upside to these things. The aroma’s expressiveness provides a first clue to the wine’s relative accessibility, yet it’s the aromas themselves I find enveloping and transportive. Instantly, I’m walking home from school in the suburbs, the pavement hot underfoot, each nature strip a mini-oasis of cool, gum trees releasing a gentle aroma into the air, the occasional kick of dust and tar from a driveway. Indeed, this is vivid and spacious and, somehow, so Australian.

The palate’s moderate weight suits its highly aromatic countenance well. Those famous Wendouree tannins do make an appearance, but less so than usual, and with less density and impact overall. The focus here, rather, is on fluidity of movement and complete transparency of flavour. This is so pretty, and so gentle, one goes to it willingly and is amply rewarded with bright fruit flavours, tanbark textures and a general sense of elegant ease. Some may find the acid strident; I welcome its sizzle and vivacity. Certainly, fruit flavours are intense enough to provide balance. The finish isn’t especially long, but what’s there provides a coherent closure to the wine’s line.

This would be a sensational lunchtime claret.

Price: $A55
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003

Time to test a theory: that this wine would benefit from a few years in the cellar. I was underwhelmed when I tasted it in 2009 and, while combing through my cellar the other day, thought I’d drag a bottle out to try.

Sadly, it’s different, but not substantially better. Structurally, the edge I noted in my previous note has calmed, though it remains a fairly tannic wine through the finish. There are regional aromas of blackcurrant and dusty leaf that I appreciate, and the wine’s line shows even density. The straightforward fruit character it showed as a young wine persists, though, leading to an impression of simplicity and bluntness on the palate. There are certainly some tertiary flavours now, and these are welcome, yet the wine never transcends the lump of indistinct berry fruit at its core.

Only okay.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail