Lake’s Folly Cabernets 2017

There are three bottles of wine in my apartment, two of which I’m not able to drink.

I don’t recall ever finding myself in this situation before. My first real job at age twenty three was at a wine startup and, from that point onwards, I’ve never been without some kind of cellar. In other words, I’ve always had a good selection of wine to choose from. What a luxury.

India, being what it is, isn’t terribly amenable to recreating this level of abundance. There’s tax, first of all, which is sky high at 150%. And technically I’m limited to owning nine litres of wine any at one point in time before being in breach of some kind of local licensing laws. The astute reader will note that my three bottles are well within that limit. Which is both reassuring and deeply depressing.

All this to say that wine, which was for years my go-to pastime, is no longer a big part of my life, purely out of circumstance. I still love it; I just can’t get ahold of it, at least not at a reasonable price and in any great diversity. India makes it up for in all sorts of ways, mind you, yet there is no real substitute for a nice glass of wine with dinner. Cocktails are fine but, you know, rather louche, and fine spirits are way too fast a path to self-destruction to enjoy on a regular basis. And beer makes me fat. No, there’s nothing quite like wine.

I woke up this morning in a bad mood, which is ironic considering I’m on a five day holiday from work. I feel like I should be relishing the quiet time, doing things like writing the Next Great Romantic Comedy (just what the world needs), smashing a few sets of pushups to elevate my gravitationally challenged pecs, getting the perfect ear on my next loaf of sourdough and learning how to make my two favourite styles of biryani (for the record: Malabar/Thalassery and Hyderabadi). Maybe even dyeing my beard (you wouldn’t believe the cultural pressure I’m under to wash away the grey).

Instead, I watched a shitty Hindi movie after having breakfast at 12.30pm, mourned Irrfan Khan’s death, and briefly contemplated self-abuse (too lazy) before opening this bottle of wine at seven o’clock on the dot to try and salvage something of the day.

This is, as I mentioned, the only bottle of wine I am able to drink. I have two others, both promised to friends for sharing. I’m looking forward to that. This one, though, is mine.

I helped out at Lake’s Folly in 2013, washing presses and concrete floors and barrels and… well, you get the idea. It was an incredible experience; my first vintage anywhere in the world. Washing things had never felt so meaningful: there I was, at one of Australia’s legendary wineries, cleaning a press! How lucky was I?! It’s hard to convey how thrilling the whole experience was. It was also the first, but not the last, place where I came to understand the camaraderie of vintage, when there are so many things to do and only limited pairs of hands with which to do them. Walking the vineyard, examining ripeness, discussing picking strategies, receiving the fruit, seeing (and smelling) the ferments, wrangling hoses. And, of course, cleaning everything in sight.

Smelling this wine makes me think of all those things now. It smells great, by the way, and tastes even better. I believe 2017 was a great Hunter vintage, and I can sense it in the glass by way of this wine’s purity, typicité, velvety tannin structure and concentration. It’s pretty spectacular. I have a few more bottles in storage in Brisbane, a fact that would make me even happier if I could actually get to them. This will have to do for now.

I opened this wine out of a sense of desperation, looking for something to make me happy. I’m on my second glass now, waiting for my food to finish cooking, wondering what to watch on Netflix. And what do you know, it worked. In my cozy little flat in leafy Bangalore, I have a glass of fucking Lake’s Folly Cabernets in front of me, something I have a connection to both emotionally and aesthetically, something that makes an otherwise very ordinary day feel just a bit special.

Wine, you’ve done it again. Don’t leave me.

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009, or: why I stopped writing about wine.

I wrote the tasting note below in November of 2014, shortly before I abandoned wine writing. I had forgotten about it until Chris, with his lockdown-inspired post, prompted me to log into WordPress for the first time in years.

Reading it again, I recognise my mood. A close friend had recently died, I had returned from an unexpectedly engaging trip to India, and in any case the enterprise of wine writing had seemed, for some time, irredeemably inane (I admit my complicity in this).

I never posted it, because I was ashamed of how I felt and the bitterness with which I had expressed those feelings. Now, though, it just seems honest, and perhaps appropriate in a moment of collective existentialism that skirts far closer to Camus than I ever thought possible.

In my current, almost wine-free existence in India, I miss the role wine used to play in connecting me to other people, to my own senses and aesthetics. I miss the momentary, fleeting ecstasy a familiar, or bracingly new, aroma used to prompt. Most of all, I miss the promise that wine might be, somehow, greater than itself, a stand-in for something more significant that we might collectively experience and explore. Now that life is so curtailed, I miss what made it feel expansive and beautiful.

[written on the 10th of November, 2014]

Having recently had ample cause to contemplate the fragile net that separates me — a slightly overweight gourmand who, tonight, is drinking a bottle of New Zealand Pinot (which you can read about if you’d like; no need to repeat myself) — from oblivion, it seems apropos to consider the comforts of the drink. What good’s the damned thing if it can’t save my friends from the abyss, or me from wondering how best to waste my life, or my loved ones from bad, bad decisions?

Lest that all seem a little morbid for a wine blog, let me note this: we spend our salaries on great bottles of wine, devote countless hours to seeking out special bottles (and the friends who love them), much energy debating the merits of screwcap versus cork. To what end? Wine lovers are a notoriously generous bunch, it’s true, yet we’re hardly working towards world peace with each sip.

Such thoughts have quietly intruded on my attempts to write about this or that bottle. My enjoyment of good wine remains unmitigated in its frequency and intensity, but it hardly seems worth the effort to contribute yet another piece to a world groaning under the weight of shitty wine writing and the intellectual vacuum that enables it.

I’d like to rush in and reassure you (and myself) that it’s all worth it, that wine is the noblest of all pursuits, but I can claim no such insights. Still. There’s something in it all. I’m writing tonight, prompted by the familiarity of this Pinot’s aromas and the comfort of its fruit. Something prompted a burst of enthusiasm, or at least a desire to express myself, that has been absent for some time. It smells and tastes very much of what it is, this wine, which suggests a fetish for natural wine that, I assure you, is entirely absent from this writer’s temperament. No, this is the smell of the madeleine, a banal familiarity capable of reviving images, moments, people, feelings. It’s not going to save the world, wine, but just for a moment it’s a little bit magic.

Price: $NZ60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Chatto Pinot Noir 2013

Wine communicators collectively wet themselves over this on its release. I’m tasting it for the first time tonight, and like it somewhat more than its 2012 predecessor.

It’s a smart wine. Transparent, cleanly articulated, complex; this is immediately expressive and shows a distinctive personality. There’s a bristled spice and sour tang to the flavour profile that recalls food as much as wine. I regret that sourness is almost always considered a deficiency in wine appreciation; although it can be indicative of poorly handled acid, here it provides the refreshment of a tamarind amongst pungent spice, balancing the wine’s warmer notes and creating an impression of freshness.

The palate structure is firm yet light, as is indeed the wine as a whole, but intensity is striking and flavours are confident. There’s an ease to the way this moves down its line, fanning satin berry fruits across the tongue then whisking them away with a clean flourish, teasing with a shake of tannin and a spritz of acid.

The question of longevity must, of course, be invoked, and having done so I shall dismiss it without answer. Who cares? It’s drinking fabulously right now.

Price: $50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Chandon Brut Rosé

Indian sparkling wine courtesy of Moët Hennessy. I’ve had a dreadful run of Indian red wines, with many exhibiting wild technical faults that render them basically undrinkable. Whites and rosés, however, have fared better. When I saw this on a restaurant wine list, I didn’t hesitate to give it a go, assuming (correctly) that it would, at least, be free of egregious winemaking faux pas.

Chandon’s Indian operations are new, with the first wines having been released in late 2013. Grapes are sourced from the Nashik region of Maharashtra, and the varieties that contribute to this sparkling rosé are Shiraz and Pinot Noir (an inadvertent nod to the Australian micro-tradition, I like to think).

To be clear, this recalls little of Champagne. Its hue is deep and tends towards a burnished red rather than the vivid pink or salmon one might expect. Mousse is lively and coarse, and the whole thing looks totally frivolous. Flavours are also quite unlike cool climate sparkling. These are robust, ripe fruit flavours with little of the lees influence that characterises many sparkling styles. There’s certainly no neutrality of fruit here.

All of which adds up to a shockingly enjoyable wine and one that goes well with food. It’s quite clever, really. This isn’t an aperitif style. Rather, it’s a wine that seems designed to pair with pungent, rich food. Forget notions of complexity and elegance, this doesn’t possess or require such things. Instead, it’s balanced to local food and has the acid cut required to wipe the palate clean after a mouthful of spiced deliciousness.

I’d do this again.

Chandon India
Price: ₹4000
Closure: Cork
Source: Wine list

Fratelli Wines Chenin Blanc 2013

It’s not great.

With that out of the way, we can tackle the more interesting question of: why bother? India’s not renowned for its acceptance of wine, with beer and whisky tending to thrive at its expense. Yet the state of Maharashtra, centre of India’s wine industry and this writer’s present location, has a long history of growing table grapes. So why the hell not?

If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the beginnings of an industry. Local wines are enthusiastically promoted on many restaurant wine lists, and it seems a few players (Sula, Fratelli, Grover, Turning Point) dominate on premise. The varietal mix is decidedly unfocused. Whites range from Chenin Blanc to Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and (inevitably) Chardonnay. Reds include all the usual suspects — Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot — but I’ve also spotted some Sangiovese. I’ve also tasted a surprisingly palatable sparkling wine. No indigenous varieties yet spotted, alas.

The wines have ranged from cleanly commercial to downright faulty (a particular red wine I had the other night seemed a veritable catalogue of technical faults, and not in an interesting way). So far, the whites have been more successful, and this wine in particular shows some decent varietal character, if also a ragged structure and level of flavour dilution that fights against full satisfaction.

Paired with some local food, it went surprisingly well – the food’s pungent flavours didn’t entirely overwhelm the wine’s delicacy. One can’t help but think a relatively good food and wine match in this context must be more accidental than by design, though. Certainly, the prominent collaborations between Indian producers and those from (in this case) Italy and France (Michel Rolland’s name is stamped all over Grover’s wines) suggests an imported aesthetic rather than anything truly local and organic.

I hope to try a wider range over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Fratelli Wines
Price: ₹500/glass
Closure: Cork
Source: Wine list

Jeremy Pringle

Jeremy Pringle — musician, wine writer, punk, aesthete, friend — died peacefully in his sleep this past weekend.

A memorial service will be held at 2pm, Friday 15th August at Taringa Baptist Church, 36 Morrow Street, Taringa.

“And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” — Aeschylus.

Olek Bondonio Barbaresco 2010

An astonishingly tight cork. Not a euphemism.

I’ve enjoyed several Olek Bondonio wines over the past few months, and have found them unified by a sense of simplicity and deliciousness that transcends their, at times, rustic demeanour. When one starts to get up towards $100, though, it’s interesting to contemplate how far this aesthetic extends, warped as one’s expectations might be by the idea of what a $100 wine should taste like.

None of which is especially rational or aesthetically coherent – a $100 wine has no more a “taste” than does one with a blue instead of yellow label. It seems pretty inescapable that received ideas of quality start to creep in as prices creep up. Yet how boring to believe that price accords linearly to some pre-defined increase in quality factors, like every dollar you spend should buy you a dollar’s more intensity, or complexity. I’m not so romantically inclined to believe that a “story” behind a wine is worth paying money for in and of itself (not that people don’t try), but at the same time wine pricing is so deeply non-sensical that I’m forced to concede there are other factors at play.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this, and the deeply charming Olek Bondonio’s other wines, don’t stand up especially well in terms of value for money. In most cases, better wines can be had for less. Yet I’ve enjoyed all of them very much and am happy to have purchased them, this Barbaresco included.

It’s a light wine even in the context of Nebbiolo’s tendency to deceive in terms of colour and body. Fragrance is immediately complex. There are all sorts of entirely savoury notes in the mix, including some sappy twig-like aromas, lamington, brown spice and tight red fruit. It wants a bit in expressiveness perhaps, and is very much a young wine in terms of how much one needs to coax it to the fore. I love how much is going on aromatically, though.

The palate is feather-weight and it’s here that one might start to frown. I’d never expect a fleshy wine, but I’ve had many Barbarescos with more impact, intensity and substance. This, by contrast, is a persistently light wine, its flavours existing in a high toned register that takes several leaps to its satisfyingly tannic structure. It’s not so much that there are gaps in its palate structure, but more that it’s a wine which remains resolutely at a certain level, rather than ranging wide across high, mid and bass notes. I’m not sure this lessens my enjoyment at all. For one thing, the flavours are so satisfying — vivid, complex, pretty. Very much what one wants from this variety. And the wine has plenty of structure that gives it, if not heft, then at least shape. I love how it licks my tongue through the after palate and places bright fruit flavours all the way along. Decent length, too.

I can imagine a bunch of folks ordering this wine at a restaurant, not knowing what to expect, and being quite disappointed given its price. However, as seems to be a pattern with this producer’s wines, I’m completely disarmed by how charming, flavoursome and delicious this is, even if it’s arguably an incomplete wine.

Olek Bondonio
Price: $90
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2013

One is momentarily tempted to trot out the usual cliches when discussing this wine – that it’s difficult when young, less accessible than the Springvale bottling, and so on. None of that’s especially helpful, and it completely misses the point of this wine, which is that it’s kind of perfect.

Pleasure can be so diverse, even within something fairly limited like wine. Some wines are sloppily delightful and others, like this, are almost inhumanly well built, expressing such precision of structure that their construction becomes a source of interest and wonder. The word that comes to mind most often while tasting this is “chiselled,” and in terms of aroma this translates to a cool, savoury presence that keeps any sense of plushness under wraps. Instead, a series of shy, hard-edged notes unfold and move from one to the next, never losing momentum, always foregrounding a sense of humid minerality.

The palate is quite approachable in that it strikes me as appropriately structured given its fruit weight and intensity. As with the nose, each flavour is placed with precision and balance. It’s quite a powerful wine, yet what I find most impressive in the mouth are beautifully managed phenolics that add a chalk-like texture to the after palate. Unlike wines that are self-consciously “about texture,” this simply presents that dimension, and it adds to the pleasure of the overall package.

This is probably the last wine to convert those sceptical of ultra-dry Clare Riesling — who cares, though? I’m just happy to taste a wine of such impeccable taste.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Juan Carlos Sancha Ad Libitum Monastel 2012

Part of a mixed bag of wines recently purchased from Eurocentric. This wine is made from Monastel de Rioja which, as far as I can make out, is a native variety of Rioja planted in relatively small quantities and allowed as part of the region’s red wines only as of 2007 (according to this press release, anyway). Juan Carlos Sancha has grown these Riojan bundles of joy organically which, as we know, must mean the wine is good. Promisingly, it’s sealed under Diam; of late, anything not sealed under cork instantly lowers my level of anxiety.

Colour is quite striking – deep red, dense, serious. Aromatically, the wine is fairly challenging, as it expresses a particular note that reads to me as slightly swampy. I must admit, it’s not an appealing aroma to me; for the purpose of description, it’s similar to the faux-bretty smell that Mataro sometimes gives off; that is, savoury, meaty and altogether angular. With air, I’m making more sense of this note in the context of the aroma as a whole, which is richly fruited and dark, with a hint of coffee grounds bringing up the rear.

The palate is satisfyingly flavoursome, and one could never accuse this wine of lacking intensity. At the same time, there’s an ease to its expression that belies its dark, serious flavour profile, and I rather like the tension between these two things. Black cherries, dark chocolate and mulch collide with a net of tannin that descends through the mid-palate. This is firmly structured, to be sure, yet it’s not without balance. It’s simply a big wine. Fresh fruit drives through the after palate even as tannin constricts its expression somewhat and keeps it in line. A decent finish rounds things off, as does a lick of vanilla.

There’s a lot to like here and the wine is nothing if not characterful. Might go down well with lovers of “big red wines” who are open to some different flavour profiles.

Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha
Price: $A39.95
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Sobrero Langhe Nebbiolo 2011

Inexpensive Nebbiolo can be a difficult thing to locate, so it’s appealing to come across an affordable example such as this humble Langhe from Sobrero. Good Barolos and Barbarescos are so satisfying and complete, I fear a little tasting this wine and being comprehensively dissatisfied.

While this lacks some stuffing, there’s plenty of interest here and it seems quite its own wine. The nose gives up little on opening, slowly releasing iron and blood aromas mixed with prettier florals. These contradictions are the essence of the variety for me, so it’s nice to see them here, and the style doesn’t pander for a moment the way some cheaper Australian wines do, for example. Quite the opposite: this is a fairly uncompromising wine, and it takes a while for any semblance of flesh to build through the mid-palate. When it does, there’s some red fruit mixed in amongst the iron filings, though it’s kept in check not only by more savoury notes but by satisfyingly firm Nebbiolo tannin. One drinks these wines for their structure, and this has a nice lick of drying texture through the after palate.

With a day or so of being open, this does soften a little, structurally, and its reticence reveals itself as partly a function of intensity, or lack thereof. But it becomes more attractive as its fruits dare to sweeten, and there’s a definite lift in expressiveness both aromatically and in the mouth. It ends up a transparent wine and in many ways benefits from a lack of density. The word pretty keeps popping up in my mind.

To be sure, this is a fairly humble wine and I wish it had a bit more of everything. At the same time, I like what’s here very much.

Price: $A39.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail