Selbach-Oster Pinot blanc 2016

I was chatting with a coworker about what my days look like at the moment: wake up, make tea, go to work (read: log in to work email and chat applications), make lunch, work some more, go for a walk, make dinner, open wine, watch movie, sleep. He’s a craft beer type fella, knowledgeable and funny like all my best coworkers are, and he’s hanging in there with all of the rest of us.

Tonight, dinner was microwaved leftover cacio e pepe (not bad, really) along with a Whole Foods salad kit that I destroyed by accidentally storing in the overly cold part of the fridge; always fun what the freeze-thaw cycle does to a garbage salad, alas. And then it was time to camp out in front of the TV with a bottle of wine.. and this one was for me the best wine of the lockdown so far.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been two and half years, but I hiked the Moselsteig in 2017 (blog posts here). My days followed a similar pattern: wake up, drink tea, start walking, stop for lunch, walk some more, have dinner, drink wine, blog, read about the next day’s walk, sleep. This bottle of Pinot blanc was a time machine back to 2017; it tasted like any number of excellent Moselle wines that I drank along the way. Beautiful texture, with that lovely, typical slate-y quality that’s so hard to describe but so obvious after you’ve drunk a number of wines from the region. Excellent acidity, with lemon and cream to balance it all out. Really, it’d be hard to find a more pleasurable drink for the money… and most importantly for me, all I could do was think about all of the beautiful days I spent on the Moselle while closing my eyes and hoping that I can do it all again someday (I’m guessing after there’s a vaccine).

In the meantime, though, more work… and chatting with Julian about where we can go together in the future. We had plans to meet up at the end of 2020, but that may not happen (it’s hard to say in April!). Regardless, we will meet again… Spain? Portugal? Georgia? Until then, it’s memories of times we shared together and the occasional bottle of wine that snaps the past back into focus.

Bodega Colomé Torrontes 2019

Two stories for you today:

1. When Julian first proposed that we write some kind of wine blog together, I wondered if anyone would ever, you know, send us some free stuff. Spoiler: no, not really. I think it happened exactly three times: one, some multinational behemoth sent a free bottle of a $6 Rioja (thank u, next), much later, two, the kind folks at Mollydooker sent a case of wine, including the really good stuff (read: the expensive stuff), which, me being me, I promptly reviewed as thoroughly and honestly as I could – I have vague memories of finally, excitedly opening a bottle of their tête de cuvée and being profoundly disappointed; it was pretty much everything that I despair of in wine in a single beautifully packaged bottle priced well out of my range, and then at some point for reasons that completely escape me, an author – whose name I have stupidly, annoyingly forgotten – send me an advance reading copy of what I believe was a popular science book on the subject of taste, perhaps, or smell. It is to my eternal regret and shame that I did not review it or at least compose a lengthy email to the author thanking him for generously sending me a free book. I do not remember precisely what the topic of the book was, but eventually, having read it and thought about it for a few months… hang on, UPS is here to deliver emergency hair clippers (the barbers have been shut down, alas). Be right back.

Aha! I remember his name. Leonard something… let me check my email… Leonard Mlodinow… who is, holy shit, a physicist at CalTech. OK, I am now utterly mortified that I did not review his book at the time. Leonard, you deserved better, and you certainly deserve better than the following comments, which are based on all of my scientific experience (which would be none: I have a BA from Berkeley, not a BS, and I am in no way qualified to talk about anything scientific other than perhaps Christian Science, if you’ll excuse a terrible joke), a very distant memory of having read his book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, and what little I learned about olfaction theory from Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent, which is a delightful book about Luca Turin, author of Perfumes The Guide and other articles on perfume. Turin is known for a (crackpot? breakthrough? TBD) theory of olfaction that is predicated on the idea that deuterated versions of the same molecule (that is, a version that is similarly shaped, but which vibrates differently) will smell different; that is, it is not the shape of a molecule that determines how it will be perceived by a human, but how it vibrates. One of the parts of Burr’s book that sticks with me is the disappointment Turin experienced when not every human subject in his experimental trials was able to perceive the difference between the two versions of the same molecule; it seems – again, this is from memory – that something else was at play and that no two people seemed to experience smell in precisely the same way, with some being generally better at it then other. (This, I assure you, will come into play when I eventually describe what this wine tasted like to me, and what my husband Dan, who is luckily in possession of a far better sense of smell than I, thought of it.)

Next, then, is some basic experience with the sense of smell (and taste) as thoughtfully demonstrated out in lectures by Prof. Amy Mumma at Central Washington University. CWU is in Ellensburg, Washington, in a relatively dry area of the state at slightly higher elevation to Seattle. I can vouch for personal experience that wines produced in eastern Washington will necessarily taste a bit different once they’re transported over the Cascades; you’re now tasting them at sea level, and the Puget Sound is much more humid than, say, Red Mountain, and that does mix it up a bit as well. Finally, this is only tangentially relevant, but I have eaten the same lunch, a reduced fat Asian chicken salad from Trader Joe’s, at my desk for the last ten years or so, and I can definitely say that it never tastes exactly the same. Some days the soy is a little bit more pronounced, other days the carrots are prominent, yada yada yada. Why? As with perfumes, I suspect that changes in ambient temperature and humidity (and probably changes in mood as well, who knows?), mean that different notes are more prominent under certain circumstances. If the office fridge is running extra cold, it doesn’t taste like much of anything; if it’s warmed up on my desk for a while, it tastes better; on a dry winter day, the onions taste better; on a warm, humid summer day, it’s more umami. Go figure.

In short, the experience of taste – to me, at least – is definitely influenced by genetics as well as by the ambient environment. If you’ve ever been at a winery tasting room and tried to taste wine standing downwind of a ckOne enthusiast, you may have noticed that you couldn’t really taste anything. You may also be fortunate enough to know people whose genetics seem to allow them to pinpoint flavors better, or who seem to sense a wider, more vibrant range of things in wine than you do. At this point in my life, I know for certain that my sense of smell is not particularly good, but that my husband’s is. This is fine. I buy the wine, he enjoys it, all’s well.

And this leads me to what I believe I eventually came to feel about Dr. Mlodinow’s book: that yes, chance is all well and good, but I do not believe that it’s fair to say that the wine writers’ assignation of scores is strictly aleatoric. Sadly, I cannot find the book in my house; I assume it’s actually here, just shelved somewhere that I cannot find at the moment. Reading the kind email that Dr. Mlodinow sent back in 2008, it sounds like he likely pointed out the inanity of Parker-style wine reviews, in which every review is reduced to a score and in which we all of course obviously know what the fuck the difference between an 89 point and a 90 point wine is. I think I remember feeling that Dr. Mlodinow was perhaps not a wine drinker, just someone who felt that wine scoring was bullshit – which it is! – and yet part of wanted to say but that’s not the entire point of all of this. Good wine writing isn’t filling out an Excel spreadsheet and awarding points based on whether or not the wine’s murky or clear, funky or tame; good wine writing should hopefully give you some idea of what the wine is like, why it might be interesting, and ultimately if you’re very lucky it’ll be amusing or challenging or what have you.

So, Dr. Mlodinow: thank you again for sending me a review copy of your book! To sum up: taste is tricky, there are genetic differences between different people, taste depends on the environment (humidity, temperature, ambient noise, smells, etc.), taste is also culturally determined and can be learned (see also: Germans who think American root beer smells like toothpaste, Americans who think ripe Camembert smells like jock itch), wine scoring is indeed bullshit, bottle variation is a thing (cork especially, some synthetic closures as well), and all of this cannot be reduced to mere chance.

2. In The Current Situation, my days are starting to all look more or less the same: Wake up at 7 am, make a pot of tea (today’s tea: Mariage Frères French Breakfast), have toast (or muesli, or Weetabix, or whatever), change into work clothes (OK, sweatpants, don’t judge), and log on to all of my work’s systems by 8 am (Microsoft Teams, Cisco Jabber, all that fun stuff). I then spend the day writing knowledgebase articles, working with customers to renew expired certificates, configure IV infusion pumps, all of the usual stuff. Lunch is at noon, which means I make sandwiches, typically. Then it’s back to work until about 2 pm, when things slow down as most of our customers are in the Eastern time zone, which gives me enough time to sneak out for a walk in the park as long as it remains open. Finally, at 5 pm, I log out of everything, shut the computer down, and make dinner. Today was Thursday, though, which means that Eat My Box delivered supper, so all I had to do was warm that up and plate it. Rigatoni, charred broccoli, olives, and lemon, so… white wine, anyone? I went with a Bodega Colomé Torrontes 2019 from Argentina… wait, aren’t they all from Argentina? Huh. Well, time for another cheat code… time to whip out that huge Wine Grapes book that I never read all of because. Let’s see what Robinson et al have to say… yup, Argentina only. Surprise, it’s a naturally occurring hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Listán Prieto, so there you go, mystery solved. Never one of my favorites, this wine always tasted like some kind of lemon cleaning product, the fancy kind from Whole Foods, but with a bitter, tannic edge to it. Of course, my husband Dan took one sip and said ‘uh, is this Muscat or something?’, once again proving that he’s better at the blind tasting game than I am. Dammit.

This is the first time I’d drunk anything from Colomé, and it’s slightly more expensive at $12 than usual cheap Torrontes I’ve seen, and it seems to me that it was well worth the extra couple bucks – and I am not surprised the Wine Grapes calls out this producer as a stand-out example of Torrontes Riojana. Not at all sweet, but with good texture and that love it or hate it lemon Pledge-with-an-edge, this is a classic example of the style. Damn the back label, though, for suggesting oysters because I sure as heck am not going to be able to eat oysters any time soon as the border with Mexico is closed.

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

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

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2005

I remember tasting this at cellar door, along with the superb 2005 Vat 1, and purchasing immediately. At the time, though I don’t remember specifics, I do distinctly recall being impressed by its focus and drive.

That structure and linearity have served the wine well. This is the first bottle I’ve tasted in quite some time and it’s ageing in style. There are aromas that show definite bottle-age — toast, biscuits, a softening of the lemon flavours down to more curd-like notes — and in a way this reminds me of Hunter Semillon as it gains age. There’s also, unlike your typical Hunter Semillon, a good deal of oak, and I like the way the oak’s spice integrates with the fruit’s evolving aroma profile. This wine’s in a good place right now, aromatically.

The palate shows a nice lick of lemon curd that pools on the mid-palate, along with riper stonefruit flesh and sweetness that gains as the wine moves down its line. There’s a progressive richness to the wine’s shape in the mouth, leading to a rather wedge-shaped palate. Fittingly, the finish is well extended, and there’s plenty of acid to keep things alive and moving. I find this has really good clarity of articulation and, although it’s not a fine-boned wine by nature, it shows good form and drive. Certainly, within its warmer climate style, it has great balance and tension throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am happy to have a few more in my cellar. Given its Stelvin closure and good cellaring conditions, I think this might live for quite some time (as, I submit, many good Australian Chardonnays can).

Tyrrell’s Wines
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Porongurup Riesling 2009

This is still available by mail order from the producer – I picked up a bottle a while back when I put together a mixed dozen of Castelli’s wines. I also have more recent vintages to taste – so many Rieslings, so little liver function.

This starts well. A lot of Great Southern Riesling has a particular fizzy lime character that’s quite aggressive but also rather moreish. It’s partly a function of the acid structures these wines seem to develop in the region, but also of the powdery, high toned citrus flavours one often sees. In any case, it’s here, along with a soft landing on the mid-palate and a tauter, mineral after palate. It’s pure and driven, perhaps lacking an ounce in refinement of line and mouthfeel. There are a few suggestions of bottle age, but on the basis of this bottle there’s a way to go before it hits full flavour maturity.

After a day of being open the flavours don’t tire but the wine does lose some focus on the palate. It broadens as its acid calms and, while this creates less friction, it also increases the impression of sweetness and fleshy simplicity. Perhaps it will build complexity with a bit more time in bottle. In any case, a nice wine; it just needs an extra dimension of detail and finesse to join the upper echelons of the region’s Riesling.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Robert Stein Riesling 2012

I’ve not tasted a Robert Stein Riesling before, and this aroused my interest immediately for two reasons. Firstly, its price positions it amongst the more expensive Rieslings in the country. Secondly, its winemaker Jacob Stein has worked the vintage in Germany on several occasions, so it’s reasonable to expect some influence may have crept into the approach with this wine.

Thankfully, this isn’t Mudgee forced into the Mosel, and yet it’s far from Riesling in the classically pristine, dry Australian form too. The aromatics, firstly, are infused with a mix of high toned florals and much richer, more savoury notes that move from lime pulp to paw paw. It’s a slightly twisted version of a bath bomb, with quite piercing aromas that never settle into entirely comfortable territory.

The palate has good weight and impact, with a decent amount of acid that is offset by some apparent sweetness. There’s also a thread of textural phenolics that runs through the after palate, adding a chalky mouthfeel and contributing to the wine’s apparent structure. I particularly like the purity of the mid-palate’s fruit, where a burst of citrus shines clearly before the wine moves through its more textural dimensions. While this doesn’t strike me as an austere wine, its acid and phenolics may prove challenging for some drinkers accustomed to more straightforward expressions of this variety. Having said that, the J.J. Prüm I had the other day was vastly more acidic and less approachable than this.

For my part, I think it’s great producers are fiddling a bit with Riesling in Australia, creating wines with different profiles and characters. While the purity of our mainstream styles can be wonderful, I’ve got plenty of time for things like this too.

Robert Stein
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cherubino Porongurup Riesling 2012

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today about regional styles and things that might be considered “traditional” or “typical” of a region. At the very least, such ideas are problematic and mutable, and perhaps not very useful, yet they are tenacious. I think regional stereotypes appeal to our need to create taxonomies and to contain things within easily understood boxes, and it’s true that stylistic threads which run through wine regions aren’t always without foundation. Yet with as many exceptions as there are examples, are we better advised to discuss stylistic typicité with some caution?

For example, Great Southern Rieslings have a reputation for austerity, and it’s true that some show both a finer countenance and more pronounced acid than some Clare and Eden Valley wines, for example. For me, though, this doesn’t automatically translate to a forbidding character; indeed, I find the particular aromas and flavours expressed by many wines of this region to have a deliciousness that encourages generous drinking, even as young wines. The regional stereotype of searingly acidic wines that demand cellar time might have been earned by a few bottles over time, but it does a disservice to many beautiful wines too.

This wine demonstrates my point. It’s completely dry, with nice acid (pH of 2.97 and TA of 7.8 g/L) and a flavour profile that’s more about florals and lime oil than anything pulpy or juicy. Yet in the mouth in particular it’s a wine that flows with ease, spreading fine flavour across the tongue even as it maintains good movement. The mid-palate is almost weighty but kept on track thanks to some attractive texture through the after palate. The wine rested on lees for several months post-fermentation, and this accounts for some savoury, reductive notes that lightly brush across the nose and palate. If anything, I’m wishing for a slightly more vivacious, etched experience here, and the wine borders on relaxation at times.

As with many Cherubino wines I’ve tasted of late, this isn’t structured to prevent immediate enjoyment, even as it suggests some medium term cellaring.

Update: day two and the wine’s singing even more clearly. If anything, its balance has improved after being open a while.

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

Willi Schaefer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009

It’s fun travelling through the vineyards in this part of the world because, despite a recent consolidation of holdings, parcels can still be quite small. Each is discretely but clearly signposted with the name of the vineyard owner, so to walk around Wehlener Sonnenuhr, for example, is to see a roll call of famous names: J.J. Prüm, S.A. Prüm, Willi Schafer, and so on. Joy for the wine geek.

From a vintage that yielded fuller wines comes this rather buxom Spätlese from Graach-based producer Willi Schaefer. Despite a striking richness of fruit, this has more than a whiff of Wehlener Sonnenuhr minerality, chiselling both nose and palate with angles of slate and savouriness. Fruit is very much in a tropical spectrum, with mango and paw paw alongside tauter notes of citrus and orange blossom. This requires a good deal of balancing acid in the mouth, and this wine’s particular trick is that it constantly threatens to spill out of its dress while never quite doing so. Mineral flavours are key — shapewear to the fruit’s love handles — consistently pulling the wine back into some semblance of line.

This is rather rich for a Spätlese and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fruit that went into it could have been classified riper. While I can certainly appreciate the flavours and generosity on offer, my personal tastes lean towards a tauter line with, perhaps, a bit more acid and texture. Still, undeniably sophisticated and delicious.

Willi Schaefer
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail