Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz 2002

Do we overrate the importance of vintage when assessing wine? Vintage conditions have an effect, at times profound, on the character of wine, but I wonder how productive is an absolute view of quality? Does our obsession with a “best” vintage enhance our ability to enjoy the drink? Or do we, in fact, neglect wines that have something interesting to say in favour of the latest “vintage of the century?”
More and more, I find myself happy, indeed quite interested, to taste wine from supposedly inferior vintages.

Grosset Gaia 2002

Style is, I think, of the essence when it comes to wine appreciation. Formal qualities such as complexity and structure are all well and good, but it all comes to nought if you don’t like the wine’s character and personality. I remember tasting Pinots in Central Otago a couple of years back, and being struck by how boring some (though certainly not all) the wines were, despite being quite correct and certainly well made.  There was nothing extra, no idea or beauty beyond what was in the glass.
Dark, somewhat impenetrable colour with flashes of crystalline ruby.  The nose is heady with cedary spice, brambles, clean fruit and higher toned powdery florals. There are also some light touches of sweet bottle age. In its delicacy, it’s closer to fine fragrance than wine, but none the worse for it. The aroma profile became more integrated and assertive through the evening.
The palate disappointed me initially, and here I return to the question of style. For the first hour or so, I found the wine correct, full of quality, but somehow underwhelming and perhaps a little boring. A very clean entry, with cool fruit and savoury leaf winding their way towards a medium bodied mid-palate. Additional notes of vanilla, dust and a bit of eucalyptus add themselves to the mix with time. Excellent delineation of flavour components. Bottle age becomes more evident on the after palate, with a lovely, lingering sweetness sitting alongside loose-knit yet still quite dry tannins. A nice lift through the after palate shows higher toned leafiness plus hints of plush ripe fruit too. The finish is excellent, clean and long, and leads naturally to the next sip.
It all sounds quite good. What changed after an hour is critical to the wine’s success but sits outside of a tasting note. The flavours clicked, merged and became utterly persuasive. It’s as if I was able to step back and see the wine as a whole rather than as individual components of flavour and structure. Its style, in other words, transcended the mechanics of its delivery and became the wine’s dominant face. And, happily, I think I got it.
GrossetPrice: $A50Closure: StelvinDate tasted: July 2008

Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2002

A controversial wine. This benchmark Australian label in its 2002 incarnation was savaged by some prominent critics on release, then appeared at an enormous discount at retail. I picked up a couple out of curiosity and whacked them in the cellar. Here’s a first taste.

There’s a curious duality on the nose. First, hints of sweet dark fruit and sweeter oak. Second, an astringent, funky character that is hard to pin down but that exists somewhere between green bean and hot tar. For all that, it’s quite aromatic.
The palate is revealing, as it more strongly contrasts sweet fruit against powerfully astringent, somewhat bitter flavours. Just full of contradictions, this wine. There’s definitely some ripe, black fruit in there. It’s emphemeral, though, and hence teases the palate without providing a sense of closure or completeness. Instead, the wine is somewhat dominated by apparently unripe notes and bitter coffee grounds. It’s all slightly dirty and quite out of keeping with my understanding of style and balance. Some sweet vanilla oak sneaks into the after palate, and the finish is quite long.
I left a little in glass overnight and it calmed somewhat, but with this diminution of difficult flavours came an overall dullness that is no compensation. I should note, though, that we finished the bottle between us, and it’s ironic that a wine about which I have so many questions can still be oddly drinkable. The other half certainly liked it more than I, so maybe it’s just not my style. 
Price: $A20
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2002

A fascinating counterpoint to its Watervale sibling, this wine would be a great education for those drinkers who think of Australian wine as a terroir-free zone. I’m not sure it would turn any drinkers on to Riesling, though. That sounds like a put-down, but it’s reflective merely of style, not quality. For those converts among us, it’s pure pleasure.A delicate, wispy nose that presents a riot of high toned aromas. There are florals, minerality, slate, etc. The tiniest hint of toast also registers and it’s the only element that indicates the six years that have passed between vintage and this tasting. Compared to the Watervale, this is a much more restrained wine, no less complex, but different nonetheless. With some time in glass, rounder fruit notes also emerge, yet the overall profile remains lithe and chiselled. On entry, bright, ultra-fine acidity freshens the palate and ushers beautifully delineated flavours onto the mid-palate. There’s more slate and mineral, hints of powdery lime blossom, and some edges of honey too, all showing excellent intensity despite the ultra-light palate weight. It’s elusive in a way, both structured and ephemeral, like a puff of smoke that shows unexpected geometry before spiralling into the sky. Fruit gains weight on the after palate, and the finish sings with mineral and honey in equal measure. So, so elegant. It’s a wine that screams quality, but is considerably more intellectual an experience than the Watervale. Reading Chris’s earlier note, I concur with his description minus the petrol, which I’m not getting from this bottle. This is just starting to age, and I’m going to leave my next tasting for another two to three years.GrossetPrice: $A40Closure: StelvinDate tasted: July 2008

Grosset Watervale Riesling 2002

There are a lot of reasons why Riesling deserves a bit of love. It’s refreshing, tasty and is generally excellent value. I like it most, though, for its transparency. When made in the usual Australian dry style, there’s nowhere to hide, with vintage conditions shining through clearly. This makes Riesling the most tantalising of grapes; a great year, when it happens, promises so much. Tasting a Riesling from such a vintage is like tasting the potential of wine fully expressed. Such a Riesling with bottle age, then, simply multiplies the anticipation. Perhaps I should start this note with my conclusion: that this wine is extraordinary and beautiful. Now that I’ve set the scene, I can try to describe it adequately. On the nose, delicate aromas of white stonefruit, a hint of honey, flint, etc. As with the best wines, the aromas are in a sense indistinguishable from each other, because they fit together so elegantly. There are some influences from bottle age here, but I suggest they are limited to a sense of honey and softness that may not have been present in the youthful wine. It’s certainly not a full-blown aged style, which makes sense considering the vintage and closure (Stelvin). The palate is a wonderful mixture of freshness and rich flavour. Tingly, steely acid hits the tongue immediately on entry, and is somewhat deceptive in terms of the wine’s flavour development. Although the structure remains youthful, the mid palate reveals definite aged influences, as yet subtle, but indicative of a promising development path.  Honey, round stonefruit and lime juice are well balanced between each other, without the awkwardness of some Rieslings in the middle of their development period. I don’t know whether it’s a question of quality or simply fortunate timing, but some Rieslings just seem to taste awesome at each stage of their development, whereas others hit their straps at a certain point and, outside of this window, can seem gangly and unbalanced. This Grosset is definitely the former type; it’s a wine that seems to glide effortlessly into the moment, composed and confident. Beautifully structured acid that mellows somewhat with time in glass carries flavour through the after palate and onto a finish that clings to the tongue like a determined celebrity stalker. Just excellent. What more to say?GrossetPrice: $A35Closure: StelvinDate tasted: June 2008

Clonakilla Riesling 2002

Canberra churns out its share of good Rieslings, and is home to the International Riesling Challenge, amongst other vinous highlights. Ken Helm of Helm Wines has been a key advocate for this variety in the district, and I will be tasting his Premium Riesling soon. For now, though, another regional benchmark — the Clonakilla Riesling. On release, this was right up there (to my taste) with celebrated Clare and Eden wines from this vintage, so I’m interested to find out how it’s tracking.People talk about letting red wines breathe, but white wines can be equally lumpy on opening, and often benefit from a bit of swirling and loving care. Case in point: this wine was a bit all over the place at first. Spritzy, acidic, some aged characters but overwhelmingly dry and austere. Not a great mix of elements. An hour later, things are settling in well. An interesting nose of nuts and baked goods mixed with a distinctive, savoury fruit note. I’m not sure it’s quite coherent, but it’s certainly characterful and perhaps even slightly provocative. Even after settling a bit, entry is still pretty lively, with full-on acid that collides with dry lemon fruit flavour. There are also some aged characters, but they are not straightforward honey/toast. Rather, they are more savoury and perhaps buttery, very much in alignment with the nose and more than a bit of fun. The whole, though, feels underdeveloped to me, and the wine’s still-prominent primary character is very much dominant. That’s not bad, it’s merely indicative of a certain stage of development, and does not mask the intrinsic qualities present, such as complexity and elegance. You realise on the mid palate that flavour intensity is impressively high, and the acid has shown itself well architected, if a little coarse. The after palate becomes quite savoury, and suggests to me this wine would be a brilliant aperitif, perhaps served with strongly flavoured canapes. Decent, fresh finish.I’m not at all disappointed with this tasting, and believe this wine has its best days still ahead. It’s developing really interesting aged characters that are out of step with the Clare/Eden norm and are all the better for it. ClonakillaPrice: $A25Closure: CorkDate tasted: June 2008

Mesh Riesling 2002

Of all the Rieslings made from grapes of the celebrated 2002 vintage in the Clare and Eden Valleys, this wine holds a special place in my heart. For a start, it was one of the most impressive of these wines on release. Secondly, it provided considerable enjoyment to Chris and I while dining at a (long gone) Indonesian restaurant in Glebe. I’ve had a six pack sitting in the cellar since 2002, and have managed to avoid drinking any until now. Great expectations, indeed.
The colour shows signs of development, with richer golden hues intruding into a pale, straw-like tint. Nose is funky. It’s funky in a roast nuts and honey sort of way, perhaps with some vanilla-like notes, even a hint of petrol. It’s a generous, almost slightly fat aroma profile, and most attractive too, although hardly an “ultra clean” aged style. Think toasted muesli and yoghurt and you’ll get an idea of this wine as it stands right now.Entry is deceptively smooth, as it takes a moment for acid to register on the tongue. Once it does, we see an attractive fullness of body (for Riesling, anyway) with dry, slightly chalky acidity. The acid feels slightly harsh, as if it doesn’t quite belong alongside this wine’s nascent richness. There’s more honey, some toasted oats, a little vanilla and spice.  There’s also more than a hint of dry lime, a hangover from this wine’s fresher days. Flavour drives through the after palate with admirable definition, and the wine’s length is beyond reproach.As much as i’m enjoying this, it’s a striptease performance that never quite reveals what you’d like to see.  Unlike those Rieslings where aged and fresh notes intertwine in scintillating conversation, I suspect this wine needs a more complete expression of age to display satisfying coherence and true character. Having said that, all the ingredients are here — intensity, complexity, structure. It’s a wine of quality for sure. I’ll be eagerly cracking another bottle open in, say, two years’ time. MeshPrice: $A25Closure: StelvinDate tasted: June 2008

Domaine Emilian Gillet Viré-Clessé Quintaine 2002

A slightly older white Burgundy this time, which will hopefully come as a relief after a slew of younger siblings. As an aside, at Full Pour we taste wines in a “real world” context as much as possible, which often means a single bottle at a time, often sipped slowly all evening. This serves to highlight the role of variety in enjoyment. A self-confessed addict of difference, I find working my way through a series of similar wines both highly revealing and slightly boring at the same time. Still, there are worse things I could do…

Pretty golden hay colour, good clarity. A really seductive nose, with rich almond, grapefruit, butter, and some clear botrytis influence. It’s a wine that reaches out of the glass and sucks you in without resorting to excess vulgarity — sort of like the difference between someone with a magnetic personality versus someone who is just loud. There are also hints of roast nut and spice that add complexity to the aroma profile. The palate delivers solidly on the nose. Entry is slippery-slidey, without any acidic harshness and yet showing freshness and vitality. Rich, round fruit builds on the tongue towards the middle palate, just as some acid structure starts to tingle on the edges of the tongue. Despite the freshness, this is a relaxed, generous wine that you don’t have to work especially hard to enjoy. A lot of this is to do with the ultra silky mouthfeel that balances slipperiness with acidity most satisfyingly. More citrus fruit and hints of sweet honey coat the tongue. The savoury nut/oak observed on the nose props up the fruit flavour in balanced fashion. If it’s not quite as complex as the nose suggests, this is easily compensated by the smooth, easy elegance of this wine. A nutty lift through the after palate keeps on rising through a very satisfying, flavoursome finish. Yum!

I’m tempted to say this wine lacks a certain sophistication, but that’s not quite right. It’s breezy yet substantial, and echoes a sense of generous provincial hospitality. Its mix of fresh and ultra-ripe notes is, I find, beguiling. Delicious, bloody good value, and quite different from all the other white Burgundies recently tasted.

Domaine Emilian Gillet
Price: $A34
Closure: Cork
Date tasted
: June 2008

Mount Pleasant Mount Henry Pinot Shiraz 2002

Pinot Noir and Shiraz. A little odd, you might say, yet not without precedent. As the back label explains, some of wine legend Maurice O’Shea’s most renowned wines were blends of these two varieties. So, Mount Henry is a tribute of sorts to these iconic wines. It’s pure Hunter Valley, of course, wrapped in a heavy, somewhat monumental bottle of chunky proportions. First impressions are marred somewhat by a big whiff of brett that never quites dissipates as the bottle empties. It’s not, however, beyond tolerance, at least for my palate. Rather, it’s a metallic sheen over deliciously earthy red fruits, quite sweet really, a bit of custardy oak and some funkiness. It smells of Hunter Shiraz but shows a marked divergence at the same time, with some bright complexity pushing it away from the straight Shiraz style. On entry, the wine smacks the lips and tongue with generous flavour almost immediately. It’s got good presence, this wine. The mid-palate shows good fruit weight and a fine, powdery texture, and tastes of raspberry liqueur poured on a dusty dirt road. Characterful, if not hugely complex. The after palate and finish are quite textural, thanks to chewy tannins.There’s a slight lack of focus to this wine’s progression through the palate, but why quibble over something so tasty? Parallels between Hunter “Burgundy” and Pinot Noir have a lot of history to draw on, if only at the level of nomenclature and general “style.” But there are synergies there, as O’Shea and this wine show. It’s a wonder more producers in the Hunter don’t experiment with this blend. I’m led to believe some Hunter enthusiasts are taking matters into their own hands.McWilliams Mount PleasantPrice: $A30Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Château Saint-Georges 2002

This is a Merlot-dominant (60%) blend that also includes some Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Cabernet Franc (20%). 2002 isn’t considered an especially stellar vintage for Merlot in Bordeaux, although some consider the vintage generally underrated, producing less fruit forward but classically styled wines. This wine is from the