McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2004

I recently spent an afternoon with the iconoclastic Peter Hall and his McGuigan winemaking team, pestering them with all sorts of questions and getting much back in return, including this bottle of wine to taste. This particular Bin 9000 was awarded Best Semillon in the Universe (I may have the name of the award slightly wrong) so I was naturally curious to taste it.

One comes at these things with a set of expectations, in this case that it would be a high octane style in the manner of Lovedale or Vat 1. Refreshingly, it’s an approachable wine in the context of Hunter Semillon, with a softness of mouthfeel and prettiness of flavour that strikes me as highly commercial. The nose shows gentle evolution, with typical aromas of honey and wax in addition to primary fruit, which is gently lemon-like in character. The whole is soft, caressing rather than slapping.

The palate echos these impressions with an ultra-clean, gently evolved flavour profile and the sort of acid structure that might win more fans to the style than not. Does this represent a hard line in Hunter Semillon? Hardly; it does, though, show typicité of flavour and a cuddly attitude without resorting to an obviousness of approach (residual sugar, and so on). Mouthfeel is showing signs of thickening and developing a waxiness that lovers of this style will relish.

Perhaps not one for purists, but the bottle, shared with friends, disappeared alarmingly fast, which perhaps speaks for itself.

Note: some quick research reveals the prize awarded to this wine at the International Wine & Spirit Competition was in fact that of International Semillon Trophy.

McGuigan Wines
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Tesco Finest Viña Mara Rioja Gran Reserva 2004

By far the best of my UK supermarket selections over the past couple of weeks. Marketed under the Tesco Finest label, this is in fact made by Baron de Ley.

Immediately complex aroma, with dark, meaty fruit meshing well with an array of oak- and bottle age-derived notes. I find the integration of aromas especially exciting, and I do think styles like these, with more extensive age built into their élevage in barrel and bottle, present a different view of old red wine. There’s a mellowness here, combined with still-robust fruit, that is so attractive.

In the mouth, rich and full bodied, placing liquerous red and black fruits on the tongue along with leather and spice. Flavours are intense and generous, perhaps a little blurry too, but quite delicious. The middle palate shows a good deal of freshness, thanks in part to good acid, although it’s at this point the wine’s flavours come apart a bit, oak especially feeling a bit obvious. The after palate and finish are more about old red wine flavours, delicious if you like them (I do). Mouthfeel is a highlight, being firm yet sensual at the same time.

Good wine, great value.

Tesco Finest (but really Baron de Ley)
Price: £14.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Ballinderry 2004

There are some nice bottles of wine scattered about my house. Not nice in the sense of outrageously expensive, but nice in the sense that I hesitate, for whatever reason, to drink them. On the whole, I enjoy living by myself, but choosing wine to drink is a definite downside. There are no excuses, no-one else to share the burden of having opened the last bottle of this, or an old bottle of that. I was bemoaning my reluctance to drink a lot of the wine I have at home to a good friend the other day, and he said “Just open them.” So tonight, I have.

It’s not an unaffordable wine, this one. I think it was about $35. The reason why it’s an important wine to me is that I bought it with Chris and his partner Dan at Clonakilla’s cellar door after what I presume (because I don’t think we’ve ever visited Clonakilla without this happening) was a wonderful conversation and barrel sampling session with Tim Kirk. Such occasions happen so infrequently when friends live at opposite ends of the earth, and this wine, sitting on my cheap IKEA wine rack, has served as a reminder of Summer weather, a drive from Sydney to Canberra, precious conversation and the feeling of being amongst your own kind. No wonder I’ve not found a worthy enough occasion to open it.

Looking back over my notes, I’m reminded of a slight hesitation over this wine because, at the time, its aroma was almost entirely locked down and its structure formidable. Perhaps it’s an overrated pastime, allowing a wine time to reveal itself. There’s something masochistic about being made to wait for an anticipated pleasure that may never, in fact, happen. And yet this wine’s gradual maturation into complete, liquid elegance communicates intense reward and a sense of happy shock, the same shock one gets when an old acquaintance turns up after many years’ absence, suddenly handsome and magnetic in a way that only makes sense in retrospect. This wine’s features are just beginning to work their magic now. The nose remains quiet, now more sotto voce than mute, too dignified to lunge for the dark berry notes and pencil shavings that seep out from nowhere and fill in the bottom layer of the aroma profile. A whisper of aged leather sits in the middle, gradually building what should be, with even more time, a complete profile of notes.

The palate is getting ready for this completion; it has paved the way by paring back its structure, adding the most striking thickness of mouthfeel and transforming from a somewhat raw beast into something altogether more civilised. The range of notes is textbook: red and black berries, cigar box, tobacco, a hint of gravel. This is seriously good Cabernet in medium bodied, elegant mode. Why aren’t there more Cabernets from Canberra? This seems ideal to me, effortless and flavoursome.

Tell me again, why did I ever hesitate to open this?

Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut 2004

This makes an interesting companion piece to the Mitchell Harris Sabre tasted recently. Similar ballpark in terms of pricing, but utterly different expressions of Australian sparkling wine. Where the Sabre is rich with a certain unctuous quality, this sits on the side of angular purity.

The aroma is crisp and savoury, making less concessions to fruit than the Sabre while matching it in terms of expressiveness and complexity. This certainly sits on the funkier end of the spectrum, showcasing lees derived notes ahead of its pure citrus and red fruit components. This smells quite classical in the manner in which it puts forward each note with poise and clean articulation. Intellectual more than hedonistic, but also rich and multi-layered, with fuller bass notes underlying the spectrum of high toned aromas.

In the mouth, it’s worth noting how achieved is this wine’s texture. It has none of the coarseness of mouthfeel that can plague lower priced sparkling wines. Acid is fine and crisp, effervescence even and luxurious. It’s very much what I feel a good sparkling ought to feel like. Flavours are as per the aroma, a bready note taking the lead, backed up by a range of fruit notes from citrus through to fleshier red berries. This tastes coherent from top to bottom, texture and flavour operating in concert to create a wine that is both chiselled and satisfyingly flavoursome.

Excellent sparkling wine.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A53
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Domaine de Roally Mâcon-Village 2004

A humble Village Burgundy from the also-ran Mâconnais region of Burgundy. What makes this a bit interesting is its link to vigneron Jean Thévenet, who tends to employ unconventional techniques in the growing and vinification of his wines, including the occasional oddball inclusion of a portion of botrytised fruit.

This is the very opposite of a showstopper. It’s tendency towards self-effacement almost had me writing it off when I first smelled it. It’s not a matter of blandness, or lack of presence, but rather that its aroma and flavour profiles sink immediately into the kind of deeply comfortable place I associate with home cooking. For a cheap Burgundy from 2004, this still has plenty of fruit swirling around in its aroma, alongside some prickly honey and other evidence of the time it has spent in bottle. It’s round and gently inviting, possessing just enough freshness to present an edge alongside its plushness.

The palate is, as with the nose, surprisingly youthful. The entry is fruit-sweet and almost prickly in mouthfeel, playful if a bit simple. Intensity builds towards the middle palate, where complexity becomes greater and overall presence is more impressive. This really is a good wine given its age and price point. There’s a full spectrum of flavours, from intensely sweet to oddly savoury, all expressed with a relaxation that gently ushers the palate along. There’s too little light and shade as the line moves through the after palate and finish, although the flavour profile tilts more towards savouriness the further it moves along. Structure remains firm and drags satisfying texture across the tongue.

This wine could be plenty more — more intense, more complex, more varied — but its confident relaxation is very appealing and belies its lowly provenance.

Domaine de Roally
Price: $A28.05
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Prunotto Barbaresco DOCG 2004

More and more, I’m interested in wine that expresses a tense, contradictory aesthetic. Aside from challenging the idea that wine ought to be harmonious and coherent, there can be something beautiful about pieces that don’t add up, or that seem to cancel each other out. It’s the beauty of death, of horror, or simply of a puzzle that defies resolution.

I like this wine because it smells of things that ought not to go together. Instantly, the smell of vinous decay and death; oxidisation, the leather and dried flowers of old red wine. Alongside, the smell of twenty different kinds of oak; nougat, vanilla, caramel, spice. Then there’s a big hit of tar and, paradoxically, a burst of fresh flowers. It’s like watching a life in fast motion, from birth to final days, moving so quickly the pieces blur and overlap. I could smell this for hours.

The palate is all about sensationally prominent tannins and deceptively light fruit flavour. Entry is fresh and full of savouriness: flowers, dried peel, almonds, and so on. There’s a sense of the sweet decay of autumn leaves that adds nuance to what is a powerful expression of Nebbiolo fruit. Impatient tannins creep in, fine and abundant, seeming to create a network of texture that rips across the tongue and shoots right to the back of the mouth. Overall, this wine has serious impact without sacrificing its essentially medium bodied, high toned character.

Not a wine of great refinement, then, but a true expression of this style at what I assume should be a reasonable retail price. Went very well with steak and chips.

Price: $A110 (restaurant wine list price)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz 2004

People seem to have very strong reactions to Tahbilk’s red wines; not like or dislike so much as love or hate. I wonder both why this is and what it means; in any case I’m tempted, from an aesthetic perspective, to value Tahbilk’s wines all the more highly because of it. Increasingly, I am impatient with wines that don’t display intent beyond correctness and technical perfection. Especially at a price point such as this, I feel we ought as drinkers to demand personality, a provocation, a point of view.

So, for lovers of Tahbilk reds, here’s one for you. It’s the companion wine to the Cabernet Sauvignon tasted a while back and, while I don’t like it quite as much as that wine, it’s unmistakably of this maker. The nose is expressive and grainy, with red earth, gum leaf, rustic fruits, nuts, some vanilla. The trick it pulls off is to be both distinctive and multi-dimensional, which is rarer than one might think. 
The palate is pure elegance and moderation. Not to suggest intensity of flavour is the casualty; in fact, this is quite a piercing wine in its way. Entry is fruit-driven and soft, with berry juice flavours and a sense of warm sunlight pushing the wine towards an earthy, detailed middle palate. As with the Cabernet, and most Tahbilk red wines it seems, the tannins are especially remarkable, here being both smotheringly textural (like a woolen blanket) and somehow unobtrusive too. It’s medium bodied, with bright-enough acidity and a clean, brisk flow through the mouth. The after palate sings cleanly with savoury dark fruits, and the finish is gentle and elegant, not to mention bloody long. A slight excess of sweet oak towards the end of the line is almost forgivable.
Regional, complex and authentic. 

Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

It’s appropriate, I suppose, at this time of year to feel grateful for a variety of things. For example, I’m grateful my liver continues to function effectively. It also strikes me I ought to be grateful for wines like this; wines that are held back for release, are strongly regional, and of exemplary quality. Mostly, though, I’m grateful to be enjoying such a lovely wine tonight.

A sweet nose — sweet in a cedar, eucalypt, earthy sort of way — that gives up very little to the  imperative of varietal correctness. There’s enough recognisably Cabernet fruit, though, to satisfy the purists. Ultimately, it is what it is and, for my tastes, the aroma is wonderfully comforting, in addition to being complex and balanced and all those serious things. 
The palate strikes me with its sense of appropriateness. It never rises above medium bodied, yet is a lesson in generosity and mature balance. On entry, lithe gum leaf and cassis wind around each other, giving way to a more textural expression of detailed fruit and earth as the wine makes its way through the mid-palate. There’s plenty of complex flavour within the context of the style, which remains doggedly elegant. The after palate dries with still-abundant tannins, quite chalky in character. They carry sweet fruit through a very long finish. Given the structure here, I’ve no doubt a few more years in bottle would yield pleasing results; I’m happy with the wine right now, though, especially in accompaniment to a cheese platter. 
Tremendously enjoyable wine.

Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Best's Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2004

This is building really well in the glass. It started simple and lacking in depth, but a very few minutes’ swirling yields excellent development of the aroma. Juicy yellow plum flesh, vibrant spice and a note that is half way to turned earth; that’s quite a reductive description, though, because it smells very coherent with good complexity, not easily separable into individual notes. It is perhaps brighter than some of the other Grampians Shiraz wines I have been drinking lately. 

In the mouth, the fruit becomes deeper in profile, with a rich dark plum note the centre around which spice, earth, coffee and other goodies revolve. Good impact on entry, with a strong burst of texture hitting the tongue along with intense fruit flavour that builds nicely. Assertive tannins take over somewhat on the middle palate, and mask to an extent the fruit, which becomes increasingly savoury as the wine sits in the glass. They are the kind of tannins that start off luxuriously chocolatey and rich, before crossing the line to become aggressively dry. Very fine and flavoursome, though. Really good drive through the after palate to a finish that struggles a bit against all the tannins. The whole is medium bodied and, at times, I thought I could detect some alcohol heat, but this was a fleeting rather than consistent impression.
This is flavoursome and impressive, though in the mouth there isn’t elegance so much as the tangle of limbs associated with a fashion model in training. Should fill out, soften and gain ease in time but, as it is, not ready for its close up.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A55.09
Closure: Cork

El Coto Crianza 2004

I haven’t taken the time to explore much Spanish wine, but it’s fair to say the Iberian peninsula is so hot right now. This, incidentally, is typical of my (in)ability to be ahead of the curve. No matter, if you are like me and are a novice in this area, I can highly recommend Dave Worthington’s excellent site Tinto y Blanco.

This evening, I was at my local First Murphy on an emergency wine run (triggered by those moments where nothing in the cellar looks remotely appealing) and decided to buy a few cheap Spanish bottles. Here’s the first, an inexpensive Tempranillo-based wine from a vintage officially rated “excellent” by the Rioja Control Board. 
A fun, moderately expressive nose of savoury red fruits, brown spices and a a nice thread of funky undergrowth. Some sweet oak too. I find it attractive, if straightforward.  It’s not an aroma that grabs you by the scruff of the neck; rather, it persuasively suggests you start thinking about what food to have with what you’re about to taste. The palate is sweeter than expected, with fresh red fruit and sweet oak the dominant characters. There are also some complexities; aniseed-like spice, for example, along with a general undercurrent of savouriness that keeps the fruit and oak in check. A really appealing, easy flow through the mouth, with acid and tannin balanced to create the sort of breezy sophistication you don’t quite recognise until it’s over. A dip through the spicy after palate never quite redeems itself on the finish, mostly because it doesn’t have enough time. 
There’s a lot to like here and all I can think about while drinking it are the various foods that might go with. Spicy sausage, I reckon. 

El Coto
Price: $A21.85
Closure: Cork