Clayfield Grampians Shiraz 2004

This wine’s a ripper and pleasingly distinct from its 2005 counterpart. The latter’s style (and alcohol level) prompted MA-rated strong language and drug references in my tasting note, but I suspect this won’t call for such colourful descriptions. This is more University professor than the tits-out-in-the-back-of-a-ute-at-SummerNats 2005

But who said intellectuals can’t be sexy? Big handfuls of white pepper and spice on the nose, along with the sort of deep berry fruit that immediately signals impressive concentration (if the dark, dense colour weren’t enough). It’s a very stylish aroma profile, as much for the balance of its expressiveness as any particular element. There’s a decent amount of cedar oak too, noticeable and still a bit raw, yet very well matched to the fruit character. 
In the mouth, a wonderfully sensuous experience. The entry swells elegantly with dark berries and spice, plus a liqueur-like note that speaks of concentration rather than overripeness. Texturally, there’s a lot going on, and it’s structurally coherent in a way that makes it difficult to know where the acid stops and the tannins begin. No matter — the whole is shaped with a firm, precise hand. There’s such intensity of flavour on the middle palate that it’s tempting to label it full bodied, yet it’s not really, perhaps medium to full at most, retaining a sense of proportion even at its most fruit-dense point. The after palate lightens in tone, with some red fruit poking in, and spice becoming more prominent. Extremely fine tannins carry a residue of flavour through the finish for some time.
The 2005 is drinking well right now, which works out well because this wine is a bit edgy and, I suspect, has its best days still ahead. A very satisfying, generous expression of Grampians Shiraz whose fruit and structure should persist through the development of bottle aged complexity. 

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin

Brookland Valley Merlot 2004

Who first said that Merlot should taste soft, fruity and generous? It’s an oft-repeated opinion, usually trotted out apologetically in conjunction with some mass-market, sub-$15 bottle of wine. On this view, Merlot ends up a bit like that mentally challenged second cousin who turns up to all the family functions and who is at least, you know, nice.

Annie's Lane Copper Trail Shiraz Grenache Mourvèdre 2004

I was hoping for a robust, rustic Clare Valley red in the traditional mould, but what I’ve got in front of me is something quite different. There’s no shortage of flavour here. On the nose, a complex mix of eucalyptus, dark fruit, slightly sauvage vegetal notes and black pepper. It takes some teasing apart, and on first sniff I comprehensively failed to understand its nuances. I’m not sure whether I actually like the aroma profile, but there’s no denying its interest and complexity.

Taylors St Andrews Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

I’ve got a soft spot for Taylors, as much for the good value of its standard range as for the fact that I enjoyed many a good evening out on its wines before I became interested in what I drink, as opposed to being simply interested in drinking. St Andrews is Taylors’ premium label, a range I don’t have much experience with beyond the Riesling. I do enjoy a nice Clare red, though, so here goes with the St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon from 2004.

If ever one wanted to illustrate the joys of New World winemaking, this would be a good wine to showcase. It’s just so correct and clean. A blast of pure, slightly sweet Cabernet fruit is the most prominent aroma, accompanied by varietal dust, regional eucalypt and umami galore (roast beef and gravy). Totally coherent and convincing, and not the least bit funky.

Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2004

An instantly aromatic wine — one of those that fills its immediate vicinity with smells a few seconds after being poured. There are flowers and citrus zest and all manner of high toned things. Once this aspect of the wine settles, though, nascent bottle aged characters emerge and it is these that form the backbone of the wine’s aroma. Although just beginning its journey, this wine seems to be approaching maturity with determined elegance. There’s no disjointedness to the aroma. Rather, a layer of intense citrus fruit dovetails neatly into hints of toast and beeswax. It’s all quite seamless, surprisingly so for a wine that isn’t yet released to the market. I hesitate a little here because there’s also a slightly blunt character to the aroma profile, a lack of light and shade that, I hope, will appear with more time in bottle.

An explosion of intensity on the palate. I love Rieslings like this — they sneak up on you and smack your palate with intense fruit flavour and you know all you’re tasting is pure, terroir-driven fruit. Cool and sharp on entry, there’s plenty of acidity and structure without in any way overwhelming the fruit. This means flavour registers quite early on the tongue, straight away really, and zips down a straight line to the middle palate. There’s lime juice and fine honey and the most shapely cut of minerality one might wish for in an Eden Valley Riesling. Very impressive. Everything seems in its place and the flavour profile shows good detail. A lovely waxy mouthfeel accompanies more citrus on the after palate, and this smooth sophistication carries the wine through to an impressively long finish.
Sure, it’s still a young wine, and its best days are certainly ahead of it, but it’s bloody enjoyable now too. One to buy in multiples and sample every couple of years. A beautiful dry Aussie Riesling.

Jacob's Creek Reserve Merlot 2004

There are a few notable Merlots on the local scene but I’d struggle to articulate (based on admittedly limited experience) what a regional Aussie Merlot should taste like. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure; it certainly makes for unexpected, though often bland, tasting experiences.

This one is sourced from various regions in South Australia and forms part of the Reserve range of Jacob’s Creek wines. There’s often some pretty good value in this range and the wines are just that bit more “serious” than the standard label. In terms of aroma, there’s a lot of oak; the sort of hard, toasty, cedary oak that tends to mask easy fruit flavour. It’s very glamorous but kind of confronting too. Varietally, I’m getting some blueberry fruit but a wider, more dominant range of brambly notes. So, quite an austere aroma profile, really.
In the mouth, quite a hard, oak-driven wine. Maybe I’m being cynical but this wine feels built to a formula that is less about fruit character (and sympathetic treatment) and all about positioning. Quite a firm, powerful attack that showers the tongue with lean (not unripe) flavour and some underlying sweet berry fruit. The middle palate reveals this wine’s essential tension: a thread of firm oak runs alongside plush, quite attractive berry fruit and a hint of green olive. The oak character is akin to nutmeg that you haven’t yet grated. The flavours are large scale and very generous, but the whole feels disjointed, somehow, and unharmonious. Ripe tannins create a lovely texture that carries the wine through a somewhat hollow finish. A bit hot, perhaps, the wine finishing as it starts, with an essentially sappy, angular note that seems mostly oak-derived.
I’m not getting what I need from this wine. It’s extremely well made, clean and flavourful. But, for me, it is pretentious; its style is essentially mismatched to the underlying character of its fruit. I drank this wine with an outrageously inappropriate meal (Japanese curry) that, ironcally, tamed some of the savoury characters and allowed a softer, more feminine side to emerge. 

Jacob’s Creek
Price: $A16
Closure: Cork

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2004

It’s customary to bang on about this classic label in terms of its value for money. To be sure, I love that I’m able to purchase a wine held back from release until its point of maturation for under $A15 (and I paid somewhat over the odds,too). It’s especially ironic that McWilliams persists with its release strategy across the Mount Pleasant range when other labels, including some premiums, are pushed out earlier and earlier, very much to the detriment of the consumer who might like to obtain at least a little enjoyment soon after purchase.

Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Interesting bunch, these 2004 Coonawarras. It was obviously a good vintage, but what’s fascinating to me is how each maker interprets their fruit in the context of an acknowledged Australian “classic” style. So far, three wines (Leconfield, Wynns, and this), three quite different interpretations. Perhaps it’s misleading to discuss regions in terms of a singular style. Sure, there are common elements, but it’s the differences that tell the most compelling story.

Initially wild on the nose, and a bit hot, but settling quickly into classic Cabernet notes of leafiness and cool dark fruit. There’s vanilla/cedar oak too, a fair bit of it actually, but the fruit has the scale to contain it. This isn’t a shy wine at all — the nose is quite expressive and the whole thing feels generous.

The palate continues this theme with immediately accessible fruit flavours wrapped in a textured, chunky mouthfeel. Although not quite full bodied, we’re squarely in “big red wine” territory here, fruit-driven and mouthcoating. Notes of red and black fruits (with perhaps a prune or two thrown in) dominate the middle palate before giving way to more astringent flavours like brambles, black olives and tartly unripe berries. I like this progression. Really good consistency through the palate, with no dips or dead spots. Fine, ripe tannins start to blanket the tongue towards the finish. Pretty good length.

This is the kind of wine you’d want to pull out in the middle of a convivial dinner party, perhaps just as you’ve dragged that lasagne from the oven, piping hot and rich with béchamel and Bolognese. You’ve worked your way through some sparking, a riesling or two, and you’re ready for the main event. Crowd-pleasing.

Zema Estate
Price: $25
Closure: Cork

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Quite a savoury, complex expression of Cabernet, totally different from Leconfield’s 2004 effort. This wine shows a classically leafy aroma profile, lean and a little angular, with some graphite and smokey cedar in amongst lithe blackcurrant fruit. There’s an interesting (and slightly odd) earthy note, plus a light edge of confected red fruit too. A lot going on here for a young wine.

In the mouth, equally lean but with a sour thrust that I find delicious. The entry is deceptively smooth, as it’s not until the middle palate that both sourness and fruit weight begin to register. It never reaches any particular heights in terms of presence, and at times it tastes a little dilute, but I enjoy the fact that this is a light wine, nimble and sprightly in the mouth. Tannins are firm and start to take over on the after palate. They’re a little raw at the moment and feel unevenly distributed, but add a welcome rusticity to the mouthfeel. Reasonable length.

If you must drink this now, make sure you accompany it with food, as this will smooth out the structure and fill the wine in to an extent. I think it will drink better as a more mature wine, and suspect it will transform into one of those ephemeral 1970s Coonawarra Clarets that, as aged wines, sparkle with decaying delicacy.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Price: $25
Closure: Cork