Poderi Colla Dardi de Rose Bussia Barolo 2007

A very happy new year to all. To celebrate 2013, I’m in County Durham in the UK visiting a friend who happens to be an exceptionally talented cook. In between hearty English meals, I am tasting the occasional wine. I like to shop for wine in supermarkets while here, and this particular bottle was procured at Costco.

Young Barolo can be a bit forbidding, and this is certainly a very structured wine at present. However, after a couple of days’ tasting, I think I have the measure of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem the most elegant example. The aroma was initially quite muted; a day’s air, though, sees it somewhat more expressive. There are some recognisable aromas, tea leaf and red fruits, though it’s far from coherent. More like a moderately crazy goldfish darting in and out of the strands of seaweed in its too-small tank.

The palate shows satisfyingly robust tannin and a set of flavours that provide more satisfaction than the nose. It’s bright and moderately intense, with a particularly clean middle palate. However, the elements never come close to expressing any sort of narrative, appearing to be placed randomly along the line. The tannins, too, while present, lack any sort of beauty of arrangement.

Will this come together? I’m not sure; for now, it offers only intermittent pleasures.

Poderi Colla
Price: £25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007

Somewhat of a showstopper. To be sure, this is in some respects a no holds barred wine, with what appears to be plenty of winemaking contributing to its flavour profile. The nose shows an enthusiastic cascade of aromas, ranging from popcorn and butter through stonefruit, more tropical fruit notes, lemon, minerals, and plenty of toasty oak. I list this number of descriptors to give a feel for the amount of stuff going on here; there’s genuine complexity in both fruit and winemaking inputs, and as I smell this I’m reminded of why Chardonnay is often considered the greatest of all white grapes. Few varietals could take this treatment and come out looking good.

The palate is an absolute powerhouse, but what I like most here is that all its flavours are so cleanly, precisely expressed within an frame that is as contained as it is impactful. There’s something beautiful about power so tightly focused, and the way this wine unfolds in the mouth is its primary pleasure. As much sophistication as there is by way of individual flavours, there’s also a surprisingly louche side to the fruit here, pushing against a tropical, pineapple note that I found amusing in this context.

This will surely polarise drinkers, and that’s okay, because there’s great value in an unapologetic style made with skill and integrity.

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

Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2007

Now and again, I’ll resume my search for Great Australian Merlot. Granted, I could probably be putting my time and effort to better use; weeding my herb garden perhaps, or learning how to make my bed neatly enough so that it actually looks inviting instead of slightly sad. But the ragged way this varietal is often treated at the hands of many Australian vignerons keeps me coming back to the question: who amongst us is doing the grape justice?

Tasmania is an unlikely place to look for answers, perhaps, though the Wine Companion site lists several producers across the state making wines from Bordeaux varieties. This particular wine is a cellar door only offering from high profile producer Stefano Lubiana. Its price of $35 suggests it aspires to be more than just a fast moving quaffer. The nose immediately establishes a seriousness of intent. This is an introspective wine, studiously layering gentle aromas of red fruit, twig and black olive on a base of calm caramel. Ripeness seems ideally achieved here, fruit character showing the fullness one might expect without ever hinting at overripe excess. There’s a bit of funk too, a whiff of undergrowth and rotting leaves, that may be a function of age as much as inherent character.

The palate is medium bodied and structurally centred on acid. A gentle, clean entry shows sweet fruit and some leaf. The middle palate is tightly focused and cleanly articulated, never generous, impressively intense. There’s a ease here that feels breezy and light, and I’d be tempted to characterise this as a bistro wine were it not for a level of complexity and detail that could never sit well in a carafe. There’s no doubt this aims to be the real deal, a Merlot of elegance and complexity that never gives up the grape’s natural, easygoing advantages. Wines like this are apt to be underrated and will certainly never capture the attention of drinkers the way more extroverted styles can. But it’s a lovely drink, put together with care and a respect for the grape.

I’d be happy to drink this while I keep searching for the Great One.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Alain Chavy Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2007

I’m a fan of this label, having enjoyed recent vintages (2005, 2006) very much. Though Chavy allows a clear view into vintage conditions, there’s a delicate power that unites these wines; detail above impact, complexity above density. This 2007 is clearly the most forward of the last three vintages, a real surprise considering growing conditions, which generally led to whites rather higher in acidity than usual.

The nose retains En Remilly’s fundamentally minerally, high toned profile, with sparks of flint, wet wool and florals. Fruit, however, is broader than usual, showing hints of yellow peach where before there was only white. There’s less citrus than usual, and less talc, stonefruit flesh taking its place. To be clear, this remains a restrained, tight aroma profile, but certainly looser than in previous years.

The palate is far less tightly structured than the 2006 in particular, and even in its first year after retail release the peach is flowing freely. What’s wonderful about this wine, though, is the clash of site and vintage conditions, plus perhaps a touch more oxidative handling in the winery. This is what happens when a wine of fundamentally mineral character goes wild; it’s full of savoury fruit and sweet prickliness, of blunt faces and angular asides. Citrus, rather than invoking delicate grapefruit or lemon, tilts towards juicy orange. Do I prefer it in its more restrained, delicate guise? Perhaps, but this is fascinating too, in the same way a favourite artist’s least achieved work is still valuable for being an expression of something fundamentally worthy. And this is far from a bad wine; indeed, it’s constantly improving in the glass, gaining complexity and almost justifying its portly middle.

For enthusiasts (and the fools who love them).

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château Laffitte-Teston Madiran Vieilles Vignes 2007

The generosity of wine lovers is endlessly fabulous. On Friday evening, I had the pleasure of Mark Gifford’s company, and not only did I retaste part of his Blue Poles portfolio (go the Allouran), but I was given the opportunity to taste this wine, which Mark had brought back from his last stint in France. Like Mark himself, this wine proved a deliciously easygoing dining companion, and one that demonstrates structure does not come at the expense of drinkability.

Tannat is renowned for its tannins, so I was looking forward to a mouthful of sweet sandpaper with this wine. But first, the nose, a balancing act of gorgeously voluptuous red fruits and strong savoury overtones strongly reminiscent of smoked herbs. Am I over-romanticising things to suggest that wines from warm climes smell like the summer days through which they evolved as fruit on vine? Perhaps, but this wine’s aroma strongly evokes lazy summer days, ripening berries, wild herb gardens and the thirsty laziness of balmy afternoons.

This wine’s contradictions come to the fore on the palate. It’s beautifully balanced for drinking, a gush of bright, medium bodied red fruit immediately presenting on entry. It comes across slightly sweeter on the palate, perhaps due to a relative absence of the distinctively herbal thread seen on the nose. Here, instead of savouriness, fruit is balanced by tannins that are both prominent and well distributed. This isn’t a monstrous wine, structurally, nor is it a wine that “demands food” like, say, Sangiovese. The tannins sprinkle, then shower, the tongue with loose-knit sweetness, while all that red fruit keeps driving down the line. So easy, delicious and unpretentious.

Château Laffitte-Teston
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Clayfield Massif Reserve Shiraz 2007

After suffering a significant loss of his estate crop due to frost in 2007, Simon Clayfield sourced grapes from a range of other vineyards in the Grampians region in order to produce this wine, a reserve-level version of his Massif label. This wine changed significantly over the course of two days, and my note (hopefully) reflects this progression.

Initially, lots of oak on the nose: mostly coffee grinds and vanilla milkshake. Swirl by swirl, the oak melts back into a fabric of dense berry fruit compote and plum flesh, iodine and brambles. The fruit doesn’t really begin to sing for a couple of days; it ends up gaining character and purity, becoming a thoroughly regional expression of Shiraz fruit aromas. The oak remains sexy, though, and the wine’s aroma is intensely sensual, almost gropable. This is an aroma profile with hidden, shaded places, suggestive of late night coffees and early morning walks home.

In the mouth, the wine swells quickly to fill the middle palate with soft, pliable volume. Intensity is only moderate, though it gains some weight over a day or two of air. One might wish for more, but by the same token this restraint allows the wine’s most interesting parts — flow, mouthfeel, sensuality — to shine. The after palate has a sweet, liquerous edge before the finish brings stubbly oak back to the foreground. Tannins are loose-knit and sweet, acid very well integrated. The alcohol level (15.1% abv) doesn’t translate to any objectionable heat, though it’s certainly present – I suspect its effect is more strongly felt via the wine’s slippery mouthfeel and its presence in the mouth.

A really earthy, sexy wine.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes 2007

I’ve enjoyed my recent foray into affordable white Burgundy from the 2007 vintage, and this wine from also-ran village Pernand-Vergelesses is one of my favourites so far. It’s slutty in the way only Chardonnay can be, yet retains a measure of restraint and a streak of minerality that make it difficult to write off as pure hedonism.

The nose, in fact, has evolved a significant mineral component that sits alongside billowy peach, caramel and fresh herbs. The aroma is rich and somewhat obvious, the latter in no way detracting from its deliciousness. Curiously, there’s also the smell of unscented soap, though the power of suggestion looms large over this impression.

One thing the aroma doesn’t do is adequately signal the generosity of the palate. It’s here the wine comes alive with gushy flavour, helped along by a mouthfeel that in less kind moments I might describe as “pumped up” but which here I shall call “slippery” and “voluptuous.” Funny how a single element can come across well or badly depending on its context. Though there’s enough acid to keep a mound of peaches and cream in line, there’s nothing especially racy or fine about the way this moves through the palate. No, this is designed for immediate gratification and proves a wine that’s ready to drink young doesn’t need to insult one’s intelligence.

Delicious and worthy.

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine Dublère Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Peuillets 2007

Interesting wine, this one. Compared to the Alain Chavy and Giaconda Chardonnays I had the other day, this is a much funkier, more discordant wine. So that’s three out of three; three Chardonnays with strikingly different fruit flavour profiles, leading to three completely different wines. This is as it should be; what becomes interesting now is how (or indeed whether) one pegs the wines at different levels of quality.

Certainly, this lacks a little in the conventional quality stakes; it’s moderately intense, there’s probably a bit too much sulfur to consider its presence a stylistic conceit, its flavours tumble over each other and collide inelegantly. And yet it’s quite magnetic in its chaotic fashion, and with each sip I become more interested in what it will tell me, in how it will disintegrate and recombine, and whether or not I’ll love it or feel repelled.

The aroma combines lean oak spice with sulfur, vanilla, clumsy bubblegum notes and an amalgam of citrus and bruised yellow peach. It’s hot and mealy and heady in turn, and although I can’t honestly describe it as pretty or luxurious — it’s not that sort of wine — its effect on me is consistent: I just keep wanting to smell it over and over again.

The palate shows a more straightforward character with juicy peach fruit taking centre stage. It’s a bit hot, perhaps, and the level of spicy oak may challenge some drinkers’ feel for ideal balance. As with the nose, however, there’s a magnetism to its character that cuts through what is a relatively dissonant flavour profile and, on some level, brings an odd coherence to the style. The middle palate comes closest to the sense of luxe that many Chardonnay drinkers will value, but it’s fleeting and almost ironic in its transition to a much more sculpted, slightly bitter after palate and finish. A lovely mealy texture is surely a highlight.


Domaine Dublère
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Domaine Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2007

It’s new year’s eve and I’m cracking open the good stuff.

A striking mix of lean minerality, powerful citrus fruit and well-controlled winemaker input. The nose is reticent for now, allowing mere wisps of prickly slate, freshly cut pear, grapefruit rind and green nuts to escape its grasp. If drinking now, best not to serve it too cold; allow it to warm and release as much aroma as it is willing. I sense a slow strip tease, one that may unfold over several years and whose narrative will only resolve at some uncertain point in the future, if ever.

The palate confirms what the nose only hints at: this is a wine of confident power and effortless complexity. What’s immediately obvious is the sustained thrust of the fruit; it really explodes on entry and carries right through the finish. This is, however, a wine made in a restrained mould, so one doesn’t get slutty gobs of peachy fruit. Instead, there’s a crisp steel mineral line that underlines the whole, challenged and softened by citrus and white peach fruit that seems to float above the more angular flavour components, not exactly integrated but rather acting as counterpoint. This wine isn’t about harmony, but nor is it about noisy contrasts. It sits somewhere in between, each side of its character pulling and pushing the other, creating tensions right along the line and never letting go their grip of the drinker. In objective quality terms this wine has the stuff: intensity, structure, line. But it’s the aesthetics on show that fascinate me and that elevate this wine above others of a similar level of technical accomplishment.

A beautiful, challenging wine.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A78.50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne 2007

I’ve had some delicious encounters with the wines of this Puligny-Montrachet based producer over the past few years, but until now have never had occasion to taste his basic white Burgundy. In my experience, Chavy’s wines are very cleanly made and tend towards austerity in style; this wine is no exception.

Immediately, it lacks the intensity and crystalline crispness of the 1er cru wines in Chavy’s portfolio, yet this in no way offers a disappointing aroma. In fact, it’s much finer and more complex than one might reasonably expect from a wine at this level, with subtle nutty aromas sitting atop crisp honeydew, lemon and even a touch of prickly minerality. It seems just right for a straight Bourgogne; moderate in volume, accessible in profile, quite easygoing.

These qualities carry through to the palate, which is softly generous without losing its essentially crisp character. What I like most about this wine is the way it swells in the mouth without pretentiousness, pitching its intensity at a moderate level and its flavour profile at a reasonable, not overwhelming, degree of complexity. Indeed, this is a lesson in entry level Chardonnay, and embodies quite a different approach from the often sledgehammer-like flavour profiles of local Chardonnays at this price point. There’s nothing wrong with intensity, to be sure, but I believe a “more is more” approach to winemaking often loses sight of a wine’s function and purpose for drinkers. This is a great food wine, caressing the tongue with gentle flavour and lightly mineral texture, begging for the sort of comforting meal one might look forward to on a special weeknight.

Lovely and delicious. Great to see a Diam seal, too.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A30
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail