Clayfield Massif Reserve Shiraz 2009

Some Clayfield wines are luscious in the Grampians ultra-plum and spice mode. Others, like this, occupy a different space, one of finer, more sinewy aromas and lower levels of alcohol (in this case, a mere 13.6% ABV). Spice is still present (this is a Grampians Shiraz, after all), but the vibe is darker and more angular. Interestingly, it comes across as no less luxurious than more plummy styles, no less full of quality materials and attention to detail. It’s simply the difference between a tasseled velvet cushion and a hard, modernist bench: less comforting but utterly upscale nonetheless.

The aroma is tightly coiled, with dark, dense plum skin and woody spice mixing with cedar oak and an iodine note that sometimes makes its way into Clayfield wines. The palate is totally up front about how much flavour is packed into its crouched frame. Sometimes, it’s quite tangible how much a wine needs some age, not because one can’t discern its content, but because it’s all there, in plain sight, simply held in check, frustratingly so, at times. In the case of this wine, this compression darkens the flavour profile, communicating muscularity and concentration and, more than anything, seriousness. Acid is tight and very fine in texture, tannins deceptively gentle (until you realise how much they have dried the finish). What’s wonderful about this wine is how its compaction and density aren’t in any way related to oak, as can so often be the case. It’s the fruit that holds so tightly to this wine’s secrets and which, one day, in a few years’ time, will finally relax into free flow.

Update: two days on and it has hardly moved. This has years in it.

Price: $?
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cumulus Shiraz 2009

Lovely aroma, quite composed and balanced. The fruit is mostly red and shows an attractively lithe profile, quite unlike the denser aromas our warmer climate Shiraz wines can show. There’s some brown spice too, which blends well with oak that is somewhat nougat-like in character. I’m not sure I like the oak; its level is well judged but its character is just a bit too sweet and obvious for my liking. A matter of taste, though.

The palate is medium bodied and strikingly intense; there’s some great fruit in here. On entry, slick red fruit and prickly spice ride atop an immensely slick mouthfeel. The middle palate sees this silicon texture expand over the tongue, and some may love the sense of luxe here. Personally, I feel the texture is one-dimensional and somewhat at odds with the angular flavour profile. The flavours become sweeter as the line progresses, due in part to oak I think. The finish is rather delicious, echoing the wine’s flavours softly and for some time.

Sometimes I wish a wine were less perfect, and this is one of those times. There’s some seriously characterful fruit underneath the gloss, and I kept wishing I could get a less intermediated view of it, something rougher hewn, less intrusively sweet and slick. Still, a wine of quality and interest.

Cumulus Wines
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2009

Wine labels tend to look somewhat samey after a while, so it’s always a nice surprise to open a box and find something distinctive staring back at you. The label is really quite pretty in an almost handmade way, and the chosen bottle has a nice, subtle curve to its side. All in all, lovely packaging. I’m particularly interested (even before tasting) in how this wine is being marketed. This is, in all apparent respects, a labour of love. Complex, quasi-natural wine techniques are used throughout; there’s carbonic maceration, whole bunch fermentation, minimal sufur, and so on. That’s a lot of quirk to pack into a $28 bottle of wine, and it all very much taps into the zeitgeist as far as wine appreciation is concerned.

To the wine itself. An immediate fruit lift signals the carbonic maceration. It’s a technique that can yield cheap-smelling wines, but I like the playfulness of the sprightly fruit in the aroma profile here. This otherwise smells as one might expect: characterful, dark fruited, anything but slick. The oak character stands out as too nougat-like. I would have preferred less of it, and something spicier.

The palate’s structure is appropriately rustic. There’s some raspy acid and the tannins are loose and drying; it all fits well with the artisanal vibe. Flavours are bright and fruit-driven, and for someone reared on dense Australian red wines, this may come across as too acidic as well as too thinly flavoured, and certainly there’s a hint of alcohol on the palate that I find intrusive. That’s a matter of taste; what interests me more is an impression that this wine is risky, walking a tightrope between characterful and home made. It’s certainly clean, and in all respects feels attentively crafted on a very small scale. Heaven to some, no doubt, even as it perhaps mystifies others.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2009

Seems it’s McLaren Vale Shiraz time lately at Full Pour, which is just fine by me. Like the recently reviewed Dowie Doole, this shows fruit character that is deliciously true to the region.

The nose is dark and quite serious, throwing dense aromas that alternate between dark plums, earth and chocolate. I like the suggestion of liqueur here, which avoids any sense of over concentration and instead seems to mesh well with the earthy, almost mineral notes that sit alongside. I’d call it rustic but that would paint a misleadingly coarse picture of what is quite a resolved aroma profile. The palate is full and flavoursome. Entry is clean and driven by straightforward plum fruit. Some detail and texture creeps in through the middle palate, and I like the way the edges of my tongue pick up raspy tannin while the middle remains focused on fruit. Acid seems laid back, although the after palate shows some brightness and zing. Intensity is moderate. Overall, it lacks a degree of refinement in its articulation of flavours, but what’s here is clean and tastefully balanced. Oak is, in particular, subtly handled, even as it remains an important component.

A solid wine indeed, and one I’d be happy to drink with a nice lamb casserole.

Chapel Hill
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Capital Wines Kyeema Vineyard Merlot 2009

It’s just under a month ago that my computer’s hard drive failed in a not-catastrophic (I back up, of course) but certainly inconvenient fashion. It’s taken me this long to get the thing fixed, and in the meantime there’s been no blogging, and very little drinking, to speak of. This is not a bad thing; for starters, I’ve been able to amply prove to myself that drinking isn’t entirely responsible for my state of overweightedness. Anyway, such a long absence begs the question what to drink upon my return. I’ve decided to try this sample, sent in by Capital Wines in response, I think, to my ongoing quest for decent Australian Merlot. At $A46, this is certainly priced in a premium bracket for a local example of the varietal.

Interestingly, it’s not styled aggressively in the manner of (too) many reserve-level wines. The nose is savoury and well-fruited, staying well away from the sort of facile plushness that can plague this varietal. It’s actually a very interesting aroma profile, lean and almost edgy, with good complexity along roast meat and herb lines. I’m not a fan of the notes deriving from what I presume is the oak treatment; too obviously nougat-caramel for the sophistication of the fruit. The palate is equally fine-boned, throwing in a decent amount of fresh acid that, for me, brings the fruit to life, if somewhat aggressively. Entry is direct, flowing to a bright middle palate full of red fruit and brown herbs. Medium bodied at most, this wine’s styling is fundamentally unforced, communicating an attractive earthiness and ease. The after palate lifts with some astringency and slightly raw tannins, which add rusticity even as they detract slightly from the sophistication of the flavour profile. The finish is light and long.

This isn’t a perfect wine by any means, but it’s one of the most compelling expressions of Merlot I’ve tried from a local producer. It offers a strikingly alternative view of the grape, daring to head down a stylistic path that will confound some drinkers just as it charms others.

Capital Wines
Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Yelland & Papps Divine Grenache 2009

I think of Yelland & Papps as something of a Grenache specialist, something that isn’t necessarily reflected in its portfolio of wines. Indeed, all the usual red suspects are equally represented; the reason why I associate this variety with this producer is that I feel there is a special synergy between the two. This reserve-level wine is a great case in point. As significant as is the companion Shiraz, this is quite a different wine in the glass, more fruit-focused and hedonistic.

The oak intrudes at first, throwing coffee grounds into your face as you smell the wine, but (unlike with the Shiraz) these notes develop quickly and fold back into an aroma profile that is lusciously typical: red fruits, a medicinal note, some confection. The curse of cheap Grenache can be an overly sweet fruit character, akin to boiled lollies and, for me, quite unattractive. While this wine hints at that character, it escapes completely its destructive side, expressing an altogether denser, though still bright, set of flavours.

The palate’s structure and mouthfeel are notable. There’s a sense of freshness here, thanks in part to an acid line that is firm and textural (though somewhat disconnected at this stage). Tannins are soft and quite plush, seeming to disappear into the density of the wine’s mouthfeel at some points. That’s not a bad thing; this is a big wine in the mouth, rounded and smooth, and I like how the tannins simply add stuffing rather than create contrast. Flavours are again utterly typical and gorgeously delicious. I guess when you have 130 year old vines to play with, it makes sense to highlight what they bring by way of fruit and structure, rather than to smother the fruit with winemaking artifice. Not minimal intervention so much as a sensitivity to what makes this particular wine special.

Stylistically, this probably represents what Australia is often criticised for making, but there’s a legitimacy to these fruit-driven Barossa wines, especially when the fruit is clearly this good. I liked it a lot.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Yelland & Papps Divine Shiraz 2009

I pondered the stylistic choices made in last year’s model, and on pouring it’s immediately obvious the same path has been pursued here. This is a wine that leaves one in no doubt of its position at the top of the range.

The nose is dominated by the most seductive, expensive oak. Coffee, brown spice, Muscovado sugar; it’s quite overwhelming and, it has to be said, impressive. Slowly but surely, a rich vein of Barossa fruit starts to emerge, forcing its way through the planks. It’s distinctively regional in the blockbuster sense, redolent of plum liqueur and fruit cake. I’ve only been sitting with this for an hour or so, and have no doubt the fruit’s emergence will continue for some time.

The palate is more immediately fruited, which may come as a relief after the hyper masculine, somewhat forbidding aroma. On entry, spurts of fruit outrun enthusiastic oak and land on a middle palate that is highly spiced and less brutish than one might expect. Indeed, there’s a pleasing levity to this wine that is at odds with its confrontational flavour profile and which grants it welcome light and shade. Structure is ever-present, as much driven by slightly hot acid as by chalky tannin. The after palate is driven by coffee and spice, the finish long.

It’s hard to assess such styles when young. I do know it’s a dense wine, full of impact and designed to wow. What I’m interested to see is how this ages; whether the fruilt and oak will achieve balance, how the flavours will evolve.

Day 2: the wine has markedly lost its roughest edges and fruit is flowing more cleanly now. Still a massively dense wine, but much more drinkable and balanced. The fruit itself is most attractive. Give it ten years.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2009

This is the second of Andrew Thomas’s 2009 Shirazes that I’ve tasted. The first impressed me a good deal with its uncompromisingly regional style. This beast is a little different.

A deep, earthy, spiky nose. The words “clean” and “Hunter” haven’t always gone together, but they find compatibility in this wine’s aroma profile. Regional dirt and rustic red berries expressed clearly in a nose that’s both typical and glossily modern. What I like about this expression of Hunter shiraz is that it does not forsake regionally for style; this is a true interpretation of modern Hunter, looking for new ways to say the same old things. It is, however, clearly different from more traditional styles, and may lose as many fans as it gains because of this.

The palate is quite structured, driving a firm line right through to the finish. Lots of bubblegum oak tannins, evenly spread and, for now, contributing an astringent, bouncily sweet influence to the flavour profile. Is the character of the oak here an ideal match to the fruit flavours?  I’m not sure — at times, it feels too sweet — but most of the time it just tastes good, so I’m happy to go with its stylistic flow. Riding atop is a dense whack of regional red fruit squished into the dustiest of dirt roads. There’s an ease to this wine which belies the amount of oak that’s present. The way the palate unfolds is powerful and confident.

Ultimately, the fruit is just so gorgeous here I could drown myself in it with or without the level of oak. I don’t feel there’s a lack of balance; rather, the winemaking choices frame the fruit differently from how it often is and, personal preferences aside, there’s no doubting the coherence of the style.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Spinifex Esprit 2009

Mataro, Grenache, Shiraz, Carignan, Cinsault; why not?

Some performances consist of one idea. Sometimes this is enough to carry the weight of the show; it all depends on the strength of the idea and how well the audience connects with it. And so it is with this wine. It says one thing clearly and consistently, which may be the most wonderful thing if you like what it has to say.

The nose is dense and savoury, a strongly liquerous character instantly emerging from the glass, speaking of dark berries and darker oak, shadowy corners and even shadowier conversations. I  see dark tones each time I smell this wine; it’s moody if somewhat monochromatic and blunt. The blend seems beautifully executed in terms of coherence.

The palate is of a piece with the nose, stylistically. It strikes a dense, flavoursome note immediately on entry, the extra dimension here being textural, driven mostly by a streak of acid that sits a little uneasily alongside the fruit’s density of flavour. More dark berry liqueur and velvety plushness on the middle palate, though an element of hardness starts to creep in gradually, perhaps related to the character of the oak. Things get progressively more savoury as the line progresses, before an oak-driven finish of vanilla curls and ice cream rounds things off.

There’s a lot in here by way of flavour and interest, but at the same time I am left wishing for some light and shade, a bit of nuance, less emphatic a statement. Sometimes, less certainty can be charming.

Spinifex Wines
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Stockman's Ridge Outlaw Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I was quite taken with this wine’s Shiraz-based sibling; its styling was distinctive and communicated something new about Shiraz and Orange. But then, I’m forgiving of Shiraz and its stylistic diversity. For some reason, I have firmer views on what Cabernet “should” taste like, preferring more angular, crisper expressions of this grape.

Smelling this wine, my heart leapt and then quickly sank. Ah yes, there’s some leaf, dust, capsicum even, rising out of the aroma profile with exuberance and the same muscularity shown by the Shiraz. But then a thick, dark wave of fruit washes under and over the high toned aromatics, bringing the wine into “big red” territory and, for a moment, robbing me of the sort of Cabernet pleasure I was just getting ready to enjoy. Interestingly, as I’ve continued to smell the wine, I feel more and more it is a legitimate expression of the varietal, different from both our classic cooler and warmer climate styles. Some finessing, though, is required. For starters, the oak intrudes far too prominently for my tastes, pushing a high powered gloss into the wine that feels inappropriate. It’s also hot and less than resolved. However, it has a charisma and an integrity that draws me back.

The palate echoes this story. Quite aggressive on entry and full of flavour, this moves briskly to the middle palate and opens out with dark, very ripe fruit. There’s an edginess to the palate structure that amplifies the character of the oak, creating a focus that may seem at odds with the  fruit. If I’m making it seem all over the place, then perhaps it is a little, and it’s not up to the same standard as the Shiraz. Yet it’s a serious wine, aiming for something particular, if unsure how to quite get there. I think the fruit here would work best in a less blustery style, focusing on the intricacies of the flavours rather than dressing up as a self-consciously “reserve” wine.

Stockman’s Ridge
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample