Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

The other day, I found myself expressing the view that above all else, a wine should be delicious. Yet, tasting this wine, I feel that delicious flavours aren’t enough. There needs to be a sense of composition, a narrative, something overarching within which a wine’s flavours can be situated.

There’s no doubt this wine smells delicious; its aromas are those of a heavily worked wine, with oatmeal and cream pushing past fruit notes to take a primary role. These key notes are thick and prominent, communicating richness and signalling full, generous flavours.

The palate is where this wine’s story begins to falter. Flavours are, from beginning to end, quite delicious. Alongside mealy, caramel notes there is a strikingly fresh shot of grapefruit, tingling with sharpness and precision. It’s so crystaline that it seems to wander in from another wine, one that’s altogether less broad in flavour profile. And so the wine flips between heavy and light, neither side illuminating the other so much as coexisting in an uneasy truce. Each element would be lovely in the right wine, but as a composition the whole lacks finesse and balance.

Unusually for this label, a wine that doesn’t repay too much thought. I wonder if the sharpness of its fruit will subside, which I feel would be to the wine’s advantage.

Shaw and Smith
Price: $A77 (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Other

Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010

Earlier in the week, I hurriedly tasted the current releases of Tapanappa’s three single vineyard wines. All are worthy and exciting but I was especially drawn to this one. I have been looking forward to spending a bit more quality time with it.

I’ve had some pretty strong reactions against some Australian Chardonnays over the past few years that have seemed, to me, stylistically forced. The swing against our now-reviled broader styles perhaps inevitably went hard, and on many occasions the new wave of Chardonnays seemed to me more a matter of fashion than a deeper engagement with variety and site. Interestingly, Tapanappa’s philosophy of wine is centered on the idea of distinguished sites, sites whose terroirs perfectly marry with the grape variety to which they are planted. Not a new idea, to be sure, but one that is pursued with some purity by this producer and one that, in theory, should cut through stylistic fashion. Is there a single truth of a particular terroir and variety? I’m not sure I know the answer…

Although this falls into the category of richer, more worked wines, it has a delicacy and clarity of expression that defies its weight and complexity.  The aroma is full of distinct notes, tending towards savoury and taut yet underpinned by luscious stonefruit and caramel. It’s rich and nimble at the same time, perhaps a function of its youth (and, dare I say, the screwcap closure). Oak is present in a floral, vanillan thread that weaves in and out of the fruit flavours. There’s a lot going on here.

The palate, as with the nose, is a balance of nervous vitality and muscle. Again, complex in terms of flavour profile, moving from savoury lees notes through a range of stonefruit and citrus to beautifully balanced butterscotch and caramel. The architecture of the wine is most impressive: its flavours are clear and distinct, and sit within a large scale frame that exists without heaviness. Here’s a wine that shows the full range of winemaking input without it ever overwhelming the essential qualities of its fruit. One can indeed have one’s cake and eat it too.

Cracking wine.

Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Chapel Hill Chardonnay 2011

To be cruel for a moment, this is most unpromising on paper. Mixing Chardonnay, affordability and more than one region doesn’t usually get the wine lover’s heart racing, with some justification, at least historically. And before you get excited, this isn’t Giaconda Chardonnay hiding out in the McLaren Vale. However, it’s a good example of the sensitivity with which this sort of mainstream wine ought to be made, and makes a case for the relevance of cheap Australian Chardonnay in a world where such wines are the very definition of undesirable.

Its trick is to combine relative restraint with a certain flow and softness. This is a watercolour wine, one whose definition is hazy but whose colours are quite charming in a lazy, easy way. On the nose, some fresh citrus alongside soft peach and rockmelon. There’s a bit of nougat oak too, and perhaps some caramel. Complexity isn’t a word that springs to mind; there are several flavours but to see the wine on these terms is to miss its point.

The palate has such a relaxed flow over the tongue. It’s quite voluptuous and mouthfilling in a breast implant sort of way: fleshy but also a tad hollow. The fruit lacks sufficient intensity to fill out the wine’s ambitious dimensions, and one is left tasting flavour at the edges and a slight absence of such in the middle. The flavours that are here, though, are balanced and easy, with more white peach and nougat, and just a hint of butterscotch. It’s far from the perfect wine and undoubtedly made to a price point. There’s a sophistication of approach underlying this wine, though, which is easy to miss. How many cheap Chardonnays show vulgar dimensions, a lack of freshness, easy oak, or a reliance on malolactic fermentation? This wine avoids all these pitfalls and, in so doing, manages to be a very pleasant, pretty wine.

Not bad at all.

Chapel Hill
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mike Press Shiraz 2010

The story of Mike Press Wines is atypical in many respects. After bursting onto the scene a few years ago with some great show results and a price point totally at odds with the quality of its wines, Mike Press has done what few wines lovers, in our collective cynicism, probably didn’t expect: he improved things even further. In my view, the last five years has seen a consistent refinement of the reds in particular, honing oak character while retaining excellent expression of fruit. Denoting a wine as “single vineyard” may seem pretentious at this price point, but it’s entirely justified, and one approaches these wines best by being thankful for their affordability and then forgetting cost altogether.

This wine has a balance of fruit and oak that wasn’t quite achieved a few years ago, but which now prompts a dense, concentrated aroma of brambles, brown spice, subtle vegetal notes and squished berries to waft from the glass. Inevitably in such a young wine, a couple of the elements aren’t fully integrated, but it’s impressively coherent nonetheless, especially in terms of the way the oak’s influence weaves into the fabric of the fruit, supporting and spicing it well.

The palate comes across as rich and full, quite fruit driven, but with a decent structural framework and a consequent sense of orderliness underlying the whole. Quite plush on entry, a tumble of very ripe plums and blackberries moves through to the middle palate. I like how clean the fruit is here, without being simple or in any way confected. On the after palate, well balanced acid and velvety tannins start to take over, adding texture to the mouthfeel and some welcome nerviness to the vibe. A decent finish, full of sweet tannins and vanilla oak flavours.

A really nice release of this wine, showing a fullness of fruit in particular that should be utterly crowd pleasing.

Mike Press
Price: $13-14
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Punk Bubbles Rosé 2005

Look, I’ll be honest here: it was a categorical imperative that I buy and drink this wine. Take a look:

(Credit goes to beth elliott design for these labels. Beth is awesome.)

How could I not? Any discussion of the wine is probably going to be secondary to a discussion of the semiotics of the packaging (and price point). This wine was released for about US $35 by The Grateful Palate, a now-apparently-bankrupt American wine importer that originally made its mark working with Sarah and Sparky Marquis to import super-huge, über-alcoholic wines made by Chris Ringland (and others) and marketed as Marquis-Philips (Dan Philips is the man behind The Grateful Palate). After an apparently-acrimonious breakup, Dan went on to a whole series of occasionally brilliant, always interestingly packaged wines (Boarding Pass was always a favorite of mine) that promised good value, hugely entertaining and highly original graphic design, and at the very least enough alcohol to keep the party going. Some of the wines were duds (Darby and Joan cabernet, Bitch Bubbly); others were as good as anyone could possibly have hoped for (Bitch, First Class, Green Lion).

At some point last year, they came out with Punk Bubbles in both rosé and ordinary variants. These wines were not cheap, being (presumably) traditional method sparkling wines priced at about the same as well-known Champagne such as Piper-Heidsieck and Veuve Clicquot ($30-$40 US). However, what set them apart were the labels: awesome, beautifully ugly cutups of classic punk rock tropes complete with scrawled text that said stuff like FILTH and STENCH. My first thought was damn: how perfect. Expensive Australian sparkling wine with confrontationally ugly labels released just in time for old school punk rockers’ 50th birthday parties.

Then, sadly, apparently no one bought the stuff, even if they even had special variant labels only available at momofuku restaurants in New York City. Oh well, can’t win ’em all, I guess. I bought three bottles of the rosé on closeout for $25 – still well north of high quality California sparkling wine (figure $13 for Chandon or $18 for Roederer in these parts), but with a label that says FOR HUMANS on the side of it, which makes me giddy in a way I probably should be ashamed of.

But: how’s the wine? The mousse is absolutely spot on perfect:a lovely, fine froth around the rim of the glass. The bead is spot on as well, a thin, elegant column of fine bubbles vigorously rockieting upwards from the bottom of the glass. The color is wonderfully vulgar, reminiscent more of a Champagne with still Pinot noir added before secondary fermentation than a blanc de noirs. It does tend towards onionskin, but on the whole it really is tween-pink more than respectably pale, anemic salmon.

The nose is surprisingly bready, with autolysed yeast characteristics, reminiscent of fresh toast. It’s quickly augmented by wild strawberries, pink peppercorns, and a sort of violet-raspberry note. It’s all rather enchanting and much more grown up than the color suggests. Refreshingly acidic, the wine is alas just the tiniest bit of a letdown on the palate, with relatively simple, somewhat wan flavors of strawberry lip gloss and not a whole lot else. The finish is fairly short, with a mild pepperiness tinged with violets and strawberries.

Is this wine worth $35? Frankly no. But is it worth $25? Well… yeah, probably. It’s not the best pink sparkling wine I’ve had, but it’s good enough – and the slight price premium is worth it to me to enjoy the label. Shallow? Or merely cognizant of the fact that not everything that makes a wine enjoyable is in the bottle itself? You decide.

The Grateful Palate
Price: $25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mike Press Merlot 2009

After suffering a severe man flu for most of the week, I figured I may as well drown my sorrows on this Friday evening. So I find myself with a glass of Mike Press’s most recent Merlot in front of me. It’s a bit tricky trying to balance tasting, coughing and blowing my nose, but the quality of this wine is proving motivational.

I enjoyed the 2005 of this wine but this seems to me a step up. For a start, the oak seems of a higher quality, and of a character better matched to the fruit’s range of flavours. This is all quite serious, actually. The nose is heady, with dark berries, rich autumn leaves, sap and cedar, with just a hint of the nougat oak that was much more prominent in the earlier vintage wine. There’s something quite sharp about the aroma profile, not altogether attractive in fact, that should calm with some time in bottle, or a good airing in the decanter.

The thing that strikes me most about the palate is its structure. This is quite heavily architected as a wine, with decent acidity but, more notably, a prominent tannin presence. Certainly not one for the “smooth, fruity” Merlot crowd. The effect is both raw and voluptuous, a textural mouthful of a wine with a dry bite through the finish. Fruit is dense and inky, tilting towards savouriness, with a black olive and leaf edge that signals both the variety and a seriousness of intent. I’m sure the oak is contributing to an overall sense of youth and rough vibrancy, all of which should come together with some more time.

This really is an excellent, though very young, wine. At this price, a complete no brainer.

Mike Press Wines
Price: $A12.50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Mike Press Shiraz 2009

It feels a while since I last tasted some of Mike Press’s wines. A quick search of Full Pour tells me I tasted the 2008 Shiraz in February of this year, but earlier vintages are more prominent in my deteriorating memory banks. I remember the splash made by the 2005 vintage wines, and bought a few myself. I’ve always been impressed by the easy styling of the red wines; at their best they convey a sense of sophistication that sits well outside their price points. Oak handling has historically been a slight sticking point for me, though I am pleased to see the oak flavours in this 2009 wine are much more to my taste.

Initially, there are some bright aromas that seem like left-overs from fermentation. These quickly blow off to show quite luscious red and black berry fruit, some sharp pepper and spice, plus lightly malty oak. The aroma profile tilts firmly towards liqueurous fruit, but there’s enough complexity to suggest some seriousness of intent. I suspect a few months in bottle will calm the slight edge here and bring each component together more naturally.

After a flavoursome entry, the palate is pleasingly savoury, taming any suggestion of fruity excess from the nose and placing dense berry flavours in a framework of spice, bright acid and powdery tannin. Don’t misunderstand me; there’s plenty of fruit, which fills the middle palate with satisfying generosity. It’s the structure that elevates this wine well beyond a quaffing style. I’d go so far as to say the structure places this wine in opposition to a quaffing style; I don’t feel this is ready to drink, and when it is, will show considerable elegance. For now, good texture  and a hint of minerality on the after palate, through to a nice finish that is nevertheless a bit compressed by tannin.

Ridiculously cheap for this level of quality.

Mike Press Wines
Price: $A12.50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Petaluma Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2005

Q: What do you do in the event of an earthquake?A: Well, if you’re me, you quickly check to make sure none of the wine fell over and broke (it didn’t) and then grab the first bottle you can find to calm your nerves.Thanks to the vagaries of the international wine trade, the local bottle shop had a dozen of these for a meager $14 a couple of months back. Sadly, the first two bottles were corked and nonrefundable, but this one appears intact.Not visibly old at all – it still looks bright and clean – the nose tells quite another story, with hazelnuts, burnt matchsticks, and pineapple clotted cream cake coming together to suggest a wine that’s been around for a few years. Rich, unctuous, and ever so slightly overwhelming (think California style) in the mouth, there’s a thick seam of rich, buttery pear and roasted nuts to be found here. The finish is plenty long, with just enough acidity to make it easy-going enough to please most anyone, I reckon. In short, this would be the ideal wine to serve in Qantas business class: rich, stuffed with enough flavor to register at even thirty thousand feet, and fat enough to please folks who don’t enjoy their wine unless it’s got a certain sense of luxurious, hedonistic plushness to it.The only thing I am is surprised: I love Petaluma’s riesling and viognier, both of which are wonderfully expressive and full of character – and yet this wine seems a bit vague (in the international style, at least). It doesn’t compare well, I think. to the Grosset chardonnay (which is presumably made from fruit from the same general area)… but it is at least a surefire crowd pleaser. Shame about the dead tree stopper, though. Petaluma
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mike Press Chardonnay 2009

Or: the art of the perfect quaffing wine.

At $8.33 per bottle, this wine positions itself squarely at the “everyday drinking” end of the market. This can be scary vinous territory, swinging unpredictably from surprisingly good to revoltingly cynical in the twist of a corkscrew. And it’s fair to ask: what ought a wine to be at this price? I don’t pretend to have an answer, but I know a good attempt when I taste one, and this certainly is a good attempt at the ideal quaffing white.
The nose shows alcohol and sweet basil, but mostly juicy white nectarine (including the skins). It’s all quite simple and fresh, with little in the way of confectionary overtones, nor worked characters that might suggest a sense of obesity. The palate adds to these simple, attractive flavours by delivering a slippery, borderline syrupy mouthfeel that speaks of cost-effective luxury.  Intensity is quite decent, and there’s a surprisingly sophisticated streak of minerality running underneath all that peachy goodness. Indeed, this is the Hyundai Sonata of quaffing wines; aiming above its station and, for the time it takes to smell and swallow, more or less delivering. That it evaporates from one’s memory almost as quickly as the dramatic impact of Avatar is quite beside the point. It’s awfully fun while it lasts.
And isn’t that what quaffing wines are all about?

Mike Press Wines
Price: $A8.33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Ishtar Pinot Grigio 2008

Yet another hot, humid Brisbane day. My little Queenslander is as open as it can be, windows gaping wide on every side in a rather futile attempt to catch the occasional wisp of breeze. Some liquid refreshment is surely in order. 

This is the first time I’ve seen a wine sealed with a Novatwist closure, which strikes me as a simultaneously downmarket and more user friendly version of the metal Stelvin closure. Certainly did the job here, in any case. I had this wine open last night but it proved disappointingly vague, so I whacked it back in the fridge for later tasting. This rest overnight has certainly improved things and I suspect in its likelier context — lunchtime, restaurant, probably al fresco — it will present to its greatest advantage immediately.

An attractive, straw-like colour, clear as a bell. The aroma is straightforward in a typically Pinot G way; it’s grapey and pear juice-like, with an attractive side of aromatic brown spice. One can’t expect an excess of complexity with this wine style (at this price point), and on that score this wine utterly lives up to expectations. It is, however, well balanced and clean, weighty enough but stopping short of love handles.
The palate shows a full, slippery mouthfeel alongside easygoing fruit flavour. Entry is fluffy and fun, with pale fruit flavours upstaged by the pumped up, viscous mouthfeel. The fruit never gains enormous intensity, settling for a watercolour expression of pear and spice, while the mouthfeel continues on its merry way, slipping and sliding across the tongue, underlined by just enough acidity to provide some shape. The after palate is quite fresh, with really well-judged phenolics roughing up the tongue and adding a twist of bitterness to the flavour profile. Soft finish.
Not bad really; it’s very well made and, while it doesn’t push the variety forward in any respect, should provide good drinking at many a Summer lunch.

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A19.50
Closure: Other
Source: Sample