J. Rickards Muscat Blanc 2009

After what’s turning out to be a nearly endlessly delayed introduction to summertime – here it is, June already, and it’s still cloudy, cool, and altogether disappointing – I suppose it’s time to drink myself into summer, even if it’s technically not quite here yet.Richly spiced, with a shimmering overlay of nutmeg over pineapple, this pretty much does the trick, reminding me of an imaginary barbecue out back of the US embassy in Saigon shortly before the fall, or, rather, liberation of the city: there’s a smoky haze in the air, with suggestion of tropical fruits, spices, and something damn near approaching decadence.The taste of the wine makes a beautiful counterpart to what the nose suggests: instead of a fat, flabby, sugary wine, you’re instead treated to an unctuous, mouth-filling wine with keenly balanced acidity, Yes, there is a hint of sugar – or is it alcohol? – which is entirely appropriate for the style, but it’s miles away from simple, mindless muscat. The overall effect is not unlike doing something you shouldn’t with someone you shouldn’t be doing it with: you, serious wine drinker, are well aware of the societal repercussions of drinking muscat, but as soon as you taste this you really, really won’t care. All you’ll care about is making sure you get more out of the bottle than anyone else you’re sharing it with.J. Rickards
Price: $20
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

J. Rickards Petite Sirah 2005

This is one of those wines that you can tell someone’s opened even if you’re deaf – the smell’s going to hunt you down right quick like. Absolutely massive, tending towards pruny, and very much in line with an Australian port wine style, the nose is wonderfully rich and fruity, sporting a jaunty undercurrent of saddle leather and cigar wrapper. Thing is, though, it doesn’t smell sweet as much as it does rich; we are in emphatically New World territory here and it makes me just a bit giddy smelling this, especially as I attended a wedding in Marin County last weekend and spent some of Sunday driving around Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. It’s beautiful up there, rolling hills and redwood forests, California oaks loping across the hills, and it’s no surprise this wine came from there.Initially just a bit hesitant, the wine comes across as fairly prickly with aggressive tannins; if you were expecting a silky-smooth, velvety fruit bomb that will sell by the pallet at Costco, this wine sure isn’t it. (This is my not very subtle way of saying that the resemblance to Mollydooker, Marquis-Philips, and other New World huge-smelling wines ends right here). This wine tastes much more serious than the nose would have you believe; it’s a bruiser. If Tim Burton ever developed a violet pastille candy for sullen goths, it would taste like this wine does. Black, black fruit oozes murkily behind a veil of arrogant dark chocolate spice, sneaking out on a rough-hewn plank of to-die-for oak that leaves you with nothing but a haunted memory of those few languid moments where you enjoyed this wine. The overall effect is of dark beauty; this wine sure smells like you’re going to get a snootful of over the top California fruit, but the winemaker has chosen instead to foreground the heaviness. This is an absolutely stunning wine and something any Californian should be proud to point to as a wine style that is peculiarly ours – even though this is essentially the same as a Rutherglen durif in terms of genetics, the grape seems to go darker here than it does in Victoria, providing a somewhat less earthy and (to me) even harder wine that (if treated well by the winemaker) results in a profound beauty that reminds me of port (the hugeness), Chinon (the hard edges), and Argentine malbec (the darkness) all at the same time.Best of all, this wine is absurdly underpriced for what it is. Buy it now before the cultists discover it.J. Rickards
Price: $24
Closure: Cork