Blue Poles Allouran 2010

Although its Reserve Merlot is positioned as the flagship, Blue Poles Vineyard’s Allouran is usually my favourite in the range. For starters, I do enjoy a bit of Cabernet Franc. To this label, it contributes a light elegance that has always struck me as especially attractive, and this 2010 vintage wine is no exception. This might be the most refined expression yet.

Aromatically, this blends the floral and ripe red capsicum notes I associate with Cabernet Franc with the graphite I associate with Merlot from this vineyard. It’s a good combination, the aroma profile capturing a full range of notes from high toned to bass. It’s not especially fruit-sweet, but there’s a core of the prettiest, most luxurious red berries surrounded by ripe flowers. Oak is there, providing a few extra notes around the edges.

One would have to enjoy a bit of acid to really love this wine and, as it happens, I do. Entry is bright with red fruit and sap, moving to a mid-palate of good focus and precision. There’s a hint of expansiveness here that suggests the wine will grow in weight and generosity with time. Even now, it’s intense and complex. The after palate is strikingly savoury and presents a mix of red capsicum and coffee grounds that move naturally into a tannin structure of considerable finesse. Indeed, texture becomes the primary pleasure as the wine moves through its extended finish.

Although this is a 2010 vintage wine, it’s not yet released and rightly so — it’s still incredibly young-tasting. Very good value. I do believe I’ll be buying some.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dodgy Brothers Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2012

The last of Dodgy Brothers’ three new releases to grace my tasting bench and one that, in some ways, I’ve been slightly apprehensive about tasting. You see, I’m a fairly recent convert to McLaren Vale Cabernet. I used to feel the Vale’s warmer climate did strange things to Cabernet and its siblings, smoothing out some of the edges that I enjoy with this variety and substituting a certain Shiraz-like roundness. It’s true this region doesn’t produce the sort of spiky, angular wines one associates with “classical” Cabernet style. Working in the region last year, though, I saw quite a few parcels of Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Yes, these wines can be structurally quite cuddly, but at their best they are astonishingly fragranced, showing recognisably varietal aroma profiles with a rich, regional twist.

And that sums up this wine quite well. It is unquestionably expressive aromatically, and the dominant Cabernet Franc component contributes a lovely red capsicum note alongside a range of florals, spices and purple fruit. There’s a relaxation and composure to the way this wine smells that is very accessible and should be quite crowd-pleasing.

In the mouth, quite a rounded presence that seduces at first with its volume before ushering in the sort of tannin structure Cabernet lovers demand. Tannins are abundant and slightly rambunctious, giving the wine some texture and helping the wine’s darker flavour notes to persist through the after palate and finish. Flavours are full and ripe, with berries tending towards purple and black, and oak making a toasty, spiced contribution. This is very much the hedonist’s Cabernet blend, one that is unashamedly voluptuous without sacrificing the fragrance and tannin structure that makes these varieties so wonderful.

Dodgy Brothers Wines
Price: $A29
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Alkoomi Cabernets 2011

I lingered a little in Frankland River last May. Of all the sub-regions in Great Southern, this felt the most isolated and pastoral and, in being so, made flesh what I had until that point only been able to imagine about the region. To drive from Manjimup to Frankland River is in some ways to travel into the vastness of Australian agricultural life. Magnificent forests of impossibly tall trees give way to farmland that, in its cultivation, shows another side of the landscape’s beauty. I’d say it’s a pity it’s so isolated, but that isolation is an integral part of Frankland River’s appeal. To know you’re hours from a city of any significance makes the experience of being there so much more vivid.

I sometimes wonder about the challenge of marketing Great Southern wines. It’s as if the region’s remoteness translates to an equally remote connection those of us on the east coast feel for the producers who toil there. In any case, even a cursory taste of the region’s wines is sufficient to demonstrate this vast region, with its varied sub-regions, is capable of wines of exceptional quality. I had great visits with Alkoomi and Frankland Estate while in the sub-region, and was lucky to spend some time with Alkoomi’s winemaker Andrew Cherry when I popped in on a Sunday. Lots of wines impressed, but this particular wine stood out not just for its taste but for the value on offer.

It’s a real Bordeaux blend, this one, with all fruit harvested from the estate’s vineyard in quite a warm year. The aroma is thick with purple and black berries, and the floral lift I associate with Petit Verdot in particular. There are darker edges too, of damp twig and black spice, that add depth and savouriness to the aroma. What marks this, perhaps, as a wine of value is a certain lack of definition, of delineation between notes, that means the aroma tends to blurriness. Nonetheless, a nice wine to smell.

The palate tells a similar story. Berry flavour floods the mouth and is of a quality and character that far transcends its price point. This wine has especially good continuity down its line, with no unseemly peaks or troughs. It’s medium bodied and fresh-tasting, with ripe tannins that tighten the after palate and introduce a welcome textural dimension. As with the nose, flavours tend to blur into one another, and the wine lacks the sort of precise articulation one sees at higher price points.

Still, a real bargain at $18 and a great taste of Frankland River Cabernets.

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Vignobles de Gascogne Madiran Reserve des Tuguets 2010

As much as I adore aromatic white wines and light, elegant reds, after several weeks in Germany I have developed unhealthily deep cravings for something big, tannic and slutty. I’m in the UK right now, so my usual game of restricting myself to supermarket wine holds. A recent visit to a Tesco the size of a small village resulted in this, a Madiran with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc in addition to the usual Tannat. Surely a combination to salve some of my tannin withdrawl.

And yes, it’s reasonably tannic. It’s also, initially, pretty mean, showing little lusciousness of fruit and, in its place, a bloody flavour profile that’s not metallic so much as sinewy and spare. There are big holes in the aroma and flavour of this wine, holes that are are partially addressed with air, but it remains a fundamentally lean, savoury wine even through extended tasting. To the extent there is overt fruit character, it’s bright and red, with some sweetness but little weight. Structure is more gratifying, with tannins that are well textured and acid that keeps things fleet. Yet I can’t love the balance of this wine, and the whole is akin to someone painfully skinny who isn’t, alas, especially handsome either.

At Tesco, I also purchased a Cahors I hope will provide more satisfaction.

Vignobles de Gascogne
Price: £8.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Terra Tangra TT 2009

It’s amazing what turns up when people find out you like wine. For example, a friend recently brought this back from a holiday to his native Bulgaria; a lovely gift as I have exactly zero experience with Bulgarian wine, even though the country has a long history of winemaking and is a somewhat prolific contemporary producer. This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah from a vineyard in the Thracian Valley region, all grown organically.

A spongey, fragile cork was slightly concerning as I opened the bottle, but the wine is clean. The aroma is quite confronting, not because its notes are difficult but because it’s easy; so easy that I’m almost inclined to preserve my modesty (and its dignity) and look away. Yes, this is terribly keen to give it away and makes no secret of its intentions. In wine as in life, this is sometimes appropriate (indeed welcome), so I suggest this is a wine that merely needs to find the right occasion. Soft fruits, a prickle of leaf, spice.

The palate is interesting because the ease of its aroma translates to a buxom mouthfeel and a fruit flavour profile that suggests a hint of residual sugar; I don’t have the technical details of this wine to hand so I can’t confirm if this is the case. Flavours are mostly dark and berry-oriented, with a full burst of red fruits on the middle palate. This is 60% Merlot and it shows. There are also edges of overripeness, which detract a little even as they add savouriness. Structure isn’t a feature, though there’s enough acid to prop up the line. Fruit sweetness hangs over the after palate and finish, the latter of which is more persistent than I expected.

Drinkable and (to me) quite different.

Terra Tangra
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Offcuts: Blue Poles dinner

Wine dinners aren’t something I make a habit of; at least, not those run by producers. It’s not an in principle objection – I simply prefer, most of the time, a wider range of wines with dinner than might be offered by a single maker. The temptation of back vintages and verticals, however, can be strong, as can the promise of highly amusing company. Mark Gifford from Blue Poles Vineyard is most certainly that, so it was with pleasure that I attended the recent Blue Poles dinner in Brisbane.

The boutique producer’s dilemma must seem intractable at times: what to produce? How to get noticed? Whose attention to court? I won’t venture to suggest I have any answers, but I know I respond to a focused portfolio that communicates identity and intent rather than a wide range of wines that, together, lack coherence. Although it contains a highly drinkable Viognier and Shiraz, the Blue Poles portfolio stands out for its beautiful, uncompromising Bordeaux-inspired wines, as well as a quirky Teroldego.

Dinner was the first time I have tasted all the Blue Poles Reserve Merlots side by side, and they really do justify the praise I and many other wine writers have given them. The 2007 is by far the richest of the three and is starting to show an aged character that meshes superbly with its primary fruit. Very Bordeaux-like, this one, and quite mouthfilling. The 2008 and 2010 are both very tight, still, and it took about half an hour of swirling to coax from the 2010 more than the aroma of iron filings. When it did start to unfold, I felt it was the most precise wine of the three. The way it lands in the mouth, articulating its flavours with such clarity, is truly impressive. They keep getting better, these Merlots and, although there isn’t a great deal of competition, they are surely amongst the best of this varietal made in Australia.

The Allouran, a Merlot Cabernet Franc blend, is a lighter wine, less masculine than the straight Merlot. Both the 2007 and 2008 seem quite primary, with fresh fruit and bright, acid-driven structures. I can see these being overlooked in favour of the Merlot, but for my taste their flavour profiles show a light and shade that is subtle and attractive. Quite unforced as a style.

There was some discussion regarding the clear influence exerted by Bordeaux on these wines. Blue Poles has never been shy of admitting this stylistic lineage, and is far from the only producer to explicitly claim Old World wines as a starting point. However, what is emerging from the portfolio over time is a coherence on its own terms. These wines don’t taste like imitations of something else, despite strong nods to classic models. I look forward to further releases and the ongoing conversation between style and terroir.

The new release Teroldego is a fascinating interpretation of the “drink now” red wine. What often typifies this category of wine is a simplicity and fruit-forwardness the Teroldego almost entirely lacks. Its argument, rather, is one of chewy tannin, charismatic masculinity and an apparent absence of fruit. To be sure, dark berry fruit underlines the flavour profile, but it’s so joyously secondary that one is drawn immediately to other aspects of the wine. Despite this, it’s highly drinkable, a term not often associated with primarily structural wines. A contradiction, then, in all sorts of ways, and one I look forward to drinking again.

Clonakilla Ballinderry 2004

There are some nice bottles of wine scattered about my house. Not nice in the sense of outrageously expensive, but nice in the sense that I hesitate, for whatever reason, to drink them. On the whole, I enjoy living by myself, but choosing wine to drink is a definite downside. There are no excuses, no-one else to share the burden of having opened the last bottle of this, or an old bottle of that. I was bemoaning my reluctance to drink a lot of the wine I have at home to a good friend the other day, and he said “Just open them.” So tonight, I have.

It’s not an unaffordable wine, this one. I think it was about $35. The reason why it’s an important wine to me is that I bought it with Chris and his partner Dan at Clonakilla’s cellar door after what I presume (because I don’t think we’ve ever visited Clonakilla without this happening) was a wonderful conversation and barrel sampling session with Tim Kirk. Such occasions happen so infrequently when friends live at opposite ends of the earth, and this wine, sitting on my cheap IKEA wine rack, has served as a reminder of Summer weather, a drive from Sydney to Canberra, precious conversation and the feeling of being amongst your own kind. No wonder I’ve not found a worthy enough occasion to open it.

Looking back over my notes, I’m reminded of a slight hesitation over this wine because, at the time, its aroma was almost entirely locked down and its structure formidable. Perhaps it’s an overrated pastime, allowing a wine time to reveal itself. There’s something masochistic about being made to wait for an anticipated pleasure that may never, in fact, happen. And yet this wine’s gradual maturation into complete, liquid elegance communicates intense reward and a sense of happy shock, the same shock one gets when an old acquaintance turns up after many years’ absence, suddenly handsome and magnetic in a way that only makes sense in retrospect. This wine’s features are just beginning to work their magic now. The nose remains quiet, now more sotto voce than mute, too dignified to lunge for the dark berry notes and pencil shavings that seep out from nowhere and fill in the bottom layer of the aroma profile. A whisper of aged leather sits in the middle, gradually building what should be, with even more time, a complete profile of notes.

The palate is getting ready for this completion; it has paved the way by paring back its structure, adding the most striking thickness of mouthfeel and transforming from a somewhat raw beast into something altogether more civilised. The range of notes is textbook: red and black berries, cigar box, tobacco, a hint of gravel. This is seriously good Cabernet in medium bodied, elegant mode. Why aren’t there more Cabernets from Canberra? This seems ideal to me, effortless and flavoursome.

Tell me again, why did I ever hesitate to open this?

Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château de Sours Bordeaux Rosé 2010

I’m trying to do my bit for the rosé cause, but a string of disappointing wines last week left me with little of interest to write up. Thank goodness for this, then.

Made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this wine’s aroma is all about freshness, which is a satisfying (if conventional) way to approach the style. The leafy side of these varieties dominates, along with a crisper, edgier dose of red capsicum (from the Franc, perhaps). I think I smell some black pepper too, speaking more to the sharpness of the aroma profile than any pungency or spice. There’s a lack of depth and layering, but it’s so bright and fresh, it’s easy to forgive such simplicity.

At first I thought there too much sugar on the palate; after a few tastes, I’m now finding it quite well balanced. Certainly I’ve tasted much sweeter rosés, and the residual sugar here is more than balanced by firm acid and a flavour profile that, like the aroma, emphasises fresh vegetation more than deep fruit. Sizzling capsicum, unfolding ferns, a hint of tomato bush; underneath it all, just enough light red berries to make me smile. The palate seems more complex than the nose, with an added layer or two, all well integrated and lively.

A delicious, drinkable style of some character. Fully priced, though.

Château de Sours
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Blue Poles Allouran 2006

I’m enthusiastic about this producer’s wines. They are invariably informed by a seriousness of intent that makes them difficult to dismiss, even if the wines themselves are not always perfect. So it was with this wine when I first tasted it some time ago. 2006 was a notoriously difficult vintage in Margaret River, red grapes often proving difficult to ripen sufficiently to make an acceptable wine. I chose not to write this up initially, as I found it challenging to the point of significantly reduced enjoyment. Too green, too aggressive, too hard. But I pulled out a bottle tonight and thought it might be time to see how it has moved along.

As it turns out, it’s significantly more drinkable at this stage of its life. It will never be a charming beauty like the 2007, but the astringent aggressiveness I remember has faded significantly. The nose shows typically Cabernet Franc aromas – fresh red capsicum mostly – floating over the top of richer, more plush Merlot fruit and a pile of pencil shavings. It’s completely varietal, though certainly on the lean, mean side. I can still see the green edges that I found difficult, but they’ve softened into the wine, becoming part of its aroma profile rather than pulling it apart.

The palate tells a similar story, though the transformation is perhaps more dramatic here. Again, I doubt this will ever shed its fundamentally lean vibe, but the elements are now well balanced for drinking enjoyment. In particular, the acid works really well to create impact on entry and power through the middle palate. It’s the sort of orange juicy red wine acid that is mouthwatering and a bit edgy. Fruit flavours are bright and firmly in a red berry spectrum, though edges of oak drag the flavour profile in a somewhat darker direction at times. Light to medium bodied, there’s a slight lack of drive through the after palate and finish, and the wine threatens to expose its slightly green core at times. It manages to complete the journey, though, thumbing its nose at a bad vintage even as it works hard to deny the scars it bears.

A very pleasant surprise.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Morandé Edición Limitada Cabernet Franc 2005

I’m developing a mini-obsession with Cabernet Franc lately; it’s such a distinctive variety, and has a relatively low profile as a varietal wine. I’m sure weedy (or worse) Loire reds haven’t done it any favours over the years, even they have a certain austere appeal. This wine, from Chile, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from something like a Chinon, being full flavoured and bodied. It manages to retain some of the angular elegance that I like in Cabernet Franc, though, and for that at least strikes me as worthy of attention. This is imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

In the past, I’ve sensed a red capsicum note in Cab Franc that I’ve assumed is one of the more obvious varietal characters. This wine doesn’t have that note, but it still shows some vegetal influences, here — and oddly enough — closer to the crunchy gooseberry skins of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a fresh and frisky influence on what is otherwise a dense aroma profile, with ripe raspberries, tobacco and dash of the earthy rusticity that I associate with many Chilean red wines. Coherent and fun to smell.

The palate was initially too tannic to approach with much enjoyment, but a night’s rest has turned formidable tannins into a much more velvet-like mouthfeel. In fact, texture is now a real highlight of this wine. Lots of savoury berry flavour on entry, the sharper edges to the flavour profile provide movement to the middle palate, where pepper and tobacco spread over the tongue. Although it’s quite a structured wine, there’s good generosity of flavour and relatively unimpeded flow through the mouth. It’s fairly complex and what impresses me most is how well integrated the flavours are. Lovely buzzy texture through the after palate, and a decent finish, if perhaps slightly too influenced by nougat vanilla oak that is otherwise quite well behaved.

Good wine, well priced.

Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample