2009 Scholium Project Midan al-Tahrir

Let’s start with the finish, shall we?

The thing is it has to be the truth to really go over, here. It can’t be a calculated crowd-pleaser, and it has to be the truth unslanted, unfortified. And maximally unironic.

– David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

If the experience of drinking a sip of this wine somehow included an involuntary oblivion, slyly eliding the first four-fifths of the line, it would have been enough. Heck, it would have been more than enough; the final, sneaking outro, the slouching into the past on little cat feet, soft scratch of nails against slate and clay, that alone’s far more interesting than most wines manage.

Let’s start with what this wine is not: it’s not identifiably varietal, it’s not faithful to a style (and in that sense is assuredly not a vin d’effort, it’s immoderately alcoholic, and it may well be de trop in terms of food pairings (although it might work wonders where pale, cool sherries would).

In the glass, the color’s nothing; it’s undifferentiated white wine product, visually unexceptional… but don’t be fooled. The nose is as subtly differentiated as a Rothko painting; subtle variations unfold towards the margins. The effect is akin to watching an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie: in the center of the frame, a water buffalo escapes its post, slowly, leaving you to experience the beauty of the moment. This wine requires patience.

There are peaches, simple canned peaches, with a hint of the fresh linens worn by the cafeteria ladies who served you those peaches when you were in fourth grade. There are spices, refreshing and clean. They smell like Mom. There’s a wonderful, nutty oxidation, like a steel-green Chardonnay. The closest thing I’ve ever smelled to this was a sparkling Scheurebe from Saxony, all fresh bright fruits with a subversive edge of fresh sugar snap peas. If you’ve ever taken the time to watch – and I do mean really watch – a simple Dan Flavin sculpture of fluorescent tubes shimmering bright white light against a smooth concrete wall, you might have experienced something like the calm, hazy torpor this wine induces.

Alcohol, of which there is plenty, lends a fat happiness here, but thankfully relatively little heat. Not sweet, you can choose your own adventure here if you’re so inclined: this could be slightly oxidized Chardonnay, this could be from Franconia, this could be very fresh and clean. Peaches and cream, spice and almonds seem to be the main themes here; however, it’s only when it goes quiet that it really sings.

After the wine is gone – and I have no idea how the gods have arranged this – there’s that final, languid pause before unseen pleasures surprise you. If you’ve ever heard Evelyn Glennie play a note that she didn’t actually play, it’s something like that. This wine tastes like memory feels.

Scholium Project
Price: $24
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Ridge Lytton Springs 2005

Wine lovers are often bargain hunters too, perhaps by necessity. Back in 2002, Chris and I happened to be in the same city at the same time (Sydney), and experienced the joy of locating, then purchasing, an entire stash of 1994 Ridge Geyserville from a little bottle shop in Chinatown. To find such a wine was grand enough, but the proprietors of the bottle shop in which it lay clearly had no idea what it was, and were happy to sell us the lot for (from memory) about ten dollars a bottle.

Of course, wines of such dodgy provenance often prove disappointing, let alone ones made of a grape (Zinfandel) whose ability to age is contested. But the first bottle we opened that night — before our most memorable dinner — was good, and so was every bottle tasted thereafter. I’ve long finished my half of the stash, but the memory of both the find and the consumption remain vivid. Chris regularly stokes these fond recollections by providing a bottle or two of Ridge wine whenever we meet to drink, so over the years I’ve been lucky enough to taste everything from various Monte Bellos to a spectacular Syrah that gave a bottle of 2001 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier tasted alongside a run for its money. I remember approaching that Syrah after some initial courses of German Riesling and so on; we were at that point in a grand dinner where the company, food and alcohol begin to meld into a single warm sensation. I smelled it once, not knowing what to expect, and was completely unable to control a spontaneous éclat of laughter. It was so wonderful.

All of which makes it difficult for me to write objectively about Ridge wines. In a sense, though, to approach this wine through a lens of dispassionate evaluation is to miss both what it means to me and what it represents, stylistically. Although I had never tasted this particular vintage before last night, the warm prickliness of its aroma was immediately transportative. To me, this smells of Californian wine, and for that alone I grant it enormous value. Each time I taste a Zinfandel-based wine, in particular those by Ridge, I love the difference of its flavour profile. Here, there’s intense spice and fruit cake, abundant chocolate, coconut and cherries. It’s as if someone stuffed a Cherry Ripe into the ripest, richest Christmas cake imaginable. Hence, it’s not an elegant wine in either character or footprint, and I love that it presents its notes with such blustery confidence.

The palate rebalances the aroma’s intense spice by providing a core of sweet, bright red fruit that cools the flavour profile. Entry is crisp and immediate, starting dark but quickly brightening to show a mix of red and black fruits. These fruits are juicy and perfectly ripened and provide much of the pleasure of eating freshly picked berries. Swirling all around this core are warm, rich spice notes, well-balanced mocha oak and a streak of bright orange juice. The finish leaves one with a lingering impression of the purest, sweetest fruit. Structurally, this is quite spectacular, the acid totally integrated and the tannins chewy and sweet. It’s taken a day to really open up, so I’d be leaving further bottles in the cellar for at least two to three more years before retasting.

In a sense, tasting a single wine prompts one to reflect on the entirety of one’s tasting experiences. This is what makes wine a pastime that becomes exponentially richer as the years pass, and also what can magnify the experience of one wine beyond all proportion. Happily, this wine was able to bear the full weight of my memories.

Price: £25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Field Recordings Koligian Vineyard "Chorus Effect" 2008

This is American wine.

Fabulously complex, this wine shows the very best America has to offer while still maintaining a respectful echo of Old World tradition. The nose is cedary (without smelling like a wardrobe), spicy within tasteful bounds, and displays a finely layered, overlapping, intricate mesh of little red fruits. It’s reminiscent of balsamic vinegar in which strawberries have steeped, or perhaps of dried plums and brandy. More intriguingly, there’s a faint hint of cold, wet granite and faded violets: the initial sweetness of the nose is quickly replaced by something more serious, more complex, more interesting.

Texturally, the wine is a marvel, rich and full in the mouth without being sappy or fat. The firm tannins resolve quickly and firmly into a sharp, precise stop; then, the finish then creeps forward ever so slowly with hints of molasses and dried cherries, smoke and fading embers. In the distance, you can feel the cold northern lights fading, wisps of wintergreen and peat in the air.

No two mouthfuls taste exactly the same: it’s much like listening to a La Monte Young drone piece. Imagine a six channel audio setup in which every speaker is playing something different at the same volume; if you can will yourself to cede concentration and lose yourself to the moment, you’ll experience overlapping washes of physical experience. Pretty cool, come to think of it: if some wines bowl you over with sheer power and others with delicate beauty, the joy to be found here seems to exist in the tension between its multiple, unresolved elements. Difficult as hell to pull off, this is an excellent example of the genre.

The best New World wines are like this one: wonderfully ripe, exuberant, and bold – and yet restrained enough to give you time and space to appreciate the subtleties of place. There is absolutely no possible way this could have come from Bordeaux; that is a strength, not a fault. Just as Ridge Geyserville or Hedges Red Mountain are distinct, unique wines that don’t feel like they could have come from anywhere else, this wine only leaves me with one question: Why hasn’t anyone made this before? It just feels right, somehow.

Field Recordings.
Price: $27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Two Verdelhos

Last Friday, I invited some friends over to the house so that we could open two wines, drink them together, and talk for a while about the differences between the two.

I’ll start with some background: both of these wines were Verdelho. Being a Californian (and not an Australian), Verdelho basically means absolutely nothing to me. If I hadn’t had spent so much time in Australia, I likely wouldn’t have been familiar with the grape at all: it has no role in my nation’s cultural history (whereas it absolutely does in Australia’s). The first Verdelho I ever drank was most likely something I encountered whilst on vacation in Western Australia in early 2002; they seemed to be legion, with most wineries having at least one on offer. (Capel Vale, perhaps? Dang it, I should have taken better notes.)

After nine months’ travels throughout Australia, I eventually came to know Verdelho as a generically rockin’ good time: you could count on it to taste good in a simple, pleasing manner without giving you all too much to think about, and that was just fine by me. After returning home to California, I’d occasionally see Australian Verdelho gathering dust in the “miscellaneous white wine” bin in a shop; I usually picked up a bottle, took it home, and drank it mindlessly. Thanks to a strong US dollar and the utter unfashionability of the wines, prices never hit double digits and I never grew tired of them.

As always, however, I digress. I’m here to talk about these two wines in particular: the 2009 Mollydooker The Violinist Verdelho and the 2009 Scholium Project Lost Slough Vineyards Naucratis. These are both straight varietal Verdelho from the same vintage year, albeit from opposite ends of the globe. Climactically, both wines are produced from similar geographic origins; McLaren Vale, in South Australia, is relatively warm with daily summer temperatures around 90 degrees, Clarksburg, in California, is warmer still with daily summer temperatures in the high 90s. (For you Australians, that would be 32 and 36 degrees C, respectively.) In short, nothing too dramatically different.

Soils, too, are probably not wildly different; the California wine is presumably grown on poor soil, and I imagine the Aussie wine isn’t that different either. In short, probably not hugely different either.

The major difference, then, at least superficially, would be between the two wineries. One is a spinoff (or, rather, the logical next step arising from) a once phenomenally successful Australian-American wine import business that made its name during the Bush administration importing, well, hedonistic fruit bombs; Dan Philips (and Marquis-Philips, his joint venture with the Marquis family, who became Mollydooker) had the brilliant idea of critter wines on steroids: double or triple the price of cheap and cheerful Aussie imports, but with vastly superior label design, bi-national critters (google Roogle if you’d like), and delicious, high octane, pleasurable wines that seemed just the perfect thing to serve at a megachurch BBQ celebrating to invasion of Iraq.

I will pause here for a moment and apologize for the intrusion of the political in to a nominally aesthetically oriented wine blog: one of these wines was a press sample, and God knows the generosity of the winemakers should not be abused. However, if one of the objectives of shipping samples is to potentially result in interesting ways of thinking about the wine, then I suppose they’re getting their money’s worth, even if obliquely. These sorts of wines – high alcohol, usually Shiraz, occasionally lavishly yet softly oaked – seemed to have sprung up shortly after that Mission Accomplished banner did, and it seems no mere coincidence that The Grateful Palate, Dan Philips’ importing business, ceased to exist shortly after President Obama took office and not too much longer before the cessation of combat operations in Iraq. In short, I am unfairly and hopefully amusingly positing that there is an odd synchronicity at work here between the go-go Bush years, filled with foreign policy adventuring beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and the heyday of massive, plush, jammy, hedonistic wines (at this point, I am imagining someone with a distinctly non-West Coast accent spitting them into a football helmet on YouTube, for some reason), an odd crosstalk where one informs the other, a mad rush of consumption and decadence leading… well, I’m still not sure, exactly, except for the wines, which always, always led to massive ibuprofen consumption the morning after.

Of course, again, I digress.

The other wine, the Californian one, was produced by a small winery founded by a one-time professor from a notoriously obscurantist liberal arts college where they (shudder) still teach Aristotle… in the original Greek, no less. Again curiously coincident with the disastrous economic meltdown of 2008, his wines slowly but surely came to prominence not through glowing Wine Advocate reviews, but rather through one-off New York Times articles and general Terroir (the wine bar) fandom; most reviews I’d read were faintly reminiscent of early Dooniana , filled with remarks along the lines of “I can’t drink this, but I’m excited that it exists.” Much in the mode of recent newcomers such as Field Recordings, Abe the winemaker traveled California, hunting down vineyards that might produce interesting wines; in this case, a wine from a grape no one’s ever heard of (here, at least) from an area that’s generally as well regarded as Redfern (amusingly, the small hamlet of Woodbridge, which gave its name to an ocean of crappy wine that helped bring the Mondavi family to its doom, isn’t too far away to the south).

But again: I digress. On to the tasting notes; these are courtesy of a group of six friends. Both wines were placed in the refrigerator Thursday night and removed about forty-five minutes before tasting; we were hoping for a happy medium between “cold and doesn’t taste like anything” and “warm and tastes gross.” Wines were served in two identical glasses (Spiegelau Authentis red wine); we drank slowly, talking about these for a good half hour, before finishing up for the evening.

  • Both wines smell towards the sweet/syrupy end of the spectrum
  • This wine… well, it doesn’t quite smell like canned peaches because it doesn’t have that tinned smell to it that California viognier does. It’s kind of like viognier, but smoother, I guess.
  • This almost has kind of a sugar cane factory, cut cane, simple syrup, pineapple effect here with not much spice, just a happy go lucky sugar factory really.
  • It’s a little bit floral to me, but hard to say exactly what I’m smelling here. There might be a slight amount of spiciness to it, almost a hint of black pepper… celery salt or perhaps something slightly green there? Really hard to say.
  • Candied/salted spinach perhaps?
  • Seems hot to me.
  • Seems a much richer wine, more concentrated, perhaps even a bit of residual sugar here? Definitely very mouth filling, unctuous rich.. almost flabby. I think this might be going too far.
  • This wine seems… whiter? More like white peach than yellow peach. Some minerality here, really a striking difference. Generally more “serious” and more northern Rhône than the other one; better acidity, tighter, just a tiny bit of astringency to it.
  • Almost bitter, definite complexity on the finish, which lasts for quite a bit of time.
  • This almost has a sort of quinine note, reminiscent of bitters, which it desperately needs to give it complexity and style.
  • Strange to think these are the same grape from roughly similar climates; the simpler one has a deeper, richer yellow color, but the more complex one seems lighter, less imposing in the glass

There was, alas, one thing we all agreed on by the end of the evening: the one wine would have been just fine on its own, but it suffered by comparison with the other wine. It’s funny how things go sometimes: often, in the midst of unbridled enjoyment, it’s hard to imagine how an experience could possibly be better. I’ve personally bought both of these wines in the past – it was happy coincidence that I was given a bottle as a press sample – but having now had them simultaneously, I’m not sure I’d buy any more, especially considering that the pricing is roughly the same for the both of them.What it boiled down for me was this: I know it’s cliché to point this out, but every profoundly beautiful thing has to have a flaw – or at least something there that serves as a counterpoint, a foil, a dissonance to draw the beauty of the object in sharper, finer focus. The real reason I came away from this evening finding one wine profoundly beautiful and deeply satisfying was this: it showed restraint. Similarly high in alcohol, it seemed to have better acidity, more minerality, less residual sugar, but most of all that subtle, quinonic, bitter, savory edge that suddenly shifted it all into vibrant, ecstatic focus. You’d be hard pressed to expect more from a wine like this, especially at $20.My advice to the other winemaker? Simple: The boom years are behind us. It’s time to go beyond simple fruit ripeness, high alcohols, and straight-up appeal; it’s time to find the subtle beauty that’s probably always been there, time to experiment with phenolic aspects, time to consider the joys of Italianate bitter notes. I now know that there is Verdelho beyond the simple, fruity joys I’ve known from Australia from years; it’s there if you want it. Go for it: if you do, I’ll be there to buy it. And I’ll even go out on a limb here and groundlessly speculate: the Americans that were buying your wines in the past were probably buying them using home equity loans on houses that have already been foreclosed. The days of reckless consumption of shiny pretty wines with high point scores seem to have gone missing over the last two years; instead, we’re looking for subtlety, complexity, something with pain, something to match the anxiety and frustration we’re all feeling in these, the empty, anguished dog years after the binge of the Oughts. Give us something we can relate to; your wines remind me too much of those years where we weren’t thinking.

Mollydooker + Scholium Project
Price: $20-$26; average retail price $20
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008

Look, I know I really shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m sure we can all admit that we’re innately predisposed to like certain wines and not others – and that before having ever even tasted them. The name alone of this wine makes me smile: as an old school music nerd, I’ve got plenty of CDs around that are, well, field recordings: right now, I’m listening to Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Dartmouth Street Underpass just, you know, because.

The packaging of the wine is beautiful: beautiful typography, very fresh and clean, and the overall vibe is that of a winemaker who is content to get out of the way and let the wine be itself: fine by me. Heck, even the wine itself appears cloudy, unfiltered: if your idea of vinuous beauty is liquid that looks more like an agricultural product than lemon crush, then you’re in excellent territory here.

Speaking of territory, it’s always delightful to see lieux-dit on the label: there seems to be a growing trend of bottling wines with labels that emphasize where they’re from and not “what they are” (in a varietal sense), and I think that’s pretty awesome as well. The overall effect is undeniably kinda awesome; I would expect to see this on Terroir’s wine list before the year’s up… but of course only if the wine itself measures up.

Does it? Thankfully yes. Beautifully textured, displaying golden yellow clouds in the manner of fresh cider, the wine smells of chalky gravel, fresh lemon zest, and neroli. It also smells very wine-like in a way few New World wines tend to: it’s got a real edge of steely austerity to it as well, smelling less like primary fruit and more like a Serious Adult Beverage.

Texturally the wine tends towards medium weight, with not much haptic impact. Stylistically it reminds me more of oaked South African chenin blanc than it does of anything French – there’s something in the texture that’s reminiscent of lees – but there’s no obvious oak here at all, so my guess is that it saw bâtonnage but no new oak.

The experience of a drink of this is exceptional at this price point. It begins with a calm, almost barley water-like note, backed by forceful acidity, before fattening out in the midpalate to be almost Meursault-like, with suggestions of hazelnut and cream, before slinking away into a soft, gentle, lengthy finish with an almost-bitter edge to it. It’s a beautiful thing, lovely to drink, and I’ve replayed it a dozen times just now, marveling at the experience.

Best of all, I distinctly get the feeling that the winemaker’s input here was indeed minimal: there’s no obvious chicanery going on here, just good wine made from good grapes grown in a good place. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an American chenin blanc this good before; here’s hoping he’s able to not only make more in the future, but that it finds the audience (and market) it so richly deserves.

Field Recordings
Price: $15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

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

Bonny Doon Vinho Grinho 2009

How a Whitman we were always wanting, a hoping, an America,
that America ever an America to be,
never an America to sing about
or to, but ever an
America to sing hopefully for All we had was
past America, and ourselves, the now America,
and O how we regarded
that past

– Gregory Corso, Elegiac Feelings American

To smell this wine, to pause, to reflectSummer softness, spearmint gum softeningPavement and boardwalk, salt water and taffyWintergreen neighbors and smokeless tobaccoSkål, then, faded circles in back pocketsUnder the bleachers, awakening to summerDandelions abloom, horizons unfoldIn this America I drive all night longReaching towards lovers, ribbons unfurlSmoke in the distance, welcoming homeIt’s alright, alright, all of it’s right

– Me, indulging my inner Beat (with my apologies)

In all seriousness, this is an enchanting wine. Ever so slightly green, the nose reminds me of a wintergreen-tinged relation to muscat, with a lovely, fresh, sweet, spearmint smell. There’s also a very soft, gentle, warm effect that reminds me of summer evenings at home, sweet hay smells drifting in from the fields; together, it’s an especially tranquil wine. Pleasantly tart, this is a fairly full-bodied wine, but with a fascinating penchant for rotating through widths as you drink, ranging from California to Galicia and back again, somehow. Dry, and yet with the suggestion of sweetness due to its size, it returns ever again to the same acidic backbone and finishes long, long, long with a wonderful hint of pears, green apples, and woodruff.I bet this would be amazing with green papaya salad. For now, though, I’m happy to drink it on its own.  Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Palumbo Family Vineyards Tre Fratelli 2005

Somehow, a conversation over barbecue and Michelob last Saturday night turned to Temecula. Temecula (or, more properly, the Temecula Valley) is a wine region just up the road from my house here in San Diego – it’s about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s known for two things: casinos and wineries. Every time I drive past, I see at least one mini-coach filled with a good half-dozen party types doing the circuit of the local wineries, drinking, not tasting, and obviously enjoying themselves. Me, though, I’ve never been. I’m a native Northern Californian, which means I tend to be suspicious of any wine from the Southland (i.e. Southern California) – and no, Sideways country doesn’t count as it’s north of Los Angeles, you know – and the one time it was mentioned in wine school (in Washington state), Temecula was briefly noted as a success story, but only in terms of the hospitality industry (i.e. not as an actual wine producing area, just as a pleasant place with fake Tuscan villas making a living selling crap to daytrippers in mini-coaches).

However, there are most definitely locals who absolutely swear by the quality of the local wines. One of them (an ex-coworker) was nice enough to give me a bottle of wine from Palumbo Family Vineyards a couple of years back, and here it is in front of me. The packaging is lovely and the cork extra long: it looks exactly what a moderately expensive wine should look like. But what’s the wine like?

First of all, it’s inky black with a very slightly watery rim. The smell, well, it quite frankly reminds me of vanilla ice cream with a trace of dill pickle. There are definite notes of dusty cocoa, baker’s chocolate, roasted coffee, and espresso: it smells like someone went a little bit overboard with the char here, but then again heavily oaked wines are of course usually highly palatable to Americans. Even so, I find it disappointing because I don’t smell fruit, minerals, earth, or for that matter anything other than wood here. Hrm.

The wine, once drunk, is deeply unpleasant. Imagine if you will a new brand of Lipton Cup-a-Soup called “Consommé du Parker” – this consists of nothing other than tannin extracts with a peel-off sticker that says “90+” on the package. Now, dump that in a bottle of uneventful grape juice. Shake slightly – not enough to truly distribute the tannin – et voilá, you’ve got a bottle of Tre Fratelli. A mouthful of this is as unpleasant as drinking a bottle of Yoo-Hoo you forgot to shake: the initial sweet fruit attack is quickly displaced by a sensory nightmare of tiny bits of particulate matter that quickly turn into harsh, grating tannins that cover your teeth like a cheap rug. The fruit flavor, such as it is – it’s a simple, boring red-fruit aquarelle – is quickly overshadowed by the mouthfeel, and there’s no finish, no line, absolutely nothing to recommend this wine at all.

In short, this is strictly amateur hour. I’m sure the people that make it are lovely people, and I’m sure that their tasting room is a lovely place to visit, but this isn’t as good as even the cheapest Jacobs Creek wine I’ve tasted. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Palumbo Family Vineyards
Price: $35
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2006

I’m an unabashed fan of Ridge wines, rarely having experienced a disappointing example. Ridge introduced me to the joys of Zinfandel with its Geyserville label, and continues to provide beautiful Californian wine experiences each time I am lucky enough to taste its wines. Sometimes, one connects with a particular producer’s approach beyond all reason; if I overpraise Ridge wines, understand this is as much an emotional response to context and company as to the wines themselves. 

Be that as it may, I defy anyone not to respond positively to the exuberance of this wine’s aroma. It’s powerfully fruity in a way utterly unfamiliar to me, raised as I have been on Australian red wines. There’s rich fruit cake, spice, and an overwhelming sense of completeness that makes this an envelopingly sensual experience. Forget angularity and enjoy the luxe of this wine’s blanket of aromas. 
The palate is surprisingly elegant considering the range of flavours and 15.8% abv. Yes, I consider this wine an elegant, balanced wine, despite its scale and technical measurements, which makes its achievement simply more remarkable. Masses of flavour immediately on entry, slinking to a middle palate awash with fruit cake flavours. Clearly, this isn’t a chiselled wine style, but nor is it formless. In fact, there’s plenty of structure, and my only criticism is that these elements don’t cohere as well as they might. The acidity in particular stands out a bit from the rest of the wine. This isn’t nearly enough to derail my enjoyment, however, so I prefer to focus on the immense generosity here, as well as the unexpected freshness of the flavour profile. Alcohol becomes most evident on the finish, which is noticeable hot.
An astonishing wine in many ways. Wines like this will never be considered great, but in their own way they exemplify the purity of a certain regional style. 

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Bonny Doon DEWN Thoma/Chequera Syrah 2006

One of the many pleasures of a visit from my excellent co-author and his partner is I invariably end up with a wine or twelve from the USA. It seems most locally available wines from the States are very expensive, especially compared to their price back home, so I don’t often indulge. Hence, most opportunities I’ve had to drink good American wine have been courtesy of Chris and Dan.

Here’s one such wine. It’s notable for being from Bonny Doon, cult Californian producer whose driving force, Randall Grahm, caused hearts to beat faster on Twitter and in the blogosphere a few months ago when he published some less than flattering observations about Australian wine. I’ll reserve my own thoughts around that incident and simply remark this wine is a fascinating counterpoint to some Australian Shiraz styles.
A few notes. The alcohol level is 12.8% abv. The fruit comes from two vineyards in quite different areas of California: Thoma Vineyard (El Dorado County) and Chequera Vineyard (San Luis Obispo County). The label is typically awesome Bonny Doon, neo-constructivist in style. As an aside, Mr Grahm seems to have a talent for simultaneously awful and awesome wine names. Bouteille Call, The Heart has its Rieslings. Need I go on?
Forgive my digression. To the wine itself, its aroma expresses in softly cool climate Syrah mode. It’s nowhere near as aggressively floral as something from the Gimblett Gravels, for example, nor is it as deeply spiced as Grampians Shiraz. To start, the aroma profile is quite meaty, with a bacon fat vibe that dovetails elegantly with spice and fruit. It’s light and detailed, ephemeral perhaps, lacking some power and depth but showing good nuance and sophisticated balance. 
The palate is true to form, being fleet of foot and moderately intense. The flavours are delicious; red and purple berries, spice, a bit of funk. Again, it’s not a wine of overt power, and could do with some stuffing, but as an expression of restrained Syrah it strikes me as successful, not least because it’s absolutely delicious. Shared between three of us, the bottle simply disappeared in an instant. From a functional standpoint, there’s something to be said for low alcohol, subtly flavoured wines, because they are just so easy to drink, and won’t punish you for indulging in an extra glass. 
After we polished off this bottle, I opened a 2008 Dowie Doole Reserve Shiraz which, it should be said, is drinking superbly right now. The contrast couldn’t be greater. The McLaren Vale wine was powerful and rich and deep and all the things one looks for in a robust Australian Shiraz. And yes, it totally overwhelmed the Bonny Doon wine. But, a day on, I’ve retained an impression of the Californian that is firmly positive. Very worthwhile. 

Bonny Doon
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift