Clonakilla Riesling 2002

The observant amongst you will have realised that I’ve been tasting a fair few wines from my cellar of late. I retrieved four dozen wines a few weeks ago, mostly things that are either not worth cellaring or that are due to be retasted. As an aside, I do love getting wine out of storage. There’s a whole ritual to it: browsing my little collection, constructing a cart, waiting for the delivery to arrive. Good friends have told me I need to get out more.

I last tasted this in 2008 and found it interesting but somewhat incoherent, as if going through an unfortunate stage in its development. The bottle I’m tasting tonight, by contrast, is quite well developed, expressing what seems to be the full extent of its potential as an aged wine. I was a little worried on pulling the cork, as I’ve seen stoppers in better condition, but the nose doesn’t seem excessively oxidised or otherwise compromised. It does, however, show a wide range of aromas, from honey and grilled nuts to biscuit and a bit of lemon curd. A small kerosene note quickly blows off, leaving the residual aroma clean and correct.

The palate really shows how developed this wine is. At its core, a thrust of full throttle tertiary sweetness runs right down the line, colouring the entire flavour profile with fullness and attack. There’s a multitude of other notes, most centred on nuts, butter and sweet lemon curd components. Acid remains a tad coarse, something this wine may never escape, but the structure is well integrated and supportive of the wine’s flow, while being prominent enough to keep the whole fresh and lively.

This, for me, is drinking at an ideal point as far as aged Riesling is concerned. It is showing a full spectrum of aged notes while retaining a firmness of structure and significant primary fruit. Maximum complexity, good bones, lots going on. If this bottle is representative, I’d say this wine is right in the zone.

Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 1998

A couple of weeks back, I finally, finally got around to inventorying all of the wine that’s stashed around the house (and in the garage). The single most important thing I learned? I have way, way too much wine. (Duh.) Most surprising of all, however, was coming to the realization that I had a few things in the dodgy wine fridge in the garage that I had completely forgotten about. Case of 2002 Petaluma riesling? Check. Six pack of 1998 Clonakilla s/v that presumably came from the closeout bin somewhere, complete with discounted price stickers? Check. Why I didn’t realize this earlier, I have absolutely no idea. So what to with this stuff? Easy: Drink it.

This wine doesn’t look remarkably old; the cork was in good shape and it’d been carefully cellared for a good long time. It’s beautiful to look at, with some browning towards the rim, but more importantly it’s got that lovely sort of finely particulate look that I for whatever reason enjoy. On the nose, this smells like nothing so much as Cornas. Honestly. It’s got just a hint of rich, dark syrah fruit – but over and above that it’s got real minerality, charred back bacon, dried violets, and the smell of rye bread baked over an open fire, giving it a roasted, charry, smoky effect.

Upon entry, the first thing that strikes me is the relatively light feel of the wine, combined with a surprise sourness. However, given time and attention, the palate does fill out, balancing the sourness with bright, sharp red fruit. Tannins are still very much present, but nicely silken and restrained at this point; there also seems to be just a hint of cocoa on the finish, which gracefully declines into a lively, babble of sweet cherry fruit and spicy, earthy meats.

I don’t know what this wine was like when it was younger; a lot’s happened since these grapes were harvested. There is a real beauty to this wine, though, and although it may not be the most complex or enthralling Clonakilla I’ve tasted, it still has moments of transcendence and beauty to offer.

Price: $30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mountain X Bluechip Canberra Shiraz 2008

I’m on a Mountain X roll, having just written up the wonderful Jack Mattinson’s Deluxe Dry Red from 2009. Here I have now the 2008 Mountain X wine, which in this year was made from Canberra fruit as opposed to the usual Hunter Shiraz (with a dash of Yarra Pinot). The reason’s simple: 2008 was a crap vintage in the Hunter for red wines, but a great one in Canberra.

There’s seems a fashion for stalk in Shiraz at the moment, particularly cooler climate Shiraz. For me, stalk is like oak: an influence that can either complement and enhance a wine or overwhelm and destroy it. It’s not just a matter of volume either; some fruit flavour profiles go better with a bit of whole bunch action than others.

Canberra Shiraz seems especially amenable to whole bunch influence. There’s something about its red fruited, somewhat medicinal regional character that meshes with the often spiky, aromatic vibe of stalk. And so it is with this wine. At first I found the spice and stalk a bit overwhelming, but it does settle with some air, and after a couple of hours it is drinking well. It’s still wild, though, a real hair-toss of an aroma profile, heady with astringent stalk and sharp spice atop crunchy red fruit and charcuterie.

The palate shows good intensity. It’s the sort of wine that seems to cut through the palate with tight focus. Indeed, there’s a good deal of acid, and the wine is only medium bodied. But it’s the stalk and spice that contributes most to this wine’s sense of concentrated focus. The flavour profile is precise and spare, cleanly delineated and almost the opposite of generous. This might be described, in aesthetic terms, as a modernist wine, the very opposite of the kind of ornamented plushness one sees in many bigger red wines. It’s stripped back to the essentials, and for me there’s a real beauty to this style.

Very much enjoyed drinking, and thinking about, this.

Mountain X
Price: $A19.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Quarry Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Sauvignon Blanc isn’t a variety that immediately springs to mind when I think of the Canberra District, but this is a quirky rendition at a reasonable price. 

The nose is brightly faceted and stony with hints of brine; there’s little of the overt fruit character one sees in many other expressions of this grape (Marlborough, Adelaide Hills, etc). Because of this, the wine comes across as quite austere on initial sniff, an impression warmth and a bit of swirling changes only slightly. I like the fact this is focused away from obvious fruit flavours — its style sets it apart even as it makes it harder to embrace. 
Entry is full of zest and attack, leading to a middle palate that broadens with some interesting flavours. There’s an orange juice-like character to the mouthfeel and acidity that beefs up the body and creates the impression of thicker fruit flavours. I’m not sure the level of residual sugar, but suspect there’s a bit in here. The fruit flavours themselves are blurry, and one instead looks to savoury characters (crushed shells, that sort of thing) for definition. It’s certainly full of interest, and I note the winemaking involved some skin contact, which would have led to a higher level of phenolic extraction and I presume some of the grip I’m seeing on the middle and after palates. The after palate and finish are typically thin per the variety, though there’s a lingering lemon note through the finish that is stubbornly persistent.
The palate’s generosity is, one might argue, a slight cop-out after the lean aroma. I’m speaking to my own preferences, of course, and am mindful of not having tasted this wine when newly released. In any case, and as with the 2008 Shiraz, this wine shows stylistic interest beyond its price point. I’d be interested to taste a fresh one.

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

Quarry Hill Shiraz 2008

Interesting wine, this one. At the price, one might well assume the style to be an easy drinking quaffer; it’s anything but. In fact, I didn’t feel able to taste it properly on day one, so left it overnight to open up, which it has. It’s now somewhat more expressive and does not seem to be tiring. 

On the nose, dark plums, cinnamon, nuts, pepper steak and nougat; indeed, the oak influence seems considerable, yet the fruit holds its own, dense and powerful in its expression. There are some nuances — notably a hint of earth and something slightly rubbery — but I would not consider the aroma especially complex. It is, however, serious in intent and savoury in character. 
The palate reinforces the savouriness of the aroma profile. Indeed, this is an uncompromising, regional view of Shiraz, and I enjoy its confidence. The entry is mostly fruit-driven and possesses a sense of luxe that does not require fruit sweetness. I love the acidity here; it’s really well integrated and sweeps dense fruit notes through to the middle palate, where they remain well-formed even as they curl into crisply defined strands of flavour. More sinewy plums, roast beef, spice and gentle oak. This is a medium bodied wine, with reasonable intensity; certainly, there’s nothing excessive or unbalanced about the style. The after palate freshens nicely with a sappy note, then ushers in a surprisingly long finish.
This isn’t a perfect wine by any means, but I really like the direction in which it is headed and, on the basis of this tasting at least, will be watching Quarry Hill with interest. Really good value.

Quarry Hill
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tyrrell's Canberra District Shiraz 2008

No red Hunters worth making from the 2008 vintage; hence, Tyrrell’s turned to other regions to source fruit for its premiums, the result being this Canberra Shiraz amongst other things. I like Canberra Shiraz — for its flavour profile and weight in particular — so this wine appeared adequate compensation for missing out on a vintage of Hunter beauties. Also, I see some broad similarities between Hunter and Canberra Shiraz, climates notwithstanding, so I am interested to see how Tyrrell’s has handled the style.

Very fragrant, with dark red berries and a bit of spice; this seems quite a ripe aroma profile, so the spice is downplayed in favour of juicy fruit and general generosity. The oak is a bit obvious in character but its volume is well controlled, allowing the fruit to speak first. 
The palate is very generous and round, and it has all held up well over two days of tasting. Weight is medium bodied, and structurally the wine has quite firm acid to prop up its flow through the mouth, along with a smattering of dry, dusty tannins on the after palate. On entry, quite tingly and bright, acid registering before much else, then juicy blackberries driving through the middle palate. There’s abundant flavour, and edges of black pepper, though I wish for a bit more complexity to the fruit character. I feel almost as if this is a blending component of a finished wine, that it could benefit from a little extra something. What’s here, though, is delicious and drinkable, so one shouldn’t complain too much.

Price: $A33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz 2008

The second release of this wine, again made from non-Estate fruit. I really enjoyed the previous vintage; it struck me as both quite Canberran but also refreshingly different from the flagship Shiraz Viognier label. The 2008 continues in this vein.

This seems a bit quieter and more resolved than the 2007. I recall the earlier wine as lively, edgy and bright. This, while firmly red-fruited and medium bodied, seems composed and calm too. The nose shows what appears to be whole bunch characters, with a funky stalkiness that never entirely blows off, even as it integrates with intense black pepper and spiced plum fruit. The aroma profile is quite complex, though it’s not one of those wines that feels the need to parade its complexity in the precocious manner of a contestant in a toddler’s beauty pageant. 
The palate is soothingly resolved, remarkably so for such a young wine. There’s plenty of up-front flavour, more spice and red fruit along with an umami influence that adds a particular deliciousness to the flavour profile. The middle palate gets a bit brighter, with acid driving a relatively high toned set of flavours that are generous without ever entirely relaxing on the tongue. The stalk-like notes translate here as a medicinal influence, attractive and sympathetic to the fruit flavours. A nimble after palate and finish round things off well, with good length.
Very attractive, satisfying wine with excellent drinkability. In time, it may improve and gain greater presence across the spectrum of its flavours, from top to bottom. I would not feel guilty about drinking it now, though, as there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in the immediate term. 
Update: after two days, this has filled out beautifully without losing an ounce of elegance. Super wine.

Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Shaw Laughter Series Riesling 2009

One of the great things about Riesling is the high quality frequently obtainable at lower price points. Unlike with, say, Pinot Noir, a $15 RRP doesn’t automatically equal diminished expectations. Indeed, I’ve had some cracking Rieslings over the years that have come in well under the $15 mark. All of which is to suggest my approach to this wine is not at all one of patient generosity or pre-emptive forgiveness.

Happily, this is a really good, quite delicious Canberra Riesling. The regional emphasis on flowers, talc and stone is there in abundance, coupled to rich preserved lemon fruit notes, edging very slightly towards pineapple. Aromas are a little blocky, but they present coherently and there’s a vivaciousness to the aroma profile that is most pleasing.
The palate is equally fun, with a well balanced presence in the mouth. The entry is slow to take off, but builds to a middle palate of mineral and citrus fruit notes in equal measure. The fruit character is straightforward, with perhaps a hint of mandarin, and has surprising persistence. It’s a bit simple, but so are many enjoyable things. The after palate is fruit driven, though with a drying undercurrent, and the length here is remarkable given the modest price tag and stylistic aspirations of the wine – it seems to go on and on.
A wine that hits the drinkability bullseye rather than aiming for ultimate refinement or complexity.  I like it a lot. Should be noted also the winery gives $50 of each case purchase to Camp Quality.  

Shaw Vineyard Estate
Price: $A15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Shaw Isabella Riesling 2009

Australia is world-renowned for its amazing, razor-sharp dry Riesling styles. So of course there’s currently a resurgence in off-dry Riesling. I jest – I think it’s great that producers are experimenting with styles, and it will be interesting to see if some regions and sites are better expressed with some residual sugar. 

To this wine then, a Canberra Riesling from Shaw Vineyard Estate and, according to the label, both Reserve and Handpicked. I’m feeling a warm glow already (or is that just the Verdelho from before?). I must admit I failed to read the back label before tasting, so was surprised at the rich, confected fruit aromas that emerged from the glass. A quick sip confirmed this as a decidedly off-dry style. The aroma profile comprises fake banana flavouring, candied pineapple and a range of other lively notes. It’s quite expressive and fun, though whether you will warm to its lolly store bent is a question of personal preference. It may also be showing its youth, and indeed some time in glass has seen the more aggressively confected aspects of the aroma blow off, to reveal fresher fruit versions of  pineapple and citrus notes, and some more floral, perhaps even mineral, dimensions too.
The palate is richly flavoured, with more candied fruits and a refreshing acid line. In an off-dry Riesling, the balance of acid, sugar and fruit intensity seems to be of the essence; here, there’s perhaps slightly too much sugar relative to the character and assertiveness of the acid, which translates to a broadness on the mid-palate. On entry, though, a lively and very fruit-driven experience, with sweetly preserved fruits and bubbly acidity moving things through to the mid-palate. Here, the palate widens and becomes really quite generous, almost relaxed, teetering on the edge of simplicity. A twist of phenolic bitterness on the after palate pulls things back into line, and balances the riper tendencies of the flavour profile, bringing a welcome freshness to the wine. Pretty decent, fresh finish.
A worthy attempt at a more “German” Riesling style, and one that has improved after several hours. From a regional perspective, I enjoy the delicate floral, talc-like flavour profile of many dry Canberra Rieslings, and it’s an open question for me (for now) whether this character adapts itself well to a moderately off-dry style. It’s certainly there in this wine, but its very delicacy sits uneasily against sweet fruit notes. I should add this wine responded exceptionally well to a robust pasta dish, its more candied fruit tendencies tamed and its structure more than adequate. 

Shaw Vineyard Estate
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2007

I burned my mouth on soup today. Aside from causing me to wonder why on Earth I chose to drink hot soup on an almost-Summer Brisbane day, my tongue is now less than sensitive to the more subtle, textural nuances of this wine. I find the more I taste it, however, the more discerning I become (a fact not unique to this wine, or so it often seems).

It takes a few minutes to get going. On the nose, considerable complexity of spice-like notes overlaying rich, plummy fruit and sleek oak. Somehow, I’m reminded of modernist Californian residential architecture; think Richard Neutra. Clean, spatial and coherent, but with a sense of warmth missing from some harsher intepretations of the International style (and, in the vinous context, of cooler climate Shiraz). This is certainly well-formed and harmonious, and keeps getting better in the glass.

The palate is all class, showing a particularly compelling texture thanks to some bloody good tannins. Totally controlled on entry, dark plum fruit flavour leaps forward first, followed by a gush of spice and more of the cedar oak. It’s medium bodied at most, and presents as both delicate and confident. Everything comes together on the middle palate, which shows a unified flavour profile underlined by a blanket of sweet, ripe, powdery tannins. There’s also what seems to me like a thread of minerality running through the core of this that is fascinating. Fruit takes a liqueur-like turn through the after palate, and the finish is both dry and fruit-sweet at the same time.

Very Canberra, very classy. Just like me.

Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail