Clonakilla Ceoltóirí 2013

Clonakilla’s small batch range seems to have exploded in recent years, with little rhyme or reason to its composition – not that I mind at all having the opportunity to taste a broader range of styles coming out of this wonderful producer. Some of the wines look outside the Canberra region for fruit, but this Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Cinsault blend is sourced from Murrumbateman, Clonakilla’s home turf.

The aroma is all about a cool climate vibe – this is an uncompromisingly spiced wine, with a range of floral and cracked pepper-like notes blanketing a layer of red fruits. There are also fragranced orange peel dimensions and a baseline of oak that, together, frame the assertive aroma, not softening it so much as completing its range.

The palate, at this stage of the wine’s life, is driven by a firm acid line and some fairly prominent tannins, and over three days it has softened only a little. To be sure, there’s no lack of flavour; as with the aroma, this is quite driven, with an aggression to its articulation that is impressive as well as a little tiring. It’s wiry and detailed and all those good things, but the adjectives I am instinctively reaching for are less unequivocally positive – lean, young and unresolved. A key difficulty for me is the way its structure sits apart from its fruit, creating a sweet-sour impression and granting the wine a fairly hard finish. The fact this is a light, transparent wine only exposes these components more.

So, to write about this as a wine of potential, or one of inaccessible pleasures in the present? It may well be both those things. Certainly, its unwillingness to tire over an extended period bodes well for its future, and there’s no denying the elegance of its flavours.

Price: $A36
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2010

On my first day at Bonny Doon Vineyard, I helped to wash and fill several hundred glass carboys with 2012 Le Cigare Volant. On my second and third days, we washed and filled several hundred more. While doing this work, it occurred to me more than once that maturing wine in this manner had better be worth the effort.

As it turned out, the timing of my visit to Bonny Doon coincided with this annual event, reserved for the very top wines of the estate (the reserve Le Cigare Volant and reserve Le Cigare Blanc). The first step in preparing the carboys for the 2012 Le Cigare Volant was to decant from them the 2010 vintage, which went to tank and, later in the week, to bottle. I assisted with bottling the ’10 and was given a freshly bottled example to taste. I wasn’t sure how the wine would show, given the many phases through which it had passed in just a few days, but found it already-enjoyable with its essential character intact.

The point of ageing these wines on lees in carboys, it seems, is to create for them a highly anaerobic/reductive environment in which freshness can be maintained and desirable flavours developed. On tasting, I was especially interested to see what, if anything, I might discern in the wine from this method of cellaring, and it seems to me the most striking influence is a savoury minerality that asserts itself through the latter half of the wine’s line. This creates for the wine’s palate a nice sweet-savoury narrative. It begins with almost-plush red berries and spice, deceptively friendly given the progressively more savoury countenance the wine adopts from mid-palate onwards. There begins notes of dried meat, minerals and a range of quite subtle reductive components (of the struck match and smoke sort) that create an impression of seriousness and detail. Tannins are fine and firm, meshing well with the after palate’s angularity of flavour.

Although it’s difficult to assess a wine so recently bottled, I do feel the way in which it was raised has contributed a distinctive character to the wine. These more savoury influences add further sophistication and interest to a wine that already benefits from pretty, restrained fruit aromas and flavours. I will look out for this when it’s released.

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

Château Musar 2000

Quite a wine. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I approached this, my first Musar, and the overriding impression I’m left with is of a lovely Bordeaux crossed with something completely foreign. It’s a vibrant, rough wine, hewn of distressed leather and sweat, revelling in its imperfections. The aroma shows cigar box, snapped twig and leather, very expressive and dusty in the Cabernet manner, but lacking the poise one might expect of a fine Bordeaux. That, though, is very much part of the wine’s charm, and its wildness contributes to its presence.

The palate delivers dense flavour onto the tongue and its persistence makes sense of a chaotic flavour profile. This fairly attacks the palate with flavour, fruit stubbornly adhering to the tongue. While drinking this wine, I was reminded of old leather goods, noisy markets and desert heat, images that suggest the disorientation of travel. Tannin structure is fine and reminds one that this is, in fact, a really good wine. Generous, messy and quite delicious.

This was tasted alongside a 2000 Lake’s Folly Cabernet whose refinement of form really showed up the Musar. No matter; I kept coming back to this so that it might let me linger in its heady world a bit longer.

Château Musar
Price: $N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Spinifex Esprit 2009

Mataro, Grenache, Shiraz, Carignan, Cinsault; why not?

Some performances consist of one idea. Sometimes this is enough to carry the weight of the show; it all depends on the strength of the idea and how well the audience connects with it. And so it is with this wine. It says one thing clearly and consistently, which may be the most wonderful thing if you like what it has to say.

The nose is dense and savoury, a strongly liquerous character instantly emerging from the glass, speaking of dark berries and darker oak, shadowy corners and even shadowier conversations. I  see dark tones each time I smell this wine; it’s moody if somewhat monochromatic and blunt. The blend seems beautifully executed in terms of coherence.

The palate is of a piece with the nose, stylistically. It strikes a dense, flavoursome note immediately on entry, the extra dimension here being textural, driven mostly by a streak of acid that sits a little uneasily alongside the fruit’s density of flavour. More dark berry liqueur and velvety plushness on the middle palate, though an element of hardness starts to creep in gradually, perhaps related to the character of the oak. Things get progressively more savoury as the line progresses, before an oak-driven finish of vanilla curls and ice cream rounds things off.

There’s a lot in here by way of flavour and interest, but at the same time I am left wishing for some light and shade, a bit of nuance, less emphatic a statement. Sometimes, less certainty can be charming.

Spinifex Wines
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Domaine du Poujol Proteus 2007

One long sniff and suddenly it’s 1979. I’m at a Thom McAn store, stuck waiting for a salesman to fetch out a series of increasingly dire shoes from the stockroom that I’m told will look great at church.This is a fairly complex nose; it’s not just throwback ’70s shoe leather, but also something slightly sour and candied, something pruny and animal, something very much like red berries and tar paper. On the whole, the effect is something on the order of unspeakably naff English candies that no one’s seen since the introduction of the EU: very old fashioned, somewhat unsettling, and (one hopes) ultimately very delicious once you can wrap your head around it.Somewhat shakily thin and nervous in the mouth, the impression I get here is that of an unusually ripe year that’s produced a slightly top-heavy version of what I imagine is normally a leaner, more mineral wine. There’s a huge amount of extract here, staining the sides of my glass with visibly gritty purple; there’s a slightly silty chunkiness in the mouth as well that is quite frankly awesome. Ultimately, what this wine reminds me of is a New World wine made with Robert Parker fans in mind: it’s quite good, no hidden surprises, rich and smooth and tasty.Thing is, though, if you give it a bit more time in the glass and pay more careful attention, there’s a very correct French wine hiding in here as well. There’s a wonderful slight sourness, an edge of minerality, a long finish that seems perfectly designed to be enjoyed with a sharp cheese. Tannins are in full effect, giving rise to the infamous ‘Who put socks on my teeth’ effect – and yet they’re very fine and graciously textured, something to be more feared than enjoyed.This seems to be a week for gateway wines: if you have a friend who professes to only like rich, full New World reds, try a bottle of this. Spend the evening sharing it with your friend. Serve them excellent cheese. Slowly (read: as you both become drunk) draw their attention to the acidity, the minerals, the tannins, the sourness. If I’m right, they’ll be a fan by the end of the evening, no doubt about it.Domaine de Poujol
Price: $10
Closure: Cork

Bonny Doon Cigare Alternative A 2001

The marketing materials suggested that this wine would greet 2010 “in fine fashion,” so how is it doing in 2009? I never did try it when originally shipped to wine club members many years ago, but here it is now, after two interstate moves; I’m tired of schlepping it around and now it’s time to slug it back.Immediately after opening the bottle, the smell of this stuff managed to overwhelm the homemade tamales I bought from a door-to-door vendor and has for dinner earlier tonight: this stuff is pungent. Boys and girls, the word of the day is Sauerkirschen: this smells like sour cherries, Moravian I suppose, or whatever those large, cheap glass jars contained back when the USSR still existed and you could buy them cheaply at any American grocery store. Whoa. Really strong, bright, dark, sour cherries. There’s also a hint of something that reminds me of freshly polished shoes: a light leathery note with the sharp tang of shoeshine polish. Pretty cool.What this wine taste like? Again, strong, sour cherries with only the faintest hints of darker flavors. There’s also a rather strange, herbal note here that is something like off-brand spearmint mouthwash; that sounds worse than it is, I know, but it’s very distinctive and not something I’ve encountered before. All of this is tightly grasped by still present, still somewhat hoary tannin, which at first was so unpleasant I considered throwing it out – but over time, it does loosen up enough to get past. Overall, the mouthfeel is pretty strange; it’s like a tug-of-war between not-yet-resolved tannins taking place in the shallow end of a pool. The color of this wine is dark and foreboding, yet it all seems fairly medium-bodied in the mouth, which is I suppose normal for a mature wine like this.All in all, I really don’t know what to make of this wine. Is it too old? Probably not. Was it better young? Who knows? Is the overall disorienting mouthfeel a relic of Bonny Doon’s then-obsessions with spinning cones, microbullage, and other weird winemaker tricks? I’m thinking yes; there’s something just not right about this wine, something getting in the way of the direct transmission from Mother Earth. I get the feeling that if Randall Grahm had made this ten years later it would be OK – but as it is, I imagine that he’d be recherching an awful lot of temps perdu if he were to open this puppy now.To paraphrase Stephen Malkmus: A for effort, B for delivery.Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $30
Closure: Cork

Château Musar 1997

The nose is absolutely beautiful, reminiscent of baker’s chocolate, roses, fresh roasted coffee, and molasses.

The wine itself is however entirely undrinkable: a complete disjointed mess of unwelcome, shrill acidity combined with reedy fruit and unpleasant sourness. Cork taint? I’ve never had a Musar before, so I sadly have no frame of reference here.

I have nothing more to say about this wine.

Ch. Musar
Price: No idea
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2008

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2005

What with a couple of Barossa Grenache/Shiraz blends under my belt in the last few days, I thought it was time to return to the source with this reasonably priced wine. For a large production wine, the Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge seems to attract its fair share of enthusiasts’ attention. It has a reputation for over-delivering at its price point, and of responding well to some bottle age.

I tasted over two nights, as it was somewhat impenetrable initially and remained so through the first evening. Tonight, it’s still quite dense and brooding, but is revealing enough of its character to facilitate enjoyment and, more pertinently for me, explication. A nose that is both floral and inky, with black fruits, some very ripe black pepper and prickly, appealing minerality or perhaps tar. It’s all very tight and coiled, yet seems to me well balanced (for what it is).

The palate initially promises more generosity, and in a sense delivers this, but fundamentally remains quite tight. Wisps of sweet black fruit escape the wine’s predominantly savoury flavour profile before being dragged back into a mêlée of tar, pepper and puckeringly dry tannin. Before the tannin takes over, though, a silky smooth mouthfeel briefly registers and promises fine textural development. Flavour is reassuringly intense, and the structure seems especially well sorted, with good continuity throughout the wine’s line, and a lengthy, dry finish.

Despite its youth, I’m enjoying the quality and elusiveness of this wine and am contemplating the purchase of a few bottles to cellar over the medium (to perhaps long?) term. I want to see what unfolds with the persuasiveness of time.

E. Guigal
Price: $A19
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: October 2008

Château de Montfaucon Baron Louis Côtes du Rhône 2004

I like a good Côtes du Rhône and, of all French wines, they are often the best QPR option if you are looking for something Old World to add variety to your choice of local quaffers. This one is an excellent example of the genre.Transparent ruby with purple edges, moderate density. The nose here is really interesting. It’s pretty but also rustic and savoury in character. Licorice allsorts, clean raspberry, dried herbs, pepper and earth wrapped in a subtle but enticing package. There’s a lot going on in here and it’s quite seamless and lightfooted. There’s good depth of flavour, which is increasing the longer the wine sits in glass, but it’s not a forbidding wine by any means. The other half suggested a bit of mould/wet hessian character that I wasn’t picking up. The entry has good impact, with flavour kicking in towards the front of the tongue and spreading sideways to coat generously. The mid-palate reveals a medium bodied wine of gentle acid and real generosity of flavour. Here’s a trick: the wine is full of flavour, yet balanced and easygoing too, with genuine complexity. Notes on the palate are very similar to the nose, with the red fruit asserting itself more prominently, and the pepper gaining impact via very fine yet drying tannins that kick in quite early on. There’s also a bit of coffee/vanilla oak that subtly supports the fruit flavour. The wine’s structure is nicely sorted, with the acid dovetailing into the tannins very elegantly and creating an excellent frame for the fruit. The after palate becomes progressively more spicy, and ends in a drying finish of good length. What a lovely wine. It’s exotic and reminds me of warm turned earth and flowers. We had this wine with barbecued meats and it was an excellent match. A very good value for what it is. It’s drinking well now but I’m going to leave the remaining bottles for a few years to see how the wine shows with softer, more integrated tannins.Château de MontfauconPrice: $A28Closure: CorkDate tasted: January 2008

La Ferme Julien Rosé 2006

Don’t laugh, but the first thought that came into my head upon smelling this wine was “Bananas Foster.” Yes, seriously! It’s also got the standard strawberry rosé smell there as well, but with an unusual creaminess and that hint of bananas, vanilla, and burnt sugar as well. There’s even a subtle whiff of attar of roses, as well as a nearly buttery note.

In the mouth, the wine shows a lovely medium weight, not overwhelmed by sweetness, finishing on a dry, tart note. The taste is surprisingly different than the smell, tending towards sweet violet coffee and freshly milled flour, again with that lovely undercurrent of roses. The finish isn’t especially long, but it offers a nice counterpoint to the rest of the wine, ending on a flat note of candied lemon peel. On the whole, though, it’s probably the best rosé you’ll find for under ten bucks.

La Ferme Julien [but really Trader Joe’s]
Price: US $7.99
Closure: Stelvin
Tasted: November 2007