Cherubino Shiraz 2009

Stylistically, this occupies a middle ground between the Acacia and Riversdale Shirazes I tasted recently (although this wine is from an earlier vintage than either of those two). It has suggestions of the Acacia’s palate weight while channeling the Riversdale’s almost brutal savouriness and sinewy palate structure. Interestingly, the 2010 and 2011 vintages of this wine come from the Acacia and Riversdale vineyards respectively, whereas the vineyard source here isn’t specified (on the Cherubino Web site at any rate).

It’s also quite fascinating, because it’s a wine that, over several hours of contemplative tasting, never entirely yielded to me. It’s not a matter of being somehow unresolved; this is drinking quite well, really. Its style, though, with a focus on muscular savouriness, is one that can’t help but dodge easy deliciousness. I wondered at one point whether a wine style that keeps insisting on its form and sophistication at the expense of much else takes the idea too far; whether some fruit might have been brought further forward to provide a way in, and whether its noticeable reduction might have been dialled back at bit. But, in the end, I’m glad of its balance, and I enjoy the way it insists the drinker rise a little in his seat to taste.

It’s a wine that shows great tannin, and its relatively high — by mainstream Australian standards — pH of 3.9 came as something of a surprise when I looked up the technical data. Not forcing it down to a more textbook level, though, shows great winemaking judgement, because the wine’s palate structure is fantastic as is, and a brighter streak of acid might destroy the dark, dense way this moves through the mid-palate in particular. Fruit weaves in and out of this rope-like architecture, occasionally swelling to a point stopping just short of generosity, then folding back into the dark fabric of the wine. Oak, though present, seems to work at the level of density and mouthfeel rather than adding any obvious sweetness or overt flavour.

It’s been good to taste a few Frankland River Shirazes of late. It has confirmed my view that this region, and its neighbours in Great Southern, is capable of producing some of the most distinctive, challenging and sophisticated Shiraz in Australia.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cherubino The Yard Acacia Vineyard Shiraz 2011

A counterpart to the Riversdale Vineyard wine, this is a catalogue of things that are good about Frankland River Shiraz. It’s also by far the more accessible of the two Cherubino wines, being a more suave, slinky wine than the rather forbidding Riversdale.

The nose is dark, as befits a wine of the region, yet it expresses the most wonderful range of spice notes alongside concentrated, savoury berry fruit. Despite its spiciness, there’s a restraint at play and a sense of full ripeness that allows fruit to cushion more angular notes, including some fairly glossy oak. Mostly, though, this smells cool, pure and vibrant, hallmarks of this region’s Shiraz at its best.

The palate’s structure strikes me as beautifully balanced, and tannins in particular are a highlight. On entry, a bright, brisk expression of red and black berries, flowing to a mid-palate that remains taut while allowing the fruit’s considerable intensity to shine. It’s only medium bodied, but such is the impact of the fruit and deliciousness of the tannins, it quite fills one’s mouth. The after palate connects cleanly and carries through to a savoury, slightly oak-driven finish.

This is my favourite of the various Frankland River Shirazes I’ve tasted of late and, at $35, is good value.

Update: a couple of days on and this is still firing on all cylinders. Wonderful velvet tannin.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Frankland River Shiraz 2009

Given the isolation of Great Southern, it’s not surprising several producers don’t bother with a cellar door. Shame, though, for those who do make the effort to visit, as I did last year. Not much to do other than order a mixed dozen or two, as I recently did from Castelli Estate. This is the second Castelli wine I’ve tasted from my experimental order, the first being a 2010 Shiraz that seemed quite lean and mean alongside a selection of other cool climate Australian Shirazes of the same vintage.

This edition is, if my memory is any sort of guide, a tad more generous, though it remains a firmly savoury wine. The aroma is quite lifted, with some fairly blunt oak alongside dark fruit, twig-like vegetation and less spice than one might expect of Frankland River Shiraz. I wish it were more defined and precise in the placement of its aromas. Although it’s distinctive and, in its lean way, regional, it’s also a pretty difficult aroma to warm to, mostly due to the directness of its oak component and the aggressiveness of its lift.

The palate is more satisfying, primarily due to an acid structure that delineates each flavour clearly and provides the wine with shape and articulation. There’s also a bit more substance and flesh to the fruit here that rounds out what threatens, aromatically, to be a fairly lean experience. Tannins are well-placed and slightly hard, giving the wine a firm finish. There are flashes of humanity here and there, some fruit to sink into, but these are the exception. The style here is, generally, rather unyielding.

I’ve certainly tasted Frankland River Shiraz with greater purity of fruit, vibrancy and complexity, and respect the region’s potential. Although this shows a genuine sense of place, for my palate it lacks the tension and interest that characterises really exciting Shiraz of the region.

Update: day 2 and the wine has settled somewhat. The aroma remains dark, with a hint of reduction I hadn’t initially noticed, while the palate has evened out and is showing brighter, quite attractive fruit. Still lacking in definition, but I suspect some time in a decanter will help it show to its best advantage.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Shiraz 2011

Frankland River Shiraz, if I may generalise for a moment, is the sort of wine the modern wine lover feels she ought to like. A friend of mine who has worked with fruit from the region considers it Australia’s closest approximation to a Northern Rhône style and, in its often uncompromising spice and savouriness, the style provides ample support for this view. In a line-up of Australian Shirazes tasted recently — blind — with a friend, the Frankland River wines showed poorly, seeming underdeveloped in fruit flavour by comparison even to other cooler climate expressions like wines from Canberra and the Grampians. Yet I can’t help but be drawn to the purity and edge these wines so often bring, and feel they benefit from a more contemplative tasting approach. Sometimes, drinkers need to meet a wine half way.

This wine, a companion to the Riesling tasted earlier, seems archetypal. It’s forcefully savoury in its aroma, throwing notes of clove, liquorice, savoury red fruit and crushed herbs. It’s not as spiced as a Canberran and lacks the generous fruit character most Shirazes from South Eastern Australia seem to effortlessly deliver. In their place, a sense of concentration and focus that is both slightly confrontational and impressive. Smelling this wine is almost a challenge.

The palate carries through with a wonderfully clear structure and good articulation of flavours. There’s a finesse to the way this wine moves down its line. It remains savoury in terms of flavour, with a distinctively reductive gunpowder note, and its slinky palate structure only serves to draw attention to the angularity of its other components. Tannins are well managed, presenting at the right level and with just a hint of aggression. Although clearly a young wine, this shows impressive coherence and stylistic integrity.

Unquestionably a wine of considerable sophistication, if somewhat forbidding character. It’s the party guest who’s just too good looking to talk to.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Riesling 2012

While in Great Southern last year, I didn’t get to taste all that I wanted to. In particular, the entire Cherubino range remained unknown to me, mostly due to the absence of anything I could find resembling a cellar door. I’ve been curious about these wines for a while though, so I went ahead and ordered a few to taste. This, from a sub-range designed to highlight single vineyards throughout Western Australia, is the first.

One anticipates a certain austerity, combined with delicious fruit flavours, when it comes to Great Southern Riesling, and this wine is in the main line of regional style. The aroma contains as much boulder dust as it does lime blossom, which creates an immediately savoury, and slightly funky, impression. At the moment, because of the relative dominance of mineral aromas, there’s no easy way in, but it’s an impressively taut performance, and one that doesn’t sacrifice aromatic body in the service of clarity.

In the mouth, even more tight than the nose suggests, with a dashing line of acid that carries flavours, and one suspects a few particles of cheek lining, straight to the back of the palate. Despite this structure, it’s not a thin wine, and I like the flesh this carries, noting that its body consists mostly of savoury, mineral flavours rather than anything more approachably fruity. A clean jet of lemon juice through the finish is its most obvious fruit note.

This uncompromising flavour and structure makes the whole slightly hard work as a young wine, but it all points to some productive time in bottle. I’ll be retasting in about five years, I reckon.

Note: three days on and the wine is just starting to open out on the palate. Plenty of juicy, attractive fruit. Nice wine, if quite masculine in style.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

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

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2012

Taste through a region and its strengths become abundantly clear. Although many producers’ portfolios in Australia can lack focus and muddy the waters on paper, some variety and region combinations jump out with a bit of exploration. After a few days in Great Southern, it’s blindingly obvious to me that Riesling finds a natural home here, and I’m falling in love with the regional, and sub-regional, expressions of this variety. It’s no exaggeration to suggest I’m rediscovering the deliciousness of Riesling through these pristine, powdery, lime-infused wines.

Frankland Estate’s single vineyard Riesling portfolio is a nice crash course in Frankland River Riesling, itself subtly different from other sub-regional expressions such as that of Porongurup. I tasted all three 2012 releases at cellar door and took this one home for further examination. Grown on a strikingly chalky soil, this wine struck me as the most generous and fleshy, although this in the context of a collection of fairly austere wines.

The nose is quite expressive, though still with a bit of free sulfur, with pungent dried lime, sea spray, herbs and lemon juice notes. There’s a suggestion of something more tropical, and this edge gives the wine a fuller aroma profile than its siblings, but this thicker influence sits very much on the sidelines, more a faint imprint than something truly legible.

One expects a good dose of acid in these wines and I’m not disappointed here, though more important than quantity is character. The acid here isn’t ultra-fine; rather, it bubbles along close to the surface, pushing intense lime and herb flavours along the tongue briskly. There are savoury edges to the flavour profile, and I like the touch of mid-palate flesh that emerges before disappearing again in a cloud of torn herbs and firm texture, the latter less chalky and drying than in the other two wines.

More than anything, this is a delicious wine that, as I have discovered while tasting, pairs easily with food both savoury (green curry) and sweet (custard). I’ll have a few of these, thanks.

Frankland Estate
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample