Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2008

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Mark Gifford of Blue Poles Vineyard. Amongst the wines we tasted were his current 2007 Reserve Merlot, and this 2008 wine, due for release in the near future. I wrote glowingly and, I think, correctly about the 2007, so it was fascinating to taste the two side by side. On Friday, I preferred the 2008 for its tautness and intellect, finding the 2007 soft-edged by comparison. The following evening, when I retasted both, the 2007 had zapped into focus, giving the 2008 a real run for its money. I still can’t decide which I like more. What’s clear is they are both exceptional wines, and in the uppermost echelons of Australian Merlot.

The aroma is heady, deeply fruited, dark and savoury-edged, with perfume-like basenotes of woody spice and spicy oak, tonka bean and juicy leaves. It’s both accessible and complex, at times almost overwhelmingly forthright but always remaining fundamentally elusive and unable to be easily dissected. There’s an element of the strip tease to this wine that is quite compelling.

Entry is dark, just hinting at a sort of plush decadence before showing controlled movement to the middle palate. Here, the full spectrum of this wine’s flavours and structural components becomes evident. Tobacco leaves; savoury berry fruits with just a hint of Merlot’s teddy bear side; abundant, sweet, textural tannins, like rough sandpaper; acidity that holds everything in its place and takes a moment to express its own flourish before whisking the whole bundle of flavours through a raspy, delicious after palate. What a mouthful. The finish is held somewhat in check right now due to all that structure, but is likely to gain greater extension and fullness once the wine has had time to relax.
One could be forgiven for thinking this is even better than the 2007.  

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Devil's Lair Chardonnay 2007

There’s a pork roast in the oven, to be accompanied by a variety of roasted vegetables (including parsnip, which I adore) and this wine. A few sips before the food is ready, though.

The nose is misleading me at first, because it seems full of oatmeal, cream, hints of caramel and other signs of manipulation, suggesting a wine dominated by winemaking artifact. Give it a a few swirls, then, to bring clean, grapefruity aromas to the fore. There’s actually a lot going on here, including a rather sharp note that I’m having trouble describing but for which I shall use the word “herbal” (in a thyme-like manner), via sea water. It’s darned expressive, helped by what is an altogether piercing aroma profile.
The palate is similarly complex, and what I like most is how its overt caramel and oat flavours don’t in any way equal flab or a lack of shape. In fact, this is a taut, tightly controlled wine from start to finish. A really elegant entry into the mouth, with flavour that builds smoothly to a middle palate of decent intensity. The fruit flavour is firmly in the grapefruit spectrum, with a bit of white nectarine poking its head in. I like the slippery mouthfeel here, which is an interesting foil to the firm acid structure. As the wine relaxes into its after palate, the more worked flavour profile begins to dominate, with really delicious sharp caramel and mealy elements, along with a harder thread that seems part oak, part acid-derived to me (its character is almost metallic or briney with a sappy quality too). Quite a long, soft finish.
This is a heap of wine for the money. For mine, I’d prefer a slightly less aggressive, hard profile, but perhaps time will take care of that. Really nice Chardonnay.

Devil’s Lair
Price: $A28.95
Closure: Stelvin

Blue Poles Hopping Stone Tempranillo 2007

The second Blue Poles Vineyard wine to be tasted at Full Pour and, like the first, a thought-provoking little number. 

A complex nose that balances spice and sweet fruit with aplomb. There’s a nice vibe to the aroma, with cherry-like fruit and very well-balanced chocolate and nougat oak, plus a light blanket of brown spice and a shake of pepper. There’s a lot going on, but the overall impression is of juicy straightforwardness, in the same way a good steak seems to express a world of flavour while remaining a single ingredient.
In the mouth, a lovely mix of fruit, spice and quite assertive tannin. More cherries squish on the tongue with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus some slightly leafy notes.  Some cedar-like oak, though very much in the background, contributes a bit of spine to the flavour profile. I like the structure here; the tannins are abundant and almost chalky, quite delicious in fact, and the acid is lively and fine, providing a lovely blanket on which all the other elements can rest. Overall, the wine is medium bodied and shoots for elegance above density or sheer power. Very good length, which may grow more impressive as the wine ages and its structure allows the fruit to flow more freely.
This is an extremely convincing expression of Tempranillo that makes a great case for this combination of region and variety.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin

Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2007

The third of three recent Merlots and, to jump to the end, this wine elicits a big “wow” from me. If you like good Merlot, good red wine, or good things generally, put in your order.

We’re not about summary judgement here at Full Pour, though, so now comes the task of describing the wine, which is considerably more difficult than simply recommending it. The first thing to note is it’s very young but, unlike the 2007 Unison Merlot, is drinking very well right now. A bit tight on opening, the aroma has melted over the course of an hour to reveal gorgeous red and black berries, tobacco leaf, some classy cedar oak, and general savouriness, all expressed within a cleanly articulated structure that draws the elements together in one repeatedly sniffable package. 
On the palate, the intensity of fruit becomes fully apparent, as does a structure of beautiful clarity. Medium bodied, this wine starts subtly on entry, with mostly savoury notes (some sulphur-derived influences perhaps?) leading into a gradual crescendo of red and black berry fruit. There is a range of other elements that participate in the flavour profile, many of a richly leafy character, and subtly vanillan oak plays a part too.  Although there are tannins aplenty, they don’t unduly block the wine’s expression, even at this early stage in its life.  On the after palate, the fruit character morphs into a decadent liqueur-like expression. Very impressive finish.
One often reads descriptions of Merlot in terms of rich, soft fruitiness and a slight absence of structure. Flip this on its head and you have something akin to this wine, which is all about precise fruit, firm structure and a sense of sophistication that transcends my poor attempt to transcribe the experience of drinking it. 

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin

Woodlands Margaret Reserve Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007

Criticism is one of those things that can be as hard to pin down as the object being critiqued. I look at, say, writing on film through the twentieth century and it seems to trace a path from James Agee to Cahiers du Cinéma, then from Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris to… Roger Ebert. In other words, from interdisciplinary critics with an awesome sense of cultural perspective, to an explosive bunch of enthusiasts turned filmmakers intent on discussing film in new ways, to a few iconic, fiercely intellectual writers with hugely influential views on cinema to… thumbs up, thumbs down.

So my narrative is deliberately misleading, as I’m sure there has always existed a plebian form of criticism the purpose of which is mostly to act as a guide for consumers, and that’s ok. There’s a place for it, and I admit that I read Roger Ebert (he worked with Russ Meyer, after all). But as a film nut, I reach for Kael, or Sarris, or the few contemporary icons like Paglia to get my critical thrills. And there seems to me a dearth of writers at the moment who work within an intellectual framework accessible to those without University educations in French Theory (apologies to those readers, and I know you’re out there, with University educations in French Theory) yet whose intent is to progress the conversation on film, rather than to make undemocratic calls on what is worth seeing and what isn’t. And, further, this causes me to wonder whether something like wine, an agricultural product (albeit a rarified one), ought to be discussed in the same manner. It rarely is, and I’d answer immediately “no” based purely on the simplicity of the object, except it goes against my instinct to reduce something created with such deliberate intent, even if from basic raw materials, to equally basic critical terms.

Clearly because I have too much time on my hands, I was wondering about this as I opened the 07 Woodlands Margaret. I’ve read a few reviews of it and they have ranged from utter raves to more measured praise. I wondered on what side I’d fall. Would I love the wine and tell my long suffering readers all about it? Or would I be vaguely disappointed, forced into wondering how I might express this disappointment without being obnoxiously presumptous regarding my own discernment?

Neither, as it turns out, because what interests me about this wine are notions of style, which are perhaps the most subjective, problematic aspects of wine, and consequently the most interesting to me. Wines like this demand to be discussed in critical terms far removed from thumbs up, thumbs down. In an acknowledged good (perhaps great) vintage in Margaret River, producers might no doubt take their pick of how to approach their winemaking. So, it’s especially provocative to taste a wine like this which is determinedly light and delicate, perhaps even marginal in terms of weight and ripeness. It’s almost outrageously aromatic, and as such it is appealing, but the aroma profile is so gamine that calling the wine sexy feels like a form of vinous paedophilia. Very high toned aromas of cedar, gravel, red fruits, bubble gum and flowers. A very slight green edge that seems half varietal and half unripe.

The palate starts in fine form with a nice rush of oak and floral fruit. Light to medium bodied; at least, it appears it will pan out that way until the middle palate seems to die a little death just as you’re wanting to experience petit mort. Even lots of swirling can’t coax much additional substance from the wine, so I’ll need to be satisfied with a marginal sense of dissatisfaction as I taste complex fruit flavours with a nice jammy edge (the Malbec, perhaps?). There’s plenty of acid and very fine, drying tannins so, structurally, we’re in fine territory. Nice long, light, delicate finish.

I’ve no doubt this is the wine that was intended to be made, so drinking it isn’t so much a question of evaluating achievement as it is challenging one’s concept of what Margaret River Cabernet should be. It’s so lean and etched, one can’t help but admire the detail. It reminds me of Kate Moss when she first hit the scene; impossibly thin, with the most beautiful bone structure, yet ethereal to the point of appearing sickly. I wonder if resonant beauty, the sort that makes you fearful and lusty at the same time, needs a bit more flesh on its bones?

Price: $A36.50
Closure: Stelvin

Amberley First Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

An inviting, lush nose with just a hint of varietal leafiness. It’s not the gravel-fest one might expect from Margaret River Cabernet but, if you can get past the absence of outré regional character, the aroma profile is gently approachable and attractive. Good complexity, with oak playing a relatively prominent role in vanilla custard mode. The fruit character seems rounded rather than intellectual and angular, perhaps a function of bottle age as well as style.

Brookland Valley Merlot 2004

Who first said that Merlot should taste soft, fruity and generous? It’s an oft-repeated opinion, usually trotted out apologetically in conjunction with some mass-market, sub-$15 bottle of wine. On this view, Merlot ends up a bit like that mentally challenged second cousin who turns up to all the family functions and who is at least, you know, nice.

Moss Wood Semillon 2003

One from the cellar.

Shy nose with hints of cream, astringent herb, grapefruit and a touch of tropical richness too. I’m smelling an aged dimension to the aroma profile in the form of light toastiness, but it’s still quite primary. A pretty, complex whisper of a nose.

The palate shows greater generosity. A cool, crisp entry that bristles with fresh acid texture. You’d never know this wine had already spent several years in bottle. Steely acidity carries astringent citrus flavours through the mid-palate without significant pause. Here, mouthfeel shows a softer, creamier face, without subverting the wine’s significant structure. Intensity is quite impressive, and there’s some complexity of flavour too, although it’s all quite austere in profile and, consequently, challenging to describe in terms other than “flint” or “mineral.” A pleasant lift through the after palate precedes a long, clean finish. It’s in these last stages that some fruit weight finally appears, and it is of the grapefruit and citrus pith variety.

The last bottle I tried, perhaps two years ago, showed quite differently. It was more generous, softer and quite luscious, and the winemaking treatment (battonage, etc) was clearly evident. I wonder if this wine is going through a phase, or perhaps there’s some bottle variation at play? On the basis of this example, I’d be looking to check on its progress in two to three years’ time. I don’t have a lot of experience with this label, though, so others’ insights are welcome.

Moss Wood
: $A30
: Stelvin
Date tasted
: September 2008

Vasse Felix Classic Dry White 2007

You see this everywhere. It’s easy to find in pretty much any bottle shop fridge and turns up with alarming regularity at BBQs, Summer lunches, etc. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad — it does, though, mean you’re probably going to have a glass or two of it sometime soon…
More than those from some other regions, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends from the Margaret River can tread a fine line between fresh astringency and overbearing grassiness. They don’t usually suffer, though, from a personality deficit. So smelling and tasting this wine came as somewhat of a surprise. It’s pretty on the nose — ultra clean, a bit tropical, a bit herbal. But lacking in intensity and character.
The palate is all quite correct, with relatively soft acidity (for the style) that enters freshly and pushes lightly tropical fruit along with zip. There’s not much grass or herb here; it’s definitely an easygoing, unchallenging flavour profile. The biggest surprise for me is the lack of intensity of flavour. It tastes almost watery on the mid-palate, and this, combined with its flavour profile, turns the wine into a bit of a non-event. It’s just not especially interesting. For the price, I would expect more.
Vasse FelixPrice: A$18Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008