Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2005

I remember tasting this at cellar door, along with the superb 2005 Vat 1, and purchasing immediately. At the time, though I don’t remember specifics, I do distinctly recall being impressed by its focus and drive.

That structure and linearity have served the wine well. This is the first bottle I’ve tasted in quite some time and it’s ageing in style. There are aromas that show definite bottle-age — toast, biscuits, a softening of the lemon flavours down to more curd-like notes — and in a way this reminds me of Hunter Semillon as it gains age. There’s also, unlike your typical Hunter Semillon, a good deal of oak, and I like the way the oak’s spice integrates with the fruit’s evolving aroma profile. This wine’s in a good place right now, aromatically.

The palate shows a nice lick of lemon curd that pools on the mid-palate, along with riper stonefruit flesh and sweetness that gains as the wine moves down its line. There’s a progressive richness to the wine’s shape in the mouth, leading to a rather wedge-shaped palate. Fittingly, the finish is well extended, and there’s plenty of acid to keep things alive and moving. I find this has really good clarity of articulation and, although it’s not a fine-boned wine by nature, it shows good form and drive. Certainly, within its warmer climate style, it has great balance and tension throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am happy to have a few more in my cellar. Given its Stelvin closure and good cellaring conditions, I think this might live for quite some time (as, I submit, many good Australian Chardonnays can).

Tyrrell’s Wines
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Robert Stein Riesling 2012

I’ve not tasted a Robert Stein Riesling before, and this aroused my interest immediately for two reasons. Firstly, its price positions it amongst the more expensive Rieslings in the country. Secondly, its winemaker Jacob Stein has worked the vintage in Germany on several occasions, so it’s reasonable to expect some influence may have crept into the approach with this wine.

Thankfully, this isn’t Mudgee forced into the Mosel, and yet it’s far from Riesling in the classically pristine, dry Australian form too. The aromatics, firstly, are infused with a mix of high toned florals and much richer, more savoury notes that move from lime pulp to paw paw. It’s a slightly twisted version of a bath bomb, with quite piercing aromas that never settle into entirely comfortable territory.

The palate has good weight and impact, with a decent amount of acid that is offset by some apparent sweetness. There’s also a thread of textural phenolics that runs through the after palate, adding a chalky mouthfeel and contributing to the wine’s apparent structure. I particularly like the purity of the mid-palate’s fruit, where a burst of citrus shines clearly before the wine moves through its more textural dimensions. While this doesn’t strike me as an austere wine, its acid and phenolics may prove challenging for some drinkers accustomed to more straightforward expressions of this variety. Having said that, the J.J. Prüm I had the other day was vastly more acidic and less approachable than this.

For my part, I think it’s great producers are fiddling a bit with Riesling in Australia, creating wines with different profiles and characters. While the purity of our mainstream styles can be wonderful, I’ve got plenty of time for things like this too.

Robert Stein
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Eloquesta A Boy with Fruit No. 1 NV

With his previous releases, Stuart Olsen with his Eloquesta label skirted the edges of eccentricity, but this release blasts through any vestigial sense of convention. Hipster-bait to be sure, this non-vintage mixed black blend (along with some Viognier) is, so declares the press release, more about region and winemaker than variety.

As an aside, how nice to see a producer acknowledge that, yes, people do play a role in winegrowing, and not just as impossibly romanticised shepherds of Nature’s Will as grapes make their way into the bottle.

No, this is a celebration of the winemaker, and it’s a good argument for placing an interesting person at the centre of a wine project. I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with Stuart Olsen aside from the occasional online interaction, but clearly there’s a curious, exploratory mind at work, even if some of the ideas being juggled (harvesting “in line with the lunar cycle”) are less interesting to me than others.

In the end, we judge these ideas through the wine produced, and I’m happy to note this is a very distinctive, enjoyable wine. It wears its eccentricity on its sleeve, and this smells notably unlike the mainstream. Its aroma is deeply fruited and forward, with a sappy edge and a general air of savouriness that underline the fruit and take it into less familiar territory. There’s an interplay of fresh, vibrant fruit, nougat oak and aldehydic cocoa powder that, for me, strikes a good balance.

The palate is very supple and establishes this as a wine that drinks well right now. It’s very giving, with a relaxed acid line that allows the mid-palate some expansiveness, perhaps at the expense of some tension and precision. Flavours are, again, an interesting mix of freshness and age, just as successful as on the nose, but with the added attraction of ripe, rather plush tannins through the after palate. Not a wine of great impact, perhaps, but drinkability is high, and the flavours are most distinctive.

I really like what’s happening with this label and I look forward to more.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Topper’s Mountain Red Earth Child 2011

As perhaps the only Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Tannat blend made in Australia (the world?), this piques one’s curiosity simply because of what it is. Such a blend might scream “left overs” to some, but this is Topper’s Mountain’s flagship red blend, which in itself signals a seriousness of intent. The project here, as was discussed in my review of the 2009, is to create the best blend possible in any given year from the Topper’s Mountain vineyard. The approach is appropriately responsive – this blend bears little resemblance to the earlier wine in its varietal composition.

And, indeed, there are marked sensory differences too. This is a bright, fragranced wine, the aroma infusing one’s senses with tea leaf, red fruit, brown spice and the sort of intensely aromatic florals that suggest eucalypts rather than anything more exotic. There’s quite a lot going on in fact, the whole light and transparent. It’s a nice wine to smell.

In the mouth, the wine’s light weight and high toned flavours are immediately evident. This is such a delicate wine, with more red fruit and spice winding their way around fine acid and subtle tannin. Yes, despite Nebbiolo and Tannat in the mix, this doesn’t come across as especially tannic, though the tannins present are fine and ripe, more velvet than grain. For me, this wine’s pleasures centre on its gentle, savoury flavours — which are surprisingly intense — and a general sense of effortlessness.

Another interesting entry in the Red Earth Child project, then, if not one inclined to call attention to itself.

Topper’s Mountain
Price: $A38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Toppers Mountain Gewürztraminer 2013

Today’s delightfully unnecessary luxury product comes to me courtesy Topper’s Mountain Wines in New England. I first tasted wines from this producer about two years ago and it was immediately obvious there’s a slightly off-centre point of view at play. Not just some unusual varieties, but unusual handling of familiar varieties. This Gewürztraminer is a good example.

I fear Gewürztraminer a little because, with its monoterpene-heavy Muscat vibe, it can go from fragranced to Grandma in the slip of an incontinence pad. This treads that line finely. The aroma is, indeed, classic Gewürztraminer. Lychee and rose petals, musk and must. As with the best perfumes, though, there’s something delightfully rotten at its core, a subtle note of civet perhaps that drags the shamelessly florid dimensions of the aroma back into uncomfortable territory.

The palate is strikingly fine. What I like most here are its balance and form, which showcase a fullness appropriate to the flavour profile without ever broadening too much through the mid-palate. Flavours aren’t grotesquely proportioned either; there’s almost incredible restraint considering the variety, though this doesn’t come at the expense of any flavour ripeness. A chalky texture roughs up the after palate, absorbing some of the wine’s excesses and allowing the finish to be clean, vibrant and long.

A really excellent expression of Gewürztraminer and one I’d be happy to drink with an extravagant salad.

Toppers Mountain
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Swinging Bridge m.a.w. Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Now we’re talking. I like this a great deal more than the companion single vineyard Chardonnay. It has character, a bit of wildness and, most of all, the sort of distinctiveness that is its own justification.

The aroma is totally Pinot in its least plush, most sinewy mode. Sap, sous-bois, spice, orange peel and crunchy red fruit. There’s a good deal of complexity, but what I like most is its sense of abandon. This is a wine that’s barely in control, and that makes for some exciting tension within the aroma. This all leads me to suspect a rather acid-driven wine in the mouth, yet it’s far from overly structural. In fact, there’s a certain plushness within the context of a light to medium bodied wine, and that helps the predominantly high toned flavours to fully express themselves. Oak provides some nice flavour inputs, deepening the wine’s registers a little. Length is merely adequate.

This is a very one-sided wine: flavours are pitched at a certain level, body is light, intensity only moderate. Yet it clearly comes from somewhere specific, and therein lies its value and interest. Most worthwhile.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Swinging Bridge Mrs Payten Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

I want to love every wine I taste. It seems to me there’d be no greater pleasure for a wine enthusiast than to find in each wine, familiar or not, a world of pleasure and revelation. Wines that fall short, then, aren’t just less enjoyable, they’re a little bit heartbreaking too.

Wines often brashly flash their most prominent assets — single vineyard! old vines! French oak! — and why not? In this age of obligatory opinions, snap judgements and forced rankings, producers must surely feel they are putting their wines into the vinous equivalent of a speed dating night, if not a boxing ring. You’ve got mere seconds to establish credibility and generate an attraction. So I don’t begrudge the, of late, spectacular proliferation of single vineyard wines in Australia. I will note, though, that a single vineyard wine, for me, creates a certain expectation. Of distinctiveness perhaps, and quality too, something worth singling out. I approach this wine, then, with heightened anticipation.

So as it presents as slightly blurry, without sufficient articulation of and insight into the flavours it obviously has, I feel frustrated by the opaque view it gives me of its raison d’être – the vineyard from which it came. It’s far from generic tasting, and there are some funky flavours atop fruit that veers between ripe pineapple and much more nuanced, savoury citrus. There are also darker notes that speak of lees and a certain minerality. But there’s a dull edge to the whole that, for me, obscures each component. Structure is relaxed, robbing the wine of tension and fattening its mid-palate, although I do like the chalky texture through the finish. There’s also a lack of intensity to the fruit, making the wine feel like it’s playing too quietly to get me moving. I just want more — more intensity, more definition, more overt distinctiveness. I want this wine to sing its vineyard, so I can hear its colours and enjoy its view.

It might fairly accuse me of not being a good listener; I’m just a bit sad about what we could’ve been, this wine and me.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clonakilla Riesling 2013

I’m partial to a good Canberra Riesling, and the Clonakilla version tends to be pretty reliable. No wonder I’ve ended up with a bit too much in my cellar. Nice problem to have, I guess. Still, it remains a mystery to me how I can like a variety so much and drink it so little. Perhaps Riesling is the cauliflower of the wine world. To me, at least.

This isn’t the subtlest of wines right now. As it currently presents, there are powerful citrus rind and floral aromas that overlay some slatey subtleties. It’s a forthright, savoury aroma that shows this variety’s manlier side, as if the aroma has been carved from a solid block Riesling Flavour. Still, a valid style and one that has a lot of impact.

In the mouth, all that the nose promises. This is piercingly acidic, a fact underlined by strands of mineral-slate flavour that drag the wine into some pretty serious territory. Over the top, more lemon rind and powdery flowers. If I’ve a criticism of the wine as it stands now, it’s that the flavour presents as rather too emphatic and a bit shouty, which makes for some pretty tough drinking. I doubt this is at its best, though, and I think as an aged wine it will be considerably more pleasurable.

Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2007

Considerable hesitation before deciding what to drink tonight. For some reason, my wine rack (the high-throughput, on-site portion of my cellar) is full of white wines at the moment, none of which I felt like drinking. This, therefore, stood out, and when I looked up my previous note I saw a reminder to try it again about now.

On the basis of this and the recently tasted 2006, I’d say the later vintage is drinking better right now. While the 2006 is still quite youthful, this is developing some really attractive tertiary aromas and flavours that complement its full plum fruit and spiced edges well. The nose has an appealingly ripe richness, with dark plum flesh and brown spice now accompanied by truffled notes and leather. These are the flavours of good old red wine, polite enough to make themselves felt without taking centre stage. The effect is harmonious; I like where this aroma is at.

The palate is similarly balanced, though the primary fruit here is perhaps more assertive. In particular, there’s a lift of plum juice through the after palate that remains fresh. Black pepper falls over the wine’s entry and mid-palate, along with an increasingly dense thread of fruit and underlying coat of leather and earth. There’s a lot going on here, all quite discernible even if the wine lacks an ounce of precision and definition. Tannins are mostly plush, with a slight bite of astringency through the finish, while acid feels reasonably relaxed.

One would lose nothing by drinking this wine now.

Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Robert Stein Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2009

I’m quite sure the tide will turn in favour of Australia’s heritage styles eventually. Right now, the (often deserved) attention being paid to our Chardonnay and Pinot wines comes at the expense of wine styles with genuine lineage. I’m thinking of dry Riesling, fortified wines and, of course, the Cabernet Shiraz blend. As things stand today, this wine from Mudgee is firmly on the wrong side of fashion.

Which is a shame because, as many have remarked before me, there’s a lot to commend this particular blend. Shiraz’s tendency towards flesh on the mid-palate can work well with a leaner Cabernet, giving weight to the latter’s focus and structure. I sense when tasting this wine that the components are working in harmony. The dominant influence is certainly Cabernet, and the wine is quite linear on the palate. But there’s some sweet juiciness too, a swell on the mid-palate, that screams Shiraz. The balance struck between the two seems right to me and, while it’s not a wine that prioritises finesse, it does retain an elegance of fruit despite its fundamentally ballsy character. The wine’s region also sings loudly, with a characteristic red dirt/dust note featuring on both nose and palate.

I do find, though, that oak plays a fairly strident role in the wine’s flavour profile at present. It’s glossy and glamourous for sure, yet I can taste it quite separately from the fruit, which suggests a bit of time for it to integrate would be of benefit. Acid is also a smidge disjointed at the back of the palate, leading to an orange juice, sweet-sour impression as the wine moves through its final moments. So, a wine that remains youthful and edgy, in need of time.

Robert Stein
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample