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

Fonseca 40 Year Old Tawny

While in Portugal, I made a visit to Quinta do Panascal, Fonseca’s flagship estate in the Cima Corgo sub-region. It’s an incredibly good visit; the self-guided audio tour, in concept quite off-putting, is actually fantastic, and the estate itself is one of the more scenic in the Douro. I was there during harvest and, in a region that is discovering ways to ease the cost and pain of making wine, Quinta do Panascal is quite old-fashioned in the winery. Lagares were full and hordes of Portuguese men were treading the grapes for hours on end. It was like stepping back in time and, although none of this necessarily means a better wine, it’s certainly fascinating to see such old traditions being practiced.

One can taste though a pretty comprehensive range of wines at the Quinta, which of course I did. I’ve chosen to write this one up as a companion note to the Quinta de Noval 40 Year Old Tawny. Both show an angularity of flavour that pushes them into more distinctive territory than their 20 Year Old counterparts, though this wine much more so than the Quinta de Noval.

Whereas Fonseca’s younger tawnies have the sort of familiar generosity one expects of this style, the 40 Year Old is immediately more challenging. There are some pretty funky aromas here that move past a familiar nutty oxidation into territory that encompasses sardines, sea spray and decaying vegetation. In the mouth it comes alive by presenting its flavours within a strikingly rich, yet incredibly clean, palate structure. This feels more structured than, say, then 10 Year Old, with a good whack of tannin on the finish, carried easily by its rich body. I love the combination of funky and clean here, and find it the most characterful wine of all the Fonseca tawnies.

Price: $AU200 (approx)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Quinta de Noval 40 Year Old Tawny

I’ve tasted so many wines over the past couple of weeks it’s difficult to know where to start in terms of writing them up. I’ll begin with a highlight of my recent visit to Northern Portugal. Tasting in the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia, it’s at times tempting to focus on the new breed of table wines, as there’s considerable excitement in the region for these styles. But in tasting both these and the vast array of more traditional Port wine styles, I was struck by the effortlessness of the fortified wines, whereas the table wines, at times truly excellent, also showed an occasional struggle to achieve finesse. The strengths of some regions are just self-evident.

This particular wine jumped out during my tasting blitz of the region, not because it was the best wine tasted by any means (that honour goes to various 2011 vintage ports) but because it provides such deep satisfaction. Tawny port is such a great style in terms of the immediacy and ease of its pleasures; there’s no digging deep here, just a pure, hedonistic wine experience. The aroma is wild, certainly wilder than its 20 year old counterpart, with a striking savouriness and clarity of aroma, well articulated and clean despite its richness. Indeed, this isn’t a combatively expressive wine. There’s no shortage of aroma, but it doesn’t suffocate the nostrils as some richer fortified wines can. Interestingly, the typically nutty oxidative aromas are here, but not in as much abundance as in the 20 year old. Perhaps it has evolved past even those notes.

As good as this smells, it’s all about the palate. It’s amazingly unctuous and mouth-coating, seeming to press its flesh against every last corner of the mouth. Interestingly, there’s still good tannin and decent freshness, and it’s not a heavy wine, despite its rich flavours. Indeed, this is a pretty good example of how refined a very old tawny can be. It’s tempting to look to these styles for impact and overwhelming intensity of flavour, but that sort of scale isn’t an inevitability; this has plenty to give, but it never feels assaultive.

Just lovely.

Quinta de Noval
Price: €60 (375mL)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature NV

Disgorged 04/2012.

A photograph of soil underpinned by chalk on this wine’s label certainly makes the point; Laherte Frères positions as a grower-maker wishing to express terroir in its Champagnes. As part of this, dosages are low and, in the case of this wine, zero. To compensate, fruit is allowed to ripen further than is customary.

This technique comes through clearly on the nose, which communicates an impression of slightly candied citrus one might mistake for added sugar. It’s certainly not a bone dry experience, all technicalities aside. On the nose, quite pretty and citrus-driven, with undercurrents of baked bread and overtones of florals. Moderately complex and willfully refreshing.

The palate is lively and fresh, showing a level of effervescence that, for my taste, is a little over the top. A strong line of grapefruit juice drives down the line and, as with the nose, it shows fruit sweetness that is both fun and a bit simple. Some savoury complexities edge in but this is a fruit-forward expression of Champagne. Acid is firm and zingy. As such, it’s a highly appropriate celebration style and one I’d be happy to serve to a mixed crowd looking for something a bit different. For my tastes, though, I’d like to see more finesse.

Laherte Frères
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

J.L. Vergnon Brut Conversation NV

A blanc de blancs made from Grand Cru fruit, this is one of a series of reasonably priced grower Champagnes I’ve been having of late, and one of the tastiest, too. Fruit comes from three villages — Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Avize — and the wine spends three years on lees.

The mousse is quite coarse and dissipates quickly, leaving behind an enthusiastic bead. The aromas are very much in the yeast/bread/brioche spectrum, sweet and pungent, leading into soft, pastel fruit notes. Fruit is in the citrus spectrum, and is delicately pretty.

The palate shows a wonderfully soft, creamy mouthfeel, with fine acid and well damped spritz. Flavours are again in the citrus spectrum, grapefruit mostly, with mellow peel notes, quite rounded and soft. If I’ve a criticism, it’s that fruit becomes a little blunt here, losing its lightness of touch and showing too much relaxation. Some may find this broadness delicious. Dosage seems right to me, with some sweetness evident but nothing over the top. Flavours are persistent and complex enough, especially through the after palate, where there are hints of honey alongside fresher fruit notes. A delicate finish.

With the exception of slightly too broad a countenance through its mid-palate, this is a fine and delicious wine.

J.L. Vergnon
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve NV

The world of moderately priced Australian sparkling wine can be mouth-puckering in its disappointment, so I’m always on the lookout for good wines at prices cheaper than low-end Champagne. My go-to wine for a while has been the regular Brown Brothers NV, but this slightly more expensive wine is also an attractive proposition.

On pouring, an alarmingly abundant mousse that settles quickly to a subdued, spare bead. The nose is initially savoury, with hints of mushroom and yeast, though this could never be described as a style that is heavy on these elements. Rather, they are an accent to fine, crisp fruit notes, part apple and part strawberry, delicate and bright. The palate is stirring while, thankfully, avoiding the edgy acid that can plague our affordable sparklings. Entry is lively and surprisingly full, rounded fruit flavours becoming more prominent as the line progresses. This fullness does come at the expense of defined incisiveness; whether this is a good or bad thing is, I imagine, a matter of taste. For me, it robs the wine of that last ounce of freshness. No matter; there’s plenty of flavour and a well-balanced amount of spritz. Dosage seems restrained. The after palate is brighter, tilting towards a citrus sharpness that becomes bleached as the wine moves through its ultra-clean finish.

This is a cleverly made wine that privileges drinkability above clarity of articulation. A real crowd-pleaser.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A34
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Grand Muscat NV

After indulging in so many fine wines over Christmas, the challenge isn’t finding wines to write about but choosing which to spend time on! A particularly good small grower Champagne was tempting, but the best wine of the period was this one, a spectacularly lovely Rutherglen Muscat. The wine is so good, and the style so terminally daggy, I feel some Full Pour attention is deserved.

Those unfamiliar with the wide variation between house styles may be surprised to learn how different a wine this is from, say, the same grade of Muscat from Morris. Whereas the latter pursues a rich, treacled expression of the style, the Chambers wines are always at the light, delicate end of the spectrum. There is no sacrifice in intensity or complexity, however. These are just less full bodied styles, arguably allowing nuances of flavour to more clearly express themselves. Certainly, the Chambers Muscats and Tokays Topaques Muscadelles are amongst my favourites of the region.

To the wine, then, this presents complex, floral aromas that surprise with their freshness and vivacity. Plum pudding, spice, fresh berries – the list of flavours goes on, and is less interesting than their tight integration and subtle expression. There’s just a lot going on here but, aside from its complexity, there does not at first seem much to differentiate the aroma from some of the lesser Muscats made with younger material.

It’s only on the palate that the wine’s quality becomes fully apparent. The nose’s complex flavours are articulated with utmost clarity and impressive impact, making sense of the aroma profile in retrospect while adding whole dimensions of interest. This has the thrust and drive of all the upper echelon Rutherglen fortifieds, but its charm lies in its transparency. This seems totally effortless; it simply unfolds in the mouth and does its impressive thing. No cloying sweetness, nor sticky mouthfeel, nor distracting alcohol, nor roughness. It might be the closest these wines come to elegance, and indeed that may be off putting to some. For me, it’s just one more reason to love both this house and the regional style.

At $50 or so for a half bottle, this isn’t cheap. But it’s several times cheaper than its Rare stablemate ($250 for 375mL) and about as good a wine as one could reasonably want.

Chambers Rosewood
Price: $A50 (375mL)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château de Sours Réserve de Sours Sparkling Rosé NV

I’m not sure how active the market is for French sparklers at this price point; certainly, I don’t remember ever setting out to purchase a sparking wine from Bordeaux made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And yet here we are.

What’s really nice about this wine is that it’s defiantly different in aroma and flavour profile from Champagne and its many imitators. There’s no mistaking the Cabernet at its heart; the aroma shows characteristic leafy overtones and a cool, red fruited core. It’s savoury at heart, though lacking the sorts of complexities that are par for the course in even moderately good Champagne. This is quite a different beast, simpler and fresher-smelling. The defining characteristic of the palate is its relatively soft acidity, something that one can’t take for granted in local sparklers at this price point.

Entry is immediate and fresh, again with leafy Cabernet notes dominating the flavour profile at first. Light, crisp berry juice glides over the middle palate with ease, if not intensity. It’s fairly light on the spritz as these things go; what there is contributes to a lively mouthfeel that is only one or two steps removed from a bright Riesling. A nice, fresh, leafy finish.

One of the more different sparkling wines I’ve had of late; certainly, I prefer this to some of the aromatic white sparkling wines that are becoming more common. There’s something jarring about a recognisably Cabernet rosé sparkling – I like it.

Château de Sours
Price: $A28
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Clayfield Thomas Wills Shiraz NV

Browsing back through my notes, I see I never wrote up the 2008 Thomas Wills Shiraz in a comprehensive manner, though my first impressions are to be found within this post on Clayfield’s range as a whole. This wine forms part of an emerging collection of labels the makers of which seem intent on engaging more deeply with the regional and stylistic histories within which they are working. I’m thinking of the Mountain X project, for example, as well as producers like The Story, who are applying modern thinking about terroir and style to ultra-traditional regions such as the Grampians.

In the case of this wine, Clayfield takes inspiration from an idea of what wine might have been like one hundred years ago in the Grampians. Whether real or imagined, the style is full-throttle and robust, very much take no prisoners in vibe. It has been especially interesting to show the 2008 to several friends over the past months. Their reactions have been far from neutral, and on the whole very positive, which suggests an earthy appeal to its powerful delivery of flavour. Alcohol levels approaching 16% abv also provoked interest, though my feeling was the wine held its heat perfectly well.

To this, the current release. Unusually, Clayfield has taken a non-vintage approach, blending material from the 2008 and 2010 vintages and, although the same liquerous earthiness I liked so much in the 2008 remains present, this release has a degree of finesse that elevates it above the previous wine.

The nose is heady with ultra-ripe plums, hints of dry earth and a whole rack of brown spices. Those looking for a peppery expression of Grampians Shiraz may not find what they’re looking for here. However, this is clearly a wine of the region, and the character of the fruit is, in particular, highly regional. There’s something extremely cuddly about the way this smells; like a prickly wool jumper. It’s not a regressive or simple aroma profile, though; its emphasis on powerfully savoury plums and rich spice is both complex and sophisticated.

The palate is where this wine departs most from its predecessor. There’s a whole dimension of detail and finesse here that wasn’t present before, and this brings another level of pleasure to what remains a muscular wine. It’s as if all the brawn has more shape and definition this year, transforming from a slightly brutish physique to one with some dashing and swing. One must put this into context, though; the flavour profile remains idiosyncratic and quite rustic, full of ripe plums, bark and spice. In particular, the tannins recall the 2008, coarse-grained and prickly, sweet and spiky.

If you liked the rough and ready vibe of the 2008, you may miss a degree of wildness in this wine. For my palate, though, this is the superior release, blending the same intensity and power with a finer flow through the mouth. This label remains a daring experiment, albeit one whose maker is clearly intent on refining year after year. This is a lot of wine for $35.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

De Bortoli Rococco Rosé NV

This is an attention-grabbing wine. Despite the classically Champenoise varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), this is about as far from Champagne as you can get. The nose is fruit-driven and almost tropical in profile, with red fruits, citrus, florals and sharper, sourer aromas akin to kiwifruit. There are some sweetly bready complexities but they are reticent and ultimately don’t hold a candle to all that fruit. If I have a criticism of the aroma, it relates to a slightly messy, confectionary edge that may be a result of the level of dosage as much as the inherent fruit character.

In the mouth, a very smooth and easy experience. I really got the point of this wine once I tasted it; this is the silicone breast implant of Australian rosé sparklings. Niche, I know, but there’s a time and place for most things, and in the case of this wine, I feel it should be served at the start of a very messy evening. Quite full-flavoured, the palate is all about quite luscious red fruits with edges of passionfruit and tropicals. For the most part, mouthfeel is soft (within the constraints of the style) with just a hint of texture through the after palate. Again, it’s a bit sweet for my taste but there’s certainly enough acid to keep it lively. A bit more bready complexity rounds the flavour profile out.

Labelling notwithstanding, this is a thoroughly modern wine style.

De Bortoli
Price: $A22
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample