Waipara Hills Marlborough Cuvée NV

Dedicated readers of Full Pour (and I thank you both) may have noticed a relative paucity of posts from me these last few weeks. I’ve been busy finishing off semester two of my winemaking studies, and am happy to report the year’s last exam was taken yesterday. So, for now, I am free of the little nagging voice that has been urging me to study rather than taste wine or, generally, have a life.

I thought I’d drink something special to celebrate this milestone. Instead, I’ve opened a bottle of sparkling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Okay, so that’s a cheap shot. Indeed, this is better than my recollection of the only other wine in this style I have tasted, the Mount Riley Savée 2007, and demonstrates how the style may need to evolve to be taken (relatively) seriously. Unlike the Mount Riley wine, this shows only hints of the overt varietal character that is so apparent on still wines of this grape and region. Personally, I believe that’s a mature stylistic approach – after all, one doesn’t drink Champagne to experience sparkling white Burgundy. A sparkling ought, in my opinion, to be a reinterpretation of the variety, reframing its character on quite different terms from any still wine that shares its parent grape. The mousse here is pretty aggressive and short-lived, leading to a surprisingly fine bead. There’s still some grassiness and a bit of passionfruit, but it’s muted and accompanied by a general savoury vibe that contributes complexity and grown up-ness.

This is less lively in the mouth than some sparklings, which was signalled by the bead and may be attributable to this bottle as much as anything else. No matter, there’s plenty of acidity and an astringency of flavour profile that together generate a lot of impact. The primary fruit flavour is again cut grass and some passionfruit, with a whole bunch of savoury detail around the edges. Sophisticated? Not especially. But not a bad attempt at balance given the raw materials and class of wine. A nice twist of honey through the after palate, and a lightly citrus-driven finish.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc polarises drinkers and this wine can’t escape the legacy of its heritage. However, for those with an open mind, it’s an interesting exercise in what might be for not a lot of money.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A22
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Brut NV

I’m sad tonight for two reasons. Firstly, the ferment on my sad little student wine appears to have stuck, and secondly, Dan flies home tomorrow morning, so I shall shortly be deprived of his compelling company. To make the most of what remains of his visit, though, we’re currently working our way through a selection of wines. First up is this sparkling from Tasmania, which is being rapidly consumed as we await a delivery of assorted Dominos pizzas.

Colour is a rich golden hay, with quite vigorous mousse and a very fine bead. Pungent aromas of brioche, rich fruit, some cheese, etc. Basically, it smells very much like a sparkling wine on the fruitier, richer end of the scale. It also smells great, inviting, and flavoursome.
The palate confirms these impressions. Full but well weighted, the wine enters with a lovely tingling on the tongue and light nectarine fruit flavours, before switching gears on the middle palate and expressing more power and weight. The fruit flavours become a tad simple at this point, but remain delicious and brisk. A lively after palate leads to a finish of reasonable length.
This seems to me a fruit-driven style of good balance, if slight coarseness on the palate in terms of the straightforwardness of its fruit flavours. Crucially, the acidity is in balance, avoiding the harshness of some local sparkling wines. 

Stefano Lubiana
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Flaxman Sparkling Shiraz NV

Disgorged in 2009. This is essentially the same wine as the Karra Yerta Sparkling Shiraz previously reviewed on Full Pour, so one might wonder the point of writing it up. Two reasons: firstly, it’s an excellent sparkling red worthy of some air time, and secondly, I’m kind of curious of my impressions the second time around.

That fabulous purple mousse that makes me want to squeal with delight (in a manly way). Liqueurous nose showing ripe cherries, spiced oak, chocolate and some lees influences.  Subtle and complex, it gives more as one puts more into it. It’s an earthy aroma profile that seems, somehow, artisanal in that it’s not squeakily, soullessly clean. 
The palate shows a similar complexity of flavour profile, though this bottle is less lively than the Karra Yerta I looked at in December, and consequently lacks a little pizzaz in the mouth. No matter, lots going on for sure; dark berry fruit flavours, savouriness, oak, tannin; this is a mile from the simple, sweet sparkling red some might be familiar with. Medium bodied, emphasising elegance and shape rather than outright power. Beautiful, cotton-wool finish of great finesse and delicacy.
Quality red bubbles. Fans of the style would do well to seek it out.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Crown seal
Source: Sample

Karra Yerta Sparkling Shiraz NV

It’s Christmas day and I’m taking time out between preparing lunch and relaxing to note my reaction to this wine, just opened and to be consumed with the main meal (in my case, confit of duck). 

A joyous gush of mousse, quite electric in its vibrancy and pleasingly voluminous. I can’t help smiling at the lurid purple of many sparkling Shiraz wines; this one had me grinning like the Cheshire Cat. This isn’t a tits-out style, though. The nose is subtle, showing spice, tart blackberries, a hint of fortified wine, some aged characters and a general impression of complexity combined with fresh berry juice. 
The palate is equally measured, showing real elegance despite the fizz. Mercifully, it’s not a sweet wine; in fact, the savouriness of the flavour profile combined with chalky, abundant tannins creates quite the opposite impression. It’s all quite intense; more blackberries, spice and various oak-derived flavours mix on the middle palate. Riding above it all is a clean juiciness that smoothes over the wine’s sophisticated framework, ensuring you could just as easily linger over each sip as slam it down fast, per your mood or the occasion. 
Very glad to have the opportunity to taste this wine on a special day of the year; I believe only twenty cases exist. Make haste. And Merry Christmas to you all.

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Crown seal
Source: Sample

Moxie Sparkling Shiraz NV

mox.pngSome wines work a treat over a long, Summery lunch.  Others make a roast beef taste twice as good as it normally would (especially if consumed before dinner). In my constant quest to categorise wine according to its most suited purpose, this shall hereafter be known as “the wine that goes great with Dominos pizza on a night where you decide to chuck all the hard work you did last week in the gym because it’s rainy out and you just can’t be rooted walking on a treadmill for an hour.” Admittedly, a niche category, but one I suspect some of our valued readers can identify with.

Indeed, it can be hard to find a good pizza wine, and I don’t mean a good gourmet crocodile and chermoula pizza wine, but a good pepperoni, or a good ham and pineapple, pizza wine. When confronted with such nourishment, most options seem either to lack robustness (causing one to feel a sense of loss with every barely discerned sip), or are of an excessively Italianate manner (compelling a sense of approval, if not satisfaction). This sparking Shiraz from Langhorne Creek, though, seems to hit precisely the right note. 
Aromas of cured meat, spice, garlic, tomato and yeast; yes, a delicious slice of pizza indeed, after which smelling this wine is like inhaling a barrel full of crushed blackberries. It’s somewhat one-dimensional but, more importantly, cuts through heady flavours of pepperoni and crust with a thrust and parry of juicy black fruit and high toned vanilla. It’s pure fun, quite vulgar and, somehow, exactly what one wants to smell after a mouthful of savouriness. 
Being a sparkling wine, the mouthfeel is tingly and refreshing almost by default; again, a desirable trait when coupled with a potentially greasy, overpowering food like cheap pizza. As it is, any trace of oiliness is whisked away with each sip, leaving behind echos of sandalwood oak and your current waistline. It’s not a sweet wine, but neither is it excessively dry, so the fruit has fullness without becoming cloying or heavy with time in glass. As with several other Dowie Doole wines I’ve tasted, this seems designed for pleasurable drinking rather than contemplation; a worthy goal indeed.
The label design, which I feel compelled to reproduce here, suggests nightclubs, fast times and thoughtless consumption. To me, though, here’s a wine that makes fast food a bit special on a Monday night. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $22.50
Closure: Diam

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV

We’re celebrating tonight. Chris will know why. He will also, I hope, enjoy the fact that we’re using him as an excellent excuse to have some nice wines. The irony with wines such as this is that they are incredibly fun to drink but boring to write about, as the aim is consistency, year-on-year. I shall soldier on, though, no matter how arduous the task.

Lively mousse, moderately fine bead. A lovely, fresh aroma of mushroom, yeast, citrus and some rounder, strawberry-like notes. It’s all very refined and “just so”, but never difficult and certainly savoury enough to stimulate one’s appetite for more. Balance is the key word on the palate too, with a variety of dimensions showing just enough of themselves to add complexity without dominance. Flavour profile is refreshing, with citrus, some smokiness and an impression of clean, delicate fruit. Good complexity. Mouthfeel is clean and refreshing without undue coarseness or aggressive acidity. Certainly on the finer side, and appropriately so — it’s a wine clearly weighted for immediate, joyous consumption.

La Cantina Dry Red NV

This wine stood out on the shelf as an oddity: a non-vintage red table wine made from the pressings of miscellaneous (and unspecified) varieties, proudly advertised as unfiltered and preservative free. All this strangeness for $10.15 — now that’s value. According to its website, La Cantina is a family-run producer in the King Valley of Victoria. Its range includes a number of very reasonably priced labels made from predominantly Italian varietals. This wine is the baby of the range.

A dark, dense colour, apparently garnet/ruby, some flashes of brilliance. The nose is immediately offputting and, initially, I thought the wine was tainted with brett. As I smell it more, though, its savoury funk translates to a slightly vegetal note that, in the end, is moderately attractive in its way. Certainly not a clean style, though. On the palate, more surprises. The nose’s savouriness is

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir Chardonnay NV

I’m still on my “anything but Champagne” quest and last night saw me consume the most inexpensive sparkling wine I’ve had in years. Nowadays, $A8 buys you about half a bottle of Seppelt Fleur de Lys or a whole 750ml of this number from De Bortoli. Now, the Windy Peak range has a reputation for reliable quality at an excellent price, and even the Pinot Noir has been known to be quite drinkable — no mean feat for around $A10. Sparkling wine, though, accelerates the challenge somewhat, as it’s rare, in my experience anyway, to find true quality and interest at the lowest levels of price.A lively, coarse mousse that gives way to not much bead at all, but a pretty, rose-tinted wine of good clarity. The nose hints at a broad flavor profile, and shows slightly chunky strawberry and citrus notes, alongside some yeasty complexity. It’s kind of obvious and lacking in freshness. The palate offers a mouth full of fruit flavour, again mostly strawberry and citrus, quite full for the style, slightly effervescent, and easy to drink. There’s a slight mustiness that leads me to suspect a mild to moderate level of cork taint, so it’s hard for me to say this bottle is representative. The wine went well with light food.Keeping in mind possible cork taint, this wine is easy and full flavoured, but a little uninteresting too. I’d like to taste a fresher bottle, to see if the overall profile of the wine gains freshness and edge, as this would contribute greatly to enjoyment. De Bortoli Price: $A8Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

McWilliam's Show Reserve Liqueur Muscat NV

Uncharacteristically, I didn’t feel like any wine tonight. Well, nothing I had lying around, anyway. So I reached for the only known antidote for such vinous ennui: Muscat. This one is McWilliam’s top Liqueur Muscat, and has won about a million medals and trophies, for what that’s worth. It’s made from grapes grown in the Riverina district, a region not known for premium quality wine. Another bit of useless trivia: this bottle is number 01156 of the “limited release.”

Initially, this was unapproachably hot on the nose, to the point where it was difficult to discern any flavours as such. A few minutes’ swirling made all the difference. Now, the wine is showing mind-blowingly complex flavours that keep changing with each smell. First there are earthy, almost scorched flavours of mushroom and dirt. Then, it shifts to deep oak notes. Still further on to a spectrum of dried fruits. Then burnt sugar. And so on. Usually I don’t get caught up in too many descriptors, but it’s hard not to with this wine, as it throws so much at you. I should add that all these flavours are basically seamless in presentation, moving from one to the next with grace.

The wine’s entry reveals its next trick: the silkiest, most luxurious mouthfeel one could imagine. This wine practically caresses the tongue in a very physical sense. In fact, it’s so striking that it takes a few moments to realise that a whole range of intense flavours have slipped on to the middle palate. I would describe this wine’s flavour profile as relatively “high toned,” in the sense that we’re not dealing with deep, heavy dried fruits so much as aromatic citrus peel, the scent of plum pudding, dried flowers, etc. There’s depth too, with profound vanilla-oak notes underpinning the rest of the wine. The point is, it’s quite light footed without ever suggesting it’s anything but an old fortified wine (a component of this wine dates back to 1964). Line and length are impeccable, as the wine is basically one continuous experience from nose to oh-so-lengthy finish. I’m sitting here a good minute after taking a sip, and I can still taste it all through my mouth. 

This is a truly superb wine. It makes an interesting comparison with another fortified recently tasted, the Chambers Grand Liqueur Muscat. Whereas the Chambers is all about concentration and balanced power, this wine is more elegant and presents even greater complexity of flavour. Quite different in character, but both beautiful wines.

Price: $70 (500ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2007

Chambers Rosewood Vineyard Grand Muscat NV

I love our fortified wines — in particular, Muscats and Tokays from North-Eastern Victoria. So when I saw this on offer, it was hard to resist. Material in this wine dates back to the 1950s. Consumed in lieu of dessert.

A brilliant deep brown, sparkling yet dense and rich-looking. The nose captured my attention for several minutes before I moved on to tasting this wine, so surprising is its mix of aged characters and fresh vitality. It’s one of the ironies of this type of wine that these older, concentrated versions simultaneously present a greater degree of both aged complexity and freshness than their younger, simpler and often more cloying siblings. In the case of the Chambers, a lovely floral note, slightly tea-like, but more exotically fragrant, sat prominently alongside intense aromas of dried fruits, plum pudding, etc. So balanced, such elegance and singularity.

In the mouth, the first thing that strikes one is the mouthfeel. The wine is so viscous that it doesn’t immediately unfold in the mouth upon entry. Instead, the wine seems to exist as a bubble for a moment or two, before collapsing and flooding the middle palate with flavour. The first sip I had of this wine shocked my palate with its concentrated flavour, and had the effect of drawing saliva from my mouth, in the manner of eating something tasty when very hungry. Amazingly, and as with the nose, the wine shows a floral dimension that adds lightness to the palate. This is aided by a surprisingly firm acid backbone which drives the wine’s line and helps it to be, ultimately, quite cleansing. The finish just goes on and on.

This is probably one of the best fortifieds I’ve ever tasted and, although it’s not cheap, it’s one of the best value wines I can think of. If you wanted to finish off a special dinner party in style, you could do a lot worse than pull out a bottle of this.

Price: $A60 (375ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007