Chapel Hill Sangiovese 2012

A strong regional imprint is often celebrated: we seek evidence of region and site with Pinot, we love that Shiraz is a chameleon, and Riesling’s transparency gives regions their raison d’être. Sangiovese produced in McLaren Vale isn’t so lucky. The variety’s been in this beautiful, historic region for a while, and the impact of certain early wines like Coriole’s have imprinted this particular region-variety relationship on my consciousness. Yet it’s often criticised for tasting nothing like Sangiovese, by which we presumably mean Chianti, and too much like McLaren Vale. I think I may have even contributed to that line of thinking.

This wine, a modest example of the genre, has me wondering whether tasting like McLaren Vale isn’t such a bad thing. It is, after all, a region that effortlessly produces full-flavoured red wines of considerable appeal, despite being in many ways the stylistic antithesis of Tuscany. The key here is that this wine, and many McLaren Vale Sangioveses, inherit enough of the region’s imprint to take the variety in a new direction. As I smell this, it is a curious mash-up of the red berried exuberance of McLaren Vale and the more angular savouriness of Sangiovese. Some might argue it falls into a stylistic no man’s land as a result; that’s simply a matter of taste. For mine, this is luscious enough to satisfy my cravings for a slutty red wine, and odd enough to mark it apart from more familiar Shiraz and Cabernet siblings. It also has a reductive edge I’m not so hot on, though this seems to be blowing off with some air.

The palate tells a similar story, with little of the structural aggressiveness Sangiovese can show. In its place, rather pillowy tannins and plump fruit that slips and slides all over the tongue as it leaves behind ripe, pleasingly savoury flavours. Acid is quite firm and brings to life some of the more varietal flavours present here — almonds mostly. It’s medium bodied at least and, in terms of shape and size in the mouth, very regional.

It’s a humble wine to hang so much on, but I think it does show some varietal interest while being true to its region. Just don’t expect an Italian.

Chapel Hill
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Pizzini Rubacuori Sangiovese 2005

Self-appointed benchmark wines perform an interesting function in our wine scene, especially when made from varieties still considered “alternate” in Australia. Unlike wines that sit atop the tree of our few truly indigenous wine styles, wines like the Rubacuori seem to inevitably prompt comparisons, both stylistic and pecuniary, with their Old World counterparts. However, I prefer to see these wines as arguments for local expressions of their varieties, ones that are, in this case, joyously Australian in their richness and generosity.

This opens with a lot of oak, but give it some time in the decanter and it rebalances most pleasingly. The aroma blossoms with a whole pantry full of notes – bitter almond, white flowers, sawdust, broom cupboards, dried fruits, even a bit of mint. Pretty evocative, then. It’s a changeable aroma profile that benefits from slow contemplation rather than hurried evaluation.

The palate is remarkable for its slap of intense fruit within a dense, medium bodied frame. The mid-palate simply lights up with pure, clean red fruit, then splinters into an array of notes as the wine drifts towards the back of the mouth. Here it settles in its fragmented beauty, intensifying as abundant tannins release seemingly unlimited reserves of fruit and texture. Length is most definitely a highlight. Flavours are sweet and savoury, texture alternately silky and velvet.

A truly delicious, fine wine.

Price: $A110
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Mitchell Harris Rosé 2011

I’m not aware of any other Pinot Noir Sangiovese Rosés made of grapes sourced from the Pyrenees and Macedon Ranges – so this immediately scores points as a curio. It’s much more than a novelty though; this is a seriously tasty wine.

The nose immediately sets the tone with a nice hit of savoury, slightly funky musk and red berry fruit. One of the things I enjoy about dryer rosé styles is the wildness their aroma profiles can display. This isn’t a truly loose one, but there’s enough angularity to keep me happy, underpinned by plenty of clean, characterful fruit. This is a million miles from blandness.

The palate shows lively spritz and a nice level of flavour intensity. Entry is clean and cool, allowing flavours to crescendo towards the middle palate. It’s not a smack down sort of wine, but it’s very well balanced and is structured firmly enough to create some sizzle and impact. A little roundness from the after palate onwards suggests residual sugar, but it’s subtle and does not detract from the delicious savouriness that characterises the wine as a whole. A gentle, fruit-driven finish.

Really nice rosé with heaps of personality.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A21.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Sangiovese 2010

Sangiovese is an interesting varietal in the Australian context. Early attempts tended towards Shirazification in style; whether this is a good or a bad thing probably depends on whether you feel adherence to Old World stylistic models represents the path to quality. As I back away from that particular can of worms, I will note that I have enjoyed the robust tannin structure and bright fruit character of many a Chianti, and wouldn’t say no to a few Australian Sangioveses that had these elements alongside whatever our local conditions might add.

Happily, this wine fits broadly within these ideas of style. The nose shows very bright red fruit, somewhat confected perhaps, but clean and varietal. There are some lightly reductive notes around the edges that, in my view, contribute positive complexity to the aroma profile, which would be otherwise a little simple. Oak, old-smelling and nougat-like in character, flits around the edges without ever intruding on a core of cherry fruit notes.

The palate is where this wine comes alive, quickly showcasing a tannin-driven structure that is pleasingly firm. Fruit first, though, which lands fast on entry and moves quickly through to the middle palate, all brightness and crunch. Structurally, this is where acid has a primary role, and it’s certainly bright, though not so much as to compete with tannin later in the line. Again, the fruit is a bit confected, creating a sense of simplicity of flavour. Body is light to medium, movement brisk, all befitting a wine that should be drunk with food rather than on its own.

I can imagine this going down a treat at lunchtime on the weekend, it’s that sort of casual, “throw it back” style. If some work were done to the fruit character of this wine to tame its brighter, simpler side, this would be even better.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A24.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi & Figli Chianti Classico 2008

Also known as Tesco’s generic Chianti Classico. One of the things I’ve been amused by on my visit to the UK is the reorientation required when browsing supermarket wine aisles. Italian, Argentinian, Chilean and South African wines all seem to vie for cheapest spot, while the Aussies are off to one side with either unexpectedly expensive wines (for example, Jacob’s Creek) or really boring looking labels that seem to equate “export only” with a complete lack of personality on the shelf. Meanwhile, Tesco’s shelves seem heavily occupied with its own “selections” that encompass the usual regional suspects: Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and various Italian regions, including of course Chianti.

So, browsing my local Tesco Express last night, I decided to do as the locals do and pick up a bottle of Tesco’s 2008 Chianti Classico to go with an Italian meal my host was preparing. There are few wines I prefer to drink with robust food more than a good Chianti, and I was curious to see how Tesco’s buyers had chosen to navigate the dangers of overcropped Sangiovese with their selection.

As it turns out, not all that well. Despite being varietally correct, this wine shows a degree of dilution that robs it of a lot of enjoyment. Sharp aromas of red cherries, twigs and raw almonds on the nose. It’s what I’d expect from such a wine, perhaps a little simple, but certainly correct. And volume isn’t the problem; what’s there is expressive. It’s just so thin, lacking in the kind of meaty density that makes any wine enticing to smell.

Again, totally correct with very attractive flavours on the palate; some marzipan thrown in amongst a big hit of sour cherries and vanilla. I’m also pleased with the wine’s mouthfeel, as it shows just enough of the rusticity that I look for in Sangiovese. But oh, how dilute are the flavours! It’s really quite tough to sit with a wine that hints at such satisfaction but which never actually delivers. Each mouthful is a struggle to get what I need from it.

Often, “food wine” is code for “not very good.” For me, though, food wines often bear the heaviest burden, as they must live up not only to their own potential but that of the meal too. The exceptional quality of my meal last night made this wine’s shortcomings even less acceptable.

Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi & Figli
Price: £10
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Mitchell Harris Rosé 2010

Another adventurous rosé, this time from Victorian producer Mitchell Harris. This is a multi-region blend of unusual varieties; Pinot Noir from the Macedon Ranges and Sangiovese from the Pyrenees. This might seem a bit of a hodge-podge but for the fact that both regions tend towards boutique production and the price of this wine is anything but low-end. At $22 or thereabouts, it sits firmly in the “serious rosé” price bracket.

Quite a pale colour, more like dilute strawberry than salmon. The nose is controlled, with layers of piercing spice, pale red fruit and slightly muskier notes. It’s getting noticeably more complex the longer it sits in the glass, with some feral earthy notes adding depth and texture to the aroma profile. Ends up savoury and quite singular, with some juicy rough edges.

In the mouth, a bit more relaxed than suggested by the nose, with some fruit sweetness to temper the more angular elements of the flavour profile. I like this wine’s structure very much; the acid seems right and there’s some lightly drying texture through the after palate. There’s also a pleasing sense of fullness here that does not come at the expense of brisk movement through the mouth. What’s challenging is the set of flavours; they veer from sweet cherries to wet leaves and back. There’s a sense of boisterousness verging on disorganisation in how they present. Yet it’s so flavoursome and fun, I keep wanting to take another sip.

Really interesting wine that communicates a sense of exploration and seriousness in the context of a style that is, ostensibly, all about mindless enjoyment.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A21.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Castagna Un Segreto 2005

A Sangiovese Shiraz blend from Beechworth.

This wine raised a lot of questions for me – on the role of blending, on whether a wine is worth ageing, on what is value for money. It also had quite a few of the answers once I came to terms with it. 
For me, on the basis of this wine and a couple of others (notably the much cheaper Pizzini), Shiraz and Sangiovese are undoubtedly synergistic companions. The way aromas intertwine on the nose here is very exciting. Orange peel, almond meal, tonka bean – it all begins to smell rather like a Guerlain concoction before a big hit of nougat and vanilla oak reminds me it’s for drinking, not just smelling. 
The palate is sinewy and intricate, with an array of sensational, intense flavours. Black pepper, dried cherries, unfolding ferns, dark fruit. The fruit character reminds me of the strange little dried things my grandmother used to hide inside dumplings on Chinese New Year – savoury, dehydrated and intensely juicy at the same time. This seems designed to age in that its flavours hint at the sort of complexities that will develop with some time in bottle without yet possessing any such notes. Quite the opposite of a sweetly fruited wine whose vibe might contest developed flavours. Medium bodied, the structure is particularly sophisticated, with acidity blending beautifully into fabric of the wine, and chalky tannins providing textural counterpoint through the after palate.
An intellectual, strong, elegantly masculine wine. Classical sculpture and proportion. Just lovely.

Price: $NA
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Cardinham Estate Sangiovese 2007

Refreshingly, the back label doesn’t lie; it reads straightforwardly: “Everything about this wine seems to be built around dark chocolate and black cherries.” And so it is. Which may not sound very Sangiovese-like, but let’s proceed with an open mind to the wine itself.

On the nose, there’s… oo, chocolate, of the quality sort, edging towards cocoa powder. Some almonds perhaps, cherries too, and an impression of gustatory delight I usually get when selecting what to buy at the bakery. It’s funny; some wines remind me of eating, and this is one of them. There’s nothing especially complex about the aroma, it just smells good, in the way a freshly made chocolate muffin smells good. 
In the mouth, surprisingly light and nimble. The flavour profile continues to revolve around key notes of cocoa, red fruits and almonds. On first sip, I felt a bit let down as there’s a lack of thrust through the entry and middle palate. After adjusting to the style, though, I started to appreciate it more. It’s what I call a “watercolour” wine; one that can seem delicate to the point of transparency, but which nonetheless carries an entire picture within its frame. Mouthfeel is quite interesting, in that it’s very supple and finely textured too, especially towards the after palate, where ultra-fine tannins settle gently on the tongue. Surprising power and persistence on the finish, with sweet cherries and almonds riding a flavoursome wave. I wonder if the alcohol is slightly too high for the style; in absolute terms, 14.2% abv isn’t groundbreaking, but there does seem some heat on the palate, and I suspect aspects of the mouthfeel are similarly pumped up.
This isn’t at all what I expected, but I am enjoying it, and it seems to me a “real life” wine, made for drinking on a weeknight with one’s favourite pasta dish. Drink now for maximum pleasure.

Cardinham Estate
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin

Chain of Ponds Novello Nero 2005

A blend of Sangiovese, Barbera and Grenache from South Australia. 

The nose is relatively dumb at first, with sour cherries and raw meat seeming to sit in the glass even when violently encouraged to take flight (my wrist is sore – from swirling). There’s a coarse vegetal edge to the aroma that seems whole bunch-like. A bit of powdery vanilla oak rounds things off. It’s quite sniffable and mercifully free from industrial confectionary. It’s also blunt and rather unrefined.
On entry, a refreshingly rustic mouthfeel that immediately recalls the sort of cheap Chianti that I secretly adore for its rough authenticity. Also like cheap Chianti, there’s never any danger of this scaling the heights of fruit intensity. Rather, this provides “just enough” of a great many things: flavour, length, complexity, interest. But wine is about how the whole hangs together and, in this case, there’s a reasonable impression of coherence. More sour cherry pips, almonds, oak and a moderately unattractive caramel note wash over the tongue, straining to escape the impression of being watered down. Bright acid keeps things fresh and clean, washing away the last stains of flavour and encouraging food.
I wasn’t feeling all that positive about this wine when I sat down to compose this note, and I remain equivocal in some respects. On the other hand, it’s fresh and light in a manner that evades many local red styles, and for that at least should be noted.

Chain of Ponds
Price: $A14.25
Closure: Stelvin

Biondi-Santi Rosato di Toscana 2006

Thanks to a good friend, this bottle showed up in my house last night. As it was imported sub rosa, it’s difficult for me to tell what kind of wine this is, who produced it, you name it – the label is confused and resembles a Mexican lottery card more than it does anything else. I gather – thanks to Google – that this is some kind of Brunello di Montalcino, or maybe not: the producer’s Web site seems to indicate that they invented that DOCG or something, but who knows?Anyhow, on to the wine itself. The color’s beautiful – basically somewhere between blood orange and watermelon. Better yet, it doesn’t have the look of a wine that’s been filtered to death; it’s a bit hazy, which is appealing (to me, at least).On the nose there’s a huge whack of sulfuric acid: this positively reeks of the stuff. Ouch. You want the smell of the cold country? Well, there you go. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to get beyond that sulfur smell – is there a trick to this? Just drink it?As far as drinking it, it doesn’t taste like “wine” at all to me, but rather like some kind of very low alcohol ápertif based on grapefruit rind with a pepper edge to it. Curious! If New World pink wines are all about little red fruits, and if French pink wines are all about strawberries and herbs, then this Italian wine is all about bitter citrus. It was a shock at first, but it’s growing on me.Texturally, the wine is fascinating, exhibiting a kind of creaminess that surprises me. The acidity, present as you’d expect for an Italian wine, is bright and perfectly balanced against the fruit, and it all ends on a long, smooth note of creamy strawberrie and lemon curd with that same bitter edge to it. All in all, a remarkable wine.Franco Biondi Santi
Price: €36
Closure: Cork