Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2007

Now and again, I’ll resume my search for Great Australian Merlot. Granted, I could probably be putting my time and effort to better use; weeding my herb garden perhaps, or learning how to make my bed neatly enough so that it actually looks inviting instead of slightly sad. But the ragged way this varietal is often treated at the hands of many Australian vignerons keeps me coming back to the question: who amongst us is doing the grape justice?

Tasmania is an unlikely place to look for answers, perhaps, though the Wine Companion site lists several producers across the state making wines from Bordeaux varieties. This particular wine is a cellar door only offering from high profile producer Stefano Lubiana. Its price of $35 suggests it aspires to be more than just a fast moving quaffer. The nose immediately establishes a seriousness of intent. This is an introspective wine, studiously layering gentle aromas of red fruit, twig and black olive on a base of calm caramel. Ripeness seems ideally achieved here, fruit character showing the fullness one might expect without ever hinting at overripe excess. There’s a bit of funk too, a whiff of undergrowth and rotting leaves, that may be a function of age as much as inherent character.

The palate is medium bodied and structurally centred on acid. A gentle, clean entry shows sweet fruit and some leaf. The middle palate is tightly focused and cleanly articulated, never generous, impressively intense. There’s a ease here that feels breezy and light, and I’d be tempted to characterise this as a bistro wine were it not for a level of complexity and detail that could never sit well in a carafe. There’s no doubt this aims to be the real deal, a Merlot of elegance and complexity that never gives up the grape’s natural, easygoing advantages. Wines like this are apt to be underrated and will certainly never capture the attention of drinkers the way more extroverted styles can. But it’s a lovely drink, put together with care and a respect for the grape.

I’d be happy to drink this while I keep searching for the Great One.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
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

Stefano Lubiana Primavera Pinot Noir 2008

Visiting Central Otago with Chris late last year was instructive in many respects, not least in the opportunity it afforded to taste many producers’ second label Pinots alongside their premium offerings. As much as I’d like to believe in the romanticism of wine and winemaking, more often than not I am struck by how calculated a particular range of wines can be. A simple, fruity second label, a heftier mainstream wine, an excessively extracted and oaked reserve label. Very much by the numbers, and quite uninteresting as a set of implicit assumptions around what constitutes quality and value. 

Wine, for me, should be anchored in a sense of context and appropriateness. Some wines facilitate a casual weekday meal, others challenge the intellect, and yet others can create a sense of occasion. Variations in structure and flavour profile reflect these roles, rather than a perceived hierarchy of quality. I’m not a relativist when it comes to quality, but I do believe the question isn’t simply a matter of “more” or “bigger.”
I mention all that in passing because this Pinot challenges the idea that a second label wine should be an easy, straightforward drinking experience. It’s a little different from some previous vintages of the Primavera which, while rarely being simple, have sometimes shown to more immediate advantage. The aroma here, by contrast, strikes one with depth and savouriness. It’s almost a difficult aroma profile, with odd notes such as sweet foliage (not quite tomato vine), juicy yet savoury cherry fruit and oak that seems smokey, sappy and a bit raw. Some attractive five spice notes on top too. Some of this angularity is no doubt due to its youth, but this wine seems to have a fundamentally dark aroma.
The palate confirms the density of this wine’s fruit flavour. It’s quite sombre, full of crushed black cherries and plums, sweet and sour sauce, chocolate and some sappiness. Entry is immediate, packed with fruit flavour and pushed along by a good dose of acidity. The middle palate is full of flavour but manages to avoid feeling heavy thanks to the acid and a framework of tannins that are loosely defined yet quite assertive. The flavour profile seems somewhat medicinal at this point, showing mostly in savoury terms and turning in a sappy, slightly oaky direction on the after palate. The finish is clean, long and full of fruit flavour. 
I’m not at all confident I have the measure of this wine, and that in itself pleases me. It’s a tasty, deeply fruited, sophisticated Pinot, packed with fruit flavour and happy to exist in a spectrum of flavour that might be regarded as difficult. I understand 2008 was a warm growing season in Tasmania, and the level of fruit ripeness here seems higher than in some previous vintages. In any case, it’s very distinctive and perhaps even brave. I suspect given a few months in bottle it will be even better. A pleasure to taste such complexity and distinctiveness in a second label wine.

Stefano Lubiana
Price: $A27.55
Closure: Stelvin

Frogmore Creek FGR Riesling 2008

With respect to the apparent fashion towards wine labels that consist of cryptic collections of letters and, at times, numbers, I’m not a fan. To be honest, it reminds me too much of the sort of corporate-speak that surrounds me every day; when I come home, I’d rather sit down to something vaguely romantic and aspirational instead of a label that describes the result of a scientific trial.

Josef Chromy Pepik Chardonnay 2005

Sister wine to the Pepik Pinot Noir, this wine is also reasonably priced and from Tasmania. Enough with the introductions, then.

A nose that’s equal parts oatmeal and unripe stonefruit. There’s a bit of vanilla thrown in for good measure. Not an especially exuberant nose, it is nevertheless clean and fruity. The palate brings forward a degree of fruit sweetness that comes as somewhat of a surprise after the nose. Quite ripe peach mixes with flavours right at the other end of the Chardonnay spectrum, such as tart citrus notes. There’s some winemaking here too, including a light butterscotch note that marries well with the peachiness, and aforementioned mealiness. This moderately hedonistic touch is counterbalanced, perhaps somewhat coarsely, with a more tart, acid-driven sourness that builds through the line and begins to dominate the after palate. A herbal flourish ushers in the average finish.

Not a bad food style and, I think, a better wine than the Pinot Noir. My main issue with this wine is that lacks coherence, seemingly neither here nor there in stylistic emphasis.

Josef Chromy
Price: $A15.20
Closure: Stevin
Date tasted: October 2008

Moorilla Estate Muse Series Pinot Noir 2006

It’s impossible to discuss this wine without, in the first instance, referring to its packaging. It comes in a rather heavy Burgundy bottle that seems oversized even as oversized Burgundy bottles go. Imprinted on the the very dark label are artily photographed people in various states of nakedness, lounging over one another and generally behaving as if they’ve already had a generous dose of the bottle’s contents. There’s a little poem to get one in the Pinot mood, too. I’m all for creativity in packaging, but I admit I had trouble finding information about the producer and the wine itself on the label. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

Really bright red colour, quite pretty. Initially, a strong whiff of fine vanilla oak. My intial disappointment subsided as the wine developed clean, simple Pinot fruit aromas over the course of a couple of hours. It’s no powerhouse. Rather, it’s subtle, not especially striking, though certainly varietal, showing a kinship with the Central Otago flavour profile I’ve observed in some other Tasmanian Pinots. There’s also a nice amount of stinkiness that adds some interest.

In the mouth, some herb and spice to accompany the light fruit flavours. A fleeting, nimble palate that shows definite oak influence (vanilla/caramel in character) alongside the fruit. It all seems to be in balance, though again on the light side in terms of body and intensity. Quite a clean, lively mouthfeel, with enough acidity to create sourness and some texture. It’s all moderately distinctive while it lasts. There’s a hollowing out on the after palate, and the finish is quite long but also feels insubstantial. Chalky tannins, quite abundant, create dryness on the finish.

There’s no denying this is a lot of product for the money. It’s also an identifiably varietal Pinot Noir for under $A20, which until recently was a hard thing to find. Despite all this, I felt disappointed with the wine’s simplicity and lack of palate depth. What’s there is tasty and clean, but drinking it is like having a conversation with someone who is standing a hundred metres away — after a while, you tire of straining to hear, and simply stop listening.

Moorilla Estate
Price: $A17.95
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: October 2008

Bay of Fires Riesling 2007

Clean, somewhat powdery nose of crisp fruit (think nashi pear) and citrus, with edges of more blatantly aromatic tropical fruit. There’s a lovely savoury note that seems like flint by way of cashew nut. Overall, the aroma profile is focused and coherent, though its level remains subdued.

The palate is a different story. Explosive, really, even when quite cold. Acidity is the wine’s most immediately noticeable element. Though not especially fine, it contributes fantastic impact and excitedly announces the wine’s fruit flavours. In terms of these flavours, the wine is quite full, with round, intense apple and passionfruit, plus more of that fascinating mineral-like note. This is not a lean wine and its flavour possesses a generosity that translates in part as fruit sweetness, though there’s a degree of residual sugar too. No chance of flab here, as acidity continues to underline the wine’s line and moves things along at a brisk clip. Good thrust through the after palate onto a lengthy, tingly finish.

A really nice Riesling. A long way from the Clare/Eden style, this wine is less chiselled, structurally, but with considerably more generous fruit flavour and weight. Consequently, a wine to pair with robustly flavoured food (we had it with pasta/ricotta/bacon) or to drink alone in preference to highly aromatic styles such as Sauvignon Blanc.

Bay of Fires
Price: $A24.70
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: October 2008

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2007

I picked up a few Tassie wines on my last visit to the alcohol shop, including this reasonably priced Pinot.

A pretty, fruit-sweet nose that shows simply but with decent varietal character. There’s a noticeable whiff of barnyard, which prevents a complete descent into blandness, plus nuances of spice and leaf. It is all attractive enough, though straightforward.

The palate shows moderate intensity and continues the nose’s line with admirable consistency. There’s a greater emphasis on sweet fruit here counterbalanced by a good dose of sourness, the latter moderating confectionary tendencies but doing nothing to fundamentally alter the fruit’s simple flavour profile. Not a lot of textural interest at the mid-palate, although overall it’s slick and supple. Sour acidity washes over the after palate, deliciously in my opinion, and the wine closes with a soft, fairly brief finish.

An ok quaffer that is straightforward and flavoursome. Not a bad way to get your Pinot fix, but for my money I’d rather spend a few dollars more and take a definite step up the quality ladder.

Josef Chromy
Price: $A14.25
Closure: Stevin
Date tasted: October 2008