Attwoods Old Hog Pinot Noir 2012

A tale of three vintages, from the difficult 2011, through this wine to the as-yet unreleased 2013. These wines are those of a good friend, Troy Walsh, who made wine school a hell of a lot more fun than it otherwise would have been for me, and who comes with a background working as a sommelier in some of London’s better-known fine dining establishments. After returning to Australia, he and his family settled in the Ballarat area, and his goal is to make exceptional Pinot Noir. He works with Geelong and Ballarat fruit, and is in the process of establishing his own vineyard on a lovely slope in Scotsburn. The best is almost certainly yet to come.

All of which makes these three wines fascinating. There’s a family resemblance, but each speaks clearly of its vintage. The 2011, long sold out, is a light wine, savoury in character and ephemeral in effect, providing a transparent look into a challenging growing season. This is a massive step up, with more of everything – intensity, structure, length, density. This is a sinewy, uncompromising style that is all about savouriness of flavour and acid-driven structure. It’s startlingly adult, in fact, and very regional in its refusal to cushion its impact with any sort of plushness. I can imagine its vibe might be too extreme for some, but for those who can get inside the wine, there’s a wealth of detail and interest, and surprising depth of flavour. A distillation of Geelong Pinot.

The 2013, though a way off release, softens the 2012’s countenance slightly with a big opening of bright fruit. There’s a good deal of whole bunch happening here, so I presume some of this fruitiness is a function of some carbonic maceration as well as extreme youth – in any case, the question of family resemblance is quickly settled as the wine breathes. Although showing some puppy fat, this is a savoury wine at heart, if one with a bit more flesh and scale than the 2012. I tasted this over several days (it was decanted on opening and stayed that way) and it never tired. It simply became darker and more like the 2012 in flavour profile. I look forward to its release.

It’s fascinating to watch this portfolio evolve through its early stages. Already, Troy is exploring his somewhat uncompromising view of wine style, and engaging strongly with the regions he chooses to work within. I see only good things ahead.

Attwoods Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Main Ridge Pinot Meunier 2012

This proved a bright spark in amongst a line-up of significantly more assertive wines, including some impressive Chardonnays and a full-throttle Barbaresco. In its own way, it provided just as much pleasure.

To be sure, this lacks the immediate distinctiveness of Pinot Noir from the same region, and as a consequence comes across with less panache. The aroma is full of spice, squashed red fruit and more savoury components, and shows good articulation and clarity. There’s a transparency without simplicity that I like about how this smells, and the aromas are clearly apart from many other wines, even if they don’t take an especially eccentric route.

The palate is light and delicious. As with the nose, spice takes centre stage and thickly overlays bright red fruit and some sappy notes. I like how this sits in the mouth; there’s good fullness of flavour through the mid-palate, even as the wine struggles to achieve anything beyond moderate weight. If there’s a flaw in its construction, it’s length; this is fairly short in terms of fruit, though I note spice does provide an echo of continuity through the finish.

Within Main Ridge Estate’s portfolio, this is clearly the odd one out varietally, but I’m grateful to Nat White for continuing to produce one of the few straight Pinot Meuniers in Australia. This quiet wine is a refreshing pause in amongst so many Mornington Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays vying for one’s attention.

Main Ridge Estate
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010

Langi is a curious beast in the context of Grampians Shiraz. Its site is notably apart from the bulk of the region’s vineyards, clustered as they are around Great Western, Rhymney, Moyston and Ararat. This comes through in the wines too, but what’s perhaps even more interesting is the difference between sites within the estate vineyard. The Cliff Edge is quite a different beast from the flagship label, and I’ve often found it a wine that’s easier to love. I’m revisiting this wine some time after first having tasted it, and was fortunate enough to have a glass of the 2012 in front of me at the same time. The differences are striking, as are the similarities.

Over the course of several hours, this changed quite a few times, going from a notably stalky wine on both nose and palate to something almost shockingly approachable, redolent of sweet licorice allsorts and brown spice. Initially, a certain astringency of tannin pinches the after palate, truncating the wine’s line compared to the significantly less constricted 2012. It was interesting to watch the wines even out somewhat; while the 2012 flows freely down its line right from the start, this takes its time to open out, eventually reaching a liquidity of palate structure that I find seductive.

What unites both these wines is a particularly attractive flavour profile that drips of dark fruit, spice, florals and lusciousness. While some differences in winemaking between the 2010 and 2012 are evident, the character of the fruit sings clearly and unites the two wines. I’ll save the debate on how best a winemaker can illuminate the special qualities of the fruit he or she works with for another time. The upshot here is that it’s a fucking delicious wine.

Mount Langi Ghiran
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2013

Mitchell Harris has evolved a clever direction for its Sauvignon Blanc. Whilst remaining recognisably varietal, this wine benefits from a range of winemaking inputs including a portion of wild fermentation and maturation in oak. The result is a style that contains the variety’s signature flourishes in a slinky, sophisticated package.

The aroma is equal parts gooseberry and wood, each well balanced with respect to the other, all underlined by some subtly funky notes. There’s something substantial yet crystalline about the aroma profile. Its notes possess the freshness of the variety, giving up some of the sharp distinctiveness of a Marlborough wine in exchange for an attractive depth and gloss. I can see a lot of happy noses buried in this wine in Summer.

In the mouth, a slippery, bright experience. Entry is slick, fruit flavour riding a glossy texture through to a mid-palate that broadens with tropical fruit and caramel. It’s not a confrontingly complex wine, but there’s a good range of sweet and savoury notes, and the whole is quite expansive. Texture becomes progressively more layered as the wine progresses, the after palate showing a really substantial mouthfeel, slightly reminiscent of a caramel chew. The finish is clean and herbal.

This is such a nice style.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clarnette & Ludvigsen Shiraz 2010

One of Australia’s most visible viticulturists and long active in the industry’s practice and governance, Kim Ludvigsen died late last year. His vineyard in the Grampians, which I visited mid-2013, is one of the most carefully established and tended I’ve ever seen. Clearly, he was deeply thoughtful regarding his profession, a fact his long running monthly newsletter amply demonstrates. So sad, then, he’s no longer able to share and learn as he was so clearly passionate about doing.

This wine, made in partnership with winemaker Leigh Clarnette, comes from that beautiful vineyard nestled in the rolling hills behind Rhymney. It’s a startlingly elegant expression of Grampians Shiraz, quite different from relative heavyweights like Best’s Bin 0, Langi’s flagship or Simon Clayfield’s wines. The aroma is bright, almost cherry-like in its fruit character and quite floral. With some air, spice encroaches on this core of red fruit, along with a hint of snapped twig. It’s sweet and savoury in equal measure, always fleet of foot and playfully elusive.

In the mouth, an almost Italianate acid structure. This wine is formed around a line of bright, crunchy acid that lends a freshness to its red fruit and an urgency to its loose-knit tannins. Fruit seems too sweet at first but is quickly rebalanced by tart plum skins and spice. I’d say it’s only light to medium bodied, trading the sort of liquerous intensity one often finds in this region’s wines for a clarity and elegance that are totally unpretentious. Length is good, with a particularly persistent finish of fine, bright cherry fruit.

I believe the 2012 is currently available direct from the winery.

Update: day two and the wine is quite pleasing. It’s savouriness has become more marked, as has its texture. Still a nimble, light wine, but with plenty of interest. A couple more years in bottle will be kind.

Clarnette & Ludvigsen
Price: $30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.

In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.

I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.

Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.

Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25

The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013

This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60

I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.

Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25

What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.

Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85

A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200

This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.

And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.

Oakridge 864 Willowlake Chardonnay 2012

There’s an interesting conceptual tension at play with this wine. The Oakridge range is structured, at the high end, around ideas of vineyard differentiation, terroir and the progressively more precise identification of sites and blocks of special interest. A highly Burgundian view of wine, then, and one that is certainly au courant in the Australian wine scene.

The wine itself is, simply, spectacular. It’s surely one of the best Australian Chardonnays I’ve tasted in a long while, and blasts into one’s palate memory through a combination of balance, impossibly fine detail and the sort of good taste that speaks of highly attentive winemaking. The flavour profile mixes crystalline fruit with a whole heap of prickly sulphides and other funk, which sounds like modern Chardonnay gone wrong but which, in fact, comes across as an utterly coherent collection of notes. It’s the clarity and detail of the wine that really allow each element to shine. Rarely are flavours articulated with such precision and placement. It’s a controlled experience from head to toe, with only a flash of lemon juice flavour and acid on the after palate standing out as somewhat separate and simple.

The complex rush of flavours and sense this wine gives of having been orchestrated brings us back to its origins as a single-block-within-a-single-vineyard wine, one that by its nature might suggest a fashionable minimising of intervention in the winery. This is anything but a hands-off wine, though; it’s one made in a very specific style, using obviously beautiful fruit and applying a series of winemaking techniques with real skill and a very firm view of how Chardonnay should taste. This is a wine of its maker as much as of its vineyard and, in being so, honestly engages the reality of winemaking: it doesn’t just happen on its own. I can’t help but think this is a far more intricate and interesting view of wine than one where the role of either the vineyard or the winemaker is pushed into the background. This Oakridge wine, delicious as it is, is a veritable narrative of the way people and nature collide in the course of making wine.


Oakridge Wines
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Hoddles Creek Chardonnay 2006

Who’d have thought I’d be revisiting an $18 Chardonnay from 2006 with such curiosity and enthusiasm? Such is the state of Chardonnay in Australia. A golden age of sorts, led at the entry level by this label amongst others. The Hoddles Creek Chardonnay (and its Pinot Noir sibling) has quickly become the sort of “must purchase” wine beloved by wine enthusiasts of good taste and limited means (that surely covers most of us). I’ve visited with this wine on a few occasions, two of which I’ve documented on Full Pour (in 2007 and subsequently in 2011). Here we go for a third time.

The lean character of this wine has remained pretty constant over its life so far, and this tasting reveals a wine that in some respects hasn’t moved much since my first tasting. It’s worth pausing to reflect on the fact this is a cheap wine in absolute terms; that it still has life at this point is in itself remarkable. There are some tertiary flavours for sure — honeycomb and nuts mostly — but the wine retains plenty of primary freshness and white stonefruit flavours.

Where it isn’t evolving so much is in weight and opulence; I wondered on previous tastings whether it might gain some weight, and at this stage it seems destined to retain its linear, quite driven movement through the mouth for a while yet. Will it ever become an expansive wine? I’m not sure; in any case, there are plenty of other Chardonnays to satiate that particular craving. A more interesting question is whether its fruit is starting to fall away here; it does seem to lack that last ounce of intensity, and I don’t recall whether it provided greater impact and flavour in previous tastings. In any case, it has a poise right now that flows from a nicely resolved structure and flavour pitched at a moderate level of intensity.

For my taste, I’d like an ounce more generosity, something the flavour profile suggests but never quite gets around to delivering. Still, that’s probably a question of taste more than quality; certainly, this is a striking, important wine in terms of contemporary Australian Chardonnay.

Hoddles Creek

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

All Saints Hogshead Matured Shiraz 1983

[Editor’s note: as is our occasional habit, we here publish the work of a guest author, Simon Clayfield of Clayfield Wines.]

My son was out of bed unusually early last Sunday morning and presented me with a Father’s Day card and gift: a really neat waiter’s friend corkscrew. A lovely thought and truly appreciated, but a strange gift considering that most wines these days are sealed with a screwcap.

I have a moderate collection of corkscrews and my favourite is the “screwpull,” which has coaxed the most fragile and stubborn corks from many bottles. Teenagers often forget that mums and dads exist, let alone appreciate the slightest moments of love and caring, but this gesture made my day. Our boy is about to complete secondary school and if all goes according to plan will be moving away early next year to start a career in the defence forces. I will make a habit of carrying this tool with me at all times and not just for practical reasons.

Tonight we cooked a simple but flavoursome pasta carbonara. I went rummaging through my special stash of older wines and, after a few minutes, pulled out a bottle of 1983 All Saints Shiraz to accompany the meal. The cork looked to be in sound condition and still offered some resistance, christening the brand new corkscrew; it came out nicely and without any offensive odour of cork taint. I have a habit of pouring a little straight into the glass and sniffing it before decanting just in case, to avoid cleaning the decanter un-necessarily. Decanting left a small deposit and the wine had good clarity.

The initial aroma was inviting but somewhat closed from all the time spent confined; it needed a little while to reveal the beauty within. Its ruby red colour defied its thirty years’ age and, after a while, a brick red hue appeared in the meniscus — definite signs that the cork had done satisfactory job of protecting the contents from excessive oxygen. According to the label, the wine was matured in French Nevers Oak hogsheads; clearly evident early but not obtrusive and gradually changing into wonderful cigar box/cedary character. The fruit showed defining peppery Shiraz notes that soon morphed into attractive glazed fig and plum. These nuances carried onto the palate, balanced with grainy tannin and a slight aftertaste similar to Morello cherries.

Overall, I this wine is a splendid example of aged Australian Shiraz which was most likely made in the traditional way. 1983 was drought time. I think the winemaker made a good call to pick the grapes early, avoiding excessively jammy and overripe fruit characters, considering also that the vineyard is located in a relatively hot viticultural region made famous its fortified wines styles.

The wine made a good partner with dinner and a great excuse to use the corkscrew — something we don’t do often enough these days. Thanks son.

All Saints
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: George’s private stock