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.

Crawford River Wines Young Vines Riesling 2011

Yesterday I travelled through the Henty region and called on two producers, Crawford River Wines and Hochkirch. Henty is a mystery to me. Vast, remote, few wineries and even fewer cellar doors, it isn’t a region that invites visitors. Rather, it almost dares one to try and locate its styles, to make sense of the boundaries that define it. I’m not sure I know Henty any better after visiting, but amongst endless farmland, from vineyards that appear like a shock, I found some remarkable wines.

Crawford River Wines is arguably the region’s most famous producer (discounting Seppelt’s presence in the form of the Drumborg Vineyard). Although it produces some lovely red wines, this is a winery defined by its whites, and in particular its Riesling. The vines used for this label aren’t terribly young now (over ten years of age, if I recall) but it is still produced as a separate bottling. I was fortunate to be helped at cellar door by Belinda Thomson, who is surely one of the more self-possessed and enthusiastic young vignerons I’ve met.

A wine of contrasts, this suggests delicacy and finesse before presenting a fullness of fruit that comes as a surprise. The nose is pretty, edging towards flowers rather than juice, soft rather than etched. It’s expressive and generous, but always careful, never even hinting at vulgarity.

The palate carries through with soft, pastel fruit on entry, filling the mouth without heaviness, and moving through a shapely palate structure. Although I can sometimes enjoy a wine with a boisterous structure, this wine is underpinned by ultra-fine acid, firm yet texturally detailed and chalky through the finish. It retains the prettiness of form seen on the nose without sacrificing length, expressiveness or flavour.

There are plenty of great Rieslings in Australia, yet I can’t help but admire one more that, like its region and maker perhaps, is determinedly its own creation.

Crawford River Wines
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Cellar door

Best’s Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

I have a slight obsession with still Pinot Meunier. I try to taste every example I can, which isn’t hard as I’m only aware of a couple of producers in Australia who pursue this Pinot Noir mutation as a single varietal. Best’s has two in its range, one from young vines and this, from some of the oldest Pinot Meunier vines known to exist (planted in 1869). I think part of my fascination comes from the knowledge that many legendary Great Western table wines had a significant amount of Pinot Meunier in them, and yet today the variety has almost disappeared from the table.

To this bottling, then. The aroma is expressive and sweetly-fruited, with caramel-edged red berries sitting underneath mixed spice and a herbal twang. There’s a lot going on aromatically, though its profile tends towards ease and approachability rather than density or forbidding seriousness. Layers keep building in the glass, with a fresh sappiness adding vitality as well as a savoury edge.

The palate is similarly approachable and shows tension between sweet, cuddly fruit and a spiced, sappy edge. Structurally the wine is more driven by acid than tannin, neither of which, however, are especially strident. Consequently, the wine is allowed to swell on the mid-palate, and its fruit really shines at this point. The after palate and finish are more savoury and spiced, and what tannins there are descend on the finish, adding textural interest as well as a nice, dry end to the wine’s line.

This wine flips between ease and angularity, fun and seriousness. I can’t quite figure it out, yet at the same time am enjoying it tremendously.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Clayfield Grampians Shiraz 2010

I was extremely impressed with Clayfield’s Ton Up Shiraz and wasn’t sure how this wine, the producer’s flagship, might propose to better it. And, for some tastes, this may be the less desirable wine. Certainly, it takes a denser, more concentrated view of Grampians Shiraz, trading the Ton Up’s surprisingly lithe palate weight for a brawnier, more forceful line. However, for my tastes this is ultimately the better wine, a touch more complete in flavour and perfect in form.

The nose is dark and mysterious, showing a definite family resemblance to the Ton Up (this wine is 39% estate Shiraz, so a similarity of aroma profile is not surprising). There’s deep plum fruit and mixed berries alongside woody spice and cedar twang. Totally regional and possessing a calm perfection that speaks of balance and harmony between each element. There’s a touch more light and shade here, more red fruit sitting alongside the dark, that marks it as a wine of subtlety as well as impact.

The palate brings a view of texture that is quite seductive. Some wines are felt as much as tasted and, in my view, texture is too often pushed behind flavour in terms of its sensory pleasure. This is a wine to reverse the trend; its tannins are plush and velvety, its acid swallowed up by dense fruit without losing its ability to support the line. This just feels so bloody good in the mouth. Flavours are, needless to say, correct and balanced. There’s a rawness to the flavours that is quite expected, given this wine isn’t yet released. More to the point, this is a wine to taste at all stages of its life: on release, through its discovery of aged character, in mellow senility. I suspect it will have something to give at each point.

Whereas the Ton Up is beautiful, this is magnificent. Up there with the best of the region.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clayfield Ton Up Moyston Shiraz 2010

This smells unbelievably good.

First, some background. Those of you who have visited Clayfield’s cellar door know how low key the whole affair is. The tasting bench and winery are one, and the adjacent vineyard, far from being a feature of the property, is almost hidden away. Simon Clayfield is a friendly, chatty fellow too, quite self-effacing, though with a charming smile and a devastating palate. It’s all very pleasant and quite inadequate as preparation for this wine, a product of the small estate vineyard.

Back to the smell. It’s not enough to describe this as regional, because that implies a sort of correct genericism that is misleadingly reductive. Yes, it’s spicy; but oh, what spice. Yes, it’s plummy; and how. This is Grampians Shiraz refined and amplified, showing an intensity and definition of aroma that is quite remarkable. There’s plenty of black pepper alongside other spices — clove, nutmeg, star anise — layered above dark, concentrated fruit and an important, well integrated layer of oak. This is a very assertive wine to smell, yet it shows absolute control despite its expressiveness. As with the best wines, it keeps changing too, each smell showing a different side of the wine.

The palate is quite classical in shape and surprisingly restrained in terms of body, which is medium rather than full. It gives the impression of being acid driven rather than primarily tannic, though tannins are abundantly present. Perhaps it’s a function of how fresh the fruit tastes. Entry is dark and textural, slipping layers of flavour onto the middle palate, where the wine sings with acid and vibrant berry fruit. This is a very young wine, so it’s not surprising that some oak sticks its neck out, slightly raw and yet to fold back into the rest of the wine. This should happen with some time in bottle. Intensity of flavour is remarkable, as is the pure line this wine follows through the after palate to its very long finish. Even though I’m predisposed to liking the region’s Shiraz, I’m having a hard time faulting this wine. It’s excellent, and I will be buying some.

Update: I’ve renamed this post to reflect the label (Ton Up Shiraz) under which this wine will be released in October. I’ve also added a retail price, below. The wine itself has barely moved over two days, tannins becoming marginally more plush, but otherwise still looking as attractive as ever.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clayfield Massif Reserve Shiraz 2009

Some Clayfield wines are luscious in the Grampians ultra-plum and spice mode. Others, like this, occupy a different space, one of finer, more sinewy aromas and lower levels of alcohol (in this case, a mere 13.6% ABV). Spice is still present (this is a Grampians Shiraz, after all), but the vibe is darker and more angular. Interestingly, it comes across as no less luxurious than more plummy styles, no less full of quality materials and attention to detail. It’s simply the difference between a tasseled velvet cushion and a hard, modernist bench: less comforting but utterly upscale nonetheless.

The aroma is tightly coiled, with dark, dense plum skin and woody spice mixing with cedar oak and an iodine note that sometimes makes its way into Clayfield wines. The palate is totally up front about how much flavour is packed into its crouched frame. Sometimes, it’s quite tangible how much a wine needs some age, not because one can’t discern its content, but because it’s all there, in plain sight, simply held in check, frustratingly so, at times. In the case of this wine, this compression darkens the flavour profile, communicating muscularity and concentration and, more than anything, seriousness. Acid is tight and very fine in texture, tannins deceptively gentle (until you realise how much they have dried the finish). What’s wonderful about this wine is how its compaction and density aren’t in any way related to oak, as can so often be the case. It’s the fruit that holds so tightly to this wine’s secrets and which, one day, in a few years’ time, will finally relax into free flow.

Update: two days on and it has hardly moved. This has years in it.

Price: $?
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clayfield Massif Shiraz 2010

Simon Clayfield has many talents, but one of the most magical is an ability to make relatively high levels of alcohol completely disappear into his wines. I’ve seen him do it again and again, and so it is with this wine. Not that all Clayfield wines are high in alcohol; indeed, there’s a striking variability across the range and across vintages. The approach here seems to respond to flavours rather than a particular measure of ripeness, and the consistently outstanding quality of the wines validates the method. I dwell on this for a moment because it’s terribly fashionable to bag high alcohol wines, but in my view it’s misguided to single out one aspect of a wine and, in so doing, forget that great wines are about balance, not fashionable measures of stylistic worth.

This wine is made of 100% Shiraz grapes from Moyston. Immediately, the nose establishes firm regional credentials; this is awash with heady brown and black spice, which sits atop ripe plum fruit. The fruit’s character is appropriately plum-like and very ripe; I suggest grapes were picked at a point of significant maturity. Oak is, as always with this producer, immaculately handled and matched to the fruit flavours. If it lacks the punch and detail of the first label wine, it gives up nothing by way of regionality.

The palate is delightful. It’s here I find the wine’s 15.1% abv hard to believe, as it’s nowhere visible in the wine’s structure. Indeed, this is an elegantly casual, medium bodied wine, with a dash of bright orange acid freshening the palate and velvet tannins for grip and texture. Flavours as again in the regional spice and plum fruit spectrum, oak playing a seamlessly subtle supporting role. The marvellous ease with which this unfolds in the mouth provides such sensual pleasure, it doesn’t matter terribly that flavours don’t smash any records for precision or intensity. This is, above all else, a wine for sophisticated drinking.


Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample