Friday, 27 March 2015

A unicorn wine: Clos de Tart 2012

Clos de Tart 2012

Ah Clos de Tart. For so long an enigma, but now more like a unicorn wine...

I've been lucky to try a few vintages of this unique Grand Cru Monopole and this 2012 surely rates as one of the absolute best.

What makes this particular wine - and many of the recent vintages - so very good is the polish and perfection. There's not a single hair out of place, the meticulousness reflected in every way. You get the impression that the vineyard is perfectly manicured and the sorting table staffed constantly - It's quite new-world in its spotless health.

I actually tasted this amongst a mixed bag of other 2012 Burgundy and it looked quite different - more purple coloured, for a start. The nose is noticeably whole bunchy, with spicy, raspberry and white pepper, if a bit closed. It's the palate where the magic happens though, with an unmatched velvety flow of red plum fruit and ultra fine fine tannins. It feels sorted, perfect and well, perfectly delicious.

At first I thought this was too perfect actually. Too clean. But the closer you look, the longer it lingers, the more you can't help but marvel at this.

It's still too youthful to be at its peak, but this is legendary wine.

Stunning. The score may even end up higher.

Details: Cork, $950
Tasted: March 2015 at a trade tasting. I went back for seconds.
Best drinking: 2015-2030+
Score: 19/20, 96/100
Would I buy it? Will you buy it for me?
Buy online: Wine Searcher

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A village level white Burgundy from Olivier Leflaive kicking well above its station

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2012

There are some times when you need to throw out the rules - throw out the expectations of what should be good and what should be the best and go with what tastes good.

This is one of them.

I've not always been a massive fan of Oliver Leflaive wines, but this 2012 Puligny Montrachet looked simply magnificent yesterday, sticking out amongst the 30 odd white Burgundies around it (right up to Grand Cru level they were too).

The reason why this village-level white worked is that the balance is near perfect. Immediately it looked more powerful, more Puligny than the premier cru Puligny around it, yet without losing minerality. It was attractive because it was more moderate and less overwrought, simply by way of being a village wine - with more controlled oak, fresher fruit and, importantly. more terroir expression to drive it along.

It's easy to get hooked into the idea that the Grand Cru/1er Cru/Village/Bourgogne pyramid is the absolute arbiter of quality, but sometimes the most balanced, most enjoyable wines don't agree. Less is indeed more, and less expectations can deliver more enjoyment.

Arguably this doesn't quite have the complexity, power and grace of the more fancied cru bottlings, but that balance is just impossible not to appreciate. A goldilocks wine, even.


Details: 13%, Cork
Tasted: March 2015
Best drinking: 2015-2025
Score: 18.5/20, 94/100
Would I buy it? Absolutely.
Buy online: Wine Searcher

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Punt Road Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013

Punt Road Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013

Punt Road are now sourcing from their own vineyards exclusively. A good move for quality methinks

In fact, the only thing working against this is that there is so much going on. Barrel ferment richness with an almost caramel edge and some yeastiness for good measure. The palate too is layered and full, with Golden Gaytime nutty creamy flavours before a surprisingly raw and chewy finish.

The net impression is of a wine that is quite intense and worked, but just a little disjointed at present, the resolve between acid and winemaking richness not quite there yet. The complexity and depth of flavour, however, suggest that if/when it does come together this is going to be very smart stuff.

Details: 12.5%, Screwcap, $25
Tasted: March 2015 (sample bottle)
Best drinking: 2016-2022
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100+
Would I buy it? Not yet.
Buy online: Punt Road website

Vale Simon Burnell

Vale Simon Burnell

We've lost (another) keen wine intellect.

Willow Bridge Estate winemaker Simon Burnell unfortunately lost his life on Monday, killed while windsurfing at Prevelly in Margaret River.

For someone who loved the surf, it seems like the ultimate way to pass - going out the right way. Yet Simon left a serious wake behind him, evidence of which you can see all over these pages (he posted comments here often).

It seems a bit rude to be talking like this about someone who I never met in person, but given that Simon chastised me only recently for not posting enough, I figure I've got at least a little latitude.

Simon and I first conversed about four years ago. He was an avid reader of wine websites, often posting late night missives about winemaking and styles. I got the first one of those after I, typically, panned a few of his wines. Simon was quick to reply - with absolute brutal honesty - about the wines, happy to get the honest feedback and keen to stir back. That kicked off a typical pattern of emails, DMs and facebook messages where he'd argue about wine, winemaking and life, often producing an informed, contrarian view. 

Life needs more informed, clever contrarians.

More than that, wine writing is a lonely pursuit, and such feedback makes this gig much more rewarding - a wine writer reviews, winemaker responds. Simon wasn't afraid to pull punches, yet also was complimentary too - the online world can be weird and unfriendly sometimes, but it allows us also to connect with like-minded souls.

On that topic, my biggest regret was that I didn't pop into see him when I was over there in late Jan. Again, Simon poked me for not stopping by, keen to show off just how far Geographe had come.

I really should have detoured.

The latest releases are excellent too - well-priced, cleverly made examples of what this oft-forgotten WA region can produce (Simon picked up a trophy for Excellence in Winemaking at the most recent Geographe wine show, so he knows his shit). 

One of the last messages I received from Simon was just a fortnight ago, with him thanking me for mentioning that I didn't like his Dragonfly labels much (apparently the owners like 'em, he didn't). 

What honesty. 

His final message was a link to a very favourable forecast for the Geographe area. Harvest was looking good...

All I can say then is that if you haven't tried one of Simon's Willow Bridge wines, now might be the perfect time. This Chardonnay is a good place to start.

RIP Simon Burnell. We lost a goodun'.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A lovely Barossan Grenache from Tim Smith

Tim Smith Barossa Valley Grenache 2014

Is Grenache on the way back, or is it just me?

It's hard to argue against the suitability of Grenache in the Barossa Valley really, particularly on the warm, sandy soils of the Barossa floor. Those old 'bushies' just keep on keeping on, even during warm vintage after warm vintage. It's like they were made for the place.

Sadly winemakers aren't quite as convinced about how good Grenache can be, leaving the variety as still somewhat unwanted. I heard of 80 year old bush vine Grenache only the other week that was going for $700/tonne, while younger, higher yielding Shiraz vines on the same block were getting $2000/tonne.

So is the return of Barossa Grenache just a sentiment? A thread that us wine writers pick at, because we believe in it, even though most drinkers just skip on by?

You tell me.

Anyway, this Grenache is exactly the sort of wine to be leading the charge (I hate that cliche. Let's just say, the sort of Grenache that I want to show the potential).

Made from one of those old Grenache vineyards, and matured in large format oak, Tim Smith has crafted here a lovely varietal Barossa Grenache that looks the part. Red cherry and raspberry fruit; underlying vanilla oak giving some sweetness (the wood sticks out a bit now) and a gentle palate that is both lively and hearty. It's perhaps a fraction warm, but that is also a key component of Grenache in the Barossa, and the alcohol sweetness complements the sandy tannins.

Commendable stuff.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $36
Tasted: March 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2018-2027+
Score: 18/20, 93/100
Would I buy it? I'd wait a few year, but this would be an easy bottle to finish in about 3 years time.
Buy online: Tim Smith wines

Monday, 23 March 2015

Longview Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rosato 2014

Longview Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rosato 2014

Trophy winner at the recent Sydney Wine Show. Good work the Longview boys for pushing forward with more Nebbiolo styles too.

As the name suggests this is a rosato, not a rosé, so caution not to overchill this - the tannins stick out. Just below room temperature worked for me.

This is still just a bit neutral, the understated nose and textural, lightly tannic palate working as a chewy food wine, but a little lean to be great, not helped by quite high acid.

I like the intent, but would love to see this wilder - made less like a cool white (in tank, under temp. control, with minimal oxidation) and more like a textural red (in barrel, with lees). Still worthy though.

Details: 13.3%, Screwcap, $19.50
Tasted: March 2015, Sample bottle
Best drinking: 2015-2017 (it will probably look better later in the year).
Score: 16/20, 87/100
Would I buy it? Not quite.
Buy online: Longview Vineyard website

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Pamina Chardonnay 2012

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Pamina Chardonnay 2012

The only 'mainstream' variety in the l'Octavin range and also the boring. There, I said it.

Really quite volatile, which is surprising given that it's a less oxidative style. Pineapple and lemon cake, with no shortage of phenolics and has seriously briney acidity. It's long, powerfully acidic, but that sour pineapple character is just a bit too divisive.

I get the impression that this will fill out with time, but for now fruit, acid and light oxidation aren't quite as congruent. It's long though, which suggests things will get better.

Details: 12%, Cork, $65
Tasted: March 2015
Would I buy it? I'd buy a single glass.
Score: 16.5/20 88/100+
Buy online: Living Wines, The Oak Barrel

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Poulsard Dorabella 2013

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Dorabella Poulsard 2013

Following on from the oddity of the Trousseau, this looks almost 'conventional'. Sort of.

Sourced from fifty year old vines, this Jura Poulsard is produced without sulphur, with just a little CO2 pre-bottling. As you can probably see, it's cloudy, though not as cloudy as the Trousseau.

It smells fresh too - strawberry, red cherry and pure red fruits, all dancing through onto a palate that is surprisingly substantial - there's some depth here, covering off the tang of oxidation nicely, with drying, thick tannins, lifted up with a CO2 buzz and serious, barnstorming, teeth clean acidity

You can taste care and detail here - strident, real wine. It's still very light, cloudy, the acidity is off the charts and the oxidation makes this tangy. But still, it makes for a quite refreshing drink.

Details: 10.7%, Cork, $70
Tasted: March 2015
Would I buy it? I'd drink half a bottle of this, no sweat.
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Buy online: Living Wines, The Oak Barrel

The obscure joy of Vin Jaune: Caves Jean Bourdy Chateau Chalon 1995

Caves Jean Bourdy Chateau Chalon 1995

Vin Jaune has to be one of the more challenging classic wine styles out there.

The famous 'yellow wine' of the Jura is an obscurity in the scheme of things, a white that is stylistically close to fino sherry - crafted with the aid of the 'veil' of flor-like yeast - yet built without fortification.

What makes Vin Jaune even more unusual is that it ages. Marvellously. In fact, Caves Jean Bourdy have some 50 vintages in the cellar and a whole swathe of vintages available for purchasing, right back to the 19th century.

I've been lucky to try several Vin Jaune over the years and every time I've wondered how such a plainly weird wine gained much traction at all - purely because of how different to the usual 'fruit based' wines we normally drink. It's that same thought about how we first started to eat vegemite, or which idiot thought that eating highly toxic puffer fish would be smart.

But perhaps that weirdness is part of the appeal - it's compelling in its own way.

This particular wine comes from the Chateau Chalon appellation - a hilltop within the Jura region solely devoted to Vin Jaune production. The equally obscure (until a fuckup at the CSIRO brought it to Australia) Savagnin is the grape variety here, the grapes late picked, fermented cool, and then put it into half full barrels for ageing, with the wine not able to be released until seven years after harvest.

Here, we see an extra decade in bottle serving to dial up the weirdness even more.

It smells, well, wild - a nose of farmyards, cheese and hay and fungus. Old cheese, oxidative weirdness, flor-like mothball funk. The whole kit and kaboodle. Yet alive too. The fetid palate has a smorgasbord of sour, cheesy flavours, that flor-like tang a polariser, backed up by equally high acidity.

The most intriguing flavour that Vin Jaune gives out though is curry powder. 'Curry spice' it is called and this had it in droves. Spicy, fresh-ginger like 'warmth' and sour, yet creamy, tang that sort of chases you through the finish, just to up the weirdness again.

Ultimately, I'm still not sure how you drink much of this stuff. I've had slightly richer Vin Jaunes that are more palatable, more easy, but this feels the most rustic - and almost more genuine because of it.

A wine to challenge, but also revel in its wonderful winey weirdness.

Details: 13% Cork, AUD$500
Tasted: March 2015 (at a tasting)
Best drinking: 2015-whenever
Score: 18/20, 93/100. Score is kind of hard here though.
Would I buy it? A glass is enough
Buy online: Oak Barrel

Last Horizon Tamar Valley Pinot 2013

Last Horizon Tamar Valley Pinot 2013

This is good value stuff. Not awfully serious, but packs a heap of Pinot character in for relatively few dollars.

Ripe raspberry, a hint of tomato leaf - all there. It's a little raw on the acid front, and quite light, but there  is crunch and a sense that whoever made this knows what Pinot should taste like.

Easy value pick.

Details: 13%, Screwcap, $24
Tasting: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100
Would I buy it? I'd share a bottle
Buy online: MyCellars

Friday, 20 March 2015

Urgent Housekeeping

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Corvées de Trousseau 2013

Domaine de l’Octavin Vin de France Corvées de Trousseau 2013 

Welcome to the pointy end of natural wine.

This Trousseau is instantly fascinating and divisive, all at once. The low alcohol (9%) dictates that this had to be bottled as a 'vin de France' rather than 'Arbois' as it doesn't satisfy the requirements of the appellation (10% alc. minimum). Indeed Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand of Domaine de l'Octavin are apparently leaving the appellation altogether now.

Anyway, this Jura red certainly looks the part - the colour is more rosé than red, with an almost milky cloudiness (no filtration here) in amongst the light ruby colours. In contrast, it smells fantastic - lovely lifted red fruit, with just a little oxidation at the edges in an utterly 'alive' form.

After such excitement on the nose you'd have to call the palate less convincing - it's just too light and fine boned to deal with the intrusion of oxidation. The exuberance of the high acid freshness gives this a real delicacy, making it quite drinkable, but I just found myself looking for more flavour. That red fruit is pure beauty. But can you forgive the oxidation shading the fruit?

Nonetheless this is intriguing stuff. Challenging wine that chases an ideology, perhaps, but also brilliant in its own way.

Near impossible to rate, but well worth a try.

Detail: 9%, Cork, $65
Tasted: March 2015 at a tasting
Best drinking: 2015-2017 maybe longer if the fruit holds up. The acid ensures it will live forever.
Score: 16.5/20, 88/100
Would I buy it? I'd certainly buy a glass. Not sure how much more after that.
Buy online: Oak Barrel, Living Wines

Quealy Pobblebonk Field Blend 2013

Quealy Pobblebonk 2013

A curious wine this.

Typically the Quealy white wines are wildly aromatic and seriously intense expressions that lean towards the ripe and full expressions of Fruili for inspiration. Yet this field blend of Pinot Grigio, Tocai Fruliano and Muscat looks surprisingly subdued.

It doesn't smell subdued, with ripe pears and a dash of honeysuckle, but the palate feels stunted and short, the suggestion of ripe fruit on the nose cut off and constricted, leaving behind a mildly empty palate of acid and little else but a dash of phenolics.

I wonder what is going on here? Clean and fresh but something of a disappointment given the highwater mark of the other Quealy wines. 

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $28
Tasted: March 2015, sample
Best drinking: 2015
Score: 16/20, 87/100
Would I buy it? Not on this showing.
Buy online: Quealy website

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Delicious Pet Nat from Domaine l'Octavin

Domaine l'Octavin Vin de France Foutre d'Escampette 2014

It seems that everyone is getting on the 'pet nat' (Pétillant Naturel - a style of rustic sparkling produced by bottling fermenting grape juice, with the trapped CO2 giving a light fizz) train of late, with really varied results.

A pleasure then that this Jura example tasted so good.

100% Chardonnay, produced from vineyards around the town of Arbois. Domaine l'Octavin's vineyards are farmed biodynamically and no sulphur is used at any stage.

Importantly, this smells fresh. That hint of apple pie suggests oxidation but the freshness is the exact opposite, all grapey goodness. The palate picks up more honey and spice before fanning out into generosity of lemony, slightly more oxidative weightiness.

Overall this presents as both fresh and juicy (a dash of residual sugar is expected in pet nats) yet also with a tangy acid and weight to keep you hooked. Generous and delicate all at once.

A tasty intro to the style.

Details: 11.5%, $55
Tasted: March 2015, Tasting
Best drinking: As soon as possible
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100 (but high on the drinkability scale).
Would I buy it? The price is steep but the deliciousness is high. I'd drink a few glasses but not sure I'd buy some.
Buy online: The Oak Barrel, Living Wines

Classic revivalist Shiraz from Tulloch

Tulloch Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2013

Tulloch have done a great job of reinventing themselves over the last decade, with clever CEO (and fourth generation family member) Christina Tulloch successfully turning what was a family company swallowed by the Fosters/Southcorp monolith back into a family company again.

An important part of the Tulloch revival story has been a re-embrace of classical Hunter wine styles - early picked Semillon; medium bodied 'Hunter Burgundy' (Shiraz) and full flavoured Chardonnay (plus Verdelho for good measure).

You could hold up this Shiraz as the most gloriously revivalist of the lot.

Made in a form that echoes the Private Bin wines of old (like the '54) and dedicated to Jay Tulloch's 50th vintage, this is very much driven by acidity. In fact, that low alcohol, high acid style is going to make this a polariser.

But that's the clincher. The longer this is open, the more you appreciate the freshness and gentle nature. I had it open for three days and it still looked bright, red fruited, softly earthen and mid-weight on day three, the orange juice acid giving tang to the finish.

Ultimately this will probably win more friends if the acid was toned down a little (there's clearly some added acid in here). Yet that crisp edges is also a key part of the obvious appeal.

Details: 12.5%, Screwcap, $50
Tasted: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2030+
Score: 18.1/20, 93/100+
Would I buy it? I wouldn't mind a bottle or two in the cellar to see how it goes.
Buy online: Tulloch wines

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013

This Shiraz isn't going to keep you guessing.

From the outset, this is hearty, McLaren Vale red wine to the core, with deep purple colours, a thick, luscious choc berry palate with oak sweetness lifting things up, finishing with sweet mulberry fruit and warm alcohol.

Brash and bold, it's oak rich and bursting with purple fruit which is going to win loads of fans, yet there is just a little too much alcohol and extract to seduce. All burliness, no tenderness - if you get what I mean.

Still, the concentration is immense, which suggests that in a year or two this will probably be looking great. Important plus sign.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $30
Tasted: March 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2016-2025
Score: 17/20, 90/100+

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Bargain Hunter Chardonnay from Tyrrell's

Tyrrell's Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2014

Smart wine. I opened it with a selection of more fancied, more expensive wines and this just put them away.

A little brother to Vat 47 according to the label. Matured in a mix of new and old oak, just like its more expensive brother.

Part of the appeal here is a great Hunter Chardonnay vintage. You can smell the perfect ripeness from first whiff, with banana oak and yeast characters over a surprisingly taut palate.

It's not particularly complex, and there's a little warmth on the finish, but otherwise it's just a lovely Chard for anyone into the more medium bodied, mod-Hunter style.

For $20 this is Goldilocks Chardonnay.

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $20
Tasted: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2019
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? Yes. This would be a shining star on an pub wine list.
Buy online: Australian Wine Centre

Out of Step Wine Co. Pyrenees Nebbiolo 2013

Out of Step Wine Co. Pyrenees Nebbiolo 2013

It seems that if you want to make Nebbiolo in Australia and you don't grow it yourself (few do), then you either source fruit from the old Protero vineyard in the Adelaide Hills or the Malakoff vineyard in Victoria. There a few other plots around the place, but these are the two (highly respected) vineyards selling off grapes. What's interesting then is how different makers use (or abuse) this fruit, given everyone is using the same stuff (albeit with different harvest dates).

Here we have an early picked version of Malakoff vineyard Nebbiolo, given less post ferment maceration and made in a deliberately more juicy style. It certainly looks pretty too, with a primary, cherry fruit nose complete with a dash of Pyrenees eucalypt. From there things lose form, with the palate more about acidity than varietal flavour, lacking the power and tannin drive of some other Nebs.

I like the intention here - to create a more crisp and less severe Neb. Yet I can't get past the fact that this looks just a little lean and lacking in Nebness to be satisfying.

Details: 13.4%, Screwcap, $30
Tasted: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2019
Score: 16/20, 87/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Out of Step Wine Co. website

Handpicked Collection Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2013

Handpicked Collection Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2013

Big heavy bottle. These Handpicked wines present well - they look and feel like nice wines.

If only they were a little more delicate. This is thick set with mealy oak and full, worked Chardonnay white peach flavours. That raw oak and yeast wall gives a wide brush of flavour, with great intensity, but also that sensation of being just too much to enjoy, complete with a dash of alcohol warmth.

An early noughties 'more is better' Chardonnay with no shortage of anything... but lesser because of it.

Details: 13.6%, Screwcap, $45
Tasted: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2020
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? Not quite.
Buy online: Handpicked website

Monday, 16 March 2015

Brown Brothers Ten Acres Heathcote Shiraz 2012

Brown Brothers Ten Acres Heathcote Shiraz 2012

This is a cellar door/mailing list only wine methinks. Speaking of, the Brown Brothers cellar door is one of the most interesting in the country - I managed to taste 34 different varieties on my last visit and there are sparkling variations of just about everything. Clever stuff.

Here, the emphasis is on heartiness. It's only medium bodied, but it feels quite substantial, kicking off with mint and eucalypt before a dry and rustic extractive palate. There's a rough 'n' ready rawness of alcohol and acid, yet it also feels really substantial. Old school Aussie red wine substantial. You just know its going to improve too.

A red wine to chew on, with none of this sweet and silky stuff.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $30
Tasted: March 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2016-2025
Score: 17/20, 90/100+
Would I drink it? Only after a decade in the cellar.
Buy online: Brown Brothers website