Not all wines can be great. Plenty are just ok drinks. And some are just bad.
Here is a selection of wine that almost made it in October and November 2021.
As is the tradition, plenty here promise much, but fall just a fraction short.
There are a few other notables, including a rash of lean wines out of the Yarra in 2020 in this list which is unsurprising given the vintage (poor flowering, rain events at bad times, disease pressure too). I wouldn’t write the year off, but higher variability than normal (and low quantities).
Lots of middling textural whites. Again. As I was talking about earlier in the week here that is a neverending battle.
Finally, plenty of heavy OTT wines in the mix. I can acknowledge that, stylistically, this is a negative for me, and others will love the density of wines like the Jaraman Shiraz or the Mourvedre. I’m pinning my colours to the wall about what I don’t like, take it as you please.
Boat O’Craigo Black Spur Chardonnay 2020
Yarra Chardonnay that’s a little bit lean. Worked funk nose. Very lean and mealy palate, to the point where the acid starts to dominate and it’s a fight between sulphur derived characters and acid. Style, yes, but balance isn’t quite there. Lots of energy though. Finish ends up raw. Almost.
Best drinking: a year or so wouldn’t hurt. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.8%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Chapel Hill The MV Mourvedre 2020
What a beast. A Dark, coffeed, withering and drying McLaren Vale Mourvedre that sucks the life out of you, complete with coffee ground oak and withering tannins. Admirable concentration, but gee it’s an ungenerous and dark sort of thing. Like a more modern version of an old Cahors red. I admire the ferrous tannic, uncompromising breadth, but I couldn’t drink it.
Best drinking: who knows. High risk of it just drying out further over time. Worth a few years in the cellar to see. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $33. Would I buy it? No.
Quilty & Gransden Shiraz 2018
I’ve really liked these new Quilty & Gransden reds (made by Cumulus) Proper, regional Orange wines at an unbelievable $15 price. This Shiraz is (surprisingly) one of the lesser ones, but only just. The whole range seems to be 13.5%, but is that just an easy label? A bit of peppercorn in this red, and the palate looks just a little lean through the middle. There’s oak richness and tannins though. Stylish though, and not about yields or poor quality fruit. $15 for this? It’s clever if just a little light.
Best drinking: nowish. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $15. Would I buy it? A glass.
Monocle Pinot Noir Rosé 2021
From the Ross Hill stable. A barrel-fermented Pinot Noir rosé from the Griffin Road Vineyard. Vinous it is too. Dry, vinous and a bit firm, with some creaminess. Serous rosé. But also just a bit firm and ungenerous which just tips the scales against it. Solid.
Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Oakridge Over The Shoulder Pinot Noir 2020
Bright and light Yarra red. It’s maybe stretched a little thin, which shows through on the finish which looks a bit skinny. But the Pinotosity is obvious, and it feels genuine. Plenty of acidity. Solid form here, if not naturally easy.
Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.1%, $24. Would I buy it? A glass.
Oakridge Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2020
I looked at this over a good hour and it never quite opened up. A tight and grapefruity wine this vintage with a struggle to see much beyond the pristine acidity. It’s not a bad wine – good delicacy and not harsh. But grasping for fruit flavour.
Best drinking: no hurry, open over the next few years. It might even put on weight. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.9%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Pizzini Rosetta Rosé 2021
Pretty, with excellent packaging, this light pink Sangiovese Nebbiolo blend has pink grapefruit with fruit sweetness to marry with the crunchy acidity. It’s just a little light, but a really pleasant wine, and bound to win friends.
Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.5%, $22. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Rising Gamay 2020
I’ve loved previous vintages of this Yarra Gamay (and the Pinot is excellent), but harder to get my head around the 2020. 100% whole bunches and it shows, juicy raspberries fill out the middle, but it’s framed by the bite of whole bunch tang, complete with woody sticks, smoky notes and prominent acidity. Intriguing wine, but gee the stemminess is dominant and polarising – it’s a little disjointed for mine.
Best drinking: nowish I guess. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass.
Ross Hill Harry Pinot Noir 2019
Orange. Firm and drying red despite the moderate alcohol, the red fruit peeks out behind a veil of oak and extract, but it’s a fight. Just a bit overwrought, ultimately, but ambitious.
Best drinking: worth a year or two in the cellar, then drink over five years. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.6%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah Cabenet Sauvignon 2019
So much leafy spearmint in this Yarra red. Yet it’s still rather ripe, the palate full, smudgey edged and chunky dark berried. The tannins are a bit sharp-edged but they elongate the whole palate. It’s not unappealing but a game of mixed ripeness robs it of a little joy.
Best drinking: likely better in a few more years and then drink over the next decade easy. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah Savarro 2021
Yarra Savagnin. Crisp and clear, green melons and a little pear, the palate tart and tangy and frisky. Surprisingly not much going on beyond that. A good fresh drink, in almost Riesling mode, if a smidgen nondescript.
Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13%, $29. Would I buy it? A glass.
Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2019
Clare/McLaren Vale fruit for this label. Luscious, thick and coffeed, to the point of syrupy black fruit with a dose of mint. It’s like dried blackberries, the sweet alcohol and very sweet fruit commercially attractive but ultimately a little overt for me.
Best drinking: it will live and live. Drink over the next fifteen years. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $34. Would I buy it? Not really. Not my bag at all.
Tokar Estate Pet Nat 2021
Frothy pink fun from the Yarra. A Shiraz Chardonnay blend, it’s gently plump with a tutti frutti edge to this which contrasts to the tart acidity, but plenty of juicy fun. Solid.
Best drinking: now. Don’t wait. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.6%, $25. Would I buy it? I just can’t say I’d drink much of this. It’s a bit fruity and frothy to be drinkable, even if I admire the shape.
Vinden Estate Somerset Vineyard Chardonnay 2021
Tiigggghhhhhtttt. It’s barely formed Hunter Chardonnay, the oak sitting above the fruit, with ferment esters, apple juice, lemon balm. It’s lean and crisp and fresh, but there isn’t enough beyond fresh and frisky – it’s too young and half baked.
Best drinking: give it two years at least, then drink over the next circa eight years as a start. 16.8/20+, 89/100. 12.5%, $45. Would I buy it? Not yet.
Castle Rock Estate Rs21 Riesling 2021
I get the intentions of this off-dry style, but it’s a dull, broad-brushed wine compared to the scintillating Estate Riesling. Chubby lemon barley sugar, lots of acidity, the sweet palate just loses shape rather than gaining balance, with obvious sugar sweetness to finish. Not unpleasant, but not delicious enough compared to the drier versions.
Best drinking: nowish really. 16.5/20, 88/100. 9.8%, $23. Would I buy it? No.
Chapel Hill Mr Vinecombe Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2020
Chapel Hill’s Church Block competitor and it’s another chunky McLaren Vale red. Rough-edged, hearty and full of plump, tannic, gruff Cabernet fruit, a sheen of nutty oak, then a slightly tart, but chunky finish. You won’t die wondering with this hearty, old school hefty, mid weight and more red. Good solid bronze wine.
Best drinking: over the next decade. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.5%, $20. Would I buy it? A glass.
Fringe Société Grenache Blanc 2020
The other wines in this range of brightly packaged French wines have been poor, but this is the highlight. A showcase for the gentle fruit appeal of Grenache Blanc, this has a Verdelho-like fruit salad generosity, yet with the sweet fruit turned down. Pears and cooked apples, a slightly phenolic pucker keeps it in shape. A good, simple regional wine that would be a solid recommendation for sub $15.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $22. Would I buy it? A glass at a stretch.
Patina Sticky Tea Riesling 2018
Made from Riesling pressings refermented to give a sweet, phenolic white. It’s very much like a sticky tea, the colour is right too. Mandarin, orange juice, molasses and then easy sweetness. It’s a bit of a fleeting wine though – it doesn’t have the penetration of equivalent sweet styles. Would make a reasonable mixer though with that tannic counterpoint. It’s ok.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/200, 88/100. 9.9, $24. Would I buy it? No.
Pig in the House Shiraz 2020
From the NSW Central Ranges. Confected, purple fruited, warmish Shiraz that always feels ripe, fruity red wine from a warm region. Lots of heart and ripe fruit though. Solid.
Best drinking: over the next ten years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.5%, $25. Would I buy it? Not really.
Small Victories Pinot Gris 2021
Neutral, Adelaide Hills Gris masking as Grigio, crisp acidity and pear juice. Not unattractive, and plenty enough pear juice to be drinkable. But not much beyond the fruit simplicity.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.7%, $27. Would I buy it? A glass.
Tahbilk Pinot Gris 2021
Looks good, but ends up as another singular flavoured white. A flush of ripe pear on the nose, but the palate is taut and a bit ungenerous. I want it to follow through on that peer juice promise, but it never fills out.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $21.50. Would I buy it? Not really.
Taylors Jaraman Chardonnay 2020
Clare Valley & Margaret River fruit, just for something different. Broad, peachy and golden Chardonnay with grilled nut oak and a dash of sulphur-derived funk. For all that richness, the finish is clumsy and sweet and sour, ultimately making this too bold. Traditional shape will win fans though.
Best drinking: nowish. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $26. Would I buy it? No.
Taylors Jaraman Pinot Noir 2019
Yarra Valley Pinot Noir. Ripe, expressive and forward, with some charry oak and ripe red currant fruit plus spearmint. Inelegant, but so is everything in this range. Chewy palate. It’s ok, with plenty of flavour, but a pretty clumsy take on a refined Yarra Pinot.
Best drinking: now and for the next few years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $34. Would I buy it? No.
The Little Wine Company Little Gem Tempranillo 2018
Screams Hunter Valley from the getgo. Earthen, secondary and quite forward, the grainy palate is very ripe and rather drying with oak tannins to finish. It lacks some liveliness for mine, heading into dead fruit, although there is some rustic earthen flavour.
Best drinking: you could wait, but it will likely just dry out more. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.6%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
The Little Wine Company Pecorino 2021
Breezy, gently nutty fresh aromatic style of Pecorino with a little of the honey nut varietal edge. It’s pleasant if a bit diffuse, showing the young vines I think.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.3%, $32. Would I buy it? No.
Vino Intrepido Cold Fusion Col Fondo Prosecco 2021
Nagambie Lakes Prosecco Looks like old fashioned lemonade, pours like a col fondo with persistent froth. It’s just a little too frothy to be delicious, but the main gripe here is that it just doesn’t have much flavour – lean, green citrus with a lightly sherbety edge matching the serious tang. It’s ok, but passes by pretty quickly. Still a bronze for the texture.
Best drinking: once the froth dies down. 16.5/20, 88/100. 10%, $27.99. Would I buy it? No.
Vino Intrepido Grey Matter Pinot Grigio 2021
From the Box Grove Vineyard in Nagambie Lakes. Orange hues, lightly cloudy skin contact style. Curiously muted wine. There’s a little orange lolly and trough lolly suggested, but it just doesn’t translate, the palate missing some substance besides tannin.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13%, $27.99. Would I buy it? No.
Vino Intrepido Nero’s Fiddle Nero d’Avola 2021
Early picked Nero from the Chalmers vineyard at Merbein in Mildura. Fun and frisky juice too, if a bit washed out – I get the push for lightness but it needs more concentration to be compelling. Enjoyable enough.
Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $27.99. Would I buy it? No.
Zema Estate Family Selection Shiraz 2016
Tight and tart, raw and still unformed Coonawarra. There is a moderate, oaky, 90s world Coonawarra red below the surface. But it’s a bit raw and shallow now. Hold!
Best drinking: I’d wait for the tenth birthday (since vintage) at least. It will live for twenty years. 16.5/20, 88/100+. 14%, $50. Would I buy it? No.
Apricus Hill Pinot Noir 2020
Denmark. A bit hard going. Mint, menthol, alcohol pokes out through the tail. Firm, yet lacks the fruit generosity to match. Alcohol is spirity too. Nope.
Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 14%, $35. Would I buy it? No.
Berton Vineyard Winemaker’s Reserve Aranel 2021
I still don’t get the appeal here. A rare French grape variety but it doesn’t taste like anything. Crisp and crunchy neural white wine with little varietal character to speak of. Just acidity.
Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 13%, $20. Would I buy it? No.
Colab & Bloom Rosé 2021
Tempranillo Grenache from South Australia. Lollied pink grapefruit, the red fruit hits against a tart wall of acidity to finish, then the residual sugar kicks back in. It’s ok, but pretty generic stuff.
Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 12.5%, $27.50. Would I buy it? No.
Fowles Are you Game? Arneis 2020
Arneis with a little Riesling in the mix. Broad and a little cheesy, the fruit looks a bit tired already and falls away a bit.
Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 13%. Would I buy it? No.
Rafiki Zabibu Pinot Grigio 2020
Such a noble cause behind this wine, with 100% of profits going to Rafiki Mwemba, a safe house for children in Kenya. It’s made thanks to the generosity of Jess & Brian from Farmer & The Scientist in Heathcote. All good things. For all that, this is sadly generic wine. No region noted, it’s already oxidising and appears to not have much fruit to start with, leaving just chalky acidity. 99/100 for the project, not quite for the wine.
Best drinking: right now. 16/20, 87/100. 12.8%, $22. Would I buy it? No.
Rafiki Zabibu Shiraz 2018
Heathcote Shiraz. A pity. It hurts to be calling this out, but putting it out as I see it, warts and all. Colour looks advanced, oak seems average. Chewy, forward and with heavy handed acidity, the flavours a bit confected and the finish short. A sub $15 wine, with the stunted flavours to match.
Best drinking: nowish. 16/20, 87/100. 14.5%, $26. Would I buy it? No.
Vino Intrepido Blood Of My Blood Sangiovese 2020
Heathcote Sangiovese from the Whistling Eagle Vineyard. Coppery blood red. Despite being just medium bodied, there is a sense of roasted and quite heavy fruit here, the oak lifting it up, the tannins drying and a bit desiccated. Not quite the life here, despite the tannin drive and clever oak sweetness.
Best drinking: nowish really. 16/20, 87/100. 14.5%, $36.99. Would I buy it? No.
Collab & Bloom Pinot Gris 2021
No region noted. Tinny and short, the flavours fleeting and advanced. It’s fresh enough, but not much flavour.
Best drinking: now. 15.8/20, 86/100. 12.5%, $27. Would I buy it? No.
Angullong Fossil Hill Sangiovese 2019
Orange Sangiovese. Dusty, lacking varietal character, finishes short and a bit tart. Ordinary.
Best drinking: nowish. 15.5/20, 85/100. 14.5%, $28. Would I buy it? No.
Fringe Société Pinot Noir 2020
Generic French Pinot with a not-insignificant price tag. Dilute and slightly metallic red fruit, little Pinosity and a bit grubby. You can buy this equivalent quality for €3 in a Carrefour.
Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 13%, $22. Would I buy it? No.
Vino Intrepido Inherited trait Lambrusco Maestri 2021
Serious froth – I lost a good glass to the overflow. How do restaurants deal with petnats? Open it over a bucket? This is hard and a little volatile, the colour suggesting some bright fruit, but it’s dry and firm save for some late sherbet. I expected some fruit! Then a bitter finish. Not much fun here.
Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 12.5%, $27.99. Would I buy it? No.
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