17 December 2009

Stella Bella 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Apparently, there is something important happening in Copenhagen this week.

As far as I can make out, the unwashed and the bearded have gathered there for a friendly chat with the riot police and to sample the local tear-gas. The most successful have been detained overnight in a beer warehouse. Frankly, there are worse places to be incarcerated.

Apparently, it also has something to do with polar bears, missing Maldives, and Al Gore pushing hyperbole well above sea level.

Whatever. I happen to like it when it gets hot. Summer brings with it the happy crack of willow on leather, bikini’d bodies, and a non-negotiable obligation to splash down refreshing beverages.

And so it was that I found myself sitting in the sun on the Byron beachfront with a couple of plastic cups, a chilled bottle of the 2009 Stella Bella, and a box of the best seafood this side of J Sheekey. If you haven't taken away from Fishmongers in the laneway behind Strop's old pub, you really are just letting the best in life pass you by.

But I digress. Back to the booze.

Is there a label on the market that more effectively gives you a flavour of what is about to emerge from within? A stream of happy juice being hand-pressed from a floral fruitopia. It is perfect. And perfectly inviting.

Now, I'm not going to wank on about the wine, because it’s really not that sort of drop. It is just a very friendly, easy-drinking, tasty, and satisfying bottle of plonk that punches above its RRP. You should always have a bottle of it in your fridge for emergencies.

It smells great. A heady hit of freshly split passionfruit on vanilla bean icecream.

And it’s delicious from the first sip. No bite. No sting in the tail. It's as smooth as a freshly waxed lemon (the good kind!) and fills your mouth with a voluptuous coating of limey yumminess.

There’s enough acid to take on your seafood and a lovely clean finish that is longer than the legs on the Swedish backpackers prancing in the surf.

And best of all, it is cool when you are hot.

Climate change arguments are mostly lost on me because they've turned it into fashion. It's the new Live Aid and “Give Peace a Chance”.

Maybe it's getting hotter. Maybe it's not. Either way, I am going to place the blame squarely on the introduction of decimal currency and pour myself another of these stellar Stellas.

Ciao. Bella.

Rating: 8
Drink with: Seafood and summer

Price: $24 RRP (but under $20 virtually everywhere)

Ballandean Estate 2008 SSB


Pale as water. Smells like gasoline and drinks as rough as guts. Salty and almost fizzy.

I drank it while watching Bear Grylls drink his own urine. As he retched and spluttered, I couldn't help but feel envious.

SSB would usually stand for Semillion Sauvignon Blanc. I can only assume they used an abbreviation so they didn't get into strife with the ACCC for false advertising.

Rating: 2
Drink with: Local anaesthetic

Price: $16

10 December 2009

David Franz 2004 Benjamin's Promise Shiraz

David Franz is the Nicholas Cage of Australian wine.

He is the son of the Baron of the Barossa – Peter Lehmann – but, admirably, he doesn't trade on that pedigree. What he does trade in are carefully crafted and interesting wines that draw on the intrinsic talents instilled by his bloodline. The Barossan sang réal.

The Benjamin’s Promise is one of the most rewarding and fascinating bottles I've purchased this year. And that's even before I got its top off.

Each bottle comes wrapped in tissue and inscribed with a long and rambling yarn personally screen-printed on the bottle by Dave. The yarn is actually more of a tome. He may also be related to Tolstoy.

And I tell you what. Even if the wine was only average (which it's not), the presentation of the bottle gives you $100 worth of gift giving value for under $40. Buy one for your father-in-law this Christmas. You won't even have to wrap it.

It’s bottled unfiltered (to keep in the tasty bits), so the suggestion is that you should double decant it and wait for it to come to life. That's always good advice. Make sure you do.

In the glass, it glows bright vermilion and waves a "come hither" finger inviting you closer. The nose is muscly and raisined and smells a lot like a bloody good Port.

Take a slug and it gives you a great big mouthful of ripe fruit that is as peaty as a dram of Glen Livet. The tannins frot your tonsils and make your tastebuds belt out the theme to Rocky.

This is the sort of big Barossa red that is easy to love. It draws you in with a seductive whiff. Then rolls you over and gives you a jolly good seeing to.

The David Franz wines are made on a smallish scale and are relatively difficult to locate. Well worth the hunt though I’d say. If you find them, get a bottle of the Riesling as well.

Rating: 8.75
Drink with: Rib-on-the-bone. And a smile on your face.

Price: $38

PS You should also check out his website
– particularly the opening series of photos.

Dave looks to have a larrikin streak and a smile like a slice of watermelon - the type of bloke I’d probably like to share a glass and a yarn with. Although, after this bottle, I kind of feel like I already have.

03 December 2009

Shaw + Smith 2008 M3 Chardonnay

Recent hot weather has found me reaching for nice bottles of chilled white in place of the big reds that I usually prefer.

And since I've been hearing a lot of wraps on this year's release of the M3, I gladly relieved my local of their last couple of bottles over the weekend. The fact it was also on sale made the decision that much simpler.

You have to be careful with chardonnay though. It is like the girl with the curl - when it is good, it is very, very good. But when it is bad, it can be downright horrid.

I first tried the M3 a couple of years ago - the 2006 vintage - and it confirmed my love of good chardonnay from the right regions.

Happily for Messrs Shaw + Smith, their vines are perched smack bang in the heart of the Adelaide Hills. And The Hills, of course, is a right proper chardonnay producing district - home to such other chardonnay celebrities as Penfolds' Yattarna and the Petaluma panoply.

But while the Yattarna sells for well over $100, the M3 is a much more approachable $30-$35.

And so I iced down a bottle as we toasted to a mate's birthday on a hot Sunday evening. The first pour showed a lovely, light golden colour - like the straw fiasco encasing a bottle of Chianti. The acidity to come was apparent from the way it wrapped its legs around the glass.

Still being a youngster, the aromas did take a while to open up. But by the second glass, it was like sticking your nose into a bowl of ripe summer stonefruit. A fruit platter on Christmas afternoon.

And it is just as pleasing in the mouth. Delicate and refined, but also creamy and smooth. It has a yummy, soft fruitiness with a touch of oak that delivers more wood than Tiger on a cocktail waitress.

This is an elegant white wine that will improve with age gracefully over the next 5-10 years. So, have one now with a plate of fresh prawns and bugs. And stash another away for a special occasion down the track.

M3 is for mmm...mmm...mmm!
Rating: 8.5 (and bound to improve with age)
Drink with: Moreton Bay Bugs
Price: $30-$35

26 November 2009

Jim Barry 2009 Watervale Riesling

I had a fantastic dinner on the weekend at a fairly middle-of-the-road Thai spot. But of course, dinner is so much more than the food on the plate. It is the company you keep. The atmosphere around you. And, importantly, the wine you share with your friends.

There were quite a few wines on the table, but I brought a Riesling since my friends like their Thai hot and I do not. I wanted something to take the edge of the inevitable chilli rush, and there was no Gewürztraminer cold in the local Dan’s. So I plumped for the next best thing, a nice looking Clare Valley Riesling.

The Jim Barry Watervale Riesling goes for only $15/$16 dollars, which is quite tidy value for a wine with this much style and finesse.

It pours with similar colour to a well made mojito - pale, but tinged with verdant invitation. Legs like chopsticks dance around the glass as you give it a twirl.

But it is when you bury your nose in the top that the party really gets started. The mojito comparisons continue as you are met with the sweet smell of muddled limes and freshly crushed herbaceousness. There is also a hint of the hot lemon facetowels your barber uses at the end of a shave. And that is always my favourite part.

The drinking is great too. What you smell is what you taste. It fills the mouth agreeably with strong citrus flavours, and the kick of acidity beats up nicely on the chilli sting from your green curry. The finish is long, smooth and permanently inviting of another sip.

It is thirst quenchingly good and would be an excellent choice on any hot day this summer, with or without food.

Riesling is not as popular with the punters as it once was, which probably explains the modest pricing of this fellow. But long gone are the cask boxes of riesling your parents used to take to BBQs in the 1980s. These days it is elegant and tasteful. And, importantly, it now comes in bottles.

Rating: 8
Drink with: A hot Thai and/or HAB

Price: $15

19 November 2009

Innocent Bystander 2009 Pink Moscato

Well. Christmas is almost upon us. And well you might ask, "What may I legitimately drink with my Christmas breakfast that will suitably dull the inevitable parade of re-gifters and drunken uncles that is to come?".

It is a good question. Because if you can't beat them, you might as well join them.

Since the mercury is bound to be soaring, you will want something nice and cold and I can think of little better than what my brother refers to, frighteningly, as his "breakfast wine" (although, I'm sure he nicked that from Matt Skinner).

But hey, if the girls can get away with champers at this time of day all year, then the rest of us can surely sneak in a little bit of early morning Christmas cheer by tearing the wrapping off this little fellow.

The Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato is indeed a friendly little drop, with a hint of fizz and a pink flourish that doffs its cap agreeably to the season.

It smells sweetly of strawberries and a kind of musky perfume that reminds you of awkward fumbles on highschool dancefloors. It bubbles with laconic enthusiasm, but still lets you know there will be a hint of sharpness to offset the sweetness.

And there is really no getting away from it. It is sweet. Really sweet. But it also has that lovely level of tamarind tartness to accompany it. It is not dissimilar to liquefied (and clarified) cranberry sauce, and so it will of course go down nicely with your Christmas ham.

At only 5.5% alcohol, you could easily make the argument that it doesn't really even count as booze because, in truth, there is probably more alcohol on Father Christmas’ breath. Still, it is just enough to make your Aunty Sharon's stories tolerable (probably), while still allowing you to put on a fine display when the backyard cricket begins after lunch.

The makers suggest drinking it with a straw. But that concept is unfathomable heathenry. You should instead swig it straight from the bottle. Or pour it in a tall glass and tell the rellies that it’s grapefruit juice.

My one criticism is that it comes in only a 375ml bottle and that, frankly, is just mean. It might as well have “Bah humbug” written on the label. Happily, I have discovered the solution – buy two of them.

At $12.50, it is certainly worth buying yourself a couple for Christmas this year.

Rating: 8
Drink with: Brekky
Price: $12.50

12 November 2009

De Bortoli 2006 Deen De Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon

Short and sweet this week. The wine that is.

The Vat 5 is the little sister of the illustrious De Bortoli Noble One.

Both are fantastic little dessert wines - produced by allowing the Botrytis fungus (the "noble rot") to eviscerate the grape, and thus concentrate and distil what is left of the juices into a sweet, sugary delight.

The Noble One is $30+ (for a 375ml bottle). The Vat 5 is less than $10.

Now, it is certainly not the god-given nectar that is Noble One. But then, nothing else really is. The Vat 5 is certainly a little lighter in style, but it is still a cracker - and, at this price, it is also ridiculously spectacular value.

It shows a deep, gilded radiance in the glass. And the nose gives a lovely over-ripe apricot aroma, tinged with a warmth that is reminiscent of a nicely, raisined Kevin Muscat.

In the mouth, it is all honey and lemons, and as thick and velvety as a Brummy chav-hag in a Juicy Couture tracksuit.

It tickles the tonsils like golden honey, while its deliciousness lingers on your lips and flirts dangerously with the inner cavities of your cheeks. It is the gift that keeps on giving. I told you it was good value.

A good stickie is to dinner, what a cigarette is to coitus. Forget the mints. What you want after your main course is cleared away is a quality cheese, some bikkies, and a half bottle of the De Bortoli.

At this price, you should do it at least once a week.

Rating: 8.5
Drink with: Cheese and bikkies, or even cheese on toast if you must.
Price: $9.95 (375ml)

04 November 2009

Two Hands 2008 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz

Let's face it - first impressions count. We judge books by covers, and sometimes wines by labels. At least in part.

So, first things first. The kitschy name. I sincerely hope it derives from something to do with gnarled vines. Because otherwise, it smacks of faux hipness; of mouldy old, marketing men trying to prove to the iSnack 2.0 generation that their product is cool. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in this case, since this brand has been admirably successful in marketing its product - particularly to the overseas market. But the vine on the label still looks as though it has seen better days - and maybe a bushfire or two.

All told, Two Hands produces an astonishing 12 different straight Shirazeseses (the plural of Shiraz, if you didn't know) across five different ranges. The Gnarly Dude falls into their entry level "Picture Series'. Two Hands "for beginners", if you will.

But whatever the first impression, all is forgiven in the glass.

It pours dark. Like fresh tar. At Midnight. With the streetlights out.

And the nose speaks to you with a voice every bit as deep and timbrous as Madge from Neighbours. It hits you like napalm in the morning – and, like Colonel Kilgore, I loved it.

In the mouth, it is a huge Barossa red. Fruity and spicy to start, it explodes with more nuttiness than a sanatorium. But, happily, it then develops with a smoothness and length that is quite unexpected.

This then, I think, is wine for men who won't eat quiche. A carnivore. It demands a nice thick rib eye, with a side order of rack of lamb.

All in all, it is a cracking Barossa shiraz, with a touch of class.
A coquettish choirgirl with a twinkle in her eye. A boxing glove, made of kid leather.

Surf's up. Dude.

Rating: 8
Drink with: Harold and Dr Karl
Price: $27

*My only (other) issue with this wine is that my final pour from the bottle contained seriously large chunks of wood such that I’ve never seen before. I can only assume this is not the norm, and it was a dodgy bottle. Perhaps I got the bottom of the barrel. I will have to try it again to find out. Oh, the horror. The horror.

28 October 2009

Leeuwin Estate 2003 Art Series Chardonnay

If I'm honest, which I sometimes am, then I have to admit that until I visited the Margaret River, I hated chardonnay. Truly detested it. Wouldn't have poured it down the drain in case a cockroach had the misfortune of drowning in it. It just wasn't my cup of Tetley's.

Then my epiphany arrived. I accidentally tried one at Wills Domain, and it was good. I intentionally tasted one at Ashbrook, and it was better. And after that, I was ordering it straight up on the rocks at every cellar door I visited. Most were excellent. Some, like Leeuwin and Vasse Felix, were exceptional.

The regional influence is huge. If you haven't tried a Margy chardy, you really should forget about all that Kath and Kim ignominy and go West for a little tipple. Certainly though, you should try it without ice-cubes. And preferably, not from a silver bag.

Of course, at $80-odd, we can't all (and certainly I can't) stump up for the Leeuwin every day of the week. I was therefore enormously pleased to see a good friend unholster one from his cooler bag at the weekend.

The first thing you notice is that it is the effulgent colour of clarified butter. More yellow than a cowardly canary singing Coldplay, it overflows with a galaxy of stars that seem to be shining just for you.

The body is visibly thick and creamy. The nose, brilliantly lively and vibrant. And at this price (for 750mls no less!), I could happily dab a little on my wife instead of perfume and then take her (and what is left of the bottle) out for a nice steak dinner.

Since this wine is a bit of a rock-star, it will not surprise you that many critics have apparently discovered an entire orchard of fruit somewhere in the glass. Me? I only get lemon, honey, and maybe warm, buttery toast - but that is more than enough. It builds as you swill it in your mouth, and delivers a deliciously long and tannic pucker in the swallow. It is utterly and unctuously, scrumptious.

I usually don't "get" art. But I sure as hell get the Art Series.

Rating: 9
Drink with: Buttery fried scallops
Price: $80+

22 October 2009

Ninth Island 2008 Pinot Noir

This week, we’re travelling south for a taste of the Tamar Valley in Tassie.

Now, as we know, Taswegians are best known for sleeping with their sisters, mass murder, and their contribution to anatomical cartography. But they also manage to make some pretty decent wines – the cooler climate lending itself to quality Pinots and Rieslings.

And the Ninth Island 2008 Pinot Noir is certainly a great little drop. Although, the label is perhaps a touch unfortunate – depicting, as it does, either the invasion of the First Fleet or a flotilla of asylum seekers.

Splashed in the glass, the colour is light and bright, and manages to show off a pleasing piece of leg.

The nose is interesting. To start with, it reeked of public swimming pool – of urine, cloaked in chlorine. Happily though, it soon settled down and opened up remarkably to display a wonderfully fragrant punnet of blueberry goodness.

When it hits your mouth, all your dreams are made of strawberry lemonade. A Turkish delight with a delicate dusting of icing sugar. Full. Smooth. Wonderful length, but uncomplicated and stunningly easy to drink.

Down a glass or two and a delicious warmth flows though you - like floating into Elysium on a parachute of heroin and diazepam.

At a shade over $30, it's spectacular value for a Pinot this good.

By design, it is not intended for lengthy cellaring – so drink it young. And drink it often.

Rating: 8
Drink with: Your best cousin
Price: $32

14 October 2009

Craggy Range 2007 Gimblett Gravels Merlot

As there are now quite a few Kiwi readers (although that may well change after this week), I thought we should head across the ditch. To the big En-Zed. Shabang-a-bang. Call it whatever you like. (To assist our vowel-challenged cuzzy-bros, a translation is available here.)

Craggy Range cellar door sits under the incredibly picturesque Te Mata peak (ie the Craggy Range) in the Hawkes Bay region of NZ. The mountains are magnificent. The rivers run an outrageous shade of azure. And the sheep are so fluffy, they look just about ready to up and float away.

The vineyards of Craggy Range sit on the banks of the Tukituki River, and benefit from a pedological phenomenon known locally as the Gimblett Gravels. The stoney soils have proved to be New Zealand’s answer to the famous Bordeaux terroir - the loose stones holding the spring-time heat, and facilitating the early ripening of the fruit. The overall result is rich, slightly sweet reds, that are low in acidity.

Craggy has an extensive range (many more expensive than this Merlot), and I urge you to give them a try. But the Craggy Gimblett Gravels Merlot sits mid-range and is a cracker.

It sits lucently in the glass, rimmed by a halo of blushing, rubescent glory. It smacks of a cinnamon donut, dunked in a double espresso. And gee whiz, this girl’s got legs – and, boy, does she know how to use them.

In the mouth it is so thick and rich, you could well stick a knife in it and spread it on toast. It is smooth, silky, full of fruit, and quite simply sweet-as, Bro.

I usually like to drink merlot with nice, fresh pasta. But given this merlot’s provenance, it would be a travesty not to team it with some lovely, lamby shanks.

They say it will last ten years in the cellar. I say, good luck!

Rating: 8.5
Drink with: NZ's national emblem
Price: $40

Cruggy Range 2007 Gumblett Grivels Merlot

Iz there are now quite a few Kiwi readers (although thit may wool change ifter thus week), I thought we should hid icross tha dutch. To tha bug Un-Zud. Shabung-a-bung. Call ut whutever you like. (Hang on – across the dutch would be Ozzie. Where all the clivver people are. Hmmm, I can’t wait to go to Ozzie one day – but I’ll have to git swumming lissons first!)

Cruggy Range cellar door suts under tha uncridubly pucturisque Te Mata peak (ie the Cruggy Range) un the Hawkes Bay region of NZ. Tha mountains are mugnufisunt. Tha ruvers run in outrageous shade ov azure. Ind the sheep are so flooffy, they luk just about riddy to oop ind float away.

Tha vineyards of Cruggy Range sut on the bunks of the Tukituki Ruvver, ind binnyfut frum a pidologucal phunomenon known locally iz the Gumblutt Grivels. The stoney soils hiv proved to be New Zulland’s inswer to tha famous Cardboard terror (wutivver thut uz) - tha loose stones holding tha sprung-time heat, and fusulitating tha early ripening of tha fruit. Tha overall rissult is for rutch, slightly sweet rids, thit are low un assuduty.

Cruggy hiv in ixtensuv range (minny more ixpensuv thin thus Merlot), ind I urge you to guv thim a try. But tha Cruggy Gumblutt Grivels Merlot suts mud-range and uz a cracker.

Ut suts lucintly un the glass, rummed by a halo of blushing, rubescint glory. Ut smucks of a sunnamon donut, dunked un a double isprisso. And gee whuz, thus girl’s gut ligs – ind, boy, duz she know how to use thim.

Un tha mouth ut uz so thuck and rutch, you could will stuck a knife un ut and sprid it on toast. Ut uz smooth, sulky, full of fruit, ind quite sumply sweet-as, (cuzzy) Bro.

I usually like to drunk merlot with nice (choice), frish pasta. But guvven thus merlot’s provenunce, ut would be a trivusty not to team ut with some lovely, lamby shinks (hmmmm Baaa-bara, show us your shinks).

They say ut wool last tin years un the cellar. I say, good luck!

Rating: 8.5
Drink with: Lamb
Price: A$40

07 October 2009

Penfolds 2006 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

As it is likely to be my last chance for some time, I took the opportunity this week to get properly rugby-league drunk. Although perhaps not quite Fevola-drunk.

And the culprit that led me to into vinous temptation was the latest incarnation of Baby Grange – Penfolds’ Bin 389.

The colour is sublime and gives you a pleasing glimpse of the good things to follow. The nose is a grandiloquent array of rich choclatey, vanillin intensity that invites you to dive right in.

So we did. We drank quickly, and copiously. The first bottle tasted just splendid – not too fruity, and brimming with earthy, velvety warmth that was as moreish as a tube of Pringles. I don’t really remember the second bottle.

At the start of the evening, our waitress had a face like a truffle pig - or Jessica Schipper. By the end of the meal, she’d undergone three courses of plastic surgery and coloured her hair. Alternatively, we may have been so annoying that they allocated us a new waitress sometime after the main course.

Whatever. The 389 made it better, and so I liked it.

On a more serious note, it has a depth of character and intensity that means it should live for a long time. Drink one now, and keep another one under the stairs in case of emergency – like, say, when your mother-in-law moves in...

If you look really hard, you can sometimes pick this up for better than $40 a bottle, which makes me happy. If you are in London, I am told you can pick it up for 13 quid, which makes me mad.

Rating: 9
Drink with: Smashed crabs
Price: $40 ($60 rrp – but retail is for suckers)

30 September 2009

Clonakilla 2008 Hilltops Shiraz

I. Like. Big. Reds...and I cannot lie. And you really can't deny that this one is a stonker.

The colour is deep. The aroma is intoxicating. And the drinking is a heady eruption of big, peppery meatiness and warmth. It's long. Strong. And down to get the friction on.

At $25, it gives you a great big bang for your buck and I guarantee you'll be smacking your lips and pouring your second and third glasses in no time.

It is more casual than its two bigger brothers, and that's fine. Sometimes, it's exciting to dress up in a dinner suit - other times, it's more enjoyable to put on your best thongs and just have a BBQ.

Ridiculously good.

Rating: 9
Drink with: a knife and fork
Price: $25

Clonakilla 2008 O'Riada Shiraz

Remarkably, the O'Riada Shiraz is only a small step down from the climactic Shiraz Viognier. And so, if you can't quite plump for the Big Boy, you can quite contentedly settle for his younger brother.

Like the flagship, the O'Riada also gets a little hint of the viognier, and benefits enormously for it. As rare as a drop bear eating a steak tartare, viognier is a white grape that has a happy knack of lending a cheery, floral note to the brutish power of shiraz.

To the nose, the O'Riada is sweet, spicy, and intensely inviting. And for that reason, I didn't waste too much time sniffing it.

The fruit is cherry ripe, and this wine really does have a great texture - like rubbing suede against the grain. It is smokey and delicious, and crying out to be consumed liberally with a nice piece of meat. Or even by yourself. Perhaps with a steak.

Quite simply, this is a great quality, silky smooth red which is worth much more than its $35 price tag. Many other vineyards would get away with nominating this as their flagship, and then charge you $100 for the privilege. But at Clonakilla, their embarrassment of riches is your windfall.

Make the most of it and get on board.

Rating: 9
Drink with: your best Sunday roast
Price: $35

Clonakilla 2008 Shiraz Viognier

It is an inescapable truth that the only respectable things to come out of Canberra are firecrackers, pornography, and the Barton Highway.

Clonakilla, sitting just off the Barton, is fast becoming an icon in its own right and should rightly be added to that list.

Thanks to the genius of Tim Kirk, the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is now one of the luminaries of the Australian wine scene. Inevitably, many have tried to follow in the footsteps of this now trendy blend, but no-one else quite manages to achieve the casual brilliance of the genuine article. If ever there was a contender for the crown so tightly held by Grange, then this (in my very humble opinion) is it. And at a fraction of the cost.

Crack the top and let the genie out of the bottle. The colour is tremendous. It blushes like an autumn peach as translucent shards of light flash through the deep-cherry red contents of the glass. Give it a swirl and the legs are longer and more shapely than a Vegas chorus-line on opening night.

The nose is a panoply of all that is good in this world. A garden of spring-time flowers. Delicious gravy scrapings from a Sunday roast. The intoxicating spice of a Marrakesh marketplace.

You can almost taste the sunshine as you swill it around your mouth. Like your grandmother's best scone, there is a good lug of raspberry jam and a generous dollop of double cream to smooth out the whole experience.

It is a wine that Dionysus himself would have enjoyed in a stupor of orgiastic glory. And then come back for seconds.

Last year's release ('07) was virtually impossible to come by. And a friend of mine made Mr Kirk recoil in horror when he recounted that he'd drunk three bottles within a week of fluking across it in a bottle shop last year. The '08 release is in greater circulation, but you'll still want to be quick - particularly as it is so good.

In short, this is the best wine I've drunk all year. And, if I can keep my mitts off the rest of the case, it will no doubt be the best wine I'll drink for the next 10 years and beyond.

A keeper - but only if you have more discipline than me.

Rating: 9.9
Drink with: Restraint
Price: $75

16 September 2009

Sevenhill 2008 White Spider Semillon Chardonnay

I came across this bottle - or rather, I discovered it - in my "back-up" rack over the weekend.

I don't recall buying it, so I can only assume that a charitable friend (or fiend) brought it for dinner once and left it behind. On that basis, I will be kinder than I might otherwise have been. But, should you choose to read on, please keep that indulgence in mind.

Sevenhill Cellars is the oldest winery in the Clare Valley. It was founded, and is still run today, by the Jesuits. It is a lovely spot, with a lovely old church and lovely old cellar. And apart from table wines, they also enjoy a healthy monopoly in the supply of sacramental wine to the other Catholics. The sacramental wine sells for $15 a bottle. Precisely the same price as the White Spider... And that is your first clue.

Now, we all know that if you happen to attend a Catholic mass, there are sensible reasons for only pretending to take a sip from the Communion cup. Mostly, they involve a desire to avoid the proliferation of herpes. But, equally, you may simply wish to avoid partaking in a ritual which involves swallowing pure gasoline.

I am sorry to say that the White Spider (which is an unusual blend of Semillon and Chardonnay) is not dissimilar. It claims to have the aroma of peaches, and that may certainly be true if they mean Peaches Geldof. Unbathed. And then doused in Impulse bodyspray. It is sickly sweet to the point of suffocation.

The taste is then anodyne in the extreme (to the extent that is possible). There is really little discernible flavour to speak of - although there is a nice, dry finish and just a touch of traditional Clare flintiness. It is relatively easy to drink, in the same way that water is easy to drink. But that is really the best I can say for it because, put simply, it just doesn't have that much to offer.

The last time a Jesuit bored me this much, I was watching the art-house film tedium that is The Mission. I recall, after a mere ten minutes, pleading for the natives to get it all over with by cooking up Father Gabriel and throwing his oboe down the waterfall. And so it was with the White Spider - except that you should replace the words "natives", "oboe" and "waterfall" with the words "me", "wine" and "sink". And leave out the part about Father Gabriel, obviously.

In other news, there is no truth to the scurrilous rumour that the brethren are also planning to release a Rock Spider Shiraz in the near future, that kind of thing now, of course, being widely frowned upon.

Drink with: Raspberry cordial...?
Price: $15

10 September 2009

Bindi 2000 Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc

This is, in all likelihood, the champagne supernova that Oasis refer to in their famed anthem. But then again, since they wrote it in 1995 and this drop was only released last year, it might not be. That is, unless Noel Gallagher can see the future. Which he would probably tell you he can. In which case, it is. But I digress...

This aged Australian sparkling is phenomenal. It is more like champagne than most of the fizz that comes out of Champagne. The colour is bright yellow - like urine the day after asparagus. The nose reeks of earthy, yeasty goodness. And is so yeasty in fact that you can easily visualise the little yeasty beasts feverishly fermenting away at the Chardonnay nectar as they send their millions of tiny bubbles onwards and upwards in a spiral of refractive glory.

It is creamy and thick as it slides over the tongue, but then delivers a crisp, dry, acidic kick as it swims flirtatiously past the tonsils. It is a Vegemite milkshake, with a gin and tonic chaser. A Rubenesque femme fatale, who warms you to her ample bosom and then pierces your heart with her stiletto heel.

I met the winemaker, Michael Dhillon, at a tasting last year. He was unpretentious and down to earth, but complex and serious at the same time. He clearly delivers that stamp in his wine making. I liked him. And I like his wine. A lot.

I should also mention that the Bindi makes the cut at the new Aria restaurant in Brisbane. And I would suggest that it compares more favourably on price and taste to many of the more illustrious, imported bubbles which sit above it. I also suspect that if you treated a date to a bottle of this gear, it may actually end up saving you money on dessert - since you will, in all likelihood, be invited to depart early and skip straight to the naked peek-a-boo.


Rating: 9/10
Drink with: Matt Moran's scallops
Price: $50 (if you are lucky)

01 September 2009

Voyager Estate 2007 Girt by Sea Margaret River Cabernet Merlot

This wine has been a popular option for me since visiting the winery a few years back. I was treated to a generous number of liberal pours at the cellar door, and then kept it going over lunch with the mixed flight of wines and accompanying tasting plate. We ate blue swimmer crab, venison chorizo and duck, while the glasses were continually winged in at a brisk pace by the best hot tottie the Wild West had to offer.

They can afford to be generous I suppose. The winery is one of the most opulent in the country, and is built from the same source of cash that has funded Rose Hancock's bizarre lifestyle over the years. The owner, Michael Wright, is the son of Lang Hancock's business partner. But whereas young Rose squandered her inheritance on pink Rollers and poodles, the Wright heir toiled away with heart and hand to build Voyager Estate. Thanks to the mountain of mining money, and a healthy dose of eccentricity, he has created one of the standout cellar doors in the Margaret River region.

They produce a sizable range of consistently high quality drops at decent prices, and their flagships are the usual Margy suspects - a Chardonnay ($42), and a stellar Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ($60).

But they also make a Cab Merlot for the everyman, known, patriotically, as the Girt by Sea. $24 a bottle is the list price, but I have seen it as cheap as $17. And, at that price, there is good reason to let us all rejoice.

The '07 Girt by Sea is the colour of a Tuscan terracotta, and it is probably just a little less full-bodied than in previous years. More Kate Moss than Elle Macpherson, although that is obviously not such a bad thing as far as it goes.

It has the soft, spicy aroma of a freshly split vanilla pod, and delivers plummy, fruity goodness with every swallow. It is smooth R'n'B drinking - but, much like a date with Chris Brown, it can still get a little punchy if provoked.

All in all, its beauty is as rich and rare as a footballer with morals. And while we may well have boundless plains to share with Johnny Foreigner (it's from the second verse, stick with me), I'm keen to guard this gem a little more closely.

It is an early drinker, so get stuck in while its young and free.

Rating: 8.5/10
Drink with: a good pizza
Price: $24
Image from: http://www.voyagerestate.com.au/

25 August 2009

Moss Wood 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon*

A truly autocratic portrayal of this classic Margy River
The colour is breathtaking - a whimsical mixture of pigeon blood, weak orange cordial and the most alluring of Peruvian sunsets. It has the lascivious legs of a supermodel, while the bouquet suggests hints of bitumen, recently laid by perspiring labourers in overalls named Bruce and Gary. The nose then majestically unfurls with an undertone of wild fungi that has been trampled on some days earlier by even wilder boar and left to decay (3 days, maybe 4 - but no less!).

Like a virgin on prom night, the body is slightly reticent at first, but opens up quickly and latches onto the middle of your tongue as the alcohol begins to weave its wonderful effects. It is then all at once as full-bodied and warm as a Victoria's Secret model swaddled in a bear-skin rug.

The tannins show sublime suppleness and exhibit a looseness and absence of elasticity that is evocative of paparazzi pictures of Britney Spears emerging, sans panties, from a low-slung Aston Martin.

It is then déjà vu all over again, as this olfactory orgasm tangos along the back palette and blows its load in what one can only describe as the happiest of all happy endings.

Quite simply, the '06 is pornography in a glass. And, like all such things, should of course be shared generously with your friends.

Rating: 9.5/10
Drink with: Mates
Price: $100

* written with PJ

20 August 2009

Ten Minutes by Tractor 2007 10X Pinot Noir

I had heard good things about this vineyard from a friend last year, who warmly recommended the restaurant and its extensive wine list. That didn't seem much of an accolade for its own wine, but as my parents had recently brought a few bottles back from a trip to the Mornington Peninsular, I thought I should kick the tyres, so-to-speak, and take the tractor for a spin.

The name, interestingly, comes by virtue of the fact that the three "home blocks" are each ten minutes, by tractor, apart. It is certainly more interesting than had they called it say, "Half Hour by Foot" or "Two Minutes by Dirt Bike".

The label is quite trendy as well. And, in the glass, it pours as purple as a Hendrix haze. It has that revered pinot combination of light and shade - deep colour with a clear twinkle of luminosity.

Other reviewers have given this particular wine an up-and-down history over the years - a report card that reads, "Obvious potential, but needs to try harder". Well, if that is the case, this year the 10X pulled its finger out and has come in much closer to the top of the class.

It is a pinot made in the Burgundy style. And much like the other famous Burgundy (Ron), it is kind of a big deal. It smells of rich mahogany and leather bound books. And goes down as smooth as Saint Diego.

It is fruity in a suave, sophisticated way, and can get away with showing a hint of the blueberry trussed up in its well-manicured coif.

Across the board, Pinot Noir is generally one of the more expensive wines - you won't find much under the $30-mark. So, at about $35, the 10X Pinot sits near the bottom of the scale pricewise, and is half the cost of the three other single-vineyard pinots (Wallis, McCutcheon and Judd) sitting in the Tractor sheds. They are also very good, but I prefer the 10X blend, particularly at the price.

Rating: 8/10
Drink with: Mushroom risotto

11 August 2009

Virgin Hills 2001 Red

I hesitate to tell too many people about this. But you can buy this vintage direct from the vineyard now. The hard work has already been done for you. The bottles have been cellared for eight long years, slowly softening and maturing without the imminent threat of the corkscrew. For me, the waiting is often the hardest part. I am thirsty so often. And cabernet is so much more satisfying than coke.

The wine comes from the Macedon Ranges region which is where, according to legend, virgins were first created. Here, in this bucolic idyll, scores of untouched beauties tend the old vines, plucking only the ripest fruit, and gently extracting the sweetest of juices. They plainly do a fantastic job, because the result is outstanding. The wine is luminous as it hits the glass - a warm orangey-crimson, like Uluru at dusk, during the autumnal equinox.

As you pop the cork, the bouquet is all about ripe cherries, picnic blankets and a gentle whiff of Dior parfum.

And, oh, the legs! They run like pigs from a gun!

The fascinating blend of Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Merlot, and Malbec is then intensely warm as it caresses the dorsum - it seduces you with a certain sweetness, before letting slip with a cheeky wink of tannin that tells you that you are in for one hell of a wild night.

Virgins! In bottles! Whatever will they think of next...

Rating: 8.5/10
Drink with: Roasted rabbits
Price: $60

Image from: http://www.virginhills.com.au

Teusner 2006 Avatar

I have just checked and apparently an Avatar is something that computer nerds use to disguise themselves on the internet. Presumably, they hide behind these fake identities while they download pornography or tell fibs about themselves on dating websites. It is a facade. A make believe. A pretence.

So, is this wine a fraud? Hell no! This stuff is Evander Holyfield. The real deal. Big and smooth, it is a Barossa GSM that gives the big boys a kick right to the testes.

Pour yourself a glass. It blushes with genuine, redcurrant goodness - the colour of Santa's sack on a cold winter's night.

Bury your nose in the glass. The fresh scent of Benson & Hedges tobacco excites the nostril and invites you to get on with the business of drinking it. The quintessential Barossa menagerie of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (Mourvedre) has always been one of my favourites and, in the hands of the Teusner boys, this year's Avatar is a truly beautiful collision of grapes. It is improving every year.

Big Barossa red can sometimes be like a bare-knuckle punch to the face. But the magic of a quality GSM like this is that the hard hitting tannins of the Shiraz are gently wrapped up in the silken softness of the Grenache, and then given additional layering by the complexity of the Mataro. The result is that this stuff is as suave as a silver-tongued cad on the Saturday night prowl.

So, while the name might be a contradiction - like hair on a Brazilian - the gear inside the bottle is the genuine article. No pretence. No nonsense. No nerds.

Drink it now or in five years' time - I guarantee it will always go down smooth.

Rating: 9/10
Drink with: A fancy barbeque
Price: $30

Battle of Bosworth 2008 War of the Rosé

Rosé, for the most part, is the purview of dandies and the ignorant. Usually, it is little more than the mongrel by-product you get from bleeding the vats in the creation of the "real" wine. Despite that, winemakers still manage to fob it off on the unwitting.

That said, if you are forced to buy a bottle (as a gift say, for a hypogeusic aunt who "just luuuurves it", or for your girlfriend who dunks ice-cubes in her wine), then you could definitely do worse than the 2008 Battle of Bosworth: War of the Rosé. It is, at the very least, a clever name.

But it is also one of the few that is made with the rosé being the ultimate goal, rather than simply a cast off, ginger-haired step-child after-thought. This then is a credible and well-mannered alternative that you can happily swig down in the summertime.

The McLaren Vale cabernet lends an almost masculine amount of fruit to the nose. And it has admirable acidity and dryness. You could certainly enjoy it with a couple of barbequed prawns on a sunny Sunday afternoon with friends. And at only $18 a bottle, you could probably even slip it in with the more expensive bottles on the collective table and no-one would mind too much.

Equally, the vineyard is certified organic - so your ice-cube toting girlfriend may enjoy it simply for the reason that she also conspicuously monitors her carbon footprint and pretends to be into hemp clothing, and the Prius.

Go on. You know you want to. Just pretend it’s for your girlfriend. I won’t tell anyone.

Rating: 7/10
Drink with: discretion...
Price: $18

Image from http://www.edgehill-vineyards.com.au/