Mount Mary 1997 “Quintet” (Yarra Valley) – Teeming-with-life earth, black cherry, cedar, and raw tobacco with a black pepper edge. More black fruit follows in dark waves, but then the wine transforms itself, turning crisper (specifically, more malic) along the way, until tannin clamps down hard on the finish. Starts brilliantly, finishes less so…perhaps just a stage. Or perhaps not. (3/05)
Rockford 1993 Shiraz (Barossa Valley) – The spiced vanilla of American oak (at least, I assume) with milk chocolate liqueur, blackberry, blueberry, and black pepper. Juicy, chewy, and longish, but a bit hot. Fatuous. Yet, somehow, I don’t mind it. I wouldn’t want to drink it in quantity, though. (3/05)
James Irvine 1994 “Grand” Merlot (Eden Valley) – Huge, structured, full-bodied, and yet balanced in a very New World, thermonuclear fruit device fashion. Blackberry, blueberry, and plums abound, but there’s also an appealing graphite texture and pretty fair acidity. The wine is just massive, which makes the fairly abrupt fade on the finish a little disappointing, if not entirely surprising. In its style, this is quite impressive. (3/05)
Castagna 2001 “Genesis” Syrah (Beechworth) – Fetid and sweaty Worcestershire soda, blended with herbs and earth. Long, spicy, and black-peppery, with layers of drying tannin. Weird enough that I can’t decide whether or not I like it…except, of course, for the fact that I appreciate its very weirdness. (3/05)
Tyrell’s 1992 Semillon “Vat 1” (Hunter Valley) – Lemon, apple, creamy tangerine. There’s a sweetish aspect, and some crystallization on the finish. Beeswax, as well? A little goofy, but decent enough. Perhaps it’s just not old enough? Too old? I can never tell with these wines (3/05)
Sandalford “Estate Reserve” 2003 Verdelho (Margaret River) – Fruit buds and crushed flower pollen with an anise-like herbality (fennel fronds, perhaps). Good acidity. There’s a nice, light, fresh quality to this wine, though it doesn’t lack flavor. (3/05)
We “brave” the evening’s newest and most aggressive downpour by taking a door-to-door taxi, joining the growing mini-throng in Pazzo’s back room.
Did I say “room?” No, not quite right. Shed? Tent? Lean-to? Look, I’m aware that wine folk can occasionally be rowdy, table-hogging miscreants, and on more than one occasion I’ve been in a restaurant that’s banished us to the hinterlands (I remember one, somewhere north of Boston, that set up our table in the storage room), but I’m not even sure that the area in which we’re dining counts as a structure. One thing’s for sure: it’s deafening, thanks to the rain that pounds on the corrugated metal roof (yes, really)…and later, a few soaked-through bags, boxes, and jackets indicate the formation of a brackish pond beneath our feet.
Birks “Wendouree” 1999 Shiraz/Malbec (Clare Valley) – Wine as amaro, and I mean that in an appreciative way. Quite tannic, with the signature eucalyptus note present only in a supporting role. Blackberries at the core, plus a dusting of Tellicherry pepper. Intense. Texturally, like drinking the finely-ground dregs of coffee. As a guess, this wine has decades of life yet to explore. What I love so much about these wines are their unrepentant individuality, even more so than their actual quality…which goes beyond iconoclasm to outright indifference to their reception. (4/09)
Tyrrell’s 1999 Shiraz “Reserve” (McLaren Vale) – Massively acidic. This is exacerbated by the relative daintiness of the fruit, which is tart, red-berried, and overtly crisp; much Beaujolais is actually fuller-bodied than this wine, though it somewhat makes up for its occasional foray into mincing with a sharp blast of intensity. There’s a cloud of pepper dust that lends it varietal character, but otherwise it’s hard to see this as a shiraz, nor has time led to the development of what I’d call tertiary character. Is it good? It’s…particular. It’s fun with food. It’s an enjoyable quaff. And maybe that’s enough. It’s best use might be to blind-taste your Australian wine-hating friends; they’ll never, ever guess. (4/09)
RL Buller & Son Tawny Port (Victoria) – Smells like butter, and not the freshest kind either. Sickly-sweet, with the emphasis on sickness; in fact, there’s a hint of…well, I don’t want to gross everyone out, so never mind. If you can avoid smelling the wine, the palate is actually quite fruit-forward and enjoyable, with more red stuff than one expects from a tawny, and certainly more acid than seems likely. But that smell never really goes away, unfortunately, even over several days. (3/09)