Tyrrell’s 2010 Verdelho (Hunter Valley) – Juicy, green, balanced, fun. I don’t think it’s meant to be any more formal than that, so it doesn’t really need more verbiage. (9/11)
Tyrell’s 1999 Semillon “Vat 1” (Hunter Valley) – Sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder, waits for you to pay attention, then slips away, laughing at your sudden realization that you haven’t been paying enough mind, and now you’ve missed something important. It plays this teasing and eluding game over and over, never surrendering and just showing what it has. It’s not entirely divorced from the flavor profile of a delicate old white Burgundy, though with a little more grass and lemon, and quite satin-textured. The finest white pepper dust, maybe, later in the play. Those who think they can understand a wine’s adulthood and retirement from its birthing pains are, or at least should be, routinely mocked into abashed humility by the journey that this and other Hunter Valley semillons take. (11/10)
Brokenwood 2005 Semillon (Hunter Valley) – 10.5% alcohol. Grassy, a little sweaty, and strongly-flavored for all the wine’s lightness of body. (10/10)
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)
Margan 2003 Semillon (Hunter Valley) – Herbs and grass, with a semi-hollow middle but surprising length. Tingly, especially late. It seems insufficient, but I’ve learned the value of humility when it comes to assessing young Hunter semillon; I’m not aware of any other wine that blossoms out of its youthful ugly-ducklingness to such an extent. (3/05)
Brokenwood 2005 Semillon (Hunter Valley) – 10.5%! Less angry and resentful than most Hunter semillon, but I don’t think the ageability is hurt by it. There’s grass and skin here, with a June-sweat acridity and considerable palate presence, yet the finish is exquisitely balanced. It’s forward, as befits a New World wine, but check out that alcohol level. This doesn’t achieve the iconoclastic brilliance of the Tyrell’s “Vat 1,” but it’s very fine on its own merits. (9/08)
Wyndham Estate 2003 Shiraz “Black Cluster” (Hunter Valley) – This is the first release of a wine intended to be “iconic,” from older vines. There is no ’04, but there is an ’05 and there will be an ’07 (thought to be the best of the bunch thus far), while a decision on the ’06 had not yet been made at the time of this tasting. Here is a much more serious style of shiraz, though still commercially accessible, with deep fruit showing blackberry, blueberry, plum and apple-crisped acidity, dark earth redolent with black truffle, and a little meat and leather in the picture as well. Very solid and nicely done. (9/07)
Tyrrell’s 1994 Semillon “Vat 1” (Hunter Valley) – Salty, with mixed white and green melons, lime zest, and a sweet/saline backdrop hanging over a tannic and high-acid structure. The finish is nearly endless. Marvelous! Those who mistakenly think the entire vinous output of Australia runs from massive to gihuginormous should give this a try. It is – apologies to Jamie Goode – a world-class wine. (5/07)
Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Spice and pear skin, with a slightly disjointed mix of thick, molten-mineral texture and crisp, watery thinness. Not as good as a previous bottle. (8/06)
This underperformance vs. a previous note could be due to bottle variation (which, truth be told, is usually cork variation), but it’s more likely to be due to food variation. The previous bottle was paired with uniform, compatible food, while this one was opened as an apéritif and then forced to accommodate some unusual and variable foods. Remember that every tasting note is a snapshot of a time, place and environment, not an objective and immutable measure of quality. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web: http://www.kuentz-bas.fr/.
JP Brun “Terres Dorées” 2004 Beaujolais Blanc (Beaujolais) – Chardonnay in deep, rich tones, full of earth and brooding twilight duskiness. Balanced and very, very enticing. (8/06)
There’s so much indifferent chardonnay in the Mâcon (another appellation that chardonnay grown in Beaujolais is entitled to, and the one it usually adopts) that it’s almost remarkable what’s achieved here. Careful vineyard work is the principal reason. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Cluver 2005 Gewurztraminer (Elgin) – Some of the right varietal notes – peach, rose petal, some vague nods in the direction of spice – but half the orchestra’s missing, as this is thin and watery, with masking sugar and a completely void finish. (8/06)
Perhaps it’s gewurztraminer’s occasionally scary alcohol levels that wreak fear among winemakers, but the grape is one that requires a certain measure of courage. The wild, musky, powerful aromatics that are its signature must be given time to develop, and that requires hang time. And when the grape does not reach these benchmark characteristics, the temptation to mask faults with residual sugar must, at least in part, be resisted. Sweet bad wine is not inherently better than the dry version, no matter how much counter-evidence of popularity the U.S. beverage industry presents to the contrary. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Vinnovative. Web: https://www.cluver.com/.
Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Grapes grown in the desert, with beautiful mixed nut oils, dry (and dried) stone fruit and an evocative brick-red desert palette of spices. Beautifully long and balanced. Delicious wine. (8/06)
36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’m not often one who is impressed by tales of long post-opening maintenance (e.g. “this bottle was even better four days later,”) because oxidation is not the same as aging, and it says nothing about the wine other than how resistant to oxidation it is. However, for those who find comfort in such assessments, this was just as good two days later, recorked and unrefrigerated. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.
Margan 2006 Shiraz Rosé “Saignée” (Hunter Valley) – Watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Sticky, synthetic and absolutely vile. (8/06)
“Saignée” means that the vats were “bled”…juice from red grapes was removed from its skins, leaving it not with the deep red it will acquire from long soaking with the pigmented skins, but rather with (in this case; grapes and wines differ) a lurid pink. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Southern Starz. Web: http://www.margan.com.au/.
Sella & Mosca 2002 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva (Sardinia) – Pure island fun, showing walnuts, roasted pecans, bright strawberry bubblegum fruit (though not in a candied way), judicious oak spice, and a nice, crisp acidity supporting everything. (8/06)
This is grenache, showing a lot of the grape’s varietal characteristics (strawberry bubblegum), with some interesting Sardinian elements (the particular balance of the wine) and a little modernistic winemaking (oak, which is rarely my favorite companion to grenache, but which seems to do well here). Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.
Domaine de Cabasse 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret “Cuvée Garnacho” (Rhône) – Not quite dead, but knocking on the door. That was a very fast decline for this wine, and I wonder if there might not have been some sort of cork failure. In any case, this is all tannin and oxidized fruit on the nose. It’s heavy and still thick, and the palate has some slightly more pleasant grenache characteristics, but overall there’s just no pleasure here. (8/06)
Most (though not all) Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages wines are grenache-dominated blends, but occasionally wineries do all-grenache blends, and label them so. It would be logical to assume that the “Cuvée Garnacho” (a local dialect word for the grape) is one such wine, but it’s not; it’s simply a differentiator between this wine and the less traditional grenache/syrah blend from the same appellation, “Casa Bassa.” Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: World Shippers. Web: http://www.domaine-de-cabasse.fr/.