Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Castellari Bergaglio Gavi 'Fornaci' Cortese 2009 (Piedmont)

Sherried at the front, honey and lemon juice through the middle. Aromatics are quite subtle, lemon, pear and dry hay. Length is good, mostly about a salty, mineral character and the last bits of the mid palate. Like an aged cold and flu remedy, in a way. The kind of wine you like, but are not quite sure why.

Perhaps it is because I like the Cortese grape, something the Lost Valley winery in Victoria provided my introduction to.

This 2009 Gavi (a part of Piedmont close to Liguria) comes from the Castellari Bergaglio winery and the 'Fornaci' is a reference to a brick furnace that used to be found on their site. Tasted over three days, with and without food, and looked best on the second day.

Brought in by Trembath & Taylor.

Cork, purchase, $28-35 for the current vintage which is the 2012 pictured, 13% alcohol, website here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feudo Zirtari Inzolia Chardonnay 2011 (Sicily)

Lemon juice and curd, a bit of dry herb, a salty, briny lick of flavour, this attractively-priced Sicilian white blend of Inzolia and Chardonnay is a Costco offering. Not a wide, mouth-filling shape of Sicilian white, but there is solid flavour here, especially in the mid-palate. Length, not so much, but with a plate of sardines I think this might take some beating as a $10 white.

Gift, $10, screwcap, 13% alcohol.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2012 (Südtirol / Alto Adige)

Lots of flavour in this Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio, mostly in the pear (gris) spectrum. A little dried apple and the faintest trace of citrus, carried along by residual sugar to a finish that is astringent and slightly hot. Just under four grams per litre of residual sugar left in this, but it sticks out as much as the alcohol.

On the plus side, there is a screwcap and the price is reasonable if you are looking for a lighter style gris, or heavier style grigio, to pair with richer foods. Sound, but could have been picked a little earlier (or cropped a little lighter) and fermented out to dryness, for my palate.

Tasted with a simple, gentle Spring pasta dish of bucatini with broad beans, chilli, garlic, mint and fresh goats curd.

Imported by Negociants, purchase, screwcap, $20-$25, alcohol 13.5%, website here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2010 (Tuscany)

Brought in by Beaune & Beyond, this 2010 Chianti Classico from biodynamic Tuscan producer Querciabella needs some time to settle and mesh. Previous Querciabella Chianti releases have had a 5% boost from cabernet sauvignon, but this 2010 is all sangiovese. Oak use is a small amount new and the majority as one or two year old French barrels.

Gentle, subtle, even-tempered, this is a good example of mid-weight sangiovese suited to a wide range of foods. Lamb sausages went well; even better, a garlic and balsamic dressed green salad.

But there is something brittle about this wine, verging on unconvincing. On first tasting, it was all-akimbo, jangling mixes of fruit, acid and tannin, lacking harmony. It took time, and a spell for the decanter in the fridge, to tighten up and pull together. So if you have some of this, be careful about serving temperature, give it time in a decanter, or leave it alone for another year or so.

Worth a look closer to $30, questionable value at $45.

Purchase, cork, $38-$45, 13.5% alcohol, website here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Vecchie Terre di Montefili Chianti Classico 2009 (Tuscany)

The Vecchie Terre di Montefili site, between Panzano and Greve, is high (550m), rocky and low in soil fertility. Aside from the incongruity of those cypress (which reminds me a little of a Jeffrey Smart painting), you can see the stone and almost feel the sparseness of these soils, holding back the natural vigour of Sangiovese.

This 2009 Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese and is deep, dark and rich, especially to look at, where it is purple verging on black. Usually that would be a possible flag of blending, but this is all Sangiovese and all about the warm 2009 vintage. The rich, ripe fruit, full of black cherry and dark bramble berry, is reined in with varietal tannin washing over the mid-palate and carrying through the finish of the wine.

For my personal tastes, I would prefer a little less ripeness here, more brightness and red fruited character, but this is a balanced wine and would be a good match for richer Tuscan dishes like a peposo beef and pepper potter's stew. A good t-bone grilled over rosemary would suit this too.

Purchase, cork, $32-$40, 13.5% alcohol, website here.

Peter Zemmer Pinot Bianco 2012 (Alto Adige / Südtirol)

Here's a good example of a flavoursome white from the north of Italy that does not rely on fruit character. The Südtirol / Alto Adige producer Peter Zemmer makes a dozen different whites with an interesting split into two categories: wines with varietal character (like this wine) and wines with regional character. Smart and clear for the market, I suggest.

This Pinot Bianco from the 2012 vintage is ripe and long. Nothing along the line of the wine says any particular fruit character; lemon being as close as you might get. What you have here is some fresh acid and non-fruit flavour, particularly a mineral character that is almost salty (in a good way). Very easy to drink and fair value if you can get it under or about $30 a bottle. Good cork too.

Went very well with a spring risotto of peas, asparagus & french tarragon, made with an asparagus stock. Would suit schnitzel, I suspect.

Purchase, cork, 13.5%, $29-$37, website here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fattori Roncha 2011 (Veneto)

Continuing my run of northern Italian whites.

Fattori is a family-owned and run producer, operating since the 1970s out of the Veneto. Their white wines come from a mixture of varieties grown on the basalt slopes of the Alpone valley, including the hills of Roncà.

This 'Roncha' white blend starts with 50% Garganega, including 5% of partially-dried grapes. Pinot grigio (picked a little early) and Trebbiano di Soave are 20% each in the blend. The final 10% component comes from the late-ripening, high-acid Durella variety.

The fruit sees a mix of stainless steel and barrels, but the complexity, the sense of 'work' in the wine is quite subtle. The most distinctive feature here is a clean and clear hit of mandarin flavour and mandarin acid. Perhaps this is the Durella influence, but regardless, this is the most mandarin-y wine I can recall having. Tasty, bright and fresh, yet not lacking fruit weight, this was a good fit with a Cantonese meal and I think even better with dishes containing fresh or dried citrus.

$28-$35, cork, purchase, 13% alcohol, website here, imported by Deja Vu Wine Company.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Schiopetto Collio Friulano 2010 (Friuli)

Friuli has been in the news a bit of late, courtesy of Fulvio Bressan, and for attitudes about race rather than their wines. Producers from the region, such as Schiopetto, deserve a different kind of attention.

But 'region' is a bit of a strange notion in this north eastern corner of Italy. Friuli is bound up in a partnership, as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which in turn is a third of the Tre Venezie 'region', alongside Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol and the Veneto.

There are cultural threads linking these regions, including influences Slavic, Austro-Hungarian and Teutonic, which have had a bearing on the grapes grown and the wines made. Collio, where this Friulano wine from Schiopetto comes, is right up against the Italy-Slovenia border, in the foothills of the alps but with a maritime climate as well, being also close to the Adriatic. There are some red wines made in Collio, but white wines dominate, and white wines of richness, intensity and weight.

This wine is made from the Friulano grape and carries off its ripeness and driving weight well, but blends are common here too. Friulano, chardonnay, malvasia, ribolla gialla, pinot grigio, pinot bianco, sauvignon blanc - it is a rich palette for single variety or blended white wine making.

As complex and balanced as the blends can be, this was attractive drinking as a single-variety bottling, giving pear juice, lemons and an astringent lift on the finish. The 13% alcohol tucked itself in well on the first night, but started to show a little on a second day open as the fruit backed away. Made in stainless steel, the weight and power is pretty much all fruit here. The juice does see a little air early in the winemaking, which shows in the richer-yellow colour of the wine, but fruit wins out over winemaking.

A stirfry of asparagus and mushrooms, steak rested in good soy sauce, and fried rice made with pickled radish & sour-pickled mustard greens was a fair challenge for a wine, but this Friulano was up for it, being the pick of the table over a good 2011 Hunter shiraz. I have another bottle of this, which I reckon might be headed for a crumbed veal cutlet.

Well worth a look if you are interested in rich & full whites that are not reliant on oak input.

Purchase, $45, cork, 13% alcohol, website here, importer Deja vu Wine Company.

Primo Estate Joseph 'Moda Amarone' Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1997

The twelfth Moda 'amarone' made by Primo Estate, this is 90% cabernet sauvignon from McLaren Vale and 10% merlot from both the Vale and Coonawarra. This bottle (apalling, powdered cork, but sound) shows more of cabernet than of the grape-drying amarone processes, but in a good way. Gentle black cherry, a little dusty, olive character, and an attractive bitter chocolate edge on the resolved tannins.

It may be a bit of cork influence showing, as well as bottle age, but there is a lightness to the cabernet fruit here that lets the acid shine and the wine offer some real delicacy and refreshment. At the end of its drinking life, this bottle, but a better cork may have more years yet to offer this vintage of the Moda.

An auction buy at around $45.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rocca de Montegrossi 2011 Chianti Classico (Tuscany)

Big, rich, wild & juicy, this is still characterised by the sour cherry, acid cut and drying tannin of Sangiovese. There is 5% Colorino to lift the colour and weight of fruit. The mulberry and wild bramble characters seem those of the 5% Canaiolo, unless a bit of something merlot-like slid into the vat. The tannin and acid say Tuscany, but the fruit looks more Australian - a good mix. Drink this young, while the fruit has sway.

Tasted over two nights: first with smoked lamb & cous cous; second with penne, bacon & mushrooms. The fruit more expansive, the tannins more assertive the second night, but both times good drinking.

Cork, 13.5% alcohol, brought in by Trembath & Taylor, $36, purchase, website here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pieropan La Rocca Soave 2011 (Veneto)

Earlier this week, I made it along to a tasting of a dozen Mencia wines from Spain. I have a lot of time for the Mencia grape and was keen to see wines from Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and parts nearby in a group. The first thing to say is the wines were tasted without food and the second that quite a few of the wines were talked down by tasters for being 'short' and having 'short fruit'. I was puzzled for a while at hearing this about wines where I thought there was some length. It took me a while to realise I was content to see tannin, acid and non-fruit flavours carrying the wine out, with the fruit bunching up in the front and middle of the wine. But for other tasters, this was not length. Length was fruit, fruit the way along. So only a small number of the Mencia wines appealed to them, those with length of fruit.

So why a note on a Soave starting off in the north of Spain?

This Soave Classico from Pieropan is a good showing of what the Garganega grape can do. It is a single vineyard bottling, from a vineyard on the side of the Monte Rocchetta hill. Pieropan are old hands and sure; first making a Soave under this label in 1978.

A combination of sweet, floral and gently nutty smells here that I think of as like good nougat. Tasting the wine, there is an overt pear character, a bit of apple tucked away underneath and some bright lemony acid stitching things together. The fruit is generous, nothing stinting, but leaves room enough for a finish that is all about mineral, acid and some subtle grip. A classic example of a wine with a lot of length that uses more than fruit to get there. Judging this for length of fruit alone would miss the point. Much as with some of those Mencia wines, for my tastes.

Going strong on a second night open, this could be enjoyed by itself or with a fish or chicken dish using some grain and lemon. Fish tagine with pickled lemon and cous cous, maybe. I had it out at Pulp Kitchen with an excellent chicken liver dish, so lighter terrines and pates would be good too. A fine reminder for me of how much interest and versatility there can be in the best of Soave.

Cork, $37, purchase, brought in by Trembath & Taylor, 13% alcohol, website here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Biondi-Santi Rosso di Montalcino 2009 (Tuscany)

Biondi-Santi's Rosso di Montalcino is intended for earlier drinking than their long-lived Brunello. The 2009 Rosso is a softly-spoken kind of wine. Quietly assured, no clamour for attention, no tickets on itself, but lacking nothing.

It shows how sangiovese need not rely on fruit for appeal. There is only a faint hint of cherry here, with the wine relying on a savoury balance of tannin and acid. There is perfume, softly so, and gently persistent length. Ample room for food alongside a glass of this and fair value for the pleasure it offered.

Cork, $80-$90, 13.5% alcohol, Mondo Imports.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Morrisons of Glenrowan Fiano Garganega 2013 (Glenrowan & King Valley)

Earlier this year I spent a bit of time tooling around Glenrowan, checking in to the old vine Trebbiano at Booths Taminick and a quick look at the Bailey's vintage port. Whereas I went to Baileys expecting to buy and left empty handed and disappointed, the punt taken on a first visit to Morrisons came off.

While I often think of Beechworth as the 'higher country' for Rutherglen and Glenrowan, the latter has its own slopes over and up to Mt Glenrowan and the Warby Range. The Morrison's site feels different to other Glenrowan vineyards. It looks like ideas tipped out at random across a hillside. A plot of vines here, a bit of green building over there, a winding track designed to disorient and lift SUV driving blood pressures. You half expect a grove of miniature, chainsaw-carved Ned Kellys or a nudist colony, or some full-beard mix of both.

Bob and Dianne Morrison run the place, but there are vines over in the King Valley as well as the art-farm-colony on the hill at Glenrowan. The ideas carry inside their sheds and cellar door, or maybe spilled out from there in the first place. Bob's a gregarious guy - a distracted air about him, a sense it's the women that yoke the ideas to the ground.

The more you talk with the Morrisons, the more you get a sense the whole thing is a blend of the deliberate and the accidental, a pinball rythym of ideas across time and site. Lets try a distinctly lighter style of Durif from a NSW-developed, lower alcohol durif clone, but grow it at Glenrowan? Sounds good. Cock a snoot at that Rutherglen durif. Why not a bit of Glenrowan tempranillo as well?

And then something wilder still. Why not a blend of Fiano and Garganega? But let's turn Soave & Campania inside out and around. Why not ripen the Garganega to a rich texture of pear-juice and apple-candy, but do the Fiano light, bright and lean, then put them together? They won't see that one coming. It'll be a bit Barbie, a bit Bride of Frankenstein, all off to a school dance, corset holding in the pieces.

I didn't see it coming. But I liked it. And did I mention Bob is keen on the Zork closure, so there is no screwcap or cork? A bottle drunk at home in Canberra perked up early and held its own with chicken & pasta. Towards the end of the bottle the air started to show in cut-apple-brown, but in a group on a warm day at lunch, I'd wager this wouldn't last long enough.

I still don't think I completely understand what's going on at that Glenrowan hill, but the distinctive, scatty vision, stitching ideas and places together, experiment piled on... there is a freedom there, a sense of plowing your own road. Worth some attention and regard, for mine.

Website, $18, 12% alcohol, Zork.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Corte Sant'Alda "Ca' Fiui" Valpolicella 2008 (Veneto)

More Valpolicella.

Peppery spice, sap and stalk to smell. Fruit to the rear, but it is there, as are tannin and acid, tucked down under. If Valpolicella had a cool climate shiraz love child, this would be what it is like.

Which is not bad. Especially with braised lentils and cotechino sausage. No mustard fruits to hand, but a bright tomato pickle worked well in Cremona's stead. A touch of some dull, woody note, which could be oak or the mildest of cork taints. The final impression is somewhat underdone, the 12.5% alcohol shows as gaps in the weight and carry of fruit. A week more of good weather (or a different picking choice and winemaking style preference) would have made a more convincing wine.

Cork, 12.5% alcohol, $40, Mondo Imports.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alpha Box & Dice 'Blood of Jupiter' 2008 Sangiovese Cabernet (McLaren Vale)

Higher alcohol does not preclude balance in sangiovese, but can make it hard to present a wine that tastes varietal. Which can be no big deal, if what you are aiming for is something other than varietal expression.

The 2008 blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon from Alpha Box & Dice rolls in at 15.4% alcohol. Whether dictated by the hot vintage McLaren Vale experienced in 2008 or a set of conscious choices I do not know, but the ripeness level is all here. The dominant impression is cherry cough syrup (Brondecon, to be precise), which kicks up into a spirited lift of cherry brandy at the end. Dark fruits all the way along.

Tasted blind, this seemed like a durif, with zinfandel as a second choice. Acid, tannin, structure and shape - none of these are what the wine is about. What you do get is a big pulse of soft, warm flavour. Would work for some, but I am not one.

Cork, gift, 15.4% alcohol, $30-35.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Quintarelli Bianco Secco 2010 (Veneto)

Continuing my recent run of wines from the Veneto.

The 2010 dry white from Quintarelli ended up on the same French bistro table (Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie) as the Tommasi Ripasso. With a plate of chicken terrine, chervil and a lemon relish, this was an outstanding bit of drinking and eating. Fresh bread and mushroom butter suited it well too.

Texture is the key here. 'Serious' Italian dry whites can be a minefield of overworked and underfruited, with the occasional cork claymore added in. This strikes that mesmerising balance of bright acid and waxy texture that the best garganega and trebbiano based wines can achieve, even before they age. Length and more length.

Quintarelli's blend of garganega, trebbiano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and soarin is not a wine where you think fruit, as in 'lemon, pear, apple'. While there is some fresh lemon and a touch of lemon butter to smell and taste, what gets you is an insistence of even flavour, a sense of thoughtful purpose behind the winemaking, and a quiet voice saying 'now this is wine'.

Cork, $60, purchase, 12.5% alcohol.

Tommasi Ripasso Valpolicella 2010 (Verona)

Australia's best known imported Ripasso would be Masi's 'Campofiorin'. Reasonably priced and fairly consistent in quality and style, Masi's offering is a good option to go to on Australian wine lists.

This 2010 Ripasso is from a family owned and run estate in Verona and makes a strong case to be as well-stocked and appreciated as Masi's pioneering ripasso. Viticulturists since 1902, the Tommasi family has over 135 hectares planted to grapes, 95 hectares of this in Valpolicella Classico.

Blending Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone grapes (Corvina being the major component of the blend), this wine hums along with a depth of purple, slightly cherried, fruit, gentle but bittersweet tannins, good length and a moreish character aligned with its reasonable (13% alcohol). Large Slavonian oak only. So drinkable. Not too much of anything, leaving plenty of room for food, but not lacking flavour or interest. Even-handed wine, and very easy to recommend.

Website here, $30, purchase from Boccaccio Cellars, cork, 13% alcohol.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Speri Ripasso 2010 (Verona)

A friend is sitting his Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) exam tomorrow in Sydney. Some last minute practice of WSET style 'structured tasting' across four lots of wine might have helped or hindered.  The tasting was 'double-blind' so no idea of what wines were in the overall set, let alone a particular bracket.

It was an interesting tasting, even if disconcerting. A bracket of four Spanish and Portuguese reds looked more Italian than Iberian. Then a bracket that turned out to be all Italian had the group thinking Spain and France. A delicate-fruit, jagged tannin Nebbiolo d'Alba looked like a Village red Burgundy or further down that tree, the tannins worked too hard for the fruit. A Brunello (2005 Banfi) looked Medoc-like in leafy flavour, oak and tannin (looked more sangiovese the more air it got). The fourth wine in the bracket, a Dolcetto d'Alba made with carbonic maceration technique, reminded us of carbonic maceration wines made from Monastrell in Spain or a good Beaujolais, more than Piedmont.

This Valpolicella Ripasso wine from Speri was a standout in the sneaky-Italians bracket. I thought of Spain first and foremost, due to the weight of dry extract the wine carries, which reminded me of Ribera or Priorat, and skin tannin like that of top-notch tempranillo. That inky, tarry extract flavour combines with deep, even fruit in the Speri wine, before the bittersweet and fine tannins finish it all off. Such good fruit in this, yet with a great sense of shape about it. Sure-footed wine.

Open three days now and still fine drinking. It gets a 15 day referment of the Valpolicella on the Amarone marc, before 12 months in oak. There is no sense of oak intrusion in this at all.

You should be able to find this at about $40, a bit less if keen. Sealed with a cork and 13.5% alcohol. A reminder of how good ripasso styles can be - combining some of the fresh fruit of Valpolicella with the depth & tannic interest of Amarone. Has gone well with lasagne but also by itself, sipped, with a book or film in front of the fire.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bersano 'Nirvasco' Barolo 2007 (Piedmont)

Barolo at $40? A price where you might feel lucky to find a good Langhe nebbiolo, but foreign country for Barolo or Barbaresco. It is a combination of canny buying and the exchange rate that makes this possible, and the wine is worth seeking out.

Ripe nebbiolo fruits tuck in behind typical, but not overwhelming, tannins. There is a drying aspect to the finish, but pleasantly so, especially with richer foods. A roast lamb rack, potatoes with rosemary roasted in lard, garlic zucchini - that worked well with the deft combination of juicy and chewy characteristics of the wine. Nebbiolo and lamb fat. Tasty.

Cork, 14.5% alcohol, $40, purchase.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2006 (Tuscany)

A good chianti vintage and one of my favourite producers.

Red fruits, in the main. Not especially cherried, with some of the fruit-directness of youth melting back into beautiful, resolving tannins. At that lovely point of Chianti Classico aging where it is at its best with food, but a last glass, sipped after dinner, also works well.

This could be left until 2016 if you want it mature, but was so good with saltimbocca, garlic zucchini, potatoes roasted in lard & rosemary that my bottles might not make it. Handled the nutty sweetness of the sauce and the salty punch of the prosciutto so well. Pretty much spot on what I want in Chianti Classico.

Cork. Purchase. $36. 13.5% alcohol.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Foster e Rocco Sangiovese 2010 (Heathcote)

A wine recommended to me at the Heathcote Cellar & Store - surely one of the best venues showcasing regional wines in the country and a good reason to visit Heathcote.

This is the oaked sangiovese from Foster e Rocco, complementing the 'Nuovo' version and released later. Heathcote grapes and from a year at the end of a rough trot of hot vintages. There is some tasty cherried & raspberried fruit here, mostly fresh, a touch jammy. But the tannins show struggle: big, blocky, rasping across your mouth; and out of whack with the fruit. An example of sangiovese shading out of the pleasantly drying tannin spectrum and into harsh dessication. Time may be kind, but my suspicion is this will never come round.

Screwcap, purchase, $20-$25, 13.5% alcohol, website here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sort of Sicilian

Reading Giorgio Locatelli's book Made in Sicily this morning got me thinking about Sicilian flavours. This recipe is not his, or traditional Sicilian, but works with Sicilian reds or grenache. Try using a pasta like strozzapretti or casarecce with this sauce, or bigoli if you want something longer.

Get a pot on for the pasta. Soak some sultanas in a cup with half hot water and half marsala. Heat a frypan and then take a handful of pine nuts to light gold, before tipping them out to cool. Then gentle heat into the frypan and start melting butter (about 45g per serve). Toss anchovy fillets, sage leaves, garlic & a fresh red chilli (chopped) into the butter. Cook slowly while the pasta water is coming up and then the cup or so of strozzapretti (per serve) or similar is cooking. Gentle heat will break down the anchovy, cook out the sage and colour the milk solids, without getting too much bitter and colour with the garlic.

When the pasta is just short of cooked, add the soaked sultanas to the frypan and mix some pasta water into the soaking cup. Use this to thin the sauce out, shaking the pan to emulsify. Don't worry you are losing the crispness on the sage. All part of the plan. Drain the pasta and tip into the pan with the sauce. Add more of the pasta water/soaking liquid mixture if it needs it. Cook out for a minute or two to let the pasta take the sauce. Add the pine nuts and a little black pepper. The sauce should be salty from the anchovies, savoury from the herbs and garlic and a little sweet from the sultanas and marsala, with the nut brown butter pulling it together.

Serve with a good Sicilian red wine, or some McLaren Vale grenache. No cheese. Maybe a little breadcrumbs if you use bigoli. Resist the temptation to use lemon juice in the sauce - you want the wine to bring the acid to the table.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Di Lusso Nebbiolo 2004 (Mudgee)

Mudgee might be the Neanderthal Man for Italian grape varieties in Australia, but has not yet had its William Golding to write a nuanced history, Inheritors-style. As was the case in Jane Faulkner's recent article in the Wine Companion magazine on Australian sangiovese, there is often a token paragraph acknowledging Carlo Corino and Mudgee being a starting point for Italian varieties in Australia (he arrived at Montrose in 1976, and by 1982 had three hectares of sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera). But that token paragraph usually ends with some kind of statement that Mudgee has been an evolutionary blind alley - with no line drawn through to the experiences at Coriole, Pizzini, Castagna and others.

This blind alley idea is easy to repeat and hard for Mudgee to shake off. While Montrose continues, now under Bob Oatley's ownership, and makes Italian variety reds including sangiovese and barbera, it is perhaps di Lusso that flies the most Italian flags over Mudgee's brown soils. Di Lusso first picked fruit from their plantings of barbera and nebbiolo in 2002, with sangiovese and picolit first picked the following year. The range now also includes greco di tufo, vermentino, arneis, lagrein and aleatico. Unlike Pizzini, di Lusso have taken the decision to focus entirely on Italian grape varieties and blends.

This 2004 nebbiolo from di Lusso shows both promise and the hazards of young vines. There is nebbiolo flavour and tannin here, plumped up in colour and primary fruit by blending in some barbera. But those nebbiolo flavours look extracted and somewhat awkward, with dried orange peel sitting over something tasting like cherry cola. Varietal if you go looking, but not necessarily a wine I would pick blind as nebbiolo.

Perhaps time to go back to Mudgee for another look?

Cork. Cellar door purchase. Current release price (2011 vintage) $28. 13.6% alcohol. Website here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Primo Estate Joseph Moda Amarone 1993 (McLaren Vale & Coonawarra)

The two most important Australian 'Italianate' wines? For me, it is the Coriole sangiovese and Primo Estate's Moda 'amarone'. Both have a track record of success over decades, including refinements of source vineyards, techniques and styles.

The 1993 Moda is a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% merlot. The cabernet was sourced from both McLaren Vale and Coonawarra, with the merlot from McLaren Vale. The 1993 was also the second Moda made by Joseph Grilli.

It may be an early example, but this bottle showed that key elements of the Moda 'amarone' style were in place from the beginning. There is a lot of development here, secondary and tertiary characters having overtaken primary fruit, but the structure of amarone-styled wines is there, as is the bittersweet flavour of the dried-grape tannins. Leather shows clearly, up against bitter chocolate and a faded note of berry compote. Perhaps a year or two into its dotage, but a good bit of Australian wine history in this bottle.

Cork. Auction. $45. 14% alcohol. Website here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

La Magia 1992 Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany)

Rosso di Montalcino as a 21 year old? These wines are often intended to be had while waiting for Brunello to mature. Good makers can turn out fine wines as Rosso di Montalcino, but even then they are not always intended to age. It can also be where declassified Brunello ends up, for good or ill.

La Magia is not an especially storied producer. The Schulz family, from Alto Adige, bought land for their fattoria in Montalcino in 1979 and are now on to their second generation of Montalcino growers, producing wines, grappa and olive oil. The La Magia vineyard is south of the centre of Montalcino, near the Sant'Antimo abbey. South of Montalcino can mean lower, hotter, earlier with sangiovese (not to mention the international varieties appearing in Sant'Antimo from the 1996 revision of the DOC rules). But that is not what shows here.

Sangiovese stars in this wine, in its aged form of leather and preserved meats. Cherried primary fruit is well and truly gone, but sour cherry acid and ripe, gripping, sangiovese tannins remain. So much to smell here, aged fruit and something verging on cola. Savoury the whole way along, but flecked with gentle spice. Fine drinking tonight with steak cut tagliata style. An eye-opener for me, in how modest Rosso di Montalcino can age.

Cork. Auction. $30 plus premium and shipping. 13% alcohol. Website here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Anti Anti Anti (alcohol)

Over the last three years, I have kept a bit of an eye on some of the Australian 'debates' about alcohol, harm and responsibility. A piece in Crikey by Bernard Keane last week seemed to spell out some of the strangeness - the sense of talking past each other - in what I have been reading and listening to.

There is a lot to like in the Keane piece. It plays out in fact-check mode. Asks for the numbers, for the evidence, then asks questions of the facts and the claims built on (or somewhat near) those facts. The summary line is that statements made by the 'wowser lobby' about the dangers of rising alcohol use in Australia do not match reality.

Keane uses FARE (the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) and the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol as sources and targets for his critique. A key point, made around a discussion of the National Health and Medical Research Council's changes to recommended daily alcohol intakes for men and women, is that part of the basis for these limits (two drinks a day for men and women) is in the statistical mindset of epidemiology and population health. Changes to lifetime risk of death or injury, in creeping increments of a 1.7% or 1% chance of death... that is the language, the thinking, Keane critiques.

As he points out, not drinking at all may be little to no marginal benefit compared to moderate drinking. And how risk-free a life do people wish to lead is a valid question to ask. I like butter more than statistics, and I really like statistics.

Keane goes on to ask questions of claims made that both alcohol consumption and alcohol harm are growing in Australia. There is data to support alternate claims, about declines in Australian daily average consumption of alcohol, for example. But Keane's dismissal of economic harm arguments seems to slump back into a lazier kind of argument (blame the models, there cannot be more harm if there is not more drinking).

The key point for me is that the desire, in pieces like Keane's, is more to dismiss than engage the arguments and different positions of others in a debate. They are 'wowsers'. They have a goal to tax alcohol back to economic prohibition. They started with tobacco and are coming for alcohol next, hunting down pleasures one plain-packaged suffocation at a time.

But this is caricature more than debate. You can be concerned about alcohol in Australian society and still like a drink. You do not need to be a wowser to point to real harms, such as cheap alcohol in remote Indigenous communities, or children growing up with an alcoholic parent. You can advocate reform of alcohol taxation (such as whether to tax by value or amount of alcohol) without wanting to tax booze back to a home-brewed, bathtub underground. You certainly do not need to accept (even if only by accepting a framing of the argument) an equivalence of tobacco and alcohol.

Arguing within a frame (set by others) of alcohol as akin to tobacco is a mistake. But an even bigger mistake, for me, is accepting the other frame of only debating how harmful is alcohol, how negative for lifetime risk of death, injury or violence. 'My negative is smaller than your negative' should be left for high-school debating.

Alcohol has benefits for societies and cultures, as well as costs and harms. Both. Always already, as soon as ferment, as soon as bottling - the promise is there of fun, of conversation, of 'human capital' even - but the other side of the promise also. A more sophisticated 'debate' about alcohol would face up to pleasure as frankly as to addiction. Responsible dinner drinking as well as port flagons in a remote camp, or being too drunk to drive a sick child to a hospital emergency ward.

If people want to argue back at new possible controls on alcohol, then limiting the frame to the negative, the debate to degrees of harm, denies the convivial pleasures of fermentation - the very thing that needs defence.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

S.C. Pannell Pronto Bianco 2012 (Adelaide Hills)

I have a fair bit of time for the Adelaide Hills as a region for Italian grape varieties. Reminds me of Canberra in some ways - the spread of the district, the diversity of sites and their particular climates.

This wine is a co-fermented blend of pinot grigio, riesling and sauvignon blanc juices. The marketing is a bet each way. The website talks the Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige regional talk of blocking varietal expression and going for neutrality of flavour, but interest in acid, texture and refreshment. The label walks the Dan Murphy's shelf talker line, speaking directly about reassuring fruit flavours of pear, lime and passionfruit.

This is a decent drink. Fruit first, texture later. Label over website. But the difference between the two versions of this wine points to where it does not really work for me. The riesling starts the wine out bright and crisp, the sauvignon blanc tries to bring it together, but the core of it is a muddle of passing-off. It tastes good, but like confusion at the same time.

The heart of it is that this is pinot gris, not grigio. There is a generous, creamy hit of ripe, sweet, pear flavour that swamps the mid palate. A 'smooth' texture in the midst of clear and sharp. Strangely, I'm reminded of a bowl of rhubarb and custard.

Could work well with something sweet and sour - perhaps caponata and good bread.

Screwcap, gift, 13% alcohol, $22 from the website here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso 2011 (Sicily)

A night out at Italian & Sons. A call for a red, something light, to go with the food. A section of the list as 'Pinot Nero & Others'. A blend from 2011 of Nero d'Avola and Frappato. Sicily. Occhipinti rings a bell. An asterisk to a footnote of organic, biodynamic or natural wine. Let's go then.

Beef carpaccio, garnished with fried capers. A beautiful dish, both with a 'wrong' negroni and then the first of the Occhipinti. Then a wet braise of lamb in the wood-fired oven, with peas, potato and globe artichoke. Pizza funghi on the table too. The wine so brightly red-fruited, so clean and clear. Raspberry and red currant from the nero. Sour strawberry from the frappato. So well stitched together. You don't even think about tannin, or analysis. You do think about a second bottle.

Hook in.

Cork. Purchase. Retails about $40 a bottle, more on a list. Brought in by Addley Clark. Occhipinti website here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ochota Barrels Surfer Rosa Sangiovese Grenache 2012

The 2011 vintage release of sangiovese from Ochota Barrels was outstanding. Lithe, nervy acidy, persistent flavour, sinewy tannins - a whole new face for South Australian sangiovese. The 2012 is sangiovese with makeup on. It really, really, wants to go to a party and have people say nice things about how it looks.

Taras Ochota has made wine from Puglia and  Sicily and there is perhaps a hint of Sardinian Cannonau going on here (though Sicily also grows grenache). The Adelaide Hills are the source of the sangiovese fruit in both the 2011 and 2012 releases. It is good fruit. The big difference here is the presence of grenache from the Onkaparinga Hills. The 2012 is still a red-fruited wine, about cherries and raspberries. The grenache adds a candied cherry and sweet-fruited raspberry to the crisp line of the sangiovese, as well as backing off the tannins and acid. Low in alcohol (12.2%) but ripe, nothing green, this is fruit-forward, acid second, tannins in the rear.

The result is more crowd-pleasing, easier to drink, than the challenging 2011. But take it to a party. Leave the 2011 for serious romance & a picnic rug.

Screwcap, gift, about $25, 12.2% alcohol, website here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Montevecchio Rosso 2011 (Heathcote)

Montevecchio is a new brand from the Chalmers family - one of the driving forces behind alternative varieties in Australia, both with their Chalmers Wines brand, their previous vineyard and nursery, and their support for the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

The Chalmers sold their original vineyard (from where I bought sagrantino fruit in 2007) to Macquarie. While much of the nursery stocks of rare clones, including the MAT clones imported from Italy, has since been bulldozed, the family also set up a Heathcote vineyard with a mixture of Italian and other varieties.

My first impression of the title 'Montevecchio' had me wondering if there was a chance of this being an exercise in passing off Australian fruit, winemaking and wines as if it were an Italian brand. But given the age of the Heathcote soils, the Mount Carmel range, and the clear badging of 'Heathcote, Victoria' on the front labels of the red and white blends and the moscato, I think this passes well.

The 2011 Rosso is described as a 'co-fermented field blend of hand-picked shiraz, lagrein, nero d'Avola and sagrantino'. The description has me wondering how many purchasers and drinkers would understand what 'field blend' might mean (not to mention co-fermentation)? Were the grapes picked at the same time and co-fermented as a single batch? Picked from one, mixed-block, or several mono-varietal plantings? Lots of room to move under that 'field blend' label, really.

Anyway, this is a wine of the cool, wet vintage rather than of the varieties involved. There is a bright, clean flow of light, crisp fruit all through the palate here. A pleasant, sour-fizz confectionery note is the main appeal. This is jug wine, in a good way, and has me thinking tapas as much as antipasti.

Purchase, $20, screwcap, 12.5% alcohol, website here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pizzini Nebbiolo 2001 (King Valley)

One of the reasons for this blog is to taste and write about aged examples of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. This early example of a Pizzini nebbiolo has come to a point of gentle, assured, aged-wine drinking. Nothing showy - good, light nebbiolo fragrances of roses steeped in tea, dried orange peel, the lightest touch of leather - and a fine balance of acid and tannin. Some refreshment here too, and a polite foil for braised beef & polenta or cous cous.

So add another tick of evidence in the column for the age-worthiness of Australian nebbiolo. Drink over the next year or two if you still have some.

Cork, purchase, $45, 13.8% alcohol.

Post script: An intriguing claim sits on the front label of this wine - 'Nebbiolo's aristocratic personality has asserted its supremacy over other wines'. Some irony in the bombast of that claim being in direct contrast to the gentle, understated, assured character of this as an aged wine... Nebbiolo not as a domineering lecture, but a good conversation.