Wine, Whiskey & Song

AFR reviewer Tim White opining on all three topics on this blog, wine, whiskey and song.

Is flavour an intrinsic objective property, or a subjective experience that varies from person to person?

TN: 2007 Domaine Bruno Sorg Grand Cru ‘Pfersigberg’ Riesling

Alsace, France
13.5% alcohol

I’m not quite sure how I felt about this wine. On the one hand, it was a technically marvellous wine with endless amounts of purity and precision and much to admire. On the other, I struggled to drink it. I must say, this experience left me puzzled. 

When splashing out (this set me back $70), I’m inclined to chase wines that are going to simultaneously taste good, provoke some thoughtful inspection and from which I can learn a thing or two, and on these criteria the wine delivered in spades.

Pale straw with no colour development discernable. Wildly exotic bouquet of tropical fruit salad, botrytis, orange peel, maple syrup, Jersey caramels and a little contextual funkiness to bring a little James Brown to the party. I love aromatic varietals from Alsace, Germany and the like as I literally pick up something new each time I stick my nose in the glass.

The palate then presents another orgy of interest. It’s showing some early stage development. The acid is present but soft and pillowy, and each mouthful leaves you almost drooling. There’s a very strong impression of sweetness throughout, and I’m sure that there is some residual sugar in there, but then the finish was savoury - as in umami savoury. Fascinating. There’s also a slatey mineral note throughout, and ever-present lime which reminded me constantly of drinking a Caipiroska.. The intensity of this wine was just incredible.

But…I just didn’t really want to drink much of this. I’d rather have had a 60ml taster and obsessed over it, or had the bottle to share with more than one other. I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy it, but I just didn’t. I admired it, sure, but I found drinking it too much like hard work. Maybe that’s why I don’t like golf that much, either.

TN: 2007 Mount Langi Ghiran ‘Nut Tree Hill’ Sangiovese

Grampians, Vic
13.5% alcohol

I’ll keep this one quick, else I’ll be in trouble for foresaking a real social life for tending my blog. 

Picked this up when visiting the Mount Langi Ghiran cellar door in January this year. Geez I love their wines - anyone who had the pleasure of trying the 08 Cliff Edge Shiraz would testify to this. I recall loving this when I tried at the cellar door…

Perhaps, however, I needed to open it a day before drinking, or maybe it was my mood, or my meal, or the phase of the moon or it was a root day. I don’t know, but I didn’t enjoy this as much this time around. Strikingly tawny / purple to look at, it presented a reasonably monodimensional nose of ripe cherries (natch), milk chocolate and elderflowers. On drinking, it certainly presented varietally-correct amounts of brightness, juiciness and zippy acidity and some nice chewy tannins, but it struck me as all very primary and a little boring. Certainly a decent drink, and bounces around the mouth in a bumptious manner, but I’m looking for more earthiness and savouriness in my Sangiovese, and this wasn’t it.

I still love MLG though, and I reckon this wine will continue to develop through future vintages.

TN: 1995 Yarra Yering Sparkling Blanc de Noirs

Yarra Valley, Vic
Alcohol not noted
Crown seal

I geeked out a little when I heard that this was being brought to dinner by a friend, on the basis that I’d never heard of it before. Not the winery of course, which is a Yarra Valley stalwart, but on the basis that I never even knew that they produced a sparkling wine at all, let alone one with 13 years spent chilling out on lees before disgorgement. Even the grand marques of Champagne tend to pull their’s out at 7-10 years.

Apparently there’s only been a handful of sparklings ever released by YY and they’re made in tiny quantities from estate-grown Pinot Noir.

Into the glass and thankfully no cork issues - because it wasn’t under cork! Bold move putting a premium bubbly under crown seal, but no complaints from me. Fine bead but low intensity, which isn’t surprising for a 17 year old wine. Into the mouth and wow. Damn, you could write about this all day, let alone drink it. Yeasty, leesy, rich, full-bodied, steely, complex - on and on it goes. Good length, but perhaps lacking the delicacy of the Frenchies. Lovely lose dosage as well with lip-smacking dryness.

The nose took some time to unfurl, but it presented a fascinating and quite unusual bouquet of toastiness, Fino sherry-like aldehydic characters, a kind of lemony/briney flavour reminiscent of a green olive and some funky, meaty notes kicking around in the background.

At $80+ retail, you’d have to argue that this is for the wine geeks only. Given the slash and burn attitude to Champagne pricing over the past 12 months here in Australia, you can pick up some extremely smart imported bubbles at that price. But, it is a very solid older wine and hey, who doesn’t mind geeking out at wine every so often?

TN: 2003 Yering Station Shiraz / Viognier

Yarra Valley, Vic
15% alcohol

Enjoyed over the usual favourites at T-Chow, the haunt of choice for the Adelaide wine mafia on the basis that corkage ranges between imperceptible and not-a-lot. I swear that some of the best wines drunk in Adelaide on a Friday night are opened here.

Brilliant crimson with a gentle rim developing. First up on the nose it looked a little cooked and a little plummy, slightly whiffy volatile acidity but some nice aromatic lift from the Viognier. The overriding impression was that this needed some time in the air to open up.

The palate was much more enjoyable than the bouquet. Silky and soft, with some really lovely sweet red and black fruits, nice whack of soft tannin, acidity still present and in context. Discernably warm - it’s hard to hide 15% alcohol - with a bit of tamed feral-ness about it and plenty of typical Yarra Valley meatiness.

Overall, a decent drink but probably nearing it’s best before date, with the alcohol likely to overwhelm in the near future. 

TN: 2009 Main Ridge Estate Chardonnay

Mornington Peninsula, Vic
13% alcohol

Main Ridge Estate is one of those producers that one eventually finds out about when one is ‘in the know’ - like a freemason’s handshake, but without the need to lift the leg. I’m pretty sure that there’s no formal induction process going on, but it seems to be the case that someone else ‘in the know’ slips a word in your ear when they find you waxing lyrically about great Pinot or Chardonnay. “So you think XYZ chardonnay is good? Have you heard of Main Ridge Estate?” is how I received my introduction - initially I chalked this up to inane, half-drunken rambling, which to my great misfortune simply extended the period of my life in which I had never got to try Nat White’s otherworldy wines.

I won’t recount the full story of Main Ridge Estate, other than to say that Nat White was the first guy to plant vines on the Mornington Peninsula. The Victorian Department of Agriculture, presumably in an advanced act of denial of the creeping effects of human-induced climate change, thought this an act of folly, and suggested that Nat plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, helpfully suggesting that when the grapes don’t ripen then at least he will have the materials to construct a half-decent sparkling wine. These bureaucratic Cassandras also presumably failed to predict the rise, fall and resurrection of the Great Australian Chardonnay, of which the Peninsula is among the nation’s foremost producers these days.

I visited MRE in January this year and had the pleasure of finding the cellar door empty and Nat attending, meaning I had a chance to listen to the great man speak. (The great man, by the way, is one of the quietest, most unassuming, most pleasant people I’ve ever met in the wine biz.) To this day, the Whites are still growing the same three grapes on the same handful of acres and producing the same range of wines. They sell out each and every year, I’m led to believe because they turn out great wines EVERY year, even the bad ones.

Perhaps foolishly inspired by the return of MasterChef to our screens, I decided to lash out and try and cook something flamboyant - in this case a salt-crusted chicken with bread sauce and beurre noisette (which, by the way, I knocked into a cocked hat). A great dish like this demanded something special from the Harry Potter room, so out came the 09 MRE Chardonnay.

What a divine wine. Straw / gold with no real sign of colour development, which is to be expected given the screwcap closure. On the nose I registered sweet brioche or croissants, that lovely sweet cashew note that seems to me the hallmark of great Chardonnay, baked bananas, beeswax, a savoury lime character which I think might be kaffir lime (something I’ve smelled only once - must find it again), some faint honeyed notes and everything wrapped up in some seriously fine, lightly toasty French oak. 

On drinking, the toastiness gave way completely to the clean lines and superfine acidity that Mornington seems to excel at. But make no mistake, this is very much a Chardonnay that veers towards the styles of old, insofar as it is rich and mouthfilling, and seems to cuddle the tongue rather than sear past it. For the knobbers who take their cues from Burgundy, this is Montrachet, not Macon. My only criticism was the lingering impression of alcohol warmth, but I’m prepared to overlook that when one considers the style this is pitched at.

So there you have it - your introduction. Scouts honour, I’m not drunk when writing this, but it’s up to you whether you wish to chalk this post up to inane rambling.

TN: 2009 Kendall Jackson ‘Vintner’s Reserve’ Chardonnay


Picked this little gem up at a charity auction recently. It’s not too often we get to see Californian booze here in Australia, and given that Chardonnay is like a staple food at our house this was met with a little anticipation. 

For those of you who follow the breeder’s guides, Kendall Jackson is a behemoth of a company, which normally wouldn’t fill me with much of anything except scepticism, but these are the guys behind one of my favourite McLaren Vale producers, Yangarra Estate, and who have recently snapped up the prestigious Hickinbotham Vineyard at Blewett Springs. To my mind, KJ ought to have some form going into this round.

So here is my assessment:

Colour: deep gold

Nose: powerful, sweet oak and lots of it, very vanillin, candied orange obvious.

Palate: broad, rich - tastes like soy sauce. Bleh!

This was, quite simply, horrid. Undrinkably so. If there are any redeeming features to be found, it will be at the bottom of a frypan with some impending risotto or something. I’ve had a few nice Californian drops in my time, and this will not cloud my judgement of their wines in general, but deary me, Kendall Jackson has now dropped a good many points in my estimation. 

Avoid at all costs, and if you’re unlucky enough to have any sitting in your wine racks, please get in touch and I’ll forward you a nice risotto recipe.

Is your enjoyment of wine hedonic or eudaimonic? Maybe you don’t know (or care), but the first is more likely to give you a hangover than the second. I learned this from the British psychologist, Dr. Miles Thomas who has a special interest in wine. In fact, he is passionate about it, and this has led him to find way to link his work and his hobby. 

I put copious amounts of Florence + The Machine in my ears tonight. Amazing show.