It’s more than 35 years since Peter Wall convinced his employers at Yalumba that Viognier, rather than Chardonnay, should be their next fashionable white variety. Bacchus only knows what would happen if they were to have opportunity to make that decision afresh, now: While Yalumba persists with nine or 10 bottled versions of it, most of Australia’s Viognier, in recent years, has been hidden in Shiraz. To mention this on the lable usually means certain death on the retail shelves: most Viognier drinkers don’t even know they had any.
So I can forgive Anna and Derek Hooper, pioneers of winemaking at Cape Jaffa, for avoiding use of the V word on their new Cape Jaffa CJ Riptide Limestone Coast Red Blend 2014 ($29; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). This red was made by fermenting very ripe Viognier juice on Shiraz skins.
While it has some of the stone fruit – peach and apricot – usually expected of Viognier, I doubt that many would identify it here, even if served in a black glass. The wine smells unquestionably, overtly red. It’s very heady, opulent and fleshy, and makes me think of very ripe Black Russian tomatoes and ripe beetroot juice, as you find in borscht. Fruits? Think mulberry and quince, poached together in pomegranate juice and Sauternes.
The wine is uncommonly fleshy of texture, with very little tannin, indicating the Viognier must have been very ripe indeed: I think the grape’s best attribute is the overt tannin it shows when picked at a more modest sugar level, like enough to give 13% alcohol, not 14.5%, and I suspect this wine is a few notches stronger than even that claimed number.
So. Whatter we got? We got a kind of dry red Sauternes, lush and heady and plush, ready for lush, heady, plush party guzzlers and runny cheese fanatics who don’t like the dryness of tannin. That borscht hasn’t got a swirl of yoghurt: that’s a dollop of real rich cream there baby. While I’ve never seen another drink quite like it, I’m sure there are those among us who will really love this for its pulchritude. And I mean pulchritude in the Hugh Hefner sense. I reckon I could sense a staple in the poor dear’s navel.
Heading inland and south-east from Cape Jaffa, past Big Heath, Bool Lagoon and the Comaum Forest you’ll get to Wrattonbully, almost at the Victorian border. Here you’ll find fleshy pulchritude without so much California banality and no staple. It’s called Ruckus Estate Single Vineyard Wrattonbully Merité Merlot 2013 ($50; 13.5% alcohol; cork), and it’s unlike any other Australian Merlot I know.
Colleen Miller and her partner Mike wisely chose a slope where the dirt’s a Merlot-friendly mix of ferruginous loam with clay and limestone and set about planting four clones. With winemaker Sue Bell, they chose two clones for this assemblage, which got the business: new and old oak, wild yeast, open ferment, some whole bunches …
It worked. This wine is staggering in its smooth intensity, royal opulence and harmonious complexity. It immediately joins Blue Poles and the odd Oakridge and rare Highbank at the leading edge of this misunderstood variety Down Under, and I’m certain it would knock deep silence into some very famous château owners in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. Only rarely can the Old World make a wine like this.
It has a whiff of mint leaf floating in a well of mulberry, mushy blackberry and bitter morello cherries in kirsch. It has that pretty topnote of musky marshmallow sugar and crystallised violets; even a slice of candied lemon. And all this is instilled in a polished silky blackness: a robe for the Bal a Versailles.
There’s no hint of ruckus about it. On the other hand, it’s hardly mellow. The flesh inside it is dark, slightly sweaty and oozes a sexy tabac miasma. Holy hell. You’re in trouble, Son. Muscles.
It’s very difficult to avoid just schlücking this wine in mighty impolite gulps. Which is my ultimate measure of truly great drinks. Like, when I can get it, I gulp Krug from tumblers. The time for spitting is past.
There’s not quite as much tannin here as I expect from world’s best Merlots, but I don’t miss it much. There’s lovely natural acidity to polish the tail and tease the tongue.
To think that they got all this together at just 13.5 alcohols is as alarming as everything else about the wine. I’m loving watching it prove you can achieve all this without the normal ocker gooey, gloopy, jammy, flavour-stifling alcohol.
You can get this glory at $100 the two-pack from the Ruckus website. I’d move real quick: there was only 920 bottles to start with.
If you’re driving, it’s another 18 hours east to the Freeman vineyards in the Hilltops region, near Young, Wombat and Nubba.
Worth it though, if only for the Freeman Secco Rondinella Corvina 2011 ($35; 14% alcohol; screw cap). Grown and made by ‘retired’ viticulture professor Brian Freeman, this involves two rare Veneto varieties made by the secco, or amarone technique, where some of the harvested berries are dried before fermenting in the juice of the others. In this case, Brian borrows a neighbour’s prune dehydrator at Prunevale.
This is dusty, beautifully austere, savoury red wine. It makes me hungry for lemony spaghetti vongole with plenty of Italian parsley and just a sprinkle of parmesan. Or, to be truer to Veneto, calf’s liver, spider crab, pigeons, horsemeat, rice and peas, rice in squid ink … why? Because that’s exactly what this beauty is for. Its tantalising mix of mellow fruitfulness and bone-dry, appetising tannins simply opens the floodgates of my dribble sector. I come over all unseemly.
Especially at this price. If it was from Veneto, vino of this quality would cost you a whole meal for four, not one main and a bread roll.
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