My bemusement at the resurgence from antiquity of unmade wines, with their suss protein murk, macular degeneration and unstable yeast zoology, all mercilessly flogged as “natural”, has focussed the annoyance of a few of the popular winemakers vaguely at moi.
This is a good thing, because most of them are gentle folk who don’t shoot and some send ambassadors with carefully unmade wines for me to try.
One as hirsute as me takes readily to a hair shirt. Although I took off my old grey beard the other day, lest I be mistaken for a millennial.
To be beard-specific, millennials look to me like Neo-Mennonites, or The Band on the cover of their second album in 1969. I stopped trying to look like than in 1978.
Nevertheless, much of the pricing of these hairy or woolly vinous infestations makes me prickle. These people are scary with presumption on pricing.
Sure, I understand that customers will pay for what they want, think Grange, but I also know price is what I pay; value is what I get.
Reminds me of a Tom Rush song from my kid days:
Kids these days
they don’t value a dollar
Don’t like chewing
but they sure can swaller
That’ll be the winemakers. Some of whom think they’re young winemakers at 40. But the punters? Try this quatrain I found in a Doris Lessing book when I was 22:
Not everyone has known these depths,
The black uncalculated wells of sea
Where any gleam of day lies far above,
And stagnant water slow and thick and foul
Unmade, like unfinished, just for the Shorter Oxford Dictionary record, is one step short of unoaked, unfiltered and/or unfined. Or any of those bottled when rotting. I invented these essential appellations for application to unmade and unfinished wines.
One lively gourmand who gets off his mountain bike for a drink now and then is Charles Lawrence, who works at Karatta Wines at Robe when he’s not doing pop-up wine things in the wilder snowboarding bits of Japan. He’s originally from NW Florida. He brought me one of the best Shiraz wines I’ve had this year. It was from Canada. La Vieux Pin 2010, from British Columbia. Sheeessh. Ravishing. So he knows where he’s at. But he has murky mates who like to test my vision for clarity.
And so does he. He brought me two wines to prove that with consultant winemaker Richard Bate he knows how to make them. And finish them, not in murky unmade and unfinished death wallows, but LIFE!
Karatta Wines K Chinaman’s Trek Tenison Vineyard Robe Pinot Noir 2107
($18; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap)
Hmm. A Robe Pinot? Some of the reds from along that coast betray their source with whiffs of the beach and dunal vegetation. (DMS for nerds.) While it fits some Sauvignon blanc, I never liked that brisk coast smell in some St Henri Shiraz vintages, where it didn’t seem to fit that traditionally mellow style when Robe fruit was included in the blend. Recent vintages are much the better without it.
But this one? Let’s see. Uh-huh. This is bright, pure and clean. Fruity. Pretty grapes! Racy. Invigorating. A dark chocolate Cherry Ripe. Maraschinos in melted Valrhona cooking chocolate. This’ll go in a flash!
At first whiff, this seemed a modern, more real, perfumed and lively reflection of the old Hardy’s Keppoch Pinot Noir of the early ’80s. Hardly genteel, that winemaking. Named after the big overhead-irrigated vineyard at Padthaway, that was Australia’s first large-scale commercial red Pinot.
While it, too, was made from an early fizz clone, that old Keppoch grew much further inland on the same Limestone Coast.
Times have changed. This is a made wine.
This is a Pinot that tastes a bit like a tidy young Blewett Springs Grenache, but to give the latter their due, this is less complex and intriguing. It is a waft of red, a mindless, most pleasurable custom-built crepe drape for these bonnie spring afternoons, should they ever need staining. Lovely natural acidity and cushioning velvet tannins … it’s happy wine! Nuts-and-berries. Goat cheese. Sparkling anecdote, laughter and mandolin tinkling on the verandah. Check that tiny spend. Get on it.
Karatta Wines K Lost Ram 12 Mile Vineyard Robe Syrah 2017
($18; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap)
It was fingers crossed after that Pinot, hoping the K crew could do a similarly racy trick with Shiraz.
The French name flared these suspicious nostrils. A lot of what gets called Syrah in Oz is a bit more along the lines of Syrah-de-dah. But faith, mon: this could be straight off the Rhône, like a cheeky young wine made by a new rogue generation in Vacqueyras or Gigondas.
I’m not saying our wines should be like theirs, but dammit, they’re the wines our white ancestors hoped to copy when they sailed here with their cuttings and invaded the joint. Which is not that long ago. I am one-third the age of the colony of South Australia. Sobering. So what do I do? Just go on talking about Shiraz?
This sure is Shiraz, but unlike most lazy Australian takes on that mindless slumbering staple, it’s been given the chance to better express its bright young flesh when grown cool and picked early.
Once again it’s dark Valrhona chocolate, but coating live blueberries and lovely clean grapes. As the most expensive gustatory smells often trigger anticipation of exciting pheromones to follow unsmelled, it gives the anticipatory section of the organoleptics a cheese thrill before there’s any cheese!
This is savoury in the sense of making one dribble with joy and hunger. It’s friggin boom-boom.
Speaking definitions, a brasserie is a noisy place; bistro means “serve me quick!” Few wines fit this fickle scenario while showing respect for the drinker, but this naughty puppy licks all the right toes. And yep, you don’t need kerfuffle. It also works a treat on a lazy verandah.
Blue Poles Margaret River Shiraz 2016
($25; 13.6% alcohol; screw cap)
If the rebel kids have pushed the Old Man aside to make that Lost Ram, somebody’s sage elder had a bit of dogged input here: similarly perfumed and heady, but showing a bit more good old-fashioned torque, this lovely brash baby reminds me more of something from upstream of Gigondas: it’s a dash more like a young Cornas from alluvial gravels. One that’s been listening to a lot of the Rocky Burnette Trio.
And of course a lot of it has to do with this Blue Pole growing on the edge of a different ocean (Indian) to the K (Great Southern) and the Big C (Mediterranean) with different everything in a place hardly known for its Shiraz.
Stretching the geographical pallet, Whitey? Trust Unca Philip. And trust Mark Gifford and Tim Markwell, the thirsty and eternally patient and determined geologists who chose their Margaret River site for Blue Poles for – wait for it – its … geology! Alluvial gravels under the Shiraz!
Other than a fleeting sense of anise and long pepper, one of the wafts that catches me here is a sinister dark green thing, which is tricky for a self-censoring colourblind synæsthete to project. I recall a similar character in an early Marius Shiraz: it’s a mood more than a flavour. Something to do with a hot British Racing Green 3.8-litre E-type Jaguar drophead ticking itself cool beneath the pines after a fang around the Old Willy Hill and Kuitpo. Walnut dash; black leather; the patina of years of unearthly speed and risk oozing with expensive oil from a piece of exquisitely sculptured engineering … that earlier record from the highly earthly gravels of the Kurrajong geology beneath Marius … rock dreaming, see? Whew.
Take the rock stuff as you will. I haven’t even mentioned music. This is a rockin Shiraz, but it’s not stony. Apart from the granular, sandy tannins, which simply stoke more hunger after that unblemished pure Shiraz fruit. It’s lovely springtime wine, and once again, cheaper than Grange. And a damn sight faster. Saltimbocca, please, pink and juicy, Capers; mash. Don’t spare the lemon.
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