Recent misses (and hits)

1968 Moulin Touchais (Coteaux du Layon) Loire Valley
Chenin blanc. A bit of dried apple, but this oxidised bottle provided no pleasure.
1979 Moulin Touchais (Coteaux du Layon) Loire Valley
Similar, but worse. Pretty dead.

These “fails” could not be scored. But Cellartracker shows there are better bottles around.

2004 fonseca
2004 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port
Portugal. Ruby colour with some bricking; dark red fruits and plum, dried fruitcake and spices, almond meal, clean spirit, savoury, grippy, chalky. Maybe a tad light, but very smashable at the end of a long night! Not a generally declared year, and in this year Fonseca also produced a Panascal. The single quinta wines can be excellent value.

Drink to 2030, 92 points

2005 Zind-humbrecht Turkheim Riesling 13%
Alsace. Advanced mandarine colour; apricot and tropicals run riot. Palate is off-dry, waxy, with lime marmalade, and  22 g/l residual sugar. Great fun, but drink up. Alsace is so inconsistent, but when they get it right. Zind-humbrecht sometimes seem alcohol-heavy; this hit the spot.

Drink now, 90 points

2000 Chambers botrytis tokay
Rutherglen, Victoria. Its colour was almost mahogany, but it was still kicking sweetly with orange, toffee, quince,  and dried fruits. It was very grapey, spicy, and varietally not Riesling nor Sauterne-like. I was pondering Frontignac, or something unusual.

Botrytis tokay (muscadelle) is uncommon, but not unique. Chambers in Rutherglen released thi style from 1996, 2000 and 2011. Pfeiffer has also made the style.

Drink now, and 90 points-  as a wine that was difficult to define, but worth the effort.

1977 taylors VP
1977 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port
Portugal. Memories came flooding back after this wine was unmasked; it was the first Portuguese VP I ever tasted, and I instantly purchased one bottle despite my meagre salary. That bottle was opened in mid-2005 – “rose-petal & raisin & Turkish delight, high alcohol, huge power- another 20 years”.

Sixteen years later…. ruby with some brick, not the deepest, but with a mix of red, blue, black, purple fruits; fresh, fleshy, ultra-supple, clean spirit, almond notes, spices and rich dark chocolate. Its owner informed that a three-hour decant did the trick. This wine looks indestructible, and its complexity was a delight.

Drink to 2040, and 95 points

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2011 Chamber’s (rosewood) Noble muscadelle, screwcap 11.3%

Chambers of Rutherglen is not the first winery that springs to mind for its sweet white wines; fortifieds yes; VFM red wines, and obscurities (anyone for Gouais) perhaps? Australia has made botrytis-affected wines from many varieties, principally Riesling and Semillon, but there have been some adventures in Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and even Marsanne. Some of these were made deliberately, others where circumstances forced the winemaking decisions.

2011 was a pretty dire year for winemaking in Victoria, and much of Australia (although Margaret River fared well, and McLaren Vale reasonably well). There was unseasonal rain, making spraying difficult- tractors got bogged- and plenty of rot. Most red wines from Victoria lacked colour, and density. Matters were not so bleak with white wines, and there are some scintillating Chardonnays made that year in the Yarra Valley.

There have been a few late-picked or botrytised muscadelles from Rutherglen (Pfeiffer’s is known), so its not unique. Muscadelle is the variety used in making Australia’s sensational barrel-aged fortified Topaques (formerly Tokay). The late-picked style is cash-flow friendly too.

From my unreliable memory, Chambers has made this botrytis style before in 1996 and 2000, and perhaps in other years, so they have a track record, although those seasons were much kinder. I paid $15 for this half-bottle a few years ago.

2011 chambers

Its an attractive glowing deep gold colour with a hint of amber. While the bouquet is vibrant ramshackle orange marmalade, tangelo and dark honey, botrytis has performed its magic fruit concentration role on the palate, and its clearer that that flavours fall into the “dark” orange marmalade, and marginally overripe apricot fruit spectrum. The botrytis has overwhelmed any varietal characters – no bad thing. There is some bitterness too, but not enough to dissipate the wine’s pleasures.

There is considerable sweetness, and while the acid is holding this together, I would recommend drinking soon, before the phenolics take over. No embarrassment to drink; the glass seems to empty of its own volition.

Score 89 points, drink to 2019.

Guilty pleasures and objectivity in tastings

There are wines that have more interest than their score indicates. These will be wines with a story.

The story could be

  • Some personal relationship with the winemaker, or winery
  • A purchase from a special place, or time, or price, including wines from overseas that went into the luggage
  • Some rarity from mailing lists,  or a peculiar bargain, perhaps trying some barrels at a winery, or something from “under the counter”
  • Some revisiting of an earlier experience

My guilty pleasures include

Baileys of Glenrowan. We always seemed to visit when it was searingly hot, so we’d welcome a break from the non-air-conditioned car, and the old tasting room was refreshingly cool. Alternately, the days would be wintry, and the log fire inside was very inviting.

Later I remember tasting the Founder Liqueur wines, and the “HJT” fortifieds and heroic red wines – wines that had the ferrous “iron filings” profile. The 1992 Shiraz wines are still going strong, with the ripe blackberry fruit winning the battle with the typically deep tannins – something that could not always be relied on. 1975 was another year with this fruit power

Petaluma Riesling. The 1980 Petaluma Riesling was a wine where I have consumed far more than my fair share. This was because a nearby wine shop (long closed) had the wine for sale for around $10 per bottle. My partner and I would drink a bottle, marvel at it, then return at some stage to buy a further bottle or two for drinking. Our usual “budget” drinking white wine at the time was the Wynns “high Eden” Riesling.

Leo Buring. At an early Expovin in Melbourne’s Exhibition buildings, John Vickery politely asked if I wanted to try some Rieslings. I jumped at this opportunity and recall trying some wines from early 1970’s including some  ”show” wines.

Brown Brothers. Again at Expovin, I think Huon Hooke showed a range of perhaps 6 different Noble Rieslings. A fantastic insight into cellaring capabilities and vintage variation, and a tremendous exercise in brand building by Brown Brothers.

Chambers (Rutherglen). Another winery we visited when I was young, with the red wines often stored in an old fridge, with the instruction from Bill Chambers to “help yourselves”. Again I can only remember visiting on stinking hot days. It turned out that my father had worked as a labourer at the winery in the 1940’s as a recent migrant with rudimentary English.

And of course there were the visits to the original Dan Murphy cellars in Prahran (its now a JB Hi-fi store).

There are also  wines where we have a negative perception; the cellar doors that treated people rudely, served derisory samples, or only showed their basic wines, or where their prices heavily exceeded retail.  And those that had dire levels of TCA and made refunds difficult – or impossible. Or the wines that have had rave reviews and been disappointing, where the hype exceeded the experience.

These all colour our attempts at objectivity.

The impact is that the nostalgia confounds “objective” scoring to a considerable degree.  I carry around some affections for these wines named above, and other wines  – from the places where I have picked grapes, cleaned (lots and lots of cleaning) , filled barrels, foot-trod grapes, and so on. And then consider that I selected these places based on something, and they put up with my efforts.

For those other scribblers that are awash with samples, and assess them in a masked format – there is a further challenge to demonstrate objectivity in what is chosen for weekly, or irregular articles. It cannot be achieved- we are creatures surrounded by our history and habits, that influence what we taste, what we buy, and what we write.