Public tastings at wine merchants can be a haphazard business. As much as you’d like to get an in-depth sense of each wine and increase your understanding of a country, a region, a grape variety, or a style of wine, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish in a crowd-filled room. Judging the colour of the wine in dim lighting is difficult, and swirling wine is perilous amid all the elbows and bottles. You quickly learn to give spitters as wide a berth as the milling crowd will allow, and not to be alarmed by the crunch underfoot of an errant water biscuit. It’s not a contemplative atmosphere – nor should it be. It’s a social event and shopping excursion for most people, with a chance to taste a few wines and buy a few bottles. If most of us struggle to get more than a general impression of each wine at that kind of event, it’s fine. That’s not really the point.
We attended a tasting like that last night. Crowded, genial, full of distractions and, luckily for us, also full of good Australian wines. We made an effort to take a few notes to share.
We have one conversation over and over again as we begin tasting white wines. You are almost always given crisp, inoffensive white wines with a touch a fruit. Always perfect examples of a style or a variety or a particular terroir. And for Daniel, always perfectly uninspiring. There’s never anything wrong with them, but he wants a wine that’s provocative and stimulating, an event all by itself, instead of one that goes brilliantly with seafood starters or is easy drinking chilled as background noise at a barbecue. I suppose I have more patience for wines that only become special with food or at a particular moment in time. You don’t drink wine under laboratory conditions: Sometimes the magic happens in the interplay of wine and occasion, wine and the flavours of foods, and wine and interaction with other human beings. The four wines below all veer, to a greater or lesser degree, towards boring him (he’s nudging me to remind you how many good basic whites he gets to sample at work) and seeming like a good summer drinking to me.
Madfish Great Southern Riesling 2014
This was our favourite white of the night. It has crystalline clarity, clean and zesty citrus aromas, and high acidity, along with mouth-watering lime flavour and very delicate hints of the aromatic and mineral qualities you would expect in a Riesling. If we had one complaint, it was that this wine didn’t exhibit those Riesling qualities a bit more strongly, but we’re prejudiced as great fans of Riesling and that shouldn’t take away from what a fine, versatile dry white wine this is.
Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Marsanne 2012
There’s something uncommon in the aroma of this wine. It has citrus and stone fruit on the nose, but also a mineral edge to the perfume similar to bath salts. The citrus and peachy flavours echo the aromas, but there’s also something honeyed and a bit herbal to it. It’s less honey than honeysuckle, with that dash of wildness and earthiness. Tahblik specialises in Rhône grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, and claims to have the largest single holding of Marsanne vines in the world. This wine also ages well, developing additional richness and complexity.
Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014
This wine is one of a group of Australian wines the Wine Society sells under the Blind Spot label, aiming to bring exceptional small producers in Australia out of the wine industry’s “blind spot” and into wine glasses. We very much enjoyed a Blind Spot Champagne-style sparkling wine from Tasmania at a tasting last year, and so we always try other Blind Spot wines with great interest. This is a classic Pinot Gris, with the crispness and easy-drinking qualities you’d expect. It has grapefruit on the nose with flavours of apples or pears, and less of the aromatic quality of an Alsatian Pinot Gris. While this will surely be a fine summer sipper, we couldn’t help wondering what ever happened to that Blind Spot Tasmania sparkling . . . .
Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013
Bleasdale is an Australian wine producer we particularly like. It’s rare that we don’t have a bottle of the Wise One Tawny around the house, and Bleasdale’s Sparkling Shiraz is one of our favourite sparkling reds. Had we but sufficient cash in the wine budget, we’d keep bottles of 2012 Frank Potts in our collection too. This Adelaide Hills Chardonnay is picked by hand and fermented in French oak with wild yeasts, so fans of oaked Chardonnay will love the toastiness accompanying the stone fruit flavours. This wine should age well for three or four years, and should be very food-friendly.
Blind Spot Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2014
Blind Spot Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was a surprise hit with us both. It offers a bit of cranberry on the nose and blueberry on the palate, with smooth tannins adding structure. It’s light-bodied and elegant, and probably delicious with charcuterie.
Jamsheed La Syrah 2013
This is an Australian shiraz with cherry and bramble flavours that don’t overwhelm the slight spiciness and pepperiness. It’s elegant and restrained, with firm tannins that will stand up to bold or meaty dishes.
Pitchfork Margaret River Cabernet-Merlot 2013
This blend was Daniel’s favourite red of the evening. It’s 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, with big, dark berry flavours on the nose and lively, juicy flavours. There’s a hint of eucalyptus or mint too, along with good acidity and considerable structure from the tannins.
Bleasdale The Broad-Side Langhorne Creek Shiraz Cabernet-Malbec 2012
Another offering from the fine folks at Bleasdale, this time a blend of 43% Shiraz, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Malbec. Ripe, almost jammy flavours of purple plum, blackcurrant, and blackberry lead into firm tannins that slowly build, a quality that can be a touch of genius when paired with food.