there are some new reviews oozing though here, but we're not deckin em up all pretty til we work out an otherwise unborn style for this sleazy rube we call drankster


that's a George Grainger Aldridge cartoon ... obviously a pre-screwcap man

05 March 2009


Castagna Ingénue Beechworth Viognier 2010

$55; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 95+++ points

As tight as a kettle drum, this wine of Julian Castagna is as drawn and taut as it is suave and elegant.  It’s wired as well as sprung, immediately more acrid and sharp: almost brittle.  It prickles the nostrils.  I found myself thinking of the smell of Sir Arthur Streeton’s  Fire’s On – Lapstone Tunnel 1891  and finally realized that the piquant sandstone country around Castagna is pretty much the country that young Arthur painted as the navvies and powdermonkeys drove a train line through the mountains just the other side of the border and up a bit.  Fortunately, they didn’t have to go through the granite also resident at Beechworth.  With this wine, the air within my glass smelled the same as the air without.  Then, once again, beside the dust and the sunbleached hay, that sweet fleshy grass insinuated itself, this time as cool and cucumbery as Issye Miyake.  By Bacchus, it’s a beautiful drink.  Those triple-x phenolics dance round in the acid like William Burroughs does when he takes off his skin for his bone dance, and yet there’s still that swoony, comforting, luxurious Żubrówka flesh.  Peking duck.   Tasted November 2011      

Ngeringa Adelaide Hills Viognier 2007
$26 (375ml. only); 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points
If you know of a better Australian viognier than this, I’ll share the cost of getting Chopper Reid round here to teach me the truth. After an acrid top note like a shot of snuff ground from the spring meadows and the sandstones and schists in the Mount Barker piedmont there’s a quiet pond of pear and apricot and a little fresh ginger, poaching gently with cloves, with a crême caramel pouting alongside, as tender as a breast. In the rolling around the mouth and swallowing division, it bungs on the unction, which is abundant in warm and hot area viognier, especially if you let it hang. It turns to peach syrup. But from such cool slopes as Ngeringa, at mercifully modest alcohol, it’s a stunning rarity. All that lovely natural acid! And then the tannin rolls in, as grainy and parching as that first whiff of the country when we put the window down. Right now, in this bonnie spring, under the burgeoning moon. Biodynamic breakthrough by Erinn and Janet Klein. Kangaroo Island paddock chook steady stewed in shiraz barrel lees with fresh leafy herbs, whole onions, little beetroots and garlic ... fresh baguette, lots of butter and peppery water cress. Open the bugger, pour two, light up a Lucky and wait for Chopper.

Tim Smith Adelaide Hills Viognier 2009
$28; 14% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 8-9DEC9; 93+++ points
Still a bubba, this wine is real flinty and edgy and mean. It smells like wild oats and old hemp sacks, like the ones that were full of processed guano, which we called super. And Passe-Crassane pear. Then it skulks about your tongue-tip like a restive cat, long after it shoulda been gone. Best viognier of the year? It'll break hearts in four or five years, perhaps a decade more. Few vios have this focus and determination, and brilliant, almost brittle, natural acidity. Smithy's left the tannins intact, too. It has that insinuation that the Italians call grano, which you'll find in the best old cheese and the best quinces and pears. In the wine, of course, it's subliminal: there are no salt grains here; or lumps of lignin or whatever it is that gives quinces their texture. It's actually very slightly unctuous, wrapping a thin layer of condition upon its pacy ocelot frame. This is damn sexy wine, as austere as Greta Garbo. I want to take it to Richard Olney's for lunch, with about four savage policewomen. It'll overtake that Ngeringa 07 eventually.

Yangarra Estate McLaren Vale Viognier 2009
$23; 13% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 25FEB10; 24-25MAY10; 93++ points
Because this wine’s much more delicate and refined than most other Australian Viogniers, its intensity is a surprise, especially if it’s been served too cold, when its true character takes some time to emerge. It lazily oozes honeydew melon, and buttery Bosc and Anjou pears; even Enoki mushrooms. But there are the tell-tale kernels there as well: peach and apricot: true Viognier pointers. Only the kernels, mind; not the flesh of the fruit. And there’s the acrid edge of the rocks the vine roots have enwrapped: just a wisp of the dust and the cordite and carbide aromas of a hardrock quarry. The palate is more viscous than the initial elegance of the bouquet signaled: it settles into the mouth like it’s always lived there. And then the finish: tidy and tight with those stony quarry phenolics and lip-smacking acidity neatly entwined with the remembrance of that lolling fruit. The fruits and stones seem very sexy in one’s exhalation! This wine will unfold beautifully with more cellaring. It’s ridiculously priced: a true bargain.

Domaine de Triennes Sainte Fleur Viognier 2004
$32; 13.5% alcohol; cork; 93 points
An alliance of kick-bottom Burgundy royals grow and make this amazing biodynamic wonder in the Vin de Pays du Var appellation in the south of France. This is what viognier is supposed to be like. The bouquet is NOT all apricot, but as much carambola, dill, and bitter melon, with, yes, an apricot kernel undertow. The wine is surprisingly viscous after those verdant insinuations, and has an unusual broad bean flavour, like peeled baby beans braised in butter. Its tannin is as green and furry as the skin of those beans. Perfect for artichoke hearts in cool pork cassoulet.

Tim Smith Adelaide Hills Viognier 2007
$27; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
In the Bible, there’s quite a lot of anointing with oil going down. This is the oil for me. I’ve overchilled it, which was dumb, but it’s fun watching the poor brute exude its whiffs from hibernation. Pears to begin, pure and simple. Verdant, like bitter melon. It has lovely, cuddly, creamy flesh, like the sort one dreamed of finding under fluffy jumpers reeking of Gossamer. It’s long. It slides around the mouth like a shiitake mushroom. Then that triple-X vio tannin crawls out, drying the tongue like raw oatmeal does. I yearn for bouillabaisse. 24hrs later: it smells more like a shotgun wedding custard.

Yalumba The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2007
$50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Louisa Rose thinks this is pretty much the viognier bee’s knees. She’s had a special lead crystal glass - rather corpulent, with a tight high neckline - “mouth-blown” for it. Given the Wagnerian vintage, it takes a while to waken, even in the mouth-blown glass. I wonder what was on the blower’s breath as my glass was blown, while I sniff this big gin-and-cucumber apparition gradually awakening, perfectly viscous and unctuous, almost lugubrious, if not bombastic, like a gin without much juniper or tannin. It’s a big hot mother, and it needs big stuff. Gutsy mussels. The glass is $30 at Yalumba.

Cascabel Couloir McLaren Vale Viognier Roussanne 2011
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 10-12FEB12; 92++ points
Grown in the alluvial rubble of the Willunga Fault and its escarpment, this is one of the first 2011 whites to show what clever people can do in times of adversity.  A beautiful consistency, all ripe pears and melons, schlooshes along the bottom, leaving some lacy floral decorations floating on the top of the aroma sector; while the laughing gear division is all about texture: viscous and more sealing of the sensories than titillating after a day or two of air, but who's gonna wait that long?  I'd prefer this whilst its pretty infant florals remain so bright and primary.  And I'd drink it with schnapper unt wasabi.  Go try it with any of the fish at The Victory:  it's $35 open on the bar or table.  Because the blend is 50-50 I've included it in the Roussanne section, too.          

Tallarook Viognier 2006
($23.30; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points)
Luis Riebl’s a friggin’ genius. Unlike most winemakers, he knows vio’s more than canned peach syrup. He works his (almost) biodynamic fruit from Victoria’s Central Highlands through methods scavenged from great French, like Guigal, Perret, Rozay and Vernay, conjuring sensual, slimy beasts like this. Smoothly oozing apricot kernels, dried pears, burlap, marzipan and Bacchus knows what, it’s a seduction best had in the dark with butter chicken, or smoked eel. (16.12.6)

Yangarra Vineyard Estate McLaren Vale Viognier 2010
$25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 30th  October to 2nd November 2011; 91+++ points

After the long lush moment, when the pale avocado creaminess and the rocha pear butteriness are gently pushed aside by this wine’s bullish acid and vary fine, talcum-like tannins, the drinker is forced to regard it more seriously.  You can’t help pausing to consider.  It is a very powerful wine, and one I think will live a long life in the cellar.  That long, stroppy finish seems to firm up after swallowing, with some very authoritative acids, and powdery tannins that draw your juices to the inside of your lips.  It is a big elegant brute, if that’s possible.  A white for dead-serious Grenache drinkers.  And I suspect it will eventually be a much mightier wine than the Roussanne.  Right now? Mulloway fillets in beurre blanc with lemon, fennel, and black pepper. 

Maximus McLaren Vale Viognier 2008
$??; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 91 points
Maximus is the new brand of sea salt Rowland Short, who purchased Bob and Gwen Mayne’s old vineyard in McLaren Vale, from which this wine does not come. Rowland teaches ship’s captains to be ship’s captains; now he’s into the wine business with a fervour, sourcing different bits and pieces from here and there while he kicks the vineyard into line. This is a welcome change for McLaren Vale viognier: many have been far too greasy, alcoholic and fat. At modest alcohol, good acidity, and with some of its grainy, mealy tannins intact – winemakers often fine these out, which is dumb – the wine is a step above your average pinot gris in style, and that dusty/chalky finish balances perfectly the wine’s considerable viscosity, and, if you must, slime. It’s lighter in flavour than many, with more pear than peach. Very cool. Great for cassoulet, goose confit or bouillabaise – south of France dishes. 26 DEC 08

Domain Day Mt. Crawford Viognier 2006
$20; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points
Robin Day chops 40% of his vio crop to the ground, to ensure the flavour the vines would have pumped into those little sacrificed soldiers goes instead into the remaining troops. Then he lifts the foliage on the sunny side to let the berries there burnish up. And he gets this heady perfumed wine, slightly musky, with an alluring whiff of watermelon about it. There’s your standard apricot kernel and pith, but those extra aromatics make it special. The texture’s quite thick and viscous, the tannins powdery. Provençale gratin of mussels and spinach, or stuffed, braised squid. (17 AUG 8)

J.E. Ngeringa Assemblage Adelaide Hills White 2008
$25; screw cap; ??% alcohol; tasted 15-19 NOV 09; 88 points
Although I can't imagine why you'd blend viognier with chardonnay, this mix seems to work. It's a cosy wine, comforting and soft. It's almost clingstone peachy, but if you were more accurate, you'd be thinking along the lines of custard apple, sapodilla and fiejoa. It certainly has creamy, quarky fats in its bouquet, offset neatly by the gentlest edge of gingery oak. The palate's exactly what you'd expect after such a bouquet, being quite custardy as much as fruity in a tropical way. It seems to lack focus in its finish, without much tannin or balancing acidity, but it's still a clean, tidy wine that should make many people happy.

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2006
$22; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points
Yalumba has enjoyed 26 years of adulatory press for persisting with viognier. Considering this quirky, misunderstood white had been all but abandoned in France when Rob Hill Smith decided it would become his new chardonnay, it’s good to hear he’s finally importing some properly flavoursome clones from Condrieu. It may now be easier to make viognier great than to make great viognier. But this effort’s half decent: neither too peachy nor too thin, with pinot gris-like slime, good stiff acidity, and that typical cantaloupe peel finish. It’s almost memorable at the price. Butter beans with jambon.

Sieur de Camandieu Vin de Pays d'Oc Viognier 2008
$12; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 79 points
I dunno. Since the Roseworthy graduates washed all the cellars in the south of France in the mid-nineties - Merde! More caustic? - some of those sunbaked dudes appear to have begun copying the dreaded Roseworthy/Adelaide University winemaking style. They should have gone to Condrieu and learned viognier before we Ockers showed it a thing or two about cleanliness and sanitation. This one has a very tidy, appetising bouquet of musk, lemon and fennell, perfect for a Richard Olney cool pork and bean stew with artichoke hearts, but the palate, while nicely slimy, lacks the sort of tannin that is the basement of all great viognier. It is, after all, almost nebbiolo DNA-wise, and the tannins are what makes nebbi special: the way they float separate from the palate. Nuages. Dear Django. This has no nuages. It's too clean for Django. And far too sanitised, scrubbed and purged to do Olney's delicious masterpiece justice. So what do you do with it? Send it to Adelaide University, with a note, suggesting NO MORE WASHING. Not with viognier. Viognier is tannic. Just like nebbiolo. 05 MAR 09

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