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

09 September 2009


Castagna La Chiave Beechworth Sangiovese 2006$75; 13.5% alcohol; Diam cork; tasted 16-20 AUG 09; 95+++ points
Sometimes I think she glimpses at me, over her shoulder, but not often. No white of eye, only mascara and cheekbone. She sits here on my desk with her back to me. Once, I thought I saw lipstick, but so fleeting it may have been a smudge in my brain, a tragic shard of lust. It’s all shiny black leather, disappearing in the dark to a raven muss of hair. She’s been eating morello cherries and Valrhona Cœur de Guanaja 80% chocolate, and she’s wearing Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles to enhance the fact that she hasn’t showered for days. When she moves her legs, I hear stockings. And that scarlet Louboutin clack.

Castagna La Chiave Beechworth Sangiovese 2009

$75; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 94+++ points

Maybe it’s a reflection of Castagna’s stubborn inherited nose that it’s these royal Italian varieties that seem so slow maturing that they’re never ready for appraisal upon release. They make Shiraz look like Gamay in this tough stony ground.  We can expect Castagna Sangiovese and Nebbiolo to usually be wines of extreme longevity.  Nevertheless, this blend is so elegant as to initially appear fleeting to the nose.  Wrong.  Things change.  Legend says Sangiovese is the blood of St Jove.  Whether or not it’s really God’s blood, this heavenly elixir certainly draws the blood of the drinker to the edge of the lips: it’s so rudely sensual it left me feeling like I’d been kissing too hard.  Its smooth sweetness seems to come from blueberry, blackberry, fig, marello cherries and those juicy super-colossal Greek olives; its counterpoint edge from meadow herbage, spinache, tamarillo, Cherry Heering, and blood orange – in fact that rindy aroma is accompanied by enough curacao bitterness to remind me of Campari.  So we have another Castagna that entertains with its youthful see-saw between fleeting, ethereal elegance, and hubs-locked, snow-chains-on determination and grunt.  It will be a truly stunning wonder in five years; as it stands, it’s simply the best current release Sangiovese grown and made in Australia, beaten only by the dramatic 2006.   Tasted November 2011

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Valley Sangiovese 2008 
$65; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 94+++ points
You walk out of the sun and dust into a grand Tuscan kitchen. One Mama’s plucking a cock, another’s stewing black cherries on the big polished wood stove. The fruit is juicy and cheeky, with dried apple pith. The smell of that hot polished stove, with all its pot blacking, never leaves the room. An old man sits in the gloom, smoking a pipe. This masterly Sanger needs years. It’s all natural ferment and unfiltered and real. It comes from the old vines on Kalimna and some more near Marananga: two of the grandest of the Barossa’s geological sub-regions, with the most intense flavour. So they work for Italian varieties as well as French, see. Beautiful wine! STOP PRESS: I've just discovered that this wine will not be released until the 2005 and 2007 have been sold, by which time this utter glory might be even closer to perfection.

Castagna Un Segreto Beechworth Sangiovese Shiraz 2005

$75; 13.5% alcohol; diam cork; 94++ points
You can wake these honeymooners by letting them breathe in the decanter, or by leaving their cork out for a few hours if you prefer them more bristly than considered. They should be in the dungeon, really. But by Bacchus they’re a smash once they’re up: so perfectly married that they’re like a new variety. Heady, sensual, rudely fruity and meaty, and absolutely seamless, they’ve had the appropriate exposure to some fine spicy oak, whose influence will subside as the fleshy fruit absorbs it over the next decade. Slender and smooth, barely tannic, but beautifully, exquisitely, furrily dry, this is a new benchmark for Castagna and biodynamics. (Tasted late 2007)

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Valley Sangiovese 2006
$51.90; 15% alcohol; cork; TASTED MAY 09 and 1 MAY 10; 94++ points
There’s an old movie in which the ravishing young Sophia Lauren gets stuck between the entry lounge and customs at an airport in New York because she won’t part with the special donkey meat mortadella her friends at her hometown mortadella factory made for her as a farewell gift. US Customs won’t let her though with a smallgood, so she sits in the transit lounge for days until it’s all eaten. By the fourth hot summer’s day, I could smell her coming off the screen. This wine immediately reminded me of day four. It also has the unusual, but surprisingly attractive aroma of feathers, which I see in the best sangioveses. And, as far as drinking goes, I know sangiovese means the blood of Jove, but this one’s pure Sophia blood: as fiery and sultry and black-haired and black-tempered as a sultry dark Latina can be. It’s easily the best Penfolds sanger yet released. All natural yeast, no additions, a year in five year old French barriques ... you get the drift ... stunning complexity and depth, with bone dry, classic Italian tannins, and then the sweet returns of that delicious fruit. The only Australian sangiovese which impressed me more – maybe apart from Castagna’s first effort when it was young – was the barrel sample of 2008 Peter Gago tipped up next: that’s one’s even more brutally Italian and sublime, so be ready for that lass when she comes.

Tenuta di Valgiano Collina Lucchese 2004
$130??; 14.5% alcohol; cork; drunk 13 NOV 09; 93+++ points
Francesco Saverio Petrilli walked into my house with this in his hand about three hours ago. Saverio's the sort of bloke whose wine you feel like drinking even before you know he makes it. This had been opened before he arrived, and half had been guzzled by some lucky bastard, but no complaints from Casa Bianco. It's delicious, complex, glowering wine with the sulks, perhaps because it had been opened on a bonnie Australian spring day of 38 degrees Centigrade. It comes from vineyards run by Saverio and his partners in northern Tuscany. He's too well-tempered to talk much about what's in it other than to admit that after the sangiovese, shiraz, and merlot admitted to on the back, there are "some other things". It's delightful wine, still smelling alarmingly of healthy fresh grapes. Just carried into the cellar by a fresh draughthorse in well-oiled harness. Like the one Flavio Bagnara used to hoist me upon when I was four. Saverio says that with increasing commitment to bioD practises, the style changes from 05 on, for the better. I will like to see that. For this is georgeous dry bright wine with lots of smarts and entertainments, from bright acidity and mudstone tannins, up through a spiral staircase of sinuous fruits and ethereal ionospheres of dreams to its beginning, in the dirt. Lovely wine. And as I said to begin with, it has the sulks. It will give more if you wait.

Castagna Beechworth Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz 2005
$75; 13.5% alcohol; Diam cork; 93++ points
Tiwi women were singing with jazz musicians at the Sydney Opera House on Radio Nash when I opened this. I was in Australia. Sangiovese and shiraz. Very dark chocolate and leather. When the harness at Tahbilk was still freshly dressed and you could smell the breath of the clydesdales. But it’s railway-station dry with fine coal train tannin, with a fruity garland of mulberry and blackberry, the latter stewing for the Fowler’s Vacola jars, drying there on the tea towels... Next day it’s more vibrant, fresher, more supple and streamlined. It’s confoundingly dense, but the sangiovese is just beginning to appear. It needs three more years. But it’d be stunning with properly larded kangaroo, or venison fillets, in about five minutes. 23 NOV 08

Castagna Un Segreto Beechworth Sangiovese Syrah 2009

$75; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 92-3+++ points

Extreme elegance; extreme concentrate.  Slender, intense and snaky; harsh with swarf and blackwood.  Syrupy with essence of coffee and chicory; dry and tannic like black tea leaves.  Blueberry and blackcurrant gels in dark chocolate; the whiprod acidity of the fencing foil.  Once again, it’s all attack and feint, parry and plunge, and this back-and-forth will keep the drinker very well entertained until there’s peace in the valley in about five years time.  In one way, the infant tannins here seem more Nebbiolo-like than Sangiovese, but the deeper I delved I discovered that not really to be true: these tannins will never be ethereal: they’re too much a part of the chassis of the wine; far too viscerally savoury to ever let go.  I imagine that in five years my points will start at 94. Tasted November 2011

Amadio Rosso Quattro Adelaide Hills 2007
$??; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 14 OCT 09; 92++ points
While the companion to this wine, the straight sangiovese 08, is tight and drawn and dry in a most adult savoury manner, this one, at a year's extra age, in bed with merlot, barbera and nebbiolo, jumps with fresh fruity berries and the sort of vivacity that can only come from exceptional vines in an exceptional site, made by a particularly savvy dude of a gastronomic intelligence which is above average. The mossy, mushroomy soil aromas of the merlot work beautifully with the pinot-like black cherries of the barbera, and take a pretty, polished note from the bright raspberry of the nebbiolo. The palate's ungent and chubby, but still lithe and fairly delicate of flavour. This is a merry and jolly wine for laughter and indulgence. If you have neither of those, the wine will assist you.

King River Estate King Valley Sangiovese 2009
$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 22-25 JUN 12; 92+ points
Here’s another cute-arse Victorian dusting the bushfire soot off: it seems Sangiovese might be apocalypse-proof.  Really cheeky muscly fruit climbs out of the dry dust, flicking clouds of it off the Drizabone with such determination for a moment I thought she might eventually turn out to be a blonde.  But no.  She’s vibrant, juicy, strapping blood of jove himself, stretched across the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but not pointing life into Adam.  In this case, he’s pointing at food.  So I’ve not only anthropomorphized the wine (again) but I’ve mexed the mitaphors, undressed it, promoted it from freckled high country lass to divinity and given it a sex change. All in one modest glass. I’d like to drink this with real veal and gentle Tuscan-style vegetables.  Let’s face it, it’s more dusty blonde than godhead. She excited me too much, see.  Terrible mistake on my part, this tendency to look upward. 

Amadio Adelaide Hills Sangiovese 2008 
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 14 OCT 09; 90+++ points
As dusty as the old Tuscan hills in summer, this wine has surly, savoury layers rather than overt, lively fruit. Anise, licorice and soot hints decorate a deep, intense well of beetroot and fig, wild black cherry and hedgerow berries; the bouquet has an acrid edge that prickles the nose like dried spice. So it's a wine for adults. The palate is tight and ungiving, with sufficient viscosity to carry all that dry stuff, and leaves the mouth oozing juices, anticipating food. Like osso bucco with black olives in the sauce, hearty, complex pasta dishes, or even your very basic pasta with oil and parmigiano grano. This wine will look great in about six years; now, it's a slightly awkward teenager for happy afternoon dining, rather than starched linen and chandelier stuff in the night.

Coriole Vineyards McLaren Vale Sangiovese 2007

$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91++ points
Vibrant, bright, marello cherry and raspberry, maybe a squirt of cassis, plush vanilla-and-spice oak, and just a simmering lick of aniseed stack up to make this sanger sing like Pav. “Ooh, but I am just a little songbird”, I heard him say on the news, when asked about the results of an Italian election. Well, folks, here we have a neat little songbird of sangiovese singing away with that perfect tenor tannin, as if the great throat does not function without a taste of cigar. Spaghetti and black olives; osso bucco; saltimbocca; any of the Coriole Lloyds’ great cheeses and olives.

King River Estate King Valley Sangiovese 2006
$??; 14.7% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 22-23 June 09; 91 points
Lovely glimpses of the memories of lollyshops long demolished deck these licorice and aniseed halls: musk, raspberry, mint leaves, and lemon sherbert aromas tease the old hooteries as much as the toasted oak that lies beneath like a very hot, but cooling, bed. The palate has some severe whip aerial acidity, but the whole thing seems a bit big-boned and disjointed compared to what I suspect it will become. Which is not to say it’s ever gonna be elegant. Imagine a frontier town with a confectioner sharing two storeys with the local fruit conserverie. The building’s on fire. While the jams are burning with the candy, the hookers are leaping off the upstairs verandah, their scented lace shredding as it catches on the fancy iron lacework of the balcony ...

Zonte's Footstep Vine Dried Langhorne Creek Sangiovese Barbera 2005

$18 at the cellar; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points
The vineyard wallahs cut the cordons supporting these grapes, but left the bunches hanging there in the leaf canopy to dry like currants, before they were picked, well into May. This gives the blend a distinctive old Italian feel, doing away with most of the leafy greens such varieties often project when grown on a large commercial scale. This leaves us with a slightly leathery, almost oxidised style of palate, but with great concentration of flavour, after the style called amarone. It's like Christmas pudding, in its pungent earthiness and complexity. Ideal for dark game meats, stewed.

Innocent Bystander Bleeding Heart Sangiovese Merlot 2006
$20; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 89 points
Gracebrook King Valley sangiovese and Sexton Yarra merlot be here. Makes this a super-Tuscan? Blackberry, musk and aniseed/licorice twists about the sensories in a quickly gratifying way. More lap dancer than Fonteyn. It’s clean, vibrant and fresh, but more brusquely intrusive than innocent or bystanding. La Lollo meets Fellini in a bar. I’m struggling. I’m seeing this from a bloke’s perspective. But I reckon it’d be similarly gratifying to many, many women, who can of course enjoy it without lap dancing, if they must. The tannins need protein; the acid needs fat; the fruit needs blood and fungus. Eat!

Neagle’s Rock Clare Valley Sangiovese 2006
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points
Unless/until the drought-driven sand dunes finally get down to Clare, it looks like sangiovese’s there to stay. Mitchell’s and Pikes were the pioneers; the Neagle’s crew planted in their leanest ground just south of the township. This smells like somebody sat on a raspberry tart in the back of an old Jag: there’s all that naughty goo on the leather and a tweak of polished walnut veneer. The viscosity’s a little fluffy, but soon there’s a whip ariel of steely acid apparent, and quite furry tannin to make you yearn for something rustic. Like rabbit stew, or coq au vin.

Vintage Cellars Sangiovese Toscana 2006
$15; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points
This is the first Chianti to ever wear a screw cap, thanks to the bright young things – Jeremy Stockman and Grant Ramage - who scour Earth for the bargain imports Coles’ Vintage Cellars has been throwing at us. So it’s also the freshest, brightest, cheekiest young Chianti you could possibly have seen, due simply to the lack of cork or inferior plastic plug. Be afraid, Ockerwogs, be very afraid. This is damned good sanger, at a quality and price no Australian maker can match. Yet. Clean, sizzling sharp, slightly spicy, perfectly tannic… well, perfectly sangiovese. Not profound, but highly entertaining. Saltimbocca.

Vigna Bottin McLaren Vale Sangiovese 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points
Thick and rich with the sort of flavours usually gotten from the biggest sanger berries, this has just a whisper of the strange, unlikely, but alluring whiff of feathers that I usually associate with this variety from a cooler place. But it’s more along the lines of poached beetroot and dried fig, with a hearty meaty plushness about it. Pot au feu at Jo Goldenberg’s sort of thing. The palate’s easy and slick, with more of that big-hearted easiness the bouquet signalled. JAN 09

Vigna Cantina Barossa Valley Sangiovese 2008
$18; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; tasted 4-9 SEP 09; 84 points
10 year old brunello clone in terra rossa over calcrete at 200 metres at Gomersal; 12 year old piccolo clone in ironstone in clay loam at 350 metres in The Moppa, and 10 year old grosso clone in terra rossa with ironstone over limestone at 320 metres at Koonunga Hill should make a stunning blend of sangiovese. But I've had two bottles of this, one drunk lustily with pasta, the other tasted over several days, and both seemed a little doughy and dull. Scorched cedar and old whole nutmegs give some acridity to a well of dried currants, raisins, prunes and figs in the sniffing division; the palate is a little claggy and seems to have a viscosity which struggles against releasing its best attributes. Still, it's a reasonably pleasant soft and mellow wine with pasta, its gentle velvety tannins working the hunger division of the palate gently but persistently. It worked well with my smoked rabbit tom yum stew with okra, garlic sprouts, onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, diced red capsicum, bird's eye chilliesand long pepper.

Rookery Kangaroo Island Sangiovese 2005
$17; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 75 points
There’s not too much in the way of subtlety going down here. Raw American oak, like A. P. John chips, have not done this wine all that much good. Smoky, sooty wood smothers the promising fruit a little like the 2008 bushfire. It’s like somebody ground up a stack of black leather Bible covers and tipped ’em in the fiery furnace. Then they shovelled in the charcoal. Thin, bitter cherry flavours don’t quite provide balance. Old French barrels, please. The sangiovese deserves it. 10 OCT 98

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