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

01 February 2010


Margan Hunter Valley Semillon 2008
$18; 11% alcohol; screw cap; 95+++ points
This baby instantly reminded me of the incredible Lindemans Bin 3455 and Bin 3450 semillons from 1968. Fortunately, the economic rationalist idiots of Southcorp subdivided and flogged those old Lindeman vineyards in 1996, and it took the drive, passion and obsession of the Margans to begin buying those five blocks, rejuvenating the old vines, and making wines like this splendid wonder. It’s very special country, with the Fordwich Sill, a freakish plug of ferruginous clay of volcanic origins imparting style and flavour that compares to the distinction afforded wines like, say, Petrus, by their peculiarly miraculous geology. This drink begins with classic semillon lemon butter and lemon sabayon aromas, with a nose-tickling top note that smells like that deep red Broke Fordwich dirt on a hot summer’s day, dry grass pollens on the breeze; maybe even some juniper.

But in the Hunter, 2008 was cooler than normal, and Andrew had to coax the grapes to ripeness with painstaking viticulture, giving us a wine even more focussed and fine than normal. Which is saying something. The palate is as lean, tight, and humourless as a slide rule, but we can already see a little cushioning softness giving it flesh akin to those mighty old Lindemans’ Bins. While they drank beautifully - under the squishy old corks of their day – for twenty years, this wine will last even more satisfactorily under that beautiful screw cap. It has a particularly savoury, stony, appetising finish.

We can read the source of Andrew Margan’s fanatical cold steel winemaking techniques in The Grape And I, the seminal wine volume written by his father Frank the year those Lindy’s jewels were created. “...just inside is a gleaming mass of new equipment”, he wrote of Lindemans’ winemaker Karl Stockhausen’s radical new German winemaking equipment. (Wineries had dirt floors and stinky old oak in those days.) “The Willmes air bag press is there ... beside it is a blue anodised centrifuge for cleaning up the white juice. Stainless steel tanks rear into the roof. There is not a speck of dust to be seen. Everything has a place and there is a place for everything. It shrieks Teutonic thoroughness, order, thought, hygiene and efficiency. It has peace, restfulness, and an immense feeling of security. It is all this that makes it to me the most absorbing and most beautiful winery interior I have ever seen. Largely because that equipment is there, because it allows the white grapes to come in and be gently crushed and quickly cleaned and kept from the air in stainless steel sealed tanks and fermented and put into bottle in a matter of six weeks, and then everybody breathes a sigh of relief because the air cannot get to it anymore and all that lovely golden colour and fresh, full flavour is trapped in the wine until you and I buy it and chill it and drink it and swoon.” Swoon indeed. This is the best new semillon I’ve tasted for many years; perhaps the top white release this year. It should be hung with more gold than the hoards of Attila the Hun. Who judges these wine shows?

Cullen Mangan Vineyard Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009
$35; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 02-06JUN10; certified biodynamic; 94+++ points
There's something about the butter of Semillon that the austere beach blondeness of Sauvignon blanc requires. The Bordelaise worked this out centuries ago. This austere work of Vanya Cullen and her beloved gardens simply serves to entrench that Old World old wives' tale. This seems to have spread across it a thin layer of white Danish butter and below that some preserved and crystallised lemon peel and below that a crunchy layer of rhubarb conserve, and below that a pit of guano. With heavy acid hoods hanging about the courtyard so heavy that you just want 'em to heavy their heaviness away. But, you know, boys in the hood do hang about longer than. Shockin' wine.

Lenton Brae Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 
$24; 12% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 31JAN10-1FEB10; 94+++ points
This is probably the finest, tightest Lenton Brae white yet. It is so aloof and aversive in its austerity, it could be overlooked by even the most grovelling semi slut. But if you relate it to young Hunters, which the whole conservative wine world seems determined to promote way above their station, this has a similar juvenile elegance as far as form goes, but with full-blast stone instead of willowy acid: it seems brittle. I'm not knocking the true Hunter Semi masters, of whom Andrew Margan is clear ruler, but suggesting Hunter Semillon gets more adoration than it deserves, and while there's often an old McWilliams or a Tyrrell that appears at show after show and wins trophy after trophy, most of what is made there is watery swill. This is far greater wine, with that stony, pithy, sliderule authority and a finish that sits in your sensories like the Sphinx for thirty ot forty minutes after you've swallowed it. Edward Tomlinson, the maker, says it's about half and half Semillon and Sauvignon blanc, but I think the Semi's predominant with its force and weight; the Sauvignon will serve largely to shorten the life of the bottle. Nevertheless, I think is a very safe ten to fifteen year bet; maybe much more. Try it on - it's an utter bargain at his meagre price.

Lenton Brae Wilyabrup Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$30; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
Ed Tomlinson, take a bow. I know this is only 100 dozen strong, and available only from your beautiful winery, but a wine so good should never be easy to get. The Kiwis AND the Bordelaise should be bowing, too. To you. 100% new French oak fermentation hasn't really made the wine a lot more complex: it's added a tantalising new aspect, sure, but while the fruit seems quite elegant and svelte on the face of it, it's soaked that oak up without releasing so much as a stray splinter of wood. Sure, of course it's there, but it fits seamlessly, and the wine will crawl all over it within a few years, which is what this beauty is all about. The oak seems to have added extra butter to the semillon, which is hardly a complicating character, and simply supported the naturally hempish methoxypyrazine characters of the sauvignon. So it's made both those components more like themselves, whilst simultaeneously marrying them more securely. The palate's a lot bigger and more forceful that the bouquet had me imagining, but it retains that elegant poise, and as it slides and sashays off down the long sweet street of your sensories into your gizzards, it makes you wish she'd come back and say "Hullo Honey", in that special long cigarette holder voice, just like Marlene in a fur. She does in a way. Incredible! Bouillabaise at Marseilles. 11 MAR 09

Margan White Label Aged Release Hunter Semillon 2005$30; 10.5% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 5-7MAY10; 94+++ points
There’s a great deal of bullshit spoken about Hunter Semillon, and a lot of very ordinary wines released beneath its appellation. Then the wine show circuit loads favourite rarities with bling, and Jancis Robinson stands up and says Hunter Semillon truly is one of the great wines of the world, and on we go. Let me suggest that Andrew Margan is one of the great winemakers of Australia, and he understands Hunter Semillon better than anyone else I know. This is manifest in his determined procuration, restoration and rejuvenation of various ancient vineyards around that big humid valley. This one’s from the dry grown Beltree Vineyard, planted in light alluvium over yellow clay by the Elliot family in the 1930s. It has that brilliant lemon sabayon character that the very best Semillons show, along with the acrid whiff of that loose country. The palate is beginning to turn up its viscosity, but below that comforting unction there’s a staunch wall of natural acid which will carry the wine for at least twenty years. Then this will be one of the great wines of the world.

Margan Hunter Valley Semillon 2007

$18; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
My favourite Hunter semi meister, Andrew Margan, says 2007 saw this old ex-Lindeman’s semillon block (30 year-old-vines; dry grown; volcanic clay; 1.1 tonnes/acre) ripen very quickly in its third year of drought. But he picked it at a modest alcohol before losing natural acidity, so we have a slightly more accessible Hunter semi than usual. Alluring whiffs of wheaten straw, very faint honey and Bickford’s lime stack the gentle bouquet; these flavours slide smoothly onto the palate, which is more viscous than usual, and therefore slightly more comfy. Grilled garfish now, or ten years cellar. (9.2.8)

Jeanneret Stumbling Block Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2006
$19; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
At first sniff, I thought this bright baby – only just bottled – was as close as Clare had got to Michel Dietrich’s stunning Quelltaler semis of ’82, ’84, and ’86. The first whiff to hit target was a delightful creamy fruitiness, pineapple as much as clingstone peach. But there’s bright savvy b. lemon and savoury herb there, too, giving the effect of a lemon/clove sabayon poured over a lightly-poached salad of those fruits. Forget Maggie R and Nuhzullund.

Lenton Brae Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
When that great natural scientist, Dr. John Gladstones, first decided that Margaret River had all the attributes of a great wine district, and began encouraging people to spend money there and plant grapes, I wonder whether he ever dreamed there'd be wines like this grown there? This could have come from Bordeaux! A tidy matchbox edge with hints of the Maggie R coffee rock begins the game by tickling the nostrils, opening them til they flare. Below that there's elegant - not over-ripe - pineapple and carambola and guava, and perhaps the tiniest insinuation of expensive gingery French oak. The palate's slender without being grassy or battery-acidic, with the unsalted lemon butter of the semillon lifting the skinnier sauvignon neatly, giving a most entertaining sweet-and-sour effect. The finish is very long and dry, the acrid stony bits lingering as the fruits gradually decline to become a very happy memory. Exquisite wine for delicate seafoods: whiting, gar, scallops, in beurre blanc, poached onion rings and capers on the side; a few grains of very fresh black pepper. It's a credit to the Tomlinson family, to winemaker Ed, who repeats this coolly calculated trick every year, and to Doc Gladstones. With an S on the end. 11 MAR 09

Juniper Estate Margaret River Semillon 2008
$26; 13% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 07JUN10; 92+++ points
Somewhere in the dunes of that immaculate Semillon dessert, where the creme and the mild driest white peach seem to dance for the entire caravanserai, Semillon reaches this delicious, teasing climax, which is real long and great for the both of you. Cream, creme caramel, junket and sabayon are the smoothers; the most delicate pale peach is the fruit, coffee rock is the phenolic dries, and gentle fresh lime is the acid. Get down. Or bury it for a full decade. I'd be having it now with fresh scallops on their half shells, oozed with beurre blanc.

The Islander Estate Vineyards Wally White Kangaroo Island Semillon Viognier 2006
$43; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Pretty much along the lines of the wild yeast/older oak/long lees Dowie Doole Tintookie Chenin Blanc 2006, this unusual blend is utterly gorgeous. Chalk, matches and hessian whiffs give the nose its acrid edge; below that lie the bosc pears and crême caramel, below them the pure white bacon fat of pancetta. I don’t know of a better Kangaroo Island white. It’s just slightly hot, which is a pity – if it had come in at 13% I reckon it’d be much better. Still, I can imagine it giving a rich goose confit a run for its money. It sure needs big food. King Hell.

Juniper Estate Margaret River Semillon 2005
$22; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
From unirrigated vines in the Wilyabrup Valley in the heart of the Margaret River region, this is one of the best semis around. It reminds me of a fresh marmalade of lime, blood-orange and ginger on buttery toast. Fermented and matured in fine French oak, it’s waxy and smooth, with a gentle rise of natural acidity and very fine, velvety tannins, a little like viognier. It’s delicious sipping now (try it with char-grilled scallops), but it’ll last for years.

Pepper Tree Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$19; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
Bacchus knows, this smells like Bordeaux! Ygrec; Vinding-Diers; Dietrich ... big and little names from the big red district, bashing away at this austere, acrid, but almost frail style which betrays the yeasts and sulphur attitudes as much as the dirt ... it's really smart wine, with that neat smokebox sulphur, almost matches, but not quite saltpetre or gunpowder ... aromas which latch very neatly to the grassy methoxypyrazine edge of sauvignon and cold district semillon ... the palate's not as sharp as the bouquet hints, which is cool ... beats most Kiwi savvy's-B hands down: more elegant, more refined, more savoury and appetising, and it won't dissolve your new bands. Langouste! 09 MAR 09

J.E Ngeringa Altus McLaren Vale 2004
$32 for 375ml.; 16.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points
We used to muck about fortifying fresh pressings at Mountadam in the ’eighties. Even the botrytis riesling scraps went into oak with a blissful dribble of good clean full-strength grape spirit and left to purr. Not many of these truth syrups ever reached the market. Altus is what I would imagine our consequent appetisers would drink like if we’d made ’em out of Italian varieties and kept the barrel right up high under the galvo. This IS made in the Tuscan vin santo manner, using rack-dried fruit and maximum oxidation, but this is not fortified. It’s organic semillon from the Willunga faultline: all soy, balsamic, anchovy juice on one side of the brain and rude raspberry on the other. Fresh, but kinda rusty. This might sound rude, but if you must dress it, try thin slices of fresh baby ginger root, cucumber and soda, on nice clean big ice. Avant, not aprè. Or sink it nude. I don’t care. I’m dreaming of a cocktail of this with a little Plymouth Navy Gin and a slice of blood orange... with the cucumber, it’d be like a first-class Pimm’s. I’ll show that Pete Petiot a cocktail or two!

Sevenhill Inigo Clare Valley Semillon 2008
$19; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points
It was Michel Dietrich, an Alsatian with Bordeaux semillon experience, who taught Clare how to make semillon, beginning in the vintage of 1982 at Quelltaler. He used clever oak and a dash of sauvignon blanc to make wines of incredible unction and longevity, and his vintages of 82, 84 and 86 are still scrumptious. The savvy Liz Heindenreich has chosen to make a wine that was immediately more approachable from the rolling Sevenhill vineyards, which are just a little north of the Quelltaler suite, or what's left of it, as Fosters' economic rationalists managed to butcher most of the priceless old wonders left over there from the days of Buring and Sobels, planting friggin merlot in their place. Merlot. Anyway, Liz has stonier, bonier soil than the terra rossa over calcrete that blesses Quelltaler, and I don't know why I'm going on about that place other than vent my anger at its gradual destruction, which commenced when Wolf Blass bought it from Remy Martin twenty years ago. This wine has some of the sweet lemon butter bouquet of Michel's wines, but with a disarming whiff of meadow blooms in place of his oak. It's gorgeous, understated, very feminine stuff, with beautifully chubby viscosity in the middle palate, and then very firm, stony acidity that really sits there like a rock, supporting the long, teasy finish. It has an unusual streak of gentle menthol running right right through it, which I quite like. Maybe it's from the narrow-leaf eucalypts which surround Sevenhill. Perfect for fragile fish flavours, like gar or whiting flashed through the pan and served with beurre blanc and some soft poached onion; maybe a caper or two, and a strand of fennel. FEB 09

K1 by Geoff Hardy Silver Label Adelaide Hills Semillon Viognier 2008
$18; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++
Now here’s a clever use of viognier. If you read all the above reviews, I doubt that there’s any more than one use of the word tannin. Having such squishy, low-phenolic, botrytis-susceptible skin, semillon generally has bugger all. Viognier’s so full of it that Australian winemakers tend to fine it all away, leaving a drink that’s nothing like viognier: tannin is virtually its principal ingredient. It is, after all, almost identical, DNA-wise, to nebbiolo, whose raspberry fruit is one delicious thing, but whose tannin floats across the top of the mouth like a disconnected cloud. So, what does the V-max do to yon Geoffrey’s semi? First, it adds a mealy, dusty edge to the buttery, faintly peachy, faintly vegetal green salad semillon. Then it adds grainy passe-crassagne pear, calling in some supportive fruit. That’s a good start. But the palate’s where it changes the gear. The tannins make sense of the semi, adding a balancing touch of tongue-drier. So we get a light, elegant, stylised wine that I’ll punt will cellar beautifully (5 - 10 years?), but, like, if I had it now with a slightly warm salad of rocket, whitlof, butter lettuce, mung sprouts, pear poached in pinot (75%) and sauternes (25%) with cloves and sliced, and shredded drunken chicken, I’d give it 94. 31 MAR 09

Grosset Clare Valley Adelaide Hills Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$32; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points
Yellow capsicum, alfalfa sprouts, lemon balm and corsican mint give this wine its edge. Loquat and Passe-Crassane pears give fruit. I mean they’re the smells it evokes. And vague wax, like good sound altar candles, fresh; not lit. Fetta soused in lemon juice, too. The palate’s pretty much in tune with all of that, although I can’t taste any Jesuits. The quincy pear aroma reflects in the final tannins: it’s very dry, which makes me hungry, which makes me thirsty. A man can’t eat on an empty stomach. It nearly forgets it’s only a drink about ¾ of the way. Chook a l’orange. (17 AUG 8)

Moss Moses Rock Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
$18; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points
Jane Moss makes the Moss Brothers wines. Moses was a naughty boy horse with a granite outcrop named after him. It’s on the coast, five kays from the vineyard. Like all Moss Bros, but especially the whites, this wine’s amazing quality for its price. There’s enough billionaires per hectare at Maggie R to see the prices of stuff like this go twice as high. The butter and phosphate tones of the semillon fill the gooseberry and peashells of the savvyB just so. It’s clean, healthy, wholesome wine that’s a step above most of the humdrum kiwi juice from Marlborough. (17 AUG 8)

Woodstock McLaren Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2007
$15; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 91 points
The first packaged and promoted 2007 to hit my snifter was this breath of fresh air from the Vales. The semillon gives it lovely dry mealy tannins that work the palate, and overshadow the simply grassy acidity of the savvy b. The semi also provides pleasant aromas of dry meadow florals, instead of the normal battery-tipped-on-lawn that distinguishes most South Australian sauvignon. It's clean, lithe and tight, and while more of your drink now think later school than the rest, makes perfect music with squid, prawns, pitta and stuff.

Wandin Valley Reserve Hunter Valley Semillon 2007
$20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 89+++ points
Classically Hunter, and therefore lighter in body and alcohol than Margaret River or South Australian semi, this is a crunchy, bright drink for those averse to fatty, peachy chardonnay, sauvignons blanc that are too grassy and simply acidulous, and rieslings that are too staunch and challenging. Crunchy Packham pear sums it up. It has a beguiling hint of spice – almost white pepper – in its pretty, modest bouquet. Too many Hunter conservatives insist on faulty cork, so it’s good to see this one fresh and zippy under the screw, which will keep it happy for at least a decade. Whiting.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Hunter Valley Semillon 2006
$??; 10.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88++ points
Planted by the legendary Maurice O’Shea in 1946, one decade before his death, Lovedale is one of the Hunter’s greatest treasures. This is a very good example of what the vineyard produces, but like many warm area semillons, it smells to me of petiols, or the stalks of vine leaves, and grape stalks. Particularly when machine-harvested, semillon absorbs these aromas like a sponge. But this was hand-picked and destemmed before gentle crushing by Phil Ryan, the Mount Pleasant master, so I dunno. There are fine citrus aromas, and the faintest whiff of summer meadow. The palate is sublimely elegant, to the point of watery, another typifying aspect of much Hunter semillon. It should age extremely well, but I’ll admit, in this condition, it’s just not my favourite style.

Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2003
$??; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88++ points
Aha! The lovely creamy lemon butter nature of good semillon well made slumps about this glass; a few years’ bottle has mellowed it and buttered it up even more. It’s not up to the extreme standard of the Hunter at its best, which rarely occurs outside of Margan’s, or something like the latest Elizabeth from Mount Pleasant, but it’s lovely soft semi maturing well. The screw cap will ensure more safe years, mind you, but right now this is a pleasing mellow white wine, with only a dash of the petiol greens that spoil most Barossa semis, especially those harvested by the dreaded machines. The finish is still a tad weedy, like petiol greens. Maybe Barossa semillon does that without any petiols. I dunno. But there’s sufficient dry dusty tannin to knock most of that verdancy out, leaving the butter and cream. Perfect roast chook wine. Spuds. Parsley. Sour cream.

Cape Jaffa La Lune Mt Benson Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2007
$40; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points
Peach sabayon and Paris Creek biodynamic yoghurt - with fresh peach – are the major whiffs in this new certified bioD baby from the Hooper family’s vineyard on the Limestone Coast. There’s a little of the petiol (leaf stalk) greenness of semillon, cutely bolstered by the tropical fruit spectrum of savvyB, but no grassy methoxypyrazine or oxalis. The flavours follow suit: quite assertive and bright, and typical of the amplified nature of the best bioD wines. That creamy, peachy dessert flavour reappears for a neat curtsy at curtain fall. Encore! Grilled whiting and endive.

III Associates Sabbatical McLaren Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2007
$??; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 87+ points
Even the wizard wine conductor, Brian Light, could not remove the weediness from this McLaren Vale semillon. That occurs in the vineyard. Semillon needs humidity, which Bordeaux, Margaret River and the Hunter Valley share with McLaren Vale, but for some reason - clones? machine harvesting? petiols in the must? - semillon doesn't seem to much like McLaren Vale. Which is not to say this is bad wine: it's just weedy, and I don't like the flavour. Many people, of course, do. There are other fine things about this wine, but the only way I can abide it is to chill the bejeezes out of it, in which case it becomes more crunchy and flinty. So why did I point it so high? Because, technically, it's pretty good wine, and it'll be better in a year or two, earning it that plus. MAR 09

Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 2008
$13.50; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 87 points
Aha! No overt petiol greens! Much better! The petiol is the stalk of the vine leaf, and mechanical harvesters tend to pick enough to make much Barossa semi - and some of her riesling - taste strangely green, like cape weed, or well, like petiols. This is more gentle lemon butter, with the smell of the white lemon pith. It's simple, clean, very easy chug-a-lug for long, thirsty, afternoon discourse, or maybe even that basket of salt'n'pepper squid on a boulevard somewhere. If you're sick of Kiwi and Hillsbilly savvy-B battery acid, this is more comforting and considerably cheaper. 09 MAR 09

Cape Jaffa Limestone Coast Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$15; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 85 points
The semillon dominates this wine, which is what you’d expect. It’s buttery, with maybe a tweak of home made lemon slice. With a little shot of freshly-cracked limestone giving a tiny edge. The palate’s buttery, too, without going as far as peach, and mercifully, there’s none of the petiol greens and capeweed that mucks up many semillons from warmer areas. The finish is just nicely limey. JAN 09

Longview Red Bucket Adelaide Hills Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009
$16; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 07JUN10; 77 points
So there you go. The Adelaide Hills can make wines like this, too. It's weedy, weedy Semillon. There IS some butter. If the butter scene in Last Tango In Paris was filmed on a Capeweed-infested lawn, it would smell like this. I can't imagine what it should taste like. But I'll bet that wouldn't taste like this, either.