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

12 August 2012


Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas 2010

$28; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9AUG12; 94 points
Luis The Duck is the pointy end of Portugal.  The notion of a winemaker from the source of most of the world’s cork bark actually putting a screwcap on a bottle is as keen an indicator as you’ll ever get to his fearless disregard of the past.  But put the wine into you and the second set of turbos clicks in, and you realise this is a very fast duck indeed, and it’s pointy in more than just the Portuguese sense.  This is internationally significant. “Bical on chalky-clay soil, Cerceal and Secialinho on sandy soil” says the back label.  These are white varieties. Bical makes up half the blend; Cerceal contributes 30% and the rest’s Secialinho. It’s done in steel. It smells like orange peel.  It has a really plush viscosity, but over a line of very clean, persistent acidity.  By the time it finally slides off the tongue, much of the orange has turned to tangelo and faded, but there’s a lozenge of some hybrid tropical fruit left, something between sapodilla, feijoa and cantaloupe.  It’s a highly satisfying adventure that’s never the slightest bit scary, but is like nothing you’ve had before.  Clean, lean and comforting.  No-one in Australia makes anything like this.  In fact, nobody but Luis Pato makes anything like it. Short of ducking down to the Atlantic shore for bacalhau, take it to Chinatown and find yourself some grilled fish and chilli oil.  Stunning.


Penfolds Grange 2004
$650+; 14.3% alcohol; cork; tasted 20 Feb 09; 7 MAY 09; 1 MAY 10; 96+++ points
Of all the Granges released in the modern era, this vintage is surely the most respectful of the wine’s original style. This is like the 1991 and 1983 models: it’s huge, almost impenetrable wine set for a mighty future. Like the grand wines of Max Schubert, this one has that extra tweak of volatility, a complexing factor which has quite simply become unfashionable in these days of bland, sanitary homogenity. Anise, fennel, and ginger topnotes grace a well of sweetly slurring ancient soy and balsamico, with a cheesy little sidetrack about half way though that had me thinking of ricotta and whey. Peter Gago has raided his favourite shiraz blocks in the Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Magill to forge this colossus, adding 4% cabernet from the 42K vineyard in the Barossa. He’s managed to give it sixteen months in 100% new American oak without it picking up too much sap or coconut, and he’s kept the alcohol at a drinkable level, so while it’s mighty and tight, it still shows a balance and integrity the like of which we see very, very rarely. 2004 was great year; the stalwart Penfolds crew again proves to be the best equipped to entrap such wonder in all its essential glory. Which is what we expect of them, but that’s never to say it’s easy. It’s confounding, for example, to consider how a wine so densely packed with character could present it to one’s sensories with such incredible unforced delicacy of expression.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2006
$150; 14% alcohol; cork (!); TASTED jan 10 and 1 MAY 10; 95+++ points
Thomsons bought Best’s in 1920; Bests planted it in 1866. These vines are 1893 jobs. Five gens in, Thomsons produce a shiraz that matches, if not trounces, nearly every one I’ve had. Great Western town was named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship of the day: the biggest ever built. Everything sorts itself out, see. With a pretty twist of eucalypt, then the black velvet cloak just danced in by Cyd Charisse, this is the most elegant naughty thing I’ve had from a shiraz bush since the 1961 La Chappelle. Which will cost you US$110,000. This’ll go as long as that, cork willing. Save $109,850, US.

Castagna Genesis Beechworth Syrah 2008
$300 for a six-pack of 500ml. bottles; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 95+++ points
Whilst completely homogenized and harmonious after two years in the smaller bottle, this wine also presents contrast as dramatic as the thunderstorm that crackled around the Castagna winery as I tasted.  I have likened the aroma of previous vintages of this remarkable biodynamic Shiraz to the ozone whiff of lightning on the blackberry vines; this time it’s struck the blueberries.  But the complexity and audacious nature of the wine stretches far beyond that: it oozes about the glass at first: an incredible soulful syrup.  Then it lets loose mellow seeps of Irish moss – which is in fact decaying seaweed, not moss -  and the comforting creamy umami of shiitake to support the meatiness of the blueberries.  With this comes the sweet aroma of the Castagna pasture: the heady vanilla of that sweet buffalo grass in the Żubrówka.  Then the edgy aromas arise: juniper, deadly nightshade, black tea leaves, aniseed … like all the new Castagnas, and many of their forebears, it works a delicious magic by see-sawing constantly from offering smooth comfort to challenging edge, and finally a persistent little jujube of blueberry, blackcurrant and blackberry sitting on the tongue.  It’s amazing.  Tasted November 2011

Greenock Creek Apricot Block Shiraz 2007
$38; 15.5% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in August 09; 95+++ points
With three whole per cent less alcohol than the 06, this astonishing beast is more closed, remote, and unapproachable. Which, considering the intensity of its predecessor, is really saying something. It took three days before it dared let loose a hint of fruit. While it looks a lot less viogniated than previous years, in the sense that there’s less of the freaky apricot aroma and flavour – there is no viognier, of course – it’s also less willing to show anything like the blackberry, cherry, and framboise liqueur of previous vintages. For about a week! Instead, the initial fruit department is like a Ditter’s dried fruit mix, with solid blocks of dried fig, banana, prune, pear and apple. Then we get lost in the steelworks: gunmetal and lathe swarf, even soldering flux seem to be the note of the day, until about day four, when it begins to show signs of great red wine. It’s syrupy and lithely liqueur-like in texture, but not too fat or unctuous. If you drink it within three days of opening, treat it like vintage port, and have it with hard cheese and walnuts. After three days, it deserves perfect aged steak and big field mushrooms, or morels. Or leave the cork in, and give it twenty years’ bottle age. As I write, this bottle’s been open for week, and it’s starting to look like wine: its grainy velvet’s gradually beginning to take on a perfect silky sheen, and the fruits that were dry and niggardly are beginning to fill with lovely supple juice and freshness; fair dinkum. It’s easily the best Apricot Block yet, and my niggardly points only serve to show how slow the brute will be developing or opening up. This wine will outlive many of us. Confounding and astounding, it’s a life monument, a stone solid, damn near perpetual memorial to Michael Waugh’s stonefaced stonemason stoicism!

Greenock Creek Roennfeldt’s Road Shiraz 2004
$192; 16.5% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in August 09; 95+++ points
As with the RR cabernet, scores are practically meaningless with this infant monster. The two percentage points of alcohol it’s dropped relative to its predecessor seem only to make the wine more confounding, impenetrable and contradictory. Plus signs, which usually indicate cellaring potential, are useless unless you regard them like the Xs on the tag of a tee shirt: you can’t have too many, because eventually you’ll need ’em all! This is masculine wine, wild and gamy: a really awkward young duffer but obviously of great breeding. Say a young Henry VIII, lost, wondering, between main course and dessert. It first exudes unlikely dandyish whiffs of musk, butterscotch fudge, and sherbert. Dare to push the nose closer and you hit a beef wellington decked with fresh acidic blackcurrants and a lush mulberry sauce. A touch more air and you’ll see the smells associated with tannins: aniseed balls, piquant, dusty walnuts, and, from the oak, just the slightest hint of furniture polish. Tip some in, and you’ll be amazed to find it fleshy and sensual, like a wicked slippery liqueur: almost a dessert red, but not quite: memories of sabayon with blackcurrants; as borderline but enticing as the Mexican chocolate sauce Cheong occasionally pours on schnapper confit, but here it’s poured on King Henry’s big beef pie. It’s slightly hot, sure, but that’s minor compared to other sins of the flesh going down in there. The whole shock leaves you with a royally indulgent, carnal exhalation, and lips like Marianne Faithful had in 1968.

Marius McLaren Vale Symphony Shiraz 2004
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; DRUNK 25JUN10; 95+++ points
By Bacchus and Pan this is a beautiful, transfixing thing. It has astonishing intensity, complexity, and austerity, with fruit so authoritative and dense that to be fair it deserves twelve hours in the decanter. All the black fruits and nightshade leaf and juniper are packed in so tight around a wall of rigid natural acidity that our table sat stunned in silence, staring disbelievingly into the kraters. It's surly and solid, with the frame of a thoroughbred, the determination of its staunch Roman namesake (right), and as much dry and dusty stone as the 26 mile crater of the same name in the Moon's second quadrant. It was probably a mercy that we took it the night before tonight's eclipse of the full Moon - something woulda fused in the cosmos. I am not old enough to have tasted the 1961 La Chappelle at six years of age, but I have drunk it mature on various occasions, twice from magnum, and consider this wine may well be its equal, given the right cellar and the owner's infinite patience. Like that wine, this seems somehow to have the structure of a mighty Bordeaux - it's about its shape, and that sinister lick of nightshade - but while the Chappelle was likened as a younger wine to the 61 Latour, this beauty seems a little more along the lines of St Emilion. I did drink the 78 Chappelle at six years, and think this could be better: it's more intense. Like both those wines, this is a serious thirty year job. I'm staggered.

Penfolds Grange 2003
$550+; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted FEB 08; 95+++ points
Perhaps this is a release which will break the market’s obsession with collecting only the even vintages of Grange – you’d be mad not to stack this away if you can afford to. Another step upward in the inexorable evolution of Australia’s greatest red, it’s simply stunning. There’s no obvious American oak, but suffice. It’s a spicy as a Persian market. It has supple green nettle and rhubarb tannins which will soften, but that majestic black cherry fruit, as mysterious and phenolic as coca AND cola, is a towering monument to the genius of Schubert, Gago, and all who came between. Royalty.

Penfolds Grange 2005
$550+; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 15APR10; 95+++ points
Pretty Polly! Musk and civet. Wet hessian. Sap: raw sawn wood. Quercus alba! (If you must have it you must have it like this.) Cordite. Carbide. Incredible bowl of fruits: currants, black currants, red currants, raspberries, medlar berries, strawberries, cranberries, salmonberries and watermelon. More musk. Banana lollies (ester). Paper. Chip off the old block. Shit. Cowshed. Milk. Chaos! Perfection! Fractal! Vim! Vigour! (In this church, they’re still trying to recognize the congregation.) In other words, this is a dramatic contrast to the 2004, in which the vintage conditions, more than your actual winemaking, delivered a hyper-slick, silky-smooth, sensual slip of wine which, dare I say, could have been more along the lines of a great Black Label Wolf Blass, stylistically. It remains a great Grange, of course, and one I suggested Max Schubert would love. But he’d love this better for its chaotic wildness. The whole barnyard’s in this truck, barking, quacking, crowing, mooing and neighing. This will be the greater Grange, given sufficient time for this Animal Farm uprising to subside. It’s Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra; 96% Shiraz; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; eighteen months in brand new American oak hogsheads; a stunning challenge of a drink now; an utter blissbomb in twenty years plus.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2004
$90; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted FEB 08; 95+++ points
This is the best new release St Henri I can recall. At this price, it’s the bargain of the batch: an impossibly soft and seductive wine. It oozes the smooth, umami-like flavours of oyster mushrooms, wood fungus and truffles. It’s supple, slender, silky and juicy, with no component overshadowing the rest. While the Grange really demands a couple of decades of dungeon, this one will perform as well as that ’71 St Henri in the very long term, but it’s perfectly approachable now. A thrilling, marvelous exercise in luxurious, perfectly harmonious shiraz, and a lesson to all those winemakers with wood fetishes.

Wendouree Shiraz 1998
$??; ??% alcohol; cork; drunk 6MAY10; 95+++ points
A brilliant white light of something like the soul of the pepper of Jesus or Ezekiel or somebody shines through this astonishing gastronomic device. The Valley of Dry Bones comes to mind, too, in this electric hallucination. But it’s brimming with the juice of all manners of briars and berries in a blood and gunmetal swirl, and as the heavenly breeze gets into it, it begins to smell like a cosmetic salon for all the Muses, who were the pin-up girls of their day. And to remind you of your mortality, and the fact that all good things must come to an end, it delivers you a lick of dry schisty tannin. The alarming thing is that all this happens in a few seconds, which then taper off, as if time was stretching elastically, and you realize that it tastes as if it was made in 2008.

Castagna Genesis Beechworth Syrah 2009
$75; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 95++ points
While Julian Castagna derides the old Grange philosophy of American oak and added tannin, this could almost be mistaken for one of the more eucalypt-mentholated super-Penfolds without the coconut and sap.  Which is evidence of his determination: while Grange was a compromise short of the things Max Schubert felt essential for a superwine - Cabernet sauvignon and French oak for starters - Castagna has made no compromise.  So this reminds me perversely of a Penfolds I have not seen.  It reeks of blueberries, leather, fennel, meadow sward, anise, mace, cooking chocolate, dutch licorice, and dust.  Then, once you’ve let it into your minions it leaves a delightful little lozenge of blackcurrant and blueberry in the middle of your tongue.  The acidity, the tannins, the unction: all are sublime and beginning to harmonise. All the bells are ringing.  And once again, the great soothe is here as powerfully as the sass.    Tasted November 2011

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009 
$175.00; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 95++ points
Blackberries in dark Val du Rhona Chocolate; apple slices in same.  Bright and vivacious the flash of Spanish eyes.  Split stone.  Australian summer dust. And as I probably say every year, not only do we know that through this Red Wine Trial, yes, you can make Barossa Shiraz in French oak, and yes, it still looks utterly Australian. The battle betwixt the oaks of France and Missouri is much more interesting to watch since vast improvements occurred in the cooperage and maturation of American oak: the standard spongiform/balsa/bourbon/coconut stuff is no longer all you get from the Quercus alba.  But on the other hand, this French oak is gingery: fresh powdered ginger.  The flavours are silky wicked: they got the red-bellied black snake sheen.  So imagine a wine with the sinuous texture of a great Hermitage but a nose that’s really 100% Australian Shiraz.  Sheep beneath the gums.  Hot black tea from a pannier bubbling in the eucalypt flames.  And that wicked blackberry syrup. Awwww.  Thirty years? 

Penfolds Grange 2002
$700+; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 95++ points
While Max had been making Grange for two decades before I was old enough to drink them, I was lucky that he lived long enough after that to share most of his favourites with me. And I've certainly had all those made since he retired. So I can confidently say that this is the freshest, most sanitary, finest, slender and sexy Grange ever. (Apart, perhaps, from the 1954, which was always overlooked in comparative tastings.) Juicy and cute, yet mightily concentrated and dense, this one's easy to guzzle now, but will gradually explode in the cellar.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2006
$170; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted 20 FEB 09; 7 MAY 09; 1 MAY 10; 95++ points
The Red Wine Trial is now in its tenth release, and those who argued that amongst all Penfolds trademark American oaked reds there should reside this handsome line, made in 100% French, should be given awards. Copy: “I’m gradually going so high into the cosmos that the top of my skull is now in a state of complete weightlessness”, say the notes. “... Where’s Gerard Jaboulet when you need to show him something? Pancetta ... open-hearted ... Peter’s wines are more honest”. This is indeed stunning wine, fine and tight, velvety and seamless, with lovely grainy tannins packed around the fruit like a redoubt. It’s long, lazy and smug in the authority of one who has absolutely nothing to prove.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2005
$95; 14% alcohol; cork; tasted 20 FEB 09, 7 MAY 09, 1 MAY 10; 95 points
This is gorgeous wine: made true to the style invented in the 1800s by Edmund Mazure and rekindled in the early 50s by John Davouren, and a vintage which would delight and astonish both men. It has stunning perfume and intensity in the style of the old Guerlain perfumes, Jicky and L’heure Blue, and has that sort of impressionistic wistful reflection about it. Nuages. It has layers of pretty essency confection, but look deeper and you’ll see the aged shadows of leather and blood pudding. It’s a slow explosion of flavour in the mouth, with enough tannin to ensure twenty good years’ cellar. It’s not about to change suddenly!

Charles Melton Voices of Angels Eden Valley Shiraz 2005
$55; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++
Another of Charlie’s new single-vineyard creamers, this veritable choir of angels is more along the Aretha Franklin singin’ black gospel in church than anything blue-eyed or palely Lutheran. It’s from the deepest south of Eden Valley, and it’s utterly hard-core chickenskin music. Perfect new oak, black black berries, gun oil – hot damn, it even smells like the sands of Africa. Velvety and bone dry, sinuous, it walks, it talks, it crawls on its belly like a reptile at a revival. And it’ll cellar brilliantly: this blessin’ll just keep on ringing your heavenly bells for twenty years min. Cracklin’ hog.

Greenock Creek Seven Acre Shiraz 2007
$48; 14% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in August 09; 94+++ points
OK, here’s the record-holder: this dour Easter Island stone-hewn rockface of a wine is four whole percent lower in alcohol than its predecessor. Four. Count ’em. Four. So what’s the difference? It smells more like stone, for a start. It smells like the Flinders Ranges in summer. In fact, it smells like the smithy out the back of a shearing shed in the Flinders ranges in summer. In the first couple of days, I could smell all that, easily. Hot iron, forge coke, old harness: you get the drift. In day three, the blacksmith, or the farrier, or whomsoever they have these days, magically opened up a lunchpail with a huge wobbling jelly of blackcurrant decked with wild cherries preserved by his Missus in her Fowlers’ Vacola, and doshed it up to the dusty lads with fresh whipped cream. But it’s the dust that prevails, even after a week of oxygen: burlap, almond shells, the smell of a freshly-blasted quarry, these hard things predominate. Over the days, there’s a fascinating counterplay between hardrock mining, blacksmiths and Flinders farriers, maybe even the sweet smell of horse, and then the fruits: juniper, then bitter wild black cherry, then prune compote, then warmed black olives, fresh purple figs, quinces poached in burgundy with cloves, and so on. They all gradually emerge, blinking, into the light. Then comes the finish, barging in with stone and steel and acid and black tea tannin from a tin pannier. If I had another week with it, which is impossible because this yarn must finally be written, I reckon it might wring more points outa me than that damn Apricot Block did. Jeez. Impossible.

Karra Yerta Flaxman’s Gully Barossa Shiraz 2006
pre-release unlabelled sample; ??% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
The stony, barren ridge at the top of Flaxman’s, where the ancient rocks poke through high above the Barossa, is the home of some of the world’s most expensive and elusive shiraz wines. (Think Ringland, next door. McLean’s Farm at the northern end; Mountadam at the southern.) This vineyard is windswept and wild, freezing in the winter, and even cool at night in the midst of the most vicious heatwaves. So this rare tincture has quite a lot to live up to. It has the most intense and complex bouquet, riddled with twists of beauty that seem so blacksmithed into compression they unwind in a dreadfully gradual and teasing manner. Musk, lavendar, violets, licorice, mint, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, blackcurrant, blackberry, beetroot, morel, porcini, ancient soy, salt, schist, podsol, guano, gunpowder, swarf, burlap ... I dunno. I could go on, and I’ve only had my hooter in the glass for thirty minutes. I know now that this wine is gonna be a king hell striptease viper with a voice like Barry White and Grace Jones for a Mum. The palate’s disarming and confronting from the first sip: just mildly viscous, especially compared to the intensity of its flavours, with, yep, the lithe form of the black whipsnake slithering around your mouth like some professional girls apparently dance on poles. It’s strangely compact and intense, as I’ve said too many times, but still seems ethereal in its saucy habit of letting little shots of its myriad components just go: they’re there for a flash as they evaporate, and suddenly they’re replaced by something else. And on and on it goes. The dance of the hundred and summit veils. Sometime a long way off all these bits and pieces will assimilate and homogenise and the damned thing will be mature and formal and very, very famous, and those astonishing components will let go at the same time in equal proportions and really, really gradually, but shit, that’ll kill people, and by Bacchus I love it now. I doubt that I can stay alive long enough to drink it at its peak, and if I did, it’d kill me anyway. Karra Yerta has never hit the top ten in the glambam gobstopper any price you like stakes, but it will, and it will outshine most of those wannabeez and cooderbeenz. This is a stunning, secret wine. Gimme! JAN 09 ps: Next day: I've just discovered this wine includes some tempranillo and cabernet. Perfect blending.
Marius Symphony Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$35; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; APR 10; 94+++ points
Symphony makes Simpatico look like a callow rake with only one sly eye on the throne. This is big royalty: amongst the very best shiraz from one of Australia’s most revered shiraz regions. It is glowering yet mellow; stony-dry yet packed with simmering regal fruit concentrate; thick and blacksmithed on one hand; elegant and sword-slick on the other. And there’s a naughty sprinkle of something a bit like Guerlain’s Imperiale, which you can still buy but was first made for Napoleon, who tipped buckets of it over himself in battle. He hated the bouquet of ordure. His beautiful bottle has gold honeybees all over it. But Bony flunked, and this is still king. The king’s perfume in Symphony has a little more musk, and has never been available for commoners. So who are you?

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2006
$100; 13.5% alcohol; cork; tasted 20 FEB 09, 7 MAY 09, 1 MAY 10; 94+++ points
Veteran Penfolds winemaker (50 vintages) John Bird says the 91 vintage is the best Magill Estate, but in those years the damn thing was so buried in American oak it will never come into fair balance. This one spent fourteen months in new hogsheads, 71% French, and 29% American, and I reckon it’s the best Magill Estate I can recall. It’s sweet and audacious to smell, part charcuterie, part confectionery, and that dwindling percentage of American oak gives it just the cheekiest sappy edge. That aside, its fruit is the most open-faced and honest expression of shiraz, much the more elegant and disarming for that lower alcohol, and its open-fermenter, basket-pressed style.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006
$31.90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; FEB 09, 1 MAY 10; 94+++ points
I reckon this is the best Bin 28 in years. It’s not all Kalimna, though – there’s fruit from McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Clare in the blend. It tastes like Kalimna, however: its tannins are as dry and sparse as the wind-blown sand of that mighty vineyard. It has a deep sense of foreboding in its mood, as if there were a thunderstorm over Kalimna, maybe because of the faint ozone-like whiff in there amongst the sprinkling of white pepper. The fruit’s tight, chewy and austere, and as black and intense in its depth as pure tourmaline. It’s a thirty year wine: amazing.

d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006
$65; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
Dead Arm? What happened to his arm? Trapped beneath a stillborn twin in the womb? If the writing on his back was five or six points bigger we might find out, but I actually believe, and I’ve got this on really good sniff, that the arm was never there. This is the One Armed Man. He’s an ironmonger who swings his hammer with that one mighty right arm. Underneath the chestnut tree the village smithy stands. The muscles on his mighty arm are tight as iron bands. If you boiled down all the reviews in the SHIRAZ section of this blog, and half of the GRENACHE, fed ’em to your local Bubba – ’Lo, m’name’s Bubba, what’s y’all – got the local deaf reporter to interview everybody in a real deep investigative sense, then got Bubba to eat the shorthand notes, and THEN cut off his arm, you might get this. And they reckon they can teach winemaking in universities. I coulda talked about berries and tannin, acid, for heaven’s sake, and juicy strapping fruit, and Chester finally turning his back on the petrochem sprays and recreational cultivation and the near impossibly ideal conditions of 2006, but you’d still be wondering about whether the guy who never had the arm was an improvement on Bubba after you cut one of his off. And what’d you do with one you cut off? Is that the one that keeps reaching out for more cabernet? Eh? Chester mighta put it in the GSM, but it’s certainly not in the cabernet. So what's all this microscopic rubbish on the back label?

Greenock Creek Seven Acre Shiraz 2006
($48; 18% alcohol; cork; 94+++ points)
Aroma: sweet, alluring, dark chocolate, blanched almonds, dried apricot, dried prune, coke, swarf, railway sleepers. Flavour: licorice, aniseed, beetroot, juniper berries, gin, hot alcohol, red dust. Texture: thick, syrupy, irony, extremely dry tannins. Aftertaste: hot, sweet/dry, juniper tannins, challenging. Summary: Back when the Seven Acre roots were just beginning their extremely difficult journey into the fractured siltstones and quartzites of the Tapleys Hill Formation, its wines were pretty confections to sniff, and neat, if intense, cordials to drink. Tapleys Hill Formation is made up of deposits that settled at the bottom of very deep, still lakes after the retreat of the ocean that left us the Yudnamutana sediments. As these tough roots delve further, the wines become much more complex and challenging. This is the most intense and powerful Seven Acre yet. Incredibly, it seems destined to settle in a balanced, if overwhelming state of grace. Its acidity and depth of flavour are as tight as iron, yet those pretty, teasing confectionery bits of its bouquet remain as felicitious and salacious as the first Seven Acre bouquets. This is breathtaking, astonishing wine. I know it’s hot, but so is gin. Anyway this serves a different purpose. You can drink it with steak.

La Curio Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$31 ret $28 dir; 15% alcohol; cork; 94+++
We may have a new shiraz king. Adam Hooper, King of the defunkting Redheads Studio gutter rats McLiavalleyan red explosion, has this blood all over his hands. Best you can get: maybe his most conventional current wine to sniff, but more in the line of the old doctrines, in that it has the sort of balance and thickness of effective platelets to make the lips go wobbly in slow motion to suck blood back into the head, so it doesn’t all fall out through the stabhole in your gizzards, which you suddenly realise is the source of that wicked life-and-death Scarlatti crimson rosejuice smell! Then, and this probly happens only to me, the top left corner of my upper labia twitches into a an upwards Elvis sneer, and I think I must be coming. To church, of course. But that passes, and the Devil takes control. A bird never flew on the one wing. MAR 09

Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
$100; 15.5% alcohol; cork; 94+++ points
Christian Auricht planted these vines 164 years ago. They looked a bit tired by 1996, when Karl Lindner waved the axe at ’em. But, being an Old Vine Tragic, he gave them a nice new quiff, and his rellies and the Bitters began the rebirth of Langmeil. Much better formed than the modern syrupy Barossans, its svelte and supple style gives no hint of all that alcohol. Yes, it’s intense, but much more like a serious Hermitage from the source of shiraz on the Rhone. It’s astonishing: subtly oaked, gently chocolaty, softly mossy and mushroomy … and determined to live another twenty years, cork willing. Eternal life, anybody?

Lazy Ballerina McLaren Vale Shiraz Viognier 2007
$20; 14.5% alcohol; Procork; 94+++ points
James Hook, Vales viti guru, sure knows how to viogniate a red. He grows shiraz so sinister it’ll suck all the light out of a room, and adds “a few buckets” of tannic, cool-climate viognier, so we get this black dancer that smells like it’s just been kissed by Nicole Kidman. Stack up your hamper at Smelly Cheese and a good baguettier, buy this at the new Lazy-B tasting room on the big bend opposite Kuitpo forest, take your beloved to the picnic ground, and let this willowy wickedness prance across your palate in the trees. Best shiraz-vio of the year. - DEC 08

Port Phillip Estate Tete de Cuvee Mornington Peninsula Shiraz 2007
$40; 13.5% alcohol; Diam cork; tasted 20-24 OCT 09; 94+++ points
At the time of writing, this was a more elegant and refined wine than all those above, apart, perhaps from the Penfold's St Henri 2004, which is a different kettle of fish, anyway. Not to mention all those below, down to, I dunno, I get tired at around 92 points. It reminds me of the 1978 Domaine de la Thalabert from Jaboulet. It has old chestnutty oak like that wine, and brilliantly slender, sinuous fruit, in spite of it coming from the earliest picking yet at Port Phillip Estate's slurpy Red Hill vineyard. It also brings to mind some of those rusty tin shed Italian wines Roberto loves to stock in Wine Expo in Santa Monica. It has an acrid spicy edge that almost irritates the nostrils, and then quincey fruit, like my favourite quincey dish: grano quinces poached in a mixture of 1/3 sauternes, 2/3 nutty pinot, with cloves, served with the slightest sprinkle of long pepper, Piper longum, and freshly whipped Paris Creek cream. You got me? This is the sort of wild, freckled country wine that the Barossa and McLaren Vale are still years away from understanding. She's riding bareback, raising hell and the summer's first red dust down amongst the birches. Brilliant! Sexy! If Beethoven's Pastorale had a banjo in it, that's what I'd be playing. Copland doesn't quite get there in Appalachian Spring....

S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
I've not talked to him since tasting this from bottle - I loved it in barrel - but I reckon this is the best red I can recall Steve Pannell making. Which is saying something. It's almost too young to properly evaluate, but shit it's a beauty. The shiraz from the best Vales vineyards in 06 seems particularly chocolaty - almost like one of those orange-flavoured chocolates that's wrapped so it looks like an orange and when you whack it on your wooden leg it breaks into a whole lot of delicious orange chocolate slices that go perfectly with Kahlua. But forget all that: buy Lindt orange chocolate, or something even more extravagant, and have it with this, three or four days after you've opened it, had an exploratory glass, just so's you know, and then screwed the lid back on. This wine will live for twenty five years, minimum, in the cellar. It's gorgeous. Perfect black Pannell midnight glitter: anthracite; or a schorl six-membered rings cyclosilicate. The hitman's ring. Too dark to photograph. Like the black in the background of the blackest Mapplethorpe. Stuff a platypus with truffles ... FEB 09

Yangarra McLaren Vale Ironheart Shiraz 2007
$??; $% alcohol; cork; JAN10; 94+++ points
Cowboy movie; David Crosby [If I Could Only Remember My Name] with David Crosby – guitar, vocals; Jerry Garcia – guitar; Phil Lesh – bass; Mickey Hart – drums, and Bill Kreutzmann – tambourine. These dudes saunter up the street during Eliot’s shoot of The Eagles Desperado cover snaps and blow ‘em clean outa the fake Hollywood tumbleweed with pure music syrup.

Cascabel Fleurieu Shiraz 2005
$30; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
Immediately alluring and seductive, this is the best Cascabel shiraz yet, and probably the best one I’ve had from the Fleurieu. It’s from a vineyard at Middleton, which is much, much cooler than McLaren Vale. It’s big, but perfectly harmonious and smooth, with mellow moss, fern, and moist, mushroomy earth hints, like a great Hermitage. The French oak is spicy and supportive without being intrusive. It’s seamless, streamlined wine of huge intensity and depth, and a mighty advertisement, par excellence, for the southern Fleurieu as a shiraz site deserving more attention. Call 8557 4434 for supplies. 19.1.8

Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Barossa Shiraz 2005
$55; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++
Charlie usually blends. Grains of Paradise, a new idea, will come from the best single Valley floor block he harvests each year. This one’s from Lyndoch. It has moody licorice overtones adding edge to its ultra slick blackberry and blackcurrant essence, and the palate is just such a smooch that it transports you. I know grains is the French term for berries, but the grainy paradise this takes me to is more along the lines of an old French movie, like Lacombe Lucien, where the film stock dots seem to convert to hazy spring pollens on screen. Lamb cutlets.

Gemtree Obsidian McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004
$45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
This edgy brute leapt at me from a long row of masked McLaren Vale glasses three months back. Its maker was obvious: Mike Brown has a certain touch, fortified by his wife, Melissa, who drives the increasingly organic and biodynamic Gemtree vineyards. It wasn’t bottled then, but sure is now, already twitching to get out of there and into one. It has more vibrant balancing vegetal tone than your average moody Vales smoothy, meaning it’ll grow more interesting the longer it’s imprisoned. It’s a glorious opulent wonderchild, eager for its crown, or veal liver and morels.

Greenock Creek Roennfeldt Road Shiraz 2003
($192; 18.5% alcohol; cork; 94++ points)

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2009 
$130; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted JUN 2012; 94++ points
Here’s another one that reminds me of the blacksmith’s cottage in the early ‘sixties: the sooty chimney’s not quite extracting the dark fumes from that iron pot of blackberries stewing on the stove … Mary Penfold’s little cottage kitchen in The Grange would have smelt like this every year when the figs, or blackberries or mulberries were ready … there’s gunpowder, too, and polished black leather: the deaf birdscarer’s come in for a cuppa, no milk, ta Mrs Penfold thankyou … aniseed, poppy seed … boisterous rollicking tannins … green coffee beans going in the roaster … The wine has a savoury edge – as in the herb, savoury – that draws one’s blood to the back of the lips.  It’s intensely appetizing wine rather than satisfying, its madly individualistic fruit getting supportive, harmonious oak.  Then, once I’d sat back and thought properly about it, like swallowed a fair bit of it, I reckoned that it’s a brash thrash cut of a real old doo-wop style … it’s got red hair and I’ll bet there’s a bright red kilt in there somewhere.

Barons of Barossa Shiraz 2005
$25; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 94+ points
Oooh. We’re in trouble here. Smelling this is like sliding into the jelly pit at the local mud wrestling temple. Classic Barossa chocolate and leather shiraz be here, maturing at that sicko sensuo rate that only a miraculous cork permits the swooniest jell-o shiraz from somewhere as stoic and slow and determined to eventually fall into the jelly pit at the local mud wrestling temple as the Barossa. There’s edgy forge oak and coke, then that lascivious wallow of first class Barossa shiraz, just on the turn between puppy fat and pulchritude, then an oozy slimulation of acid and very, very fine tannin: almost finer than particulate. It’s exquisite Barossa shiraz at a dangerously suggestive time of its life, here in the mud wrestling temple. Which is something that’s yet to arrive in the Barossa. Although you can get a red wine bath there at the Novotel. But that wouldn’t be like this. This is a wine that bathes in YOU. FEB 09

Good Catholic Girl The James Brazill Clare Shiraz 2005
$30; 16.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points
Julie Ann Barry, daughter of James Brazill Barry, winemaker, (dec.), grew these grapes on land her dad selected for her at Limerick, across the road from his Armagh vineyard in Clare, South Australia. Jules used cuttings from Armagh to plant 1ha at the front of her big comfy house. Rather than worry about pip ripeness, tannin ripeness, fruit ripeness, stalk ripeness, pH, acid or sugar, she picked these grapes on the day Pope John Paul II went up to see whether Jesus is real. Four weeks on skins; eighteen munce in dad’s old port barrels; couple years in bottle ... all very Irish. The friggin thing’s like a movie. What was the one with Richard Harris and all the cows running over the cliff? The Field? Remember the smell of that movie? The field full of cowshit and rotting seaweed? What I mean is earthy here, with the distinctive lignin/peat/moss/swampy decay that typifies Armagh here by the drayload. Then comes a whole retaining wall of fruit, and spice which cannot possibly have come from port barrels, unless our sweet GCG had em shaved. The damn thing’s all over your palate the minute you let her in, lolling dangerously tward the black leather chaise, cigarette holder bent at right angles where she hit the wall. Slick, and sensuous, like the black panther that Natassa Kinsky turns into in Cat People, but not yet quite sure of her cat slink, she eventually straightens up, gets real cat stuff going, leads you out into the bayou then rips your bloody arm off. But oooh Jesus, don’t you just love that? Beautiful, slick, highly entertaining wine which has true balance and elegance in spite of all those numbers up at the top. Sorry about mexing my mitaphors, but a bayou IS a swamp. Impossible? A catholic swamp? Naaah! It's a catholic cat! Rip away, puddy tat! JAN 09

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009 
$75; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted MAR 2012; 94+ points
The real old rocks between the Dorrien flats and Michael and Annabelle Waugh’s home vineyards can produce flavours of the most confounding intensity and complexity.  Cigar smoke, billiard tables, ancient books. Falling off your motorbike in the dust and stone.  Panforte.  Stables with harness.  The smithy.  The spirits of wild briary berries the like of which we have not yet discovered get into the vines here on certain nights, leaving you with a gastronomic Fellini movie.  And I don’t mean scratch and sniff like that John Waterman movie.  With this one, it scratches you.  Then it laps you right up.  Astonishing depths of fruitmince and suet are already in there when you get swallowed.  Juniper and bay, and olive leaf.  Dates, figs, prunes.  Cloves. Nutmeg. Yo-ho-ho.  Looks like an old pickled missionary over in the corner. What?  Sir John Falstaff?  Good Lord! Have you seen Trott?  

Woodstock The Stocks McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004
($50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points)
Lush and complex, with mulberry and prune, seasoned by lovely spicy oak, this fresh, lively black wine comes from old vines grown in the southern edge of the awesome Blewett Springs Sands, which have given it their distinctive peaty vegetal decay flavours. Woodstock's best red yet, it's a huge, complex wine for the cellar, but it's scrumptious now with mutton shanks with shiitake, porcini, oyster and ordinary field mushrooms.

Yangarra McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008
$28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 25FEB10; 24-25MAY10; 94+ points
Fig, dried apple, blueberry, black currant, cassis, framboise, anthracite, steam engine, cordite, carbide, gun oil, burnt matches … here in May 2010, this is Yangarra’s triumph. The French must simply spew with rage when they see wine like this. It has fey delight and deep mystery all at once. It’s ripe and sweet, but with that ironstone chassis and dressed leather upholstery and all that waxed paintwork and pinstriping and a driver in Bay Rum, with the whiff of Soir de Paris on him from whatever the Madelaine hookers did to him last night while we at the opera … frisson; frou frou; the cascade applause of the opera … and the length. And the miasma. Bugatti Royale territory. Patent leather. The gros-grain lapel of the tuxedo. Bal a’Versailles.

Lazy Ballerina McLaren Vale Shiraz Viognier 2005
($16.60; 14.9% alcohol; cork; 94 points)
I don’t know a better version of this blend. With viognier for “extra kick”, instead of the gooey canned peach too many makers go for, it turns its rivals to silly lollies. Lovely fruit aside, it smells of mushrooms and damp, healthy earth – it’s dense, luscious, and smooth, and chockers with savoury dry tannins and live grapes. I panned mushrooms in butter and olive oil with black olives, chilli, onions and garlic and had ’em on toast with my bottle. All of it. Do it. Heavenly. And don't miss a chance to visit James Hook, the maker, at his family's stunning new cellar sales outlet on the big bend in Kuitpo Forest in the Adelaide Hills. I've tasted all the new releases (and a few yet to appear), and they're equally good. James has the touch. (6.1.7)

Barons of Barossa Shiraz 2007
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
I’m pushing my own Baron here, but this one’s VERY special. The great Colin Glaetzer did the assemblage, selecting barrels from the cellars of Lehmann, Elderton, St Hallett, Bethany, Burge, Melton, Glaetzer, Haan, and Irvine. Et cetera. I chair the Barons’ Foundation committee which chooses the beneficiaries of the profits – we make tax-free grants to projects which preserve and maintain the Barossa’s heritage, lifestyle, tradition, winemaking and viticulture. It’s like the Flood Relief Red, still drinking beautifully, cork willing, that Schubert, Blass and Lehmann made after the floods that followed the blitzkreig bushfires of 1983. It’s priceless, slippery, blacksmithed Barossa magnificence for drinking or dungeon, at a silly price. It has vivid fruit, as lithe and lively as the fruits rouge counter at the old Fouchon. There’s just a little spice, from exemplary oak, and a little mint, which probably comes from eucalypt intrusion, and a little lavendar, which comes from Bacchus knows where, and then a sinuous willow of a palate that’s intense yet sublimely lithe and elegant. There is nothing else like it. In another year, I’d probably be pointing it 94+++: thus far, it only really begins to sing after two or three days of air. Exclusively from The Wine Society: FEB 09

BlackJack Bendigo Block 6 Shiraz 2009
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted November 2011, 93+++ points
Rhone aficionados may like immediately to hear that this reminds me of the Cornas of August Clape in a moderate to hot year.  It has that singed whiff of Africa blowing across it, just as the Ghibli blows from the Sahara across the Mediterranean and the Rhone delta and into the funnel of the gorge at Tain l’Hermitage. Of course it has fruits, too: intense but alive; blackberry, mulberry, prune and fig.  Maybe some dried apple.  It has more than $20 extra life than the sullen Nine Lives, if you get my drift.  I’ve been nudging it all morning, and after six hours, it’s only now beginning to relax and chill and let a little of its black petticoat show.   Its oak is merciful but spicy, like the dry cedar veneer you find in a cigar tube, but this peppery fruit is all over that.  It’d be very impressive now with osso bucco and some kalamata in the tomato sauce, but that’s nothing on what it’ll be like in six or seven years, when I’d have it with pink steak, raw Spanish onion, horseradish and capers. It’s very very impressive.

Chapel Hill The Chosen House Block Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$55; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1977; 100 doz., tasted December 2011; 93+++ points
At first pour, this seemed all pure carbon and lignite and the fruit of vines tortured by drought. It’s woody, but it somehow suits. It showed some raspberry, prune and fig, but the palate was hard going and tannic. Six hours later, we have flesh: the pale chocolate crême caramel. The wine has lost some of brittle piety, and let itself show some sinuous flex. Its tannin is pure drought vintage stuff: persistent and ungiving to the point that at first it looks like it may have been added, which I’m sure is not the case in the powdered tannin sense. A fair deal it of looks like it comes from oak. But it’s delicious wine now, after nine hours. Forget it for five years. It may be even better in fifteen. It is the most Australian of wines.

Coates Consonance Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; diam cork; 93+++ points
There’s really dark walnut shell oak lurking about the backdrops of this heavy velvet curtain. It’s a highly evocative, moody performance from the Dark Ages. Aged soy sauce and disarmingly fresh and lively black, mull, straw and blue berries are only just coming to the boil in the conserve cauldron. It’s not hot or jammy, though. Its syrupy texture is in balance with that dry oak and much slender acid, leaving you feeling like your mouth is the b-and-b in which Langhorne Creek once again married McLaren Vale, the shiraz using her French name, perhaps for reasons of discretion.

Fox Creek McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz 2008
$70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 1-2JUL12; 93+++ points
As it comes covered with show bling – four gold medals internationally, for starters – there’s little surprise to discover this wine is after the Wolf Blass/John Glaetzer style, with a good whack of American oak overshadowing the French, and that luxuriously velvety barrel-ferment feel and bouquet.  It’s all blackberries and mulberries in the fruit division; cedary and cigar-boxy in the carpentry.  The two are not yet properly entwined, but they’ll move closer.  In the meantime, it really does take me back to the Lunch Club days in the Greenock Creek Tavern, where Wolfie poured Black Label trophy-winners like there was no tomorrow.  We now know there was a tomorrow, but it must be over: it’s a long time since I saw a bottle of Black Label, anywhere.  So this fills the gap.  And it does it well at a much lower price.  Very much wine of a style, it’s a really good example of what McLaren Vale can do while it’s not obsessing with Scarce bloody Erse. Unlike those old Blass wines, this has not suffered the indignity of having a lump of Portuguese bark jammed down its throat, so it will not taint as it ages.  I’d give it another five years, then pour it from a Jimmy Watson jug, or something along those lines, and have it with pepper steak, bleu.

Giaconda Warner Vineyard Beechworth Shiraz 2006
$???; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
Rick Kinzibrunner was a rather awkward intense fellow fucking around with the Brown Brothers’ shiny new kindergarten winery when I first met him in the early ’eighties. Now he’s a great steaming genius: Victoria’s answer to Chris Ringland. This is highly intense wine, full of milk chocolate and moss, as thick and velvety as a carpet. The palate intensity falls away faster than that bouquet would have you expect, but then, it’s what they call elegant, and it’s nothing a decade of dungeon won’t fix. Tasting it again after four days open, that finish has filled out nicely. Hearty, moody, evocative, provocative wine.

Giant Steps Miller Vineyard Yarra Valley Shiraz 2006
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++
Phil Sexton’s Giant Steps are quickly taking his Yarra vineyards into full biodynamic management, and if this wine’s any indicator of how well he’ll do, we should all start saving up and ensuring our place on the mailing list. Shiraz of this pious philosophy has mainly been Castagna country til now. While there’s a peppercorn or two in the nose, it’s mainly swimmingly alive with fresh red fruits and juicy black olives, and the flavours are incredibly intense, as if these cells had walls twice as thick as normal fruits. Confit of duck, please, or goose. (2.2.8)

Greenock Creek Alice’s Shiraz 2006
($38;17% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points)
Aroma: aniseed, licorice, cocoa, milk chocolate, tea tin, stewed prunes, blanched almonds, stewed quince, cloves, mulberries, dried apple, blackberry leaf. Flavour: mint, nettle tea, prune syrup, chocolate bullets, marshmallow, framboise, tea tin tannins, borscht. Texture: supple, nicely viscous, syrupy, fluffy, very dry dolomite tannins. Aftertaste: rich, syrupy, drying, thick, split schist/mudstone/dolomite tannin. Summary: And I can remember when Alice’s was destined to be the “commercial” block, with slightly higher yields than the others, to present a more “drink now” wine which wouldn’t require quite so much cellar! Pull the other one. This monster is a magnificent blacksmithed essence of shiraz from the ancient Yudnamuntana, which contains deposits dropped from floating glacial ice floes which were carried inland, far beyond the edge of deep ocean and our current shorelines. A rock fruit salad, in other words. Which may explain the confounding depth of this wine, which can be “drunk now”, but not without risk. Its aromas, depending when you look, will contain all the above, and Bacchus only knows what else. The flavours are similarly astonishing and complex. The finish is as tannic as Yudnamutana dolomite, which is generally used for road metal, so should not wear out with undue haste. Ideally, I’d wait at least ten years

Jardim do Bomfim McLaren Vale Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2007
$30; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
While it’s unfair to appraise this wine at such an infant state, it’s already showing its noble breeding and intelligent, sensitive choice of vineyards. The alcohol’s intrusive – it’s obviously very recently bottled – but there’s plenty of stuff going on in here to ensure the fruit will eventually climb outa its sulks to wrap its gooey glory around that beautiful steely acidity and long, drawing, extremely fine tannin. It has lovely syrupy – yet slender and athletic – texture at this early stage, and a gradually tapering finish that will ring all your bells in a year or two; maybe a month or two. The wine would benefit greatly from a decade of deep, cool dungeon, but can be drunk now, if you’re brave enough, or leave it in a decanter for a few hours. Or a day. Its grand promise lies in that beautiful cool climate acidity. Try and wait for it. Or savour it now with classic pepper steak, spud wedges with rock salt, and roast capsicum.

Lazy Ballerina Single Vineyard Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$??; 15% alcohol; cork; tasted 24-27 APR 09; 93+++ points
This mindblowing fruit came from the California Road vineyard of Dudley Brown and Karen Wotherspoon, near Tatachilla. It is seamless, luxurious, smugly sensuous McLaren Vale shiraz at its thickly-perfumed, slick-and-silky best. Fresh blackberry and mulberry tart, mint, musk, confectioner's sugar and old cedar spice box all twist teasingly through its bouquet. Maybe a rememberance of white pepper. The palate's fudgy at first, then syrupy, then slides out into a long acidulous taper. Its tannins are velvety and persistent. It teases without moving. But it WILL move. I want to drink this immediately, but that's frustrating because I keep thinking of how much more fun it will become. Slow, dimly lit fun. Friggin gorgeous wine: the work of the emergent James Hook. Each wine he releases has this amazing quiet confidence about it. Get on his list! If he'd held this back another year it would have emerged a full point higher.

Lazy Ballerina McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$26; 15.5% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points
I can feel a theory brewing about the best new McLaren Vale shiraz wines bearing strange resemblances to our dear friends in the serpent world. Read on. Captain James Hook, viti king, threw everything sensible at these vines: they were pampered beyond belief. Fair dinkum kissed and cuddled. But instead of giving him a fat little puppy -- it’s not fat, and never jammy -- the result is a stunning hyper intense McLaren Vale shiraz: the sort of thing that makes everybody round the table go very quiet and thoughtful while they realise they’ve just drunk a snake: it’s slinky and serpentine in its lithe muscly blackness, with a neat little tease of chicory-like tannin in its tail, maybe fennel or licorice, where the rattle should be. It’s very good wine, and like the Marius 2006 I review nearby, it kept bringing snakes to mind, such was its lithe slither. After all the blackberry and whatever -- think alien fruits and flowers so black they’ve just gotta be poisonous -- that finish is near perfection in its focus and silent, smug sass. I’d be turning a big field mushroom on its back, filling its gills with amontillado sherry and chopped herbs and garlic, frying it like that, on its back, in butter and Coriole’s best new olive oil, finishing it off beneath the grill, and setting back to devour it with this bottle and a slice of very simple buttered toast. And I wouldn’t want anybody else there. I wouldn’t want to listen to anybody talk about it. Then I’d put a case away for ten years and over that decade plan twelve more nights of perfectly silent aloneness. With the snake. Aw, maybe some Little Feat ... it might need some of that socket wrench slide of Lowell’s. That’s snaky too, know what I mean? Rocket In My Pocket ... finger in the socket ... JAN 09

Marius Simpatico Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
Like the vineyards halfway up the Hermitage hill in the south Rhone, this one has round river stones, but it’s halfway up the piedmont of the Willunga escarpment near McLaren Vale. It smells just plain friggin gorgeous. It’s rude and sassy with whole messes of fresh, vibrant, black and blue fruits; really neat fired oak, and an acrid, nose-itching edge that can only come from the country in which it grew, and the plethora of yeasts and microbial troops that live there. It has a British Racing Green aroma: crows in the pines; a worn-out E-type decaying in the tractor shed, wondering whether it’ll go to the chooks or a restaurateur. It’s slender and tight at first sip, with a sharp carbon base. But given the chance to properly slither in and unwind, it teases like that serpent that suckered Eve. And as my aboriginal friends say, bugger the apple -- they woulda eaten the snake every time. The finish is all the Bible black things mentioned above and more, with wicked juice and deadly nightshade tannins and really stony, slithery acidity. Twenty years, please. Or grainy pecorino. With a snake. JAN 09

Marius Symposium McLaren Vale Shiraz Mourvèdre 2006
$30; 14.7% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
This wine was impenetrable on its release. A few extra months have made a small crack in that iron visage, and now we can see some of the fragrant, sweet, healthy prune and mulberry of the shiraz peering through the cast armour of the mourvèdre, which has traditionally been called mataro in Australia. Because of its capacity to handle heat and drought, this latter grape should be much more widely planted, but its tough, dense nature makes it easy for sceptics to miss the wondrous florals and spices it has to offer if properly matured and aired. This one’s delicious.

Marius Symposium McLaren Vale Shiraz Mourvedre 2007
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
The Spanish Queen arrives, reeking of olives, prunes, and Iberian ham with a little black and white fur still round its ankle. They built this whole damn railroad for her to come down here and stomp through the joint like this in her stumpy flamenco heels. Twenty or thirty years ago we all thought she’d be a once off, and prefer to withdraw to the Mediterranean forever, but she’s here every year now. The metal of her Mourv makes her normally butch Shiraz look slinky and feminine. Once departed, it smells like her train’s got real fresh damp coal. And we follow the pack through to the tiny press room, with all that dipstick Odorono and Bay Rum, and suddenly there’s only the two of you in a tiny Marveered booth. While her black tobacco breath is fulsome with the sweet red berries of the hedgerow and her scented décolletage, I can’t get my eyes off her toe cleavage.

Mountadam Patriarch High Eden Shiraz 2006
$??; 14% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points
Since the eminently sensible David Brown bought Mountadam from the ham-fisted LVMH, he and winemaker Con Moschos have worked hard to get the jewel of the high Barossa back on the track the late great David Wynn envisaged. And here we have a stunning shiraz that would make dear David chuckle that inimitable half-suppressed chuckle of his. It’s opulent, rich and immediately engaging, whilst calming in its powerful and confident presence: take one sniff and you know you’re in for the full body massage. Perfectly formed and harmonious, the bouquet reminds me of some of the best of David’s beloved Ovens Valley “Burgundies” from the late ’sixties. (These were made to compete with Penfolds’ St Henri,a brand and recipe which John Davouren pinched from Edmund Mazure, the ingenius French trainer of Wynn’s original winemaker Hurtle Walker at Romalo, opposite Penfolds’ Magill Estate.) This wine has more oak than those wines, but it’s utterly appropriate to the fruit, adding very sultry spices and cedar without intruding upon the bouquet. It’s more evident in the palate, however, where its firm sap tweaks the finish upward, a direction opposite the calm patting-down reassurance the bouquet offers. So there’s a tease of finer, saucier titillations to come. It’ll bloom for twenty years, cork willing. It’s precisely the style Adam Wynn and me dreamed of when he naughtily planted these vines on the toughest schist outcrop on the property, facing the rising sun at 500 metres, fourteen short years ago. An Australian hermitage, rather than a burgundy! Gerard Jaboulet would love it! The wine is smooth, velvety and luxurious, and makes me dream of the steak-sized field mushrooms that will emerge in the horse paddock when the first rains of autumn fall. Welcome back, Mountadam! JAN 09

Mount Langi Ghiran Grampians Cliff Edge Shiraz 2009

$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 22-25 JUN 12; 93++ points
Damn thing’s so vibrant and seductive the bottle was nearly done before I remembered to write some notes. It’s got that acrid lightning-strikes-the-blackberries edge: when the Lord smote the bushes it got hot enough to scare them into smelling like they’re cooked, and the flash has left that sparky whiff of ozone.  Then I remember: it was grown, of course, in the year poor Victoria burnt to the ground.  Astonishing, really.  It’s a supple, intense, luxurious wallow of a red.  It has a little lavender and mint wafting in and out of all that lightning drama.  It’s too trim and willowy of frame to be Wagner, but you can feel them Valkyrie hoverin somewhere nearby. It’s much better the day after you first open it, so if you can’t wait, at least give it a thrashing of oxygen in a jug or decanter … I’d sploosh it into a jug, then pour it back into the bottle and let sit an hour or two with the cap off.  A whole 24 hours would be better.  Either way, it’s just really squishy lovely wine.  Pork hocks come to mind; anything opulent and meaty. Succulent rack of lamb; tiny kid chops.

Ngeringa Adelaide Hills Syrah 2006
$50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
Lightning on the blackberry bushes. Ozone. Fig, prune, quince. The same nostril-frotting, snufflike edge - from the country round this vineyard - that the 07 viognier reeks of. It’s in the incredible Ngeringa olive oil, too. It’s like putting down the window of the car there in the spring. Absolutely leaping with life. Gentle, refined, slenderly syrupy, the same sort of stuff you just inhaled slithers round the palate like a snake. It’s a bit tetchy so early in its confinement, but it’ll eventually chill out and drape itself across you real Breathless Mahoney-ish. And I mean the one in the comic, not the one Madonna made up. Nope; wrong both ways: it's Carmen Miranda. But that wouldn’t be a drape. Mmm. The tannins are teasing and velvety, and persistent. The exhalation is wicked. Makes me want to smoke a Sobranie Black Russian and rub blue cheese on my chest. But there’s a good argument to wait fifteen years and have it before you go to the Twilight Farm. Biodynamic.

Paxton Jones Block McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004
$37; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points
Lush, luxurious, voluptuous and oozing good health, this cream of McLaren Vale comes from a rejuvenated vineyard which has been deservedly famous for a long time. I first encountered its wonder in cleanskins in the ’seventies when it was owned by Doug and Dee Jones. The Paxtons wisely bought it, and eventually began pointing some biodynamics at it – Julian Castagna, the leading biodynamicist, took some of his original shiraz cuttings from here over a dozen years back. This plump baby smells of doughy mudcake and blackberry conserve, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and I swear there’s a cup of Arabic coffee complete with a caraway seed somewhere in the background. Pleasing dusty soil topnotes, too. After all that, the palate’s a lot more slender and supple than you’d expect, with beautiful sinuous acidity and the sort of drawn-out, tapering finish that becomes an insufferable tease. You just can’t get enough. The longer it gets air, the more the palate plumps, but its lovely furry tannins keep the balance humming, and the acidity keeps the whole thing dancing despite the gradual increase in weight. Very good wine for five years’ cellar. JAN 09

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2008

$95; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted JUN 2012; 93+++ points
Maybe I’m dreaming, but I thought the 07 had really fresh marine terroir aromas, like Bordeaux, I suppose.  It was pretty, but I mumbled that it was a little out of character for St Henri’s soulful heritage, and blamed it on the component of Robe fruit in that blend.  This wine has similar tweaks, in a much less obvious way.  It’s like the intense, fresh smell of Mornington Peninsula Shiraz.  Here, it adds to the glory.  But there’s no Robe this year: this is from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, and the Adelaide Hills, in that order.  It’s 91% Shiraz, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe it’s the Langhorne Creek fruit adding that ethereal estuarine air.  The wine is smooth, but much more velvet than silk so far: it’s gonna live for a very long time.  It has the aromatic patina of the blacksmith’s cottage kitchen with Christmas coming on: prunes and poached almonds and grilled bacon …  currants ...  fruit mince … fig and date and dumpling dough.  The polished iron wood-fired stove.  Holy hell.  Bring it on, Granma!  Pity they couldn’t release it at forty years of age … but like RIGHT NOW.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2006
$90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 93+++ points
Fifteen months in big old-fashioned oak vats is the St Henri trademark, more or less as devised by the great Edmund Mazure in the late 1800s at Kanmantoo and Romalo. Mainly as a result of malolactic fermentation in such fifty-plus year old oak, the wine is chockers with the comforting umami glutamates: it’s almost too humanly sensual and plush, with more than a whiff of the suckling mother about it. In the more conventional spectrum, it has intense Ribena/blackcurrant fruits with neat, seductive twists of coffee and chicory, a little stewed, but still fresh, clean, and almost angular, meaning it’s just a bit too young. It’s gorgeous wine now, but it’ll be a lot more gorgeous in, say fifteen or twenty years.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2003
$180?; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points
In the classic style set down by Edmund Mazure in the 1800s, and rekindled by John Davouren in the 1950s, this absolutely hellishly cute Henri shows the best results of its age-old recipe. Big old oak lets the wine mellow with minimal oxidation - Mazure used to let them sit on oak for five years - so it projects this unusual aged-yet-fresh countenance, showing only the earliest signs of mellowing, a process which will continue to progress for many more autumns, without appearing to progress much at all. What a delicious conundrum!

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2006
$90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 93+++ points
Fifteen months in big old-fashioned oak vats is the St Henri trademark, more or less as devised by the great Edmund Mazure in the late 1800s at Kanmantoo and Romalo. Mainly as a result of malolactic fermentation in such fifty-plus year old oak, the wine is chockers with the comforting umami glutamates: it’s almost too humanly sensual and plush, with more than a whiff of the suckling mother about it. In the more conventional spectrum, it has intense Ribena/blackcurrant fruits with neat, seductive twists of coffee and chicory, a little stewed, but still fresh, clean, and almost angular, meaning it’s just a bit too young. It’s gorgeous wine now, but it’ll be a lot more gorgeous in, say fifteen or twenty years.

Phi Single Vineyard Heathcote Shiraz Grenache 2010
($36; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 3,420 bottles; TASTED 25-27JAN12; 93+++ points)
Another slender, granular appetizer of wily, seductive perfume, very much after the style of the Phi Pinot 2010, but with the expected darker side.  It reinforces my theory that proper Grenache seems to be a warmer-area precursor to the more acid Pinot. With the Chardonnay 2010, I see these three 2010 Phis as a quick, intense tour from Chablis, down south through Burgundy, to the heady scents of the Rhone gorge.  All without leaving dry old Oz.  The Grenache here gives the Shiraz some gentle soul; the wine has more elegant, yet earthy style than most of Heathcote’s straight Shiraz wines, which seem to be grown and made to give hotter regions like the Barossa a run for their money.  I don’t know why.  But these Phi Wines are a very exciting and promising trio.  Not quite the trinity, but close enough to rattle the bells of continental France, it’s the ideal ménage à trios for that lazy Sunday lunch beneath the vines.   

S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache 2006
$50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
There's a lot more dark cooking chocolate in this wine than the 05 ever dreamed of. It reliably has the same fruits: blackberry, mulberry, even cassis, and it also has a little whiff of tomato leaf or hemp about it after a couple of days' air, and while it shares the intense density of the 05, I think this is more so. There is no room for turkish delight or raspberry in here. I know Steve worked for Hardy's Tintara, where as chief redman he set a cracking style in wines like this, but I think this is more of a Penfolds sort of a drink in way: a bit bigger all round than anything previously seen in Pannell's Hardy's suite. Replace the raspberry of the 05 with carbon and you'll get this black hole. The wine has amazing potential for life in the cellar: in another ten years, it might get 94+++, and so on, until the number sticks and wine's unavoidable decay gradually eats up the pluses, and then the numbers begin, tragically, to fall. In twenty years maybe? Forty? Sckrumzhell! FEB 09

S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache 2005
$50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
Having tasted the components of this wine from both tank and barrel, I feel a bit like its grandfather, seeing it now borne in bottle. All the embryonic bits and pieces were intense, deep and mysterious; just how they've conjoined and mingled is a miracle of the blender's art. The shiraz gives dense blackberry and blackcurrant, even mulberry tones; the grenache a lovely rosy sheen, somewhere between very fine turkish delight and ripe raspberry jujubes. The palate's slippery to begin, then builds gradually to a mighty tannic crescendo noir that hollers for the current crop of delicious field mushrooms.

Yangarra Vineyard Estate Ironheart McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008
15.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 30 October to 2 November 2011; 93+++ points; more soon     
I suspect this wine is kind of stalled at the moment: while it’s very beautiful on opening, and better after a day or two of air, I think it will breath even better than this awkward minute of its long life.  Properly decanted, and in the right glass, however, it will ring bells in very high noses anytime.  It reminds me of Adsteam’s Penfolds.  Its sinuous, seamless frame is clad in the muscly flesh of a sprinter, but one who’s paused a little in just a few too many brasseries.  It certainly won’t be falling over suddenly, but it will want to sit in your life for a long time, which is precisely what great quilted leather Shiraz is usually about. After three days, the damn thing still leaves a little puddle of primary juicy fruit sitting in the middle of your tongue, long, long after swallowing. Put it away.

God’s Hill Menzel Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
$38; 15.5% alcohol; cork; 93++ points
“Where did I study winemaking? You’ve gotta be joking! I learned it from my DAD!” says Charlie Scalzi. Which is not the sort of name you get too much of in the Barossa. Quite appropriately, this has all the character of a grand family wine, with the sort of musk and marshmallow mixed with marshy, swampy notes you’ll find in some Greenock Creeks. But that’s my mad hooter; yours will more likely spot coconutty oak over a chocolatey wallow of red and black berries, with allspice and cream. Grown in the tasty clay on the hill the Menzel’s called God’s when they settled in 1847, it’s sinuous, lithe, lovely intense dry red. Dark game.

Cape Jaffa La Lune Mount Benson Shiraz 2006
$45; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 93++ points
From the Hooper family’s recently-certified bioD vineyard on the Limestone Coast – where there are NO MOUNTAINS – we get this spicy, hearty, lively Hermitage-style shiraz with its volume jigger on full blast. It’s almost intolerably wholesome and fruity in the old xmess pud manner: I can see Mum with it all up to her elbows in the mixing dish in late November when I get off the school bus. The unbleached cotton twill labels are too small to wrap puddings, but you can iron ’em onto your shirts if the rats get ’em. Luny? Nope. Eminently sensible; utterly delicious.

Lindemans Limestone Ridge Coonawarra Shiraz Cabernet 2006
$55; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 21-23FEB10; 93++ points
It may not be quite so intense, with the incredible longevity of those highly extracted dry-grown wines, but this is the sort of red David Wynn, Ian Hickinbotham and Norm Walker were making at Wynn’s Coonawarra in the heady explorative early ’fifties, when they were running the first deliberately induced and managed malolactic ferments in history. The Shiraz has sweetened the more angular Cabernet, making a juicy, moderately tannic, quite svelte wine which will age nicely for at least a decade. Its perfume is modest, but honest, without overt oak; its form is strapping, velvety and savoury; its aftertaste dry and puckery in a lovely, almost comforting manner: it’s classic Australian claret of the good old school. It'll sing like Pav in ten years. Welcome back, Lindemans!

Margan Limited Release Shiraz Mourvedre 2007
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 22-24 OCT 09; 93++ points
Slumbering, this baby. The pungent meatiness of mourvedre, somewhere between blood pudding, blood'n'bone, and Iberian ham, add their primitive carnal sin to the mushroomy, fungal earth of the best Hunter shiraz. If there's fruit, it's baked apple as much as red berries. There's the politest insinuation of gently spicy wood adding to the gustatory mood. And mood is the word: this is a moody bastard, almost forlorn in its deep sulk. It's been open for two days, and hasn't bothered to look at me. It'll probably live for twenty years and stalk in here, demanding to know why I slighted it in such a weak moment, but I'm not sweating over that.

Margan Aged Release Hunter Valley Shiraz 2005
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 4-7MAY10; 93++ points
Aniseed balls, fennel, blackstrap licorice, Chamberlain tractor oil, the grease of old dead sailors: all these be here. Swarf and coke and smithies’ kitchens. Delivered to the laughing section of the head, the drink is oily to the perfect degree, with just the right little whiprod of steely acidity. The tannins are curt and furry. Tuxedo.

Marius Symphony McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
$34; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
Bits of the windy Front Hills, from Willunga to Sellick’s, produce more intense complexity than the lower Vales. Winemaker Mark Day selects the best slice of Roger Pike’s four acre Willunga patch for this awesome flavour bomb; the balance goes into the cheaper Simpatico. It’s a veritable compression of sootblack, moody shiraz, made the old way, but with 21 months in very fine French oak. The result is a velvety gastronomic delight that silences drinkers with its depth and might. Big field mushrooms.

Marius Simpatico Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$25; 14% alcohol; screw cap; APR 10; 93++ points
Initially so moody and sullen one can’t imagine its dark provenance, this soon has the nostrils twitching with the slightly acrid reek of old royalty and stones. It grows the aroma of a bejeweled robe, too complex to wash, but well-aired, so the myriad perfumes worn in it over the decades are fragile, but present. Sympathetically. And then the fruits ooze: dense and tense at first; ever so gradually growing flesh; and then a new perfume arises and you need to drink it. It’s austere and withdrawing and in a tight royal sort of way its tannins are ermine and velvet. The acrid reek first sniffed finally makes sense. It’s the whiff of the coarse stony sediment the vineyard grows in: a red salad of stones from many epochs. And down the middle flows that black creek of fruits that seem far too dark and beautiful to grow in this Earth. Oh? It’s blood? He’s been stabbed? Misbehaving? Of course. Ten years in the Tower will teach him some manners. Tell him “Simpatico”.

Maximus Premium McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
Pretty. That's how this smells. Like a rude red dessert. Beetroot, blood orange, maraschino cherries ... lemon juice and kirsch over the top, then rich fresh cream and confectioners' sugar. Fairy floss. Jailbait. Then the adult stuff, the macho swarf and the jarrah elders start to stand up at the back of the church and you pull your head in. Very clean, very fresh, iron spine, pulpit valence crushed velvet tannins, whiprod acidity. Needs time. But Jesus, I need time. Good wine! Hock.

Mountain X Hunter Shiraz 2007
$??; 13.2% alcohol; cork; tasted 24-27 APR 09; 93++ points
Murray Tyrrell used to say Hunter wines smelled like sweaty saddles and the coal beneath: TAKE NOTE PETER GOERS. I always thought the sweaty saddle was almost entirely due to the huge amounts of McLaren Vale wine the Hunter traditionally absorbed in bulk tankers. And McLaren Vale specialised in hydrogen sulphide for decades. Sweaty saddle was as polite as replacing cowshit with barnyard. Same thing, given the thick smudges of the spindoctors. I reckon McLaren Vale exported up to 80% of the wine it made in some years, all of which was sold beneath brands from other parts of Australia. Like mostly Hunter. I believed Murray about the coal: lignite is highly volatile, and should easily penetrate the layers of clay above. As it does in parts of McLaren Vale, deep beneath bits of which lies a thin layer of something bituminous. Think of the flavour of peat that survives distillation in the heavens of Scotland and Orkney. I'd say Shetland, too, but we all know there's never been a licensed distillery there, so nobody could possibly know, could they. Of course not. Anyway, twenty more years of experience has me thinking some of that Hunter coal was brettanomycaes yeast. There was plenty of rotten oak around, well into the seventies and eighties. This lovely wine has tiny reflections of many of these emotive factors, but I wouldna be saying it has a fault. Let's just say it seems to very respectfully doff it cap to the best of the old Hunter, which has made in its short antipodean history, some of the world's most revered wines. This one's a juicily fruitish, very gentle syrup to inhale. It smells of aubergine and plum jelly. It has the iciest insinuation of mint, and slops of Marello cherries. It tastes precise, while modest but confident. But very steely in its ambition: it will last a long time on that velvet cushion. Like many great Hunters, it's mystifying in this its youth, but still much fun. It even has the slightest volatile acidity after four days, which is highly encouraging. Jam a case or two away, there's a clever tiger.

Nashwauk McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$25; 15.5% alcohol; cork; 93++ points
I’m smitten by two of the first releases Reid Bosward has produced from this Vales vineyard his Barossa employer, Kaesler, bought in 2005. Structurally, this is neat, lean, and Rhonely - think Cornas by August Clape - not syrupy Barossa. Which is not to say mean. Quite the opposite. Perfumed and tight, with a shot of pencil box, it has a swampy/peaty nature like the nearby Blewett Springs sands produce. It’s slender, with no Barossa syrup, in spite of all that alcohol. So. The Bushing Crown goes to Barossa? Quite possible! Goat or venison, on the spit.

Oliver's Taranga Vineyards HJ Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$48; 15% alcohol; cork(!); tasted 4-6JUNE10; 93++ points
One sniff of this explains why Penfolds are such enthusiastic buyers of Oliver fruit: this could be prime Barossa. In fact, it's difficult to explain how it could be seen to be truly different from a Shiraz grown in the north of the Barossa, in The Moppa. It has the same intense chocolatey sweetness, perhaps contributed to by some smoky caramelised oak. If anything, the wine might be smoother and softer than most Barossans, a factor I tend to relate to the higher marine humidity of McLaren Vale. Perhaps if the wines from both places were picked a degree or two lower in alcohol/sugar they would show greater refection of both terroirs. In the meantime, slippers on, slump back, and surrender to this silk-then-velvet syrup. A block of chilli chocolate would do it perfectly. Or orange peel chocolate.

Penfolds Grange 2007$625; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 93++ points
This is a Grange.  There’s no doubt about that. It has all the fractal chaos of any baby Grange.  It has the tar and the boilerstoker’s apron; the fig and quince and syrupy black cherry liqueur; it has panforte and dates and over-ripe persimmon and tamarillo.  It has black Iberian ham and the balsamico; it has the glowering warmth and the soul and the enveloping reassurance that dear Max likened to a mother. It has the faint swarfy whiff of Max’s father’s smithy, and if in this its infancy a wine could have a sound this one would ring like a forge, especially if it were under screwcap.  It’ll live for decades if you’re lucky with the cork, and it will always be a properly luxurious delight.  It is an exceptional wine. But it’s not a great vintage. Simple as that. Not even Penfolds can fix the weather.

Pieri Azzardo 2005
$25; 15.5% alcohol; cork; 93++
Another of the sly, canny wildcats slinking from Redheads Studio down on McLaren Flat, this shiraz is more Coalblack King Panther than your standard guilty alley puss. Made by Andrew Pieri, who's called it "Azzardo" - the game of chance - it could have come from Guiseppe Rizzardi, who makes exemplary dried grape wines like this at Verona. Intense, ultra-slick, polished, and purring like something that's about to devour you with impunity, it never quite looks like fifteen plus on the scales. Until you're in its dark gizzard. Call 8323 7799.

Romney Park Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2006
$35; 14.5% alcohol; Diam cork; 93++ points
Like all the wines of Rod and Rachel Short, this is precise, elegant, perfectly poised drinking of the highest order. Grown on a bony ironstone, podsol and clay ridge between Hahndorf and Balhannah, it has amazing intensity and depth, despite its svelte nature. More Côte-Rôtie than Cornas, for you Rhonely types. More deadly nightshade than blackberry. A sheeny veneer like Chanel # 5, but no jam in sight. Crême de cassis, but no fruit gums. It’s slender but dense, with strapping black Parade Gloss tannins to guarantee great cellaring. Perfect for kalamata; chêvre; Iberian ham; grilled cacciatore. 0439 398 366.

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Eden Valley Shiraz 2006
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
This killer smells like a bloke I once stood beside on a train. His spears and leopard skin added to the whole sweet affect. Raisins, tobacco, leather, washed rind: all here in alluring balance. One imagines from his regally arrogant poise that the entire package is ALL in proportion. It’s certainly NOT an English King. Sweet and juicy, but not porty, the flavours reflect the appassimento winemaking method of drying the grapes on racks before they’re crushed. So Dominic Torzi’s combined all the fullness and rich sweetness the Barossa has to offer without overt syrup or simple port character.

Hugh Hamilton Single Vineyard Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$50; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted ????; ??? doz.; sold out; tasted December 2011; 93+ points
Gigondas in style – a hotter year – this was a mellow, smooth confection at the start, not greatly sophisticated, mercifully, but rich with earthy and rural aromas, and smooth, clean, appetizing berries. There’s the faintest hint of the old white pepper canister, and maybe a whisper of eucalypty methol. It has perfectly appropriate tannins that are better balanced than many of these goddam expensive Scarce Earths wines.  They’re still demanding, but more smoothly assimilated and serve mainly to titillate, not overwhelm. In other words, it’s the most McLaren Vale style in the line-up. It's a bit hot in the tail, but a wine I’d like to drink a lot more of. Damn!

Hugo McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz 2004
$38; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Perhaps because of its maritime humidity, McLaren Vale produces intense, unctuous wines with a moody soulfulness that’s the opposite, say, of the tight, kalamata-like flavours of Clare, where there the air is bone dry during ripening and harvest. This fine example oozes the aromas and flavours of Maranello cherries, prunes and stewed satsuma, super-fine oak adding the sort of spice cloves would contribute to such a compote. Osso bucco.

Mt. Billy Barossa Valley Antiquity Shiraz 2004
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Smoked meats, leather, bitumen, beetroot, and all manner of astonishing black fruits not yet evolved or invented slumber away in this deep delicious mystery. It’s lush and stewed, but like any great conserve, it still has living whole bits of those fruits and beets in its suspension, unlike a jam, where they’re all cooked into comparative sticky oblivion. Maker John Edwards has vineyards at home at Victor Harbor, but he quite sensibly takes prime fruit from other vignobles, and does his appropriate magic on them, as he has done, magnificently, here. Dark mushrooms on toast.

O'Leary Walker Clare Valley/McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
$22.50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
It makes perfect sense to blend Clare shiraz, which is tight and more kalamata than plum, with the softer, fruitier, plummier stuff from McLaren Vale, where the constant maritime humidity makes the wine more accessible and sensual. O'Leary Walker have been doing this happy transfusion for some years now, but this is their best version yet. It's slick and wholesome, very slippery, and utterly, scarily disarming. Perfect steak and mushroom stuff.

Paradigm Hill Col’s Block Mornington Peninsula Shiraz 2004
($35; 13% alcohol; diam stopper; 93+ points)
Winemaker George Mihaly wisely accompanied this wine with a letter written with his own stylish fountain pen, which always wins points. It’s gorgeous, though reserved; bone dry, though with perfectly juicy, living fruit; intense, though elegant; lovely now, but yearning for cellar. Sultry, with raspberry and cherry, maybe ripe persimmon, it’s perfectly balanced, poised, and seductive. Juicy lamb backstrap, garlic, sage, rosemary, spinach, and wee roast spuds.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2007
$175; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 93+ points
Panforte is a character I often associate with the best wines of Greenock: it’s a fruit mince and nuts thing, with the inherent pastry fats – suet? – playing a big role. This wine reminds me of them. And like many of the 07s, there are charcuterie fats in here, too. Think pancetta. Its form and tannins are very slick, sidetracking to a recollection of the 1979 Petaluma Coonawarra Shiraz. Now quickly forget that: we’re in the blackest gizzards of the Barossa, and while this year was a shit, the Penfolds crew has picked the eyes from their Barossa fruit to isolate parcels that have more refined aromatics and flesh, as opposed to the blacksmith muscle and sinew required for Grange. Then they gave it thirteen months in French hogsheads, 71% of which were new. So you get this beautifully balanced streamliner of wine. It slides along without shouting. In five years it’ll be a silky seductress indeed.

Raw Power Adelaide Plains Shiraz 2006
$14; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
The label textulates about some old geezer punk screamer name of Rawley Power, but this wine’s a sheila mate and a lived-in one at that. Still takes care of herself, mindja. Lives in a ricketty wood gypsy caravan that hasn’t moved from the wild oats since her dude fell in love with Bearded Lady, took the old Buick and vamoosed years ago when the circus come through. Sweet and homely, like, but sweetly mysterious. She musta loved him. All those old woody plum jam tweaks, a goat stew simmering on the Kookaburra. Pipe tobacco - she has a quiet puff while she listens to Phillip (sic) Adams on the bakelite wireless. (Why doesn’t he put an extra d in Adams?) Perfectly aged in big ol puncheons (think St. Henri, Campbell’s Bobbie Burns, Wynn’s Oven’s Valley Burgundy, Kanmantoo St George’s Claret ca 1890, anything made by Edmund Mazure) this wine shows that screw caps can protect aged wine as well as they keep baby ones juicy and fresh. Incredible value. Tim Freeland and Dominic Torzi did it. Well. Buy cases of it.

E. Guigal Chateau d'Ampuis Côte Rôtie 1998
tasted and drunk 4APR10; 93 points
It seemed the black leaf tea, and unfortunately the ordinary English breakfast black leaf tea, was sorting the wild hedgerow berries from the granite and the schist and the gravestones, then up came the blackberry, mulberry and dried prune and the damn near perfect tannins. There was no sign of Viognier.

Vidal-Fleury Ventou 2007
$15; 14% alcohol; cork; tasted 14 OCT 09; 93 points
Since Guigal purchased this 1781 mob, and built a shiny new winery, the quality of the wine is now lurching upward. This is remarkable for its price: cheeky yet authoritative, intense yet frivolous, beautfully balanced and poised, and yet threatening to fall from its points at any stage, it's a cracker. (It won't fall for any lack of skill or elegance, but from sheer abandon - it dances on your table in a wicked black tutu). Shiraz, grenache and mourvedre are in the mix, and if this is the French following us into GSM, we should quit immediately. But they're not, of course, we followed them, and when the lazy Rosemount lab attendant's abbreviation became the standard acronym, setting the unwritten rule that all Ocker blends of this trinity should be in that order, with that proportion, Australia lost the plot. We should learn from this wine: its finesse and merry grace, even at 14% alcohol, is something that continues to elude Australian redsmiths. Black fruits, spice and cream abound, and the flavours entertain and titillate more than stonker and smite. A light cassoulet is the go in winter; any cool pork dish in the sunny months, and the vegos will love it with field mushrooms. Very clever; impossibly cheap.

Barons of Barossa Shiraz 2006
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
The second release of the Barons of Barossa fundraiser blend is a more hearty and boisterous shiraz, with a little more of the kitchen fireplace soot you’d find in the homes of the young Schuberts, Lehmanns, and Glaetzers back when there were as many blacksmiths as petrol stations. It’s deep and moody, with the guts of a good Barossadeutscher blood pudding, spiced by many layers of smoked cedary oak. The fruit is ripe blackberry and mulberry, with some fig, and just a tease of frivolous musk in the top note. The palate is more lithe and fine that the bouquet would suggest, with dancing black eyes, modest decolletage and lots of red grosgrain before you look all the way down to the flamenco shoes. And what the hell’s a flamenco dancer doing in the Barossa? Entertaining the people, that’s what. Be entertained! Bless Bacchus for sending a Spaniard! You ever seen a traditional Barossa dance? The vintage festival maypole’s about as sensual as it gets, and they only manage that every second year. FEB 09

Inkwell Rebel Rebel McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$25; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Dudley Brown weeds his vineyard by hand. On a windswept rise near the Gulf, beside the clear moors of Bowering Hill, (which the government seems intent on packing with Tupperware Tuscany), it’s a testament to human pig-headedness. Fanatical vineyard husbandry - James Hook helps - leads to obsessive hands-on winemaking, and we get this inkster: dense and compacted, yet still slender, with slinky elegant tendencies. It smells of hard soil, clean living, and a certain gastronomic intelligence. Licorice and fennel lie amongst the lean black fruits, furry tannins dry the finish. It needs a few years, and/or a haunch of bison.

Jeanneret Clare Valley Denis Shiraz 2004
$60; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Think cold blackberry jam in the iron pot in a dead morning fireplace. Or the creekful of blackberry vines the day after the bushfire went through and you’ve got six hours to eat what survived before the birds get ’em. No rush here though – this is 04. You’ve got ten years. It has plenty of that rich creamy health that Ben somehow gets in his reds, and it’s alcoholic, and thick, and maybe just a tad old-fashioned in a way, but there’s nothing wrong with that. If you serve it in about five years with roast boar in chocolate and chilli sauce everyone’s pants will fall off.

Langmeil Orphan Bank Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
$??; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Karl Lindner’s developer’s hat miraculously sits, comfortable, on his old-vine tragic’s head after he pulled this 140 year old vineyard to make way for villa rash, and replanted every single vine on the banks of the Para, beside the Langmeil Freedom vineyard, which is 24 years older. Chocolate crême caramel - classic Barossa fruit - and desiccated coconut, from the American oak, offer both harmony and counterpoint, in a slender, lithe, willowy drink that has just the right amount of viscosity. It tastes a lot better than the bleeding houses. Porchetta alla perugina.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2007
$115; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 15APR10; 92+++ points
The viticulturers worked hard in this difficult vintage to ensure the soul of this precious, tiny vineyard was delivered to the crusher in top nick. Sacrificial canes were encouraged to concentrate the remaining fruit’s intensity; the vineyard was picked over several days; the open-fermenter batches kept separate and then culled to permit only the very best expression of the vineyard to reach the blending tank. The result is a brave, clean, almost cute wine of particular arrogance and poise: a Lolita. It has an entertaining balance of very modern, racy aspects – estery banana/musk lollyshop aromas – and the instillations of the ancient open fermenter regime in its deep brooding carbon and prosciutto. Its range of tannins and firm natural-looking acidity balance the finish beautifully. Fifteen years will see it meld and mellow.

The Willows Vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
$26; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Immediately mellow, yet calmly, confidently assertive, this is straight away a top Barossa. It has peaches and cream without needing to be viogniated; it has sweet mellow spice without needing to take it from cheap chips from Missouri. Tip it in, and you know immediately there’s no bullshit going down. It has really whizzer acid. Roll it around the laughing gap, and you’ll quickly realise there’s nothing better to do than to keep that cavity stacked as long as you can. It’s really comforting, sweet, plush shiraz which deserves your most lazy fascinated disinterest. Just lie about and guzzle. Or wait ten years and lie about and guzzle. Argue about the acid with your visitors from California. They’ll tell you JAN 09

Yangarra Vineyard Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 30 October to 2 November 2011; 92+++ points
The texture of this wine is sublime.  It has the right amount of sliminess, which is not an ideal word to use when selling wine, but that’s what it is.  It has a perfect heady illusion of sweetness and confection, and after that lovely slender syrup establishes itself, the oozes of prune and blackberry emerge, and entwine with the dark chicory and juniper tannins and the faintest whiff of harness leather … which is reviewing it backwards, because its aroma is utterly seductive, it a wee bit threatening.  All over the primary fruit and vegetation, it begins to prickle like summer, with smells of rain on hot sunbaked sandstone and rusty galvo, gun oil, and explosives in the quarry.  But that texture is what arrests the sensories over and over: this wine is strapping and lashing and highly appetizing, and the way it slinks darkly around the palate so long after swallowing is tantalizing and addictive.  That’s not Pussy, that’s a black panther.

Cape Mentelle Margaret River Shiraz 2006
$39; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Very sweet and clean, with mucho intensity and a polished silken sheen, this wine seems almost too bloody polite, which was an advice I once heard David Wynn hiss at his winemaking son, Adam. The oak has contributed a pleasant layer of acrid spice, very fine and slender, which sits neatly atop a basement that reminds me of pure 6B pencil carbon. The palate follows suit, but soon builds up a tidy acid and spice finish that’s more velvet than silk. What I mean to say is that this is exemplary sophistry in winemaking: very, very neat and tidy, a little like the shiraz Martin Shaw makes at Shaw & Smith. Not big, but nerdily intense.JAN 09

Coates Consonance Syrah 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; diam cork; 92++ points
Like her twin with the cabernet in her, this saucy (Worcestershire, almost) shiraz from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek takes some time to let the fruitier parts of her breath exude, but on they come, gradually, determinedly rising above that dark, spicy, walnut-shell oak. As far as syrups go, this is a divine syrup. Just stunningly, perfectly viscous, with warm alcohol blowing in like someone’s just tipped the kirsch over the iced berry salad. It’s so juicily, wholesomely fruity that it could be served at dessert, like with mudcake and mulberries poached in pinot and sauternes.

Greenock Creek Alice’s Shiraz 2007
$30; 16% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in August 09; 92++ points
Down one per cent on the 2006 alcohol, the Alice is slightly less complex this year, if quite a lot more approachable in its infancy. It has the mint and the quince paste aromas the 06 showed, but the overt aniseed and fennel of the previous wine seem to have been partly replaced by lovely fresh lemon, which is less acrid, less sinister, and simpler. The framboise and cassis of the 06 are still here, too, as is the dark chocolate: it’s like a creamy chocolate nougat, and then, with air, it smells convincingly of pistachio pie. So while there are quite obvious similarities with the 06, and this alcohol is lower, I suspect the sparse mudstones and slates of the Tapley’s Hill formation and the Yudnamutana basement make the drought tough going for these fairly young vines. These ancient silty stone formations have a fair propensity for moisture retention, so maybe the roots simply haven’t got deeply into them yet. Only time will tell. The wine has a doughy aroma and flavour, like fresh white bread, which I have also seen in 07 McLaren Vale reds from vines of similar youth in similar silt and mudstone basements. It’s a sweet, syrupy, viscous thing, with an ethereal afterbreath which reminds me of Eartha Kitt singing “I want to wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste.” It’s really sumptuous drinking now, and it’ll bloom for at least a decade.

Hollick Limestone Coast Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
$21; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
There's slightly more Wrattonbully fruit than Coonawarra in here. The wine's quite cheap for its class, as it's one which would like a nice lie down for five or eight years, and for some reason we have come to expect that good cellaring options should cost more money, which is stupid, really. Probly my fault. The shiraz, which is all black cherry and blackcurrant, with great acidity, has not yet quite got into bed with the cabernet, which is much more austere and pious, sitting over there in the corner. Like its cabernet brother, this wine seems out of sorts: inexpensive, tight, terribly well preserved, and promising quite lovely wickednessof an elegant sort after some years' dungeon, I can't help thinking that it would have liked a little more oxygen before bottling, or in the bottle. I reckon it'll stay as austere as this for years under that screw, sans oxygen. I'll keep it on m,y bench for a few more days, and may well return with a different opinion. FEB 09

Mountain X Hunter Shiraz 2006
$??; 13.5% alcohol; cork; tasted 24-27 APR 09; 92++ points
The Hunter be a moody sort of place, and at its best makes wondrously moody, soulful, almost forlorn sort of wine at lower alcohols than the rest of Australia. But the wines are never simple or weak, which is what many imagine to be the nature of wines with less than far too much alcohol. This gentle, beautifully balanced lovely has coffee and mocha adorning its mellow fruits: beetroot, cherry and mulberry. Its palate is fine and mild, sinuous and lingering, with a minor tone of chocolate amongst its fig and prune. It is earthy, and very good, and may well eventually outshine many of the bigger wines on the list above. It is made by Rhys Eather for a pair of deeply committed and obviously emotional benefactors. I'm on their side. I shall soon discover for you whether they want to be revealed. The blend is the traditional shiraz with pinot noir mix which our earliest settlers pinched from Hermitage and Burgundy. In those days, a wine of this quality would have been highly unlikely.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2007
$40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 92++ points
It’s a bit of a punt to claim the proximity of Kalimna to Greenock might explain some of the marshy, swampy aroma of this wine; swamp is an aroma common to the wines of the clayey/salty Greenock creeklines, rather than the Kalimna sands. This petite beauty has plenty of those mossy, mushroomy vegetals and soils, wrapped around its red berries. Think swamp myrtle, and maybe medlar berries as much as the usual blackberry and mulberry in the sweet fruits department: it’s more along the lines of fruit mince in the secondary division; maybe even Irish moss, which is in fact a seaweed, which leads us back to swamps and the Greenock creeks. All that aside, this is a smooth, intense wine, of a shape and size much smaller than all the above discussion properly justifies. It has some of the old Linke’s smallgoods in its nature, and some juicy, sweet fruit in an elegant, almost cute framework.

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache 2008
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 92++ points
Marello cherries, kalamata olive, Chinese olive and mustard paste, carbon and coke, chocolate and polished leather … all the right stuff in the right proportion … and then a long, dusty tail … this is a neat, cheeky, almost brazen hussy from the Vacqueyras tabac: formed in the slightly rustic manner, with characters of older, more oxidized wine styles mixed well with the more modern, fresher styles like Tim Smith is currently king of in the Barossa. Which is not to say this isn't Barossa in style: it's as Penfolds' Barossa as you can get: much more a harmonious blend than a sum of its components.

Petaluma Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Seven per cent viognier seems a lot; one wonders what this poor old Nairne shiraz did to deserve so much of it. But it’s lovely, quirky wine, opulent, rich, and perfumed as headily as all get out. It has a disarming licorice/star anise/pastis topnote. Then there’s a shallow spread of juicy red liqueur, lean and dry with vio tannins spread over it like the gravel on which you park the Bimmer. The viognier makes it savoury, as in savory, the herb, and it needs food like goat cheese seasoned with savory. This is a promising example of the potential of the tapanappa group schist soils to grow splendid Rhone flavours. I’d like more feral billygoat in it, but I’m Pan. Petal’s best red? Maybe. Quirky, but cute.

Poonawatta Estate Montie’s Block Eden Valley Shiraz 2004
$29; 15% alcohol; cork; 92++
As its riesling often proves, the wind-dried schist, clay and quartz of High Eden Ridge - from Mountadam to Mengler’s - gives more grainy and austere wine than anything Clare has to offer. While this bush vine shiraz comes from the deeper, damper loam at the bottom of the tiny, lofty 1880 Poonawatta block, it’s still puckery and gravelly with tannin, as much as right royal and mighty. Mastadon, stewed in cast iron with crows and nettles.

The Gimp McLaren Vale/Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2005
$25; 14.5% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 92++ points
When The Gimp slid into Pulp Fiction, S&M aficionados immediately smelt him: slightly sweaty, in a polished black leather sort of way, with a fruitiness foreign to your actual fruit, would be a fair crack of his whip. Like this wicked black wine, which is packaged for San Francisco, but will never get there, its coy US agent having refused its perfectly fitting costume. Home of the brave? Codswallop! Forget food; drink its carrion sinfulness while listening to John Cale's new live Circus version of Venus in Furs.

Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Eden Valley Shiraz 2011 $18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 5JUL 12; 1,000 cases made; 92+
Hard on the heels of Tim Smith’s mindblowing Mataro Grenache Shiraz, here’s the second Barossa 2011 red that shows what uncommonly bright humans of exceptional sensory nous can do in the worst vintage of recent history.  For once in my life, I can confidently quote a press release without rewriting the damn thing.  Dominic Torzi first explains the vines are in clay loam over schist at 380 metres at Mt McKenzie, in the Barossa Ranges. They hang on a single wire and they’re sixteen years old.  “Family traditional biological farming methods with a diet of composts, native grasses & flora as ground cover, low water input and natural sprays for diseases,” he writes.   For those unsure of how to describe a bad vintage, read on:
“2011 was certainly a roller coaster ride which was the coolest I have experienced during my efforts of producing wines and certainly taught me to be more vigilant in the approach. The vigilance shows in this wine which the Shiraz fruit was harvested over 3 weeks. In the garage the Shiraz fruit was gently destemmed including 30% whole bunch into open top milk vats and fermented warm with natural bearing yeasts birthed from the vineyard with soft pump overs, hand plunging and basket pressed to barrel to complete ferment. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. To taste expect heady floral aromatics with succulent spiced cherry compote and red currants. Again the aromatics flow onto the delicate medium weight palate with lovely purity persistence of ripe raspberries, white pepper, provincial herbs and fine grained tannins to hold it tightly wound.”

Like the Smith wine, this beauty seems to have taken some of the worst of the wettest vintage in history (I think that’s official now) and used it to become more French than Barossan.  But you wouldn’t find a Frenchman doing this for $18.

d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2006
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
While this blend has a pleasantly spicy edge, from seasoned oak and yeast as much as vineyard, its fruit smells like it’s going to be syrupy, thick and dull, like most of its rivals. Not so. That spicy top note builds in the wine’s firm acidity, sappy astringency, and persistent mealy tannins. It could come from the south of France, so neatly is it balanced. Then it would cost you twice this much. Old-fashioned techniques - apart from the waders on the grape-treaders - have made it soulful and wholesome. It’d complement mild pork curry, and offer contrast to venison cassoulet.

d’Arenberg The Fruit Bat Single Vineyard Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$99; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1920; 330 dozen; 92++ points
Wet old barn straw d’Arry in the classic mould, with oyster mushrooms and batshit seemed to be the go on opening: a slender thing, with mushy old tannins like waterlogged rowboats. It grew slightly prettier in the six hours, picking up some musk and confectioner’s sugar. And some leather. And then some aniseed. The tannins seemed a little sweeter, too. It’s a perfect example of traditional family winemaking determination dominating terroir. And very much like what d’Arry used to call his Burgundy. Although I reckon d’Arry woulda stuck the hose in this, I really like it. More air the better. But then, the d'Arry's Original, which is what that "Burgundy" became is $18!  Must be very  expensive ink on the label. But then, there IS a lot of it.

Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles 2007
$38; 13% alcohol; cork; drunk 6MAY10; 92+ points
Dumb and clean; bright and short. Simple bright black and purple berries. This drink does in fact make a man put his shorts on and then take them off again. And then tannin. And then rooting.

Florance Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2005
$15.50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
This moody black cuteness reminds me of the estimable Domaine de Martinelles Crozes Hermitage of the Rhone ... it smells like the hard dirt in which it grew, in this case damp podsol peppered with ironstone. But there’s plenty of plush in there, too: creamy and mushroomy and smugly accomplished. Dark spice from appropriate oak adds distinction. It’s lovely medium-weight wine, with a little alcoholic heat in its tail. 10 OCT 98

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
$29; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted MAR 09; 92+ points
I doubt that slick, polished, silky shiraz like this would ever have ripened in the freezing weather I recall of Hahndorf when I was a kid. Not only the main street has changed. But this sure has ripened, and it’s packed with smooth, harmonious mulberries, prunes and plums flavours; even maybe a little black fig. It has no more tannin than the furry skin of a ripe fig would impart. It’s luxurious, opulent, self-satisfied wine. I can’t help suspecting it would be more entertaining if it hadn’t got quite so ripe. S&S will do a better job. In the meantime, have this with one of Max’s incredible fillets, blue, with blue cheese sauce and capers. Practice cooking them on your own for a few months, and once you’ve got it nailed, ask that one around that you’ve never been game to ask. Clean sheets please.

Penfolds Bin 28 South Australia Kalimna Shiraz 2009       
 $40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
Here’s the damned blemish in Penfolds’ otherwise supremely shiny marketing logic.  This doesn’t come from the sublime Kalimna at all.  It comes from Padthaway, Barossa, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale and Robe. Try and summarise those vintage conditions for a brief back label, there’s a dear.  Which is the idea, of course.  Pick from such a disparate rainbow of sources, and some of it MUST be groovy.  Wrap it up in classic A. P. John chocolate-toasted American oak, and you have a dangerously addictive drug. Ants and aniseed, Żubrówka and Zebra in the dust: all points in between are ticked. This is Ernest Hemingway wine.  He spills some in his typewriter every time a duck flies past. How would he describe it?  “Good. Lookout!  Duck!”  Which is not to say the wine needs editing.  You just need a mighty hulk like Hemingway to tip it into.  It manages to be almost topline Wolf Blass slick, but with a little more of the brooding gamy savagery good South Australian Shiraz can proffer.  It’s more reptile than gloop.

Green Point Yarra Valley Reserve Shiraz 2004
$47; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points
Here’s the sort of shiraz I was weaned on: intensely flavoured, and smooth, but with a drinkable level of alcohol. Hot road bitumen; hot tractor in the rain; trailer full of mulberry, blackberry, blueberry and prune: all the stuff usually reserved for shiraz over 14.5% is here in perfect balance and harmony, and yet the palate is elegant, refined and luxurious, and not at all like King Kong teetering around in Manolo Blahnik stilletoes, which is still the predominant local trend. Go pigeons and beets stewed in red.

Mitolo Savitar McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
$??; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 92 points
While I whinge about getting a free iPod with this bottle, its maker, Ben Glaetzer, was given a new M3 BMW for his efforts. How many points would I have given it had I got the car? Leave that to you. It's classic McLaren shiraz, full of simmering, soulful satsuma and sweet, dark Maranello cherry, with piquant, dried ginger oak. It's a lot more approachable than Miltolo's 05 Serpico Vales Cab, and would sing a perfect Noo Joizy contralto duet with shanks and tart black olives in a rich tomato sauce.

K1 by Geoff Hardy Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
$28; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92+ points
Saucy (a microgram of Worcestershire) and audacious, this Bright Young Thing comes from Geoff Hardy’s Kuitpo vineyard, which the label says “was planted more than two decades ago”. Centuries more? It goes on to say Geoff has centuries of vinous heritage. Ripe and plummy, with whiffs of dried figs and dates, and thickly viscous, like something from a Fowler’s preserving jar, it’s weeping for a fine dry pecorino pepato, to match the trendy pepper it got from somewhere. Velvet finish: soft, reassuring.

Karra Yerta Barossa Shiraz 2004
$30; 14.3% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points)
Rudely, unabashedly fruity and provocative, this is fresher and redder than the lass who played the accordion when we preached in the street. It reminds me of David Wynn’s lightly-oaked shiraz wines, still alive on my palate after thirty years. Full of coffee, cocoa, blackberry and mulberry, it finishes with the most polite little dash of drying tannin. Nuts. Elegant. Juicy. Vibrant. Not bad with cold roast pig’s cheek and horseradish, either.

Paxton MV McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 
$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 7-9MAY10; 92+ points
This vibrant healthy wine reminds me of some four times this price made biodynamically with the help of Edouard Labeye in Minerva, near Sete on the French Mediterranean. The fruit is electrically charged with bright life. It's excited. Prunes, blueberries, Marello cherries, kalamata: all the right stuff's there, simmering away. Licorice, too. It snakes about the tongue, and then departs, leaving a little stack of tannin. In other words, it seems a bit short. But it IS savoury, clean, and safe.

Campbells Bobbie Burns Rutherglen Shiraz 2006
$22.50; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92 points
This must surely be the wee terrups wee Rab, whose name it bears, gulleted before he wrote The Jolly Gauger. Which involves a touch of houghmagandie and a joint a beef. It’s not like Barossa or McLiavelli. Clean, svelte, slimy like pinot grigio, wholesomely comforting and satisfying, with no overt oak or tirliewirlies, it’s a friggin’ relief! It’s the 37th release of the Bonnie Burns, and while Rutherglen’s only marginally cooler than the Barossa, this is the 37th time that the Scots lads from Kelly country have shewn those few tiny degrees make all the diff between drink and drunk. Pink beef.

Cape Mentelle Marmaduke WA Shiraz Grenache 2005
$17; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points
The cool south-west corner of Western Australia makes lighter shiraz grenache blends than the big, muscly, heartier brutes we tend to produce around Adelaide. The Wozzie versions are in fact closer to the more refined offerings from the south of France, from where we pinched the idea. This is a cute, simple wine in a way, but that very lightness of being makes it delectable. More Cotes Rotie than Cornas of Clape, if you're Rhonesome tonight. Pigeon and beetroot.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Shiraz 2005
($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points)
Polished, intense, cool climate shiraz here, of a style high California and Australia are smoothly, deftly stealing from poor warm old France, which almost forgot shiraz as a premium red thirty years back. There’s a touch of the Yallourn coal train here: “Brett! Brett!” scream the yeasty brats of the judging circuit, hoping for a brettanomycaes taint, but I don’t give a shit. It’s lovely shiraz, with the sort of finish that screams for great cheese, like Blue Wensleydale.

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz 2003
($27; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points)
This is a great wine from a fairly dim vintage in the vineyard which was first to use the name of what has now become an appellation: the Frankland River Region, in the vast wilds of south-western Western Australia, between Albany and the Point d’Entrecasteaux. Stacked with dried prune, date, fig, and blackberry, it’s a syrupy unction, opulent and fluffy, with perfectly apt lingering tannins and no sophistication at all. Steak with cream and cracked black peppers, please. (23.12.6))

Gomersal Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
($22; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points)
Intense and juicy, with a bouquet that jumps across the table, this underpriced juvenile is wholesome, perky and disarming. Over a faint morning hearth of slightly sooty oak there’s a heap of rich, fat fruit, supported by lovely dry medium-grained tannins. As the wine ever-so-gradually recedes, its firm acidity and tannin sets the salivatories gushing, driving the drinker to tucker. And another glass. It’ll last fifteen years, growing smoother for the first ten. (4.11.6)

Raw Power Adelaide Plains Shiraz 2010
$12; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted October 2011; 92 points
Steeped in the addled mystique of Rawley Power, gravel-voiced punskter in the middle at the front of the too-forgotten Anti-Power thrashers all those headaches back – was it real, Ma? - this lush Plains Shiraz should have the old geezer crooning like Caruso.  It has all the creamy plushness that 90% of the high-alc gloop-gloop mob desire, but at a charming 13.5% alcohol.  Which just goes to show.  Generous to a fault, silky and intense, it is living proof that the Barossa region and the Plains can make gloriously rich, healthy, honest Shiraz wines without the dreaded deadheadbanging that Robert Parker Jr. induced with his perfect 100 points regime and psychopathic obsession with other sorts of power.  Rawley made this with the dreaded duo of Tim Freeland and Dominic Torzi.  They took five tonnes per acre off the single-wire 45 year old Shiraz of Varacalli at Angle Vale, where the red clay and limestone do the same thing every year.  They let nature have her way in 10 tonne open-top steel vats, with whole berries and 20% intact bunches in the fizz.  The pumpovers were soft, followed by gentle basket pressing, the wild yeast ferment finished half in old American barrels and half in tank, and the full explosive glory was bottled without filtering.  Then they charge you $12.  Holy shit.  Glug sans gloop. 

Sevenhill Clare Valley Br. John May SJ Reserve Release Shiraz 2004
$60 at the cellar; 14% alcohol; cork; drunk APR 09; 92 points
Clare is somehow overlooked in red, which many will immediately disagree with. Its wines are fortunately finer than the gobstoppers which have become popular; so much so that some Clare winemakers have attempted Parkerillas and come out looking a little silly. If you want fine check any of the new Sevenhill reds. If you want finer in the brooding brute mode, check this older model. Two days ago it was all black velvet. Then it went a sort of crimson. In flavour, I mean. Now the fruit’s put back its muscly neck and it’s singing a deep crimson aria in the key of silk. It’s got a tad porty – I preferred it yesterday – but it’s still a breathtaker. In a sense, the Jesuits have made a more sacramental Sevenilla than a Parkerilla, and succeeded. So while it’s not quite as lithe as Liz Heidenreich’s new baby angels, this old cheese is best had with red. No. I mean this old fatso priest smells of port, which is an allegation I could never level at Brother John, because he’s not fat. This wine was made by Tim Gneil from thirsty forty year old vines, and selected by Brother John as the cream of the cellar. Open slate fermenters, basket press, old oak for two years, two rack’n’returns, no humans buggering around with it. Liz bottled it, but she doesn’t bugger around. So now. Open it, decant it, have it with pecorino grano and figs. Ooooh Jesus. “Power and grace”, Brother John calls it. More grace than finesse, I say. Amen. Hallelujah! LESSON: So what I mean about Clare reds is not that they’re finer. It’s that they have more power and grace.

Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Eden Valley Shiraz 2006
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92
The intense, maybe obsessive, TM outfit has wrung itself out with this year’s releases, with nearly all their Barossa and Adelaide Plains wines squeezing recommendations from me. Not to mention their stunning, beautifully acidic, olive oil. This wine smells like a cream and chocolate sauce, with an ooze of blackberry liqueur. It’s syrupy, but not gooey, and it slides seductively about the palate before leaving a meniscus of sheer, unadulterated satisfaction. There’s not much tannin, but lotsa liqueur. It’s almost dessert wine. You could drink it with Mississippi mud cake.

Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Claret 1953
$n/a; no alcohol listed; good cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 92 points
Prior to 1952, it seems that nobody on Earth had deliberately induced, managed, monitored and understood a malo-lactic fermentation. This was a secondary ferment which occurred when bacteria, not yeast, converted the harsh metallic natural acid of the grapes, malic acid, to the sweeter, softer, fattier acid of milk, lactic acid. This was least likely to occur in Australia, where a winemaker would be sacked if, immediately after the primary ferment, he hadn’t whacked every wine with sufficient sulphur dioxide to preserve the whole of Gaul. Whatever it was, malo was verboten. But the brilliant young oenologist, Ian Hickinbotham, convinced his brilliant employer, David Wynn, to let him do it with Wynn’s new prize: Coonawarra, in 1952. Hick repeated it with greater finesse in 1953, and this is that wine. It won huge acclaim, invariably from people who knew nothing of malo-lactic fermentation. Which included her spunky, fresh new Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who took most of the wine home to Buckingham Palace in the Royal Yacht Britannia after her 1954 visit to Mount Gambier, just south of Coonawarra. One presumes she liked it: I remember a much more recent Wynn fridge collage, which, amongst all the grandchildren snaps, modestly included a shot of Her Majesty and Phil le Duc having Thermos tea and sandwiches in muddy wellies and tweeds, surrounded in said mud by calm domestic fowls. With the Wynns, David and Patricia. The wine is genteel, but still quite bright and lively. It has a whiff of fresh-tanned hide, but is predominantly stacked with classic Australian mint over a bowl of chocolate custard. Maybe chocolate crême caramel is more accurate. But at this great age, it has as much mint as Mildara’s 1963 Peppermint Patty had twenty years ago. The flavours are stunning. The wine looks like a fifteen year old Coonawarra of the modern style. Incredible life, tannin, balance and force – for about forty minutes. Then it began quickly to dissemble, sucking in oxygen betrayed it for 56 years. By Bacchus this is good wine. Oh, yes, I forgot ... The variety? Shiraz.

Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Eden Valley Shiraz 2007
$17; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points
This drought red’s a dead honest expression of the High Barossa in the driest vintage Dominic Torzi can remember. Make that could remember – he wrote these notes before vintage 2008. There’s as much old black pepper and austere micaceous stone in it as red and black berries. The middle’s all plush and caramelly before those dusty finishing tannins move in. It’ll live for a very long time, but sang a hearty duet with pepper and game sausages, pasted with Krondorf Road Trading Company Fig and Chilli Chutney and a little Matchett’s Chilli Fire from Currency Creek. It’s a bargain!

Bay of Shoals Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2006
$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91++ points
August Clape makes shiraz like this at Cornas on the Rhone. Rich, juicy, plump and smooth, like a syrupy compote of prune, fig, and blackberries – even the elusive blueberry – and then an ozone-like lift, as if the blackberries have just been hit by lightning. It finishes slender, grippy and clean, with lovely balance and elegance. Very pleasing; obviously made with uncommon sensitivity and gastronomic intelligence. 10 OCT 98

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2008
$34; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 91++ points
2008 was weird in Coonawarra: wet spring, little frost, then a dry summer with strange, short bursts of heat. It’s given a Shiraz with a good deal of the steam engine in its aroma: swarf, soot, charcoal, hot iron: it’s all there tickin’ and hissin’. Given that, it’s not a huge wine. Let’s say that the fruits are not foremost: rather, there’s coppocollo charcuterie fats and dark meats, Choo Choo Bar aniseed; hardly fresh primaries. But then, when the Grey Shrike Thrush warbled its sweet honeyed trill right outside the window, I thought maybe the wine had a little more sweetness and light in its heart than my first contemplations permitted. Give it time.

Lake Breeze Langhorne Creek Section 54 Shiraz 2009$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 20 JUN 12; 91+ points
Larncrk Shiraz gets bashed around.  It’s easy to grow and easy to make: the rich, deep alluvium of those estuarine plains manages to squeeze out consistent blackberry syrup in spite of the slackest greedy viticulture.  This isn’t helped by the manner in which big guys like Treasury select and grade their fruit purchases from this district: as in other regions, growers think that if, say, Penfolds, is paying top dollars for syrupy gloop, then syrupy gloop is what they themselves should be making.  They forget that the syrupy gloop the big buyers desire is destined to add warmth and soul to vast mega-blends of skinny, low-character stuff from elsewhere, and that if Penfolds, just for example, happened to be a small local producer and not a mega-blender, it’d be picking the fruit at much more modest ripeness to make better wines more accurately reflective of the best the district has to offer.  Anyway, as I was saying, Larncrk Shiraz is often a fairly lackadaisical sort of a drink.  Here’s a bold statement of the obverse: more love in the vineyard, more care in the barrel selection, and you can produce a cheery, cherry delight like this bright exemplar.  It’s what winemaker Greg Follett calls “classic, full-flavoured Shiraz created using a combination of old vine fruit and careful winemaking”.  His wine style has for years depended a lot on American oak, and while this one still shows some raw shaved American small oak flavours, it’s probably more French than stateside in the lumberjack division, which might be what he means by “careful”. It’s clean, juicy, cheery and mellow, a bit like a very modern, sophisticated Rhone delta Shiraz with another $50 on the spend number. Looks like it’ll be restaurants and cellar-door only, so you might have to take a drive.  It’s posh afternoon nuts-and-cheese slurping, or, if served in big Burgundy glasses from a decanter, posher dinner wine at a happy price. Juicy lamb rack; lamb korma.  

The Hedonist McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
($17; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points)
Walter Clappis conducted this lush naughtiness in his own biodynamically-run vineyard. Typical of the fresh new styles the more rad Vales makers are tending towards, it’s mellow, spicy wine, with vibrant plummy fruit and hints of dark cherry conserve, mulberry, musk sticks and pickled walnut. It’s juicy and alive, with quite some viscosity, and very fine velvet tannin. It blooms with thirty minutes in the decanter, indicating good cellaring. Steak and mushrooms. (13.1.7)

Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone 2007
$18; 14% alcohol; cork; 91 points
Unusual for a Cotes, in that it's 100% shiraz, this is a little honey of a drink, especially at this little honey of a price. It has the dark aroma of Iberian ham, with briary hedgerow berries and reduced spinach whiffs, hinting at tannins to come in the palate. It's also juicy and almost sweet to sniff, like fat Greek olives with sage. The palate's just what you'd expect after all that, elegant and easy, ,juicy and slick, but instead of the tannins the bouquet signalled, it just slides out into a long easy taper, leaving the palate refreshed and smacking. I could happily chug-a-lug away at this all afternoon, just as she stands, but it also cries out for honest Provence-style tucker, like baby rabbit cooked in viognier lees with little onions and fresh herbs. Vintage celllars and 1st Choice exclusively. 08 MAR 09

Ben Glaetzer Wallace Barossa Shiraz Grenache 20
$20; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90+++ points
About as dour and surly as its namesake – the Scotsman, I mean, not the Glaetzer – this wine has all the sense of humour of a swordsmith’s anvil. Blackberry, aniseed, licorice and forge aromas fill its dense, gloomy mass. It’s alive, but tight and ungiving, unlike the much more expensive Glaetzers with corks for the dumb Americans. A dusting of floral bathpowder and marshmallow sugar emerges eventually, but the palate remains dense and black, with impenetrable low-yield grenache putting its unctuous gun oil where tannin would normally be. This is mighty wine. Wait a decade and have it with blood pudding.
Mount Langi Ghiran Grampians Cliff Edge Shiraz 2008
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 25 JAN 12; 90+++ points
Here’s proof you can make Shiraz at higher alcohols without it becoming jammy and gloopy.  It indicates a return to some sort of regional reality for this mob: all this fruit is from the estate, rather than being a homogenous and amorphous blend of whatever.  It’s tight dark stuff, prettily perfumed for struggling drought vines in granitic ground, but with the surly hints of sweet fresh licorice and tannic juniper below that happy and jolly blueberry front.  All worked by foot and hand through to barrel, it has an open-faced honesty which I find attractive, in spite of the darker curtains in the rear.  While the Phi Shiraz blend I tasted earlier today is pure Rhone gorge, this wine is much more like the stuff from out on that big river’s sunny delta.  It’s tannic, but slender and slightly snaky. Smoke some pork belly, or take it a restaurant with proper tea-smoked duck.  At which point I must mention Wah Hing.  Again. I’m over the Chows.  Swing with the Hing.   

Bremerton Selkirk Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2007
$24; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 24-29DEC9; 90++ points
Rich and stewy, like a really good prune and apple tart, here's a wine that has outstayed its price range as far as improving since opening goes. It's falling now, but it should do well with four or five years in the cellar. It's more blackberry and prune in the mouth: deep, glowering and slightly thick of skull, velvety of tannin, and rather drowsy in the fruit department, right from the start. By which I mean it never quite wakes up, but never really falls to sleep on you, either.

Cape Mentelle Margaret River Shiraz 2007
$32; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 7-8MAY10; 90++ points
Aniseed and musk deck these pruny halls. The wine's intense and a wee bit taut, with acrid coffee rock and gingery oak, and it has what they seem to call savoury tones, and it's slender and snaky and finishes with dusty-dry tannin. So. What's its point of difference?

Gundog Estate Gundaroo Shiraz 2008
$25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; TASTED 07JUN10; 90++ points
Like many of the new modern-style Shiraz wines to come from the South of France, this is a cute, fruitsweet, hyper-clean red of modest alcohol and heaps of sass. Fortunately, it has a layer of sharp red summer earth dust that gets up your nose, irritating the tubes nicely, saving the wine from becoming a simpleton jujube or Fruitgum. It is delightful drinking, given all this, but still a touch on the simple side. I imagine there's nothing better than sitting on the veranda at Geoff's joint at Gunderoo, glass of this on the table, while you wrestle birdies from the teeth of the gun dog.

Louis Barruol Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone 2008
$20; 14% alcohol; cork; tasted 2-6JUN10; 90++ points
This has very pretty prune and ripe raspberry aromas, with sooty oak that tickles the nostrils. It flies at you from the glass: keen and eager to be sniffed and noticed. It delivers a lovely little lozenge of black cherry and blackcurrant to the middle of the tongue, and then leaves you with its tannin. And not much else happens. It's a fairly simple little Shiraz for afternoon quaffing. Entertaining and stroppy, but not Mensa material. tasted 14 OCT 09; 90++ points Tight and dark as the dregs of the black tea in a rusty old tea tin, with marello cherries, baby beetroot, and prune flavours, this juicy little wickedness reminds me of the shiraz of the Canberra district, from a warmer year. Which tends to be two or three times this price. It's slender and racy, with a touch of the old railway station - polished wood; mopped floors; coal dust; hot iron; women emerging freshly lipsticked and perfumed from the tall tiled toilets to settle for a hurried scone, with blackberry jam and cream - but beaneath there's a dark slick of the sort of grease that made the iron horse run so swift across the country. Pity about the cork.

Penfolds Seventy Six Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 90++ points
This is the retro-look Koonunga that Peter Gago and his crew make for restaurants and duty-free stores. You can buy it at the Penfolds Magill cellars too. It has much more composure and authority than the $9 Koonunga jobby, with more serious Penfolds style. Its cheeky fruit (Barossa/Coonawarra/Adelaide Hills) has been given proper grown-up oak (33% new), giving it that sweet-but-savoury fruity polish: just the right balance and a bargain.

Bellevue Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010
$18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap;  tasted December 2011; 90++ points
Corey Vandeleur grows and makes this in the main street of McLaren Vale, in the Maslin Sand at the Bellevue (western) end, opposite the Visitors’ Centre.  It’s much better value than any of the posh Scarce Earths wines I reviewed on DRINKSTER on Tuesday, and probably a more honest reflection of its site than most of them.  It has some sweet dark oak, sure, but it’s been done with more sensitivity.  In this moody, glowering fruit, with all its juniper and blueberry, there’s room for the odd black barrel.  Atop all that gothic stuff, there’s a pretty fringe of musk and mint, maybe some fennel.  Aniseed balls.  The palate’s more slender and lithe than that bouquet set me up for; the illusion of sweetness intensifies, so pure and intense is its fruit. And then its lovely infant tannin, jumping around the cot.  This honest vigor brought a complex Beaujolais to mind, maybe Moulin-à-vent, but that’s way north of Belleville, on the Macon track, in Eastern France where they grow Gamay.  And this is obviously ripe Australian Shiraz.  Its afterbreath is hotter than I’d expected, but she all stacks up.  Really lively, lovely, strapping Vales Shiraz at a deadly price.  Reduced spinach and salt fish rice with 1.  Duck. 2. Goose. 3. Pork.

Joseph Angel Gully Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Clarendon Shiraz 2009
$75; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1998; 345 doz., tasted December 2011; 90++ points
It seems to me the maker here is longing for the Italian Piedmont: I remember baby Nebbiolos with similar form to this. It’s a woody ultra-modern north Italy style in its shape, but with soot, Irish Moss cough gels, and prune aromas. High country very old rocks dry grown McLaren Vale Shiraz. Bigger than Nebbi, of course, but you get my drift. Although the wood becomes a little sharper in the same time, a beautiful comforting fruit fleshiness develops with 6 hours air, a sort of gentle milk chocolate creme. The soot remains. The wine has a slightly syrupy yet strapping palate with tannins that remind me of dried apple (common in many low-yield vineyards in the drought) and dried oatmeal. It needs at least six years.

Henschke Hill Of Grace 2005
$585?; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 90+ points
Tasted against the 05 Grange, this poor dear looked very south of France in an ordinary year. It shared the wet hessian aroma that was one of the few detractors in the Grange, but otherwise appeared like a shy, blushing, simple but cute country girl. Which only goes to show that a single vineyard wine will always find it hard to compete with such a massively-composed cross-regional monolith as Grange. I am astonished, I must say, at the extreme points my colleagues in the wine press have afforded this wine. These are the same people, perhaps, who failed to notice that for many consecutive years the HoG was gutted by brettanomycaes. Having ignorantly afforded those vintages very high points, they must then afford this one extreme points, if only because it appears to be brett-free. No?

Inkwell McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
$30; 16% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points
Inkwell? Well-inked! Dudley and Karen Brown fled Tech Valley, California, to grow this with the deft aid of intense vintillectual James Hook, on California Road in the Vales. When the contracting refinery needed a mighty essence to boost its watery tanks, Browns reluctantly let these grapes hang. So power replaced elegance, but ancient, sweaty, hands-on recipes saved enough fruit for this teetering King Kong: a hot, demanding tincture that sears the exhalations but renders a great drink, decanted, well-aired, and schlucked with stuff like ox tindaloo, plenty of yoghurt and cucumber on the side.

Lodestar Heathcote Shiraz 2006
$20; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points
People who live in South Australia, with all its ancient shiraz vignoble, are regarded as suspicious boxheads by the vignerons of Heathcote, and much of the Victorian Alps. So I declare my residency of the boxhead state, and cross the border to enter this glass hoping to see my worst suspicions allayed. And they are. This could have come from the high Barossa, from, say, a veteran winemaker of the calibre of Colin Forbes, or men fresh to the press like Bob McLean, who now makes his own lovely wine at McLean’s Farm on Mengler Hill, after decades with his nose to the PR winestone at Orlando, Petaluma, and St Hallett. But they’re rare. Back to the Alps. This has a slightly stewed, sunburnt edge, but it smells more elegant, much more alive, and less forced than most boxhead shiraz. It’s strapping, in fact, and zippy, and entertains rather than preaches like a warty old Lutheran. It has lovely lithe brightness and appetising tannins, and it’s a sublime wine when compared to Barossa-envy Parkerilla Heathcotes like the dreaded, but perfectly named, Duck Muck. This was made by Sandro Mosele, the sensitive hero of Mornington, exclusively for Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice. It’s really lovely appetising wine.

Penny’s Hill Footprint McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$65; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1991-96; ??? doz.; tased December 2011; 90+ points
Very complex, but harmonious and assimilated, with moody moss and sod below, and musky confectionery topnotes, this wine looked very impressive from the start. Acrid vetiver-like meadow pasture wafted across the glass at first. For a moment, I thought of Castagna. After six hours, the palate is elegant and slender, willowy and appetizing, more authoritative without being forceful or blustery, and very different in style to all the preceding wines. Thirteen hours in, it’s the mossy sod with some nose-twitchy oak and fresh-split slate. The oak finally tastes like nutmeg. The fruit is better than the winemaking.  This was one of the few Scarce Earths wines to win recognition at the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show.  Like them, it climbed all the way up to bronze!

Yalumba Organic South Australia Shiraz 2011
($19; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points)
It’s fascinating that in the disgusting moulds and rots of the second-wettest vintage in Australian winemaking history, it was often the organic and bio-dynamic vineyards which came off best.  Which is not to deny that a lot of it needed pasteurizing to keep the browning botrytis-triggered laccase at bay.  The fruit in this comforting, chubby wine came from vineyards in the irrigated Mallee, McLaren Vale, and the north Adelaide Plains.  Like many of the recent Yalumba cheapies, it seems to have been made to a French recipe, by which I mean a lot more than simple rote pasteurisation and chaptalisation.  The wine could have come from Borie de Maurel in Minervois, for example … a source of stunning organic and bio-d south of France deliciosities.  It has no apparent timber – maybe vegans can’t drink wood – and has no edges or sharpness like Yalumba’s much more expensive offerings usually show, even if they’re cork-derived.  Rather, it’s plum juicy like a Melba, but as dark as Mahler on the other hand.  Stewed, yes, but still fresh, like conserve.  It has a neat dash of tannin in its tail, just to make a wine of it, and some peachy Viognier, which I don’t think was at all necessary.  But I really do like it.  There’s a Viognier and Chardonnay in the same inexpensive set, but neither are as wholesomely slurpy as this.  Jump. Tasted January 2012

Yalumba Barossa Shiraz Viognier 2005
$18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; cork; 90+ points
Australia’s shiraz viognier blends are tending towards this intensely syrupy style more than the paler, more austere north Rhone blends that are the origins of the idea. Rich with typical Barossa cooking chocolate and blackberry and mulberry reductions, with the vio’s peachy syrup filling all the gaps, it’s slick, thick, and warming stuff indeed. The tannins of the viognier don’t take long to poke their grainy heads through the wine’s texture: the finish is very dry and adult, working the mouth and setting the juices a-flow. It likes the decanter; pity about the cork. It needs really hearty dark meat, like mutton shanks or venison. And it’s CHEAP!

Gemtree Tadpole McLaren Vale Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$15; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points
Apart from making the wine which should have won the Bushing King (The Obsidian), Big Mike Brown’s beginning to kick very serious arse at Gemtree, where his tiny wife, Melissa, runs the family vineyards. This one’s named after the taddies that are breeding like, well, frogs, in the extravagant frog resort she’s built along their rejuvenated Terraces creek on the Willunga scarp. One of the Vales’ beast cheapies, this is all licorice, anise, black tea, and chocolate in the nose, and lipsmacking berries and tannins slurping in the swallowing division. Cheese, meat, lovers – have it with anything. Anyone.

Penley Estate Hyland Coonawarra Shiraz 2008
$20; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9-12MAY10; 90 points
Cool Coonawarra managed to survive the record heatwave of 2008 better than some of the more sunbaked vignobles, and obviously had no trouble ripening this bonnie bowl of sunshine and life. Mulberries and fresh marshmallows overlie the darker, toasty oak aromas, and the swallowing is a pleasant moment indeed. The tannins are appropriately velvety and the acid still sinuous. It’s a neat and tidy little package at a great price, and evidence that Coonawarra sometimes does Shiraz much better than it does Cabernet.

Lloyd Brothers Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2006
$22; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 89+++ points
Aniseed balls and licorice rings ding the big gong in this piquant glass: all that and then the acrid whoof of the Willunga slate quarry after a blast ... only after all that’s moved into your hooter and settled there does the red and black fruit begin to emerge. This is edgy, lean, hand-hammered, Samurai sword sorta wine, with the forge and the carbon gradually becoming more and more predominant. After that macho intro, the palate’s a bit fluffy for a moment. And then the edge returns to shave the tongue of its ancient sins, and the finish is alternating waves of blackfruit syrup, quarry dust, and the swordsmith’s soot. Pretty good wine: needs eight years. It’s good to see the old syrup and jam of the human interventionist aspects of Mclaren Vale gradually falling away while the Earth takes over.JAN 09

d’Arenberg The Eight Iron Single Vineyard Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$99; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1960; 330 doz.; tasted December 2011; 89+ points
I refuse to mention that utterly stupid name. Imagine trying to understand if it were accurately translated into Mandarin. Just the Eight would have been enough. The alcohols and the drought tannins seemed a bit big for the fruit on pouring. It was not exceptional, but had pleasing tweaks of raspberry and musk in a jammy nose, and the hot, tannic palate of the wine reminded me of most of the south of France. Most of it. Six hours’ air has seen some acrid acetone bootpolish crawl out, and aniseed, juniper and soot. It tickles the nose hairs. The palate has more supple, sinuous flesh, and just as the whole thing seems less of a rip-off it eventually gets jammy. The finish seems a little doughy, and that serious tea-tin tannin made me yearn for a cuppa, and a hot scone with blackberry jam and whipped cream. Not many wines have done that to me. It could be a beauty in four years. Or it could still be just like this.

Fox Gordon Eight Uncles Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
$28; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 89+ points
Rich soupy Barossa, with beetroot, turnip, figs and dates in the old cast iron pot, hanging over the woodfire in a mud-floored cottage like Esther’s, which I rented from Norty Schluter in the late ’eighties. Roses climbing through the six-pane windows; an old leather armchair by the stove, horsehair stuffing busting out. Butts in the ashtray. Mettwurst on the table. The palate’s more elegant and slender than most Barossa gobstoppers, with lovely turnip greens, almost tending toward the methoxypyrazine tomato leaf of high-yield cabernet. That adds some balancing edge. But you can’t convince me that this wine was made to their recipe for Vintage Cellars in 2005 by Tash Mooney. This is unsold wine blended and freshened for a purpose. There’s even some indecision about the number of uncles, with the back label suggesting that in fact the real number’s sixteen. This is not unusual in the Barossa, where schisms occur nearly every time a Pastor dies and a new one draws up. But Fox? Gordon? These are not Barossadeutscher names. These are Inglitsch. Or Scottish already. Which is not to say there’s anything doubtful about the wine’s quality. Unique to Vintage Cellars. NOTE: Having just had a quiet one with Tash Mooney, the maker, eighteen months later, I am assured this was made explicitly for the Coles/Vintage Cellars chain, and is not a mixture made for expedient cash.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz 2005
$18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 89 points
Everybody thought Doug Lehmann’s palate would fall to bits when he gave up smoking his beloved Escorts, but if this wine’s any indicator, it’s still on fire. Doug, Andrew Wigan and the regular team have churned out another Barossa bargain, and one that’s settling down nicely after a rather brash start. We forget how time improves Barossa reds. The usual Barossa chocolate’s here, with prunes and poached cashew and rich stewed plum. It’s neat and tidy, and will grow more so with a year or two more cellar. In the meantime, pepper steak. (19.1.8)

Zema Estate Coonawarra Shiraz 2006
$26; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 13 NOV 09; 89 points
Bickfords' Essence of Coffee and Chicory comes to mind; anise and licorice way below. Clever mellow oak; some soot. That's enough schnozz. Strapping cool shiraz fruit runs this train: it approaches sinuous athleticism, like a pole vaulter, but it's really a train. Acid like railway lines.

Bay of Shoals Island Blend Kangaroo Island Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007
$20; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88++ points
Slurpy, cheeky and delicious in a brash and bibulant sort of a way, this has those bootpolish and licorice characters I keep talking about, but a bucket of oak which reminds me of A. P. John, the Barossan cooper. So somewhere in all that oaky spice and sap and alcohol you do find fruit but it tastes kinda Spanish. Weird. This is good value. 10 OCT 98

Margan Limited Release Hunter Valley Shiraz Mourvèdre 2008
$30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 4-7MAY10; 88++ points
Peat, coal dust, hot old locos: these aromas reek through the fruit of many Hunter reds, and the incidence of Mourvèdre here serves simply to intensify this. There is much fruit to be reeked through, mind you: crème de cassis, Ribena and prune to begin. The tannin is like the gentle velvety pith of the dried apple. But it hangs about and intensifies, that tannin. So While it has soul and life, this is a very staunch, very dry wine, needing quite some sizzling fat in whatever you eat with it. Hot olives, chorizos, duck.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2007
$32.90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted FEB 09 and 1 MAY 10; 88++ points
Stupidly, I tasted this after the Bin 28 Kalimna, whose intensity and weight overshadowed this lighter, simpler, more twee shiraz which is typical of Coonawarra. After swallowing this one, I could still taste the Bin 28! Which is not to say this is any fledgeling. It has the classic lighter berry style of the much cooler Coonawarra vignoble, with sweeter, much more accessible fruits before its dry tannins march in, with perhaps a little too much authority for that fruit. Still it’ll cellar beautifully for five or six years, and probably many more. FEB 09

Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2006
$25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88++ points
In 1982 I spent a perfect day with Jay Tulloch, tasting fifty vintages of his mob’s precious Hunter shiraz. It was a revelation, learning the sub-tropical wonder of the valley where it rains at vintage, so people pick early – sometimes before new year, meaning the vintage before - and get sensible, approachable alcohol levels like 13.5%. This is exquisitely shaped wine: lean, genteel, and nicely tannic. It’d be great now with smoked rabbit or hung hare, but will be much better in six or ten years, with a big ol’ juicy sheep on a spit. Shanks, thanks. Then cheeks.

False Cape Ship’s Graveyard Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2005
$18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points
Trademark Greg Follett oak wraps this baby up: with more of the bootpolish/tempranillo characters a lot of the Island’s shiraz displays. The palate shows a lot more pure fruit than the bouquet would suggest, with mulberry and blackberry in abundance. Then comes that dark, acrid tea tin tannin that a lot of the Dudley Peninsula wines have. Another one that would benefit from a few years in the dungeon. 10 OCT 98

Kirrihill Clare Valley Shiraz 2008
$15; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 07JUN10; 88+ points
It this really were fifteen and fifteen, it'd a be a dollar per dollop. But I reckon it's more like sixteen in the dollop department, which puts it in a new rank of Australian dry red, as far as bonk per buck goes: there's a whole new crop of wines like this at this price, or lower, just in time for the rest of the world to begin complaining about them. I reckon it tastes mildly salty, too. If it came from Mediterranean Spain or just over the French border, even at this alcohol, and with a little drying brett to cut the syrup, it would be regarded much more kindly than I'm being. For its high alcohol, this wine lacks complexity. And because the alcohol's so high, it can't be cute and simple, like the best of its Mediterranean rivals.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$17.90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; FEB 09; 1 MAY 10; 88++ points
70% shiraz, with fruit from McLaren Vale, Barossa, Langhorne Creek and Limestone Coast, this has much more Max in it than the standard Koonunga. It has much more complexity, more overt marello cherry than its little brother, and after eleven months in American oak hogsheads, 5% of which were new, has more believable sappy oak in neat balance, after Max’s style. While we Adelaideans can buy it at the Magill cellar, it’d worth the rest of you catching a plane to get some at duty-free! Like its white sibling, it’s beginning to appear on restaurant lists at prices below $30. The Seventy Six name comes from the year Don Ditter first launched the Koonunga Hill brand, which was named after the aboriginal word for the country immediately north of the Barossa, where the vineyard of the same name lies. There’s some contention over the meaning of the word. I understand some believe it means “place of good shelter”, but I’ve also heard it means “mound of excrement”, which is not mutually exclusive, but would make the Hill bit redundant. FEB 09

Chapel Hill The Chosen Road Block Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$55; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1993; 167 doz.; tasted December 2011; 88+ points
On opening, this wine smelled like that village in Bandol where the florist is between the charcuterie and the coffee shop. It snapped at me: dark meats, mocha, and florals, over old tea tin, deadly nightshade, juniper berries, somebody burning coal … with some cassis. Six hours on, it’s velvety, and the palate is slender, with a little learned suppleness, but it’s still quite severely dry, with staunch coaldust tannins. The gap between these two Chapel Hill Scarce Earths wines diminished over that time: they became more similar. Now they’re chalk and cheese again. I’m convinced the House Block will be the greater wine in time. Expensive!

Rookery Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2004
$30.75; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points
A bit rude and stewed, this shiraz is of the Chamberlain tractor sump school, stacked with dark iron as much as the dark green hints of deadly nightshade and blackberry vines in the summer ... it has doughy/malty characters, too, as if the ferment didn’t go all that swimmingly. Still, it’s a hearty country drink, and would go very nicely with the American plains turkeys that abound on the Island, or a wild boar from Porky Flat. 10 OCT 98

Commissioner’s Block Shiraz 2005
$14; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points;
Roberts Estate is a big deal refinery amongst the vast grapeyards of Merbein, in the Victorian side of the Murray Valley. They divert some of the best of their 10,000 plus tonnes to the Commish, which is usually a step above most of the dry old River’s red. Like this: saucy and alive, with outright honest goodness in place of sawdust and cordial. It’s barely oaked, but nicely, with just a little edgy sap adding sharps to its almost natural-looking acidity. Since we taught them, there are now wines like this in France’s hot south, but not this cheap. Roast pork, mit crackling.

Brash Higgins SHZ McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$37; 14.7% alcohol; screw cap; planted ????; 305 doz.; tasted December 2011; 87++ points
This one smelled hot and acrid at first, with hints of samphire flats, cordite, and hot rusty iron. But quickly the tweaks of mint and menthol and caster sugar began to appear. Six hours later it’s a more wholesome and comforting thing, with a well of blackberries and mulberries simmering below those cute topnotes, and reflections of them in the lingering, warmish afterbreath. The tannins are persistent in sucking one’s precious bodily fluids through the delicate interior skin of the lips, like some of the other Scarce Earths brutes. Macho cross-dresser. It gets sweeter and jammy after thirteen hours.

Cat Amongst The Pigeons Nine Lives Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009
$16; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 87++ points
Alarmingly cheap, this glowering brute comes from the vast vineyards on the loamy dirt of the Barossa’s western ridges.  If I MUST mention fruit, this smells vaguely like somebody’s mixed prune juice with Ribena and electrified it.  But to be more truthful, it also has that sinister gun oil glimmer in its bouquet: if you were to put some scratch and sniff into Wolf Creek, this would be the dust and oil whiff of John Jarrett’s car shed at midnight.  The palate’s as dense as gunmetal, too: ungiving and devoid of emotion.  It should bloom with ten years under the bed, but I reckon you’d be better whacking it into you with some barbecued chops, some blitzkrieg chilli sauce, and a cold potato salad, quick, before he gets you.  And he will.   Tasted October 2011  

Sunset Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2006
$18; 14.3% alcohol; screw cap; 87++ points
My Melbourne granny used to rub a restorative cream into her kid church gloves that made the car smell like this wine. Like the leather in a new Bentley Continental, it’s a most unholy and carnal luxury, but it used to brighten up the smell of the old Buffalo’s Lodge hall where her husband ran the Calvary Gospel Mission. Smooth, slurpy, slippery and slick; clean and polished and, well, it’s like Coonawarra shiraz. And then there’s a spoonful of black tea tannin. Neat. 10 OCT 98

Dudley Porky Flat Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2005
$18; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap; 87+ points
This one reminds me of tempranillo: it has that slightly threatening acetone/black bootpolish whiff about it, like the officer’s mess. Dark Iberian ham, pancetta, tea tin tannins – and a touch thin and hard in the finish. Maybe it simply needs a lot of time. 10 OCT 98

Kalleske Pirathon Barossa Shiraz 2008
$24; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 8DEC9; 85+ points
"The wine was bottled without fining or filtration, ensuring the true expression of the vineyards in the bottle". And the vineyards? Greenock, Moppa, Belvedere, Stonewell, Seppeltsfield, Koonunga and Ebenezer. We'll have to take it for granted these disparate sites are expressing themselves truthfully in this rather thick, drought-roasted, hand-mixed syrup. It's silky smooth, voluptuous syrup, mind you, with its viscosity alone managing to hide some of that fairly hot alcohol. Amongst the blackberry conserve there's a Vegemite-on-white-Vienna Slice of yeasty stuff. The new proprietary bottle, and the livery overall, leave a very pleasant memory: the design and presentation are both good. This was made for the uber-kuhl. But it could have done with a little fining or filtration.

Halifax Per Se Block McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1998; 40 doz.; tasted December 2011; 85+ points
Tense, impenetrable carbon and blackness seemed this baby’s hallmarks on opening: the palate was tight and brittle like the fruit of many drought vineyards’, but not terribly: the wine reminded me of the style common around Vacqueyras. After six hours we got aniseed and licorice; maybe fennel aromas; and to make it Australian, maybe eucalypts. It’s cute and sassy. The palate has neat fruit and some juniper/bay leaf tannin which makes it all quite pleasing and chirpy.

Heartland Directors' Cut Langhorne Creek Limestone Coast Shiraz 2006
$30; 14.5% alcohol; cork (!); 85+ points
A wee wisp of blackberry conserve's trying to seep out of my glass, but it just doesn't seem able to drag itself away from the wine's deep anvil iron and blacksmith's coke, and I don't mean the friggin drink, although there's a whiff of those Coke sort of phenolics here anyway, even if the Coke in Coca Cola was named after cocaine and not the blast furnace fuel made by cooking all the volatiles off bituminous coal in an airless oven to make coke. Both things depend on lignins, in a way: the phenols in Coke and the phenols cooked out of coke. Funny. The wine does increase in fruit volume after an hour or so, but it seems to have little soul and no warmth and lots and lots of harsh phenolics and burnt and decaying lignins. Many of the macho men will love this tough drink, but I want more life. 10 MAR 09

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2010 
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted MAR 2012; 85+ points
The more delicate fruit jujubes and gels of Coonawarra are prominent here: all the musk and confectionery sugars, the lolly shop party favours, mixed perfectly with the lavender and paper flowers from the florist next door.  So you get an old-fashioned “claret” in a way: a stylish, svelte young wine for suits and steaks at lunch; blazers and lamb at dinner.  You know that tough blonde lady in the suit who runs one of the big banks?  She’d drink this.  Kevin Foley would miss it, but she’d get it.  It’s what they call elegant, which I think means streamlined and slick, unobtrusive and linear.  Unsurprising.  Homogenised. Perfect drinking when promoting corporate parsimony with a dash of spunk.  Safe.

J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes-du-Ventoux 2006
$14; 13% alcohol; cork; 85 points
Since Marcel Guigal bought this old negociant and parked it in a brand new winery the quality hasn't immediately taken the dramatic leap some expected, but this is a fairly good example of how it's headed. It's a simple, earthy shiraz grenache, with a hint of the harness polish, and a nice breeze of meadow flowers coming through the stable door. There's buckets of raspberry and mulberry, too. The palate's slender and furry, without much intensity, but plenty of full-bore slurp. Bangers and mash, Marcel. Jack Hibberd would love this friendly guzzle. 08 MAR 09

Shingleback Unedited Single Vineyard Mclaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$70; 15.5% alcohol; Diam cork; planted 1995; >30 doz.; tasted December 2011; 85 points
On opening, this seemed a slender, racy, neat and elegant wine with fruity blackcurrant gels and not much hint of its alcoholic force. It seemed to have a whiff of the seaside about it: dunal grasses or something. After six hours, it had become a fairly boisterous hulk to sniff: full of alcohol and darkness with glowering mulberry concentrate and some anise. The palate, however stays reasonably strappy and slurpy, while it leaves fairly hot, sharp afterbreath, it’s not too jammy; the tannins are much more approachable than in many of the more intense Scarcities. With, say, pigeons or mutton shanks with black olives in the sauce, not a bad drink now to 2015. The judges at the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show gave it a bronze! Maybe they noticed the gold medal price.

Alkoomi Frankland River Shiraz Viognier 2007
$20 at the winery; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 84++ points
Almost alive, with the sort of furry sooty aniseed and licorice whoof you’ll find increasingly in the Languedoc, without too much of the syrupy peach most boofhead Ockers think viogniated shiraz should display, this wine smells attractive in the way some people smell on a train: not quite seductive, but good enough for a second sniff. If this person happens to pash you sappy when all the others have left the carriage, or in that shocking moment when everyone’s got their earbuds buzzing and their heads in the papers, there’s a good chance you’ll never forget it, and occasionally remember it fondly when you feel like wielding a flick of revenge upon your regular squeeze, but you’ll never quite want to do the train thing again. So you do the pash thing, just this once, and put it in the mouth, and yep! That’s pretty much how it feels. Good enough for that risky fling, but not yet sufficiently alluring or reliable to commit to. And the most challenging thing for this writer is I can’t clearly discern the gender. But I reckon, with about six years dungeon, it’ll be a sort of a boy. And I’ll be gone. JAN 09

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$16; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; FEB 09; 1 MAY 10; 84++ points
Considering this gets down below $9 at Dan Murphy’s, it’s amazing over-delivery for price. While Peter Gago says it’s gradually becoming more and more Barossa-sourced, this vintage is from Limestone Coast, McLaren Vale, Barossa and Langhorne Creek, in descending order of proportion. It’s 78% shiraz, and disarmingly honest in its open-hearted simplicity. I’ve had pretentious $40+ Australian pinots that taste like it, although they would have been much better if they had modest and sensible alcohol like this wine. It’s neat, with marello cherries and cassis, and slightly lemony oak after twelve months in old barrels, probably indicating that some were shaved, or a few teabags, shavings or planks found their way in. I can see Peter gradually pulling this back to a pure Barossa red, following its retro-labelled big brother, the Seventy Six.

Coriole The Soloist Single Vineyard Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1969; 500 doz.; tasted December 2011; 83+ points
Like many of the other wines in this Scare Earths comparison, this one seemed to show more characteristics typical of the drought year and its winemaker than your actual terroir or geology. It was modest, almost shy in this company, perhaps because it has more sympathetic oak. It had twists of reduced spinach, and its dusty tannins sucked the blood clean through one’s gums. It also seemed just slightly doughy. Six hours on, it’s more tomato leaf and the nightshade family, with a slightly sultry blackberries-in-kirsch fruitiness. There’s aniseed, too. The fruit is lean but constant beneath some quite dry mealy tannins.

Neagle’s Rock Clare Valley Shiraz 2006
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 83 points
14.5% alcohol? All Australia’s red cannot possibly be 14.5% alcohol. This has good thick fruit: a bit felty in its thickness: too hammered, not sufficient elegance. Still, there’s a lot of Harley men who’d love a smell like this. It does grow on one. Leather and grease sort of stuff, with jam and Vegemite all over the lingeried lass on the back. Pierced everything. The palate’s more of the same: lacking elegance, but plenty of Harley. I’d like a squeak more Noel Coward in my Harley. Sorry. On my Harley. I’m scared of that kinda girl. At least you know where Noel’s coming from. The back. And he uses his table napkin. JAN 09

Zilzie Bulloak Murray Valley Carbon Neutral Shiraz 2007
$10; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 83 points
Smells a bit like carbon, too, come to fink of it: sorta swarfy. Rude cowshed whoofs and somebody using an angle grinder to cut cousin Clarence outa the milking machine. Don’t ask what he’s doing in there. After all that in yo face jammy ripeness – I can also smell the old fuel oil engine next door now – the drink’s sweet and chubby, like Ribena, maybe a bit raw, but sweet and chubby and as open-hearted as the boy next door. Bubba be his name. Puts his oily rag in his hip pocket, takes your hand, Spams it, then gets the rag out and wipes his hand sorta guy. We met him last year in a coupla them Chester Osborne bottles of d’Arenberg. Carbon aftertaste, too. Australian outback drought wine dressed up as a dairy farm? Can’t be right? Carbon neutral? At Karadoc? Do they count the friction all the river water makes as it rubs along inside the irrigation pipes? JAN 09

Sabella McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$25; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1910; 7000 litres; tasted December 2011; 82+ points
Ancient subterranean salt began to move during the drought, which may begin to explain why this wine, from creekline vineyards, reminded me of the Robe fruit that now goes into St Henri, or many of the reds of Mornington Peninsula: even the aroma seems reminiscent of seaside dunes. This had subsided after six hours: like Langhorne Creek the muddy berry fruit seems to rise up, with its cute florals, faint chocolate and gently lemony oak. The palate became more stroppy and cheeky; the wine brighter and fresher at six hours. Another few hours and it’s going fluffy and jammy. Simple: don’t wait! A good honest effort by the Trott Family Trophy winners 2011, this is obviously the bargain of the bunch, or at least the most honestly-priced of all the Scarce Earths wines.

Kalleske Moppa Barossa Valley Shiraz 2007
$29; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 82 points
14.5% alcohol? All Australia’s red cannot possibly be 14.5% alcohol. These Kalleskes are heavily into bio-dynamics, which is very, very good. They were the first big Barossa growers to go Steiner. “Sourced entirely from our Kalleske Moppa vineyard, a trace of viognier and petit verdot has been added to this shiraz, giving it a contemporary edge”. Aw ma goodness. I can’t help thinking that all those ancient Barossa grapeyards need for a contemporary edge is to be picked one or two degrees Beaumé earlier, and then they’d be more like a drink, and less like a feed, no? The acid would be more natural; the tannins a little greener. Maybe then you wouldn’t need the vio and the PV, which have tweaked the finishing tannins a little, making the wine more savoury. But it still smells thick and waxy, like that black candle I got from the high Barossa lass who left my heart hanging on a No Parking sign in the Nuri co-op car-park out the back of The Bank wine bar last time I gathered the pluck to go Barossa. Jeez. Wines with character breed characterful memories. Nice sweet little wine, but; with the added focus of those tannins. JAN 09

Gipsie Jack Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 81 points
Smells tarry, a bit like real merlot. Like all those lignin smells that come from the stiffening in plant cell walls, whether they come from grapes or oak. Lignin has a very strong bouquet. When it’s really old and rotten and squashed it becomes lignite, or brown coal. This shiraz gives us some lignin, the oak gives us the rest. Then the grape sugars and glycerols swoop in over your tongue and the smell suddenly doesn’t matter nearly so much. Not that there was anything wrong with it in the first place. This is slick, simple, easy-tipping plonko lango that makes me twitch for juicy pink lamb cutlets.

Five Geese Wines Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz 2009
$48; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1990; 300 doz.; tasted December 2011; 80++ points
Deliciously fat and juicy to sniff, this high Blewett Springs wine looks to me like it got one new barrel too many. The sophistry of the coffee and mocha oak, and its lemony flavours are a little too intrusive. They may recede, but I doubt it – they still scratch my nostrils after it’s had six hours’ air. The fruit is obviously very intense and slick, but much other than its juvenile prune and mulberry can’t shine through that wood. It’s in the old school Penfolds style, without the VA. It was one of the few Scarce Earths - shit I hate that term - that won anything in the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show: a lowly bronze.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$9; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 80+ points
I simply cannot imagine why you’d risk fewer dollars on cleanskins of dubious provenance when you can buy this for the price of two schooners of beer. It’s an audacious, cheeky, sassy wine: a brash brat from the Bash Street Kids. The fruit cannot be contained. The saucy oak tries to wrap that fruit up, but it leaps off again and there you go after it, glass after glass. I thought at first the wine had been made like a Beaujolais, with carbonic maceration, but no, Peter assures me, it’s straight down the line conventional winemaking in the Penfolds style.

Serafino Terremoto McLaren Vale Single Vineyard Scarce Earths Syrah 2009
$110; 14.5% alcohol; Diam cork; planted ????; 600 doz.; tasted December 2011; 80+ points
First up, this reminded me of the style of red Wolf Blass and Johnny Glaetzer made in the late ’seventies. It is stacked with the smooth sophistry of an expensive cooper. Sweet, modern, sophisticated wine. In the truest sense of the word. Artificed. Silky, velvety cordial with modest acidity. After six hours, it looked pretty much the same. Aniseed, soot, and then the fruit: prune and mulberry, with a dusting of musky confectioner’s sugar. Some bootpolish. Wood-derived smells. Not sensual. Most certainly Shiraz, not Syrah. And ridiculously expensive.

Fox Creek Shadow's Run South Australia Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$12; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 01-07JUN10; 80 points
I think, officially, the back label here is hoped, legally, to be regarded as the front label, as it states the source of the grapes - South Australia, not McLaren Vale - and includes the Braille dots. What we all think is the real front label carries a photograph of a dog. And what you consumers will probably never get to read is the press release that Fox Creek sent me to assist me in my understanding of this wine.

"Some of you", it reads, "will remember when Helen and Jim Watts' dog Shadow was nothing but a farm dog, a Border Collie that with a stroke of luck was saved from a messy fate and given a home and his own wine label. From there he was propelled into canine fame and fortune. Unfortunately Shadow died over a year ago but he lives on as an Australian wine icon and people still ask after him.

"We hope you enjoy the next vintage of his red wine which we believe is better than its price, as confirmed by Winestate who selected it in their Top 40 best Buys in the May/June 2010 issue. The wine is a deep rich red colour with a dark cherry rim. The nose displays spicy cinnamon and cloves with a hint of tobacco leaf, red cherry, milk chocolate and smoky toast.

"A soft rich balanced blend of strawberry, red cherry and blood plum fruit flavours, complemeneted by a dark cherry and vanilla mid palate, and the end palate lingers with luscious dark chocolate. This ripe, juicy and elegant blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon finishes with crisp acid and soft tannins, leaving the palate clean, refreshed, and looking for the next sip.

"The wine has been crafted for enjoying right now but will keep improving over the next 24 months under good cellaring conditions. Suitable for a barbecue, roast dinner or any occasion with good friends and of course, a great dog!"

The part of the label with the Braille on it gilds the dog further. I shall not copy it out. But if the 2007 version of Shadow's Run is anything to go by, don't dare cellar this for 24 months. The 07 exudes an overwhelming aroma of cowshed.

Fairbank Sutton Grange Victoria Syrah 2004
$25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points
Gilles Lapalus has kept my attention over the years, making wine closer in spirit to the sweaty Mediterranean than, say, perfumed Paris, but with better insinuations of science than your average Tournon pastisserie. Not too much science evident in this hearty country brewage however, with its barny wood, buttery – diacetyl? Butyric? – leathery bouquet, and worn-out, harness-and-mule south-of-France muckiness. “Classical dishes such as lamb or duck” suggests the spinsheet. I say chuck ’em both in the iron pot with a bottle of this, the haunch of the mule, and the guts of a cassoulet and wallow in your classical merde. (16.2.8)

d’Arenberg The Little Venice Single Vineyard Scarce Earths McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$99; 15% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1997; 330 dozen; tasted December 2011; 79+ points
Another twisted pixie: first pour: tar; peat; black old bretty oak; fig; prune; strange fresh oyster aroma. Six hours on: all the above, with a gentle rise of whitepepper fruit, lemon pith and blackberry. Whole thing looks much healthier. The palate has acidic astringency and a certain appetizing tease about it. And then that hot alcohol in the afterbreath. And then the pucker of all that tannin. And now, thirteen hours after opening, it’s beginning to settle. Just. Who knows? Chester's bank manager?

Longview Red Bucket Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$16; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 08JUN10; 79+ points
The post-modernists have put a dot point list of 28 key trigger words on the back label of this wine. I have crossed half of them off. This not an opulent or rich. It is structured, as all wine must have structure, and it is pure, in the sense of perhaps being a pure example of what the vineyard offers at this price, which is ridiculous for a prime Adelaide Hills site, but we have to believe some of what they say. I'm not going much further. In my uninfluenced opinion, I suggest this is a thin, tannic wine for one of such alcohol. I find it hard to believe it is so high. If this is one our industry's new wave of attempts at lower alcohol, more elegant, savoury, balanced wines, as in NOT Parkerillas, then Bacchus help us. It's a raw, braw, hard little bastard.

Thorne Clarke Sandpiper Barossa Shiraz 2007
$??; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 79 points
Sophisticated and juicy, with plenty of fruitgums, jujubes and sugared blackcurrant and blackberry fruit gels, this wine tastes nothing like the poor, awkward, skinny, long-legged stint on the label. (What’s that doing there? It lands in the vineyard? Oh. It’s not appetising.) There’s some sappy, dusty oak, too: just enough to take the sugary gum off that bouquet, and enough to take most of the fruit outa the palate. Damn. The stunning suite of vineyards these dudes own deserve better than this. JAN 09

Kangarilla Road Scarce Earth Project McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009
$50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; planted ????; ??? doz.; 78++ points
Iron, mint, cassis, lemonwater and tannin? Okay. Bring it on. It was like that to begin. Drought year. But after that six hours’ air, we have a more presentable, wholesome wine: elegant and poised. It has saucy menthol and anise, and has grown some dark charcuterie meats. It’s more glowering and pacing. The palate is not forced; the aroma of the oak is sympathic to the fruit, supporting it without too much competition. But its tannins and sap are still a little intrusive and raw, and the wine seems unfairly treated, being on the market at such a price in such a juvenile state. Which can be said of most of the 2009 Scarce Earths. You should think a $50 wine could have done better than the bronze medal it won at the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show, eh?.
Vinrock McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz 2009
$40; 14.7% alcohol; screw cap; planted 1998; 60 doz.; tasted December 2011; 76++ points
bronze medal 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show
Very basically, this seemed shut and snarly when provoked at the beginning. It’s picked up in six hours, and seems to want to be in the Halifax/Brash Higgins/Sabella school. It seems like it’s been hammered out of water and black granite. Humourless and taut, and reflective of the drought. Good name. Probably worth the bronze they gave it at the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show.

Fox Creek Red Baron McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$14; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 76 points
As my deeply respectful grandfather A. J. solemnly fired his .303 rifle over the lowering coffin of Baron Manfred von Richthoven, being in the official guard of honour, having watched the dismemberment of his Fokker by souvenir hunters, and knowing the digger who brought him down with one neat squeeze of the trigger, I feel rather prickly about this wine failing completely to reflect the Red Baron’s aristocratic breeding and incredible steely discipline as a combat pilot. This is fat, dull, jammy glug. It could have been grown at Mildura, or Berri. Von Richthoven’s Fokker had better wood. And its pilot certainly had better blood. This is ordinary plonk for ordinary plonksters, and it does the reputation of Fox Creek no good at all. Who do they think they’re competing with? Woolworths? JAN 09

Possums Willunga McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 74+ points
Acrid and coarse, like the middle-range products of d’Arenberg have sometimes been, perhaps to please the brett-sympathisers of Britain, this is not the best red Possums has made, but it is certainly wine of a style. It’s just that it looks half out of date, like a dude with Brylcreem in his hair and too much Gaultier after-shave. The wood’s abrasive. JAN 09

Yalumba South Australia Shiraz Viognier 2007
$13; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 73 points
The lower alcohol immediately drew to me to open this before other bottles. But as if shy about making something obviously way below the Parkerilla attention span in strength, it’s as if the makers, like Taylors of Clare occasionally do, deliberately induce a few bretty coaldust barrels to make it more interesting for the English, who are tiring of what they call “Aussie fruit bombs”. For this is more like many average south-of-France average wines: the whiff of the average old steamtrain whoofing through the average railway stations of my very average youth makes it seem like many wines from that stony Rhone delta and its cellars filled with musty old wood. Average. The wine is shorter because of this: drier, with less of said fruitbomb. The finish is almost bitter. Nice drink for a wild boar on the spit, but no finesse in sight. You’d think a mob like Yalumba could have saved a little more live fruit for us. Still, they obviously know what they’re doing, and this is what they’ve done. Send it all to England. But hang on - maybe that tight bitter bit is the viognier? JAN 09

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Philip Hunter Valley Shiraz 2003
($17; 14%alcohol; cork; 75 points)
Pity about the cork. This wine tickles the ego of traditional heritage Caucasian artefact republicans like me. It’s good wine, given the reactionary poddy-dodging sycophancy of the Hunter wine kings, who named it after our beloved German Queen’s devoted Greek husband, Phil le Duc. It’s lovely slender light-bodied “burgundy” style Hunter, which was forgotten here after we logicians moved wisely to the screw cap. Have it with a broiled map of New South Wales. (9.12.06)

Hickinbotham Winemakers Mt Anakie Vineyard Shiraz 80/81
$n/a; no alcohol listed; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 70 points
Like its cabernet brother, this child of necessity is tired and collapsing, but as I said in the other review, the wine was never meant to live this long. It had whiffs of mint and bitumen, but its palate, whilst thick, caramelised and syrupy in texture, was watery and unco-ordinated in flavour. In different company, the wine would most likely have looked much more acceptable.

Commissioner’s Block Shiraz 2006
$12; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 68 points
Gaze at this label long enough, and you’ll see somebody enter stage right with a cement mixer and a Drizabone, take up the shovel and build the Coonawarra railway station. But we’re at the other end of the irrigated Murraylands, at Irymple, near Mildura. This is a sweet, plummy red, with noticeable residual sugar and bugger all acidity. They’ve bunged in a dash of viognier, which adds to the syrupy nature of the whole adventure, and some carpentry, but neither delivers length or finesse. I might imagine having it with a ham and pineapple pizza after I’d added the chilli.

Rymill The Yearling Coonawarra Shiraz 2008
$15; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 13 NOV 09; 68 points
You know, I want this wine to please me. I dream about its tannin being like the tannin I had in a sangiovese I had once somewhere, and its charm reminding me of something, but no.

Were Estate Margaret River Shiraz Cabernet 2006
$??; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap; 67 points
Mmmm. I reckon this smalls like coal dust and Band-aids. Zar Brooks knows what that means. Then, I reckon it also smells like quite a lot of the better Chateau-neuf-du-papes I have drunked over the last firty yiz. It has a whiff of eau-de-cologne mint, too, which is not to say anyone from Köln would agree. It’s quite pleasant to sniff, really. Up comes some grapes. And the flavour’s grapey in a thin, what some would call savoury sort of way. Some would call it a food wine. For me, it’s not a drinking wine. Maybe an old hard cheese full of caraway seeds would help make it a drinking wine

Kalleske Johann Georg Old Vine Barossa Shiraz 2009
($100; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 65 points)
Fully certified organic and biodynamic, very expensive and black, this wine comes from a sun-blazed north Barossa 1875 planting out Kapunda way.  It’s in the new Kalleske Mills Bomb Proprietory Bottle, which seems to weigh a great deal for a green and bearded bio-d business, but it certainly has authority on the shelf.  No doubt to add some earnest aw-schucks Barossadeutscher to the deal, the tasting notes say “silky, but solid, this discerning [sic] wine is completed by an amazingly lengthy finish.”  The notes also claim sophistication, which means “the process of investing with specious fallacies or of misleading by means of these; falsification”. That’s the Oxford.  Nevertheless, as a fellow capable of surprising discernment when the moment’s right, I really felt quite a lot like getting completed by that amazing lengthy finish.  Smelt okay.  Tasted okay.  Then nuffink.  Zilch. Like finish.  Stop.  The only thing amazingly long about that finish, really, was the disappointment that slotted in nicely where the finish should have been.  I carried the bottle around in my posh Neil Empson Milan Selections steady-temp shoulder bag for days, waiting for that finish to arrive.  I thought about it.  I even sang Lili Marlene to myself - under my breath, of course, lest I collect one in the trench – but like Lili, she might have been waiting for me too, but she certainly never came.  So I tried the next one down the Kalleske ladder, the Eduard Old Vine Barossa Shiraz 2009 ($85; 14.5% alcohol; 60 points), from three nearby vineyards, and that tasted like the first one with some lovely fresh water in it.  Over the week I kept these bottles, I shared tastes with various mates, thinking I may have gone mad on a root day, and they all shook their heads too.  In fact, I can’t ever recall carrying around $185 worth of Old Vine Barossa Shiraz in only two bottles and coming home after a week to discover that both of them were still 2/3 full.  If you want a drink, slide down to the Single Vineyard Greenock Shiraz 2010 ($38; 14.5% alcohol; 83 points).  That one has something like some finish. And it’s much less sophisticated.Tasted 7-12 January 2012

Seppelt Great Western St George Vineyard Hermitage P.58 1959
$n/a; no alcohol listed; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 59 points
This Colin Preece treasure was buggered by a mushroomy, sodden cork. It smelled and tasted like slimy wet wood fungus. I could suck traces of coffee, mint, and mustard leaf, but that cork had done its nasty job. The wine was made from “hermitage, malbec and miller burgundy”. Certainly not poisonous, but not fun, either.