2017 Fallen Giants Block 3 Grampians Shiraz

Must admit to conflicted feelings about deluxe or reserve bottlings from what are essentially smaller scale vineyards. Do they mean more effort goes into producing better quality fruit or are they just a fortuitous separation of some tastier grapes and how much does the cheaper range suffer from the exclusion? I think this separates some older vineyard material, planted in 1969. At a normal retail of $50 compared to $30 for the normal Shiraz, I probably wouldn’t be that keen to try. Past experience suggests there’s likely to be more distracting new oak plastered all over the fruit as well. So when a few bottles of this theoretically better wine came up in auction for pretty much the same as the standard bottle it was a good chance to explore the subject. Yep, there’s noticeable new vanilla oak compared to the standard but it’s softly flavoured and firmly put back in its place by plush deep fruit. Grampians Shiraz flavours of dark bramble berries, lightened by spice, pepper and cherries. Typical Grampians savoury notes too. Some tarry earth and a lingering sense of the rich fruit this warmer part of the Grampians can produce, even in what was a relatively cooler and late year. Perhaps that shows in a satisfying tension of just ripe acidity and fine grape tannin fighting the oak. Convincing sum of the parts making something well worth a flutter. Winner.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $27.63 at auction. Good win to balance some of the less successful bids, inasmuch as undrinkable.

94 points.

2015 Domaine Coursodon Saint Joseph Silice

If memory serves this was one of the last two bottles from the much missed caviste, Les Caves de Marais which was a favourite stop on the number 96 Paris bus route. The most recent visit in 2019 found the shutters permanently closed on an empty shop. It would have been good to have one last chat with Jean Jacques. His English impeccable compared to my deficient French. One last recommendation from the eminence gris; as usual his choices open cleanly, scents of dark roast coffee over smoke and brown spices, smatter of green herb, then a deep raspberry and into blackberry swirl of fruit. Finishes with what gentlemen from the last century’s wine trade would call breeding. I’d say firm but soft cocoa tannins and well bound acidity. St Joseph, Jesus, this is good.

13.5% alcohol I think. Cork. Was about €30?

93 points.

2017 Domaine Bordes Les Narys Saint Chinian

A small organic producer practicing biodynamic agriculture. Looks pretty hipster, low sulphur yeasty when first opened with that distinctive aroma that Alice Feiring wonderfully described as puppy breath. A blend it seems of 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache with the rest split evenly between Mourvèdre and Carignan, it’s the Syrah that shines bright as it settled down the second day. Just medium weight, pure smoky, flowery, red berried and herby with a squeeze of blood orange over a bass of earth and roast juices. Energetic mouthwatering acidity and just a brush of powdery tannin finish it off with aplomb. Thought it too wild and volatile the first day only to be smitten the second. If you can’t hit a natural cave à manger for a carafe and plate for the moment, stay home with this.

14% alcohol. Cork. $32.50 at auction.

92 points but a bonus for a delicious, natural and edgy drink.

2018 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Langhe Freisa

It seems Freisa is the mum or dad of their much more famous child Nebbiolo. Obscurity makes it a lot cheaper, along with some keen direct import pricing from those Boccaccio Barolo boys. Intricate smells and flavours of cherry, Piemonte dirt, almond, liquorice and blood orange. In no way sweet, more typically Langhe tart and essential with a twist of bitter herbs. Tannins are fine but clinging like sediment. Perhaps not the drive or carry of its offspring but so good with a bowl of rugged winter pasta to demolish. Worth an uncouth but extremely complimentary burp.

14.5% alcohol. Diam. I think $39.99 on the shelf but Boccaccio website says $49.99.

92 points.

2014 Château de Lascaux Carra Pic Saint Loup Languedoc

Only recently confirmed by the AOC, now AOP, authorities as an appellation without the additional need for Languedoc, whether controlled or protected, Pic Saint Loup it seems is a cooler, wetter and one of the most northerly of the newer Languedoc appellations making it suitable for Syrah dominant bottles in the style of the Northern Rhône some say. This is 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache and comes from a producer who must be the near those ancient Lascaux cave paintings judging from the horse on the label. Looks more warm Languedoc to me with sooty red fruit jam, kirsch and dark blackberries. A bit of dark spice and pepper too. A lift of ethyl acetate berry shrivel stops it feeling leaden with ripeness. The muscle continues with dark rocky tannins adding to the depth and richness of fruit. Starts, middles and ends with spotless hygiene. Hefty but still some poise. Lovely rich glass of red wine on a cold and windy night.

14% alcohol. Cork. $32.30 at auction.

93 points.

2019 Henry Fessy Morgon Crus de Beaujolais

Despite another hot vintage, 2019 does seem to have produced bottles with more freshness and bright crispness than 2018. Starts off shyly and reluctantly but a day‘s oxygen brings bubblegum, salami or jamon with herbs rubbed thereon, raspberry jam and cherries. Light to medium weight, perhaps a little abrupt in the acid and tannin department but with a pleasing stoney mineral feel. The fruit weight’s a bit washy and simple but does have some detail. Sweetens nicely through the end. Just enough to keep the interest to the end of the bottle which is perhaps the real test?

14% alcohol. Nomacorc sugar cane polymer stopper. $23.40 in a six.

91 points, just.

2017 Pyren Vineyard Earthscape Franc

Pyren caught my attention in the early 2000s with a couple of bottles that were much less bombastic than the high alcohol and extract reds that clamoured for our attention then. Charm more than muscles. A six pack of this didn’t attract a bid other than mine at a recent no reserve auction, so I ended up with half a dozen for less than $70, thank goodness a good friend is willing to share the spoils for better or worse. This won’t help the relationship if he doesn’t like the bitter herbs of serious whole bunch action. Day one the scribble reads, Northern Rhône stemmy smoke, herbs and flowers, sour cherry preserve, then the herby alpine meadow blast takes over with a bitter, sour edge. Goodness though, the fruit fights back the whole way, good acid and surprisingly melded tannin considering the stalks. The day two note reads, the whole bunch and nothing but the bunch, well almost. Reminds me of an old Bannockburn without the mucky barrel edge. As with Bannockburn you have to admire the conviction to the whole cluster. Once more though the fruit quality holds its ground convincingly. Good different as that annoying ad suggests. Can’t help thinking though that perhaps Cabernet Franc has enough naturally leafy bits without recourse to more green complexing. A tiny glass left on day three suggests this might smooth out with time locked away until it behaves.

13.5% alcohol. Screwcap. $11.32 auction, that’s a lot of interest for not much.

Sort of 92 with stems, 94 without, maybe?

2019 Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz

Oh well, another of those bottles that tries to convince its quality by sheer heft. First growth Bordeaux fetches a lot more with much less glass. Nonetheless, Blewitt Springs seems to be a sub region producing Grenache of deliciousness, albeit possibly compromised by the addition of Shiraz here. Comfortably medium weight, starting with savoury peanuts, cherry jam, strawberry perfume, spices and a slightly salty finish, holding up well on naturally ripe acidity and velvet tannins. I do like it’s composure and making, less extraction, less oak, more interest. Higher toned perfumes emerge, roses, strawberry juice, a few of my favourite things. Poise and elan rather than weight and muscle, raindrops on roses, that’s enough Sound of Music.

14.5% alcohol but not showing too much warmth. Screw cap. $13.65 at auction which is quite a score these days as more people with Covid avoidance time on their hands plunder the lists.

93 points.

NV Dehours et Fils Grande Réserve Brut

I wish I could raise the same enthusiasm for writing a post as I do for actual drinking. A few really good bottles stood out in recent weeks, so let’s get battling WordPress’ weird spell checking. This mouthwatering, appetite enhancing bottle of fizzy fun is mostly Pinot Meunier and thanks to an unusually informative back label, it’s based on the 2018 harvest with some reserve wine from a solera started in 1998. The dosage is a low 3.8 grams which completely disappeared as a good mouthful seems to finish with an arid smack of ripe acidity. Almost looks zero sugar addiction. Austere and tense the first day, so much better the second as sweet yeasty patisserie gives way to wide yellow fruit and crystalline citrus like yuzu or Meyer lemon. Hints of tart hedgerow fruits too. Drives on through as that acidity rises. There’s an extraordinary transparency for Champagne as you can sort of taste what those Meunier grapes were like at picking. Fascinating drink and very different to the corporate calm of some bubbles.

12% alcohol. Cork. Swapped for some difficult to get mail list bottles. Think I’m ahead with this.

93 points.

2016 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico

Among many faults, a tendency to wildly generalise is one to which we all must plead guilty on occasion. The effects of a warming planet on grape ripeness are undeniable. Over dinner I suggested the whole of Tuscany and Bordeaux were thus now making wines which have lost all drive, freshness and sheer digestive appeal. A good friend at the table nodded sagely and gently said there were other factors, for example the need to please wealthy American palates craving size and power. Hrumph, haven’t seen anything for some while resembling the fragrant, nutty and lithe Chianti I fell for last century, I muttered. This arrived via auction to prove me wrong in the most delicious way. From a aristocratic property in the south of the Chianti zone, this is Sangiovese in purezza as the locals say. An instantly recognisable fresh scent of cherries, walnut and sweet new leather of a place and it’s own great grape. Blisteringly energetic, translucent fruit of enormous quality, the very essence of Sangiovese, perfect summer preserved in a liquid. Being Sangiovese of course, it all ends with caressing but austere acidity and a wall of well tailored, sweet stone like tannin. How wrong can a rash generalisation be? Considering this Classico normale fetches $70 retail, to put it in one of the lightest weight bottles seen for a while is heartening, take note those with aspirations to greatness. So energetic and uplifting, it must be a health tonic.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. $46 at auction, who’s a lucky boy?

95 points.