2017 Celler Piñol Raig de Raïm Garnatxa Cariñena Terra Alta DO

Yet another one of those Catalan Grenaches with some Carignan from a DO close to the wonderful Priorat for a lot less. This was a staff pick at a good local wine shop I keep forgetting about. McCoppins on the traffic sewer that’s Johnston Street in old Fitzroy for those familiar with Melbourne. Extremely familiar for the moment due to lockdown walks with lots fewer motors clogging the asphalt. Breathe more easily. Developing smells of old leather furniture, dark cherries with a balsamic tang, roasting pan juices and, yes, the sooty old fireplace detail of that beautiful, rugged landscape. One day I’ll get there. There’s ripe plums and peanuts from Grenache to freshen a mouthful with well mingled very ripe tannin and just enough acidity. Probably as good as it will get with a little bottle age. Heartwarming wine for quiet times as we wait for better news. Went back for another masked browse and all gone. Time passes, shelves empty and fill with something new to enjoy.

14% alcohol. Cork. $20.

91 points, baby Priorat.

2017 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva San Martín de Valdeiglesias Vinos de Madrid DO

Well, that’s what’s on the label. My attempt at understanding is it’s Grenache made by the Bodegas Bernabeleva winery in the village of San Martín of the churches from vines along the Navaherreros road or something like that. Definitely old vines in the Madrid mountains rescued from decrepitude in the mid two thousands and yes, yet another Spanish Garnacha. And, yes, another from the mountains. A wild but pretty perfume of musky red fruits, some very low volume feral notes and some spicy stem lift. Sitting high in the palate, fragrant full flavours of more musk, roses, raspberries and general red fruitiness. Fine drying tannins of bloody stones and filigreed ripe acidity. A final goodbye of a texture that makes me think of pencil shaving grey graphite. Lots of red perfumed fruit and lots of mouth coating fine dusty but sweet astringency. Without the benefit of the label, I may have guessed somewhere between Volnay and Corton, perfume and stoney grip, or maybe Etna, or just wild mountainous Garnacha? Teetering on the precipice but hanging on by sheer fruit quality.

14% alcohol. Cork. $41.

93 points but some technocrats may baulk.

2015 Piero Benevelli Barolo Ravera di Monforte

A weekend treat, well I think it was Saturday, the only way to tell was more than usual walkers, cyclists and dogs on the footpath getting their permitted two hours of exercise. A treat that nearly didn’t as a 2010 version was horribly corked. Thanks to fine customer service from the importer and retailer that’s Boccaccio Cellars this was nobly offered as a replacement. Wish some other importers did that with corked Burgundies. Did I mention I hate corks? What a serious bit of Monforte grunt it is too. Faded, dusty old pot pourri, a bitumen and tarry depth, a haze of lift to lighten the dark with mashed up cherries and spice. Not the most polished of winemaking with that lift adding a jangly feel to the thunder of Monforte tannin but add food and tickle me pink. Thanks to some good potatoes, the gnocchi held soft and clung to mushrooms and truffle and the qualms disappeared. The Barolo just soared with the sweetest of cherry essence and profound earthy seasonings. Ripe and sweet. Think this is how Monforte is supposed to be. What a bottle rescued from the inequities of annoying tree bark.

14.5% alcohol with the tannin and acidity to cope. Cork. A bargain for Barolo around $80.

94 points.

2018 Península Vinicultores Cebreros DOP Sierra de Gredos Garnacha

Seems Cebreros has only been a DOP for a few years such is the very recent appreciation of some old vineyards with altitude. I must admit to a fascination with these almost Pinot Noir like versions of good old reliable Grenache. This one is an absolute winner if you’re finding the Côte d’Or or even Mount Etna are beyond a quotidian pleasure. Light weight in appearance and oddly green, almost Sauv Blanc smelling on opening. Happily the green turns into the fragrant pine needle and menthol fresh air of those Gredos mountains. It really takes two days for the truth to emerge. The stemmy framework persists but a depth of just so ripe fruit floats like a sweet melody. There’s just picked cherries, strawberries and brown spices served as a picnic in a fresh pine forest. A good glug of blood orange juice flavour and acidity to freshen, gripped tight in granite stem tannin. Great wine, beautiful grapes squashed into a Norsca advert in the best possible way. Pure, delicious and so well made it avoids some of the more feral elements of the Gredos natural wine movement. Probably my favourite version so far and one of the best priced. Enjoy the bargain now. Didn’t take long for Etna to find its place on the wine fashion catwalk. Wine so particular to place this good are rare. There again I really like proper Lambrusco, what do I know?

14.5% alcohol and no hint of warmth. Diam, bravo. $32.

94 points.

2019 Quinta de São Sebastião Forte do Cego Vinho Regional Lisboa

I’ve quietly despaired over the quality of Dan Murphy’s Portuguese direct imports which have largely been from one industrial scale producer. Shame, as Portugal has a wealth of indigenous varieties often turned into great value bottles of real interest. This had just appeared on the shelves as I made my weekly pilgrimage to the local duopoly booze provider. So recent it hadn’t been price stickered. A look at the back label confirmed it’s not from the usual avoided producer and despite containing Shiraz it does have the much underrated Castelão and stalwart Touriga Nacional within. It seems the extremely tough Castelão is perhaps the most widely planted variety in Portugal and almost out machos Touriga in its ability to thrive in poor soil and relentless dry heat. Like a Mourinho back four one nil up with an hour to go. Delighted to find the experiment was only going to cost $8 when I arrived at the checkout. Furthermore it seems our supermarket paradigm shifter in the form of Aldi, hooray for some competition, also imports from the very big Quinta de S. Sebastião conglomerate. Visions of huge stainless steel tank farms. Anyway a lot of words for a simple bottle. Cracking the screw cap, things were reticent to say the least but with time and air some ripe sweet red fruit emerged on a lift of spice, violets and strawberries. Perhaps so fruit sweet it seemed like a bit of residual sugar lurked but it did settle to a more savoury whole. Good shape in the mouth too, that robust freshness and grip I remember from Castelão and a lick of grainy tannin. Enjoyed it a lot more than the oaky, green and lean Gimblett Gravels Kiwi blend which cost four times as much. As things hot up, these tough old Portuguese grapes look a viable alternative to throwing precious water on uncomfortable French grapes struggling to gain flavour in forty degrees. You don’t need to be a member of Mensa to realise wine prices don’t always equate to authenticity or quality.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $8.

89 points.

2005 Heggies Vineyard Eden Valley Riesling

I must confess to taking risks when old Australian Rieslings come up at auction. The reliability of screw caps and their remarkable ability to develop rich, intriguing flavours provided the fruit’s there in the first place can make the odds lean in the punter’s favour. Boy, did I get lucky with this. Glorious perfumes of vanilla bean, lime marmalade, honey and beeswax fill the nostrils. Just as positive in the mouth, straight ahead and unswerving with enough stuffing to carry a deliciously scented finish. So rich and still fresh. Perhaps not the chiseled poise of the best hand picked, free run juice sorts but it’s really churlish to compare when a big company can produce such good wine for not much money. Need a Tardis to go back and buy more of these and other 2005s.

12.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $24 bargain.

93 points.

2018 Bricco Maiolica Langhe Nebbiolo

Our neighbours are suffering building renovations and have been kind if not a little anxious in their forewarnings of chaos but we were all a bit startled as the builders have enthusiastically taken up the offer of a bit of our backyard for storage. A bottle of Nebbiolo was very gratefully received to smooth things along. Due to the recurring lockdown, I didn’t even have to share. A very suave version of Langhe Nebbiolo it is too. Over a couple of days it showed sweet, ripe cherries, scented with roses and pot pourri. Clean as a nonna’s kitchen. Sparkle of mineral acidity and firm black tea tannin. 2018 may not be the darkest or most powerful of vintages but the perfumes and crisp drinkabilty are very appealing at the moment. Good to get on with the neighbours. Maybe the builders could take some more liberties if drinks like this are forthcoming.

13.5% alcohol. Diam. Thanks kind neighbours.

92 points.

2019 Canonica Langhe Nebbiolo

Reading around the subject of Barolo, Giovanni Canonica seems to be a bit of a cult in the best sense with some inspiring reviews. When a bottle of the basic but not inexpensive Langhe Neb beckoned from the Italian heavy shelves of Boccaccio Cellars, the thought was now or never. Deceptive looking Nebbiolo as it can be, just medium bodied, clear crimson rose red looking. Starts a bit natural wine yeasty and nutty with a growing perfume of rose oil and musk scented red cherry. Wafts of Langhe stonework lurk. In the mouth, roses, cherry, almond paste and a yeast lees savour. Then, a sweep of those fine tannins like bouncing off a rocky tunnel. The second day the remaining half bottle gained fruit sweetness. Great purity of perfectly ripened grapes, glistening dewy cherries and even the rocky tannins sparkle like quartz in the sun. Pristine, ethereal, pure and of the earth. Rather drink this than the twice the price 2010 Barolo which was leaden footed, over extracted, lacked perfume and was hard work to actually drink. Finesse over bombast.

14% alcohol. Cork. $70.

95 points for pure joy not an excess of power.

2018 La Línea Mencia

From the pretty Lenswood area of the Adelaide Hills, this is one of those attempts at a Spaniard new to Australia which is so good it makes you think the immigrant may have found a happy home. The front label is a nice graphic but it doesn’t tell you much at all, so the image is the clear, decent size font back label. Composed smells of currants, dried cherries and raspberries rest on a savoury couch of nut paste and tiny blip of coffee oak. Unusually for rich Aussie fruit, there’s a cut of natural fine acidity, yes, the sort that makes wine freaks think of licking wet stones. Tightly wound fine tannin too. Second day, some blueberry and sweet tobacco. Such an interesting variety. Sort of like mixing up good North end Rhône Syrah and Cabernet Franc, if that makes any sense? Probably my over active imagination but there’s a real sense of the sort of composure that suggests Mencia will be happy up in the hills.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $29.

92 points but a bonus for serendipity.