2019 Famille Bourgrier Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Cailloux

A few new French vins on the shelves of Dan Murphy’s at prices that may help the budget. Experience does suggest some may not quite please this jaded palate sufficient to empty the bottle into glassware rather than the plug hole. This one is encouraging. Fresh, clean whole berry ferment lift. A couple of days airing and it resolves to bouncy raspberry and leaf, very Cabernet Franc. A bit of cool earthiness too. Sure, the extraction has been pushed a bit hard but there’s enough fruit concentration, sweet tannin and fresh acidity to cope. In fact the fruit’s so good, it was best on day three when it looked like the sort of thing you’d love in a carafe, scoffing something good in a quintessential French bistro, one day.

13% alcohol. Screw cap, zut alots. $16.90.

Started 88 and got to 90 by day three.

2012 Skillogalee Basket Pressed The Cabernets Clare Valley

The Barossa gets a lot of attention for its unctuous, warm and generous Shiraz but for those of us seeking a bit more cut and austerity, it’s good to head north and up to the Clare Valley for some muscled Cabernet, best brightened like this with some Malbec berries. Red fruits, even and just ripe, cherries for example, spring of mint, Australian forest, hints of cocoa and a nutty thing that reminds me of old school linseed oiled cricket bats, call me bats. An evocative earthiness too. To complete the Clare experience, tannins like suede and a final tilt at a dry stone wall of firm acidity. Open for three days and it just got better. Firm muscles, sanguine attitude but a soft heart too.

14% alcohol. Screw cap. $25 ish on release.

93 points with stamina.

2019 Réserve de la Famille Drouet Loire Valley Cabernet Franc

An Aldi exclusive for less than ten dollars which helps the illusion of keeping to a budget. So clean it’s almost sanitary, bright raspberry, tart red cherry and a Loire leafy lift give the impression of grape and place. Glossy and forward, there’s a suggestion of that whole grape ferment bubblegum which helps the fruit push forward, perhaps so much that the flavours do pull up a bit short. Nonetheless there’s a waft of berry perfume right up the retro nasals, a clip of ripe settled acidity and a brush of good skin tannin that distinguishes the fruit quality from the plodding ordinary. Maybe a bit too extracted like an over squeezed tea bag, but you do seem to be getting a twenty dollar bottle for much less, no bad thing really. Makes the Aldi shopping adventures even more exciting.

12.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $8.49.

89 points and delicious.

2019 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Cabernet Merlot

This makes me wonder how easy it is to miss something good by opening a bottle too soon after an early release. This looked just too dry, dusty and green in winter last year and difficult to praise in review. Some six months on and there’s still some leafy green but the earthy notes have receded to a Bordeaux like gravel edge for want of a better description. Mulberry, a hint of cassis and red currents build sweetly in the mouth, nicely balancing the savoury. Some youthful violet and sage. Tannins just get over the ripeness line and are mingling politely with fresh fine acidity. Turning into a good example of the quiet confidence and poise that typifies Yarra Valley Cabernets. The back label says it’s a hand picked blend of Cabernet and Merlot from the Valley sub regions of Coldstream, Gruyere and Seville which makes for some great value considering the production costs. This could even get better in the bottle over the next few years if patient. The choice of “Over the Shoulder” as a name for Oakridge’s basic value range has always puzzled, perhaps delicious in the mouth for the money could be more appropriate.

13.2% alcohol. Screw cap. $24 RRP but often discounted to around $20.

91 points.

2012 Murrindindi Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

From a vineyard on the backroad from the Yarra Valley to the Goulburn Valley. Such is flat old Australia that the Yarra flows south toward the sea whilst the Goulburn flows north and inland, wrong way, silly river. Both valleys do grow some good Cabernet and no surprise this one seems to sit well between the cool reserve of one and the generous ripeness of the other. Starts a bit tart and savoury with a bit of truffle. Airing brings a perfume of mulberry, black currant and a back end of sweet ripe cherry. The acidity’s perky and well bound to sweet currant and raisin tannin. The second day, gently oxidising and doing a Bordeaux impression of sorts in seaweed and iodine breezes over some good solid fruit. It’s been a long time since the still mourned Mark Shield reviewed a delicious 1990 Murrindindi Chardonnay. Wine memories linger long.

14% alcohol. Screw cap. Was about $25 maybe?

93 points.

2018 Gathering Field Thousand Candles Vineyard Red Blend

A blend of Merlot, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc and Malbec from a vineyard notorious for its ambitious first release from the wet and mulchy 2011 vintage – for a measly $100 a bottle. Better vintage weather and sensible pricing have prevailed. Very Yarra Valley, this is just ripe enough. Pencils, tobacco, leafy and just ripe black currants. Some mint and a hint of gum leaf. Oak supports but no more than a seasoning. It’s savoury but the tannins are ripe and sweet with just right acidity tucked well in. As it leaves, a dense mouth coating wave of still subdued fruit suggests there may be still lots more fruit depth to emerge with some time. Difficult to say, it may just dry out but I’d be willing to hide one away for a while, in fact I think I will. Optimism being essential to cellaring and definitely in the wider world these days.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $33.

93+

2018 Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Harry’s Monster

Move over expensive Bordeaux, this polished 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 14% Petit Verdot is mellifluous. It harmoniously passes the checklist of what’s to like in Cabernet blends, perfumed, middle weight, soft ripe tannin and seamless natural acidity, finally a touch of vanilla pod oak just needing time to find its way to integration. The extra depth of cassis, berries and leaf push the quality into the Yarra Valley’s best examples. Even better, there’s a sweet black currant edge, lightly minted, that perhaps says Yarra more than anywhere else. Glorious touch of gravel and cedar emerge with time. Complete and focused. The highly pictorial Giant Steps website has a lovely photo of the Sexton Vineyard perched next to a sizeable expanse of water, sort of like Bordeaux.

14% alcohol. Screw cap. A ridiculous brief discount to $20 a bottle from a rrp of $55. Social media suggests the new owners are more interested in Pinot and Chardonnay and are quitting the Cabernet blends. Social media can be wrong, can’t it.

94+ points. Come back in a few years.

2018 Crawford River Apis Field Blend

Apis, Latin for a bee, the winemaker’s affectionate nick name, got it, took a while, der. It’s a mystery what lurks in the field whence it came but a search of the encyclopaedic Winefront says there’s five percent Gewurztraminer from cold, windy Drumborg in the mix. Sort of a big field but the Crawford River property is so spacious in the possession of dirt, it could extend that far. The wine’s so well made, it had me struggling to find any evidence of cloying Gewurz perfume without reading Mike Bennie’s lovely review. In the glass, a little sulphurous reduction which evaporated quickly, then bright red fruit, raspberry and strawberry type, a lift of brown baking spices, Gewurz? The shape feels more rosé than tannic red, slippery, slurpy and round. Second day and it gets better, the fruit gets rounder and deeper, glides down on just enough strawberry acidity to freshen. My guess, there’s some Cabernet Franc at work. If only Melbourne’s hospitality were open, this would be a perfect by the glass pour with all those lovely green things dripping spring juices at the moment.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. 365 gms of glass and a bit of aluminium of course. The lightest, enviro friendly bottle so far. It actually seems a bit small but that might just be swift drinking. $25 rrp.

91 points but thoughtful styling bonus.

2005 Château Tour St Bonnet Medoc Cru Bourgeois

Whilst I can grasp the basics of the leviathan that’s the Bordeaux wine business, the sheer volume of options and some scary pricing often steers the buying choices elsewhere. If I knew enough to regularly buy something this good, I’d be a lot more willing to explore. Of the last two experiences, one was too leafy, underripe and a bit feral, the other leaden with over ripe deadened fruit and oak. Neither escapade worth sharing. Research suggests this is from 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and the rest a bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The cork was in good nick. Once opened, scents of iodine and old wood sweetened by some raisined bottle age. Once the air got to it, some solid cherry and mulberry fruit plumped up the middle with a whiff of cassis to follow. All clean and nicely extracted. The ending marked by a glorious almond and hazelnut paste savour. The ending of the ending controlled by mature fine tannin and still fresh and clean acidity. If I drank enough of the stuff, I’d be bold enough to say proper claret. Simply delicious.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. 536 gms of glass. $31 at auction.

92 points but a big plus for sheer class.

2016 St. Huberts Cabernet Sauvignon

Clean, appealing cassis, green leaf and mint. Some cedar through the middle to end. Opens up with mulberry, brightly edged fruit which seems good friends with the leaf and breath of wood. Second day it’s still sinewy but relaxing a little. More of that cassis and mulberry woven with sparks of acidity and tightly woven tannin. Yet more evidence, should it be needed, that the Yarra Valley is such a good place for Cabernet Sauvignon when it’s this well grown and made. Frustratingly the slightly cheaper Cabernet Merlot blend from the same vintage was just a bit too dull and savoury. Often available for under $30 in the supermarket duopoly’s booze shops. Worth the trade up. Proper Cabernet.

14% alcohol but in no way breathy or warm. Screw cap. $12.50 in a mystery six pack from cellardoor.co. Good way to extract some value from the layers of TWE’s many labels.

93 points.