2020 Combe St Jean Bourgogne Gamay and 2019 Tenuta Santodeno Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore

Two direct imports from Dan Murphy’s or Pinnacle Drinks or whichever brand one of the three big supermarkets who bypass the usual wholesale call themselves. Australia’s appalling wine taxation seems to make us wine freaks seek some import value wherever we can. I’ve noticed that the most viewed posts on this sporadic blog seem to be for cheap imports, glad to know I’m not alone in my ache to find a gem that helps the budget. The exploration has been entirely Dan Murphy’s and Aldi. One day I’ll brave Vintage Cellars or the other versions of Coles booze outlets again but their silly pricing and lack of spark still look pretty discouraging. Dan’s and on rare occasion, Aldi offer the odd one good enough to raise the enthusiasm for a recommendation. Often the shiny new French, Italian or Spaniard on the shelf turns out to be not exactly a disaster but something that’s just acceptable, certainly not worth bothering a reader about. Maybe it’s worth the time to point out those that are OK if you’re desperate for a latin fandango but not much more. I’ve certainly laboured my way through a few over two or three nights. Don’t think a little disparaging here is exactly going to worry the megastores. It’s only opinion anyway. So….things to maybe avoid if you want to make every bottle count.

The Bourgogne Gamay. Impossible to nail down a producer. Googling just leads to opaque branding and a suggestion the Gamay in question comes from “Beaujolais Crus”, who knows where the Combe St Jean makes wine? Light to medium weight, sappy cherries, sweet green herbs and nuts, good firm 2020 acidity but dilute through the end just when you’d prefer some weight and clipped with what tastes like a heavy hand with safety first sulphur flinging. The Mommessin from Dan’s versions are much better value and often delicious. Enough here to go back to see if there’s more to come but ultimately there’s not.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $23.80 in a six.

87 or 88 points and a nice gold medal sticker too.

The Sangiovese. Must admit to a long time love of Emilia Romagna, Champagne socialists, food, red brick ancient cities, delightfully out of fashion Lambrusco and the occasional great Sangiovese. Whenever a new Sangio import appears, the lure is siren. Flashy heavy bottle here, filled by a winery that’s part of one of those large conglomerate Italian businesses. Industrially clean, heavily extracted from just OK, just ripe enough grapes. Loads of furry tannin and reasonably mouth friendly acidity. Sadly, the fruit decides to take a holiday as that structure flexes. Not sure I could say it were Sangiovese were it not on the label. Again, no faults but not much joy. it’s very difficult to find proper Sangiovese under $30. Suggestions welcome.

14% alcohol. Diam. $17.80 in a six.

87 points.

2020 Michele Chiarlo Palás Barbera d’Asti

It’s been a long and unexpected hiatus in a blathering on about wine. Old age could be blamed. Spending time watching the last grains drop through the hourglass and battling the cardiac horrors a declining body brings seems to have squashed the enthusiasm and encouraged some lazy pleasure as even more water passes under the proverbial bridge at an alarming rate. This bottle of Barbera jogged memories of tasting Italians before a fashion for power and climate change encouraged slippery ripeness. Times when a lot of Italian wine seemed out of whack in terms of tannin and acid when tasted away from the meal table. Crisp, very fresh and just ripe fruit bounces here on some bristling acidity. Too puckering until it’s sluiced through after some pasta. Then it all makes sense. Bright, clean and delicious cherry fruit, just medium weight at best, shines as that acidity leaves a craving for oily garlic scented goodness. Just a brush of ripe, skin tannin to settle. Fermented grapes to help good food go down. Nice lightweight bottle too. Nothing to boast about, just enjoy.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $19.00 Dan Murphy direct import.

90 points.

2019 Trediberri Dogliani Bricco Mollea

Another of those beautiful Gallina labels. Dolcetto from one of two DOCGs especially given for Piemonte’s under rated quotidian joy. Spicy cherry compote, stones, fresh and crisply mouthwatering. Not as rich as some Dogliani but suave and nuanced with that bramble caramelised jam note that maybe whispers Dolcetto? Lovely structure but perhaps a little washy verging on dilute compared to the best. For the modest tariff, no complaints here just sad to see the bottle empty.

13% alcohol. Diam. About $30.

91 points.

2017 Schiavenza Dolcetto d’Alba

Sometimes it’s a thin line between an interesting drink despite a dislike of one or two things in the making and enough pleasure to want another glass. Not knowing the maker but loving Langhe Dolcetto, I risked a small bid on a few bottles of this at auction. The first was just a bit too ripe, lacking a little fruit sweetness through the middle to buffer the tough dry skin tannins. Bit butch, extractive and trying too hard for ripeness, like they’d left things hanging on the vine too long in a hot vintage. Another bottle some time later as lubricant to a tasty Sunday night pizza treat and a happy surprise. Sure, it’s still dense and rich but there’s a swell of sweet cherry chocolate fruit to mitigate the dry cocoa tannin. Notice the producer is based in Serralunga and this certainly does nothing to diminish the village’s reputation for thunder and weight. Perhaps it’s another case of recent imports benefiting from a bit of a rest? There’s a few more tempting a bid. Decent Piemonte for $18.

14% alcohol and it shows a bit. Diam, nice. $18 at auction.

92 points.

2019 G D Vajra Langhe Rosso

Each year this gets better. No longer do Vajra list varieties on the back label but I’d guess it’s the same Nebbiolo dominant blend with bits of Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and something else as past vintages. The ability to taste well enough to say for sure would be good though. Starts with a lift of that dirty, dusty old road Langhe Nebbiolo thing but it’s no more than a savoury seasoning like some of those better low sulphur natural brews. At its core is a panoply of red summer fruits, rose petals and the most mouthwatering of acidities and fresh tannin. It sparkles with life. That dirty road becomes calm and macadamed in time. Improved over three days. Probably rather drink this than more bulky aspirations of extraction. In a word, delicious, burp.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $30 at best, normally $35 but still a relative bargain the way Barolo prices are going.

94 points influenced by sheer pleasure.

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 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 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.

2018 Davide Carlone Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo

Great place to stop for a well priced bottle of Nebbiolo, those hills around Novara up toward Maggiore and the Alps. There’s a beautiful perfume of Pink Lady apples, wild strawberries, sour cherry and all that Alpine meadow in spring floral and herbal stuff. Builds with clean red fruit across the tongue, floats on a feather of saliva inducing acidity and the finest grains of tannin. Right at the end, a glorious twist of what them Italians call amaro, like the bitter herbs used in those odd digestive drinks. Mountain fresh and barely middle weight. Becomes sweeter fruited after twenty four hours of air but still cuts a pleasantly bitter sense of place. Fairly obvious there’s such well grown grapes carefully and simply turned to wine. If you’re a fancier of Valtellina mountain Nebbiolo, you’ll be very happy with this, all at a bargain price. So different to the grunt and depth of Barolo but no less interesting.

13.5% alcohol. Diam, hooray. $30 as a direct import from Boccaccio Cellars, great value.

93 points.