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.

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.

2015 Château Grand Boise Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire

Well, to show off a limited French vocabulary, boisé means wooded. But for an accent, it’s an appropriate château name. Somethings are made to charm, some impress and this is pretty much the latter. 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon it seems. Balsamic, developing chocolate and char, spices like cloves, nutmeg and almost aniseed. Nice and clean. Underneath the bravura a lovely rich softness of squashed raspberries, Black Forest cake and roasted nuts. Sweet oak and fruit tannins with just enough settled acidity to bring a little charm. Ambitious style but the fruit quality trumps the attempt to over elaborate perhaps. Kept me coming back for another sip.

14.5% alcohol. Cork. 580 gms of glass to impress. $39.44 at auction.

94 points in a Parker way?

2018 Adelina Shiraz Mataro

Proper Australian names for a Syrah Mourvèdre blend. Smells of old linseed oiled cricket bats, that’s also something the French might not recognise, polished walnut and leather in an old Rover motor, blackberry and damson preserves. Old England without the airfare. Second day, there’s some nougat oak which sinks into bright nutty cherry red fruit bowled up on a good length. Background notes of darker fruit, licorice and dried woody bush land. Typical firm Clare acidity and furry ripe tannin close the deal. It’s that full whack shiny, almost honeyed, red fruit that proves its value. Pretty label, real wine.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $26 at Langton’s on line store, good value.

93 points.

2014 Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier

Ravensworth sounds like a house name from Hogworts perhaps? There’s certainly something magical in the way they turn grapes into wine. This opened with bottle aged dustiness that gave way to lots of smoke and the dry herbs of whole bunch. As oxygen did its job, a north end of the Rhône violet and new leather perfume emerged, followed eventually by the precision ripeness of dark raspberry, cherries and aniseed. It took a while. Initial thoughts were it may be just too savoury. Quietly but confidently an even build through the mouth glides on resolved tannin and acidity. A little tickle of oak spice is tucked in nicely. All the tweaks of modern Australian Shiraz making, this time done with aplomb. Worth decanting, especially should you be entertaining vegetarian friends, lest they sight the label.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. Maybe $30 to $35 on release?

93 points.

2012 Pondalowie Vineyard Blend

A blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Tempranillo from Bendigo in Central Victoria. The photo above is another shameful steal of a background from Max Allen’s great book, The Future Makers, who succinctly describes Pondalowie’s wines as having ‘exceptional sturdiness of character’, no argument here. This is the cheapest bottle in the range but it could never be described as dilute or lacking. Heaps of dark blue and black fruit, a whiff of new leather, sandalwood and menthol power through the nose and imposing mouthful. Extracted like a long stewed pot of tea without the bitterness, just loads of furry ripe tannin and settled acidity. It’s sweetly resolved rather than developing any dusty bottle age. Those tannins deserve a piece of good Victorian grass fed steak. Max goes on to tell how the maker worked in the Douro and the satisfying depth here would look at home in that dusty valley. Such a good, deep drink, probably more for carnivores than vegans.

14% alcohol. Screwcap serves this so well. $20 or thereabouts at the time.

92 points.

2017 Domaine Garon Côtes du Rhône La Part des Vivants

Wine that evaporates during winemaking before bottling is often called the angels’ share, thus what’s left is for us, the living or vivants. This fresh and clean blend of 70% Northern Rhône Syrah with 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan from around Cairanne and Rasteau improves with breathing in some oxygen over a few days. Initially a bit reduced in that Northern Rhône way suggesting smoky sulphurous incense, some bright raspberry fruit breaks out in a tart just ripe way. Underneath lurks some dark chocolate, a small bite of licorice and a pinch of brown spice. There’s also that Northern Rhône smoky typical something that perhaps is sort of incense like or earthy or rocky, beyond this limited power of description probably. By days deux and trois the fruit’s pungent and the mouth’s enjoying the ripe acidity and fine tannin. Would be a fine intro to the savoury bite of good cool Syrah. Nice drink for the angels who probably need one this time of year.

14% alcohol. Cork. $38.

93 points.

2015 Château Courac Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun

Jancis Robinson’s vintage reports for the Rhône in 2015 said Syrah was particularly good in the south and they were dead right on the evidence of this 50/50 blend with Grenache. Rounded delicious smells of violets, smoke and ripe raspberries and blackberries, all very reminiscent of a ripe Syrah from a bit further north. Clean mouthful of smoky dark berries, spice and well settled acidity, backed up by firm ripe skin tannins. A little bit washy through the finish but for a bargain from the shelves of Franprix, it’s astonishingly good. Beautifully made and consistent over two or was it three bottles? One seemed to end up in the basket at checkout whenever milk was the main purpose of a Franprix adventure.

13.50% alcohol. Cork. Absolute bargain territory, 8 euros!

92 points.

2017 Renzo Masi Il Bastardo Vino Rosso Italiano

Vino da taglio was, or maybe still is, a naughty way for higher alcohol wine from mainly Puglia and Sicily to find its way into under powered Tuscan and other northern producers’ wine. Bravo for this good Chianti Rufina producer playing with the idea and then cheekily calling it The Bastard. Seems it’s good Rufina Sangiovese “cut” with some warming Sicilian Shiraz. Whilst the thought of bastardising the purity of good Sangio is at first horrible, this turns out to be a delicious drink for not a lot of cash. Starts a bit reduced as the screwcap cracks but then opens cleanly with Sangiovese cherries and walnuts warmed by spice and darker berries. Still has that lovely pull of Chianti acid and fine tannin grabbing at some chocolate richness. If you were looking for an easy but genuine intro to Ital wine, stop here and get acquainted. Best thing is the pure Chianti accent can still be heard above the Mezzogiorno’s warm chatter.

13% alcohol. Screwcap on an Italian, bravo. $10 bargain from a Langton’s auction.

89 pizza friendly points.

Pair of Wendourees. 2006 Shiraz Malbec and 2009 Shiraz Mataro.

The most elderly first. The mail out said 52% Shiraz and 48% Malbec from 1898 Central and 1919 Eastern vineyards. Youngest vines are now centurions, happy birthday. Like the best 2000s Wendouree vintages this took a while to unfurl. That unmistakable mossy, minty and eucalypt menthol lift with dark cherry and berry fruit and a puff of lemony oak. Builds on the tongue as Wendouree does do with more Clare dark cherry and an anchor of fair but firm skin tannin and natural ripe acid. There’s also something wine gum dark and mysteriously spicy too. Beautiful grapes and place no mucking about.

13.50% alcohol. Cork. $48 from the mailing list.

94 points.

Now the younger. 65% Shiraz and 35% Mataro from 1893 Central and 1920 Eastern vineyards. The first Wendouree vintage sealed with screwcap, a posh Italian one too. If the mid 2000s started to show a bit less extraction, then by 2009 things are becoming positively elegant! Fragrant with menthol, anise, cherry and dark plum. Just a seasoning of nutty oak. Probably just imagination but this seems so fresh and pure, could it be the change to screwcap? Fine mid weight wine in the mouth that once again builds and then builds more flavour as it travels through. Fruit as above plus some earthy tar broods darkly. Such different poise and balance compared to Wendouree from last century. Must say I’d like a Tardis to try those young vine ones from before and between the world wars. Still very positive tannin but perhaps finer and more melting? Do enjoy telling those not aligned to Wendouree who ask how to join us to check out the Brady’s extensive social media presence. Rude cheek of a grumpy old man.

13.80% alcohol. Screwcap! $50 from the mailing list.

95 points.