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.

2015 Luke Lambert Syrah

This is so far away from what Australian Shiraz tasted like twenty years ago it’s probably earned the rather precious Syrah title. Over three days it proved to be a slippery enigma, albeit a delicious one. So many things, stalks, pepper, salami, sweet rhubarb, tart raspberry, aniseed and rocks. No sweet allure, adult dryness strung out on tight cables of tannin and perky natural acidity. By the second day, there’s a revolving door of green stem and sweeter summer pudding red fruit. On the third day, the last glass the best, absolute essence of peppered raspberries. So fine and delicious. Medium bodied, it shows the flavours of Yarra Shiraz can pitch to note perfect ripeness. Sort of a grown ups’ fizzy drink, there was still a good phhtt of dissolved CO2 as the cork came out of a two thirds empty bottle on day three. Better that than sherried Syrah perhaps?

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. 618 gms of glass. $40 ish on release.

Started out 93 puzzle points, then 95 by the end.

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.

2018 St Hubert’s Chardonnay

Another from the mystery TWE Cellardoor.co $75 six pack. Started nicely pitched between the green, spent match end and the peachy sunshine limit of the swinging pendulum of Chardonnay fashion. Ripe citrus, sort of Meyer lemon and grapefruit, a slice of peach, all generous and glossy. All roped together by ripe acidity, oak spice grip and a touch of tangy yoghurt. Really good winemaking. Restraint and craft. To misquote Scott from marketing, How good’s Aussie Chardy?

13.5% alcohol I think, forgot to note, tut. Screw cap. $12.50 of mysterious value.

92 points.

2017 St Hubert’s Pinot Noir

St Hubert’s has been a confused brand in the TWE empire of labels for quite a while now. When their friends and family direct sale website had a mystery six pack for $75, I must admit I jumped in. When six bottles of St Hubert’s turned up, they stirred some early memories of Yarra Valley joy before the Penfolds marketing department got their hands on one of the valley’s originals. This bottle was a bit subdued on opening, stalky, brown sugar and spice. As the air got to it, dried strawberry and raspberry preserves with a fleeting whiff of rose oil amongst the woody stalks. Nice use of whole bunches to lift what seems a little awkward ripeness. Although 2017 was thought a later, cooler year, the ripeness here does provoke thought about climate change and just how Pinot Noir will cope in the warmer valley floor sites. Looking forward to some Grenache grafting perhaps?

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $12.50 in a six pack!

90 points for some deft winemaking.

2012 Mac Forbes Pinot Noir

Mac Forbes’ wines with their early picked lower alcohols and gentle extraction always make me think of those Yarra Valley Pinots and Cabernets from the 1980s and 1990s, before the boom in planting and warmer seasons. Mac being a Mount Mary alumnus does a lot to focus that impression. This is just what I like in Yarra Pinot, still a bright red, perfumed with ferny undergrowth, herbs and wild strawberries grown in a wild wood. Tart raspberries expand as it ends with a wash of still keen acidity, fine tannins and a hint of lemony oak, all more water coloured than alcohol warmed. The whole thing nicely sweetened by bottle age. The fruit weight may not be loaded enough for some but this is about perfume and focus and all the better for it.

13% alcohol which is almost extreme for a Mac Forbes Pinot. Screwcap. Was about $30 on release.

93 points.

2006 Yering Farm The George Cabernet Sauvignon

Yet another Yarra Valley Cabernet, this one from under the floorboards. Still a crimson sort of red colour, as usual with Cabernet from the Valley, age is kind. Those distinctive smells of ripe blackcurrants cut with leafy green and a twang of truffle and tinned sweet corn. Little bit of blackberry to add richness. The structure has resolved, throwing a good layer of deposit on the side of the bottle. The gentle fine tannin and ripe sweet acidity that make Yarra Cabernet so attractive are there in good proportion. Sometimes a divisive set of flavours for those who find the green savoury notes difficult but for me there’s more than enough sweet fruit pushing the tang to one side. As the Pretenders sang, special, so special.

13% alcohol. Screwcap. About $30 sometime over a decade ago.

93 points.

2010 Black Sheep Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

Without doubt the Yarra Valley’s best red varieties are from the Cabernet family. One day the fashion business that’s Australian wine will again trend in Cabernet’s direction, one day. In the meantime you can still buy a cleanskin with a dodgy photocopy label for under $10. It’s from the shelves of Boccaccio Cellars, the food and wine epicentre of Melbourne’s leafy suburban Balwyn where expensive German autos circle the supermarket car park and a long display of Barolo fills a shelf. This Cabernet probably comes from the vines at Hoddles Creek in the cooler altitudes of the Yarra hills and it shows with crisp red cherry and mulberry, a smidgeon of blackcurrant and a leafy edge. Despite the cool, there’s ripe tannin and a good pull of acidity. The ripeness is still there in a sort of Loire Valley way that builds length of flavour rather than width. It’s a long way from the grainy sour green of unripe Cabernet from warmer climates where sugars rise well before flavours develop. Well that’s one view, some will still see green. Still plenty here after ten years. Good honest Yarra Claret for the price of two coffees. The 2018 version still wears flares amongst the floor stacks of discounted no labels.

13.1% alcohol. Screwcap. $8!

90 points.

2008 Hoddles Creek Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet from a chilly upland part of the Yarra Valley in a hot vintage. Still some purple in the glass and a fresh cut of blackcurrant leaf, cassis, mint with a seasoning of truffle and oak toast. Lovely mouthwatering compression of fine just ripe tannin and crisp natural acidity. Such is the low ph crunch, the flavours just got richer over three days without a hint of oxidation. There really is something special in the way Yarra Cabernet can get flavour ripe whilst hanging onto its naturally delicious bounce. More jump than a happy frog.

13.8% alcohol. Screwcap. $20 a few years ago.

92 points.