Gordon Estate Merlot 2014

Hot baked dark fruit pie with spice and a side of coffee. Wait, we’re talking about wine here, right?

Yes we are. Like the sunny rolling hills of Washington east of the Cascades, here’s a wine of gentle aspect and subtle complexity. Apart from the fruitier aspect of the nose, there’s a green herby thread here (dill, perhaps?) and a clear stratum of coffee and cocoa. That seems only right given the PNW’s predilection for caffeine.

There’s not as much depth on the palate as one might anticipate from the nose, but that’s fine, given the creamy smooth mouthfeel. Ever so delicately I noted some chalk, mild tannins and beautifully integrated oak with a hint of sour cherry on the finish.

Two words: civilized and refined. Oh, and delicious. Kill me, that’s three words.

$24.99

Courtney Benham Chardonnay Napa Reserve 2014

Some winemakers must think “Ach, good enough” when they finish their work. That’s fair enough, because making wine is a business, so that if the input costs and quality are x, there’s not much of a multiple of x one can reasonably expect in the glass.

There are exceptions, naturally, and this might be one. Immediately notable is the powerful nose, and by powerful I mean complete rather than a punch in the nose. I smelled oak, vanilla and a wonderfully deep fruit suit of clothing that was well-made and fit well.

We don’t talk much about how wines are layered from the inside out, just like a person. An impressive first impression travels a long way with people; wine is the same. On the nose alone the vocabulary of whomever made this win impressed me. Although there’s clear oak aging here, it’s the fascinating fruit (tropical and pears, with some mild honey-like notes) that takes one’s attention.

On the palate, delicious honeyed, creamy fruit, like a very ripe fruit compote with the mildest squeeze of lemon. This is a large mouthful, but not in the least overpowering, with the oak and acids balanced to the end.

$13.99

Bridgman Merlot 2014

Straight out of the glass I noted aromas of dried fruits, baking spices and pie crust in this glass. An earthy undertone balances the fruit. With some time another layer introduced itself, a more complex amalgam of cocoa powder and dried flowers. Interesting.

Immediately obvious is that this glass is not a fruit-forward wine. That dried fruit nature is the key here, like dried fruit mince; you know, the filling for mince pies at Christmas. Fruit mince is a good thing, as it contains sugars and the astringency of, usually, rum. Along with those flavours I detected some woodiness and an almost coffee-like astringent cocoa element: dry herbs would cover that nicely.

Amazingly, I found a little pencil-lead in there as well, reminiscent of Bordeaux. In a way, this is a middle-path wine between the softer PNW merlots and right bank Bordeaux, which makes for a nice contemplation over a bottle.

Notable is the willingness of the winemaker to avoid the overly sweet panderings to US taste. That alone makes this a wine worthy of some time.

Next day: With some oxygen, whatever lumps in the wine have completely smoothed out. The fruit has come a little more to the fore, dryness and herbs mellowed significantly; not that much was needed, but a calmness has taken over.

$16.49

Chateau Vieux Grean Bordeaux 2013

We need not fly across oceans to find a slice of France, nor must we spend a lot of money.

Here’s a case in point. As a 90/10 merlot/cabernet blend, here’s a distinctly Old World glass of wine that not only gives us an interesting drink but insight into the culture.

First noticeable difference is the low-key fruit in my glass. Compared to the new world, the fruit is muted; still there, but not punching you in the face. The second difference is the pieces of the planet in the glass. I tasted earthy metal, low-key minerals and graphite, all of which point to the feeling that this wine is made from ground-level up to be drunk with food.

No secret there. Knowing this is valuable in the way we think about a (frankly) cheap right bank Bordeaux, which we know isn’t the pride of France, but neither is it the shame.

$10.99

Luc Pirlet Unoaked Chardonnay 2016

Mmmmmm most inviting nose of unripe pears, apricots and something else I have yet to figure out.

Apple juice, fresh apple juice, a squeeze of lemon citrus. All very nice. Juicy acidic fruits are what we like, right?

A slight oily nature to the palate, which highlights the heavyset nature of this glass, quite an interesting subtext to an unoaked chardonnay.

Tangerine, oh, what a blessed thing; tangerine flesh and pith along with some minerality, but mostly the tangerine thing. Almonds, fresh almond meat. Definitely something along the lines of petroleum, but it’s not offensive, merely a droll note in an entertaining sip.

As she warms, I realize that there are layers here to be found. Fruit, nuts, hydrocarbons and acid – all the food groups. And this with grapes, ferment, steel and glass.

Impressive.

$9.99

 

Chateau Bois Redon Bordeaux Superior 2014

Back to Bordeaux, s’il vous plait. Here’s a merlot biased blend, a right bank blend, a blend for not much money, a blend that’s easy to dismiss. Let’s not be so hasty.

Dark fruits plus some cherry start us off. Cherry? Inviting hot fruit nose, but not overwhelming. That might be the theme of the bottle; under the radar. After some oxygen, I found some mild (mild) pepper. and then some sweet tobacco…the cabernet sauvignon revealing itself.

Initially with a light mouthfeel, things changed after a little time. At first, we had  lean fruits and just the right amount of  acids and tannins. That last part didn’t change, but the dryness revealed itself as well as a nice balance of tannin and minor minerality. For a simple wine, we’re finding quite a lot of interest.

But the really interesting thing is that it’s not that complex. Somehow the grape and winemaking nexus has worked without much input to produce something very enjoyable.

$10.99

Vistamar Sepia Chardonnay Reserva 2014

Mmmm, nose. Here’s why I delight in chardonnay; a wine like this. When you take your first inhalation, there’s so much of interest zipping about our sinus cavities. Exotic fruits zing about the place, along with apples and oak. There’s a kind of oily persistence, perhaps some nutty notes along with the barest hint of petroleum.

Exaggerating the rejuvenating nature of this kind of wine is difficult. Bland-oh bulk wine from Australia and California teeters on the cliff-edge of quality, reaching oh so desperately for a standard they simply cannot reach. On the other hand we have Chilean wine, which understands the limitations of fruit, vineyard, weather and – importantly – the money available to maximize all of those inputs. I like the honesty and willingness to be different.

But back to my glass. As she warms, I’m nosing canned pineapple, that lovely oily thing, some apricot. From there the palate is full, acids underlying are solid and complete with oak creating a weighty element to the finish.

C’mon, this is an adventure! No, not everything blends together seamlessly, and an unkind critic might make something of that. Tosh! Compared to a lot of oak-heavy Californian numbers I’ve tasted lately, this is a circus of flavor.

 

$9.99

Neetlingshof Unwooded Chardonnay 2016

South Africa, specifically Stellenbosch, is the birthplace of this wild number.

I say wild, thinking of wildlife, wild weather and wild scenery, but that might be too much of a stereotype to be of use. Southern hemisphere wine as a distinction separating it from Old World, and that is simply that there’s less land in the south, therefore more sea, and that means…well it means something.

A pale green with gold reflections shows a medium plus body. The nose tells of medium plus alcohol, strong citrus and milder harvest fruit aromas. Green apple. Lemon juice, but in that mild way chardonnay has, not in that sauvignon blanc mode. Can we call it tart lemon curd? Let’s.

As well there’s a mild white flower note; gardenia, perhaps? Something quite dense but not cloying, it’s very pleasant.

The palate is really nice, a plush, full mouthfeel, especially interesting because we have only the fruit and fermentation as inputs here; no lumber to woodify matters.

Acids are consistent throughout, providing an adult finish with satisfying tartness. No woolly ending here. What’s fascinating is how different this glass is from my Chilean friends. The same type of grape gives us strikingly different wine.

$11.99

Vistamar Brisa Valle Central Chardonnay 2016

Sometimes all I want at the end of a day is a glass of wine; a simple, crisp, clean, dry glass of wine.

I think I might have found it.

For a start, the colour is just right, a pale lemony yellow. Next, the nose has beautiful ripe pears with note of tropical fruits as well, in the background. No tricks so far, and straightforward as they come.

On the palate a controlled balance of low-key fruit and acids with a defined, shortish finish.

Repeat.

Bloody hell, I could drink this for the forseeable future, happy and refreshed.

All for $7.29. Enormously good value.

Coastline Chardonnay Central Coast 2014

Medium body plus, straw gold, vanilla nose.

I didn’t notice apple aromas, but there sure was a lot of vanilla and oak there, vying with, and winning over, any fruit hints. Try as I might, I looked cold, I looked warm, but I couldn’t find the apples and melon the notes talked about. Apple is a variable feast, if you’ll excuse the shattered metaphor, but nothing here was clearly reminiscent of anything reminding me of anything apple-ish.

Butter. Oak. Vanilla. Smooth on the palate, low acid, round finish.

I dunno, these butter-chasing wines are immensely tiring. They’re all trying to find the ideal butter and sugar balance that appeals to people whose diet consists largely of dairy, sugar and protein. There’s no challenge, no interesting facets, not even a hint of a sharp edge to these things.

I can’t imagine drinking this stuff week after week, each glass making one’s palate more and more dull, weighed down with the sheer mass of “flavour”.

$11.99