I was cleaning out the cellar at my old workplace a number of months ago and stumbled upon a gem – an old magazine article wrapped in plastic from The Age published April 13th 1982. The writer is David Dunstan and he recounts his experiences shopping in Melbourne wine stores. If only wine stores had cellars like this nowadays.
BRASH HIGGINS ‘MRLO’ Merlot 2014
McLaren Vale, South Australia
I like that Brad Hickey, an American winemaker, made this Merlot. Why is that, do you ask? Back in 2004 there was an American film about wine called ‘Sideways’, that changed the opinion of many a wine drinker on Merlot when the protagonist angrily shouted, “If anybody orders Merlot I’m leaving! I am not drinking any [insert expletive] Merlot!” Such a statement was enough to dampen sales of Merlot around the United States. It was even felt here. Merlot became daggy to the industry and remained the humble comfort wine for those who chose not to care. So to have Mr Hickey make such a great example of the Merlot grape under his Brash Higgins label and subsequently tear down the daggy barrier sort of makes this come full circle. Merlot is back.
This example was not made just like any other wine. It was fermented in clay amphora vessels for six weeks, spent a little time in seasoned oak and had a wee 10% addition of Nero d’Avola to add acidity, tannin and some exoticness. The result is a wine with a hint of purple fruits but dominated by savoury characteristics such as black tea, marzipan and schist – a similar character that I have found in Brash Higgins’ other wines that were fermented in amphora. You will notice some smokiness to the finish and great balance with a restrained ripeness despite this being 14.5% alcohol.
Only 55 cases were made so keep an eye out for the Brash Higgins effect, which will turn old opinions on their heads.
Stockists: Harry & Frankie, Port Melbourne and The Town Mouse, Carlton
UNICO ZELO Dolcetto ‘Cherry Fields’ 2014
Clare Valley & Adelaide Hills, South Australia
I first came across winemaker Brendan Carter when he was still a student back in 2011. We crossed paths as Italian wine enthusiasts entered into a scholarship for that particular topic. Brendan went on to Dux the course and his prize meant he was able to travel to Italy and explore the exciting varieties the country has to offer. In the following years, Brendan has since put these experiences to their best use with the launch of his own wine label called Unico Zelo run alongside his wife Laura.
Dolcetto is recognized in Italy as a delicious medium-bodied red variety not to be taken too seriously and is suitable for everyday grazing. In fact the back of the label suggests you have this wine when you find yourself ‘eating with your hands’. The Unico Zelo example fits into a similar mould as the Italian verison with a wild ferment and maturation in old oak that optimizes the fruit profile. The nose opens with aromas of fresh black cherries, cola and a hint of vanilla. The palate is a little more liqueured cherries in flavour and shows a delicacy in its texture and balance with its refreshing acidity. My only hesitation with Unico Zelo is that it lacked the tannic presence to slow me down. That bottle disappeared all too quickly.
Stockist: Check Blackhearts & Sparrows stores (all) or be first when the new vintage comes out around October.
FRIENDS OF PUNCH Denton Vineyards Shiraz 2012
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Whoever decided to make a wine label that doesn’t actually tell you very much knew how to attract the curious minded. Case in point with this wine by Punch Vineyards. Only by turning over the figure of a goblin-like creature in a love heart on the front label, would you know that this was crafted out of cool-climate Shiraz fruit from the Denton vineyard in the Yarra Valley by two guys who know what they’re doing, winemakers Behn Payten and Gary Mills. A little further research informs us that is was made using all whole bunches, was foot stomped and then matured in old French barrels for 16 months.
The result for this Shiraz is an explosive aroma bomb showcasing sweet notes of blueberries and blackberries mixed with bitter herbs, some tar and a touch of paprika. It may seem like an odd mix, but it works really well as a medium-bodied offering complemented by a full textured palate and a savoury dryness to the finish. Try it with a simple pizza Magherita or chicken marinated with paprika.
Stockist: Direct from Punch