This post’s title uses the mission statement/claim of the Alpha Box and Dice web site. They describe themselves as being “a laboratory for viticultural exploration” and have used the alphabet to create a wine brand name for each of the twenty-six letters. I’m passing over their word “laboratory” for a moment, but it appears as though they are winemakers who buy grapes from various parts of South Australia – mainly Maclaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills and create wines of “unique personalities”.
I clicked on the letter F and the noun ‘fog’ emerged. This was the wine – 100% Nebbiolo (which is surely a “varietal boundary”?) – we tried on Sunday. It was 2014 vintage and they hadn’t made this wine since 2008. The blurb makes a big play on the fog that descends on the Langhe region in Piedmont, Italy where the Nebbiola (nebulous, geddit?) grape originates. There is, however, no claim for foggy conditions in South Australia.
The colours, pale red with a slight brown rim, and the fragrance of red cherry and violets typify the grape. The palate was ripe, savoury, nicely tannic with a dry medium length finish. Its distinguishing feature was a mid-palate, almost confectionary, sweetness which, although immediately attractive, tended to pall after a couple of tastes, in my opinion. We were tasting it without food; Richard said it improved with something to eat.
The “laboratory” has certainly made Nebbiolo – which can be very unapproachable when young – a drinkable drop, especially given its age. For me, not the king of wines, rather a playful Prince Hal whose extravagances you could tire of.
[Richard: seductive on first taste, with lots of unfolding flavours and smells but it really needs food to balance it out, then it becomes moreish and very enjoyable. From Vin Cognito, £22.]
A unique moniker for a unique wine. It’s non-vintage, a blend of five European grape varieties – and not as cheap as you might expect given that pedigree. Alpha Box and Dice sounds like an on-line betting site – it’s the maker’s name – and then Kit and Kaboodle evokes memories of National Service. The blend is Aglianico, Shiraz, Cab Sav, Mataro and Nebbiolo, the proportions not being given. So, it’s a posh cocktail from Langhorne Creek in Maclaren Vale, South Oz – and it does work as a big red.
Definitely an intense red (no blues of youth or browns of age), the appearance suggested good blending. The continually evolving nose was quite floral (violets), certainly complex, definitely smoky with a touch of vanilla. There was also high notes of acidity which were attractive.
The tannins were well integrated but there was a drying sappiness which stopped it falling over into a sweet fruit bomb. The wine gave a balanced impression of both strength and delicacy.
It needs food to match the intensity but I can see its attraction. Vin Cognito are the suppliers – but they have sold out.
[Discussing this wine with Geoff made us aware of an interesting fact – that with the exception of champagne/sparkling wine (and not always then), we never drink non-vintage wines. They exist of course, mainly blends at the lower end of the market. But it is rare to see a non-vintage wine at around £19, as this was. Geoff has captured our feelings about the wine which I really enjoyed. It was sold as in short supply so I’m glad I bought three bottles.]
The title is apt for two reasons. One, in that it comes from the Antipodes (literally, from the Classic translation of feet the other way up) and secondly because it uses a Medoc/Bordeaux blend but in the opposite proportions. It’s Petit Verdot 47%, Merlot 37% and Cab Sav 16%.
The wine is Plane Turning Right 2013 which Richard bought from Vin Cognito (£27). The high proportion of PV is only made possible by the heat which is needed to ripen this grape of high tannins and high acidity. It is becoming increasingly planted, but always in hotter areas (I had a mono-varietal PV from Spain, via Aldi, about ten days ago). When PV does ripen it has a distinctive violet smell as well as intense colouring.
From the intense, consistent red colour it was just right in its development – no blue or brick colours here. Very fruit-forward – and violet scented – on the nose, there was high acidity and a slight sappiness which could come from either the PV or CS. No wonder it needed the softening Merlot. The palate was savoury, soft in tannins, very rich and heavy but with a lot of power. It had a medium length. I’d have been interested to see the changes after two hours decanting, which I think it needed.
A lovely wine, needing food. Needless to say, I didn’t spot it but picked the violets and stabbed at Nebbiolo.
[Richard: a fascinating wine with lots of complexity both on the nose and in the mouth. Good mouth feel, rich and savoury, quite high toned, lots of acidity with plenty of balancing red fruit. Really interesting and one I’d certainly buy again.]
Sauvignon, that is. Unmistakeable, an enticing nose with hints of menthol. Open for 48 hours under vacuum when I tried it, very deep red, brown rim, rich taste with lots of fruit and a lovely mouthfeel. Very enjoyable and we both had a second glass. Not French as I first though but Australian (Katnook Estate, 2012, CS), my second guess.
[Geoff: A confession – my prejudiced view of Australian wines has limited my experience of them. Hefty, jammy and clumsy has previously been my opinion. That is, until recently when I’ve been impressed with CSs from western Australia (blogged) and now this beauty from Limestone Ridge’s Coonawarra district. The famous red soil, overlaying limestone, is noted for its Cabernets which benefit from cloud cover and cooling breezes. This was a rich, black-fruit, silky mouthful with some attractive complexity. As Richard said, very enjoyable. Interestingly, Katnook Winery occupies the original sight of the area’s first commercial winery, started by James Riddoch in 1896.]
This wine had a grassy nose I felt sure was cabernet franc from the Loire. It wasn’t. The taste was silky and textured but I couldn’t get a distinctive grape. I was pretty sure it was New World/Australian but couldn’t get any closer – my knowledge of Australian wine regions is rudimentary at best.
In fact a cabernet sauvignon but one which, for me, lacked classic CS characteristics. Good wine though – recommended. The M&S webpage (£90 for 6) says there is 20% Merlot which may account for my puzzlement.
[Geoff: I bought this because of the reputation of the Margaret River area for Bordeaux blends. I wasn’t disappointed and expected the forward-fruity style. What was attractive to me was the edge of unripeness/herbaceousness (Richard’s “grassy”) that saved it becoming too plump and sweet (my issue for with Oz wines). A good wine, well made and easy to drink – if a little lacking in complexity.
Aah, the search for complexity – the curse of the wine buff.]