Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Aussies at Mars

It's about an hour before I leave work, and my boss grabs me by the arm and demands I go with him to a Grateful Palate portfolio tasting dinner, immediately. "Like hell am I going to Mars in my undershirt!" I said. Nor was I in the mood; a spontaneous event where I would have to be "on" for another few hours? Forget it, I was too tired, free dinner or not.

But then I remembered the last trip to Mars...the dreamy tea-smoked tandori duck...the scallops with the little dumpling thingys on the side...

"Plus," he said, "It's a bunch of Aussies, and they love to throw down."

Alright, fine, but we both had to stop at Target to get new shirts.

I arrived sporting new shirt, the lone woman joining a table packed with big guys. The best seat at the table, next to the boisterous Trevor Jones, was offered to me. Trevor had a killer combo of charms: part your uncle and part flirtatious, a naughty sense of humor, and a hearty belly laugh. Plus the moustache and all. I was smitten.

When my boss told Trevor how his Tawny Port would sell in Texas if it were labeled 17% or under, he fixed the problem right then and there.

Our hosts included Tom Adams of Brothers In Arms and Michael and Ross De La Haye of Hare's Chase. Unable to come was Kim Longbottom of Henry's Drive, due to illness, but her wines made it just fine.

Run, rabbit, run: Trevor added a touch of dark humor to Michael De La Haye's expensive new label design (they're shotgun blasts). Later on, I added the same touch to his (see the picture above this one).

My first sip of the night was the 2003 'Boots' White Blend by Trevor Jones, a little princess of a wine, showing off the dainty, flowery aromatics of fifty-fifty Reisling and Muscat a Petit Grains. The palate was lively and fruity with just barely enough acidity to keep it up and offer a nice grapefruity finish. It was perfectly quaffable, although the ballpark retail I was given ($14) seemed a bit steep. I say that because there are lots of charming, fruity whites I can choose from at lower price points.

Next up: 2004 Virgin Chardonnay (Why 'virgin', you ask? "Because it's never seen wood," Trevor says.) This is an 8 vineyard blend (Barossa, Eden and Adelaide vineyards, separately fermented before blending). I have to say, this was a right decent quaffer Chard. Barrel Fermented for the people, it was creamy, tropical and crisp without tasting like a gawdamn coconut macaroon. I forgot to ask the suggested retail, but again, I wouldn't want to see it over $12, tops.

The 2004 Pillar Box Red by Henry's Drive (57% Cab, 32% Shiraz, 11% Merlot) is the first lower-end juice I was aware they made. While the label, a predictably minimalist red box, screams "sexed-up value wine", I felt the juice itself was exactly what it should be for a $8-$10 sticker: plush, candied black fruit with a few notes of violet, vanilla and pepper. For the bargain hunters who dig a good, well integrated fruit & oak affair, I say: give 'er a try.

Now, in my last post, you learned what a Syrah nut I am, and tasting this and other Shiraz-z-zs that night was a clarifying reminder of the differences in style between Aussie Shiraz and, well, any other syrah in the whole world. Barrel fermenting for tannin taming and big wide strokes of eucalyptus and pepper are always present in these great big, manly-man wines. The move to court International-style wines notwithstanding, the Aussies are always struggling with acidity levels due to the warm weather, and are subsequently allowed to add acid, which pretty much defines the overall style they try for.

2000 Brothers In Arms Shiraz: Pepper and more pepper peppered this plush, blackberry bombshell. Concentrated and deep with bits of licorice and tobacco, and a long fruit finish that lingered pleasantly. The acidity was there, but not as much as I like. Very satisifying stuff, though, I think, for someone who likes the style.

2001 Brothers In Arms Shiraz: Much less intense than the previous vintage, this shiraz had more of that mixed fruit thing you get from syrah, with sweet baking spices and an ample dash of black pepper.

2003 Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz: "A Eucalyptus wrapped cigar crammed in the bottom of a saddlebag." This sounds sarcastic, but it was right on. This was my favorite wine of the evening, and I was sorry that Kim Longbottom wasn't there for me to say so. This wine was the closest to the complex syrahs from other parts of the world that I love so well, albeit still distinctly Aussie. Bacony meat notes, tobacco box, and deep black fruit all worked together smashingly. Kudos to Henry's Drive.

Now, even as I praise Henry's Drive for the extraordinary shiraz, I have to knock them upside the head for the 2004 'Parson's Flat' Shiraz/Cab. Let's put it this way: if your idea of a good time is drinking a full glass of red wine that tastes and feels like an extra-thick blackberry chocolate milkshake, you will simply adore this wine. I did not. It was wayyy over the top rich and the acid was nowhere to be found. If I want that kind of thing, I'll drink a porter, thank you.

Trevor told me his thoughts on how Australian reds are aging, and where they end up when at their peak. I was under the impression that the usual plush, high alcohol, low acid style didn't seem very suited to aging, and Trevor confirmed that. His example was his own 2000 Trevor Jones Cabernet (with 15% Merlot). "An ageworthy Aussie red's gonna be tight as hell when it's young," he said, "and that's why the reviewers should revisit these wines again, when they've had time to open up." This cab, he said, had been very tight upon its release, but was now drinking much better. The wine was a very juicy number with cranberry/cassis and baking spices, and only a touch of the vegetal quality Trevor bemoaned. Considering other Aussie reds I've had from early vintages that had already given up the ghost by now, this one had held up nicely.

The last thing I tried was the 'Jonsey' Tawny Port (pictured above). This was an odd bird, being a blend of grenache, shiraz and Pedro Ximenez. The aromatics and flavors hovered around prunes and stewed fruits, and seemed kinda simple to me; I wondered (not yet having a full grasp of port) whether this would age well or not.

The evening turned out wonderfully, despite my fatigue. I had the duck again, and the scallops, again, and they were both fabulous. The boys and I all went outside after dinner and told dirty jokes, luring our neighboring table into the revelry. It's a night like this that makes up for the lack of dough in the retail biz. Thanks, guys!



Anonymous maggie said...

Oh how they must have eaten you up with a spoon!

There is nothing better than being the only chica at a wine dinner, especially around Aussies. Why is it so rare to taste older Aussie reds??? Too bad most get slammed back before the ink on Parker's next Advocate is dry.

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