23 December 2010

The Wine W@nk’s Top Ten Christmas Tipples

The French have a saying: “Retreat!”.

Sorry, that’s not quite right – they would ac
tually say, “Retraite, uh-huh-huh-huh!

They have another saying which I like almost as much: “Everyt
hing in moderation, including moderation.”

Words to live by this holiday season. So, let’s roll.

Breakfast wine

Grant Burge 2010 Moscato Frizzante

Young, dumb, and full of gum.

And at a leisurely 7.6% alcohol, this is exactly what you want to be tapping into on Christmas morning with your eggs and that first sneaky carve of ham.

sweet. Fruity. Delicious. Very refreshing.

Up ya bum!

Rating: 8 Drink with: Ham and eggs Price: $13-$16


Bubbles are compulsory at Christmas time, so herewith a tidy little selection of sparklers to suit a diversity of budgets and tastes.

Ruinart Blanc de Blanc NV

I have to say first up that I’m a big fan of the House of Ruinart. It has one of the most incredible chalk cellars in Champagne, and the plonk isn’t too bad either.

Old St Nicolas (Ruinart, that is) spruiks some good quality wine w@nkerisms in talking up his product. First we have this gem: “its glistening, pale gold colour with soft green glints seem to reflect the warm summer light...”. And then this: “a subtle, refined nose of acacia and honeysuckle follows through and sings on the palate with lovely elegance and delicacy...“.

Stop-stop talk-talking that blah, blah, blah.

All you really need to know is that this is seriously great stuff. It comes served up in a Cristal-emulating clear bottle which shows off its golden curves nicely and adds that little bit of hip-hop mogul caché.

And the drinking is quite simply superb. Ambitious. Capricious. And absolutely delicious.

Or as the hip-hoppers might say: Fly. Like a G-6.

Be sure to pop the top off a bottle or two this New Year’s Eve.

Rating: 9.5 Drink with: Crystal Price: $99

Jansz Tasmania Premium NV Cuvee

If the budget doesn’t stretch to Frenchy bubbles, you can quite happily take the more frugal option and go local with this little champ.

Believe you me, I’ve done a lot of research on this topic for you people recently, and can c
onfidently say that this is fully one of the creamiest and most flavoursome Aussie sparklers available on the market today.

I even invented a new word for it: amazifying.

So, there you go. You should definitely buy a couple of these to drink this
Christmas. Or maybe just shake them up like a polaroid and pretend like you’ve just won a Grand Prix. At only $20, who really cares.

Rating: 8.5 Drink with: Mark Webber Price $22

Domaine Chandon Sparkling Pinot Shiraz NV

I must say that I find it really quite hard to like rosé. I have tried, and I have failed.

But I do accept that a lot of you (or more probably your girlfriends) do enjoy th
is kind of thing. And so, with that in mind, I have searched long and hard for something in this style with a bit of substance.

And this then is the fruit of my labour.

Moët’s more modest Australian cousin (Domaine Chandon) produces this unusual little drop which I think gives some pretty good bang for your buck.

The pretty red sparkles are as gay as Christmas, and the drinking is actually very, very good. Almost meaty, but light and refreshing at the same time.

If you have to put bubbles in your red, I suspect that this is the only way you should be doing it.

Rating: 8.5 Drink with: Discretion Price: $29


Fire Gully 2008 Chardonnay

Fire Gully is the newish little brother label of the estimable Margaret River stalwart, Pierro. I like them – partly because they sent me free samples – but mostly because they make some cracking wines at decent prices.

The cream of the crop, as you’d expect from Margy, is the Chardonnay.

It’s a nubile concoction of rich, buttery goodness combined with a light and lingering lug o
f summer fruit. Great badge on the bottle too.

Take the tip from me: whack this little chardy on ice for Christmas lunch, team it up with some turkey and roast tatties, and tuck in.

Best be quick though – or Great Aunty Sharon will pinch the bottle, mix in some ice cubes and start drinking it through a straw. How very, very dare she.

Rating: 8.75 Drink without: ice cubes Price: $28

Bay of Fires 2009 Pinot Gris

I love Pinot Gris. It’s the perfect summer white wine. Fresh, fruity, and best served icy cold.

Some find it ubiquitous and insipid, but you just have to find the right one. And this is certainly one of those.

The drinking is like sticking your head straight into a bowl of summer stonefruit. It’s full of flavour and begging to top up its own glass.

I’ve even found a Christmas connection because the nose has an earthy aroma that is pure Christmas pine needle.

If the sun is shining, this is what I’ll be drinking at about 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon between the overs of backyard cricket.

Rating: 8.25 Drink with: Stuart Surridge Price: $25

Suckfizzle 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

I’m not sure what a Suckfizzle is. It sounds like a euphemism for a dud root, but I’m sure that’s not it.

In any event, this is a frankly sensational wine and if you want to impress the relatives, this is just the ticket. At $42 a pop, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely worth it.

Big, citrusy, and unctuous. If you’re a seafood family on Christmas, this is unquestionably what you should be sucking down with your prawns.

Special. Like fried rice. And definitely not a fizzler.

Rating: 9.25 Drink with: BBQ prawns Price: $42



Fox Creek 2008 Short Row McLaren Vale Shira

If it’s cold and wet on Christmas day as promised, you might be searching for something warm and with a bit of body. And a tasty Shiraz wouldn’t be bad either.

This little fellow has an awesomely earthy and intense smell – like going truffling in the soil with your own nose.

The drinking is full of dark cherries and chocolate, cloves and cinnamon. And we all know that everything tastes better with cinnamon.


Rating: 9 Drink with: Uncle Bob Price:$29


Frogmore Creek 2008 Iced Riesling

What is it with all the Tasmanian wine in this list? You'd expect most Taswegians would be too busy shagging their sisters to have time to make decent wine, but they are clearly a talented bunch of multi-taskers down there in the crotchal region of the nation.

This gear is the perfect end to a big meal. Grab a wedge of sharp cheese, a slice of whatever fruit is lying about, a couple of bikkies, and a nice little glass of this baby.

It's not as heavy or intense as Noble One, but it certainly doesn't lack in flavour. It's limey, luscious and long in the mouth.

Just a glass will do. And then settle in for a quick power nap to recharge the batteries for a second sitting of Christmas fare.

Rating: 9.5 Drink with: someone else's sister Price: $25 (375ml)

De Bortoli Black Noble NV

By the end of Christmas day, when the rellies are sitting around half cut and grinning from beer to beer, the last thing anyone usually feels like is more food.

Generally, all you need is a thin slice of Christmas cake, maybe a fruit mince pie, and something wet to wash it down with.

And this is the answer. The illustrious Noble One forms the base of this fortified gem which tells you most of what you need to know.

It is a soporific pharmacopoeia of intense golden elixer. It's thick and rich and coats your mouth with a concentration of everything that is Christmas.

Stick a fork in me. I'm done. The perfect end to the day.

Rating: 9.75 Drink with: Christmas cake Price: $30 (375ml)

09 December 2010

Claymore 2009 Joshua Tree Riesling

With Bono and the boys rocking BrisVegas tonight, I thought it was an appropriate time to tuck into this topically named youngster.

The Claymore Joshua Tree Riesling hails from the Clare Valley, which is always a good place to look for quality riesling.

The Clare is a rugged sort of place. Some might say it’s a place where the streets have no names. Where all the colours bleed into one and the landscape turns into rust: beaten and blown by the wind and trampled in dust.

But it’s a fact that the best grapes are often borne out of the toughest patches of dirt. And so it is with the Joshua Tree Riesling. It’s a little ripper.

It smells sweetly like coconut oil sunscreen smeared on a lightly toasted German backpacker named Heidi. There's also a floral note that may or may not be lent by Heidi's limey daiquiri.

The drinking is like kissing honeyed lips. It delivers yielding deliciousness, accompanied by a stirring feeling of rigidity. It’s mouth-wateringly crisp and just a little bit punchy. In short, it’s cool, delicious and quite simply superb.

Granted, it hasn’t been too hot so far this December. But by the time Christmas rolls around, it will be baking and you’ll be begging for some nice, cool refreshment.

And so, when you sit down with your plate of leftover turkey to watch the Boxing Day Test, do yourself a favour and pour yourself a nice chilly glass of the Claymore. I’ve got a feeling you might need a drink regardless of the weather (unless of course you’re South African English).

And at only $18 for the Joshua Tree, I think I might actually have found what I’m looking for.

But you'll have to get your own. Because this Claymore is mine.

All I know is that I’m going to enjoy it. With or without you.

Rating: 8.75
Drink with: The Edge
Price: $18

25 November 2010

Nepenthe 2008 The Good Doctor Pinot Noir

I attended a 40th birthday party recently with a top-shelf spread both of food and booze.

The evening started with cocktails and paparazzi-style photography on arrival, and I admit to partaking in a cheeky Cosmopolitan (purely to be polite of course). But while being polite is all well and good, because I also happened to be sporting a pink shirt, my more immediate concern was appearing to be of a persuasion that I most certainly am not. To avoid such blushes, and the unwanted attentions of a waiter named Sebastian, I switched quickly to a different type of red liquid which was served sans umbrella and in a more masculine glass.

The red in question was a pinot from Nepenthe in the Adelaide Hills and the bottle came dressed in a sharp black suit that looked to have been tailored especially for the occasion. I had myself a tasty bowlful and introduced myself to The Good Doctor before we repaired to our tables for dinner.

Dinner was excellent, and the Doctor, being a reasonably hefty and savoury fellow, lined up nicely against my slab of beef.

However, being the "plus one" on the invite meant I knew only a few people in the room and so when the mingling started after dinner, I found myself playing Robinson Crusoe with just The Doc (as I was now calling him) for company.

Happily, I soon made friends with the waitress as well; she being a young lady with improbably large Bristols and easy access to the Doctor's medicine cabinet. And so, over the next hour or so, The Doc and I became extremely well acquainted.

The diagnosis?

Well, I’ve got to say first up that it pours quite deep and dark for a pinot. It just looks like it has some real solid weight behind it.

The lifted florally hit of sweet fruitiness on the nose belies the substantial and savoury nature of the beast that is revealed in the drinking.

Now, when it comes to savoury pinot, I’m your Huckleberry. I love it. And this has all the very best earthiness and spice of the famed Martinborough examples.

It’s by no means a particularly finely tanninned or structured pinot, but it has genuine substance, wonderful flavour and I suspect it will soften nicely with a few more years under its belt.

Takes you on a titillating tour of duty from the first touch on the tip of your tongue to the final tickle on your tonsil.

Open up and say ahhhhhhh for The Good Doctor.

Rating: 8.25
Drink with: A nice nurse
Price: $38

PS Incidentally, The Good Doctor is actually named for Dr Ed Tweddle, a true Australian business luminary. A fine tribute to his memory.

04 November 2010

Haselgrove 2008 Bella Vigna Shiraz

Well, here we go. OcSober is over and I'm back on the drink after a month spent practising some semblance of sobriety. No doubt it was good for my liver. It was certainly good for my wallet.

Anyway, I'm easing myself back in slowly this week. It all started on Tuesday which was, of course, Melbourne Cup Day. I tucked into a nice mid-week quaffer (the Haselgrove Shiraz) as I trawled the web for news of Descarado's missing heart and the inevitable photos of drunken Cup tarts to laugh at.

By far the biggest tart of them all is that annoyingly vacuous beast of a woman who follows Geoffrey Edelstone around. I've written about her before, I know. I'm not obsessed. Well, maybe I am. But not with her beauty that's for sure.

If ever there was a poster-girl for people oblivious to their own absurdity, Brynne’s your girl (at least I think she’s a girl).

The part I don't understand is how she came to marry this pox of a man in the first place. I know he's got money, and a lovely yellow suit. But his face is more shrivelled than a warm scrotum, and so you can only imagine what his actual scrotum must look like. And I'm sorry, but services in that region are surely the only thing which Brynne brings to the relationship.

Anyway, the thought of a Geoffrey Edelstone Tea Party sickened me sufficiently that I was forced to quaff more quickly and in no time at all I found myself enjoying my second glass of the Bella Vigna.

Bella Vigna means “beautiful vineyard” and refers to the pretty patch of the McLaren Vale where these delicious grapes were lucky enough to grow up. And it really is a great drop.

Deep, dark ruby red in the glass. Almost impenetrable, but showing lovely shards of iridescence as you take it for a spin around the glass.

It smells sweetly of dark chocolate and a platter of fresh Italian charcuterie. It’s big and arrogant, but soft and smooth at the same time.

There’s an ample lug of ripened berry unctuousness combined with a demure touch of gentle spice. It’s eminently drinkable, but still gives you something very nice and substantial to chew on.

You could drink it with a steak (as I did), or simply sip it solo as the sun goes down.

To be honest, I was genuinely excited by this wine. Not quite as excited as Joel Monaghan on a visit to the pound, but you get the idea.

It’s truly a ripping little wine at a very reasonable price. I could happily drink it all week long. And twice on Sundays.

Rating: 8.5/10
Drink with: A hot dog
Price: $20-$25

14 October 2010


The Wine W@ank is on a break due to a lack of drinking during Ocsober.

Normal transmission will resume shortly.


20 September 2010

Tamburlaine 2007 Hunter Reserve Members Semillon

I had a big night last Friday. One moment it was 9pm - the next, it was 3am, a bell was ringing and security was turning on the ugly lights. Time flies when you're having rum.

Suffice to say I was in a world of hurt on Saturday, particularly as my twins insisted on playing their new toy drums for most of the day - at times, seemingly reaching their little bongo playing hands right inside my head and doing their best Dave Grohl impression on my frontal lobe.

That's the thing about rum - it may well get you over that bump in the road around midnight, but it inevitably kicks you back to the curb the next day.

So, when Saturday night came around, I'd learned my lesson and reached instead for something lighter. Not quite water, but it was clear at least.

Tamburlaine 2007 Members Semillon is certified organic and biodynamic - which I think means they use free-range grapes and harvest only by the light of the moon. Chanting and nudity are optional, but encouraged.

My main motivation for going green was that it usually entails the winemaker using minimal preservatives, which is said to result in a much nicer brand of hangover. Happily, there does appear to be something to this theory and, despite going solo on the whole bottle, I had not a hint of a shade of a headache the next morning.

That's all well and good, but what of the drinking?

There's a nice, bright colour and, despite being quite light on the alcohol scale (10.2%), it shows genuine substance in the glass.

The nose is much like Brynne Edelsten on Brownlow night - eager to escape its cup, but with perhaps a little too much "Careful with those things, or you'll poke an eye out!" than is polite. Still, this alacrity can be forgiven because it's still a youngster.

And while it's bound to get better with a few more years under its belt, the drinking is already showing signs of great quality. That lovely rich, silken flush is starting to develop, while its striking acidity makes it as crisp as a Samboy and as cool as the underside of your pillow. There's a very distinct flavour that is, I imagine, like licking lemon sherbert off freshly buttered toast. It's easy-drinking, but rewarding.

Like the mounted knight that adorns the label, this fellow really does keep his end up quite nicely.

Rating: 8.25/10
Drink with: Greenies
Price: $25


09 September 2010

David Franz Old Redemption X.O. Exceptionally Old Tawny

David Franz Lehmann is Peter's son. He produces a range of great quality wines on a relatively small scale. I’m a big fan.

Happily, I've been lucky enough to crack into his Old Redemption port on three occasions over the past couple of weeks, and I highly recommend it to you.

The story of this tawny starts at Saltrams in 1947. Peter helped to blend and top up the stocks over the course of the next 30-odd years, and eventually bought a portion for himself when he struck out under his own name. By that time, fortifieds were about as popular as a Pakistani bookmaker, and so he left it on the wood to cook for another 30 years. Then, after having been barrelled for the best part of 60 years, his son did what all good sons do – he knocked off the old man’s grog.

The result is what he styles as an Exceptionally Old (X.O.) Tawny.

It’s a wonderful, bright golden brown, and glows like the sun as it swims around the glass. And I reckon if you poured a tin of golden syrup onto an old Chesterfield couch, you’d be getting pretty close to the heady aroma that explodes from the bowl.

The drinking is a lot like Brendan Fevola - thick, yet revealing. Allegedly.

It’s raisined and smokey and smoother than a Brazilian’s nut. It all just clicks. The needle hits the groove. The earth begins to move. I feel like I’m breathing fire.

Pour it at the end of a meal, crack out some sharp cheeses, maybe a cigar. Everyone’s a grinner.

I asked Dave for his thoughts on how best to drink the Old Redemption, and I can do no better than quote the man,

“Mate, all you need is a beer stein and a lockable room and you’ll be happy…”.

That's advice to live by. And I intend to.

If you can find a bottle, buy it. It’s special stuff.

Rating: 9.5/10
Drink with: Your trousers down
Price: $40


08 September 2010

Peter Lehmann 2009 Barossa Blonde

The highlight of my (and, apparently, Stephanie Rice's) weekend was watching the Wallabies finally find some luck on the high veld of Sarth Iffrica. A yarpie called Flip flopped on a ruck. Kurtley kicked the winning points with a thoooousand metre penalty at the death. And I enjoyed it all in the company of a saucy little blonde.

Peter Lehmann's 2009 Barossa Blonde that is.

I wouldn't usually tuck into white wine at 2 o'clock on a Sunday morning. But by half-time, having polished off all the loose beers in my fridge, I decided I might as well also finish off the $10 bottle that had gone into the risotto earlier that evening. "Waste not, want not", my grandfather used to say.

The Barossa Blonde is a bit of a mongrel mix - riesling, chenin blanc, semillon and sauvignon blanc. It seems Mr Lehmann may be familiar with my grandfather's motto as well.

But they don't call him the Baron of the Barossa for nothing. He knows what to do with whatever grapes come his way - and for the price, this is a most agreeable drop.

The label continues PL's Queen of Clubs theme and sports an attractive little charmer. Looking a lot like a young Ita Buttrose, she's sweet and pure - and I bet her tongue nevers touches her lips either. Hmmm mmm, I think I'd like to take her out to din-ner.

Anyway...what's in the bottle? It pours almost as crystal clear as water, but is tinged with a subtle verdancy.

The nose is as green as Bob Brown, but infinitely more likable. There's some citrus action and a scrape of freshly cut passionfruit.

In truth, there's more smell than taste - but the drinking is pleasant and easy, without any touch of bite. And happily, unlike a lot of other cheap plonk, it doesn't make the mistake of trying to achieve this by excessive sweetness.

It's as nicely balanced as a good margarita - and in fact, if you felt compelled to add wedge of lime and a little salt to the rim, this little lady may well take you straight to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.

But it really doesn't matter what I think.

What we all want to know is, "What does our favourite twit, Ms Rice, have to say on the matter?"

"Suck on that...", is apparently her carefully considered opinion. And something about a bundle of sticks.

I think that means we should get stuck in.

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Rating: 7.5/10
Drink with: British meatballs. And Rice.
Price: $10

26 August 2010

Tahbilk Shiraz - 1998 and 1971

I had a fantastic birthday this week. Thanks for asking.

It was a crazy weekend. Bob Katter and his enormous hat are now in charge of the asylum. The Cottagers held ManU to a draw. And a good friend of mine put on a ten bottle vertical flight of Tahbilk Shiraz stretching back almost 40 years.

The good people at Chateau Tahbilk racked up their 150th birthday this year, so there were quite a few vintages to choose from.

Most of them stood up to the test of time brilliantly - particularly the 1998, and especially the 1971. Keeping in mind that the current vintage is less than $20 - and that you could have originally picked up the '98 for a tenner, and the '71 for loose change - all I can say is that it provides impressive staying power for the money.

They were so impressive in fact that I’m almost lost for words. Well, that and the fact that my recall is a little hazy...what with the 10 bottles and all.

So, I’m just going to have to stick to the two standouts - ‘98 and ‘71.

What I do remember about both of these little gems is that they were very big, very juicy, and wonderfully smooth.

The colour of the ‘71 was fading, but the flavour most definitely wasn’t. At 40 years old, it was still in the rudest of health. And at that price, I was absolutely blown away. I’m not ashamed to say I went back for seconds and thirds on this one. The boys had to wrestle the bottle off me – even long after it had been emptied.

The ‘98 was much deeper and darker, as you might expect. The nose was a sweet embrace, and it quite simply luxuriated on the tip of the tongue. Even the beer drinkers at the table enjoyed this one. It could have cost $100 and no-one would have complained. It’s a wine that may well live forever.

Most of the time you get what you pay for. Occasionally, you get so much more.

My advice is to buy a case of the '06 today and hide it somewhere dark for the next 20 to 30 years. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Rating: 9.25/10 (both)
Drink with: Cowboy Katter
Price: $4 ('71); $10 ('98); $18 ('06)

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV Champagne

As we all know, a very important vote was held at the weekend.

The fortunes of a nation depend on the result, and the campaign saw the candidates give diverse demonstrations both of their knowledge of foreign affairs and of their ability to look good in a Speedo.

But in the end, no matter how close the contest or which way the swingers swing, there can only be one champion of the people - and I, for one, am most pleased with the result.

In a victory for balloon smugglers everywhere, Jimena Navarrete (a.k.a. Miss Mexico) showed herself to be the very worthy winner of the contest which, in more civilised times, was named the
International Pageant of Pulchritude, but which we all now know as the Miss Universe Pageant, 2010.

The interesting thing about the Miss Universe contest (apart from the obvious; and Donald Trump's hair-thing) is that, despite its intergalactic ambit, the Earthling gals so far have an extraordinary rate of success. Also, the English have never produced a winner. Who says that Americans have no taste.

All of this brings me rather loosely to the subject of this week's missive - champagne. Ms Navarrete was drinking it to celebrate, and so was I.

I couldn't tell what brand she was drinking, but I was into some Billecart-Salmon Brut NV. So, let's run with that.

The first thing to clear up is that, despite the slightly confusing connotation in its name, this is not a rosé. The Billecart boys do make one of those as well - and a famous one at that - but I'll leave that for another time.

One attribute I don't share with Sinatra - and there are only a couple - is that I do, happily, get a nice little kick out of champagne. But only the good stuff. And this gear is great.

Alive with brilliant, sparkle and tight effervescence, it's enough to turn any occasion into a celebration.

It smells like hot apple pie in buttery pastry. It's richly flavoured, but also clean, and incredibly crisp.

It's just what you're after, any time of the day or night.

Yum. Yum. Yum-Yum-Yum.

Keeping in mind that eating is cheating, we ensured that the bottle was fully devoured before making it out to dinner. But, equally, I think it would also stand up nicely with food - something from the sea would be the obvious choice.

As we all know, things are always better when someone else pays - especially at this price. And so I pass on my thanks, and hearty congratulations, to the good friends who so unparsimoniously stumped up for this bottle.
Rating: 8.99/10
Drink with: A smile
Price: $65

19 August 2010

Hentley Farm 2008 The Beauty and The Beast Shirazes

No doubt about it. Everyone enjoys a nice pair. And that's exactly what I'm serving up this week.

La Belle et la Bête. The Beauty and The Beast Shirazes. From Hentley Farm in the Barossa.

At $52 and $77 respectively, they would want to be very good. And indeed they are.

The grapes for each hail from the same vineyard in the attic of the Barossa. But while the Beast's fruit comes from high on the hill, the Beauty's berries are from that part of the block laid low on the cool and shaded banks of Greenock Creek.

The difference it makes to the wines is immediately apparent and provides for an interesting comparison. Certainly, given the price difference, and my predilection for big Barossan shiraz, I started proceedings expecting a definite leaning towards The Beast.

But in the end, I'm a sucker for a stunner, and I was well and truly seduced by the more keenly priced Beauty.

My tasting mates had it the other way around - but, then again, they are also known to drink chilli oil for fun.

And so, in second place...

Hentley Farm 2008 The Beast Shiraz

The Beast is so named because that's exactly what it is. A bully. A monster. A brute.

It pours as red as the spanked bottom of an albino. It's intensely dense and virtually impenetrable.

Its legs stretch long and hang thickly around the glass before evaporating into waves of vapour. I wouldn't suggest lighting a match.

The nose is a brutal blow of meatiness and attacks the nostril like an angry quiver of cobras. There's a hint of chocolate. And there's definitely a vanilla gorilla hiding in there somewhere.

The drinking is ripe and dark and spicy and delicious; like a blended up Christmas pudding. And it is big. Really, really big. Nicely chewy, but perhaps just a little bit hot and dusty for me at the end.

Of course, it's a wine that's designed to be aged and it will soften as it does. You just might have to wait another 20 or 30 years for it to happen.

At the end of the day though, for me, The Beast is a plus-size model in comparison to The Beauty.

The first impressions are nice and the face is a winner. But there's just a little too much junk in the trunk.

You may well be into that kind of thing though. And as a great philosopher once wrote, "Go the ugly early and avoid the rush". I won't say a word.

Rating: 8/10
Drink with:Sophie Dahl
Price: $77

Hentley Farm 2008 The Beauty Shiraz

As the name suggests, The Beauty is the antithesis of The Beast.

There’s a small hit of viognier added to polish up the whole package, and it results in a truly elegant drop.

It’s incredibly deep purple in the glass, with a cheeky little red rim grinning back at you.

The alcohol is only slightly less than that of the Beast, but it’s much more restrained and doesn’t bloody your nose like some big Barossa shirazes can.

Instead there’s a pleasant little tickle of espresso and a comforting hint of Dutch oven. The cameo of viognier also lends a slightly floral lift. Sweet and savoury at the same time, it smells simply superb.

In the mouth, it’s a delicious explosion of raspberry tartness combined with the voluptuous smoothness of chocolate mousse. Perfectly weighted. Tightly constructed. It’s like drinking liquid velvet.

Refined. Sublime. Makes you feel fine.

This Beauty is one of the best I’ve had all year.

And you should have Her too. Just remember, She might be easy, but She’s not cheap.

Rating: 9/10
Drink with: Heidi Klum
Price: $52

29 July 2010

Grant Burge 2004 Filsell Shiraz

This week we've got a big rough red, with a sharp nose and an acid tongue. But that's enough about Ms Gillard.

Fortunately, the Filsell is not running for parliament because it’s none of those things. Well, it is red I guess. But thankfully that’s where the comparison ends.

Filsell is the little brother of the great Meshach Shiraz. The grapes come from the same vineyard and the 90-year-old vines are so delicate that they live in constant fear of stiff breeze. No machines here. Hand picking all the way.

This '04 had been patiently gathering dust in my cellar for a while. It still had many more years up its sleeve, but I was confident it had thrown off the shackles of youth and so I dived in.

In the glass, it gives great colour – deep, dark red. More Hendricks than Gillard.

The legs are long, and the hefty hit of alcohol sends a haze of perfumed dark fruit booming from the glass. It’s as randy as Russell Brand and as big as Ron Jeremy’s hedgehog.

And the drinking is awesome. There’s a palpable punch of smoked berryliciousness to chew on, and it finishes as long and smooth as a supermodel’s pins.

It’s fair to say I was all over this like a catamite on a Catholic priest.

$35 from the cellar door, but the ‘08 is selling about town at the moment for $25. Happy days.

Rating: 8.5
Drink with: Jamie's slow-cooked lamb shoulder
Price: $25-$35
Image from www.grantburgewines.com.au

15 July 2010

Julicher 2008 Pinot Noir and Alana Estate 2008 Pinot Noir

Part II - Martinborough

Be vewy, vewy qwiet. I'm hunting Pinots.

We've jumped the ferry to the North Island and wound our way along the serpentine mountain road from Wellington into what is undoubtedly the most agreeable wine region I've encountered.

The town of Martinborough is all class. A plethora of fine cafes and restaurants. A wonderful Arcadian backdrop. Dinner frolicking in the distant fields. Vines otherwise surrounding the town.

Best of all though is the brilliantly compact set of cellar doors.

No need to risk the booze bus in Martinborough. There are 20 odd vineyards within but a short stroll of the town square.

So, have a chat with the energetic Alex in the Wine Centre. Get the skinny on the best of the bottled stuff. Grab a map. And then get cracking.

Julicher 2008 Pinot Noir

First up is the suggestively named Julicher (it has a soft "j" - like in yogging).

You need to make an appointment. And well you should.

Sitting out on the Te Muna Road, in the company of such illustrious companions as Escarpment and Craggy Range, it is a homely operation that managed to claim the top gong at the Air NZ Wine Awards for its '08 Pinot Noir.

Wim Julicher and Sue Darling welcome you to their kitchen table like old friends and happily share a generous glass with you as they talk enthusiastically, but humbly, through their wines. I tell you, that's good work if you can get it.

The '08 Pinot is simply superb. It is an arrestingly beautiful deep purple. Almost black. Like it has sucked up all of the surrounding light just so it can send it back at you in concentrated flashes and sparks as you twirl it in the glass.

On the nose, it is a capricious combination of earthy spice and sweet chocolately goodness. It's a truly arousing aroma that will play Mozart with your feelings and havoc with your heart.

But, of course, it's the drinking that really counts. And, happily, there is no doubt that this is Pinot Noir at its hedonistic best.

Upfront, it is thuck and rutch; big and delicious and fruity. But it's also wonderfully soft and overflows gently with silken delicacy that lingers pleasingly until you're ready to take your next mouthful.

We were also lucky enough to try the '09. It had only recently been put in the bottle, which meant it was perhaps a little subdued. Mr Julicher is clearly a modest bloke, but I could tell from his subtle grin that he expects it to be every bit as good as the award-winning '08. I suggest you seek it out and buy it up before it sells out.

I managed to drink a lot of spectacular Pinot in Martinborough. The Julicher was far, far and away the best.

Rating: 9.5/10
Drink with: Martinborough Hotel's pie of the day
Price: NZ $40
Buy it in Oz at www.nzwineonline.com.au

Alana Estate 2008 Pinot Noir

We really only visited this cellar door because we had time to kill and someone had told us they put on a free cheese platter with the tasting.

Ominously, we were welcomed at the gate with a sign that threatened: "Shotgun in use".

Sadly, it was no more hospitable in the tasting room. The woman manning the bottles wore a face so sour she may well have just finished sucking a lemon soaked in off milk. She glared furiously and could not be drawn into uttering anything more than a grunt in response to our attempted pleasantries.

Now, I'm willing to be open-minded. Maybe her cat had run away. Maybe Dick Cheney was doing a stint as consultant winemaker and had shot the cat in an unfortunate hunting accident involving the shotgun. Maybe she'd just had a big night sampling the product.


But, here's a tip. If you are going to take the trouble of opening a cellar door (and certainly nobody's holding a shotgun to
your head in that regard), how about engaging people who are at least mildly receptive when customers come to visit?

Anyway, the wine. Most of what was ungraciously splashed into our dirty little tasting glass was remarkably unremarkable. But since I came in search of Pinots, let's go with that.

It was as red as our temporary PM's hair. Which is to say that it was an insipid, rusty, russety orange. Certainly it was not at all the lovely deep purple on offer in nearby vineyards.

It smelt of dirty nappy and digested mushrooms, with perhaps a twist of chop chop chicken served fresh from the can. In the mouth there was a tannic burn reminiscent of urinal cake and lighter fluid.

The only other people in the tasting room were a couple of Yanks who we had earlier noticed walking from vineyard to vineyard. Despite the fact they were on foot, they still spat.

Oh, and there was no cheese platter on offer either. Just a frigid room full of midgie insects, ordinary wine and unpleasant surliness.

Disappointing on all fronts.

Rating: 5/10
Drink with: BYO cheese
Price: $50-$60

24 June 2010

Spy Valley 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and Wither Hills 2008 Taylor River Pinot Noir

I have a theory. New Zealand should just get on with it and become Australia's seventh state.

Helpfully, our Constitution was drafted with sufficient prescience to facilitate just such a development. See
here. And although the issue of compensation isn't specifically addressed, if the Kiwis did place a price on their devolution, we could simply offer to buy them some vowels.

The benefits of amalgamation are obvious. The combined nation of New Australia-land will become an unstoppable force when it comes to rugby. And, possibly, soccer. Plus, it will rectify Australia's current shortfall of blokes with names such as Phull, Rutchie and Keiran.

A further benefit will also be that the price of importing wine from NZ should fall significantly. Currently, it costs more than $120 to ship a case of plonk from Shabangabang to my door, whereas it costs a fifth of that amount for delivery from WA to the eastern seaboard (despite the fact it has to travel almost twice the distance).

That is unfair.

So, until Helen Clark (or whoever succeeded him as Prime Minister) agrees to this sensible union, I shall have to continue booking cheap Pacific Blue flights and skipping through customs with a bagful.

All of which brings me neatly to the point of this week's missive - my recent excursion across the ditch to the Marlborough and Martinborough wine regions (which will be distilled as a two part series).

Part I - Marlborough

Spy Valley 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

We’re here at the end of the harvesting season. The grapes have all been picked and the vines are almost naked. The few leaves that remain are bright red and the landscape glows with a brilliant terracotta radiance in the winter sunshine.

It’s cold. Icy cold. Cold enough to freeze the brass monkeys off the Marlboro man’s horse. Wood-smoke pours from chimneys and it hangs heavy in the air. The aroma invites the drinking of wine, and we do.

Marlborough, of course, is stupendously famous for Sauvignon Blanc. Most of what I try is pretty good. But the best I find is the ‘09 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Spy Valley is named for the Echelon spy base across the road from the winery. The massive white satellite balls sit eccentrically and conspicuously in the rural landscape. It has a special resonance for me because my u
ncle was a spook for British Intelligence and spent many years in this very place listening in on the Chinese and cracking their codes.

The winery itself is a clever construction as well, with it’s name spelt out surreptitiously in Morse code along the side of the building.

The Sauv Blanc shows up early in the extensive tasting line-up and it's a cracker. It’s quite light in colour, but glows temptingly in the glass.

It smells sweetly like a red orange Tiro and I can’t wait to tuck in.

In the mouth, it’s very much in the usual fruity style of Marlborough Sauv Blanc, but it delivers in a lusciously smooth, yet crisp, fashion. It’s a delicious passionfruit mouth-bomb. Zippy. Clean. And I love it.

As many would know, Kiwi Sauv has a reputation for containing notes of cat urine – and this, bizarrely, is considered to be a positive trait. But not for me it isn’t, and happily the Spy Valley winemakers have managed to keep the moggies well away from this brew.

You can pick it up fairly widely around Oz for about $20, and I highly recommend you do.

Rating: 8
Drink with: 007
Price: $20

Wither Hills 2008 Taylor River Pinot Noir

Our next stop was Wither Hills. It’s a name I suspect we will be hearing a lot more of in Australia in the near future. One of the original family-owned wineries of the region, it has joined the Lion Nathan stable and clearly benefitted enormously from the injection of a bit of beer money.

It is far and away the most spectacular of the cellar doors in the region. The winery sits atop a man-made mound of earth that is camouflaged with native grasses and which cleverly houses the impressive above ground/below ground barrel room. Lunch in the restaurant is mandatory.

We were treated to a tour and private tasting with the house sommelier. Happily, it seems my dubious reputation had preceded me and someone other than just my friends and family has read my “quick and dirty” blog.

I love it when a plan comes together.

The pick of the Wither Hills range for me was a Pinot Noir that has not actually been released yet. Currently, they sell a decent - and cheapish - Pinot that is blended from grapes drawn from their various vineyards around the region. But, they are also set to release two single vineyard Pinots later this year that sit in the more premium range. The Taylor River Pinot is one of them.

As you pour, it's immediately obvious that it's going to be a solid little drop. It's very deeply coloured, but glows nicely around the rim of the glass in that lovely way that good Pinot always does.

The nose is an intense explosion of plummy spice and the local woodsmoke. Long legs dance seductively around the glass and give a glimpse of the elegant drinking to follow.

Straight up, it hits you as being pretty big for a Pinot. It gives you a rich mouthful of soft fruit that also warms you nicely on the follow through. It’s meaty and gelatinous like a slow-cooked joint of lamb, but finishes with very agreeable élan and finesse.

Because of it’s size, it really does demand food. We had it with a venison pie (which was incidentally one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten) and it went down as quickly and easily as an actress on Underbelly.

Get involved.

Rating: 8.25
Drink with: Bambi pie
Price: $40 (available in October 2010)

Images from http://www.spyvalleywine.co.nz and http://www.witherhills.co.nz