He made, for a very long time, what I unashamedly admit is my favourite wine (the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz).
That was enough for me. But, under his own labels, particularly in the US, he has been elevated to somewhat of a demi-god on the back of perfect 100/100 scores from the kingmaker of wine, Robert Parker Jr, who described his flagship as "...the greatest Shiraz made in Australia".
If you haven't heard of him, it's because the Seppos have stolen him to a large extent. Most of his wine is exported (under a dizzying array of eclectic labels) and generally sold out in smart fashion, with the premium lines being priced into the stratosphere on the secondary market.
Such is his popularity with the Yanks, I partly expected him to be cut in that mould - fat, loud, and possibly toting a handgun.
He was none of these things. He was genuinely interested in what people thought of his wine and talked unpretentiously about it. And while he was down to earth and friendly, I got the impression he'd have been far happier in his vineyard, with dirt under his fingernails and mud on his boots. Which is, of course, exactly the sort of thing you want in a winemaker.
He put on ten stonking reds (quite a few of which retail for over $100) and a tidy platter of Barossan cheeses. I took full advantage of the generous four-finger pours and left nothing on the paddock.
I've written up the best three.
Chris Ringland 2007 CR Barossa Shiraz
One of the cheaper drops on show, but also one of the best. I could have happily stuck a long straw in the bottle and saved them some washing up.
Black as a ditchdigger’s fingernail, and shiny as an accused’s suit.
Smelling this wine made me think of meat. Bovine seared on electric fence. Eating a cherry ripe. Sipping an espresso.
This is really good, solid drinking. Full of ripe fruit and smoky interest. It will make you grow muscles and put hair on your chest. If you’re female, you’ll need to shave afterwards.
I get the feeling this is a wine to be enjoyed young. Just don’t tell the old man from Hey Dad.
You’ll find it at The Wine Emporium in Brisbane if you're quick.
Drink with: Nudge
R Wines 2004 'Evil Incarnate' Barossa Shiraz
One of the pedestal wines of the night. And really, the wines leading up to it were simply jugglers before the burlesque.
Carefully constructed from the fruit of octogenarian vines, then kept on French oak for three years, Mr Ringland has turned out something very special here.
Impenetrably dark in the glass, fumes of alcohol billow from the bowl and greet you with a heady mix of berries and truffly, earthy goodness. You could happily sniff at it for hours.
The drinking is even better. It’s a great big whack of perfectly ripe deliciousness that throws you hard against the wall, and then toys with your tonsils as it sends tingles all the way down to your man plums. It’s butt clenchingly good.
One glass of this was never going to be enough. Unfortunately, standing between me and the pouring table was a woman with teeth like a dead man’s fist and a head like a hippo’s yawn. She greedily clutched at the last remaining bottle and tried to engage anyone who would listen in some high level wine waffle. Her head was so far up her own ass, I'm sure she was tasting each sip twice.
In the end, we feigned interest and distracted her with a couple of cheese crackers as we helped ourselves to the last of the bottle. I love it when a plan comes together.
It’s rare as hen’s teeth, but happily I managed to get one on order. If you’re lucky I’ll save you a drop.
Drink with: a warm fire, a leather couch, and deep pockets
R Wines 2004 'The Wine' Barossa Shiraz
The Anthony Mundine of wine. And much like The Man, it didn't quite live up to the hype for me.
Not that my opinion matters in the slightest. Chris is selling this stuff fist over hand to Uncle Sam. And Mr Parker Jr gives it a frightening 99 points (compared to 94 for the Evil Incarnate). But that’s the thing about wine. One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling.
It’s made from the same grapes as the Incarnate, treated almost identically, but barrelled in slightly different oak. The result gives an interesting insight into the impact the winemaker’s every little decision has on the end result.
It smells wonderful again, but with a more Asian, soy sauce feel. It also seemed much lighter, and slightly tannic.
It’s undoubtedly a great wine, but I preferred the Incarnate. What would I know. I’m obviously a heathen.
The label is cool - although it is so rare, I couldn’t get my hands on a photo. But if I told you Paul Smith’s lawyers will be lining up to claim a share of the profits, that gives you a fairly good clue.
Drink with: Anthony Mundine