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