18 May 2011

Yalumba 2004 "The Menzies" Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

An hour after my flight home from London touched down on Saturday morning, I was straight to the track to watch Black Caviar do her thing.

Battling jetlag, but with a drink in hand and my position on the rail safely secured, I settled in to watch the parade of nags and fillies trot by on their way to the ring and the bar respectively. Amongst the nags was none other than our deputy PM, prancing around smugly and inappropriately trying to big up the crowd.

Since he was in an area reserved for VIPs, owners and horses, there was of course much speculation about his presence in the enclosure.

Certainly, he should not have been eligible under the first banner. He’s not even mildly Important, never mind the Very. Some might say he also lacks many of the necessary characteristics required to technically qualify as a Person.

The second alternative was that he had taken the advice of The Australian ("better than bank interest and just as safe") and used the Future Fund to invest in a share of The Caviar (although I concede this option pre-supposes a level of foresight he lacks. It also assumes he can read).

Accordingly, the only sensible conclusion was that he had gained access by virtue of being a horse, or at least the rear-end of one.

In any event, after Caviar had successfully collected the chocolates by a two length margin, old mate “Swanny” was in the thick of the heaving, hooting, high-fiving crowd of great unwashed as they celebrated the 10c return on their $1 wagers by spilling their $7 beers all over themselves. As Charlie Sheen would say, “that is #Winning”.

After being in the presence of this political giant during the day, I decided I needed to elevate matters significantly that evening and cracked a bottle of Yalumba’s 2004 “The Menzies” Cab Sauv with dinner.

A mate had supplied an ’05 on NYE, which was cracking, and I had immediately gone out and sourced a few bottles of it myself (including some older vintages) at good prices.

I’d opened some of the much older ones in February and to be honest they were a bit disappointing/had their day. On that evidence, I’d say it’s probably a max 10 year wine. Pleasingly though, when I pulled the cork on the ’04 it was excellent and every bit as good as I had remembered the ’05.

In the glass, it’s squid-ink black, but still manages to twinkle like a well vajazzled vajayjay.

The nose is a Stockman's Breakfast of black coffee and rolled cigarettes. It hits you with a fistful of fury when first opened, but settles down after it’s taken a stroll around the glass, sucked in some fresh air and had a little time to relax.

I generally find Coonawarra cabernets to be a bit rougher than their Margaret River cousins, but this old boy is as velvet-tonsilled as its namesake.

The drinking is a cabernet chorus line of pretty intense Ribena-berry goodness, softened nicely by a subtle touch of vanillary oak, and ending with a cool fresh-mint finish.

It’s wine to be enjoyed on cold nights with steaks and sausages and stews, and the ever-present promise of a warm, comforting, cabernet cuddle by the end of the meal.

Yalumba, being Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, is both big enough to ensure quality and boutiquey enough to be cool. It also gets right into all that organic, lovey-dovey grape husbandry, moon-dancing stuff which a lot of people seem to like these days.

Get one. And then drink it soon.

Rating: 8.5
Drink with: Black Caviar, obviously
Price: $35-$45

PS I should point out that I am not really that biased against any particular pollies. I just tend to think most of them are as useless as the next.

PPS Except maybe Malcolm.

PPPS And, of course, “The Menzies”.

07 May 2011

Gaja 2004 Barbaresco and Canalicchio Di Sopra 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva

We have just been through Germany and Switzerland. Not much to report in terms of wine.  As winemakers, the Krauts seem to make exceptional beer makers. And the Swiss appear to mainly be a bunch of bankers with a penchant for pocketknives and cuckoo clocks.

Coming over the Alps and into Italia has been a different story though.  We are in Bellagio, on Lake Como, and I have been eating like a peasant every day and drinking like a king every night. This, for me, is perfection.

Let me first say that Bellagio is full of Americans who appear disappointed to have found neither a casino nor a dancing fountain anywhere in this delightful little town. All is not lost for these ignorant ingrates though - they are able to console themselves by telling everyone very loudly that George Clooney lives across the other side of the lake, and, more importantly, that Obama just killed Osama.

Chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" are deplorable at the best of times (second only to Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi), but in this place it seems almost unforgivable.  I want to tell them that it is in fact a self-deprecating parody invented by Homer Simpson, but I fear they would probably not understand and that, if by some miracle they did, it would only encourage them.

That said, amongst the myriad of vertical, cobbled laneways that comprise this incredible little town, I find the cellar of one of the best wine merchants I have ever come across:  Enoteca Principessa.

They have an enomatic machine filled with an enormous selection of the very best Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco. Luigi is ridiculously knowledgable and very friendly. We communicate in his rough English and my pidgin Italian. He declines to charge me for my expensive sessions at the enomatic machine. I like him, and I like his cellar. A lot.

And so I return to visit him everyday at around 7 o'clock, as soon as the twins go to sleep. We taste together for a while and he teaches me about the important Italian grapes and regions. He sorts me out with a good bottle, I stop at the local deli on my way home, and then sit down on my terrace at 9 o'clock to feast on red wine, pink meats and soft cheeses as the sun goes down.

My two favorite wines were (like my last Italian review) from Tuscany and Piedmont, but at completely different ends of the price scale.

The Tuscan was a Canalicchio Di Sopra 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva at €28 ($40).

100% Sangiovese and 200% delicious.

It pours out with deep dark flourish, and gives off a lifted, foresty whiff that sweetens as you swill it in the glass.

The drinking is fantastic, and is the primary reason (as it should be) why I bought a case of it. Not too sweet, not too savoury. It is layered and long and lingers on your lips as you savour it to the last drop.

Yes, it is slightly grippy and not entirely refined. But that is the very thing I like about Italy in general anyway and it gives this wine an authentic sense of place. Luigi tells me it will soften nicely in the next ten years.

I drank it with some crumbly, sharp, hard cheese, and will do so again in 2021.

Rating: 8.75
Drink with: Hard cheeses and wild boar sausage
Price: $40

The second wine was the Gaja 2004 Barbaresco.  Angelo Gaja is the rockstar of Italian plonk, and his wines are priced accordingly.  This one was €180 ($250).

Mr Gaja (variously described as the King of Barbaresco or, simply, God) is credited with introducing French techniques into Italian wine-making. And doing it exceptionally well.

This wine is his flagship and is proudly 100% Nebbiolo.  Luigi tells me (many times) that 2004 was a "very important" year for Italian wine. And it shows.

It positively glows in the glass and sends plumes of truffly, earthy goodness straight up your nostril. And because it's made with bits of real Barbaresco, you can be sure it's good.

The drinking is like sucking down raspberries that have been blended with cream and silk and politicians' promises. There are tannins, but they are well-tamed and polite.

It takes opulence and finesse to entirely new levels.  Luigi says it will last for 50 years, and who am I not to believe him.

The Clonakilla SV was previously my highest rated wine, but no longer.

I visited the winery a couple of days later. It sits amidst steepled pines on vined hills as old as time, and completely dominates the medieval hilltop village of Barbaresco in which it sits.

Gaja doesn't deal with the public, but if you happen to find yourself in Piedmont and manage to blag your way beyond the steel gates (or slip in, as I did, behind the delivery truck...), then I highly recommend the experience. :)

Try though I might, I will never be able to describe the allure of Nebbilolo better than The Man himself:
"Cabernet is to John Wayne, as Nebbiolo is to Marcello Mastroianni. Cabernet has a strong personality, open, easily understood and dominating. If Cabernet were a man, he would do his duty every night in the bedroom, but always in the same way. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, would be the brooding, quiet man in the corner, harder to understand but infinitely more complex."

True dat. True dat.

Rating: 9.91
Drink with: Bella donna
Price: $250