Category Archives: Australia

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourv茅dre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 馃檪

And then, I was done. 馃檪

All about Grenache

I think it began when I had the flights of “Back to Earth Reds” at Bin 36 and then the Bitch from Barossa Australia that I noticed how every bottle of Grenache I tried was not only attractively priced, but was pretty amazing in its taste and body with lots of complex flavors.

Consequently, I think it might be time to take a closer look at the grape itself, and pay more attention to the different styles I’ve had.

Grenache 101 from Wine Pros:

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine, sometimes made into a stand-alone varietal, frequently as a ros茅, but most often as a backbone of red blends.

Used as a component in some Northern Rh么ne reds, nearly exclusively for Rh么ne ros茅s and as the primary component in nearly all Southern Rh么ne red blends, Grenache is probably most notable as the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rh么ne and Gigondas. In spite of its fame coming from French wines, Spain is most likely this grape’s origin.

Grenache is known by local names (alicante, carignane rousse) in the Mediterranean regions of France. Particularly important in the areas of the Languedoc and Rousillon, there are also variants with different colored berries: white grenache blanc, and pink grenache rose or grenache gris. Nearly three times as much grenache is planted in Spain as in France. The spanish know this grape and wine as garnacha or garnacha tinta, where it is the dominant red wine variety in Catalonia and prominent in Rioja. The grape is known in Italy as cannonau.

In the New World, Australia has extensive plantings of Grenache and has been very successful making full-bodied Grenache-dominated red blends. Until surpassed by plantings of merlot in the past decade, Grenache was the third most planted red variety in California after Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of this acreage is in the Central Valley and used to produce bulk rather than premium wine.

An abundant producer of fruit, grenache habitually will “alternate” a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next. The vine is very sturdy and woody, lends itself well to head or spur pruning, and survives arid and drought conditions better than less vigorous vines. Cool and damp conditions can cause “deadarm” disease in grenache, however, and its compact and well-filled clusters are quite prone to rot. Grenache is also susceptible to shatter or coulure.

The grenache grape is relatively low in both pigment and malic acid, and oxidizes readily. Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from grenache, particularly in Spain’s Rioja and from some “old vines” plantings in California, it is mostly used to “fill out” red blends and soften harsher partners, such as syrah and carignan.

On its own, grenache makes fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more distinctive and identifyable than any particular aromas or flavors.

Partly due to its commonplace abundance and partly due to its hardiness in warmer climates that are generally considered to grow lesser-quality wines, Grenache has never achieved as much of a premium reputation as other red varietals. The group of California wineries marketing themselves as the Rh么ne Rangers are committed to raising both the quality and profile of this and other lesser-known grape varieties.

Over the weekend, I tasted a couple different Grenache wines: one at The Drawing Room on Friday (whose name I unfortunately did not jot down / cork I forgot to take with me, given our haste to make the movie), and a Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Ch芒teauneuf-du-Pape at Kiki’s on Saturday night. The Domaine de Vieux Lazaret is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourv猫dre (the latter two grapes I should really start paying closer attention to too, since they seem to appear frequently in blends with Grenache), and the wine has some flavors of incense, licorice, and red fruit. Pretty enjoyable, especially when paired with the delicious duck confit, though sadly, by the time we got to the duck, we only had a little wine left in our glasses. We only stuck with a bottle of wine that evening, given that we were attending the DGS event at WineStyles directly after.

What a bitch!

Bitch Barossa Grenache 2004, Australia (~$12)

Usually, I steer clear away of bottles with fancy-pants labels 鈥 and most of the time with good reason. I mean, I鈥檓 Chinese right, and Chinese people know that the best eateries aren鈥檛 the prettily done up ones with mood lighting and nattily dressed wait staff; hole-in-the-wall places give the best bang for your buck. This is why I was skeptical, when, shopping at Sam鈥檚 Wine with Qian and Bruce in tow, the two excitedly jammed the bottle in my face and urged me to get it. They looked so ecstatic at their find, that I didn鈥檛 really have the heart to turn them down. After all, the fun in drinking wine is as much the shared experience of the bottle as the content itself (which is also why, it really sucks to be the only one at a dinner who is drinking).

I brought the bottle to Bruce鈥檚 big 30th birthday dinner last night, and we had many good minutes passing the unopened bottle around the table, laughing at its back label: 鈥淏itch, bitch, bitch, 鈥.and bitch some more.鈥 When we finally opened it, we weren鈥檛 disappointed. At 14.7% alcohol, I had expected a really hot wine, but it turned out to be quite light and lively, with tastes of cherry and milk chocolate. Compared with the somewhat sharp and tart finish of the Estancia Pinot Noir that we also had, the Grenache鈥檚 finish was soft, and rounded. In all, a fun, simple, and easy to drink wine that would make the perfect centerpiece for any lively and engaging dinner.

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The Green Path to Organic Box Wines

Yesterday at Whole Foods, I picked up a聽box of organic box wine from Australia. Since September, the organic-friendly supermarket has started offering the Green Path Shiraz and Chardonnay by Organic One Winery in New South Wales. I was intrigued by the fact that it was an organic wine, and that it was in a box.

While I won鈥檛 get into the discussion on the supposed merits of organic wines in this entry, I would like to state again for the record that I鈥檓 a strong proponent for box wines, even if their quality as it stands currently leaves much to be desired. But, if we can get over our snobbish inclination to keep to the tradition of using corks and convert to screw caps, we should over time be able to accept the still-alien notion of drinking quality wines from boxes. The advantages of box wines are many fold: (1) cheaper; (2) portable; (3) ability to keep for a longer period of time. And demand creates supply. So as wine lovers, we should demand the sale of more 鈥 and higher quality 鈥 box wines. To that end, suppliers have become increasingly amicable to the idea of box wines. In a recent WSJ article, first growth Bordeaux Ch芒teau Lagrange cellar master said in response to the shift towards more exotic packaging, 鈥淣ormally, I am a traditionalist. 鈥 But if it works, why not?鈥

According to Wine Lovers, box wines make up more than one-third of the wines stocked in any Italian supermarkets now. Some of these box wines are packaged in the by now familiar bag-in-box wine package popularized by Australians, but the newest wine receptacles to hit the market are the Tetra Paks. Tetra Paks are soft-sided, flexible cardboard boxes coated with a neutral plastic lining and sealed with a plastic screw cap.

The following is a description of the box design by Wine Lovers:

Lightweight (about 2 1/2 pounds per liter when full of wine, a half-pound less than a 750 ml glass wine bottle holding 25 percent less wine), unbreakable, easy to carry and dispose of, the concept seems made for picnics and travel (although it should be noted that current airline security rules ban liquids from carry-on baggage). The Tetra Pak is also billed as being recyclable, although some Canadian critics have questioned this as a practical matter, as the combination of cardboard and resin requires special handling; empty Tetra Paks can鈥檛 simply be recycled with newsprint and office waste and may end up in landfills.

For traditionalists and wine snobs still grappling with the notion of screwcaps and synthetic artificial corks, the notion of re-inventing a mass-market package customarily used for fruit juice, soup or milk may seem more like a nightmare than a dream.

Indeed, it鈥檚 unlikely that we鈥檒l be seeing high-end, ageworthy wines in Tetra Pak in the foreseeable future if ever; this packaging isn鈥檛 designed for products with a very long shelf life, and its natural market for wine appears to be everyday quaffers, the basic 鈥渟paghetti reds鈥 and 鈥渟ipping whites鈥 meant to be drunk up while they鈥檙e young and fresh.

But from an industry standpoint, that鈥檚 hardly a problem, as inexpensive, everyday wines make up the lion鈥檚 share of the market. In Italy, it鈥檚 reported that Tetra Pak wines already make up one-third of all supermarket wine sales, matching the volume of low-end bottled wines sold there. In Canada, the LCBO blew large quantities of low-cost wine in Tetra Pak off the shelves just about as quickly as it could be packaged.

And even in the U.S., which has been slower to embrace the technology, the amount of wine-shop shelf space devoted to Tetra Pak is growing fast. Among others, 鈥淭hree Thieves,鈥 a California firm that made a splash in recent years with its inexpensive wines in old-fashioned liter jugs (July 31, 2005 30 Second Wine Advisor), rushed to market a couple of years ago with a new Tetra Brik line of California varietal wines dubbed 鈥淏andit.鈥 The French negociant Boisset has joined the cute-animal-label brigade with colorful Tetra Pak containers labeled 鈥淔rench Rabbit.鈥 And U.S. natural-foods leader Whole Foods got into the stampede last month with an organic Australian wine in Tetra Pak called 鈥淕reen Path.鈥

Love the Tetra Pak or hate it, we had might as well get used to it. With the market clearly accepting the concept at least for lower-end wines, the industry has little incentive to turn back, particularly when we consider that a glass bottle and cork adds well over $1 to the cost of every bottle of wine, while Tetra Paks in quantity cost the producer less than 10 cents per unit.

But how about the wine in the package? Two obvious questions arise: Does the container alter the flavor? And just how good is the wine?

Based on a couple of preliminary tastings that I undertook to check whether more extensive 鈥渂lind鈥 comparative tastings would be justified, my initial response is a cautious, slight positive: The Tetra Pak doesn鈥檛 seem to impart bad or 鈥渙ff鈥 flavors, at least assuming that the wine is fresh. Based on this limited sample, though, the wines – consistent with the mass-market standard for box wines and jug wines – are simple, clean but not memorable, barely rising to the level that would appeal to most 鈥渨ine geeks鈥 except perhaps for a picnic or casual party.

Green Path Shiraz from Organic One鈥檚 Billabong Vineyard in Jerilderie, New South Wales, Australia

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My thoughts: I first took a sip when I was still saut茅ing my bratwursts, and immediately grimaced. It was harsh, and sourish, and I felt quite disappointed. Had I just spent $10 on a liter of wine I was going to use as cooking wine? I still had a whole box of old wine I was using for that purpose right then. Later on though, after I was done cooking my pasta, I tentatively took a couple more sips. I don鈥檛 know whether it had been mellowed down by the air or the food, but this time the wine tasted much more palatable 鈥 jammy, plumy fruit with a pleasant sweet finish. Not much of a nose, but I was distracted by my pasta anyway.

Thoughts from Wine Lovers Page:

Made with organically grown grapes and packaged in Tetra Pak for Whole Foods markets, this is a clear, dark cherry-red. Plumy fruit and aromatic oak with overtones of caramel. Mouth-filling and ripe, forward red fruit and oaky vanilla, a hint of sweetness well balanced by appropriate fresh-fruit acidity. Simple, quaffable; similar to pop-style Australian Shiraz in traditional bottles at the same low-end price point. It might not be my favorite style of wine, but I can鈥檛 see any evidence that the Tetra Pak is any less effective a container than glass, and it certainly boasts the advantages of lightweight portability, with a small extra point for the possibility of squeezing out most of the air before closing the plastic screw cap. Decent quaff with the bold flavors of Cuban-style arroz con pollo. U.S. importer: The Country Vintner Inc., Oilville, Va. (Sept. 7, 2007)