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Reports Of Australian Wine’s Death Hath Been Greatly Exaggerated, My Lords

Vinted on December 15, 2011 under crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine books

Australian wine has become the red-headed stepchild of the fine wine world. But the ginger brat is still alive and kicking, people.

I can hear the Aussie wine biz calling out from the cart, like the old man in the “Bring Out Your Dead” skit of Monty Python’s Holy Grail: “I’m not dead!… I think I’ll go for a walk… I feel haaaapy!!!”

[ Editor's note: speaking of Python, anyone remember their old "Aussie Table Wine" bit, based on the idea that fine wine being made in a place like Australia was so laughable that it could be used as premise for a comedy skit? Who's laughing now? ]

The general zeitgeist of the wine cognoscenti (at least lately) is that Aussie wine (particularly the much-maligned Shiraz) consists of overly-dense, brutish, syrupy, overblown, Port-without-the-charm and generally overpriced vino on the high end, and sugary, soda-pop-wannabe plonk on the low end.

Like most myths, Aussie wine’s death is based in some semblance of truth – but I am growing increasingly convinced that it is exactly that: a myth. Why? Because increasingly I am running into Aussie wines that are anything but plonk, and are a far cry from charmless saccharine plum-sauce.

Sure, Australia pumps out plonky, low-end crap by the Brobdingnag-esque tank-load (literally) – but name me one major wine-producing country that doesn’t do that. As for the high-end, the gems – the wines that truly speak of place and do have charm to spare – well, they are there, you just have to know where to look for them (just as you have to do in every other wine-producing card-carrying U.N. member country).

So what happened? Why are consumers and critics alike turning away from Aussie wine faster than a wombat would turn away after catching a whiff of a stark-raving-mad and starving dingo on the hunt? According to some, the stigma for Aussie wine is mostly Robert Parker’s fault; or, rather, the culpability rests with an industry that got too greedy and built production – and prices – up too fast after Parker anointed a few heady styles of Aussie low-production reds with near-perfect scores while at the apex of his influence in the 1990s. That’s the premise behind Campbell Mattinson’s excellent Thin Skins: Why The French Hate Australian Wine

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Stag Party (A Deeper Dive Into SLD Cab)

Vinted on December 1, 2011 under kick-ass wines, wine review

For all my travels to the greater Napa area, my experience with Napa’s venerable Stags Leap District hasn’t exactly been trophy-mounting-24-point-buck caliber. In fact, it’s been quite doe-like – I’ve tasted a good number of high-end wines from the area, and visited a few its producers, but aside from a stop at Chimney Rock earlier this year for some barrel sampling I’ve had few real in-depth experiences with SLD wines.

So, some of you will have noticed that the twitter mini-review feed has been… well… leaping with SLD reviews over the past several days, as I made my murky way through the sample pool and scoured the SLD samples I had on hand to share some of them with you (virtually, that is). While I am planning on visiting the area early in 2012 for potentially more in-depth, behind-the-barrels coverage, I thought it would be interesting to see how some of notable SLD wines stacked up against one another, and put to the test over a couple of days each (along with some dinner fare), and share the results with you.  And it should be fun, I think, provided that you don’t mind references to KISS albums, or pornographic tasting notes, that is (those will make more sense in a minute).

After the jump you’ll find some recommendations from said twitter feed, along with two kick-ass, badge-worthy SLD cabs from the bunch that particularly stood out for me.  And standing out was difficult among this bunch, but not exactly for all the right reasons…

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Tasting 40 Years Of A Tawny Port Icon

Vinted on November 10, 2011 under crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine books, wine review

“Billy C. is drinking Sandeman Port down at the old café
And the river goes by slowly, the river likes it that way.”

- The Knuckleball Suite, Peter Mulvey

In the world of wine, there are a few images that stand the test of time and can truly be described as iconic, instantly conjuring up the history not just of a long-standing producer, but also of the entire region that producer calls home. And when you’re iconic in the world of wine, with its long historical perspective… well, then you’re just f*cking iconic, period.

In America, we have such an icon: the Missionary-style tower at Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley has come to represent not only the history of fine winemaking at RMW, but the entire modern history of fine winemaking in all of Napa (and by extension all of the U.S.), by virtue of the man who just about singlehandedly started it all.

The world of Port in Portugal has such an icon, too: The Don – that tall, dark-cloaked stranger that stands so prominently on the Gaia side of the river Douro (and who’s a lot more Zoro than creepy-flasher), is instantly recognizable to anyone walking along the shoreline in Porto. George Massiot Brown’s poster design from the 1920s has come to represent not only the 200+ years of Port-producing history that began with Scotsman George Sandeman – to many, it represents Port, period.

So when you’re offered samples of the icon’s range of age-designated Tawny Ports (from 10 to 40 years old) for possible review, you think twice about turning them down. In fact, in that scenario, as a wine geek you really have only two options: 1) decline the samples, or 2) plan on staging a comparative tasting and pairing them with Apple, Cranberry & Walnut Pie with Stilton (from page 208 of Sid Goldstein’s excellent The Wine Lover’s Cookbook).

You can guess which option I picked…

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Reverse Cowboy Psychology: Christian Tietje Cracks The Mourvedre Code At Paso’s Cypher Winery

Vinted on October 27, 2011 under crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

Spending an hour of so over lunch with Cypher Winery’s self-proclaimed “Winemaker, Troublemaker, and Firestarter” Christian Tietje is a bit like experiencing a small vinous indoor dust devil. In the wake of this whirling dervish of a man, you are left with remnants of well-crafted comfort food, open bottles and empty, stained glasses strewn about, and a lingering sense of bewilderment at the bold (some might say egotistical) pronouncements such as “yeah man, this is totally gonna be a 95, 96-point wine when the press gets a hold of it.”

Yeah, man – and this article is totally gonna win me some James Beard awards, you know, after they judges all wise up and stuff.

My whirlwind tour through Christian’s wines took place last week at Paso Robles’ Farmstand 46, a restaurant partnership between Tom Fundaro and the owners of Four Vines WineryChristian is probably best-known as the principal winemaker behind Four Vines’ high-octane, high-scoring releases. But his new venture, Cypher, has Tietje stretching out a bit and – dare we say it – maturing.  Certainly the single varietal Cypher bottlings have a lot of promise, which you’d probably expect from a talented winemaking team – but what you might not expect is that they also display a good deal of craftsmanship and… restraint

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