Wine / The big larrikin meets a sissy aristocrat

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IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For here are two very worthwhile wines each so different, so distinctive. Sitting in a friend’s new apartment at the Kingston Foreshore, looking at the glint of lights at the edge of the lake, I am asked: which do you prefer?

Richard Calver.

Frankly, I would just like to continue looking at the view and enjoying a taste of both but c’est la vie; pretension brings its own rewards.

The first is an Aussie larrikin. The second a descendant of an eighteenth century French aristocrat. I like big punch-in-the-face Aussie shiraz. I also like subtle, soft Bordeaux wines that are generally a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. In “Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare gives Dogberry the line “comparisons are odorous”. I think he was barking up the wrong tree. But here goes.

The first is a Rick Burge, of Burge Family Winemakers, Barossa shiraz. The tongue-in-cheek name he gives to the 2010 vintage is a Shyrahz. He calls it a Mangalanga. The tasting notes on the rear label (that he has printed upside down to trick the drunkards) show the winemaker’s frustration with stereotypical winespeak and the hyperbole that seems to abound when wine is being described:

An ultra-super-uber-mega-premium red (OMFG) vintaged from cool and warm climate Shyrahz growing in the high altitude Mangalanga sub-region near Warpoo, in the southern Barossa. A potential, multi-award winner, being both iconic and artisanal, due to maximum intervention in our Triodynamic (in conversion) wine garden.

The label also proclaims that the wine is “dolphin safe”.

After reading that description, you are just dumbfounded about what to say about the wine. First, it is complex. It is a cigar-box, heady, high-alcohol (14 per cent) red of unique flavour.

It is drinking well now although my host for the night thought that it was teetering on the edge of the downward slope. I reckon it will be good drinking for the next 2-5 years.

The wine complemented the strong flavours of the home-made pizzas that were served and the wine would have gone well with a cheroot. Alas, the days of sucking on cigars on a frosty Canberran evening are long gone, partly as a result of the political correctness that Rick Burge is having a crack at and partly because of those crushing tobacco headaches the next day.

The Bordeaux contrasted in a world of ways. The label tells us it is made by Chateau Lanessan, vintage 1999. The words Haut-Medoc then follow. This expresses that the wine comes from the Medoc along the Gironde river, one of the most famous parts of Bordeaux that became wine-making regions from the 17th century when the Dutch drained the salt marshes in an attempt to create an area that would serve the burgeoning British wine market. And it has in spades. The words “Haut-Medoc” also follow an appellation, a sign of quality control: that the wine really is from the region shown.

The wine didn’t offer a lot on the nose, just a hint of strawberry. It was smooth and clean but nowhere as long in the finish as the larrikin Aussie. It was as if all of the fighting qualities in the blend had been knocked out, albeit the wine is not dogged by faults. It is a bit of a sissy. Contrast that with what Halliday and Johnson in “The Art and Science of Wine” say: “Few wine-lovers anywhere dispute the proposition that the greatest full-bodied red wines of all are those of Bordeaux, and above all of the Haut-Medoc. “

It’s enough to give you the crepes.


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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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