Wine / To be Frank, it’s all about the blend

FRANK Arnold goes by the title of the “Mayor of Manuka”. To say the least, he is a distinctive character.

Richard Calver.

From the balcony of what he fondly referred to as the Spanish hacienda on the corner of Furneaux and Bougainville Streets, which housed his graphic design studio and his home, he felt like the master of all he surveyed and he let that be known.

Now in nearby Griffith, Frank remains the opposite of shy. As Robert Greene said: “Do not wait for a coronation; the greatest emperors crown themselves.”

We recently caught up after Frank acted as the auctioneer at the “Colours in Canberra” artists’ exhibition at Regatta Point, where some of Frank’s own works were displayed. He was resplendent in a red velvet suit and carried and entertained the crowd through a warm evening as the sun blasted into the area where the paintings were displayed.

Frank is known for his love of red wine. So I rocked up to dinner, at Bambusa in Manuka (BYO and licensed), with a bottle of Gemtree Vineyards 2013 Uncut Shiraz. This is one of the best value for money wines I have purchased, at around $18-$25. The vines are grown biodynamically in the McLaren Vale.

The wine needs a little air to release an initial astringency. But it has good grip and a long finish with a likeable blackberry aftertaste. And we proceeded to have a very interesting conversation about wine.

Frank was forthright: “Bloody shiraz.”

“You know,” he says, “invariably these days the wines on sale are shiraz.”

Frank Arnold…  “I respect a good blend is a good blend, soft and smooth, my drink du jour.”

So, by and by, Frank ordered a Beelgara The Vines Cabernet Merlot 2015. It was pleasant enough Riverina wine but after the shiraz, for me, it lacked sufficient mouth feel. To be as blunt as my mate Frank, it represented nothing but a non-bumpy journey down my throat.

It is $28 a bottle at Bambusa. I later looked it up and the web search told me that Beelgara is now one of Australia’s top 20 largest wineries. The 2015 The Vines Cabernet Merlot is $99 a dozen from the winery so it is a good quaffer if you enjoy a blend. And there we have it: the wines on sale ain’t necessarily the shiraz varietals.

Frank powered up his critique: “Look, you have to like a smooth finish. What I like is the fact that blended wine takes more skill and it forces the winemaker to consider my tastebuds.

“If I am going to drink shiraz, it’s the wine I prefer to drink after softer cabernet merlot. Because getting the best blend makes it better to drink, like a good Bordeaux, which is a blend. The wine has sufficient body but it’s not gonna knock you off your f….ing chair like some of the shiraz on offer.”

“Agree about skill in blending but Bordeaux has six varieties that are strictly controlled by the appellation… it’s a little different,” I say.

“Look, if the Australian winemaker has the guts to blend I respect the finesse,” Frank says.

“They’re applying art and they are using their gift. In the old days we started with the crappy wine, moved to a good one and then always had port. But you know, these days I respect a good blend is a good blend, soft and smooth, my drink du jour.”

We drank the wine and continued the engaging conversation. As always, the friendship was reinforced. And remember, friendship is like peeing in your pants. Those all around you can see it but only you feel the warmth.

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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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