Wine Reviews: Red ShowDownUnder

13 06 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

FullSizeRender-646I first got seriously into wine about 10 years ago, when the Australia Phenomenon was in its heyday and Argentinian Malbec was just a glint in some clever investor’s eye in Mendoza.  Yellow Tail Shiraz was my gateway drug, a fact that is assuredly true of more than one of you currently reading this as well.  Looking back now on the Australian wine scene then, there are still tons of similarities.  Critter wines, like it or not, are still a thing. On the quality pinnacle, the high-end wines from Down Under rocking people’s worlds in 2017 aren’t that different from those doing so in 2007.  But I’ve noticed a couple clear differences in the imports from Australia that have evolved over the last decade:  first, a welcome explosion of site-driven elegance from the cooler areas of the country, be it Pinot from Yarra or Mornington or bubbles from Tasmania or the laser purity of some of the post-modern wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills.  Second, a new focus on bottles like the ones below, step-up bottlings, a shade above entry-level in price and a world above the critters in authenticity and quality.  The $20-$30 tier of wines has never had stronger representation on our shelves from Australia than it does currently, as more and more producers zone in on these bottles as the best way to build a lasting relationship of trust with consumers as opposed to an $11 fling.

So what better way to celebrate how far Australia has come as a mature wine producer, and how far I’ve come in my 10 years of Yellow Tail-catalyzed oenophilia, than by lining up two step-up bottles, each from highly respected multi-generational family wineries and legendary regions, and tasting them side-by-side?  It’s not about picking a winner — the mere fact that the exercise is possible is a win in and of itself — but I’m sure that won’t stop Jim Barry and Yalumba from exerting full effort in this battle of reds under screwcap.  Let the showdown from Down Under begin. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: 2012 Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz

5 04 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Serious, serious Shiraz.

I decided to have a good start to the week.  I usually hew to the age-old rule of opening nice stuff on weekends but sticking to the cheaper end of the cellar on Monday, but yesterday I said to hell with it:  forget convention, I’m opening something fun.  This led me to the upper echelon of my sample rack, and to one of the better Australian Shirazes I’ve ever had, Jim Barry’s The McRae Wood.  Excellent Monday decision.

Jim Barry’s wines are no stranger to this blog – I’ve reviewed his highly impressive entry-level Cab and Shiraz and his mind-blowing, Grange-challenging top-end Shiraz The Armagh.  This bottle is closer to the latter than the former, a reserve-level Shiraz clocking in at around $60 and often known as The Armagh’s little brother.  Jim Barry is based out of the Clare Valley in South Australia, an elevated and cooler-climate region due north of Adelaide and just northwest of Big Shiraz Mecca, the Barossa Valley.  Clare is best known as Riesling country and is about as stylistically different from the Barossa as you can get by travelling 100 km or so, producing leaner, less ripe and more elegant wines and rethinking what it means to be an Aussie Shiraz as a result.  The McRae Wood Shiraz is sourced from a special single vineyard in the Clare Valley, a 70-acre plot of land that Jim Barry purchased from his neighbour Duncan McRae Wood in 1964 to plant his very first Shiraz vineyard.  This eponymous bottling honouring the initial owner of the land was first released in 1992, making this the 20th anniversary vintage of The McRae Wood. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Jim Barry Value Red Showdown

13 01 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

I'm not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right?  Totally something thematic there.

I’m not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right? Totally something thematic there.

Australian wine is in sort of a weird place right now.  I first got into wine during the Great Shiraz Rush just over a decade ago, when critter wines ran rampant and the overtly ripe, sweet, boozy style and approachable branding of big-name Aussie Shiraz rolled over the global wine scene like a tsunami, spawning copycats galore and creating ripples that are only now just starting to settle.  The behemoth brands at the front of this wave are mostly still around today, and their bold, fruity, slightly concocted style certainly retains its share of popularity with casual drinkers, but the world has moved on to other phenomena and the scene in Australia seems caught in aftermath phase, not wanting to totally abandon what brought it to global prominence but understanding that its long-term prosperity is likely tied to being something more than liquor store filler.  The country is taking steps to avoid being a one-hit wonder, surprisingly churning out some of the best Riesling you’ve never tried, finding cooler pockets for Pinot Noir and (especially in Tasmania) sparkling wine, using its plentitude of remarkably old vines to its advantage, and dialling its Shiraz back a notch or two while still keeping it lush and appealing to New World palates.  It is also finding stronger and more quality-focused expressions of its value wines which are less industrial commodities and more genuine expressions of grape and place.  This is where Jim Barry comes in.

This family-owned producer is now run by second-generation executive winemaker Peter Barry, the son of eponymous founder Jim, who was the first qualified winemaker in South Australia’s Clare Valley, where the winery is based.  Its tailored lineup of wines runs the gamut from dynamite supermarket bargains (see below) to one of Australia’s very best and priciest bottles, The Armagh Shiraz (as experienced by me in one of my favourite tastings ever).  I was first converted to the Jim Barry cause a few years ago when I bought the Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon on a whim because of its circus-tent striping on the neck foil and the cricket player on the main label and was wowed by what I found inside.  I could be wrong, but by its participation in the JB value red duel below, I believe Cover Drive becomes the very first wine in PnP history to be reviewed in three separate vintages, following its write-ups here and here.  Can it hold off a spirited challenge from its neck-striped brother, the Lodge Hill Shiraz?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Longview Showdown: 2010 Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon vs. 2010 Yakka Shiraz

18 03 2014

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

This is the kind of tasting opportunity that wine geeks drool over:  two bottles from the same producer (Longview), same region (Adelaide Hills in Australia), same vintage (2010) and same single vineyard (the aptly named Longview Vineyard), made using the same winemaking techniques (fermentation on skins, 18-20 months aging in French oak), differing only by their grape variety, Cab vs. Shiraz.  The Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon was named after a treacherous hairpin turn in the windy road leading up the hills into Longview Vineyard; the Yakka Shiraz was named after a spiny prehistoric-looking plant that grows in it.  Both red offerings epitomize the New Australia now being unveiled to the wine world:  many recent efforts from Down Under try to sell themselves as a counterpoint to the stereotypical blowsy Aussie fruit bombs of years past, but these wines from Longview take that philosophy absolutely to the hilt, offering up balanced, restrained, nuanced flavours and a take on each grape that is dripping with Old World influence.  The similarities between the two reds are plentiful, but when poured side by side, the differences slowly emerge. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Wine Men of Gotham Shiraz Grenache

7 11 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Cartoon Aussie label looks can be deceiving.

Don’t worry — this won’t be the wine you think it is.  After living through over a decade of mass-produced, hugely ripe, straight-ahead, destined-for-export cheap wines coming out of Australia bearing tongue-in-cheek labels laden with any number of hand-drawn creatures, we can all be forgiven for looking at any sub-$15 Aussie red with a cartoon label with a touch of skepticism.  While I think the country as a whole often gets unfairly typecast by virtue of the overwhelming response that Yellow Tail and its brethren received when they burst onto the international market, it’s probably fair to say that most inexpensive Shiraz still tends to follow this formula…after all, why mess with success, especially the economic tidal wave of success that these wines continue to enjoy?  But this bottle does exactly that, delivering a wine that is light years from what your taste buds are expecting of a Shiraz Grenache from Down Under and trampling on some prejudices while it’s at it.

The first hint that Wine Men of Gotham’s Shiraz blend might be different from most is its alcohol level:  at 13%, it’s a good 1.5% to 2% lower than the standard modern Shiraz from Australia.  This is particularly unusual/impressive because (1) the regions where the wine’s grapes originate (Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Riverland, although the label bears the catch-all “South Eastern Australia” name due to this multi-zone viticultural collaboration — SE Australia is an area that spans most of the grape-growing land in the country outside of the West Coast) generally tend to have warmer-than-average climates, which encourages faster sugar ripening and thus higher-alcohol wines, and (2) Grenache grapes are known for producing wines with heightened alcohol levels, especially in hotter climates.  It’s near impossible to produce a big, goopy, jammy Shiraz Grenache at 13% alcohol, which suggests that the Wine Men had something else up their sleeves for this bottle. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 19 Crimes Shiraz Durif

19 09 2012

Looks like a Deadwood episode, tastes a fair bit better.

I’ve seen this bottle in every wine store I’ve been in over the past couple of months, so I presume it’s attracted some critical mass of popularity and is doing well for itself.  I didn’t buy it for that reason, however, or because of its admittedly compelling bottle frosting and showstopper labelling.  I bought it because I felt sure that the makeup of this red blend was some sort of elaborate winemaker’s pun.  19 Crimes is a mixture of Shiraz and Durif.  Shiraz, as I discussed in my last review, is the same grape as Syrah.  Durif also has a more commonly known alias; in North America and elsewhere, it’s usually called Petite Sirah.  So this wine is actually a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend…Syrahs of all sizes?  Not quite.  Petite Sirah is not a type or class of Syrah but a stand-alone grape variety…and while we’re at it, nothing about it is petite at all once it hits the glass:  its diminutive first name refers to the size of its grapes on the vine rather than its flavours or structure.  Since Petite Sirah’s grapes are smaller, this creates a larger ratio of skins to juice, and since the skins are where a red wine’s colour and tannin resides, this makes most Petite Sirahs deep, thick, opaque and massive.  But still not Syrahs.  Who said learning about wine was hard? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Prospect Winery Red Willow Shiraz

13 09 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

They (thankfully) don’t make inexpensive Canadian wine like they used to.

Another day, another foray into the once-nebulous-and-terrifying world of inexpensive Canadian wine.  My connotations of this corner of the market harken back to my university days in Victoria a decade ago, when my roommate and I would stop by the nearest government-run liquor store to pick up a $17 magnum of something local and atrocious before having friends over for drinks.  I have only recently started to get over the stigma that built up in my brain due to the bad-wine headaches that ensued from those bottles, and I remain a touch leery whenever I see a bottle from BC or Ontario that dips below the $20 mark.  Thankfully for me, I recently received a vinous intervention in the form of a half-case sample of wines from the Okanagan’s Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery, all of which clock in under the $20 threshold, and one of which particularly intrigued me:  this bottle of 2009 Red Willow Shiraz. Read the rest of this entry »