The problem with productive wine lunches is that they lead to slightly less productive afternoons. So I write of that lunch and the delicious wines tried an entire week after the fact.I’ve had a few lovely dinners and lunches with the charming Ian Hongell, senior winemaker at Peter Lehmann wines. I first met Ian at the Barossa winery in 2007, when my husband and I travelled down under and toured a number of wineries. Our tour of Peter Lehmann winery stood out due to our immediate connection with Ian. His affability and passion for his wines sunk in and we became big fans of both Ian and the winery. Hard not to – with a line up that ranges from killer deal to cellar-worthy collectible, Peter Lehmann has a focus on quality and affordability.Let’s just say that all the wines I tried from Peter Lehmann are good. Some are more drink-it-now everyday style wine, like the dry Riesling, the Chardonnay and the newest line, Layers. Layers produces both a red and white blend under the label. The white is a definite Australia blend, with Semillon, Australian Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. It’s not sweet, per-se, but it has that ripe, Muscat/Gewurz aroma and flavor. In fact, there are layers of fruit in here! I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys Conundrum or Evolution – it’s fantastic with spicy or salty food. We enjoyed it with some fried green tomatos at One Market – can you say yum? The red is a Rhone blend, with Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache as the lead grapes. It’s smooth and easy-drinking, great fruit and spice blend and a fantastic everyday red.One of the terribly affordable but tastes-like-a-$30-bottle that impressed me was the new vintage and label of Clancys, a uniquely Australian blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. So well-balanced between fruit and structure, and a great wine with food. Hope to have this new vintage – and label – on the site soon!Finally, what we like most about wine- the STORY behind it. The next wine I tried definitely has that. The Eight Songs, a decadent Shiraz full of dark berries and dark chocolate, is named for an operatic piece called The Eight Songs of a Mad King. King George III of Britain, as it is well-known, suffered from demential towards the end of his life. During this time, he apparently wrote songs and played them on his organ. Eight Songs pays tribute to these songs by printing differing sets of the lyrics on each label. The wine is divine, in a word. It’s silky smooth – almost too much so. We tried both the ’05 and ’06 vintages, and while I loved them both, the ’06 stood out with its complexity and layers. Felt like there were 9 songs going on in the glass.So sing a song for King George III with a bottle of Eight Songs. 2006 should be here soon so stay tuned. Cheers!
In 2007 I had the pleasure of visiting the great wine country of Australia. The two things I noticed there: the country is REALLY big and the people are REALLY nice. And I mean genuinely nice.
One of our favorite properties we visited was d'Arenberg. Not only did we enjoy a personal tour with d'Arry himself, but we got to taste some fantastic wines.
One of things that makes d'Arenberg stand out – other than the wild hair and loud shirts of Chester Osborn – are the labels. All the d'Arenberg labels have the signature red stripe that runs diagonal through them, which make them stand out on a shelf. Plus each wine's name has a story behind it. A few of my favorites are:
The Laughing Magpie – this name comes from a story of Chester's little girl. Finding the word kookaburra too difficult to pronounce, she called the bird a laughing magpie instead. Laughing Magpie is a Shiraz+Viognier blend that earns great reviews every year and is a perfect representative of the blend in Australia – usually available for under $25!
Love Grass Shiraz – the flowers on the label make me think Grateful Dead, but the story comes from actual grass that is so sticky, they call it 'love grass' since it is so hard to detach from you. See the picture attached!
The Dead Arm Shiraz – a personal favorite and Wine.com's feature today. Dead Arm is named for the disease that affects the vineyard that Dead Arm grapes come from. The disease is called Eutypa dieback, which is actually a fungus, most often found in older vineyards. Most vineyards are trained with two arms out to the side. What happens with "dead arm" is that one arm of the vine becomes infected, and eventually dies off, leaving the other arm to receive all the vines energy and nutrients. The result is very concentrated grapes, which lead to a very concentrated wine, as you get in d'Arenberg's The Dead Arm. It's dense and jammy, but with layers of delicious fruit and spice. The sweet spice aromas actually remind me of the holidays, which makes it perfect for the season.
Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is, 'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing! In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz. The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France. Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal. Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular. Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines. Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.French SyrahFrench Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône. Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines. Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas. The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre. In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother. Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes. Notable Producers: E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau BeaucastelShiraz
Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region. Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon). These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity. The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines. The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?Notable producers: Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter LehmannMy PicksDelas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar. Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!
Tait The Ball Buster 2007. Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances. Pair with steak or roasted lamb.