My first half-hour at the A+ Australian wine tasting basically involved me walking around the then-still-quite-empty rooms, spotting labels familiar from countless fantasy wine splurges. I felt like a lust-filled teenager with a backstage pass to a Girls Aloud concert – this was the kind of stuff I read and dream about, and now was my chance to introduce myself properly.
But at the same time, I had the rest of my life to worry about. It’s all very well deciding that I quite like fantasy wine, but it would be rather more useful to find some more realistic dates. So which of these iconic wines, I wondered, have bargain brethren? Are there cut-price labelmates who share the same fine breeding, but not the elevated valuation?
And the answer, I reported to myself several hours, much shiraz and two rows of freshly-stained teeth later, was yes. And here’s a couple for you:
Clonakilla – The shiraz/viognier (RRP now up to £54.99, though widely available for £15-20 less than that) has been a subject of my vinous fantasies for a couple of years now, and this was my first introduction. Sweet, soft and instantly loveable, it’s certainly a fine wine – but the Hilltops shiraz costs in the region of £15 a bottle and is only fractionally less impressive, and was finer for me than the middle sibling, the O’Riada, at £31.99.
Mount Langi Ghiran – I liked their 2005 Langi shiraz (RRP £40) a bit more than the 2006 (£55), though the latter’s hard edges will be rounded out over time. But their basic shiraz, Billi Billi, is excellent value at £6.99 from Wine Rack (and just a little bit less excellent value at £8.50 from the Wine Society).
Jim Barry – Probably my favourite £10ish wine of the day was the Lodge Hill shiraz from this Clare Valley estate, full of leafiness and pepperiness and disguising well its burly 14.9% alcohol, it’s without doubt the best thing to be found in that temple of mediocrity and disappointment that is the Archway Co-op. I also liked the McRae Wood and Armagh shirazes, both from 2006, but they cost £45 and £89.99 respectively, and aren’t for sale in Archway.
Chateau Tanunda – The Everest, Tanunda’s top wine, comes in a bottle so enormous and weighty that you wonder if it’s a magnum. It’s not for sale here, but costs £100 a bottle from the cellar door, and heaven only knows what it would cost if anyone actually imported the stuff, so horrific would the shipping costs surely be. Presumably it is so named because it would have taken Sir Edmund Hillary three days to hike up it. But for a notional tenner (as you can’t get it either) their Barossa Tower was admirably light on its feet for a 14.5% Barossa monster.
And an exception to prove the rule Good breeding is a reason for optimism when approaching a wine, not for confidence. And to prove it, there’s Tahbilk. Probably best known for their whites, I tried their trio of shirazes and found the basic version (RRP £13.45) totally out of balance at 15% alcohol, while their ESP (£32.50) was worryingly mediocre and also a bit boozy at 14.5%, but the top-of-the-range 1860 Vines shiraz (RRP £85) was just 13% alcohol and correspondingly fresher and more elegant, a huge leap upwards in enjoyability. Don’t bother with their cheapos.