Tag Archives: shiraz

Big brother’s little brother

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.

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Naked ambition

A while ago Naked Wines sent me some wine without me paying for it, and this is the first time I have mentioned these wines. This presents an interesting but not entirely new dilemma – back in the real world I have quite often covered the team I support (their identity remains a loosely-guarded secret, because I’d quite like to do it again) for The Guardian or The Observer. Of course I try not to show my bias but other fans of the same team have criticised me for being over-harsh by way of compensation. Personally I always thought I got the balance about right – though that’s one subject I’m definitely biased about.

Fortunately for my credibility as a serious football journalist, my match reports didn’t have a big “disclaimer: this writer is a fan of one of the competing teams” sign on it – but this is my blog and honesty is important. Anyway, I’m not a fan of Naked Wines and have no interest in praising their wines unnecessarily.

Well, I say I’m not a fan. I do quite like a lot of the things they do. They encourage winemakers to correspond with consumers on their website, which I think small producers should do a lot more of. Their website promotes discussion about and contemplation of wine, two very good things, and a connection with the places it’s produced and the people who produce it. And they have a system vaguely similar to en primeur called “advance bookings”, whereby consumers pay for their wine some time before it arrives, at a considerable discount. I’m not entirely sure how the sums work for this one – they are currently selling six bottles of Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir, a well-rated wine that’s available by the half-case in New Zealand direct from the producer for £92.38, for just £59.16 – but I like them. In fact, I liked that one so much I bought some. So long as the answers are good, the sums can work however they want.

What it means is that the producers clear out their cellars and get lots of money quickly and without risk, Naked Wines don’t have to splash out on storing wines while they find people to buy them, and the people from the recent International Wine Challenge awards didn’t have to look very far to find someone to hand their Innovator of the Year gong to.

Naked Wines also like their wines to be exclusive. But take, for example, the first of their wines that I opened – Brewery Hill reserve shiraz 2008. Brewery Hill doesn’t exist. The wine is in fact made by Chalk Hill, and does very little to hide it, printing their address on the back label. This is not a bad thing, Chalk Hill being a very decent winery, recently awarded a full fair dinkum bonanza five stars in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2011. They’re quite a big organisation, with grapes sprouting all round McLaren Vale, but this wine is available nowhere but at Naked Wines, who get a special thankyou on the label. How similar it is to Chalk Hill’s own-label shiraz, available elsewhere for a fair bit more than this, I don’t know. Naked Wine also sell a couple of Chalk Hill wines with Chalk Hill labels, though there’s no sign of those on Chalk Hill’s own website.

None of which makes any difference to what’s in the bottle, which is good stuff, a big, bold, bright character of a wine, the kind of wine that isn’t shy about having a go at the karaoke. Barossa and McLaren Vale shirazzes tend to be quite outgoing and brassy, so it’s just about whether you like to have a character like that hanging out in your living room. Mrs CF loved it, as do most of NW’s customers, but though it’s an entertaining crowd-pleaser I’m not sure it’s fabulous value (compared with, say, this from the Wine Society). Still, it’s well-made Australian shiraz, full of fruit and oak and velvet and alcohol (14.5%), and probably wearing a bright pink feather boa while watching America’s Next Top Model.

Brewery Hill Reserve Shiraz 2008 costs £11.99 from Naked Wines. More on their other wines to come, possibly without the extravagantly long preamble.