The Winos’ Tasting Series: Peppery Thunder from Down Under

By Jesse on April 13, 2008

In continuing a recent trend of sampling wines from importers named after U2 albums (“War Imports” faring only slightly below “Achtung Baby Imports” in a recent blind tasting), this week the Winos turned our attention to five Australian bottles sent to us by the good people at Joshua Tree Imports.

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Several of the samples we received had earned very favorable reviews from Wine Spectator and others, but in order to preserve the integrity of the tasting, I refrained from sharing these accolades with the group until after we’d actually had a chance to taste and evaluate the wines ourselves. One white and four reds awaited judgement as eight Winos assembled in my living room this warm Friday evening.

In the leadoff spot was the 2006 Razor’s Edge “Unwooded” Chardonnay (South Australia). Jessica immediately kicked things off with an emphatic “this smells really good!” Honey and nectar were early descriptors, while Jordan noted a metallic element, “almost like a welding shop.” Erik got dandelions, I got butter, and Max got lemon zest.

When we took a sip, we all got lemon zest. “Y’know how last week we had one that tasted like water with lemon in it?” said Jessica. “This one tastes like lemon with water in it.” Jason agreed, branding it “sour lemonade.” However, universal agreement was achieved on my suggestion that the body was round and smooth, even if the lemon character was more overwhelming than expected. Max enjoyed it — he was scoffing down pizza and said the wine held up well — and when I mentioned the $12 sticker price, about half the room said they’d buy it again. These same people agreed with Wine Spectator’s 88 score; others found the lemon a bit unforgivable.

Next up was the 2005 Rolf Binder “Heinrich” (Barossa Valley), a blend of 55% Shiraz, 30% Mataro, and 15% Grenache. Jason immediately praised the “huge white pepper nose.” Max thought it was gamey, like “venison or something.” Jessica thought it smelled like a delicious tomato sauce, and consensus was shortly reached that a strong oregano character was dominant. This breezed off, revealing a definite jerky character. Jordan perceived pumpernickel, and Jessica got raisins. Overall, a dynamic and fascinating nose, prompting Jason to muse that “I know the body’s gonna be a big letdown.”

Not quite. The spicy character we’d enjoyed on the nose replicated itself doubly on the pal, adding some serious kick to a supple, light mouthfeel. Max got black cherry, and Jessica picked up “paprika or red cayenne pepper.” Erik lamented the weak finish, which he found bitter and not much else, although Jason picked up some vanilla. I noticed the spices really start to subside after some serious swirling, and others also noted that some nice dark fruit was revealing itself with increased aeration. Following this development, the majority concurred with Wine Spectator’s 91 rating, although the $26 price point was on the high end of what most assembled Winos would’ve wanted to pay.

Next we moved on to the 2005 Schubert Estate “Goose-Yard Block” Shiraz (Barossa), whose black tar pigmentation prompted Jessica to posit that “it’s like looking into the depth’s of Satan’s eyes.” Fortunately, the nose didn’t smell like taking a whiff of Satan’s… anything. Rather, we were treated to decadent raspberry and dark chocolate; Max thought it smelled like the raspberry sauce you drizzle on to cheesecake. Noah got burnt coffee bean, while several others suggested ink; Jordan found the nose “too concentrated for me” and had to recuse himself from further commentary. I detected a surprising hint of green pepper, with which Jordan and Jessica agreed. I was also enjoying blueberries and licorice, and we couldn’t wait to taste it.

Well worth the wait… the big palette was wide, lush and opulent. “This is my kind of wine” was uttered by more than one Wino present; huge notes of raspberry, pepper, and baking chocolate melted together on our tongues. Jason thought the wine could’ve used more tannins, but I disagreed — maybe it’s a difference in taste, but this kind of dark fruit mocha-bomb is exactly what I look for in an Australian Shiraz, and I’d imagine that firmer tannins would only get in the way of appreciating the punchy spiciness. Erik enjoyed the wine and suggested an odd food pairing: “buttery fish, like sole or monkfish,” although several others reckoned they’d prefer a serious cut of steak.

Max declared that the Schubert had “the best finish I’ve ever tasted.” Claims were made that the finish was a bit too spicy, but Max disagreed and praised the cedar notes he was enjoying. Jason complimented the “nice evolution in the mouth,” from cherry to raspberry, chocolate to pepper, ending with a long, smooth finish. Jordan found the finish a bit hot, but the 15% alcohol didn’t even register with me; like several others, I was just lost in the length of it all. Finally, I revealed to the assembly that this wine had scored 93 in Tanzer and 95 in Wine Advocate, lofty scores which many present thought were right on; Max felt vindicated and suggested they could’ve fairly gone even higher. The Schubert was the night’s big winner.

Following a tough act was the 2005 Dutschke “St. Jakobi” Shiraz (Barossa Valley). The nose immediately paraded its own 15% alcohol up our nostrils, although the heat shook off with some swirling. In keeping with the evening’s apparent theme, Jason praised the black pepper, while Jessica picked up blackberry and squid ink. I was sniffing some serious blackcurrant; Erik agreed and added vanilla. Jason’s identification of “Coca-Cola” on the nose drew vehement agreement from Doug, who had just arrived and felt a bit wary of offering that rather dubious observation unbidden.

The pal treated me to some nice charcoal and pepper; Max thought it was jammy, and several others enjoyed raisin flavors. “French roast coffee” was thrown out there, and Noah agreed, adding however that there was a hint of bitterness, “like chewing the grinds.” The black pepper was appreciated all around, but reviews went south once we hit the finish. Max and Jordan thought it was “chalky,” like a low-grade dark chocolate. Jessica thought it was a bit of a letdown: “it’s great, and then the finish is like… raspberry Blow-Pops.” Not everyone had objections, however, and general agreement was had that the St. Jakobi was a highly serviceable Australian Shiraz. Again, a steak dinner was craved by all.

Finally, we shifted gears and opened up the 2005 Chapel hill “The Apostle” Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale). The bouquet teased me with green pepper and roasted eggplant; others got cloves. “This nose is horrible,” complained Jason, but Erik disagreed, enjoying the “dried plum” character (and sparking a “dried plums” vs. “prunes” debate).

“It tastes better than it smells,” Max promised us. Jessica recoiled at the “crazy tannins,” but Jason defended tannins he thought were simply “nice and firm.” Cherry was all over the front of the pal, with Jessica importing some of the cloves she’d found on the nose. Noah enjoyed “coffee and dark chocolate” notes; several others had difficulty coaxing much flavor out of the wine (hard to blame their palettes for going to sleep after the two Shiraz monsters), but with a little swirling, the wine opened up well. I had been unable to find a price point on the winery’s website or elsewhere, but the group agreed that $25 would’ve been reasonable for this little number. We broke out some Spanish Iberico, and something about the sheep’s milk cheese brought out an interesting acidity in the Cab which hadn’t shown itself before.

A dynamic tasting overall; several of us are really big on that peppery chocolate motif, and it’s always nice to add some labels to the go-to list. (Word to the wise: when tasting four big Australian reds, don’t plan to do much else that night. Max and I miraculously managed to find our way to the Green Frog about an hour later, but the two pints each we enjoyed were probably a mistake, and the next morning I made it my personal mission to redefine “grumpy.”)

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The tribunal; enjoying the “dried plums/prunes” debate; Max has gotten less snarky since he grew the beard

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The lineup; Jessica can’t possibly drink fast enough; I take wine very seriously, but apparently Jason does not

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

5 Comments »

  1. This “pal” thing has got to stop.

    Sounds like I missed a good tasting though.

    Comment by Andrew Lang — April 14, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  2. I’m apparently a wine-tasting automaton. Nice.

    Comment by Jessica — April 14, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  3. Heard you guys on Tom Leykis. I enjoy wine very much but know zero about it all. I’m going to definitely explore your site here.

    Comment by Evan — April 17, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  4. […] The Winos’ Tasting Series: Peppery Thunder from Down Under […]

    Pingback by Young Winos of LA » The Winos’ Tasting Series: bonus bottles from the Wine & Food Society dinner — April 23, 2008 @ 3:26 am

  5. I laughed my ass off when I learned that Tom L. does a “lifestyle” show. What a turd. You guys sounded great, though, and we’re fans up here in WA.

    Cheers!

    Comment by Josh — May 11, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

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