When one thinks of Australia, it is too easy to recall kangaroos, koalas, Crocodile Dundee and even a Bloomin Onion from The Outback Steakhouse. However, nestled quite nearby the real and very rustic Outback is a spectacular wine region whose gravely, well-draining soil and cooler weather make for robust reds and thrilling whites – clearly an indication that the Aussies know how to tame their Wild West. This month, Inspired Wine Club members’ senses get a trip to the Outback with two wines from a notable down-under winemaker, Plantagenet.
2008 Omrah Pinot Noir
Click your ruby slippers together for this vibrant ruby-colored wine that has all the luscious, earthy pinot spice you long for. A smoky aroma introduces its everpresent kirschness, but alongside other red fruits (strawberry, raspberry, currants). Look for smooth undertones of vanilla, chocolate and even cinnamon as a result of new French oak barrel aging. This is a smooth, even silky wine, but with a full-bodied Australian backbone. Polished tannins and tempered acidity make for a wine that is the perfect sidekick to your favorite steak and braised portabellas.
2009 Plantagenet Great Southern Riesling
Want to sample a bit of the “up and coming?” Then try the clean, crisp taste of a Southern Australian Riesling. Plantagenet serves up a premium quality Riesling with this gorgeous straw-colored specimen. Employing cool processing temperatures and minimal exposure to oxygen, the winemakers are able to preserve fruit character and minimize premature aging. The result is a youthful wine with lively citrus aromas that recall not only the fruit, but its zest, the blossoms and the slatey soil upon which it grows. This crisp, exciting wine joins characteristic old world Riesling flavor with new world freshness that is purported to develop toasty, honeyed characteristics so it can be enjoyed over the next 10-20 years. Taste it at its best alongside your “shrimps on the barby.”
For many a wine lover, a Kirin Ichiban or Sapporo beer is just not the same as a choku or masu of that wonderfully brewed, rice-based Japanese beverage known as sake. Served either warm or chilled, this fermented clear beverage has become popular outside Japan as much as within it.
Interestingly, even though we often refer to sake as “rice wine,” it has far more similarities to the way beer is made (e.g., converting starch to sugar, which ultimately converts into alcohol). The alcohol content, however, generally exceeds both beer and wine, with an average of 18-20 percent.
Premium Japanese sake pairs perfectly with a variety of different foods – not just sushi or Japanese noodles like udon or ramen. It’s great with raw seafood like oysters, but just about any fish or seafood preparation will match up perfectly with ginjo sake – crab cakes, seared ahi tuna, scallops, and poached or grilled salmon. Pork, beef and chicken? Why not! The Japanese eat a lot of meat these days and they wash it down with fuller-bodied and fuller-flavored sake.
Five Facts about Sake
1) To serve hot or cold? Typically, hot sake is a winter drink served in small porcelain or ceramic cups called choku. High-grade sake is not drunk hot because the flavors and aromas will be lost. This masking of flavor is the reason that low-quality sake is generally served hot. The chilled or room-temperature sake is often served in small boxes known as masu.
2) The grade level is at the heart of sake quality. Grade levels are achieved by reaching minimum milling rates (amounts milled away). The more the rice is milled, the closer you get to having kernels with pure starch and the more likely you are to have more fragrant and complex sake. However, the more you mill, the less rice is left over to ferment and thus the higher priced the sake is.
3) After opening a bottle of sake, it is best consumed within two or three hours. It is possible to store in the refrigerator, but it is recommended to finish the sake within two days.
4) In its final bottled form, sake is about 80 percent water, so water composition and quality has a huge impact on the flavor and texture of sake. Traditional, small brewers are always located near a great water source such as deep wells and underground streams which are naturally purified by filtration through nearby mountains over hundreds of years.
5) Sake rice is different than the rice you eat. Premium sake varietals, like Yamada Nishiki, have higher concentrations of starch than other varieties. The starch is also concentrated in the center of the kernel. This rice is very expensive to grow, must be harvested by hand, and is prone to being knocked over and ruined by the annual typhoons.
And, lastly, how does one say “cheers” in Japanese? Kampei.
It is winter in Provence. And that means bone-chilling winds that sweep into the Rhone region and transform an otherwise temperate Mediterranean climate. Instead of running to sit out on a terrace and bask in a sunset, one is more inclined to find a fireplace and hunker down with some crusty baguette, a bowl of rosemary-scented white bean stew, and a full glass of warming French wine. Mistrals are an odd, but necessary part of the climate in Provence with many believing they not only help with vineyard disease resistance, but also impart a little more je ne sais quoi to the terroir that makes wines from this area so spectacular.
So, in honor of mistrals, here are two French wines for Inspired Wine Club members this January – a red from Provence and a white from the Loire Valley. While the Provencal people may only have to retreat indoors for a few days at a time with their winter mistrals, they clearly have the right idea. Warming stews and roasted meats, bread fresh from the oven, and gorgeous wines can change one’s perspective on the biting cold weather here now. Suddenly, the frigid temperatures and frightening wind chill offer us an opportunity to nestle inside, sit back in our cozy environs, and feel warm and comfortable once again.
Lou Bar Rou 2007 Ventoux, Rhone Valley, France
Here is your perfect winter red. Coming from Le Barroux (pronounced, Lou Bar Rou, by the Provencal), this predominantly Grenache red is only deepened in complexity with the addition of 20% Syrah, 5% Carignan and 5% Cinsault grapes. Wine Spectator rated it 88 points, describing it as “dark and winey, with a core of roasted plum and fig fruit, held together with graphite, fig bread and black tea notes and followed by a juicy finish.” Only 1,000 cases were imported, so this is not an easy wine to find. Fully matured tannins balance the richness of ripe black fruits, making it a perfect match for a comforting Sunday roast beef.
Michel Delhommeau 2009 Muscadet “St. Vincent,” Loire Valley, France
Not to be confused with Muscat wines, Muscadet is named for the region they come from, and made from grapes known as Melon de Bourgogne. This is a subtle grape with nuances that hinge on the expertise of the winemakers, and Michel and Nathalie Delhommeau are known for producing some of this region’s highest quality artisanal wine. Sourced from low-yield vines and aged extensively on the lees, which is crucial for producing a flavorful wine, the St. Vincent presents as dry white wine, vibrant with minerality. The nose is fragrant with honeydew, citrus and some tropical fruit. On the palate, it is bright with a high acidity, dominant minerality and a lengthy, ripe and juicy finish. This medium-bodied wine will pair magically with a bouillabaisse, a plate of oysters or your favorite winter seafood dish.