Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ol' Red Ned & Ol' Rog Fed

About six months ago, the Sweet Partner in Crime wanted to start taking tennis lessons. Both of us had batted a ball around before, but neither of us really knew how to hit groundstrokes properly, serve consistently, or use any strategy other than "try not to shank the ball onto the adjoining court."

Along came The Coach, a colleague of the Sweet Partner's, who responded to her request to "give us a few pointers" by setting up weekly lessons, breaking down our bad habits, and giving us the ability to actually keep a rally going. Coach is always good for the pithy gem. On the first day he worked with us, he came out with this:

"You know what the best shot in tennis is? The one that goes over the net. After that, there's a world of possibility. The wind could blow the ball in. You could hit a bird. Your idiot opponent could hit a volley from the baseline. But if it goes in the net, the point's over. Everything goes from there."

As the weeks passed, I realized that I have the natural ability to play "caveman tennis" (not a good thing), learned that moving on a tennis court is like playing basketball defense instead of trying to fill a hole like a linebacker, discovered that I can hit a decent one-handed topspin backhand, and discovered a competitive intensity in the SPinC I'd never seen before. (Note: Hit to her backhand if you play her. One she lines up her forehand, you're toast.)

Obviously, six months isn't enough to turn me into Roger Federer (although I actually have been mistaken in public for Andre Agassi…), but improving has been fun. So, in honor of the Australian Open championships, the Vine features Australian Shiraz. Shiraz, as I've mentioned before, is Australia's most notable wine export. There are any number of inexpensive wines from Australia -- known down under as "plonk" or "red ned." These "pop tart" wines are often interchangeable, and I wanted to move a bit beyond Little Boomey & Yellowtail. We're approaching the Finals, after all.

These very distinctive Australian creations are, like a weak backhand volley, squarely in the Vine's wheelhouse:

d'Arenberg 2004 "The Love Grass" Shiraz -- Love Grass itself is a weed is native to Africa; introduced in Australia as livestock fodder and to stabilize soil. The name comes from its uncanny ability to spread by attaching its seeds to anything that brushes by the stalk, be it animal, vehicle, human, etc. [Insert your other easy spun double entendres here.] The nose is...honestly, I don't know. The SPinC and I puzzled over this one. Leather? Coffee? Mint? Vanilla? We couldn't quite get a handle on it, but it's distinctive and we liked it. It was also, to steal from Sauvignon Blanc, a little "herbaceous." [Again, insert appropriate "grass" comment of your own.] The flavor is big and full of berries, but the finish is a drop volley of tannin across the back of the tongue. This big, herby Shiraz is great on its own, but it blew our doors off accompanied by a little dark chocolate. $12-14.

Pillar Box Red 2006 -- Pillar Boxes are the British Empire's contribution to the mail system. These metal boxes were the forerunner of the modern public drop mailbox. These were used throughout the British Empire in the 1800's. They initially were any number of colours, but eventually (as typical of the English) standardized to red, hence the wine's name. As for the wine itself, in the US, this would be a "meritage" -- a blend of half shiraz, a good portion of cabernet sauvignon, and a dollop of merlot. The results? Impressive. The nose has layers of interesting aromas: cherries, vanilla, and something like a baking cookie. It's a well-balanced wine with plenty of fruit and a nice amount of tannin. The finish is long, a little fruity, and dry. $10-12.

Shoo Fly 2006 "Aussie Salute" -- Another blend. This one is largely Shiraz, about a quarter Grenache, and a splash of Viognier. The "Australian Salute" is the term for waving one's hand in front of the face to flick away the ubiquitous bushfly. The name of the winery and the decals on the bottle pay homage to this Australian native arthropod. It's said that the Australian accent is a product of nose-breathing to avoid inhaling these buggers. Inhale deeply of this wine, however! The natural perfumes of the Viognier amplify the fruit of the Shiraz, bringing you a powerful combination of plums and coffee. The flavor is fascinating. All three of these grapes are featured in Cotes du Rhone -- and the flavor is, as the SPinC put it, "Like a fruity Cotes-du-Rhone without the funk." The finish is somewhat fruitier than a C-d-R, but with similar tannins, allowing it to flex between earthy foods and chocolates. A very nice find. $11-13.



Anonymous said...

My people found a nice Australian shiraz, and they drank the whole bottle the other night:

Midland Park Shiraz, which cost around $10 at Liquor Barn.

Molly Beagle

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. I read it all the time, though this is my first comment. I used your 'wine school' entry on chardonnay as examples at a wine party. It was great! keep writing, i'll keep reading.

The Naked Vine said...

Thanks much for the compliment, and glad that I could help keep your party moving in the right direction!

Plenty more to come this year. Stay tuned!

cbking said...

Couldn't find the 'Love Grass', but I did get the d'Arenberg 'Footbolt' Shiraz and loved it.

(some guy in austin)

The Naked Vine said...

The Footbolt is another tasty option. For fruity shiraz, d'Arenberg will get you a quality product.