I’ve begun believing that for some reason Australians have a long-held love affair with mediocrity. I mean, England manages to give the world Amy Winehouse, Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox, and all Australia can crank out is Olivia Newton-John, Natalie Imbruglia and Kylie Minogue? Spain gives us Javier Bardém, Italy gives us Roberto Benigni, and Australia hands over Mel Gibson and Paul Hogan? Foster’s Lager is bland, UGG boots are bland, and though Vegemite certainly isn’t bland, it sure as shit isn’t good, either. Other than Bon Scott and perhaps Wolfmother, I’m not sure I want any of Australia’s exports. Take them back…please. Feed them to the kangaroos or the aborigines…whatever. Oh, OK, fine, I’ll take Geoffrey Rush, too, but that’s it.
It’s been a really, really long time since I bothered buying a bottle of Australian wine. Forget trying to make fun of Yellowtail, I’m talking $20, $30 and $40 bottles of wine that go way beyond boring the crap out of me…they just plain suck. I have no doubt that readers will now come out of the woodwork to defend the one-time penal colony and its obscure bottles of “really good stuff” but you’re probably also a closet Andy Gibb lover so can it. Frankly, I’m glad the commercial juggernaut that started to overtake store shelves here in the US is now caught in a mudslide, because that means that all the jackass importers who flooded the market with banal, steroid-infused, syrupy plonk are now on the unemployment line.
So when I received a box of small samples from Old Bridge Cellars, an Australian wine importer based in Napa, I winced. No PR agency warned me these were coming…nobody asked if I wanted the damned samples…nobody, apparently, read this blog to get a gauge for what do and don’t like. But I’m always game for a good enological awakening so I got to tasting, praying like a sinner on her deathbed that I would find some interesting, redeeming wines in the box. I didn’t.
Six wines, six clunkers. Scratch that…a couple of these went beyond being called out as a clunker. They were downright bad. So bad that I couldn’t even finish the one-ounce pour in my glass. The six wines were:
Brokenwood 2007 Shiraz (Hunter Valley) – $36
Innocent Bystander 2007 Shiraz/Viognier (Yarra Valley) – $20
Plantagenet 2007 Estate Shiraz (Great Southern) – $29
Kilikanoon 2006 Covenant Shiraz (Clare Valley) – $40
d’Arenberg 2007 The Laughing Magpie Shiraz/Viognier (McLaren Vale) – $29
John Duval 2007 Entity Shiraz (Barossa Valley) – $40
Picking a “favorite” was about as easy as picking a prom date from the Jersey Shore cast, but the best of the worst was the Innocent Bystander. It was spicy and dark without being overripe or hot. Hilariously enough, it got the lowest ratings of all the wines included (89s from Tanzer and WA). It also spent the least amount of time in oak (12 months) and it was all French oak. The others were all hot, riddled with the heavy hand of oak and utterly mammoth. Again, hilariously enough the one I absolutely detested and couldn’t even finish was the one that garnered the highest scores (93s from Tanzer and WE; 92 from WS)…the John Duval Entity Shiraz. Mind you, these were tasted completely blind. I had no idea which one I had in the glass, what winemaking regiment was involved, what scores it got or what it cost. My notes, verbatim, were “Horrible! Stewed, hot and burnt. Can’t finish the glass!” Then, after seeing the sell sheet on it I added, “This got the most points of the lot? What the fuck?” Not surprisingly it came from the Barossa Valley, and not surprisingly Robert Parker claimed John Duval demonstrated a “brilliant touch” with this wine.
Matt Kramer recently claimed that he saw the future (and redemption) of Australian wine in the Clare Valley. He praised it for being artisanal in stark contrast to its neighboring Barossa Valley, and described its wines as sleek and restrained, though he then of course went ahead and threw up the warning that there are still some “amped-up” reds coming from there as well. I have a lot of respect for Kramer but I’m still staying the hell away from Australia’s offerings because I am well beyond the point of “once bitten, twice shy”. Perhaps they should stick to making surfboards…you know, an idiot savant sort of thing.