Trader Joe’s Block Red

Maker: Unknownwpid-2014-08-20-21.13.54.jpg.jpeg

Grape: Shiraz

Place of origin: Austalia.

ABV: 13%

Price: $10-$12/3 liter box

Appearance: Dark plum with hardly any legs or necklace.

Nose: Alcohol, mixed berry pie, heavy on the blackberries. A touch of oak.

On the plate: Raspberry jam, toasted oak, black pepper.

Finish: Cherry juice, smoldering hardwood.

Parting words: If I were to taste this wine in a blind tasting, it might not fare well. It’s drinkable enough and fares better with food, but it’s not exactly exciting. It has too much bitterness and is simultaneously a hair too tart. The effect is like eating a slightly burnt fruit pie. But it’s cheap. Really cheap. TJ’s Block Red is recommended.

Southern Belle Shiraz

Maker: R Wines (now bankrupt), location ???, Australia

Region: McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia

Grape: Shiraz/Syah

Vintage: 2008

ABV: ??%

Appearance: Very dark purple, nearly black.

Nose: Black currant, concord grape jelly, plum, pecan, nutmeg.

On the palate: Not what I was expecting from a wine with such a typical Shiraz nose. Fairly light. The pecans have come to the fore. Little tannin, but softly sweet like the previous occupant of its barrel. Strawberries, vanilla, black currant, caramel, toffee.

Finish: Sweet and mild. Lingers on the lips like a faint hint of a stolen kiss. Faint barrel notes on the back end.

Parting Words: What makes this wine remarkable is its finish. It is not only finished in a bourbon barrel, but in a barrel out of which had come Pappy Van Winkle 20 y/o bourbon, one of the most expensive and most sought-after bourbons on the market. I had this when it was first released and it was really all over the place. Not a fun drinking experience. Like any true Southern Belle, this wine has aged gracefully. The flavors are much more integrated and she has grown into a refined, sophisticated lady.

Southern Belle is gone from the  store shelves, but bottles can still be found in private cellars if one asks around. A delight from top to luscious bottom, Southern Belle Shiraz is highly recommended.

Thanks to Oscar for cracking his open and getting me a sample.

Review: Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Cabernet Merlot

Maker: Penfold’s, Melbourne, Australia

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (2/3)/Merlot (1/3)

Region: South Australia

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 13.5%

Color: Dark Maroon

Nose: Fruit, a little smoke, bitter chocolate, a bit of wood and tannin

Palate: bitter chocolate, smoke, wood, a little acid, spice

Finish: fairly short, slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so.

Parting Words

No one would mistake this wine for a 1990 Lafite-Rothschild, but it’s a fine, tasty supermarket wine, one of the best, most consistent Aussies.  It represents what Australian reds do best, offer up big, beefy flavors to pair with well with grilled meats and BBQ.  What I look for in a supermarket wine is consistency and bang for the buck.  Penfold’s Koonunga Hill range delivers flavor-wise with plenty of punch.

Now Drinking

McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate Riesling

Grape: Riesling

Region: Southeast Australia

Vintage: 2006

ABV: 12%

Maker: McWilliam’s, ???, Australia (owned by ???)

One of the great aspects of wine is something called terroir.  Basically, this means that the wine reflects, in some way, the place in which it was grown.  The vine takes up different nutrients in the soil, it reacts to the climate and the weather, etc.  This has an impact on the grapes, and thus on the wine.  Certain grape varieties simply grow better in different places, and don’t do well in other places.

Riesling is a grape that was traditionally grown in Germany, Austria and Eastern France, and now has been grown sucessfully in the Northwestern and Northastern U.S. and Southern Canada.  It is late to bud (good in places with late frosts) and does well in moderate climates like those around the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Europe and the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest in North America.

When one thinks of cool, moderate climates, the country of Australia does not come to mind.  Neither does the state of California.  I’ve sampled a couple California Rieslings with the thought that if they’re growing it there, surely it can’t be THAT bad.  Both times I was proved wrong.

When I saw this Australian Riesling in a grocery store bargain bin I thought the same thing.  Sure New South Wales has an average July (winter) high of 60 degrees, and January (summer) high of 95 degrees (compare the same for Strasbourg, France and Traverse City, Michigan), but they wouldn’t grow it or sell it if it wasn’t half bad!

It actually wasn’t half bad.  It was all bad.  When a first opened the bottle it was just kind of dull, and lifeless, like the fruit-flavored water my wife enjoys.  But the longer it sat and the more it opened up, the worse it got.

The nose is remiscent of state park shower stalls: an earthy combo of lake water and dirt with a faint hint of urine.  On the palate it’s weak and limp, like watery lemonade made from artificially flavored powder.  The finish is sharp, with notes of gasoline.

Some of McWilliam’s reds have gotten fairly good reviews online.  Maybe they’re ok, but as for the Riesling, terroir really does matter.  Avoid at all costs or serve to someone you despise.