Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Cautionary Tale

Well, we've had a complaint about the paucity of Australian holiday food stories, so while I could tell you all about my Friday night curry at Darbar in Leeds, or my gourmet macaroni cheese, or even my creamy lime tart, I shall instead provide you with a cautionary tale.

My interest in wine took off at university. I moved quickly from the very cheap nasty beer, to the tasty beer and then on to serious business of drinking wine. Given that I grew up in Adelaide, within a stone's throw of McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley and the Clare Valley, I guess that's not surprising.

My friends and I spent long weekends in wine country: tasting a lot of wine, buying as much as student budgets would allow (thank goodness for part time jobs in department stores), and then eating and drinking our way through lots of fantastic food and wine.

And so began my cellar. And once you start a cellar, it grows and grows. You discover wine auctions, you discover excellent wine shops, you read wine magazines and then you start work, so hoarding a few bottles turns into a full scale operation.

All well and good. I'm the type of person who has everything catalogued, I knew when things should be drunk and I knew which wines were special. The main problem here being that almost all wines are special when purchased in the company of good friends on lazy holidays.

And then I came to England, so all my lovely wine has been languishing in my parents' cellar, and pretty much everyone is too terrified to drink it.

This means that every trip home turns into a bit of a mission to drink at least some of the cellar.

It's time to admit that it's not holding up that well, and a lot of good wine is going to waste.

So what did we drink and how did it fare?

Well, first out of the block was really quite a disappointment. It was a 1992 Bethany chardonnay brut (sparkling, from the Barossa Valley - I think I bought it at the winery, which is incredibly pretty). It was an incredible golden (not brown) colour - the depth of which did set off a few alarm bells, which were allayed by a great biscuity-yeasty nose. There was a bit of citrus and honey on the palate but it was very subtle and the wine had lost its depth. If I were being kind I'd say we caught it just in time - not 'just in time to appreciate it' but 'just in time for it not to be completely wrecked'. Sigh.

The next session saw us sit down to a 1996 Kumeu River chardonnary (bought for around $AU45 in a wine shop) and a 1995 Turkey Flat semillon (bought at the winery on one of my very first forays for about $AU10). The Kumeu River was, basically, bloody expensive vinegar. We tried a few tricks with it - decanted it, whisked it and then left it to sit - and then drank it. What a waste.

Interestingly, the much cheaper and slightly older Turkey Flat was actually OK. It was, without a doubt, past it, but it was nowhere near the Kumeu River and was actually quite drinkable.

The next session saw us sit down to a 1994 Leo Buring Leonay riesling - I bought three bottles of this at auction. This restored my faith in cellared wines! A gorgeous flinty, mineral-like nose, sound acid and citrus on the palate - drinking well! On a roll, we moved on to a 1996 Evans & Tate Margaret River Merlot, which was a 26th birthday present. This wine had lost a lot of its fruit but still had a good palate structure and was more than drinkable. Nervous that we were pushing our luck, we opened a 1996 Leasingham Reserve Shiraz - also drinking very well. If you have one of these - drink it now!

Quite a disappointment was a 1994 Orlando St Hugo shiraz (a Christmas present from my grandma - I desperately wanted this to be good), which was a very thin, worn wine.

But two wines which were drinking well were a 1998 Howard Park riesling (a present from a friend), and, most especially a Charles Melton 1994 Nine Popes.

Of all the stories behind my wines, this is probably my favourite. I bought this wine, a whole MAGNUM, at auction. It was mis-listed as a normal bottle, so all the interstate bids cut out very early on. It was one of the first wines in the auction and I knew I had a good chance when I heard other people pointing at it ... and saying ... 'oooo, that's a big bottle'. If my memory serves me correctly, it cost me about $AU45, which would have been just slightly over the odds for a 750mL bottle. We decanted it and drank it with roast pork, sitting in the last bit of sunshine before heading back to the UK.

Maybe now I have finally learnt ... no matter how special a wine, no matter how great (or simple) the story behind its acquisition you need to drink it and not cellar it in awe. A wine which will drink well 5 years after bottling will not necessarily drink well 10 years after - no matter how good your cellar is. Be sensible - drink it after four years. Celebrate small moments with good wines - because nothing will be more heartbreaking than sitting on a wine and waiting for a moment that's special enough ... when that special enough moment arrives you could be celebrating it with vinegar.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

May we all learn from that tale. The solution is to go home more often!

9:05 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you mum!!! :)

12:16 pm  

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