Friday, September 15, 2006

Rethinking Australians

Len Evans died a few weeks ago. He was a kick-ass champion of Australian wines and other Rabelaisian pursuits. People say he would come up to them, estimate their fitness and thus their longevity, and say something like “You have fourteen years to go, that’s only fifty-one hundred bottles of wine, you have no time to waste on bad wine.” The end of his wine-drinking days turned my thoughts to Australian wines. Years ago, when I did more traveling in food-forsaken parts on the country, I discovered that I could almost always be happier in an Outback Steakhouse than in its Texas-style competitor, not because the meat was any better and certainly not because my cardiologist endorsed the “bloomin’ onion,” but only because the cheap industrial Australian wine they sold was way better than the cheap industrial quality American wine at their competitors. In those days, even the better Australian wines, as it seemed to me, were similarly meant for grilled rich red meat in an uncomplicated hearty way. I heard from time to time from friends who had been to Australia that there was also a world of variety in Australian wines but I found little evidence where I shopped.
More recently, an importer called “The Grateful Palate” has begun to bring in some of these other wines, typically from smaller producers, often with older vines, and invariably with lower yields resulting from less irrigation. Some of them are just arriving at Big Red and I am wowed. One of them is Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay 2004 ($20), which also benefits from the fact that 2004 may have been the best year in South Australia for a long time. This is a chardonnay that spends zero time in oak, so it has no butterscotch or coconut. It just tastes like late summer – cantaloupe and peaches, maybe, with a squirt of citrus. It’s a perfect match for fresh corn, no easy task.
And then for thirty-two dollars, there’s a real eye-opener from Teusner, a 2005 “Joshua,” which is an also-unoaked wine, this time red, from the classic Chateauneuf du Pape blend of Grenache, Mourvedre (they call it Mataro), and Syrah (they call it Shiraz). But this tastes nothing at all like its French counterparts. A beautifully deep red, it tastes of black cherries and spicy herbs, rich but juicy, with a fresh tartness I haven’t previously met in Australian wines. The other day I had it with some beef from the grill, the usual use of an Australian red for me. The wine was good but the match was wrong. So I had some again tonight with some beef braised with juniper berries. The freshness of the wine and the depth of the beef played together well. The perfect match, I think, would be this wine with Dave Tallent’s short ribs. Since I can never cook ribs like his, I can only hope they add a new Australian like this to their list. Anyway, of the 6205 bottles I hope to have coming, there are going to be more Australians than there have been. Peace, Len Evans.