I’ve been told that in Australia, winemaker Chris Ringland is famous like a rock star, something like Wolfgang Puck, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robert Mondavi all rolled up into one.
Now that I’ve had a few of Ringland’s wines which I picked up from the Grateful Palate warehouse sale, I am starting to understand why: they’re rich, juicy, eminently drinkable and enjoyable with or without food, unpretentious, wines you can sink your teeth and heart into. I was first impressed by theologicum, which Ringland made with winemakers Bruce and Johnstone back in 2001. As the bottle says, “this unholy trinity” fuses Mourvedre (the sinner) with Grenache (the saint). I broke open my first bottle the night I found out my friend Jeff Burroughs died as he was both saint and sinner many times over.
One thing I am noticing about these Australian wines is they (again like Jeff aka Thing) are not afraid to be BIG–in all ways you can imagine. The 2001 theologicum, for example, is 15.5 % (alcohol by volume).
I cut my teeth on “big” wines; when I was in my 20s, I worked for Ridge Vineyards in the tasting room high above Cupertino (home of Apple). Back then, Ridge was one of the few wineries making zinfandels and making them as big as they needed to be: 13%, 14% and even one memorable 16% (memorable because I quickly learned not to sample too much of it while I was working!)
One of Ridge’s owners explained to me that wines are taxed by their alcohol content. The higher the alcohol, the higher the tax, and that tax couldn’t necessarily be reflected in the price. That was why most wines in California were 12%, 12.5% at most, to avoid additional taxation. Winemaker Paul Draper and the owners at Ridge cared more about the wine–if the alcohol content ended up high because of the sweetness and juiciness of the grapes, so be it.
The danger of wines with a high alcohol content, however, is they often taste “hot”– too much like alcohol, unbalanced. The flavor, the complexity, the life of the wine gets lost to the tongue and the nose; maybe the brain gets lost too quickly too.
But this is not the case in these Australian wines, at least the wines I have been exploring recently, like this Chris Ringland 2006 Ebenezer Shiraz from Barossa Valley (15.8%) which we had last night when we BBQd tritip steak at the beach just north of Malibu with our friends Myr and Charles. Following a bottle of Paringa sparkling shiraz with appetizers, we opened the Big Boy.
The bottle is a BIG boy–it stands a good 1-2″ above the rest, with a deep punt, graceful, tapered sides and Chris Ringland’s name in red script dancing up the bottle toward the easy-opening screw top with a red CR emblazened on it (as in “see our” wines??); a delicate pink CR on the front is crossed by the name of the wine, Ebenezer Shiraz 2006. (Was this grape a tightwad with its riches before Chris worked it over??)
The Ebenezer Shiraz really is a spectacular bottle–and the wine stands up to it, far surpassing the majesty of the bottle. Wow.
Maybe it was the sunset, the dolphins, the company, the scallops wrapped in bacon, the corn…or maybe it was that this wine is downright scrumptious, delectable–rich, full bodied, like dark dark chocolate coating dried blueberries but not sweet, maybe more like blackberries…and the liquid, so dark in the glass, almost black in color. It was perfect. I kept saying “wow.” Not much else was said as we guzzled and galumphed our way through the meal and the wine, which was gone too quickly! (sigh) I think I need to try it again (when I’m not competing for the bottle!) For less than $20, this amazing wine is affordable. Drink it now or cellar it for up to 12 years (giving you a bottle a year to look forward to!)
HINT: Drink this red wine slightly chilled–not cold (not cold!), but cellar temperature–cool, 50s-low 60s. Too often in restaurants we are served “room temperature” wine; I have to ask them to chill it so that it isn’t too hot. Red wine served at a room temperature of 70-75 degrees is not cellar temperature. Big wines like this one may taste ugly, alcoholic, overripe. Since we were camping at the beach, when I took it out of the cellar, I kept it in a cool dark place with a small frozen water bottle which was about melted when I brought the wine out.
Do your palate a favor this summer–keep your (wine) cool!
My next challenge: how long will I be able to wait before I drink the bottle of Ringland’s Green Lion that I put away in the cellar?