A Tale of Two Countries
When I found out I was going to be hosting this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend excursion to the Land Down Under, I knew what wines I wanted to open — a 1998 Brothers in Arms Shiraz from Langhorne Creek in South Australia. Sue was surprised to discover that I had in my stash a bottle of 1998 Shiraz — but even more surprised that I wanted to also open a 2005 bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon –even if it was made by the famous Australian winemaker Chris Ringland.
“There’s a story here,” I told her. “It’s a Tale of Two Countries — and me.
And I’ve been waiting for years to tell it.”
Of course when you have a wine that old there’s a concern that it may not be any good any more. So we had a back-up Shiraz. Fortunately the 1998 Brothers in Arms Shiraz was spectacular so we wrote up our back up Shiraz from Terlato and Chapoutier in the preview post!
So what’s the story?
In 2007, I started blogging on Art Predator — mostly about Burning Man and weekly poetry posts. I had been urged to start by poetry friends Danika Dinsmore and Sophia Kidd. Sophia and I undertook a challenge to write 1000 words a week — could be poetry, could be anything. And Danika pointed out that I might want to use blogging in my college classroom.
So on the night of the time change in November 2007, when my husband fell asleep putting our son to bed, instead of watching the movie we’d rented alone, I checked out blogging platforms. I quickly discovered that while I much preferred WordPress, there was no way to check it out without diving in. So I did — and Art Predator was born as an eclectic site that also bore a strong resemblance to my former newspaper column of the same name where, following Coleridge’s definition of the aesthetic as that which engages the whole soul, I wrote about art, events, music, films, restaurants, basically whatever was engaging my soul at the moment. I kept my part of the challenge with Sophia, easily blogging over a thousand words and more a week and I’ve used blogging as a teaching tool ever since.
During my early days of blogging, I had some viral success with a post about an eclipse that was placed above NASA’s on google for a time, but in general the blog just plugged steadily along.
And then I attended a Grateful Palate Warehouse sale in nearby Oxnard. Following my nose because someone was cooking BACON outside, I found a plethora of wine of all stripes and varieties. I was definitely in over my head as I find;t know where to start. I was trying to stick with a budget of around $100 and was hoping to get a case. That’s where owner Dan Phillips stepped up to help me.
Each wine had a story — and he knew it and was excited to share it. I wasn’t just getting a carefully curated case of wine, but a short story collection — told by the man who had created and edited the volume.
“What do you like?” Dan Phillips asked. “What kind of wine do you drink?”
I admitted that most of my wine came from Trader Joe’s and cost under $10, but that I had worked at the tasting room at Ridge many moons ago.
“That’s okay,” he assured me. “Trader Joe’s has some great wines. So what do you like? Zinfandel?”
Well, yes, in fact I did like Ridge’s Zin. And I liked Adam Tolmach’s Syrah. But what I didn’t know was that I loved Grenache and Mourvedre! Fortunately, Dan convinced me to get a range of wines from various producers, plus a couple whites including a dessert wine, a Lilly Pilly Noble Blend. with several bottles by his favorite winemaker, Chris Ringland who had recently achieved a perfect 100 point score — which I think was the first one for a wine from Australia. One of my favorite wines ever is Ringland’s Theologicum — a 50/50 blend of Grenach and Mourvedre.
This 1998 Brothers in Arms Shiraz is the final bottle from that case of wine selected by Dan Phillips — which at $25 was one of the more expensive wines I purchased that day.
So I started blogging about these wines, and the food and the life events that I paired them with and I got on the Grateful Palate mailing list, I rolled over their catalog, and I religiously attended the warehouse sales, buying favorites, and expanding my knowledge of Australian wine, most of which is produced in the southern part of the country with the majority in South Australia where there diversity in geography and climate means a wide range of wines: “from the cool climate Riesling variety in the Clare Valley wine region to the big, full bodied Shiraz wines of the Barossa Valley” says Wikipedia.
The first vineyards in Australia were planted in 1838 by George Stevenson; one of the more famous names in Australian wine, Penfolds, got going a few years later in 1844 when Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold planted cuttings he brought from southern France.
Australia’s appellation system uses Australian Geographical Indication (AGI), and wines must have 85% of their grapes coming from that geographic origin. Areas are further divided into zones, regions and subregions.
During this time, I got to know wines from the following zones in South Australia — and fell in love with the wines from Barossa, specifically Ebenezer Road, the area preferred by winemaker Chris Ringland:
- Adelaide Hills
- Barossa Valley
- Clare Valley
- Eden Valley
- Langhorne Creek
- McLaren Vale
- Southern Fleurieu
A few cases and a few warehouse sales later, about 10 years ago to this day, I realized that if it was the story of the wine I wanted, I had to get it from Dan’s head. The website was beautiful but I was shocked to see that mostly filler, nonsense Latin, filled the boxes where I wanted to learn more about the wine.
When I asked about it from the person who was assisting me, and told him I was a blogger who wanted to write about the wines, next thing I knew I had an interview with Dan Phillips for a writing job!
We had a great conversation about aesthetics and story telling and we agreed that to sell a wine you needed both– the story of what was in the bottle needed to be matched by the aesthetics on the outside of the bottle, and the story behind the wine needed a home where it could be found. Dan also told me that it was true that most of the stories about the wines were still bottled up in his head– and he needed someone to be able to pour those stories to so that he could focus on other things: a restaurant and tasting room in Adelaide, a partnership with Chris Ringland to make wines under the “R” label, including wines in Napa like the Green Lion pictured above, and more. The Grateful Palate was expanding in multiple directions rapidly and he had no time to do the writing that he once had– the kind of writing that made the Grateful Palate catalogs famous. And that’s where I would come in.
It was a dream come true, so almost 10 years ago to this day, I accepted the job offer and told my dean I was leaving Ventura College for much greener pastures that would include travel Down Under and to attend the first Wine Bloggers Conference.
Unfortunately, what went under was The Grateful Palate as well as the US economy in fall of 2008. A year later, in 2009, little was left of the Grateful Palate.
But I didn’t know that then, 10 years ago this month. It was summer, and I was teaching summer school. My son was in preschool but that was also out for the summer so I asked for a month or so before I started to have some time with my family. I was sent a case of wine to get to know the product, and I drank much of that plus I was encouraged to drink the wine that I had already bought because it would be replaced.
But then the job offer never arrived. And finally it became clear that the job wasn’t going to either. You can imagine my disappointment. I felt like I had been living in a state of optimism, and composed this poem which I made into this spoken word video below. You can read the text of the poem on Art Predator.
In the following years, I have heard some terrible things about the Grateful Palate and Dan, and people who knew the situation said it was a good thing I never started. But it was the push I needed to start my wine blog and to attend my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2008. Read more about what sparked me to be a wine blogger here.
So that’s my story. And that’s why I wanted to taste these two wines because they represent the beginning and the end of The Grateful Palate. I do have one final bottle of wine that I bought from the Grateful Palate — a Montepulicano which we will be opening this for the August 4 edition of Italian Food Wine Travel where the focus is on Italian grapes outside Italy.
As you can well imagine, as someone who thought she’d be living in Adelaide and working for the Grateful Palate for the past 10 years, I am very excited that the Wine Bloggers Conference will be held there in 2019. I sure hope that I will be able to finally get there!
2005 – Green Lion – Cabernet Sauvignon – 14.4% alcohol
made by Australian wine maker Chris Ringland
Color: Deep rich dense dark, purple or plum, burgundy, on the rim there is an orange tone to it.
Nose: Earth, mint and cherry, almost like a Cab Franc nose, Gwen kept saying it was so very green. The bell pepper notes and vegetal components shine through.
Palate: Lots of blue fruit up front, bramble berry, blueberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherry and black walnut, with menthol, earth and minerals. Robust, yet gently mellow. rolls across the tongue with lovely viscosity making your mouth water.
This is another example that when a wine is taken good care of it can shine after years in the cellar. For a wine that retailed for $20, this was an exceptional Napa wine.
Pairing: Loves blue cheese and red meat! Also a winner with mushroom ravioli with olive oil and just a pinch of nasturtium pesto.
1998 – Brothers in Arms – Shiraz – 16.0% alcohol
From the label: “The Adams family at Langhorne Creek on the Fleurieu Peninsula has grown premium quality grapes for craft winemakers since 1891 Five generations hence, brothers Tom and guy have created their won label from the same grapes – Brothers in Arms – recognizing a strong family heritage. A rich flavorsome shiraz from the heartland of the Langhorne Creek region. The Bremier floodplain. Typical of reds from this inner sanctum the wine shows great fruit and oak characters and will live for some years with proper care and cellaring”
Australia’s most famous wine of course is Shiraz and this wine comes from one of the oldest Shiraz Vineyards, Matala in Langhorne Creek. The Adams Family has been growing wine grapes there since 1891, but only started making their own wine in 1998. This was their first vintage.
So as this wine had been cellared for some time, we hoped it would still be worth drinking!
Color: For the age of this wine there are some very vibrant color; it’s not that brown or coral as you’d expect.
Nose: Earth, spice and blue fruit. This is an old wine that is not off, not bad, still holding its own.
Palate: Menthol, mint, eucalyptus — it tastes like it is from Australia. Clove, not peppery, more chai spice over baking spice. Coriander and cardamom, clean spice on the finish.
My mouth is still buzzing with the earthy sage minty enjoyment.
This wine is so delicious, alive and beautiful.
Older wines are time machines that bring you back to a place in time where you first tasted the wine and purchased the wine, and decided to hang on to that wine because it was such a memorable moment. And then when you finally do open that wine 20 years later with trepidation to find that it is actually still an incredible wine is so meaningful. And….. this wine is that. This wine has been incredibly taken care of — until 2011 it was in my grandfather’s cellar and then in mine (not as fancy but still under the house in the barranca where it is nice and cool and pretty even temperatured. Most people do not cellar their wine properly; it makes me nuts to see wine on top of a fridge or on display high on a shelf. At the very least, put it in a closet!
For an older wine this has such beautiful bright red fruit (not sweet fruit) but bright fruit essence with a salinity that makes your mouth water.
Pairing – beautiful with all of our grilled meat, however this wine is so special, you may want to prepare a super extraordinary grilled meat extravaganza with this wine. That this wine has held up so incrediblly well after 20 years is so very special!
Who else explored Australian wine and food from the Barbie with me this month?
J. R. Boynton of Great Big Reds will be pouring “Great Big Reds of Summer: Kreuz, The Boxer, #WinePW”.
David Crowley of Cooking Chat” will be making “Grilled Steak with Garlic Butter and an Aussie Shiraz Blend”.
Lisa Denning of The Wine Chef has “Surf And Turf On The Barbie — Shrimp And Lamb Paired With McGuigan Wines”.
Nicole Ruiz Hudson of Somm’s Table will be “Cooking to the Wine: Dandelion Vineyards Shiraz and a Miso-Soy Strip Loin Feast.”
Wendy Klik’s A Day in the Life on the Farm is “Taking a Second Voyage with Burgers on the Barbie”.