AUS Fires: Impact, How To Help, Focus on Four Wines with BBQ

As a lifelong Californian, I have experienced my share of fires. Growing up I remember my dad commuting from LA through fires in Malibu, and how scary that was. When I was very little, there was a fire on the hill above our Ventura house, and for the rest of my life when the sun sets at the right angle in the fall, the glint of the sun on the windows of the houses makes me wonder whether a fire is there or not.

In 2017, the Thomas Fire roared through my town taking out 300 homes, and the devastating mudflows in Montecito followed. In 2018, the Woolsey Fire took out a huge swath not far from home , and again in 2019, fire hit close by on South Mountain near Clos des Amis and where my son was at a slumber party, and other fires hit Ventura County too. If you add in the other devastating fires of the past few years — Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Tubbs, Atlas and more — Californians have lost a lot.

But this is nothing compared to what is happening in Australia where over 46 million acres have burned. According to a recent article in the New York Times,

  • The area of 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia is larger than the country of Switzerland.
  • The area of the 2019-2020 fires in Australia is larger than the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
  • If the fires in Australia were in California, they’d cover 1/10 of the state.

In addition to vineyards being burned to the ground, smoke taint threatens the crop in Hunter Valley’s Tyrell, one of the finest in the region according to wine professional and Australian Beck Hopkins who brought the following article to my attention. According to Australian’s Wine Business Magazine, smoke taints 80% of Tyrell’s crop:  

Tyrrell’s says it will have “a severely reduced vintage” this year because of smoke taint. “We have not been directly impacted by fire damage, however the continued presence of smoke in the Hunter Valley since late October 2019 means that many of our vineyards have been affected by smoke taint,” Bruce Tyrrell said.

What’s being done? The Rachael Ray Foundation‘s donation of one million dollars will be divided between  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, while Yellow Tail’s US importer Deutsch has pledge of one million dollars will be split between WWF and the José Andrés World Central Kitchen.

And you can donate too. In addition to the organizations above, consider:

Australian Red Cross: Since July 2019, the Australian Red Cross has aided more than 18,600 people according to its website where you can learn more and donate: redcross.org.au.
 
WIRES: New South Wales-based Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. is Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization. In December 2019, WIRES processed over 20,000 calls with volunteer animal rescuers completed over 3,300 rescues, according to the organization’s website. All animal rescuers are volunteers. Your donations help fund the rescue and care of animals; learn more at wires.org.au
The Adelaide Hills Wine Region has a GoFundMe page and the South Australian Tourism Commission has launched a UK campaign where three UK-based artists have created limited-edition labels for Bird in Hand, Yalumba in the Barossa Valley (see below) and d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale.

If you’re in South Australia, as of Jan 12 and continuing for eight weeks, Barossa’s Two Hands winery is donating tasting room fees.

We will be writing about one of their wines soon as well as three wines from the Margaret River area of Australia, an area that has NOT been hit by fires or smoke taint. The popular tourist destination is experiencing an unusual amount of crowds because so many other areas are so smokey or otherwise under siege or in recovery. Soon, however, the Barossa and Hunter Valley will need the support of tourists, but as a wine buyer, you can support these wineries now and we have four to suggest.

Three South Australia Wines plus One from Neighboring Victoria  

 

Menu

  • Appetizers:
    Beecher’s Marco Polo Cheddar, Langress, Mushroom Brie, Aged Gouda, Pate, Fennel Salami, Genoa Salami
  • Roasted Rosemary, Lemon, Garlic Chicken
  • Easy Cheddar Cheesey Scalloped potatoes (made with mushroom soup!)
  • Brussel sprouts roasted with Speck, fresh cranberries, and squash (so pretty!)

2017 Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria 14.5% SRP $16
sample for my review consideration

Victoria is next to South Australia.

Made by Michel Chapoutier with a braille on the label because of the struggles of a blind friend to know what’s in the bottle. My friend Kathy reads Braille so I had her read the label: “Tournon shiraz red wine Victoria by m. chapoutier.” Because they don’t have a number sign in front of the 2017 vintage, Kathy offers to send them the braille! They might be using something different she says because they are in Australia but without the number sign it has no meaning and reads “j a g.”  But a Braille reader would recognize they forgot the number sign and figure out it must be the vintage.

Color: Medium plus hue, medium plus density; like blackberries or boysenberries with a bright fuchsia rim.

Nose: Funky at first, but it blows off and it’s not present on the palate. Lots of tart fruit, cinnamon, baking spices, blueberry with musky forest floor after a rain and herbal menthol qualities of eucalyptus.

Palate: Medium bodied, baking spice, violets, earthy, garrigue, nice complexity, velvety texture, smooth tannins but nice bite from the acidity, nice finish, tart/sour cherry and cranberry fruit, smooths out quickly, lightly oaked, dry, nice acidity. This a well made affordable wine. Easy to drink and enjoy as a cocktail wine.

Pairing: Light enough to go with ham, turkey, The pepper in the Marco Polo cheese brings out such fruit in the wine. Also great with the aged gouda.

True to form Shriaz loves strong cheeses, great with the blue too, a marriage made in heaven. Put a bit of blue on a grilled steak and you will be so happy.

Fine with a pate, but better with cured meats, with the fennel sausage it brings out the earthy, menthol characteristics in the wine. With the roast veggies, I liked it, Sue felt there was a bit too much salinity when the two came together. Great with the cherries and roast chicken. The berries bounce off the wine nicely.

2017  Henshcke “Henry’s Seven”  Barossa 14.5% alcohol SRP $35
73% shiraz,17%  grenache, 5% mataro, 5% viognier
sample for my review consideration

The next two wines are from the Barossa, located northeast of the port city of Adelaide, and home to some of the world’s oldest producing vines, with some dating back to the 1840’s.  The Barossa Valley has a warm Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers, low humidity, and low rainfall that comes in the winter. These dry, warm conditions are ideal for producing shiraz that’s full flavored and full bodied — and often full of alcohol too!  With two main regions and 14 sub-regions, Barossa provides a diversity of terrior, topography and meso-climates imparting unique characteristics.

The Henry’s Seven standouts as a high quality wine, yet still easily enjoyable and accessible to most consumers because it is so very smooth and filled with fruit.

Read about the losses to Henschke’s vineyards.

Color:  Brick, plum, looks unfined and unfiltered, medium  + density, pale pink or light rose rim

Nose:  Cherry cola, fresh blueberry pie, sulphuric, earthy violets,

Palate: Clear blueberry, with fresh tart plum flesh and skin on the finish. Lots of minerality slate and clay, bentonite clay, the fruit delivers to the side of the palate, and the acidity travels mid palate and lingers for a great long time.

Pairing: Kind of fun with the funky Langres, fabulous with the mushroom brie bringing out a creamy mocha finish when they are together.

Fantastic with the St Agur blue, a definite WOW pairing. I told Sue, “You could become a vegetarian with that cheese and that wine.”

It did not go at all with the aged gouda, too puckery on the palate, and the Marco Polo cheddar that we loved with the other two wines was just alright with this wine. It lost the lovely peppercorn, and became just a cheddar. Sue felt it was good with the pate, but not as fabulous as with the other two wines. I however, really liked it with the pate, also with a piece of mushroom brie on top. Rich crostini, rich cheese, rich pate; the wine breaks through it all leaving your palate satisfied. I liked the scalloped potatoes with the Henry’s Seven the best of the three, because the cheese in the dish worked well bringing out the fruit, the minerals and the complexity of the wine.

These three wines from South Australia as well as three wines from Margaret River which I will write about soon (subscribe!) were all sent as samples in October before the fires began in summer in Australia. The final wine I purchased on sale in the fall thinking it would round out the samples nicely, but we didn’t include it in the lineup the night we did the dinner. Instead, I took it with me on a birthday ski weekend to Mammoth because you gotta love screw tops when you’re staying at an Inn that has a barbecue!

2014 Peter Lehman “Portrait” Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon
sale $20 or $25

While founder Peter Lehman famously said, “When God invented Shiraz, he did so with the Barossa in mind,” this Cabernet Sauvignon shows that it loves the Barossa as well!  Over 140 growers from throughout the Barossa provide the grapes for Peter Lehmann Wines works, with many involved for decades, a testimony to the strong bonds.

Lots of cherry fruit and loads of baking spice for sure on both the nose and the palate, but plenty of backbone too makes this a super easy drinking wine that paired so well with a juicy, rich rib eye steak with sides of organic vegetables — a baked potato and roasted brussels sprouts wrapped in foil– all cooked on the barbecue at Benton Hot Springs.

Remember, more Australian wines to come! Wine from Barossa’s Two Hands and we have three from Margaret River area which HAS NOT been impacted by the fires directly:

  • VASSE FELIX Filius Chard 2017 (Winemaker – Virginia Willcock)
  • HOWARD PARK Miamup Sauvignon Blanc Sem 2016 (Winemaker – Janice McDonald)
  • VINACEOUS  Voodoo Moon Malbec 2017 (organic)

PS Today is Australia Day! Cheers to Australia! You know I have some fine red AUS wine from Barossa in my glass today!

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