Almanac Wine: Songs of Sparkling Shiraz

 

Just before her weekly massage Catriona Rowntree eyes the camera coquettishly.

The Getaway audience is transfixed. Where’s tonight’s rubdown? Fiji? Ah, lovely.

But it’s about her voice. A voice, some would suggest, belonging to the blissful space between sleep and waking.

Like Catriona in her fluffy bathrobe, sparkling shiraz is also distinctly Australian.

No matter that the rest of the planet views it like a toasted cheese sandwich in India.

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October long weekends. Our throng stayed two hours’ north of Adelaide at the Clare Country Club. We’d observe an annual routine.

Golf. Dinner at Bentley’s hotel. Golf. Watching the SANFL Grand Final in the Watervale pub (another Port flag). Golf. The Magpie and Stump in drowsy Mintaro, where I first heard a publican inquire, “Another cup of tea vicar?”

The Clare Dragon Chinese restaurant where the crankiest person in the world would serve us: Colleen. Every year she’d mutter, “Well I won’t be here next time you visit. This is driving me mad. I can’t stand it.”

And come next October Colleen’d deliver these same lines like a poem. A poem performed by the cantankerous employee of a regional Chinese eatery.

There’d also be a winery tour. One stormy Sunday we coasted into the Wilson Vineyard near Polish Hill River. At the counter, we began our work with Freddie Flintoff gusto.

A single sip. The subterranean purple hue, the mesmerizing flavor, the sassiness. It was dangerous fun. It was a sparkling shiraz. It was called Hippocrene. I was enthralled.

Poets can be fibbers, but I reckon John Keats got it right in “Ode to a Nightingale”

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim

Tellingly, the parents-in-law smuggled a bottle into England for us to share on my birthday. If a Google map showed who was drinking what across Europe, then we were likely the only sparkling shiraz slurpers. I didn’t care.

Hippocrene was an occasion wine. Sometimes it’d be Christmas. Sometimes the occasion would be Sunday. We only ever had two or three bottles a year, so at the easing of the cork there was always frisson.

Like the Greek civilisation from which it inherited its name, one October the cellar door assistant announced that Hippocrene was no more. “Have you any left?” I begged. Out the back were a few bottles of the ’96. We bought half a dozen.

And then it was gone.

*

The Black Chook

This can open the batting at your barbeque. Unlike Watto, it doesn’t plonk down a dumb left pad and get struck plumb. More like Boof, it’s good for a chirpy thirty.

Surprisingly sturdy, it boasts drinkable complexity. And it receives extra points for having the word “chook” in its name.

The Black Chook’s about $18 in Australia, or approaching a hundred bucks and two months’ national service in Singapore.

The Black Queen

A tremendous wine by the late Barossan, Peter Lehmann.

We’d been to Kapunda to climb over and in and on Leo the Train at the Hill Street playground. We’d luncheoned at Masters’ bakery on the main street, helpfully named Main Street. As Dr Evil might say,

Try the sausage rolls. They’re breathtaking.

Heading home I thought I’d surprise the bride with a bottle of sparkling shiraz. So I said to myself, “Self. Why not actually call into Peter Lehmann’s winery on the way through Tanunda?”

Rather than going to a liquor chain this seemed a retro, fun thing to do. Not so much slaughtering a cow because you fancy a hamburger, but more like listening to Revolver on vinyl.

A profound, exotic gargle, the Black Queen is about $40 in Australia, or the price of an inner-city apartment here on the tip of Malaysia.

Andrew Garrett Sparkling Shiraz

Like a glass of agitated Ribena®. You’d be better off with a wine made by Midnight Oil warbler, Peter Garrett.

Andrew Garrett once tried to sue Westpac for- raise your little finger to the corner of your mouth- eleven billion dollars. I’m less chance to drink this again.

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz

Here’s a confession. Langhorne Creek’s an hour south of Adelaide, but it was only three years ago that I first visited. For me, that’s the oenological equal of never having heard 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. The Bridge Hotel serves lunch, and you can sit outside, under the obliging gums, with a Coopers Pale Ale.

It’s parched and dusty, but the vines often enjoy winter flooding from the Bremer River. Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz reminds me of writer and Exeter Hotel inhabiter, Philip White.

When the Advertiser was still a newspaper, he penned a column called Drinks. White once described a wine, I think a Greenock Creek, as being

full of iron and steel, and women and children.

Obviously, this also summarises the Bleasdale.

A snip at $20 for Tony’s Team Australia, or if you’re from the Republic of Singapore, similar coin to a luxury holiday on Koh Samui.

*

Sparkling shiraz is the viticultural Skyhooks. Unheard of in Europe. Never caught on in America. Yet enduringly significant and loved in Australia.

For a certain demographic, both provide a cracking soundtrack to backyard barbies.

As the creator of pastoral poetry, and Deniliquin Ute Muster fan Theocritus said,

Now give me goat and cup.

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Grant Fraser says:

    Bleasdale – the genius of the Potts family. Everlasting favourite.

    Must put in a word for what I am sure is one of jth’s preferred – Black Shiraz from Rockfords. Australia’s classiest and probably the best.

    Encouragement award to a new discovery – Bellbrae Estate’s gnarly Winkipop 2008 sparkling shiraz. More please!

  2. Ah Mickey, this is where we merge as one. United it a uniquely Croweaterly view of the world.
    Your picks are spot on – Bleasedale is the queen of the commercial range, but without getting too pricey Geoff Hardy’s K1 from down around Kangarilla has a dense unctuousness. Peter Rumball from Coonawarra does a fine Sparkling Merlot (catholic variations on a protestant theme). There is one from the Barossa that even comes with a Crown Seal so it resembles Chateau Southwark 1973. I can’t remember the funny Germanic sounding name – I just pull it off the rack most Friday nights.
    My attachment to Sparkling Shiraz (like West Coast) comes from the Avenging Eagle.
    Its the only red wine she will drink. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
    My fave sparkling shiraz escapade was when our exalted leader and PFlynn journeyed to Perth a few years ago for the first round clash between the Cats and Dockers. After helping JTH dispense wit and books on the still delirious Cats fans at a lunch (it must have been 2012 as they were handing the Premiership Cup around as if it had been granted them by Moses – possibly just Gareth Andrews – who bears a striking resemblance).
    I dropped the lads at Subi, where Scarlo proceeded to punch Balla’s lights out (to universal acclaim and a 4 week holiday) and the Cats lost by a goal in a low scoring (surprise surprise) thriller.
    Thinking the boys needed some brightening up, AE and I took them out to dinner at the local BYO trattoria where a bottle of Black Chook was opening the batting (as recommended by your good self). I think it had sat in the dressing room for too long and as soon as the cork released it took off like Rick Darling trying to get off strike. I was drowned. JTH and Flynn were dampened. The Avenging Eagle was in stitches. I emptied a salt shaker over my trousers to soak up the spreading crimson stain.
    Fortunately we had an IM Chappell ’73 in the sheds to come in as a reliable first wicket down, and the rest of the evening never missed a beat.
    Flynn on the couch keeping Shandy the Wonder Dog awake all night with his snoring is a memory I will treasure. Shandy is the gentlest of Labradors, but if Flynn comes back I can sense his Inner Rottweiller..
    Cheers Mickey.

  3. Always start with the best one first (Rockford’s Sparking Shiraz), then as the BAL rises, so the quality of the next bottle (and the next, and the next) can fall.

  4. Mickey, you’re preaching to the converted here. Rockford’s Black Shiraz is quite an experience but it is definitely a special occasion drink.

    Re the Exeter, when my dear father was in his final days, my brothers and I would leave the RAHospital for lunch and head to the Exeter. Great pub grub and one of those quintessentially South Australian wine lists – on the balckboard, with quality wine (inc Rockford’s Basket Press), even though it was half student pub, half writers pub, half city pub. They were powerful moments. Weiner Schnitzel and a good bottle, all as he would have loved.

    Philip White has a way with words.

  5. Thanks men.

    Grant- Rockfords is wonderful, and the property itself on Krondorf Road is beyond beautiful. On an autumnal afternoon….

    Thanks for the tip on the Bellbrae Estate as like many, I’m always after a good tip (horse, music, wine).

    Peter B- that’s a great yarn. The Rumball does go pretty well too. Some mates and I went to the Adelaide Wine show’s tasting years ago, and had a squizz at lots of sparkling shiraz. All fun, but the Fox Creek Vixen is a Watto wine- should do better.

    John- The Exeter is an amazingly versatile pub. It has a vital role in the life of Adelaide. The wine list is astonishing and can seem to be at odds with the often grungy, uni student crowd. I’m sure they still move some product though. Can’t wait to get back there.

    Philip White remains among my favourite writers. Although entirely inappropriate I have used his recount of the Darwin Stubby Drinking competition held at Humpty Doo with older students over the years. It’s brilliant. I loved when he digressed in his weekly column and it was almost a disappointment within a piece when he finally discussed wine. Cheers.

  6. Grant Fraser says:

    Glad you mentioned the Vixen, Mickey. Toasted The Bride with it when spliced in 2002, but cannot help but feel her best years are behind her.

    Am talking about the Vixen, of course…..

    I mean the other Vixen….

    Oh never mind.

  7. One of my favourite topics Mickey. Sparkling Shiraz can get right away from you, but it is a joy in the process.

    The Seppelt Estate Sparling Shirazs are always big and bold and beautiful. They go superbly with Matt Taylor and Chain. Then there is the value for money Rumball out of Coonawarra. Juicy and fruity. Teams up well with the Dandy Warhols or New Order. Coefields up near Rutherglen also produce a cracking sparkling Shiraz. Its so good it would go down well with the Bay City Rollers.

  8. Rabid Dog- thanks. Agree that you start with the best bottles. The opposite of how one-day cricket used to be played: slow beginning, then grandstand finish in the last few overs. Not anymore.

    Grant- there’s a clear theme in the sparkling shiraz world- vixen, chook, Oomoo. Probably expected.

    Dips- thanks. Pairing wine with music is always fun. The Cofields must be amazing to make the Bay city Rollers sound good! Especially as their natural partner is probably Irn-Bru. I reckon jazz trumpeter and vocalist Vince Jones could slot in well too.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Nice piece for Shiraz connoisseurs, Mick, but this all beginning to sound a bit like dago talk to me, with the exception of PB’s Rick Darling analogy .

  10. Luke Reynolds says:

    Love Skyhooks. Love Shiraz. Very little experience with sparkling Shiraz. Keen to give myself a treat (not necessarily slipping into a cinema). Will have a crack at a sparkling Shiraz tomorrow night. Great writing again Mickey.

  11. Now Phil, let’s not get silly at the first mention of Theocritus!

    Luke- thanks fella. I can only speak from experience, but I’ve found sparkling shiraz a daytime refreshment only. Take just after lunch, and apply as required during the afternoon, with Ego Is Not A Dirty Word playing in the background. But I’m happy to be wrong!

  12. Allow me to bring the Joseph sparkling shiraz from Primo Estate in the McLaren into the conversation. I shared a bottle with Mr Belford and others in Freo in December and we agreed we needed either another bottle or less others.

    And, don’t forget that Skyhooks had, post Shirl, a song called Keep the Junk In America. Sung by Bongo, I think, and it was pretty good.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Actually thought that Motorcycle Bitch would be the perfect accompaniment

  14. Thanks Les and Swish. I’ll keep the Primo Estate in mind!

    Straight in a Gay Gay World was, apparently, influenced by their less than terrific experiences in America. Some songs appear to be about bewilderment and others assert an Australian lifestyle. So maybe it is the ultimate sparkling shiraz soundtrack, and would be an anti-hegemonic act.

  15. Nice one Mickey. My Taste for sparkling reds ebbs and flows like the tide. The same as with Coonwarra cab savs – sometimes I love them, sometimes find them too overpowering.

    The best sparkling red we have had lately is Whistler Wines’ Sparkling Merlot. They are in Marananga. We had a great afternoon there on New Years Eve: places for the kids to play; top food; and welcoming hosts. It being SA and all it turned out that the significant other went to primary school with the proprietor.

  16. Mickey Randall says:

    Thanks Dave. In the three years we’ve been in Singapore I reckon I’ve had about three bottles of red. The tropical heat claims victory. So I’m anticipating winter back home for a return to form.

    Of course it’s only as an adult who has often lived a long way from the Barossa that I’ve grown to appreciate it. As a kid it was just the place we went to for footy and cricket. And then the Tanunda drive in.

    I’ll be sure to sample the Whistler! Cheers.

  17. love a sparkling shiraz, although not always easy to get. I buy mine from a farmers market….avonmore I think it is, it’s from the Bendigo region, no song to go with though.

  18. Andrew Fithall says:

    There were some bad wines consumed in our family home in Ballarat in the 1970s. I think the quality was best represented by the Cold Duck which magically appeared each Christmas. My experience consuming Cold Duck has allowed me to continue the tradition of being able to consume wine of questionable quality well into my own adult years.

    Just checked the drinks order for the Almanac crew in the Nursery Carpark on Oaks Day 2014 – 2 bottles of Seppelts Sparkling Shiraz – provided and consumed.

  19. neilbelford says:

    Pattersons Sparkling Shiraz
    Patterson’s Wines – St Werburgh’s Road Mount Barker WA
    There is no equal – you probably have to go there to get it, although I have bought it in the small IGA in Denmark.

  20. Emma Westwood says:

    I love this piece, and I don’t mind a Black Chook myself either. Excellent humour around the exorbitant prices of wine in Asia. Australia is certainly the lucky country when it comes to a good drop at a good price. You need to try Battely Syrah, Mickey? It’s a stunner.

  21. Kate- sparkling shiraz from a farmers’ market? Sounds great. A song will one day present itself.

    Andrew- I missed the Cold Duck experience, and am grateful for this! The Seppelts Sparkling Shiraz is another fine example. Good anywhere, not just a carpark.

    Neil- that’s reason in itself for visiting WA!

    Emma- if the Black Chook were a footballer it would be a “utility.” Battely Syrah also now on my lengthening list!.

    Thanks.

  22. Poofta Bear says:

    Naah…sparkling shiraz tstes like shit……….. but you can drink it.

  23. John Kingsmill says:

    Philip White is a south australian jewel and is alive and well. He’s at drinkster.blogspot.com.

  24. PB- Don’t be like that! It’s not brandy, granted.

    John- thanks. I have a peek at his blog from time to time. Gee, I miss his weekly column though. His departure from the “Tiser was the end. Love seeing him in the Exeter too.

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