Monday, March 10, 2008

In vino veritas

With no end in sight to the extreme and searing temperatures Adelaide is currently experiencing, an outing to one of Australia's best-known wine regions was the deed for the day. So, with temperatures soaring to 40°C yesterday, with some friends, we visited a couple of cellar doors in the Barossa Valley.

The Barossa is only about 70kms north of Adelaide and the valley is well known for its Shiraz. Australia's oldest Shiraz vines still live on in the Barossa from low yielding dry grown bush vines that produce highly concentrated, lush, complex, rich, intense, and full-bodied wines. Albeit that 'Lonely Planet' spill, I certainly am not a wine connoisseur. On occasions that I have to get wine to give as a gift or to serve with food, I usually let the shopkeeper at the nearest bottleshop be my sherpa. But having stayed at a residential college run by Jesuit priests who also established Sevenhill, one of the oldest existing wineries in Clare Valley, being served wine during high table dinners was a regular occasion that I have acquired a particular liking for a certain wine variety.

Though surrounded with friends who love the red wine varieties and extol their virtues, my palate has yet to mature to develop the appreciation for reds. I am partial to whites - Riesling and Pinot Grigio, particularly the sweet ones. My favourites are Gewürztraminer (Sevenhill, Clare Valley), Select Late Harvest Riesling (Bethany Wines, Barossa Valley) and Wrattonbully Botrytis Viognier (Yalumba, Barossa Valley).

After the tasting, I picked up a couple of whites which I think I will enjoy: Torbreck's 2007Woodcutter's Semillon and Rockford's 2007 White Frontignac. Giving in to caprice, I also got a bottle of red: Torbreck's 2005 The Steading (which is a blend of the three of the traditional Barossa Valley grape varieties: Grenache, Mataro or Mourvedre and Shiraz).

Torbreck Barossa Valley

How to do wine tasting without sounding like a dolt (as seen at BNET):
Pour out a little into each glass — they shouldn’t be any more than one-third full, otherwise you could spill the wine when you swirl. Note your impressions of each of the following:

Look. Hold your glass up to the light. What color is the wine? Is it light red, deep purple, or somewhere in the middle? Is there some brown mixed in? Now swirl the wine a bit in the glass. Does it leave thick or thin streaks on the inside of the glass? Those streaks are the oft-described “legs”; thicker legs mean the wine has more alcohol.

Smell. Tilt the glass, stick your nose in it as far as you can without getting wet, and take a deep breath. What does the wine smell like? Aromas that typically occur in wines include:
Veggies and grass
Fresh dirt (actually a good smell)

Taste. Take a sip of the wine and swirl it around in your mouth a bit (don’t overdo it — you’re not gargling with Scope). What does it taste like? You’ll notice that many of the aromas that you found while sniffing the wine are repeated as flavors when you taste it. But you’ll also discover these basic qualities:
Sweetness versus dryness. In the beverage world, “dry” means a lack of sweetness. Dry beverages include mineral water and vodka; a sweet beverage would be Pepsi-Cola. Don’t confuse sweetness with “fruitiness.”
Fruitiness. Your wine may have hints of various fruits, such as citrus fruits, melons, pears, apples, cherries, berries, and/or jelly or jam.
Acidity. Does the wine make your mouth pucker? If so, its acidity is probably high, which helps the wine pair better with foods.
Tannin. Gives a “raspy” feel in your mouth, like you get after drinking cranberry juice. Tannic wines often pair well with heavy foods such as beef.
Body. Does the wine feel heavy, medium heavy, or light in your mouth?
Finish. A wine will taste differently after swallowing than it did when it first hit your tongue. How long these flavors linger will help you tell whether the wine’s finish, or aftertaste, is short, medium, or long.

Do this ritual (look, smell, taste) when you start on your first bottle of wine or when you move from one bottle to another — not every time you take a sip.

Read more: Tasting Wine, Australian White Wines, Australian Red Wines.

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