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Posted: May 06, 2009

Aussie reds (and a few whites): Straight from the horse’s (ass) mouth

How Australia nurtured its prolific wine culture

Cathie Beck—The Wine Wench

A terribly difficult man who happened to be Australian — and who never had a good thing to say about anyone or anything — was once my boss (he the editor, me the managing editor, of a bowling publication). He eschewed anything American, considered women God’s biggest trip-up — except the phrase he used began with “F” — and thought writers the lowest of bottom feeders.
One day I eavesdropped on his phone conversation and gathered that he was instructing someone at a liquor store on what wines to buy. Being the hard-core bowling investigative reporter I was, I grabbed my pen and pad and began to scribble “Grange,” and “McWilliams” and “Dead Arm.”

It was a wine-tide-turning moment that alerted me to the fact that even Australia has a wine culture. Penfolds Grange, for example, is one of Australia’s most famous wines, winning over 50 gold medals in the same amount of years. Influential wine writers like Robert Parker and Hugh Johnson consider it responsible for some of the best wines in the world.

But Penfolds ain’t the only Australian game in town. D’Arenberg Dead Arm, Henschke Hill of Grace and Torbreck Run Rig are Australian wines that have also garnered international fame — yet, these wines almost never came to be.

The Australian wine industry was crippled for much of the mid-20th century due to aphids or phylloxera, which destroyed much of Australia’s vineyards. During that time, Australian wine production resulted in sweet, fortified wine. However, the Australians rebounded admirably, ramping up their quality and quality of wines and today Australia is a true player in the global wine market.

In fact, Australia hosted the First International Biodynamic Wine Forum in 2004, an event that brings together biodynamic wine producers from around the world. Organic and biodynamic growers continue to enjoy increasing demand for their wines, particularly in the European market.

The bowling magazine editor? I don’t have a clue what happened to him. I imagine he’s off editing Garbage Truck Monthly or the wildly popular Sphincter Muscle e-zine. What I do know is that he is forever and very fondly emblazoned upon my brain as “Assie Red” — the man who turned me on the delights and deliciousness of Australian red wine.


A wonderful friend — a Midwesterner who, one would think would know much about corn and John Deere tractors and such — lived in Australia for a number years and is a Renaissance man in the true sense of the word. He’s now gaga for Australian wine and pays attention to great Australian wines in the $15 range. He highly recommends:

Jacobs Creek Shiraz “Reserve,” Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz or Cab and Billie Shiraz: “These three are good value,” he says, “especially the Jacobs Creek Shiraz — but it must be the Reserve. “Also,” he adds, “the Penfolds Bin 389 is a very nice wine and priced at about $35.”

Sheila Carey — the Grand Dame of All Things Wine — at Argonaut Liquor recommends:

Jester Shiraz, $19.99 and the Pillar Box Red, $11.99: “Both are good,” she says. “And Trevor Jones Chardonnay is a great white.”

Steve at City Wine, the brilliant writer, poet and wine connoisseur, says:

“I think the Australian reds are more distinctive. The wine I like most right now is from Vinaceous — Right Hand Red. It's a Shiraz, Grenache, Tempranillo blend that sells for $26.99.

“Other than that,” he adds, “it's the usual suspects from Terra Barossa, Yangara and Milton Park.”

One (or two!) winning wine tastings

Venue — a Gabby Gourmet Best New Restaurant in Denver pick — will host a wine dinner on May 12 at 6:30 p.m. Located at 3609 W. 32nd Ave. in the Highlands neighborhood, Venue will feature the Kokomo winery, a small California producer known for its outstanding wines.

Chef James Rugile will prepare a five-course feast that includes menu items like halibut, short rib and pork belly. He will pair his presentations with incredible wines that include a carefully chosen Pinot Noir, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Seating is limited and the cost is $70. Call 303.477.0477 for reservations.

Life United Wine Tasting & Silent Auction

On May 16th, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Tavern Lowry, 7401 E. 1st Ave., Denver, will host a wine tasting and silent auction on behalf of LifeUnited, a non-profit charity. The event will benefit area schools.  

LifeUnited focuses on providing educational and health care assistance to impoverished people in Colorado and has partnered with the Denver Public Schools to provide school supplies, computers and equipment for schools which do not have adequate funding to provide quality education to their students. Cost is $45. Call Sean Ryan at 303.771.5845 for further information.

Coming June 12: Fresh white wines for summertime

As our food choices lighten up for the hot summer months, wine choices tend to lighten up as well. Beyond the Riesling and Chardonnays, there’s a plethora of white wines designed to accompany grilled seafood, chilled soups and warm evenings in the backyard.

Chicken, green beans, saffron rice and fruit can be balanced with wines that spring forth the flavors in foods. We’ll look at wines that compliment, rather than overwhelm, the summertime easy wine drinkin’ days.

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Cathie Beck, a/k/a The Wine Wench, can be reached at: Please forward any and all wine events, wine-related news items directly to her.

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