Wine column no. 37: Give those Aussies a try

Mention Australia and inevitably someone will bring up koalas. Or kangaroos. Or that fabulous Hollywood creation, Mick Dundee.
But wine? That's not on a lot of people's minds when they consider the sixth-largest country by total area. And it's too bad it isn't, because two wines from South Australia definitely deserve to be
The first is the 2009 Jacob's Creek Reserve Riesling, which we found at The Fresh Market for about $13. Yes, The Fresh Market now sells wine, and many of the bottles on its shelves aren't found elsewhere in the Tri-state (that we've noticed, at least). That's good for us and it's good for you, too, since the number of grape nuts in this area just continues to rise.
Now, this white isn't for you Moscato lovers, meaning you won't get many residual sugars here. Instead, think very dry, crisp and light, though some citrus flavors were able to sneak through. Personally, it wasn't my preferred style of Riesling, since I can tolerate some sweetness. But Greg was all over this one, and he said he'd definitely get it again. This bottle containing 12 percent alcohol would go well with seafood. In fact, it'd be a great wine to drink under the stars in this summer heat, since it's also rather refreshing.
This is what world-renowned Master of Wine Jancis Robinson had to say about this vintage that she expects will cellar well:
"The great thing about the Reserve Riesling 2009 is that although it is dry, it is also lip-smackingly juicy on the mid palate – not one of these dry wines that seems to suck the saliva out of your mouth," she said.
Robinson added that South Australia is quite known for its dry Rieslings, and to think -- it all started when a German immigrant planted the first commercial vineyard on the banks of Jacob's Creek in
the Barossa Valley in 1847.
Johann Gramp was a Bavarian who missed drinking the wines of his homeland, so "instead of changing his habits, he decided to start growing grapes and attempt to make the wine himself," according to www.jacobscreek.us. "It was a way of adapting to a new country, but still staying true to his character."
Those grapes liked their new home, too. More than 160 years later, the company Gramp started with his wife became a family business that is now owned by Pernod Ricard USA, a spirits and wine company.
But there's another way to sell wine, and that's through the use of negociants. A negociant is essentially a person or firm that sells and ships wine as a wholesaler, according to The New Wine Lover's Companion by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst.
That made finding information about the 2006 SlipStream blend of 72 percent Shiraz and 28 percent Grenache a bit difficult, as this wine doesn't come from any one estate. Instead, this McLaren Vale creation, according to http://spiritofwine.blogspot.com, was made by three well-known winemakers: Ben Riggs, Reid Bosward and Stephen Pannell.
They all make wines for wineries that are imported by Epicurian Wines, which was founded by Benjamin Hammerschlag. An American, he worked as a wine buyer for a grocery store in Seattle before he became a full-time wine importer, and his philosophy is essentially this: Find complex, balanced wines from Australia, and make them affordable. Hammerschlag's done just that with the SlipStream, which came in at about $19.99 at Vecchio's Italian Market and Delicatessen in Newburgh, Ind. But take note, because from the start, this 14.5 percent alcohol blend was immediately acidic. We remedied the acidity by pouring the wine into our glasses through an aerator, and that made a big difference. For one thing, adding air to the wine smoothed it out, so it wasn't as biting to the tongue, and the acidity that was left just seemed to brighten the overall red fruit flavors. The aerator also enhanced the raspberry nose. This Shiraz/Grenache blend was a solid pairing with some grilled chicken breasts we had marinated in lemon juice, garlic, basil, paprika, oregano and salt, too. We'd have no problem getting this one again. Shiraz, meanwhile, is one of the most well-known red wines coming out of the McLaren Vale in Australia. Grenache is planted there, too, and the two blended together make the SlipStream quite tasty. So the next time someone brings up Australia, mix it up by talking about some of the country's fabulous wines. Everyone knows about the koalas and kangaroos; it's the wine that really deserves a mention.


Wine column no. 36: Merlot can be a star

Merlot: It's famous, it's easy to find, and yet we've managed to write around it for almost a year. Why? Well, we're still trying to figure that out.
This versatile red wine grape doesn't have the heavy handed seriousness of a Cabernet Sauvignon. It's not prickly and difficult like many Pinot Noir. And it's less rough, less rustic, than the Malbec we've often tended to come across.
And yet still, Merlot has remained a supporting cast member on the stage that is our column. Want a tasty, smooth Meritage? Well, Merlot's likely one of the ingredients that'll make it wonderful. Want
something that will go well -- and yet know enough not to overshadow -- that high-maintenance, well-marbled Delmonico steak? Then think of Merlot, the wingman's grape.
But that all stops now, because we've found two Merlot that have wrestled our taste buds to the ground. Both are from Sonoma County in California, too.
The first is actually 97 percent Merlot. The rest of what's labeled as the 2008 Simi Merlot contains 2 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 percent Malbec. We found this on sale at Schnucks on North Green River Road for $14.49, and it gave us cherry, cedar and mocha notes in return. Lighter than we expected, its strength was its flavor. We had this with steak, too, and it did not disappoint. Especially in these steamy, rather oppressive summer months, lighter Merlot like this Simi can really make an impact, especially if you're wanting a red but don't want to have to deal with something overwhelmingly robust. 13.5 percent alcohol.
Then there's the 2009 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Merlot, which also came in at 13.5 percent alcohol. This roughly $22 purchase at Winetree started out slightly acidic but quickly turned soft and
elegant in the mouth. It had a fruity nose and tasted of menthol, red fruit and some cedar. We paired this with some chorizo-and-rice stuffed peppers that Greg prepared from scratch, since he's quite the
urban gardener (jalepeno and other hot peppers are his specialty).
This is a really good well-rounded wine in terms of its flavors, textures and nose, and we wouldn't hesitate to get it again.
What's interesting about Simi Winery and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates is that they've both, at some point, had the same winemaker. Steve Reeder is now the general manager and vice-president of Winemaking at Simi, but before he started there, he was appointed the head winemaker at Kendall-Jackson. Reeder's also got a partnership with musician Dave Matthews (the pair produce Dreaming Tree Wines, which we've written about before), so it's clear that Reeder is a man with a lot of
connections in the wine-making industry.
His connection to Simi, though, is more recent. After all, this is a company that was created by Italian immigrant Giuseppe Simi after he made his fortune during the California Gold Rush in 1849. It was in 1876 that Giuseppe and his brother Pietro produced their first wines under the Simi name, according to www.simiwinery.com. The company continued under the leadership of Giuseppe's daughter, Isabelle, in 1904, who sold all vineyard holdings in 1920 after the implementation of Prohibition. When the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, 500,000 cellared Simi bottles were immediately ready for sale. The next year, the company built a tasting room fashioned from a 25,000 gallon cask.
These days, Simi is owned by Constellation Brands, a conglomerate that owns companies producing more than 100 wines, beers and spirts.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, however, has remained family owned ever since its first bottling of Chardonnay in 1982. Founded by Jess Jackson and his first wife, Jane Kendall, the Jackson Family now owns 14 other wine companies in the United States, as well as one each in France, Italy, Australia and Chile. Jackson, who died in 2011, made millions as a land-use attorney in San Francisco before starting his own wine company. In fact, according to www.kj.com, he also created
his own California distribution company "to remain free of industry consolidation," and he was a leader in the sustainable farming movement within the wine industry. In 2009, Jackson was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame.
Meawhile, those who are just looking for a tasty bottle of Merlot without the accompanying history lesson can't go wrong with these two Sonoma County creations. So plunk those dollars down and take a chance on something that millions have already found to be a reliable grape for the price, because Merlot is no longer just a wingman. It can be a star.

2007 Andrew Rich Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Tart

july 8, 2012: i bought this andrew rich at vecchio's italian market for about $35 last week, and i was really excited about pairing it with salmon. but then greg got some form of food poisoning, off of what he thought was possibly fish, a couple of days before, so i figured fish probably wasn't a wise choice for dinner. so instead, i made a mustard chicken, thinking that red burgandy (pinot noir) is usually a good match with mustard dishes. that would be true in france, especially since this recipe called for dijon mustard. here it is: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Mustard-Chicken-1862 and we used two different types of mustard (to be found in the accompanying photo). i liked this dish, which was very mustardy, and so did greg. but the pinot was too tart for me. given his recent illness, greg's been sensitive to acidity, and right away, he said this oregonian was too acidic for him. i didn't get the acidity, since to me, it was quite smooth. it's just that it didn't have enough flavor and wasn't lively enough for me. 13.1 percent alcohol.