Saturday, August 21, 2004

Good Wine For The Masses

In my very first blog-post regarding wine I made the statement that:, "I do like to avoid the snobbery of assuming low priced wine is always swill...” Well I don’t know that I’ve done a very good job of illustrating that point, since the only three wines I’ve mentioned by name on this blog were: A. inexpensive, and B. swill.

So tonight I’ll turn not only to a single example of good inexpensive wine. I’ll sing the praise of hundreds at once.

If there is one shining star in the firmament of inexpensive yet delicious wine, it has to be Aussie Shiraz. Sure there are great California Cabernets available of similar quality and price. And it’s almost as difficult to find a bad Italian Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as it is challenging to find one retailing for more than ten bucks per bottle.

But three things currently put Aussie Shiraz in its own league:

1. Reliable quality from year to year and across almost all wineries (unlike California Cabernet).
2. It’s universally available wherever you happen to be (unlike Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).
3. The prices aren’t rising despite soaring popularity – instead production is increasing apace (unlike any other wine I can think of on the planet). Australia’s Shiraz-friendly wine region is HUGE (I’m especially keen on the stuff coming out the Barossa Valley lately).

There are other nice things about the stuff as well. It blends well with other grapes. Shiraz-Cabernet and Shiraz-Merlot blends are increasingly common.

It delivers wonderful fruit-forward flavor immediately after bottling. No need to cellar the stuff for years (though certain premium Shiraz bottlings reward this in spades if it trips your trigger).

It’s remarkably food friendly for a full-bodied, high-alcohol content kind of wine. Granted, it doesn’t pair well with broiled walleye in a delicate lemon-caper sauce (no you can’t have the recipe). But whether tossing a few steaks on the grill, ordering a pizza, or dashing a little wine into the spaghetti sauce, with Shiraz you’ve got a food friend.

And as for the good labels? Well here I’m stumped for an unusual reason. I honestly can’t think of a bad one. I can think of a few that stand out as exceptional in the still inexpensive category (Rosemount, Wolff-Blass, anything from Penfolds). But really, what I do a lot of is just buying whatever catches my eye on the shelf, or whatever is on-sale. It’s hard to find one that’s disappointing.

I will say I wish the Aussies would get away from natural cork a bit more quickly. Even fancy/sexy/fashionable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is showing up with screw caps these days, with no appreciable drop off in popularity as a result. Corked wine is evil, and there’s no excuse for cooperating with evil.

Modern science has debunked the fabled advantages of natural cork. Let’s now set about debunking the romantic mystique. The Aussies would be perfect at this, considering the way their Shiraz has debunked the mystique of paying excessive prices for good red wine the world over.

In any case, all praise for the best overall value in the wine world today: Australian Shiraz.

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