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Sweet solace and a thief in the night


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I have a vested interest to declare here: Douglas Neal is a good Geelong-based winemaking friend who personally presented these wines at my table, helped me through a night of grief over the sudden death in Brisbane of my dear friend, the wine critic Jeremy Pringle, then presented me with my honorary valence, or wine thief, for taking samples from barrel.

Doug sells beautiful Sirugue French oak barrels. I don’t need barrels, but a valence is a different matter. I’ve never had my own personal valence before. So consider me on the take. And watch your barrels!

Beechworth Star Lane Vineyard Quattro Vitigni 2012
$28; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points

Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot and Shiraz makes the Quattro. It’s a moody, midnight sort of a drink in search of the Kinda Blue Miles Davis. It has a very pretty blueberry and blackcurrant waft, like the perfume of a black satin evening dress I once helped a clever person from. It’s sufficiently overt for me to recall that crunchy, abrasive sound of grosgrain. So that’s a very encouraging start. It’s lithe and slick and satiny of texture, too: more satin than silk. And it’s black of flavour, not red or purple. It’s on that crossover point where sinister mystery becomes satisfying reassurance.

The tannins are velvety, not to stretch the fabric metaphor too hard. So it’s blended after the “super” Tuscan style, at a fraction of their price. And it’ll give many of those arrogant, loftily spendish aristocrats a proper run for their money.

It’s slender enough to handle veal without overwhelming it, but if, like the writer, you’re more along the lines of your aged ox, an osso bucco wouldn’t kill it either. In fact, it’s athletic enough to kill the ox if proper restraint isn’t shown.

Hildegard Beechworth Shiraz 2012
$45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points             

My goodness. This is the sort of Shiraz that Beechworth can do like no other region. It’s plush and heady and swoony to sniff. It smells like a wine with many more alcohols. But it doesn’t burn. So you get a hint at the luxurious wallow to come.

The best Beechworth Shiraz (think Castagna) seems to have a sweet wave of meadow pasture, with that lush floral rush decorating the sweet buffalo grass aroma below (think the juicy herbal breeze of ?ubrówka vodka, without the grain spirit). In a difficult-to-comprehend manner, these sweet country smells are more buttery than green, but this is a colourblind synaesthete talking. Put it inside you, and it’s silky and luxurious, without losing a tad of its elegance. It is indeed a sensuous wine which will first tickle, then caress many senses, way out in the nether regions beyond base carnality.

While it is of modest strength, it has an overpowering purpose: it satisfies yet sizzles so much at once that the poor drinker just has to have more. And more. I can imagine it with a cool rillette of hare, with crusty bread and butter, and a sprig or six of peppery watercress.

Paradise IV Chaumont Batesford Geelong 2012
$45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet franc and Merlot swim together in this rich pool. Once again, the wine’s bouquet is so thick and meaty you’d expect another two or three alcohols. And it’s dusty, smelling more ferruginous than its freaky granite-and-limestone ground. The deep ripe fruits below that acrid summery topnote are ripe like a warm-year Pomerol Bordeaux. I love the ozone/gunbarrel glint the best Cabernet franc imparts: it’s here in perfect proportion.

After that full-bore aroma, the wine is supple and modest of frame, with tannins that seem to come from somewhere between pickled walnuts and grilled turnip greens. Which quite wickedly makes me imagine a peppery Fechner’s Apex Tanunda Bakery pasty with tomato sauce and both those other ploughman’s lunch sort of things. It could even handle a cold hard-boiled egg. At the other end of the scale, a pink steak in pepper sauce would be simply gooey.

There is no wine like this made in South Australia. Bliss.



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