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Blackcurrant blood and juniper blues


Whitey gets illuminated by three brilliant luxury reds from a favourite Australian winery: Castagna Vineyard at Beechworth.

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If there grew a saguaro cactus tree with a black flower, I reckon its nectar would be like this sublime Shiraz. Makes me jealous of the lesser long-nosed bats that pollinate the real cactus flowers there in the dark of the night in the Sonoran Desert. The notion whacked in fast and high, from the far north-east. But there’s no black flower there. The saguaro flowers are full of colour. The black flower is in Julian Castagna’s wine.

Enough fantasy. It’s important for a time to think of the granitic upland shoulder of country where these Shiraz vines actually grow near Beechworth on the north side of the Victorian Alps in south-eastern Australia. There are no big cactus or cactus bats but the vines thrust out their chests in their burgeoning sward of meadow herbs and mountain air. It’s one of the most fragrant vineyards I know. You can smell it through your skin.

The Castagna Beechworth Genesis Syrah 2013 ($75; 13.5% alcohol; DIAM cork) struts as if it works only at night, when darkness is upon the face of the deep. This is gonna be intimate. It’s more of a sashay than a Moses march, a dancer in the dark, cavorting with the black hole or the pillar of light or whatever it was behind the big curtain.

By Bacchus and Pan this wine’s a sweet and delicious thing rhythmically, like prunes and peat and liquorice and figs and fennel and aniseed and black fruits that haven’t evolved yet but already ooze the nectar of some midnight bloom that teases bats.

And that’s only the beginning of the juices and vibrant florals.

Maybe it’s a pitcher plant? One of the carnivorous Nepenthes?

After the slippery bit there’s a gradual upwelling of velvet tannin. From that tiny splash of Viognier? Then Bootsy Collins. Clean-edged funk. Sensual jumping acid.

Like when did you drink something like this?

Nobody else makes wine like this. Nobody else grows grapes like these.

No sooner does one get a grasp of this batjerk flight cross the Alpine sky than you slip into the Castagna Beechworth Un Segreto 2013 ($75; 13.5% alcohol; DIAM cork) which brings glimmering Sangiovese ultra-violet to the edges of this Syrah/Shiraz night vision: the corners of the aromatic screen flicker and prickle now like aurora. Saint Elmo’s Fire.

At the same time, that Sangiovese also wafts an earthy base tone beneath the felicitous Shiraz. There are dark beets and plums downstairs.

Running out of curses of praise I fall in backwards. The organist has her foot pedals working.

This blend is more itself than the sum of its parts. It is an individual alive and happy unto itself: a ravishing, drop-dead challenging and enticing wine of a new style. Previous vintages have already given it authority.

One dance should be enough thank you, Señor.

Maybe another one tomorrow.

Okay we do one more now.

Castagna Beechworth La Chiave 2013 ($75; 13% alcohol; DIAM cork) is Sangiovese. Like Sangiovese. I don’t recall a better one from anywhere.

I wrote of that threatened timber, rosewood, the other day. Here it is with all the other vibrant terpene fragrances my nose begins to snuffle towards in winter. It’s as if this disparate vinous plant from Italy via Beechworth is doing a conservation ad for its big tropical cousin.

And that delightful spicy timber – it’s fine French oak of course – simply adds to its Sangiovese-ness.

It takes you away from where you were going. Absorbing these wines together is like moving to another room. It is one of the best rooms in Australia. Drinking a glass from each bottle each day til it’s done is like attending a magnificent exhibition. The changes of colour, sometimes faceted and crystalline, sometimes more nuanced and smudged, are continuous and hypnotic. Neon phasing through the ivy window.

La Chiave is as much blood as berry. But it sure beats church. It has a kind of cool musky throb about it. Like combing somebody’s real long dark wavy hair.

And this juicy silk-and-velvet glory draws you on and on. One foot left, one foot right. Blackcurrant blood and juniper blues. Rock and roll.

Bugger the black flower nectar bats. These are pure vampire food these reds. Bare some flesh.

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