Phoenix Keeps On-A Rising:Penley’s Soaring 94-pt Cab!

2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet SauvignonMy customers love this wine. So easy to drink and so easy to buy that it’s hard for me to keep in stock. Penley’s Phoenix is rich stuff, blackberry and currant, sturdy structure, the earth of Coonawarra cab vineyards and the distinctly Australian texture that embraces you like an old lover. The right oak softens it; the minerality makes for a firm core. You don’t need James Halliday to tell you it’s a 94-pointer, you just know it (and buy me out of it!). And you know there’s more to Oz than shiraz, This cab in fact may the best varietal Penley makes and its pedigree is purely Australian. The terroir is Coonawarra, where the Limestone Coast is topped with the red earth called terra rossa, the best cabernet district in Oz. The name behind it has terrific Oz breeding too: Kim Tolley not only worked decades for Penfolds under legend Max Schubert, he is a descendant of the first Penfolds and of the Tolleys, another old pioneer wine family. Hence the name Penley. Run-n-tell that.

2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon

Bright crimson; by some distance, the best of the ’09 Penley varietals, with redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit supported by quality cedary oak and fine tannins, the medium-bodied palate long and complete.  94 Points, James Halliday’s AWC

Surprising Bern’s

For wine lovers of the world, there are two world-class wine destinations around Tampa Bay, B-21 and Bern’s Steak House. So when wine VIP’s are in town, we often find ourselves at Bern’s rifling through the treasures.  Happened again last week. French, Spanish, Australian, Argentine and Bostonian friends  joined us in the bar. Even this group is intimidated by Bern’s wine list. One reason we often let the sommelier make the picks and play “stump the chumps”.  That night’s winner was a lovely 20 year old Prado Enea from Muga winery, identified blind by Summer Martin, our Spanish expert.

Choosing your own is  easy once you narrow the selection. Given his head Bob Sprentall dove into grand old Bordeauxs and came up with dandy Chasse Spleens from the 50’s.  To show my guests a different part of Bern’s depths (and America’s), I went for old zins, one of my hunting grounds at Bern’s. Try this, a 1975 Simi zinfandel, so long ago that Zelma Long was still at Bob Mondavi’s.
How does good zin taste at 36, still bright in flavor yet refined in body and taste as if it had evolved into old Burgundy by mistake. “I can’t believe this is zinfandel,” said my Rioja guest. “I expected something heartier.”’ Gentle on the wallet too, $54.

Found another treasure at Bern’s too: black truffle creamed corn. Whatever your steaks are , put some corn and an Okinawan
sweet potato on the table.

Chatting with Chester, Kath and d’Arenberg’s muppets.

Winemaker Chester Osborn, the wizard of d’Arenberg and priest of fine tannins, in South Australia travels with an amazing bag of tricks. 

He opened the black sample case covered with duct tape at the B-21 dinner at Roy’s last month and out poured out more props than a jolly swagman could carry: a tree stump, a bloody arm in flannel sleeve, two feet bolted together, a small tiny garage, a chunk of road paving, a rubber lizard and a stuffed cat, crab, fairy and a fox. 

When airport security asks a long haired bloke in a paisley shirt, red jeans and a big grin, the meaning of the menagerie, he says “I’m a winemaker”.

2008 d'Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling
2008 d'Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling

But we know each item represents one of his wines. (Ministry of Silly Names-approved). Most have a true or even serious reason behind them, like the lucky lizards who managed to survive the first squeezing of Chardonnay grapes. Osborn’s partner Kath opened a portfolio of art commissioned from Australia’s top cartoonists. 

The wines Osborn poured were the real magic, amazing flavors that rolled out endlessly like a clown car at the circus. We tried ten d’Arenberg’s, most of them beyond the famous Stump Jumps, Dead Arm and Footbolt, covering a diversity we didn’t expect.  Who knew that Pinot Noir was once the regions red grape: the 2008 was clean brisk and bright. A 2007 Chard was apples and cream, perfect with the glazed spare rib on Roy’s opening sampler.  Big hit for me was a Mourvedre, dubbed Twenty-Eight Road, symbolized by the bush tarmac, big dense and meaty, earthy, like blueberries bacon and dried herbs, made for the short ribs. 

The stunner, and finale of the evening, was a bold Aussie take on Umbrian Sagrantino, with a touch of Cinsault, a super-Mediterraneran red, the most powerful wine of the show, as dark and rich as the intensely chocolate ganache. That’s the infamous Cenasilicaphobic Cat, named for the fear of empty glasses.

At an in-store tasting, Osborn and partner Kath led us through the current great vintages and the rest of the stable. The 2006 Dead Arm is one of the richest, ripest shiraz I’ve had, deserving of a few years in the cellar  (95 RP, $49.99). The d’Arenberg principles of simple craftsmanship (no fertilizer, no pesticides, no irrigation, no fining, no filtering and yes to foot treading) work as well with Bordeaux varieties. The 2006 Coppermine Road Cab is intense, smooth and full of deep fruits and chocolate (93 RP, $59.99). 

My inner cheapskate was thrilled by the Stump Jump Riesling ($9.99), which had was more apple pie than peach cobber, riesling crisp yet as  round as a ripe chardonnay. This could be the perfect refrigerator white for me. 

Osborn’s visit confirmed that this label is loaded with serious fun. Can’t wait for the clown car to come back.

Aussie football: Different rules but the shiraz is a huge winner

2008 The Winner's Tank Shiraz
2008 The Winner's Tank Shiraz

Gotta admit they have a good time in Oz country. When the local footy teams around Langhorne Creek duke it out each year the regional champs get a trip out to David Knight’s winery as part of the bragging rights. They head out to the big tank, and paint it in team colors. Maybe they jump in to.

It’d be an honor either way. Parker calls “The Winner’s Tank one of the best dry red bargains in the world, always a 90 or 91, and surely as deep, rich and sexy as wine gets for $12.99.

This is a shameless fruit bomb, dipped in chocolate, luscious and slippery. A big winner in my book.

Wit and wisdom of Oz: Spare us this one, mates

2004 Kaesler Shiraz Old Bastard (Barossa)
2004 Kaesler Shiraz Old Bastard (Barossa)

The Australian desk of the Ministry of Silly Names took a deep sigh of relief. Normally the desk works 24/7 to monitor the wags of Oz, but we were relieved to find that wine labels have been spared one bit of Aussie slang.

We’ve cottoned to Codgers, Gaffers and Old Bastards (wow, 95WA, $129.99), are fond of Stump Jump, made peace with Bitch and danced with Molly Dooker, flown with the Roogle, been slammed by Luchador and wandered out to Woop Woop.

Then came the Australian elections. Neither big party won enough to govern so the deciding power fell to the also-rans, interesting and oddball. One of whom, showing his dismay for out-of-touch formal guys in suits of the Establishment, said he’d strip down to his “budgie smugglers” to show solidarity with ordinary folks.

Translation. First, budgie is an affectionate form of budgerigar, British for parakeet. A “budgie smuggler” refers to a man’s brief bathing suit, so brief the there is only room in them to …

The Ministry will not interfere in the domestic politics of another country, and is relieved that BS has not appeared on a label… yet.

But how soon could we see it on, say, nearly naked Chardonnay?

We may have to go into emergency session. I will vote to prohibit all illustrations… unless by Ralph Steadman.

Are you listening, Chris Ringland?

Ozfest: Chester hosts D’Arenberg dinner at Roy’s in Tampa Sept. 20

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion
Roy's Hawaiian Fusion

What a wild and woolly pairing; Chester Osborne and the glorious red-sashed wines of d’Arenberg meet the the Pacific flavors of Roy Yamaguchi for one fun-filled dinner Sept. 20.

You know that d’Arenberg has earned its stripes at all price points from big-value Stump Jump shiraz to legendary reds like Footbolt and Dead Arm. The wines are rich in flavor, all the big fruits and tingling spices of shiraz, and always smooth.

Which is why Roy’s Hawaiian gourmet cooking is a great match. At Roy’s all the spice and exotic hints of Asia are fused with the classic French polish.

That’s also where we add another dynamic ingredient, Chester, the wild-maned winemaker and rock-star partner with his grand old dad d’Arry, one of the true pioneers of South Australia.

Don’t miss this one. We’ve only got 25 seats and it will sell out quick. So get your tickets now ($79).

Click here to make a reservation.

It’s not just shiraz, mate

When we tasted through d’Arenberg line the biggest surprise to me was the 2006 Galvo Garage (90CS, $24.99). Loved the name but I wondered if Chester Osborn could or would want to make a wine with shiraz.

But that’s forgetting that Chester’s secret magic in in taming and training tannins not just in shiraz but wherever they lurk, as in this meritage of four of the classic five Bordeaux varietals. He treats them as an indie garagiste. He works in a galvanized shed and works hand and foot, crushing the grapes with artisan feet before a gentle basket press, to make a lush, lively drink. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot deliver cherry and chocolate flavors. Cab franc and petite verdot add a bouquet of flowers and a spicy punch at the end, all in the fine-grained tannin structure you get in Dead Arm and Footbolt. A great cabernet for shiraz drinkers.

Meet Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg Winery at B-21
Meet Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg Winery at B-21

You can taste it when Chester hosts an afternoon of tastings and seminars at B-21 on Sunday Sept. 19. Maybe he’ll include in the d’Arenberg treasure he pours at our four course dinner at Roy’s in Tampa. It’s perfect with gourmet Hawaiian ($79).

Mr. Riggs Shiraz thanks Gramps for the muscles

2007 Mr. Riggs The Gaffer Shiraz (McLaren Vale)
2007 Mr. Riggs The Gaffer Shiraz (McLaren Vale)

For New Worlders, Australians are partial to oldsters, saw why when I met the Gafffer, the 2007 McLaren Vale Shiraz in Australian’s grand old style. Big, plush and friendly and faint memories of a good old sticky.

McLaren Vale winemaker Ben Riggs named the wine for his great grandfather, using the fond British slang for an old man. And Riggs’ ancestor was one of the country’s best farmers (of sheep too).

There’s no gaffe in this bottle: it starts with smoke and flowers in the nose, and then you are gripped in a thick puddle of plum jam and berries, with edges of licorice and pepper. The Mr. Riggs Gaffer 2007 ($19.99) won solid 90s from WS, ST and WE (the Wine Advocate gave 89 but predicted improvement in the bottle).

Already this is is remarkably ripe juice, that could intimidate a rack of lamb. Or replace it.

It’s proof that Riggs is one of Oz’s most innovative winemakers you‘ve never heard of. But you’re bound to know his taste: He‘s been a Flying Winemaker across southern Europe and Napa and is part of the crazy guys who put together Woop Woop, Penny’s Hill and the Black Chook, under the rattling umbrella of Galvanized Wine Group.

In that stable Mr. Riggs is Ben’s own label based on old family vineyards and character.

The Gaffer would be proud.

He might forgive the pink screwcap. I love it.

Mitolo’s Jester’s no joke: A funny thing happened on the way to the throne room.

2006 Mitolo Shiraz Jester (McLaren Vale)
2006 Mitolo Shiraz Jester (McLaren Vale)

The Mitolo winery takes its fun seriously. The silliest thing on their labels is a Jester of the classical kind in suit of motley colors, belled hat and a fake scepter. This kind of joker goes back to before Shakespeare, a professional funny man hired to amuse and mock the court and king, with license to be truthful and mirthful, a precariously fine line.

It’s a clever image for wines; like Mitiolo’s Jester Shiraz ($15.99), a playful wine with soft approach, but ultimately straightforward and powerful. For extra grins, Mitolo’s back label honors a real jester, Richard Tarlton who was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite jokester and possibly the first comedian to become a superstar.

Given the royal standards for wit, I’d say the chances are slim for a 2108 Aussie shiraz dedicated to Adam Sandler.

How old is old? Yalumba charter has an answer.

2008 Yalumba Y Series Chardonnay Unwooded
2008 Yalumba Y Series Chardonnay Unwooded $9.99

Yalumba, one of the oldest and most innovative wineries in Australia, doesn‘t go in for much silliness on labels. I’m sure they have good times a plenty and the wines can be great fun. Still their labels are straight forward, saying for example that a chardonnay is unwooded or made by wild ferment.

But that’s a choice of style.

What concerns them is principle and meaning, say of words like “old vines” which can be a cause for skepticism or pride especially in the Barossa Valley. So they launched “The Barossa Old Vine Charter”. Asking others to sign on.

Under the Charter:

  • Vines 35 years of age or more, can be named Barossa Old Vines.
  • Those over 70 will be Survivor Vines;
  • 100 years will be Centurion Vines;
  • 125 years Ancestor Vines.

I’d sign that.

What were we drinking: Open-faced cheeseburgers and zucchini chips

Actually it wasn’t we, just me bach’ing for a while and left to my most evil inclinations like burgers NOT made from lean ground beef. Nope these were as fatty as nature intended, with a sharp Polish cheese, roasted garlic and whole grain mustard. For the vitamin counters there was frilly lettuce and a sliced zucchini, crisped up in the skillet with pepper and herbs.

In short, the Lonely Guy’s Dream Dinner with a modest amount of pretension.

2007 Wolf Blass Shiraz/Cabernet South Australia
2007 Wolf Blass Shiraz/Cabernet (South Australia) Reg: 9.99 On Sale: 7.99

But I respect hamburgers. Luscious, red and juicy and in Guy cuisine, not that far from a steak.

To Guys, a good burger calls for a steak wine; to call for a lightweight red is dissing the burger. And any good steak wine is happy to dance with beef in all forms.

My answer was Wolf Blass’s 2006 Gold Label shiraz ($17.99) from Barossa. This one was fat with flavor, berries and plums with hints of licorice and smoke. Not monstrous in weight or harshness, despite a full load of alcohol (15.5%) a very luscious drink.

It would have liked an inch-thick Delmonico — and it made the burger taste just as rich.

The Wine Speculator puts it at 91, and I agree. Especially at $17.99. You need a couple.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

Trumps again: Harvey Steiman lifts a glass to Charles Cimicky

2008 Charles Cimicky Trumps Shiraz
2008 Charles Cimicky Trumps Shiraz (Barossa) $14.99

Harvey Steiman took a trip through Australian reds and among his 90 pointers was our fave from Barossa’s most serious winemaker, Charles Cimicky’s Shiraz Trumps.

“A juicy mouthful of plum, berry and tobacco flavors, hinting at clove and nutmeg as the finish lingers effortlessly. Drink now through 2018.”

We agree, this is a ripe shiraz, big on fruit and earthier flavors, and a keeper for the cellar. Only thing off is Wine Spectator tags the price as $19. C’mon down to B-21; it’s only $14.99.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

And just what is a Barossa?

2007 Earthworks Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley)
2007 Earthworks Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley) $11.99

The question came up at dinner, the great wine valley north of Australia sounds Italian, maybe aboriginal?

Would you believe Spanish? Named by a British soldier and abetted by bureaucratic error but Spanish indeed.

How so? The valley is named for the Barossa Range. The Range was named by the English officer exploring it for a great battle in the Napoleonic wars along Barrosa Ridge near Cadiz. Somehow the spelling got goofed. I know that can happen, especially in Oz.  Consider Earthworks 2007 cabernet sauvignon, a tight spicy cab from Barossa ($11.99). No question that its home in one of the valley; main town specifically n-u-r-i-o-o-p-t-a , is a word of the native peoples (it means “meeting place”).

My word processing program is not so multicultural and renders my attempt of the home place as “neuropath,” which sounds like a very pretentious psychopath.

Is it trying to tell me something?

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler