Selections from June 2016

When Shiraz works!

2013 RUBUS SHIRAZ – Barossa, Australia

Fine wine has its market trends and Australian Shiraz has certainly felt this.  Before consumers were identifying the value of inexpensive Argentine Malbec they were reveling in the ripe fruit delivered by Shiraz from Down Under.  Money followed money as investors bought in.  Cheaper and cheaper versions arrived on our shores, all competing for the best bang for the buck – and the cutest critter on the label.  The wine – and its quality - saw a devaluation unparalleled by any other type.  The once-wowed consumer burned out on this newest invasion of uninspired Aussie reds which were paradoxically overripe yet green with acidification.  The Shiraz market dramatically tanked.

While it’s not our main mandate to rescue the reputation of once-credible, now-maligned wine types, it IS our job to point out quality where we detect it.  It happens here, in a more rare, fully functional Shiraz.  What’s my meaning?  Barossa Valley Shiraz is never shy; it is, by character, generous.  Ripe fruit is an expectation, a given.  In the case of this Rubus, functionality happens because the texture agrees with the flavor.  Absent is the clashing limey-ness exhibited by those grocery store “critter label” Shirazes.  Dark fruit, along with a delicate dab of Barossa’s intrinsic menthol (think chocolate mint) is supported with a gracious mouthfeel. 

Why did everything go right this time?  A quality producer, better vineyards, and a great selector of wine all contribute.  This is actually the product of Thorn-Clarke, whose reds nearly always succeed at giving you big fruit that’s not stupid, and their vines are better-tended.  “Rubus” occurs on several different bottlings from all over the world, but each is the carefully selected “negociant wine” of Master Sommelier and Importer Fran Kysela.  “Rubus” is Kysela’s own stamp of approval, whether you see it on a Pinot Noir from Marlborough or a Napa Valley Cab. 

Wine Enthusiast Magazine also endorses with an “Editor’s Choice” 92 point rating:

“Rubus is a label for wines selected by the fine American importer Fran Kysela, MS. The 2013 is a full-bodied, velvety-textured Barossa Shiraz, offering a rich, luxurious mouthfeel. Cedar and mocha notes are apparent, but there’s ample underlying plummy fruit and a long, plush finish. Drink now–2020.”

Kysela recommends you enjoy his selection with lamb shank, Osso bucco, beef steak or roast duck.  Knowing this gourmand personally, I can see him trying all of those in one sitting.  Kysela tries everything!

Finally . . .

2014 KASTEELBERG PINOTAGE – Swartland, South Africa

I just did a Google search for “Image/ Disgusting Pinotage” and the photo above appeared as one of the offerings.  Yep.  My own image contributions for the topic would have included a tin of BandAids and a smoldering refinery.  Starting a positive wine write-up with such negative suggestions is bad wineselling mojo, but let’s be honest about this:  How many good Pinotages have you ever had?

This South African grape’s poor batting average provokes another query:  Should this cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault created less than a century ago be allowed to exist?!  Shouldn’t we rip it all out and put us out of its misery?  And now you’re asking:  “Why does The Wine Steward feel compelled to curse me with a bottle of a classic non-performer?”

Because we found you an exception.  Unlike other examples produced in the gazillions of cases (who drinks all those??) this is a far more finite 550-case lot.  After a three-day cold soak the fruit was carefully fermented with temperature control, and the young wine was then moved to one-, two-, and three-year-old barrels for a 1-year nap.  This was shown to me at Importer Fran Kysela’s grand Mondovino industry tasting event at his Virginia warehouse.  I attended both sessions (one week apart) this time around and tried over 250 different wines between the two.  From the Kasteelberg I could sense both of Pinotage’s parents.  Pinot Noir was evident in the medium body and Burgundy-like earthiness.  Lesser-known Cinsault (a minor Rhone grape, and vital to Provence rosé) chimed in with Asian spice and plum.  I knew we finally had a club wine representing Pinotage.

Wine & Spirits Magazine confers 91 points on this affordable, elegant yet slightly rustic red saying:

This emphasizes the cinsault parentage of Pinotage in its bright, savory red fruit. It feels cool and clean, finishing with zesty fruit-skin bitterness, the kind of friendly tannins that will play well with a range of charcuterie."

- Wine & Spirits Magazine (February 2016), 91 pts