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November 21, 2019

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Contemplative wines

Some wines are so big, dense and rich that they are best enjoyed alone in a quiet reflective atmosphere much in the same way we enjoy a fine Cognac, port or sherry.

These wines may also be enjoyed with food, but they often best express their inner beauty when consumed in solitude. Some top Barossa reds qualify as contemplative wines.

The first vine cuttings arrived in Australia with Captain Arthur Philip on the First Fleet in 1788.

They originated from the Cape of Good Hope and were planted at Sydney Cove in the Governor’s Garden on what’s now Macquarie Street in downtown Sydney.

Unfortunately, the vines withered and died, but they were an initial step in what has become one of the world’s most important and successful wine industries. More successful were the vines planted in the 19th century in Barossa Valley in South Australia.

In 1837 Colonel William Light led an expedition into the inner regions of South Australia discovering a place he named Barossa Valley in honor of the Battle of Barossa, where he victoriously fought the French in 1811. By 1842, German settlers planted the first vines. Not surprisingly they initially cultivated the German variety Riesling. But after a good amount of trial and error, the transplanted winemakers found the Syrah variety worked best in the hot, dry, continental climate.

Italian, Swiss and other European winemakers subsequently migrated to Barossa, taking with them new varieties and winemaking techniques. These immigrants also helped establish new styles of cuisine using the bounty of fresh local ingredients. Blessed by a favorable climate for wines, but not for pests, the Barossa Valley largely avoided the pest outbreaks that devastated European wine regions in the late 19th century. As a result, the region boasts some of the oldest vines in the world ranging in age from 100 to 150 years old.

For most of its winemaking history, the Barossa Valley made extremely ripe, fleshy and alcoholic wines that were more often than not used to make fortified wines. Barossa Valley was considered an inferior wine region to the cooler climate of Coonawarra and Padthaway that focused on the more highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignon.

By the late 20th century a number of family-owned wineries started making distinctive Syrah wines that they called Shiraz. These wines were unlike those of the Rhone as they were big, round and full-bodied with pronounced chocolate and spice notes. Aged in predominantly American oak, the Barossa Shiraz wines offered an entirely new expression of the Northern Rhone grape.

Building on the international success of their Shiraz wines, Barossa Valley winemakers started cultivating other varieties associated with the Rhone, such as Grenache and Mourvedre often blending them with Shiraz. Riesling also made a notable comeback in the cooler Barossa Valley sub-region of Eden Valley. Along with Washington State and British Columbia Rieslings, these wines are my favorite New World expressions of this noble German variety. High-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon and Chardonnay wines are also produced.

Barrosa Valley big boy Shiraz and Shiraz blends are wines that beg for flavorful foods. I’ve successfully served these wines with game meat, flavorful cheeses and Chinese treats like stinky tufu, Hunan duck and Dalian-style donkey. They also make for perfect contemplative wines enjoyed entirely by themselves.

Remember to serve these substantial reds at 18 degrees Celsius or cooler to mitigate sensations of alcohol and keep their natural fruity exuberance in check. Some fine Barossa Valley producers with wines available in Shanghai include Two Hands, Torbreck, Rockford, Affinis and Stonefish.

Except for 2011 most vintages over the past decade have been very good with the 2010, 2012 and 2015 vintages standing out.


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