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30th June 2014

A Tale of Two Fizzes

Today is the Riviera Wine Academy’s launch-eve, and I have prepared my first to-do list, with a week yawning before me like a great and largely unpaid chasm. Nevertheless there is a lot to get done!

I am continuing to consult for VSF (Vins Sans Frontières) and already have a tasting on Thursday to prepare for.

Last week ended with two almost polar opposite sparkling wines (among lots of other drinking!), both supremely memorable and exceptionally good.

Friday marked a celebration of my seven years full time work at VSF, and – with my friend Chrissie who has also left – I got a lovely send off.
Including a moving card, a lovely present and an excellent cake, naturally there was Champagne. Specifically:

Louis Roederer Cristal 2006
There is a lot of bling surrounding this wine – the packaging reflects its original creation as a Champagne to the Russian Royal Court. If you have ever visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg you will know that a) it is very unsurprising that there was a revolution, and b) inbreeding does not lead to greater taste. The clear (cristal) glass and flat bottom (no punt) were devices to allow for the Czar to lessen the risk of the wine being poisoned (he was obsessed with the notion that people were trying to bump him off – perfectly presciently as it turned out, although for entirely different reasons, and not him but his son). Additionally the gold label, Cyrillic script and double-headed eagle that adorned the bottle remain to this day. Not all of this would normally auger well, but fortunately the name ‘Louis Roederer’ does. This is the top cuvée from one of the best family owned Champagne houses, and it shows. I’m not sure, frankly, that it is worth seven times the price they charge for their non-vintage Brut Prestige, because that is a spectacular wine in itself. But what Cristal may lack in comparative value, it more than makes up for in gossamer-like complexity and finesse. It’s not a deeply flavoured Krug-alike, instead it is floral and citrussy, but has the indefinable smoothness and lack of anything harsh whatsoever that defines truly great Champagne. The 2006 is a little nervy and very young, and given time it will develop the acacia and honey qualities to accompany its delicious fruit.

Saturday we had a small barbecue, partly for my birthday and partly because of moving on.
I decided to open some of the, frankly surprising amount of, Australian sparkling red wine I have. I must once upon a time have had a thing for these, because there are plenty of bottles, and all of them have at least fifteen or twenty years bottle age. My hopes for quality and survival were not high. But how wrong can you be?


Rockford Black Shiraz NV
This is actually the top wine from the maverick character Rocky O’Callaghan, and he uses his best fruit to make this sparkling red (‘Burgundy’ it would once have been – implausibly – called, although it could scarcely be further removed in style). Old vine Shiraz with plenty of flavour, allowed to ripen fully to soften the tannins (but not over-ripe, this wine had a refreshing 13.5% alcohol, much lower than I would have expected or I imagine similar wines have today.) It was fermented in the traditional way to capture the fizz. The back label suggests that the wine benefits from age, but possibly not quite the length of age that I have subjected it to – I think these particular bottles came back in my hand-luggage from my very first trip to Australia in 1994. Australia continues to make quite a lot of sparkling red wine. This is not a new thing – once upon a time there would actually have been sparkling red Burgundy – in fact all wine is sparkling until it is allowed to go flat if you think about it, carbon dioxide is as much a by-product of fermentation as alcohol.
It was lovely! And a perfect barbecue wine, which is probably why the style remains so popular in Australia. With flavours of red berry fruit, hints of sweet spice and liquorice, no tannins and plenty of fizz, it was balanced and gluggably delicious. I am super glad that I still have a few more bottles of this wine. The whole thing, and indeed in some ways my career, is down to my great friend James Lindner, whose father Richard part-owned and worked at Rockford at the time of my first visit. They now own the super-winery Langmeil, and both wineries are a massive part of the patrimony of the great Barossa Valley.

It was with great sadness that I read this morning of the untimely death of Doug Lehmann. Another Barossa legend, Doug was a huge character – affable but delightfully (and justifiably) dogmatic and the son of Peter Lehmann – a giant figure in the world of Australian wine and whose own death was only last year. I met Doug many times, and always came away with a greater love of the wines he crafted and the place they came from. Many condolences to the whole family. I’m pleased that I had a positive Barossa memory from the weekend to temper this rubbish-y news.


This Rockford Black Shiraz seems a very interesting tasting experience Rod. Will look for it! [Jeremy Cukierman, 30th June 2014]

Great notes Rod. That Lindner's enthusiasm for wine and the Barossa is unmatched. Cheers. [Travis Webb, 1st July 2014]

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