Sunday, February 28, 2010

#43 - Lamb, Soba & Pumpkin With '05 Two Hands Shiraz

Australian shiraz has been getting a bad rap in the last few years.

The U.S. and British markets, areas that fueled the explosion of Australian wines in the late 90s and early aughts, have bottomed out in the worst sense of the word since then.

Most have blamed Yellow Tail for debasing the reputation of Australian wines. Some have pointed to their tendency for making over-extracted fruit bombs chockablock with a syrup-like consistency and oodles of heat.

And much of it comes down to the fact that many Australian wineries seemed to rest of their laurels, content with sitting back, making the same styled wine and wait for Robert Parker to wet his pants over them.

They seem to even be a victim of their own success in other ways. Unlike Bordeaux, Australia has had consistently solid weather of late, leading to, in the least, good vintages over the last 10-15 years, lulling some producers into a state of complacency, never having to get creative when trying to pump out a distinctive wine. Other small, idiosyncratic producers that saw early success were swallowed up by corporate wine companies when they were offered a deal they couldn't refuse.

With the market flooded with a glut of Australian wines done in the same style and made without distinction, American and British consumers seemed to treat it like they went through a faze, liking it enough at the time and then happily moved on; sort of like disco of the millennium age.

Couple that with some top producers churning out wildly overpriced wines with self-consciously quirky labels (I'm looking squarely at you, Mollydooker) and it was a recipe for disaster.

With all that said, we still have a big place in our heart for good shiraz. And with that said, last night's wine played well below its price point.

Food: Lamb, soba & pumpkin with arugula in walnut oil

Pretty good little Sunday night meal. Ground lamb (scraps from the butcher counter at Whole Foods) mixed in with a sort of stewish-like concoction of puréed pumpkin, tomatoes, onion and oil and then tossed in soba noodles. Simple arugula salad drizzled with walnut oil and balsamic.

Not particularly lamby, just a reminder here and there that lamb was involved. Every ingredient mixed well, rising it up to something that came across as very Moroccan.

Walnut oil, while a tad expensive for its fairly limited use, was absolutely delicious on the arugula. Perfect compliment to the bitterness of arugula.

Good stuff all around.

Wine: 2005 Two Hands Lily's Garden ($40 - Binny's)

An impulse buy a few years ago. I got suckered in by the Wine Spectator review tag (94 points). Say "open texture, anise and long, long finish" and I'm in hook, line and sinker even as I've been burned by that so many times.

In the glass, deep purple in the center, reddening out on the edges. Bright blend of darkish fruit on the nose with an herb and licorice background. Touch of oak. Right out of the bottle, it was gorgeous. Kept dramatically changing as it went from the front to the mid to the back palate. Tons of licorice and some subtle, yet very present heat. Like watered-down sage-blackberry jam. At this point, we had big hopes for this one.

Then it turned rather ordinary. It lost that delineation in short order while the oak monster reared its head. The initial glory rested in its traveling from the mid to the back palate, extending its finish with great new flavors (herb and Ouzo). That was gone with a little air. And the bright, sparkly fruit turned into a stewish element. Still a decent little wine worth about $20, but $40 (and that was with a 15% Binny's coupon), meh.

The Two Hands Lily's was at the beginning of its drinking window with just enough tannin and acidity to help it age but we won't be following it.

Pairing: Initially good stuff and then...not so much

With Australian wines making so many big fruit bombs (a tired term but apt), it seems many people put them in a box when it comes to pairing it with food. Big grilled meats gradually become the only proper pairing in peoples' minds.

But if the wine is taken down a notch in its fruit-bombiness and over-extraction, they can be quite versatile. Our personal favorite is with ostrich, but any dish open to bringing a little fruit to the party works. Just takes a bit more planning.

We were perfectly happy with this food and wine pairing given the Sunday nightness of it all, just sad the wine's complexity faded so quickly. The shiraz and soba noodles played great together. Quite good with the arugula, surprisingly.

I cleared the palate of food, thinking the tomatoes might have had an effect but it still trended toward a bit flat.

Australian shiraz can have such a beautifully lush and luxurious openness to it with sparkling dark fruit and spectacular secondary flavors if reined in a bit. This one started out with that promise and then checked out early.

C'est la vie.

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