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The Jacob's Creek option

Published in Man's World Magazine | October 2004

THOSE WERE THE days, my friend. When only names like St.Emilion Chateau Payee or Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Vieux Telgraphie 1992 were silkily poured by snobs into your social conversation. When good decent table wine (read Rs 750 a bottle) as opposed to great vintage wine (read Rs 5000 a bottle), was a pipe dream in India. Suddenly, it seems (read five years), wines available in India are no longer simply those made by the French, Italians or Germans. New World Wines (read South Africa, Chile, Argentina, California, New Zealand, India and China even) are not just more easily available, they are being consumed with a great deal of passion and confidence. Leader of the gang? Australia. Don’t be surprised. Ozzie wines have steadily gone up in esteem in markets like the UK, USA, Japan , Far East and are now being fervently analysed in France (surprise, surprise) and fervently swilled in India.

Today our wine vocabulary includes, in addition to Beaujolais and Bordeaux, wine treasure house regions like the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa, Stellenbosch, Mendoza, etc. Shame on you if you haven’t heard Cloudy Bay. Or the Barossa Valley, home to Jacob’s Creek wines , which have made a soft but impressive entry into India. Without fan-fare, two of its wines, Semillon Chardonnay White and Shiraz Cabernet Red have become favourites among wine lovers. It’s no mystery, really. These wines go well with all kinds of Indian cuisines. They are now being retailed in Bangalore and Mumbai and available in restaurants and hotels in other major cities. Price? Rs 850 a bottle. That’s a steal.

Semillon Chardonnay 2003 is a blend of wines made from the Semillon and Chardonnay grapes, a combination in which Australia excels. In fact, Australia is Semillon’s second most famous home after Bordeaux (France , where this grape is traditionally blended to make the famous sweet Sauternes). Should a white wine look white? This one is a pale yellow with hints of green. The bouquet is melon and citrus. The palate has delicious melon and peach flavours with a buttery feel. It complements medium to spicy veg curries, seafood, fish, pizzas, pastas, hot Thai and Chinese food.

The Shiraz Cabernet 2001 is an interesting blend of the two grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. After being mixed to secret ratios, the Shir-Cab’s colour, when held up to natural light shows crimson red with hints of purple. The bouquet is a combination of ripe plum fruit (from the Shiraz) and intense berry notes from the Cabernet Sauvignon, rendered complex by subtle vanilla oak. The palate tingles with plum and berry fruit flavours. It complements medium to spicy meat and chicken dishes. Actually, you can drink them with just about anything that you like and forget the rules.

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These wines come from Australia’s most famous wine growing region, the Barossa Valley, an hour’s drive north of Adelaide, South Australia. A patchwork landscape of vines, quaint rural towns, heritage streets, walking trails and conservation parks in the valley’s cradle, bordered by rolling hills, makes it a tourist attraction too. Back in 1840, the landscape drew the first German settlers, a congregation of over 200 dissident Lutherans who made Barossa home. The English and Dutch soon followed, lured by the region’s huge agrarian potential. The combination of hard-working German farmers, artisans and middle-class English businessman and professionals proved fortuitous. Growing cash crops, smoking meats, preserving fruits and the art of making cheese flourished. Above all, wine became a part of everyone’s life.

When Johann Gramp planted the Barossa Valley’s first vineyard at Jacob’s Creek in 1847, he could never have imagined that his modest vineyard marked the birth of Australia’s leading wine region. Nor could he have dreamt that JC would one day flow around the world. Other brands like Peter Lehmann, Yalumba, Grant Burge, Karl Sap-pelt, Henschke have won accolades too. JC however, is the superstar, having won more than 1,500 show awards including 33 trophies and 200 gold medals in international wine competitions. They don’t call it Australia’s top drop for nothing. It is the Wimbledon Tennis Championships’ official wine and official wine supplier of the Rugby World Cup.

Today, Jacob’s Creek is part of Orlando Wyndham, one of Australia’s leading wine and spirits groups and the most successful bottled wine exporter with over 6 million cases sold in 2002.

The same year, Philip Laffer, Chief winemaker of Jacob’s Creek was given the nation’s Winemaker of the year Award 2002. I’ve had the privilege of attending three of Laffer’s wine tasting classes. A man of unbridled energy and a fount of knowledge, Laffer seems to have a smile permanently pasted on his patrician features. With good reason. Philip informs me that, one million glasses of Jacob’s Creek are consumed daily around the world.”

Which sets the brain ticking. Consider the logistics. How can that much wine be produced, let alone distributed? How many tonnes of grapes are harvested, then crushed? How many hectares of the Valley are covered with vine trellises? How many corks do they go through in an hour /day / year? What kind of sandwiches do the quality control people eat during lunch? On the other hand, I’d rather pour myself a nice red JC. Sante.