Deep in the heart of the Barossa valley in South Australia is a whispering wall. It is built, believe me, in Cockatoo Valley. Tourists in their millions visit this engineering feat in South Australia every year. This acoustic phenomenon allows messages whispered from one end to carry audibly to the other, 140 metres away. How long before Bollywood films a song here?
So what’s that got to do with this wine column? Simple. Since you are a wine lover and have read this far, one day you will visit the Barossa. This I can guarantee. Because no self respecting wine lover can live life without having feasted on the ample charms of this region, primary of which is the most amazing wine. I should know. I’ve been there five times in as many years.
A fifth of all Australian wine is produced and bottled in the Barossa , making it that country’s largest wine processing region. Thousands of hectares of meticulously maintained vineyards embrace some of the oldest Shiraz vines dating back to the 1840s. This is when the first settlers arrived here. Today , there are over six hundred grape growers in the area, and the 70 or so wineries produce nearly sixty five thousand tones of wines every year.
Among Barossa’s most popular wines is the Shiraz , known widely as the Barossa Shiraz. It survived the Phylloxera infection that killed Europe’s vineyards in the nineteenth century only because of Australia’s strict quarantine policy. The Barossa Shiraz is softened by blending it with Grenache, a sweet red grape variety which grows widely in Australia. The result is a dark, almost black wine which is rich, full bodied, mellowed by small oak maturation.
The Barossa has also had a long love affair with the Semillon grape. The bright sunshine ripens the Semillon, producing exceptional richness and flavour. When blended with Sauvignon, what you get is magic. You can enjoy both wines in India now courtesy of St Hallett, one of the big wineries of Barossa. Sante.
The warmth of the day is the best time to pick the grapes. The fat luscious grapes are crushed in giant stainless steel fermenters and a neutral yeast added. At a modulated temperature band of 22-24° C, fermentation takes place for a week. This enables a 24 x 7 process whereby maximum colour, flavour, and tannins are extracted from the skins. Next, the wine is matured for at least 18 months in barrels that are a combination of 2-3 year old French and American Oak.
Taste: The bouquet is cherry and raspberry. With the tannins tame, the flavour is smooth and gentle. Nice body without being voluptuous.
Food Suggestions: Goose /chicken liver pate on toast. Steaks. Rich Indian curries. Robust North Indian cuisine
Serving Temp: 12° C to 14° C
This is a blend of Semillon (66%),Sauv Blanc (23%) and Riesling (11%). Semillon is picked at not one, but three different ripeness levels.
The raw grape gives acidity, the mid-ripe one gives herbal notes and the fully ripe grape gives strong citrusy value. The three juices are fermented together. The Sauvignon Blanc (also picked early) imparts gooseberry bumps and the Riesling brings in the back bone (structure). All three varietals are fermented separately, then blended judiciously for the wine to develop in the bottle.
Taste: A strong bouquet of melon, pineapple and pas-sion fruit punch. On your front palate, tiny explosions of the different fruit flavours with a strong citrusy finish because of the Riesling.
Food Suggestions: Drink a glass by itself. Get friendly with the luscious flavours. Fish, seafood, light pastas, pizzas, can be paired with this delicious wine.
Serving Temp: 8° C to 10° C
What should you do when you order wine in a restaurant and the waiter puts the cork down beside you ? Smell it? Feel it? Glance at it, then ignore it? Go for option three. Why ? Well , for the answer, lets wing back in time to the eighteenth century, when restaurateurs used to fill used bottles bearing expensive labels with cheap plonk and then resell the bottle as the expensive stuff. Shades of Black Label in India, right? To beat this adulteration, wineries branded their corks with their names. Discerning diners could therefore see that the name on the cork matched that on the label. This guaranteed that the wine had not been tam-pered with. Two thoughts finally. A moist cork is no guarantee that the wine is in good condition. Conversely, a dry cork does not necessarily mean that the wine’s gone bad.