Best Buys & Unfair Comparisons


As each year, I couldn’t wait for the first January Vintages Release, this time to hit the shelves tomorrow January 9. It is because not only there was a hiatus since December 12, but also its related catalogue is entitled The Smart Buys Issue year after year.

Starting in early November with “Star studded – a festive lineup of top wines for the holidays”, Vintages release catalogues are full of incredible wines and spirits with prices to match. And, how wonderful! As we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holiday season, and toast the opportunities the New Year may bring, we want to make each occasion a little bit more special, with that bottle of wine we waited to splurge on for just such an event.

Come January, with the streamers and confetti cleaned off the floor, we are ready to look for the drinks that will not break the bank to warm up the cold January evenings and soften the blow of opening credit card statements, with bottom lines in no small part inflated by the recent fine wines & spirits indulgencies. With that, the possibility of finding a fine wine at a modest price is good news.

Australia’s Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was one of my choices this early January.   Sister’s Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet sounded aptly named for the January 7th Christmas according to the Julian calendar. Its aromatic nose brings in whiffs of dark/red fruit (cherries, red currents, cassis) and cigar box. The mouthfeel is interplay of the fruit flavours and nibbling tannins. Nibbling as in not biting, but closer to that part of the spectrum than to well integrated, which could be nudged along with a bit more aging, or a rare steak. Or enjoyed in their own right.

Unbelievably, there was a half a glass of last Sunday’s Downton Abbey Bordeaux left (I know!), to try side-by-side. Not a fair comparison, even though both bottles are $15.95 and a 2012 vintage (we should remember that Australian harvests are half a year ahead), most notably because although Bordeaux blends could be predominantly Cab Sauv, this one was 70% Merlot and 25% Cab.

Having said all that, compare them I did. Expectedly, Australian Cab Sauv had more fruit forward aromas, but surprisingly the Downton Abbey namesake had much more pronounced vanilla on the nose. (This could possibly be due to a use of American oak barrels for the blend, and French oak ones for the Cab. Generally, American oak imparts flavours that are more pronounced and lead with vanilla, while French oak conveys more subtlety & spiciness.)

Who would have thought!


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