On Monday, September 10th 2012, as ‘GrapeSelections’, I was invited to a dinner/wine tasting of Wolf Blass wines – presented by THE MAN himself, together with Chris Hatcher (the chief winemaker) and hosted by Natalie MacLean (the author of the book ‘Unquenchable’). The premise of this event was to promote the book ‘Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest For The World’s Best Bargain Wines’ together with Wolf Blass wines, as in her book, Mrs. MacLean wittingly shares her experience meeting Mr. Blass as well as other stories of her visiting ‘the wine country’.
While waiting for Mrs. MacLean, Mr. Blass and Mr. Hatcher to arrive, we unwound with a nice glass of Wolf Blass Yellow Label Brut (‘the welcomer’). We were then seated to a table marked with our names and set with 5 glasses of wine (‘the flight’). The event began by one of Mr. Blass’es public-relation people introducing Natalie MacLean (and her book Unquenchable, as being selected by Amazon as one of the Best Books of the Year), Wolfgang Blass and Chris Hatcher then proceeded to describe the evening itself. As host, Natalie MacLean then took the helm and was leading the conversation with telling few stories (see below) of her meeting Mr. Blass. They were then going back and forth, while us, the audience, carefully listened not to miss any anecdote as well as trying to catch Mr. Blass’es every word and covert it from Australian-English to Canadian-English (at least for the first bit). Few times some phrases like “leg opener” or “bloody French” flew out that made us scratch our heads and ask ourselves whether we really heard it or just imagined it. Occasionaly, Mr. Hatcher would jump in to describe each of the five wines (the flight) as well as answer few questions/tell few stories. This part of the evening concluded with few questions from the audience, after which Mrs. MacLean sat down behind a desk and remained there till the end of the evening handing out and signing her book ‘Unquenchable’, while Mr. Blass interacted with people one-on-one and Mr. Hatcher got something to eat. Then, we were to finally receive a four course dinner together with two more wines (‘the foodies’), but not before the hungry audience listened to chef Angel Sevilla’s detailed, mouth-watering and frankly quite torturing (as we were really hungry) description of the four courses.
Quotes , Answers and Stories
At the onset of the evening, Mr. Blass talked about his beginnings as a German immigrant in Australia. He recalls: Australia did not have much social life, the guys drunk beer inside garages and the gals were watching television at home so there was not much interaction between them. I wanted to change that and thought that the way to do it is to make wine that is good – something that would be made with women in mind. He then continued on and eventually finished with “consistency of our product is why we are where we are”.
When asked which grape should become the next BIG one, Mr. Blass replied: Pinot Gris – it is a tough grape to deal with as it has bitterness in the skins, but the Italians and the Austrians know how to handle it, perhaps we should learn from them.
When asked if all wines should be oaked, Mr. Blass replied: “We were the first company together with Penfolds to age wine in new oak barrels. Without oak, you wouldn’t drink 2008-2007 wines (3-4 years old), you would have to wait for at least 7 years for the wine to become drinkable. The oak breaks down tough tannins and smoothens out the wine”.
During the introduction of the five wines (the flight), Chris Hatcher said: “I have been told to take wine seriously as a winemaker, but when outside, wine is about 3 things: About good food; about good company and about having a good time”.
Throughout the evening, I sat together with Nina Syas, another wine enthusiast, with whom I shared my opinions about the evening. Before the dinner was served, we went to say hi to Natalie MacLean. She saw us and while smiling, she enthusiastically said: “Hi guys, I am glad you could make it tonight. Are you enjoying the evening?” We stood there talking for a while and then she said: “Here let me give you my book, who should I make it out to? What do you want me to write?” Even though I already have her book with her autograph, I asked her to dedicate it to me as I wanted to get signatures from the two winemakers. The line-up started to get a bit long, so went to sit down and spoke to her some more at the end of the evening.
When I went to get a signature from Chris Hatcher (whom I met little over two years ago at the Canoe restaurant – he claimed to remember the event as well as me), I asked him what he thinks of aging wine in screw caps vs. natural corks. He replied: “We have done side by side tests with wines that were 10 years old and when comparing them, they were quite similar. He added: The difference is in young(er) wines as wines under cork tend to age little faster, but then later on towards the year 7 or so, the wines under the screw cap catch up and become similar”.
Finally, when I was getting Natalie MacLean’s book signed by Mr. Blass, he noticed Mrs. MacLean’s and Mr. Hatcher’s signatures and said: “You got some bloody good signatures here, you should put it (the book) on auction and get some money back”.
The Wines (click to expand review)
The Yellow Label Sparking Brut, is a medium bodied wine with pleasing aromas of green apple and subtle leechies. It has a nice acidity, fine bubbles and a clean, crisp, apple finish. My impression: NICE, 88-89 pts. $17.95 Check for Availability
The 2011 Gold Label Riesling is a light to medium bodied wine, with notes of citrus and subtle apricot. It has a grippy acidity, nice minerality and a medium, off-dry finish. Drink-how: have with food. According to Mr. Wolf Blass, it can last for 40-50 years. My impression: NICE, 88 pts. Tasted Sept /12. $19.95 Check for Availability
The 2010 Yellow Label Pinot Noir is a medium bodied, fruity wine, with appealing aromas of strawberry, raspberry and rosehip. It has refined tannins and a finish of medium length. Drink-when: now or for the next 2-3 years; Drink-how: drink with food. My impression: NICE, 87 pts. Tasted Sept /12. $17.95 Check for Availability
The 2008 Gold Label Barossa Shiraz, aged in new and seasoned French Oak, is a medium bodied, fruity to integrated wine, with intense aromas of blackberry, black cherry, faint pine, vanilla and clove. It is slightly acid forward, has subtle to refined tannins (decant for 1 hour) and a long finish. Drink-when: now to 2020, cellar standing up (screw cap). Drink-how: either with food or as a standalone sipper. My impression: NICE to BEAUTIFUL, 89-90 pts. Tasted Sept /12. $28.95 Check for Availability
The 2009 Grey Label Shiraz Cabernet is composed of 80% Shiraz and 20% Cabernet and aged for 18 months in new and seasoned French and American Oak (50-50). It is a medium bodied, integrated wine, with intense aromas of black currant, blackberry, strawberry, pine, thyme as well as subtle vanilla. It has a nice balance with refined, silky tannins (decant for 30-60 min) and a long finish. Drink-when: for the next 10 years standing up (if screw cap). Drink-how: definitely a sipper, but goes well with food also. My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 91-92 pts, well worth the price (though not a bargain) and hence a recommended buy. Tasted Sept /12. $34.95 in General Section. Check for Availability
The 2007 Black Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec is composed of 68% Shiraz, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec and aged in French and American oak for 22 months. It is a medium bodied, integrated wine, with intense aromas of black currant, bilberry, blackberry, cedar and pine. It has a nice structure, refined tannins (open for 30-60 min) and a long, smooth and silky finish. Drink-when: now or for the next 10+ years standing up (if screw cap). Drink-how: though food friendly, enjoy this wine by itself in the company of a special person. My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 92+ pts. Tasted Sept /12. $99.95 Check for Availability
Ontario Lamb Chops w’ Cherry Gastrique . . . . . .Sweet Pea & Broadbean Crostini w/ Lime Cilantro Olive Oil, Roasted Garlic & Pecorino
Braised Veal Cheek w/ Goats Cheese Polenta, Grape Tomato Confit
In conclusion, I must say that this event definitely had good company, good wine, good food and I surely had not good, but great time. For that THANK YOU Natalie MacLean.