Whether you love it or hate it, the simple act of putting kangaroos and koalas on wine labels has done wonders for wine sales throughout the United States. Here, for the fun of it, are some Aussie bottles advertised by less cuddly critters.
The 2003 Heartland Stickleback Red is from South Australia. $15, 14% abv. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Grenache.
Still bold, brassy, and tannic five years later--hasn't mellowed much. The label suggests serving with fish but I think it's more of a burgers & BBQ wine. The fish referenced in the name is one of many piscine species that have sharp spines coming up from the dorsal fin. (Ever wonder why those spikes are there? When a bigger fish eats a fish with spines, they stick up and lodge the smaller fish in the mouth, and with luck the bigger fish will spit it out and move to less defensive prey.)
Indeed, in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, a frog goes fishing and hurts his hands when he catches a stickleback. Despite having my mother read this story to me as a child, I nevertheless managed to cut myself many times on the spines of various bream and bluegills caught out of creeks and ponds in the Mid-South.
Moving on to the mammals, here's the 2004 Hare's Chase Red Blend from the Barossa Valley of South Australia. $15. Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark plum and pepper, fruit bomb. But rabbits are cute, right? They're not native down under and have done serious damage to indigenous animals in a terrible example of introducing a fast-breeding animal into an environment where nothing will eat it. In Australia rabbits are responsible for wiping out many native animal and plant species as well as causing tens of millions of dollars of damage every year.
Wild rabbits here in the Mid-South tend to be confined to the cottontail variety. For a while, there was a particularly cruel cottontail that lived in my backyard. It knew how to stay just out of range of my dog's leash, and seemed to take a perverse pleasure in leaving droppings close to the house just to taunt my poor mutt. Since Wolfgang looks like he's about half coyote, this must have been doubly distressing for his feral soul.
Finally, we've got an unoaked Chardonnay featuring a zaftig cow posing in a seductive odalisque. Finally the intersection of Gary Larson and Robert Crumb appears on a wine label. Joking aside, the artwork was created by Rossy Reeves, co-owner of the vineyards.
The 2004 Hentley Farms Mallee Sands Chardonnay from the Coonawarra (Aboriginal word for "honeysuckle") region of South Australia. $10, 13% abv, pure Chardonnay. Dominant apple flavors and aromas, mellow mouthfeel, low acidity, short finish. Perfect summer wine that will go with a wide range of dishes.
It doesn't matter how many I try, somehow unoaked Chardonnays are always a refreshing surprise on the tongue. And they're often so inexpensive to boot.
The last wine was consumed alongside a dinner of wild rice-stuffed pork chops, haricots vert with hollandaise, and roasted dates like I had at Symon's Lolita. Interested in how to make those? It's dead simple. Grab some dates. I prefer the big Medjool dates from the bin at Wild Oats, but some pitted Deglet Noor* dates out of a Sun-Maid bag will work as well. With the big Medjools, you'll need to cut a slit to remove the pit but you'll also create a pocket for stuffing.
Dice up some pork (ham, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, whatever's handy), take some slivered or sliced almonds, and olive oil. Stuff the dates with the pork and almonds and drizzle with oil, or just toss it all in a mix. (I think this would work well with pistaschios as well.) Place everything in a oven-safe dish and cook. How hot and how long? I don't know exactly. Try 300°F for 20 minutes the first time you attempt this. It really depends on the moisture and sugar levels of your dates. Just note that if they're in there too long the dates will begin to caramelize and might rip out your fillings as you chew on them.
*If either of these date varieties is not available, feel free to try one of the following: Aabel, Ajwah, Al-Barakah, Amir Hajj, 'Abid Rahim, Barakawi, Barhee, Bireir, Derrie, Empress, Ftimi, Holwah, Haleema, Hayany, Iteema, Kajur, Kenta, Khadrawy, Khalasah, Khastawi, Maktoom, Manakbir, Migraf, Mgmaget Ayuob, Misriq, Nabtat-seyf, Rodab, Sag'ai, Saidy, Sayer, Sekkeri, Sellaj, Tagyat, Tamej, Thoory, Umeljwary, Umelkhashab, or in a pinch, Zahidi.