07 January 2009

Robert Oatley Wines

I got the opportunity recently to sample two bottles from Robert Oatley Vineyards in the delightfully named Mudgee region of New South Wales. Bob Oatley built Rosemount to international prominence and helped give birth to the highly successful export of Australian wines around the world. These ventures secured him a spot as one of the wealthiest people in Australia and New Zealand. This new winery represents a personal approach to the wines from the area where he started in the business.

Both wines are capped with a Stelvin Lux screwcap enclosure. I don't know if it happens at your 100th or 1000th wine, but at some point removing a cork loses some of its novelty. It's now exciting to open a good wine with a mere twist of the wrist.

The 2007 Chardonnay ($18, 13% abv) presented peach and grapefruit aromas, with a smooth flavor and medium finish. It's only partially oaked, so you get a good balance between the buttery excess of oak and the pristine crispness of "naked" Chardonnay. I served this to some friends alongside a grilled fish course, where it worked well with the delicate seafood flavors. The rich fruit aromas brought a nice touch of summer to a rainy winter up here in the Northern Hemisphere.

My favorite of the two was the 2007 Shiraz ($20, 13.5% abv). This will make you fall in love with Oz Shiraz all over again. Complex nose of stewed fruit, prunes, and dates. Black cherry and plum flavors followed, with an incredible smoothness for such a young wine. Very mild tannins and just a touch of black pepper aftertaste to let you know that it's there. I ended up serving this after dinner, and even after palates had been attacked by another red and glasses of Madeira, this wine stood up and commanded great respect from the assembled guests.

You saw the images of the wine bottles above, but here's a closer look. I worked in graphic design for 8 years, spent 2 years operating a printing press... This was a hard label to print. There's gold foil and gold ink, and the red and burgundy stripes are printed with a high gloss that makes them look like wet brush strokes.

This is the kind of label that was dreamed up by a designer, probably rejected by at least one printer, and then finally accomplished by craftsmen who really knew what they were doing. Have you ever walked into an old church with a stonemason? Gone to a tractor museum with an engineer? Eaten a marvelous dinner in the company of a chef? In each case they'll stop and stare at seemingly insignificant details. They're not looking at the finished product, they're reconstructing the entire process leading up to the finished product. With a fine specimen of the subject matter, they're happily frustrated by the method used to produce that item. How in the devil did he tighten that bolt? There's no good angle to reach it...

I'm not telling you to buy a wine based on a label. I've been burned in the past and some great wineries just have terrible designers. But in an effort to promote quality over quantity, excellence over mediocrity, it's important to recognize good design properly executed. Even better when there's a great personality underneath that pretty face.

These wines are not currently available in the Memphis area but national distribution is expected this year.

4 comments:

Michelle said...

I am awaiting arrival of this wine in Memphis based on your high opinion and I agree with you on that label.

The Wine Commonsewer said...

I never seem to have good luck with Oz Shiraz.

....at some point removing a cork loses some of its novelty. It's now exciting to open a good wine with a mere twist of the wrist.

Blasphemer! [crosses himself and then holds each forefinger at 180 degrees to the other to form a Dracula repellent cross facing Memphis]

Benito said...

TWC,

When it comes to a wine that's meant to be drunk within a few months of purchase, I'll always take a screwcap over one of those hellspawn, son-of-a-motherless-goat plastic corks. I broke a corkscrew on one once and can never get the damned things back into the bottle.

I also hate the corks that are made up of tiny chunks of other corks... they seem to fall apart easily. Yes, a high quality natural cork that's been punched out of the bark is superb, but there's a whole lot of substandard or TCA-infected cork out there, and I'm happy to jump on the screwcap bandwagon.

The all time, worst-ever cork award goes to this thing that was used to stopper a Prosecco. It was a Champagne-style conglomerate cork, but with only a quarter inch of cap above the opening of the bottle, meaning you couldn't open it like a normal sparkler. And it was too solid for me to use a corkscrew.

I tried everything I could to open that thing (including screwdrivers and my teeth), and finally had to drill it out with the old Black & Decker, getting cork dust into the wine.

Anonymous said...

Benito,

Thank you for the very nice and positive article on our wines. I am not sure when we will have the wines in Tennessee, but I will certainly let you (and Michelle)know when the time comes. Much appreciated.

Matt Perrone
Robert Oatley Southeast Manager
Atlanta, GA