Last week I arrived home with a terrible thirst. You know, a real thirst.
I searched through my wine stockpile, looking for a suitable quencher. I call it a stockpile as it is more of a series of random purchases than a collection (and it’s stored in more of a spare room than a cellar). I decided that either the wines were too young or too boring.
Earlier in the day I’d spotted a bottle of wine purchased by my wife for the local wine store she manages. Muga Selección Especial Reserva Rioja from Spain has long been one of my favourites so I nipped into town to grab a bottle, made sure I got a discount, and raced home to taste it.
The transaction was spotted by one of my wine students who apparently ran straight to the counter afterwards and asked: “What did he buy?”
At home I decanted the heavy, oaky red wine in to my chipped, scratched and well used Warehouse decanter. I waited an hour for it to settle. It is always best to do so, as the wine shuts down for a while after being sloshed around.
It was every bit as fabulous as I’d expected. Silky, massively laden with black fruit, intense and rich The oak, though prominent, perfectly suited this style of Spanish red.
I had a glass with my wife and left the rest for the next night, when it was even better. It was softer, mellower and hugely pleasurable. Decanter empty, I headed to the spare room to find a drop that could match the heights of the Muga.
I foolishly picked a young Australian wine from the Penfolds Bin range, the Marananga Bin 150 Shiraz. I like this range normally, and in a different context it may have been fine. But the immediate effect of the out of balance, extreme alcohol was uncomfortable and sickly. It was like drinking vodka laced port after the perfectly balanced Rioja.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that many of the wines in New Zealand and Australia are too alcoholic and rely on it excessively to provide body and sweetness. The Shiraz was hard to drink because it was 15 per cent alcohol and it dominated the flavour and texture of the wine.
The Muga, though also a high 14%, relied on the fruit extract and tannin to provide the heaviness, and therefore had a lighter touch, making it smoother and much more drinkable – surely the ultimate compliment for any wine!
There is a movement towards more moderate alcohol wines for drinking pleasure and health reasons. Some producers are researching how to achieve great flavour and texture without relying on the crutch of alcohol. I see it as a fault if the alcohol either burns the throat or makes the wine overtly heavy and sickly.
The student that spied me buying the Muga asked me in the next class if they could taste the wine as part of their ‘education’. Me, being the big softy, took a bottle with me the following week. I poured half into a decanter and served the other half straight from the bottle, blind, not telling them the two wines they were tasting were the same. They loved both!
Paul Tudgay is the Queenstown Resort College business hospitality manager and a wine appreciation lecturer
For more of Tudgay’s wine musings, go to www.winedown.co.nz