Oops! $1 Million in Fancy Shiraz Lost

What’s one advantage of inexpensive wines? Well, if a forklift driver drops a load, you won’t be out a million bucks. That’s exactly what happened in Australia. 462 cases of 2010 Mollydooker Velvet Glove shiraz — worth about $200 for each and every bottle — were smashed while being loaded onto a ship in Adelaide. The bottles fell about 20 feet, which was enough to ensure total destruction.

The lost wine was about a third of the year’s production for that winery. (More.) It’s hard to imagine one forklift load of wine being worth $1 million, but those $200 bottles add up quickly. And, one assumes, it must have been a big forklift to lift 462 cases at once. Or perhaps not big enough.

Tait The Ball Buster 2008

Tait - The Ball BusterPrice: $15
Maker: Tait Wines, Lyndoch, Australia
Varietal: Shiraz – Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Packaging: 750 ml bottle
Alcohol: 16%
Our Rating: 9.1 out of 10

One has to hope that a wine called The Ball Buster 2008 from Tait Wines would somehow live up to that name. Fortunately, this wine does. Its color is impressively dark, an inky purple that is almost black. It has an intense ripe berry and tobacco aroma, but even that doesn’t prepare you for the huge blueberry, plum, cocoa, and pepper blast to the palate. The fruit predominates. The finish is a little oaky with soft tannins. This wine reminds me of a big California Zinfandel – lots of complex fruit and relatively high alcohol content.

The Ball Buster is a blend of 77% Shiraz, 12% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around the Web, wine bloggers liked this wine. The Weekly Wine Journal described it as, “almost like a liqueur with a very ripe blackberry flavor.” Thursday Happy Hour said The Ball Buster “went with everything from my prime rib, to pasta, roast chicken, and grilled sausage—a fantastic bottle to share over dinner.” The oddly named Drinking my way through Trader Joe’s Wine and Beyond… said, “I’m going to rave about this wine, because it is a total contradiction and I love contradictions.”

If you like big, bold, fruity reds, The Ball Buster 2008 from Tait Wines is a great choice and a superb value.

Palo Alto Reserve 2008

Price: $10
Maker: Vina Palo Alto Ltda., Santiago, Chile
Varietal: Red Blend – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.8 out of 10

Palo Alto Reserve 2008 is a Chilean red blend. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah grapes are all grown in the Maule River valley region. The flavor of this wine featured unusually intense berry flavors, along with oak and black pepper. The finish was long and peppery. The rather strong tannins gave the wine a sharp edge at the outset, but letting it breathe for a while rounded things out. Surpisingly, a small quantity improperly stored in the original bottle for a couple of days didn’t suffer the expected deterioration, and if anything was slightly fruitier.

This wine has received some interesting recognition. According to the Palo Alto Wines website, the 2008 Vintage took gold at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2009. Palo Alto Reserve 2007 was scored at 89 points by Wine Spectator and named a “Best Value Red Wine.” It also earned a gold medal and “best value” designation while being scored at 91 points in the Wines of Chile Awards 2009.

Various wine bloggers have tasted Palo Alto Reserve, and have been favorable in their comments. Catchpeter scored it a 90 even though he found the wine confusing on his palate. In an unusual post that managed to discuss the credit crunch and Higgs Boson in addition to wine, Confessions of a Wino termed the wine, “Rich, full bodied and not for the feeble.” Drink What You Like found it to be the standout red at a local tasting. Vino Underground scored it an 89 despite finding it a bit tannic. Tim Dwight’s “Through the Grapevine” blog called it a “crowd pleasing bargain.” All in all, the blogosphere is in love with this wine – I don’t recall ever seeing such uniformly positive commentary on a wine in the $10 price range.

In case you wondered about the Palo Alto name, their site explains:

“Palo Alto” is the nickname for the thorny flowering trees that are dotted all over the rolling hillsides of the Maule Valley, the place where our wines are produced. These trees thrive in the dry, rocky, infertile soils. It’s no coincidence that where you see a “palo alto” you will often find vines. Vines planted in such soils tend to produce really high quality grapes, hence the name of our wines.

Overall, Palo Alto Reserve 2008 is a great value – I’m tempted to put a few bottles away to see what it’s like in a couple of years.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend South Eastern Australia Shiraz 2004

Price: $9
Maker: Ravenswood Vintners, Reynella, SA, Australia
Varietal: Shiraz
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Ravenswood Vintners Blend South Eastern Australia Shiraz 2004 is, as the name suggests, an Aussie import under the Ravenswood label best known for their California Zinfandels. If you are looking for Shiraz, Australia isn’t a bad place to look for it. This one has a nice aroma of leather and spice. It’s got jammy raspberry and black cherry notes, a bit of chocolate, and a light oak finish. All in all, it’s what you might expect from Ravenswood – a big, fruity Shiraz with a sort of Zin sensibility.

As befits the Australia origin, the label for this Shiraz substitutes kangaroos for the usual ravens in the circular design. The slogan at Ravenswood is “No Wimpy Wines,” and their Vintners Blend South Eastern Australia Shiraz fulfills that promise.

Lindemans Bin 55 Shiraz Cabernet 2006

Lindemans Bin SeriesPrice: $6
Maker: Lindemans Wines, Australia
Varietal: Shiraz 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40% blend
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Lindemans Bin 55 Shiraz Cabernet 2006 is another bargain blend from this major Australian winemaker. It has blackberry, plum, and cocoa notes with a slightly peppery finish. It isn’t overly complex, but is pleasant and very drinkable.

Tom & Melody said of this blend, “It’s very fruit forward. It’s luscious if one’s taste leans toward fruit dominance. It’s too much if one’s taste leans toward dryness and acidity.”

When it comes to Lindemans blends, we probably slightly prefer their Cab-Merlot. Still, for the price, Lindemans Bin 55 Shiraz Cabernet 2006 is hard to beat.

Wyalla Cove Shiraz 2004

Price: $5
Maker: Wyalla Cove, Adelaide, South Australia
Varietal: Shiraz
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5 %
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Wyalla Cove Shiraz 2004 has moved to near the top of my “bargain buy” list. I found it at a local supermarket, Aldi, that is otherwise known for its lack of shopping bags (you have to supply your own) and its inability to take credit cards. That’s perhaps not the most promising start for a wine shopping expedition, but the selection looked a bit like Trader Joe’s – a lot of mystery labels, all priced under $10. In any case, Wyalla Cove Shiraz is a fruity delight for its price. The nose is an enticing blend of leather, licorice, and spice. Cherry and plum dominate the fruity flavor, with some peppery spice in the finish. This Shiraz may not be the most complex wine – it’s a bit sweeter than typical, though hardly a “sweet” wine – but it’s very pleasant and drinkable.

Despite considerable effort,I couldn’t find out much about this winery. They show up as a supplier to the ubiquitous Prestige Wines. Whatever the origin, Wyalla Cove Shiraz 2004 is very drinkable, if not very sophisticated. Give it some air, as it improves with breathing. For the price, it’s hard to beat.

Banrock Station Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Banrock Station Shiraz CabernetPrice: $6
Maker: Banrock Station Wines, Kingston on Murray, South Australia
Varietal: Shiraz (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

We’ve seen Banrock Station Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, an Aussie bargain wine, on the shelf numerous times, and finally brought a bottle home. This wine is mostly Shiraz (80%) with some Cabernet Sauvingon blended in. It has a fairly potent aroma of berries, cedar, spice. On the palate, it’s very juicy – we found it to be medium bodied with flavors of ripe cherries, oak, and nicely balanced tannins. It’s not particularly spicy for a Shiraz. We recommend letting this wine breathe for quite a while, as that brought out the fruit and made the wine more pleasant overall.

We hope to see some Banrock Station casks (that’s what boxed wine is called in Australia) eventually. They haven’t hit our local market, but judging by the Banrock Station website they are a major focus of the firm.

Lizard Flat Shiraz 2004

Lizard Flat ShirazPrice: $9
Maker: Heath Wines, Bowden, South Australia
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: 1-liter Tetra Pak
Alcohol: 14%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Lizard Flat Shiraz 2004 comes in one of those 1-liter Tetra Pak that seems way too small to hold a third more wine than a 750 ml bottle. It has the typical screw cap closure, making it easy to open and reseal. This Shiraz has some licorice and vanilla in the nose, and is very juicy on the palate. Cherries and blackberries are the main notes, with some oak and rather light pepper. The wine isn’t too complex, but the finish lasts suprisingly well. At 14%, this Shiraz is at the high end of alcohol content for a Shiraz. Overall, Lizard Flat Shiraz is an accessible, fun wine that is well suited to its informal and convenient packaging. It’s a nice choice for picnics, outdoor entertaining, and home consumption.

Oddly, the Heath Wines website suggests, “Drink now or be rewarded by cellaring for up to 5 years.” We’ve got to admit that the idea of cellaring Tetra Paks is a bit foreign, but maybe we’re just old-fashioned. This is the first Heath wine that we’ve knowingly tasted, and we’re glad we tried it. We note they also offer several wines from “100 year old vines” which sound quite interesting, but haven’t appeared in the local market.

Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2006

Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2006Price: $10
Maker: Wine Cube
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: 1.5 liter box
Alcohol: 13%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

is the first wine in Target’s WineCube series we have tried in a while. We did try Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2004, and we commented, “The aroma is mild, with berry and oak notes. The flavor is straightforward and juicy, with just a bit of oak and spice to add interest. This wine doesn’t have a lot of structure, but it’s the kind of red that pleases crowds. It’s easy to drink, and would be a fine cookout wine.” The 2006 fits that description fairly well. We found a bit of leather in the nose, and the tannins seemed slightly more prominent. Otherwise, the 2006 was quite similar.

The 1.5 liter cube is a great packaging concept. It seems impossible that this compact box could hold two full bottles, but it does. And, at only 1.5 liters, glass-a-day drinkers won’t get bored by having to consume 3 liters of the same stuff one glass at a time.

Makulu Shiraz 2005

Makulu ShirazPrice: $6
Maker: South Africa, Imported by Prestige Wine Group
Varietal: Shiraz
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 14%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Makulu Shiraz 2005 is a bold and fruity red wine. There’s a mild berry aroma, but it’s on the palate that this wine gets big. In that respect, this Shiraz is like its sibling, Makulu Iswithi Pinotage 2005. It’s like the Pinotage, too, in its intense fruity character. The wine leads with blackberry and raspberry notes, then transitions into a finish with a bit of oak and a mild tannic bite. At 14% alcohol, this is a heftier Shiraz than most. Overall, we like this wine. We’d prefer more spice for a Shiraz, but this wine is very nice on its own merits. This wine is fruity, but doesn’t have the sweetness of the Pinotage.

According to Prestige, “Makulu means ‘BIG’ in the ancient Zulu language. It is one of eleven native languages of South Africa. Makulu wines are ‘BIG’, displaying distinct fruit characteristics.” Based on this Shiraz, as well as the Pinotage we tried earlier, we have to agree with the characterization of these wines as “big” for their varietals. There’s lots of fruit and flavor, even if they aren’t overly complex or sophisticated.