Stalking the Barking Dingo
How wine gets here from down under
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
I’m going out on a limb here.
It might be a stretch, but I’m pretty confident. If you’re reading this column then you’re interested in wine.
Now, I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, or even Criss Angel, but I’m going to say, if you’re reading this column, you not only like wine, but you like to read about wine. I’ll give you a minute to bask in the power of my mental deductions.
One of the biggest gripes I have about wine columns is that they often talk about an esoteric little wine that’s only available to people with brown hair, on a Tuesday evening, from 6:59 to 7:29 p.m. in the cellar of their shop, which is reached through a secret door in the janitor’s closet of the McDonald’s next door. Oh, and you have to be dressed in buckskin.
The moral of that kind of column is that wines are allocated, which means certain customers (like the State of New Hampshire) can only get specific amounts or even none at all.
I used to have this boss who said, “It’s all about relationships.” (Until he took his advice too seriously and got canned because he was having way too many.) And in the wine business it is all about relationships. Let’s say there’s this vineyard owner in Australia. And he makes wine and calls it — I don’t know — Barking Dingo or Deadly Cone Shellfish, you know, something Australian with cute animals.
The vineyard is three hectares or 7.41 acres with a hectare being 2.47 acres. Yield is anywhere from 1.5 to 3 tons of grapes per acre, depending on the growing season’s weather conditions. After the wine is crushed and fermented, placed in barrels and aged and bottled it produces anywhere from 2,800 to 4,400 bottles per acre, times 7.41 acres, which equals an average of about 26,676 bottles per harvest.
Not a lot to go around. Of course if the wine is plonk or quaff or what we call “for everyday drinking” then they have ways of stretching the yield. But the only way to make money off that kind of wine is to make a boatload of it or have an extraordinary distribution channel. Most choose the former. Usually low yield means higher quality. Now some wine is sold at the Cellar Door, which is Australian for tasting room, and some is sold domestically. Maybe half makes it out for export. Now for every foreign exporter there has to be a domestic importer, or someone who’s interested in bringing the wine in, through customs, gaining the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — doesn’t that sound like a really fun place to work! — approvals on labeling, purity and making sure the wine is actually the varietal the vintner, exporter and importer are representing it to be. Now let’s say the winemaker has a sister in New Jersey and her neighbor’s brother-in-law is a wine importer. Then he might be the sole U.S. importer of the wine and this would be one reason why the delicious little bottle of Dingo Shellfish Shiraz you saw in the Price Rite in Hohokus isn’t available in Milford.
All this thought about how wine gets here was prompted by an online offer, an e-mail actually, from Personal Cellar. Although I’m usually too impatient to buy wine online (the waiting is the toughest part) I occasionally purchase bottles that I can’t find elsewhere. These are small family-owned operations, producing maybe 40,000 bottles.
What got my attention today was the $140-per-bottle price for d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz. The Dead Arm name comes from a disease that withers one side of older, trellised grape vines resulting in dead wood on one side and succulent juicy grapes on the other. The d’arenberg vineyard in Australia’s McLaren Vale dates back to 1912, but some of the shiraz vines are 60 to 70 years old. The wine is spicy with pepper flakes, jammy fruit and a low tannin finish that has a slight hint of sugar and alcohol. But $140!!! Even for the exceptional 2001 vintage that’s steep.
d’Arenberg wines are widely available in New Hampshire, thank goodness, so there’s no need to pay top dollar. But sometimes it’s worth going off the beaten path. Even online I found the 2001 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz available for $58.99, including shipping and handling. Enjoy the in-state bounty of d’Arenberg:
• d’Arenberg Chambourcin Peppermint Paddock ($22.99) an Aussie take on a French cold-weather-resistant grape.
• d’Arenberg Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon ($60.99) a big lush wine with subdued fruit and lingering finish.
• d’Arenberg Olive Grove Chardonnay ($15.99) as good as most Down Under Chards get.
• d’Arenberg Custodian Grenache ($24.99) Fruity and Rhone like.
• d’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz ($10.99) one for everyday.
• d’Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne/Viognier ($16.99) a slightly sweet white with a great food-pairing ability.
• d’Arenberg 28 Road Mourvedre ($25.99) unique and interesting, showing perhaps a new future trend in Oz winemaking. Try it to taste an unsung varietal.
• d’Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling ($10.99) Will Australian riesling succeed in America where Germany has not tread?
• d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz ($16.99) almost as yummy as The Dead Arm.
• d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Grenache ($18.99) Fruity with tannins that age will tame. .