Tuesday, June 06, 2006

From the Land Down Under

Even a Bubbly Girl can find herself feeling as if she's lost her fizz from time to time, kind of like a bottle of champagne that's been open too long. Between rushing around to different appointments, finding a new gardener, and doing spring cleaning I wasn't feeling myself.

But I soon found my joie de vivre and apreciation for this enchanting style of wine revived after a visit with the serious and quixotic winemaker, Peter Rumball. I'd wanted to meet Rumball because he's the premier maker of sparkling shiraz in Australia.

Since he flew to San Diego just to meet me for lunch, I played good hostess and made sure he got to see expansive and breath-taking stretches of San Diego coastline, yada, yada, yada. He surprised me though, when he pulled out his camera and began snapping photos of the squirrels burrowing into the ice plant near La Jolla Cove. It turns out they don't have squirrels in Australia.

For a big gruff looking guy, Rumball was rather particular. And he doesn't think much of women wearing track suits to lunch in La Jolla at a fine restaurant like Nine-Ten in the Grand Colonial Hotel. And he wasn't sue about eating soup with other than a regulation-style round soup spoon.

But he was most irritated by the way sparkling shiraz is written up as some exotic and strange wine from Down Under. Sparkling shiraz has been around in Australia since 1862, when a Frenchman gave native shiraz grapes the French methode champenoise treatment. It's the traditional wine for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in Australia. Rumball said it's also lovely with game meats; in a recent vintner's cookbook, he paired it with a kangaroo curry.

Over a less-exotic lunch of flat iron steak salads with caramelized onions and truffled french fries, he extolled the virtues of this unique wine.

Pouring it into a glass, sparkling shiraz is a deep berry color with a thick foamy head-- not unlike a Guinness. He explained this is because of the tannins in the wine. It's flavor not surprisingly is thick with berries, leather, tobacco with a hint of sweetness and more than a little tannin.

It's definitely the boldest sparkler I've ever tried. But I'm not sure sparkling shiraz would ever become my everyday wine -- a good one, if you can find it -- costs about $40. But if I were grilling a leg of lamb, I might give this black champagne a go.

And, it will be interesting to see how Rumball's next venture -- sparkling merlot -- will be received as it makes its way into US markets.