Big Aussie Reds

Met up with Australian winemaker Ben Glaetzer the other night for dinner at Gotham Bar & Grill, where vertical food is still vertical (the tuna tartare still has that tower of greenery rising above it, framed by two crisp cracker doodads) and the diners are still powerful (at the table next to us, unless I'm losing it, was Ken Chenault, CEO of Amex and, in a very extended way, my boss). Glaetzer is shaven-headed and sort of imposing, but he's such a nice guy you quickly forget that he looks somewhat like a much taller and more physically fit version of Dr. Evil. Over a bottle of 2006 As Sortes, an exotically aromatic, top-notch Godello from Spain's Valdeorras region, made by Ricardo Palacios, I quizzed Glaetzer about recent Australian vintages. That being the sort of thing one does to visiting winemakers if one is a wine journalist.

On the '05 Barossa reds, he commented, "They tend to be somewhat angular—what I call arms and legs—and are just settling down now. '05 McLaren is very similar, though Barossa is integrating faster. 2006 was basically a gift: no heat spikes, no rain—it combines the strength of the '05s with the grace of '04. 2007 was a pig of a vintage. An absolute freak. Everything was about three weeks ahead in terms of sugar, and about three weeks behind in terms of flavor. So a lot of people made really high alcohol, green wines; those who hung on and waited have less wine, but it's at least semi-balanced."

We tasted two of Glaetzer's 2006s, both of which will be in the US starting this month. First, the 2006 Anaperenna ($50; formerly known as Godolphin, but now with a new monicker thanks to some litigious Arabic fellow with a horse stable bearing the same name, apparently). A blend of 75% Shiraz and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, it had aromas of spicy oak, mocha, cassis and dark berries, with intense flavors that followed suit and were bolstered by spicy tannins. Impressive, but not as impressive as the 2006 Amon-Ra ($90), which is 100% Barossa Shiraz. Despite being potently flavorful—think cherry liqueur, ripe raspberries, light mint notes—it was exceptionally fresh and graceful. A lot of high-end Shirazes tend to leave me cold, they're so hyperripe and globlike; this manages to saturate your mouth with flavor but not weigh you down. Terrific stuff, albeit at a steep price.

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