The Australian Challenge

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It’s something of an effort trying to remember who makes what in the Australian wine business.  So often, it turns out that one wine company acquires another one; a bigger company comes along and takes over both, only to be followed by an even bigger fish that swallows the whole lot.

Taras wines are produced by Emu Wines, which had its origins in London’s Hanover Square way back in the nineteenth century. Over the years, the company bought up wineries around the world and especially Australia. Emu was then bought by Hardys in 1976 and in 2008 the company changed its name to Constellation Wines and became owned by Constellation wines of the USA. In June 2011, the company changed its name again to Accolade Wines. You see what I mean? It’s a bit of a challenge.

Here are a couple of wines from Accolade that you can pick up at most local branches of Family Mart and other larger supermarkets.  I’m not entirely sure why an Australian wine should be given the Ukrainian name “Taras”. Perhaps it’s inspired by Gogol’s depressing historical novel, which tells the story of Taras Bulba and his two sons. Or perhaps it comes from the orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba by the Czech composer Leoš Janáèek. Perhaps “Taras” refers to The Alberta Reptile and Amphibian Society. Or on second thoughts, perhaps it doesn’t.

Taras Bin 681 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (red), Australia. (Family Mart and others, Bt. 449)

Anyway, the wine turns out to be a very dark, intense red with a distinctive aroma of black fruit, blackberries and ripe cherries. There’s a touch of oaky spiciness on the smell too. The taste comes as a surprise, for it’s quite assertive on the palate; plenty of fruit but distinctly dry. There’s a good dash of firm tannins too, which comes through especially on the finish.

Paul Lapsley, Chief Red Winemaker. Paul Lapsley, Chief Red Winemaker.

In contrast to many of today’s Australian reds that seem to be easy-drinking crowd pleasers, the company’s chief red wine-maker Paul Lapsley has given this one a stronger character.  This Cabernet is very much a “take me as you find me type”.  It’s quite a macho little number really and rather attractive in its way.  It cries out for food and at 13.5% that’s not a bad idea. Try it with roasts, rich red meat dishes or even strong cheese. But not with Cheddar please. I keep explaining to the dogs (who, to my dismay are actually quite fond of cheese) that Cabernet Sauvignon never works with Cheddar, or many other British cheeses for that matter. Never.

I know this is supposed to be a wine column, but if you want my humble opinion, the best thing to drink with British Cheddar is a glass of ice-cold beer.

Taras Bin 681 Chardonnay 2011 (white), Australia. (Family Mart and others, Bt. 449)

Here’s a decent, basic Chardonnay with a typical lemony-gold colour and hints of green. There’s a pleasant and quite sophisticated whiff of peppery pineapple (if you can imagine that), melon and peach, a dash of lemon and the aromas of dry herbs in the background.

There’s plenty of citrus fruitiness on the palate and a lively cut of acidity, which makes this medium-bodied wine taste crisp and refreshing. It’s really dry but quite an easy-drinker, with the slightest suggestion of sweet fruitiness. There’s a longish and attractive dry finish too. With its bright oaky freshness and 13% alcohol content, I’d guess this wine would work well with food, especially fish dishes or lightly cooked chicken. Fish or chicken in a light creamy sauce would work well too, because the sharp and zesty taste of the wine would make a pleasing contrast and it would “cut” the texture of the sauce.  It would make a good partner for soft and creamy cheeses like Brie, Camembert or St. Paulin.

To be honest, because of Thai duty and tax, I think this wine comes out a bit expensive for what you actually get, but because it’s easily available at lots of Family Mart outlets around here, it could really save the day if you run out of wine half way through your chicken nuggets.