Big Wines from Big Countries


Many years ago I was in an Italian restaurant in Cambridge (the one in Massachusetts, not the one in England) and from the wine-list, selected a Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon, which seemed absurdly cheap at the time. I had never tasted a Sebastiani wine before so this seemed an exciting opportunity.  It was magnificent: a huge California-style wine as opulent as the lumbering American cars of the day. But there was also a tantalising softness to the taste and an extraordinary concentration of fruit. Whether I would a still enjoy the wine today with the same passion I have no idea, but I managed to buy some bottles and took them home to brighten up England’s rainy climate.

I think my own taste has moved towards lighter and more elegant wines during recent years, although I have no idea why this should be. However, judging from the enormous sales of some Californian and Australian wines there is obviously a huge market for big, fruity wines. To my mind, they are nearly always best when they are partnered with food.

“Jumpin’ Jack” Shiraz 2010 (red) Australia. (Foodland Bt. 375)

Well, at least, it sounds Australian and with a drawing of a kangaroo and a boomerang on the label it leaves little to doubt. The wine comes from the huge company called Warburn Estate, whose other brands like “Gossips”, “Rumours” and “Bushman’s Gully” have acquired quite a following.

Warburn Estate’s Jumpin’ Jack logo. Warburn Estate’s Jumpin’ Jack logo.

This Shiraz is a very dark purplish-red with a rich fruity aroma of jammy black cherries, woody herbs, plums and faint hints of spice and licorice. You might also pick up a smoky, peppery aroma, which is one of the trade-mark smells of Shiraz.  The wine has a soft mouth-feel, slightly sweetish on the palate and very much a commercial style. It probably sells by the truck-load. There’s very little tannin on the taste but you’ll probably notice a hint of oak. It’s a pleasant medium-bodied easy-drinker and I could imagine this going down a treat at a typical Australian barbeque in the garden. If you like a big, yet easy-to-drink Ozzie Shiraz, give this one a try. It’s around 12% alcohol.

By the way, Warburn Estate is located in New South Wales in an agricultural region known for its wine production. Warburn’s winemaking traditions started in Italy many years ago but the company is now one of Australia’s most successful wine producers. They have more than 1000 hectares of vineyards and tank storage for 35 million litres of wine. That’s a lot of wine if you ask me. Actually, it’s a lot of wine, whether you ask me or not.

J. W. Morris Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (red) California, USA. (Friendship Bt. 585)

The name J. W. Morris sounds to me more like a second-hand car dealer than a wine company. It doesn’t quite have same ring as Château Lafite-Rothschild.  But it’s quite a big name in the USA and owned by the curious-sounding Bronco Wine Company which owns another sixty different American wine brands.  Some of these specialize in ultra-cheap wines that sell for just a couple of bucks a bottle. I don’t think some Americans realise how lucky they are; being able to buy a half-decent wine for sixty baht a throw.

This is a thick-looking deep red, with an oily appearance and those characteristic legs that form on the inside of the glass when you swirl the wine around. There’s a pleasant, floral and slightly jammy red fruit aroma and you might also pick out the smells of redcurrants and blackcurrants. The mouth-feel is very soft and undemanding and the oaky fruit is well forward. There’s a good balance and depth with hardly any tannins on the taste but just a touch of very soft herby tannins of the finish. If anything, the wine has a slightly sweetish flavour suggesting that the makers have the mass market in mind.

This is quite a well-made wine at about 12% alcohol content with a rather commercial “come-and-get-me style”. It would make a good partner for red meats and barbeque food. Incidentally, this wine sells for around three dollars in the USA. Now that’s a sobering thought.