The Eagle Hawk has landed


In 1949, fifteen-year-old Wolfgang Blass ran away from school. His distraught parents gave him an ultimatum: either get back to school or take a three-year apprenticeship in the wine business. Fortunately for the world of wine, Wolfgang rejected the first option. He went on to study Champagne production in Reims and was the youngest person ever to gain the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in wine. For a time, he worked in England at Avery’s of Bristol and studied the art of blending. In 1963 Wolfgang arrived in Australia and set himself up as a wine consultant. He also started making wine himself but it wasn’t until 1969 that he acquired a small site on Bilyara Road near Nuriootpa, now a major commercial centre in the Barossa Valley. Having discovered that the name Bilyara was the aboriginal word for an Eagle Hawk the choice was made. This huge bird would become the symbol of his winery and even today, there’s a picture of an Eagle Hawk on every bottle of Wolf Blass wine.

And it is huge. It’s not only the largest bird of prey in Australia but the largest bird of prey in the world. It has a wing span of over seven feet and it’s about a yard long. I’d certainly give it a wide berth. The Wedge-tailed Eagle, the name by which it’s more correctly known has long, fairly broad wings, fully feathered legs and an unmistakable wedge-shaped tail. And here’s another thing. They are amazing flyers and can soar for hours on end at around six thousand feet and sometimes higher. No one seems to know why they go to all this trouble. Perhaps they just enjoy it.

Sourced from many different vineyards in South Australia, Wolf Blass wines have always had a unique and highly distinguishable style. The Eaglehawk range, entry-level wines for everyday drinking has certainly landed in Thailand and you can find them in many wine outlets.

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Chardonnay 2011 (white), Australia (Bt. 540 @ Friendship)

This rich, bright golden wine looks quite stunning in the glass. I expected the aromas to really hit my nose but no, this is a lovely refined smell. If you give it a bit of time to develop, you’ll be rewarded with delicate reminders of citrus, melon, peach and fresh white flowers. Exactly what flowers I am afraid I have no idea. I am not too good on flowers, unlike my mother who could spot a Chrysosplenium alternifolium at three hundred yards. Anyway, the mouth-feel of this wine is gorgeous. It’s soft and silky with a lovely light, creamy texture that often comes with a good Chardonnay (shar-dn-AY). There’s just the faintest touch of acidity which enhances the flavour and gives the wine a sense of firmness, but the chances are that you might miss the acidity altogether. Incidentally, if the mention of “acidity” evokes distant memories of steaming test-tubes in the chemistry lab, fear not, because most fruit and nearly all foods and drinks contain some acidity, even strawberry jam, milk products and cornflakes.

Of course, Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy region of Eastern France but it’s now grown wherever wine is produced. It’s a remarkably versatile grape too. In Chablis it produces lean, crisply mineral flavours whereas in warmer climes, the tastes are more of citrus, peach and melon. In very warm vineyards such the Central Coast area of California you’ll notice more fig and tropical fruit aromas.

There’s plenty of rich white fruit on the palate and just a hint of oak but what I like about this wine is that the makers have not let the fruit get over the top, but kept it in balance. There’s a very long peach and citrus finish too. So if you prefer your Chardonnays with a bit of character, give this one a try. The makers suggest that you could pair the wine with chicken, creamy pasta sauces, seafood, veal and quail. They also suggest poached chicken and avocado salad, or a pumpkin and bacon risotto. I’d be quite happy to drink this all evening and so, it seems, would the three dogs. But that’s not going to happen, because they’re having beef chunks and rice for dinner with a rich brown sauce, and a Cabernet Sauvignon will be much more appropriate.

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Merlot 2011 (red), Australia (Bt. 540 @ Friendship)

For some reason, Merlot (mehr-LOH) has acquired the reputation of being the underdog to Cabernet Sauvignon, probably because over the years, cheap commercial plonk has given the grape a bad name. Regardless of what people tell you, Merlot can make superb wines. In the legendary wines of Château Petrus, they use virtually no other grapes. Merlots from Europe and other cool climates tend to have generous tannin and a firm structure with earthy reminders of woodland and tobacco. It’s very easy to mistake some of them for Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlots from warmer vineyards tend to have less tannin, a softer texture and more fruit.

It seems to me that Wolf Blass wines always have something to say and this one is no exception. The vibrant dark wine has a sweetly seductive aroma of dark plum, ripe black cherries, a hint of spice and fresh herbs in the background. It may be an entry-level wine, but it certainly doesn’t smell like one. It doesn’t taste like one either, because there’s a lovely soft and full mouth-feel with plenty of sweet fruit on the palate. You’ll probably pick up reminders of plum, cherry and a dash of spice. There’s some vanilla too and an attractive zingy touch of acidity which perks up the flavour. As you’d expect, the wine has a long, smooth and fruity finish. It’s a pleasantly full-bodied and dry easy-drinker, and the makers suggest that it would be ideal with turkey, duck or pasta. Merlot tends to go well with a wide range of foods so don’t be afraid to experiment. Perhaps you could even try it with a roasted Eagle Hawk, if you can find one.

And talking of which, these massive Eagle Hawks are the only birds that have a reputation for viciously attacking hang-gliders. So if you happen to participate in this exhausting activity, steer well clear of Eagle Hawk country or you might return to ground level faster than expected.