A Down Under, Down Home, Get Down Thanksgiving

Ode To Katerina B.:

To me, the weirdest thing about Australians—and they are legion—is that they speak English.  That is, if you can process words like chinwag, bodgy, dinkum and crack-a-fruity through your Funk & Wagnalls and still come up with English.

It’s weird because Australia is so far away from anything that could vaguely be considered reality that even their moon is upside down.  They celebrate Christmas in the summer and Easter in the fall; they have mammals who lay eggs, birds with fur instead of feathers; they count among their citizens the world’s most deadly spider, the world’s most deadly snake and the world’s most deadly jellyfish.  With twice as many kangaroos as people and twice as many sheep as kangaroos, it’s not really a ‘human’ continent, is it?

Hawke and Holt

But, they do drink, I will give them that.  It is an established fact that the first Australian settlers—convicted criminals from England whose arrival on January 26, 1788, is celebrated, bizarrely, as ‘Australia Day’—drank more alcohol per capita than any other homo sapien community in the history of earth.  In fact, Bob Hawke appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for having sculled two-and-a-half pints of beer in eleven seconds; in 1983, he became Australia’s Prime Minister.  Another Prime Minister, Harold Holt, simply vanished off the face of the map: Talk about your ‘lost weekend’, jeez louise…

The Aussies may not know where Harold Holt went, but by golly, they know their beer.  And they know their wine.  And I’d be willing to bet my last gold mohur that, while pissing the night away like in that Chumbawamba tune, they know their whiskey, too.

…But They Are Suddenly Experts on Thanksgiving??

So, I get this form letter—in English—from Matt Koch, Rosemount Estate’s senior winemaker, beginning with that odious phrase ‘G’day’—the salutary equivalent of jamming a lit cherry bomb in somebody’s ear—wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving while taking the convenient opportunity to sell me some luscious, fragrant Rosemount Moscato, 2012 as the wine with which to win friends and influence people at the turkey table.

That’s another weird thing about Australians: They release their 2012s before Georges Dubouef releases his Nouveau.

But anyway, this wine is a non-trend-bucker if ever there was one, and frankly, I’m bringing something with a little more oomph to dinner today.  Nonetheless, moscato remains Grape of the Year, and everybody is looking for a slice of the action.  The formula is basic, too: Lightly sweet, priced to move, outrageously aromatic and low in alcohol…  In other words, a wine for people who previously didn’t like wine.

Rosemount Reels it In

Oatley sowing his oats.

As a concept, Rosemount Estates has always been a conundrum—and not in a Wagnerian or Caymussy sort of a way.  Purchased in 1969 by Robert Oatley—Grand Master of Mudgee—the company pretty much put Australian wine on the world map simply by back-blending all the right juice: Price, quality, volume—even stylish packaging.  South-Eastern Australia, the source of most Rosemount grapes, is so massive that it isn’t even referred to as a wine region, but as a ‘viticulture super-zone’, and from the outset, Oatley’s wines were in-your-face approachable.  A scant decade after production began, 1980 Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay became the first Australian wine to win Double Gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

It would be fair to say the continent, having produced wine since the first shipload of crooks arrived in 1788, has begun to lean heavily toward the Rosemount-invented bulk-sales matrix.  Penfolds Grange notwithstanding (which Hugh Johnson called ‘the only First Growth of the Southern Hemisphere’), thanks to supermarket producers like wallaby-labeled [yellow tail], scores of copycat ‘critter’ brands and what Australians call ‘cleanskins’—wines that list varietal but no winery—much of the world has formed an impression of Australian wines as being cheap, chuggable and generic-flavored.

Thus, rather than pushing envelopes in the Oatley tradition, Rosemount Moscato is exactly what you’d expect a $7 bottle of pumped-onto-the-market moscato to be: innocuously light, sherbet-sweet, otherwise rather colorless and bland.

Matt Koch

I must assume that Matt Koch, who has been with Rosemount since 1995, signed the letter under some duress from his directors, since this is the time when Australia is trying to regain some of the premium market share that the bulk boys like Lindeman’s and [yellow tail] ruined.

Says California retail buyer Chuck Hayward, “It’s been a perfect storm of laziness.  People were making so much money they didn’t think they needed to do any work.”

Well, now that the work has begun, the overall Australian strategy seems to be a near-desperate drive to familiarize Americans with a broader array of Australian styles, brands and appellations, especially those wines that command higher prices.

Rosemount Moscato 2012 is the direct antithesis of this all-important roadmap, and I suspect that a canny winemaker like Koch is aware it.

Besides, it is very much a summer wine, rather unsuited for a chilly, cloudy Thanksgiving afternoon.  I know, I know, it is summer down under—just another one of the Southern Hemisphere’s inexplicable anomalies—but they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, either.

In any case, I still intend to pay homage to my buddy Katerina B. from Sydney:  I have a rockin bottle of Cooralook Pinot Noir ’09 from the Mornington Peninsula—and that’s what I’ll be cracking open—around the same time as the Detroit Lions start cracking open some Texas head.

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