Blass Red Blend Reserve Release 2016, Australia
W hen I hear the name “Wolf Blass” I immediately picture a yellow wine label with a German-looking eagle at the top and shiraz or cabernet sauvignon in the bottle.
The wine was the product of German-born Wolfgang Blass, who grew his brand to worldwide prominence. Wolf led the way for many innovations in Australian wine, including being one of the first to produce a wine ready to drink when it was released.
Over the years the company has merged and changed hands several times. Though Wolf Blass no longer owns the company bearing his name, it has remained true to his spirit of innovation.
The latest is the Blass brand wines now making their debut in the U.S. market. All three offerings–cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and a shiraz-based red blend–are all easy to approach and each sells for about $15.
I liked all three wines, but my favorite was the shiraz blend. It is a wine to drink when you just want an enjoyable glass of wine with a meal and don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing. I have a friend who enjoys wine but has trouble picking out the nuances sometimes tossed around when people are talking about wine. This is a wine for him and the countless other wine drinkers who just want to find a pleasant drink and don’t want to think about whether they are tasting cherry or blackberry or leather.
This is a serious wine without being overly complex. I do detect blueberries and blackberries and spice notes typical of shiraz in this wine, but you could just describe it as smooth and medium-bodied. It has a rich mouthfeel with a long finish. The tannins are velvety and well integrated. That is, you don’t feel like you’re chewing on a piece of wood as you drink it.
It tastes like you could cellar it for 3-4 years and it would continue to improve, but I wouldn’t keep it much longer than that.
As with all the Blass wines, the grapes come from some of the best vineyards in Australia. Each lot is gently pressed and fermented separately for 5-7 days. Lots were aged separately in a combination of stainless steel and 13 percent French and American oak. The oak helped enhance the structure and complexity while the stainless-aged wine contributed fresh fruit character and vibrancy. The lots were blended just before bottling.
The medium-bodied chardonnay has enticing fruit aromas with a lush palate that perfectly balances acidity and creaminess. The finish is long and enjoyable.
The taste reflects how the wine was made, with cool fermentation and some malolactic fermentation to create better texture and weight. Some of the wine was filtered to retain crisp acidity and freshness before blending. Sixty percent of the wine was matured in French oak to add structure and complexity.
Like most Australian wines today, all the Blass wines come with a screw cap.
Winery: Wolf Blass had its beginnings in Germany where its founder and namesake was born and received his early wine education. After receiving a masters degree in oenology he studied Champagne techniques in France and blending in England.
Wolf moved to Australia’s Barossa Valley in 1961 and worked as a consulting winemaker wherever he could find work. Eventually he saved enough money to open his own winery five years later, Wolf Blass Wines.
Blass began working with winemaker John Glaetzer in 1970, and within a year he followed Blass to the new Wolf Blass wine in Bilyara. Together they introduced the first Wolf Blass Black Label in 1973. In 1974 it won Australia’s most prestigious wine award, the Jimmy Watson Trophy. The winery won again in 1975, 1976 and 1999. No other wine has won the trophy four times.
Wolf Blass helped put Australian wine on the map with its distinctive, bold and easily drinkable wines. Before Wolf Blass and others changed the style, most red wines were made to be cellared for several years after their release. Today, of course, most wines are ready to drink upon release.
Wolf Blass simplified life for its customers around the world by color coding its labels. Realizing that European wines had a complicated, confusing system to classify the quality of wines, Wolf Blass set up a system where a wine lover could immediately differentiate its wines.
It started with the entry-level red label to yellow, gold, gray, black and – the pinnacle of the hierarchy – the single-vineyard platinum label. Yellow is the label I remember seeing the most. The yellow label started in the early days so Australian drinkers could distinguish Wolf Blass wines from European wines, which all had white labels.
The first vintage of shiraz-cabernet-malbec was 3,000 bottles. Today, an estimated 60 million bottles leave the winery each year. The company’s logo, an eaglehawk, remains a standard on the label.
The bird connection has its origin in Blass’ first vineyard in the Barossa Valley. Blass discovered that bilyara is the Aboriginal name for an eaglehawk. The national symbol of his homeland, Germany, is also an eagle, and the bird has been on every label of Wolf Blass since. On the Blass label it is a hawk soaring through the air.
In 2003 Wolf Blass became Australia’s top wine brand by value and volume sold.
The excellence of the early years continues today, as Wolf Blass has become one of the most honored wineries in Australia. Its winemaking team won red winemaker of the year in 2016 and international winery of the year in 2015 from the San Francisco International wine competition.
Goes with: We had the Blass Red Blend with some gumbo I made over the holidays. It is a rich gumbo, filled with chicken, andouille, shrimp, crab, crawfish and okra. Starting with making the roux, it takes the better part of a day to make this gumbo, but I usually make a big batch so I have leftovers and some to freeze. I serve it over rice.
The rich, warm flavors of the shiraz blend were perfect with the gumbo. I loved the wine so much, I continued to sip it after dinner until we finished the bottle.
This wine also would pair well with other comfort foods such as hamburgers, pulled pork, pork chops or duck confit.
Here’s the gumbo recipe:
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup flour
1 whole chicken
1 large onion peeled and quartered
leafy tops of one bunch celery
1 cup diced celery
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon gumbo filé
1 teaspoon dried thyme
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
1 pound andouille sausage cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 can tomato puree, 16 ounces
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound crabmeat
1 pound crawfish tails
2 cups okra, sliced
Make the roux by whisking the flour into the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Constantly stir the mixture until it turns a dark caramel color. After about 15 minutes you should have a smooth paste. This is a crucial ingredient as it will thicken your gumbo and give it a rich, dark color. Don’t burn the roux. Transfer it to a small bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Drain off excess oil.
Using a large stockpot boil the chicken, onion, celery tops and bay leaf. (If you like more meat add a chicken breast or two.) Add salt and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 60 minutes. Remove the chicken and let it cool. Strain out all the bones, skin, onion and celery. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat off the bones and shred into bite-sized pieces. After wiping clean the stockpot, put the chicken and broth back in. Sometimes I add a box or two of prepared chicken broth.
Warm the olive oil in a small pan and add the pepper (green, red or yellow), diced celery and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften and color slightly on the edges, about 12-15 minutes. Combine the red, white and black pepper, the filé and the thyme and sprinkle evenly over the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are well coated, about 5 minutes. Mix in the garlic, cooking another 5 minutes.
Heat the stock and whisk 1/4 cup into the roux until it turns into a smooth paste. Add to the stockpot, stirring well to combine. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and lower the heat to simmer it all for about 60 minutes.
While the gumbo is cooking, cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 5-8 minutes. Add the andouille sausage and stir to coat it with the bacon drippings. Set aside.
After the gumbo has simmered for 60 minutes, add the tomato puree and bacon and sausage mixture. Take about a cup of the hot gumbo liquid out of the pot and deglaze the bacon pan, scraping the bottom to remove browned bits. Return that mixture to the gumbo and continue simmering until the gumbo thickens slightly, about another 30 minutes.
Stir in the shrimp, crabmeat, crawfish tails and okra, and cook about 10 minutes, until the shrimp turn pink.
Serve over rice.
Author Dennis Sodomka