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Living - December 21, 2007

The Wine Guy: Only the Aussies

by Gregory Peebles

2006 Tait Wines

"The Ball Buster" Shiraz

(Barossa Valley, South Australia)

(Draeger's Market - Blackhawk, $18.99)

Admittedly, the name played a huge role in my decision to review this Shiraz. A man looks for a big, juicy red and discovers a wine labeled "The Ball Buster" - it's like a moth's instinctual attraction to a Coleman lantern. I could not resist the purchase despite the numerous strolls through Draeger's extensive wine department searching for a more classy sounding choice.

By creating such a name, winemaker Bruno Tait set my expectations quite high. Although Bruno's version is not in the same "ball buster" league as brash stand-up comedians Bobby Slayton and the late Lenny Bruce or even my pal Rodger from Long Island, it's a darn tasty Shiraz which exceeded my expectations in many respects and is certainly worthy of your hard-earned cash. Here's why:

* Color: Purple, purple and more purple. This uniform color spectrum is indicative of a very young red wine.

* Nose: Oodles of fresh raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and cassis aromas are supported by touches of mint, eucalyptus and dusty earth. One would expect a "hot," even offensive, aspect to the nose since the wine sports nearly 16 percent alcohol, but it's surprisingly not the case at all.

* Palate: A blend of 78 percent Shiraz, 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Merlot provides pinpoint examples of juicy red raspberry, deep black cherry and lush plum. Flavors are bright, not brooding, and brimming with life-giving acidity. It's shockingly well balanced. Again, the restrained impact of the considerable alcohol level is a pleasant surprise.

* Finish: Elegant; full of ripe berries, vanilla and a splash of caffé latté.

No doubt, "The Ball Buster" is a big wine. A huge, bungling, overly alcoholic, out-of-balance fruit bomb it is not. It's a ripe, broad shouldered, 100 percent enjoyable bottle of very well made Shiraz (with a cool name).

Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache play prominent roles in South Australia's Barossa Valley as well, Shiraz is the star attraction. Three top-shelf examples of this region's benchmark red varietal worth searching for include Barossa Valley Estate's "E&E Black Pepper," Wolf Blass' "Platinum Label" and Grant Burge's "Meshach."

Australia continues to maintain a well deserved reputation for producing some of the world's absolute best price-to-value wines. Unfortunately, that status is being threatened by Mother Nature. South Australia, with more acreage (over 173,000) dedicated to grape vines than any other state in the nation, is being drastically impacted by two years of extreme drought - perhaps the lowest rainfall totals since 1919. As a result, some wineries have experienced harvests approaching only 60 percent of normal and total wine production is really suffering.

The bottom line: Buy wines like Tait while you can for prices will most likely increase. How much? It's yet to be determined. Price increases may be even more dramatic should the U.S. dollar lose its current, modest strength against Australia's currency.

What should you throw on the barbie to accompany "The Ball Buster"? If you were visiting Lyndoch, Tanunda or Angaston perhaps a kangaroo filet would be recommended by the locals. When in Rome, right? But since you're in the beautiful East Bay suburbs, try a grilled pepper steak, lamb, duck or venison.

Let your palate be the judge. Cheers, mates!

Have comments or questions about wine? Gregory Peebles, wine industry professional and East Bay resident, can be contacted at caledoniawine@sbcglobal.net.

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