Wine reviews: 2006 Dead Letter Office Shiraz and Pillar Box White 2008

Kim Longbottom, owner of Henry's Drive Vignerons

Unless you’re a rabid fan of wine critic Robert Parker (who loves them), you may not know these wines…but you should. Made by a winery called Henry’s Drive Vignerons in Australia, owner Kim Longbottom paid a visit last week (as many Aussies are wont to do in their wintry off-season) to show off her most recent vintage. She and her husband Mark founded Henry’s Drive in 1992, borne out of a passion for the grapes in Southeast Australia’s Padthaway region. Her husband tragically passed away 18 months ago from leukemia, but Kim’s dedication to the winery they established together lives on.

Kim is smart. In an interesting business model, 85 percent of Henry’s Drive Wines (which also include the labels Parson’s Flat, Trial of Montford, Morse Code and their new sparkling wine, the Postmistress) are exported to the U.S. It seems we’ve historically enjoyed the taste of them — the affordable Pillar Box Red and White sell out each year.

She also has a wry sense of humor. Labels bear reference (and deference) to the Padthaway postal service and they’re pretty innovative and amusing. Dead Letter Office has a label which fashions a skull and crossbones out of a frowny-face letter; Pillar Box has a clean, modern look which harks back to the mailboxes formerly found on the roads of Australia during war time. I will let you see the Postmistress label for yourself… but yes, it’s everything you’d think it might be. At least, what you can slip by the U.S. government who approves all labels.

But the wines are serious. On their 500 acres of planted vines, they grow Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a grape hailing from Portugal, Verdelho. All of them are fruit-forward, concentrated and rich. Decadent even. They’re like little Christmas presents which turn out to be what you wanted.

Pillar Box White 2008, whose blend has changed (for the better) in this vintage, has what it takes to be your house white for the summer: light-bodied with balanced acidity and less than $15. Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Chardonnay meld together to form perfect harmony. Smooth acids on the palate with crisp grapefruit, lime rind and tropical pineapple. An interesting minerality comes through, like the smell of the air after a lightning storm, and the finish smacks of lime. Not too tart that you can’t have a second glass and tart enough to stand up to food like sautéed shellfish and soft goat cheeses. Very unique, interesting stuff. Sweetness = 1 (out of 10). $12-$15. 4.5 stars (out of 5). 13% percent alcohol.

Buy this at fine wine shops across the country.
Available in Tampa Bay at Vintage Wine Cellars

dead letter officeDead Letter Office 2006 Although the letter might look unhappy on the label, the wine is partying in the fruit bowl. Ripe, plush and intense are three words to describe this juice. Concentrated dark fruits like juicy plum, blueberries and black cherry, sweet vanilla oak and milk chocolate frame the experience. Fairly sweet on the palate with a slight coffee and black pepper finish. It isn’t for the weak at heart… it packs 15 percent alcohol. Serve it slightly chilled to escape the heat of the alcohol. Sweetness = 3 (out of 10); $23-$30. 3.5 stars.

Buy this at fine wine shops across the country.
Available in Tampa Bay at Vintage Wine Cellars

Others worth seeking out:

Trial of John Montford 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)
Parson’s Flat 2005 Shiraz-Cabernet ($40)
Henry’s Drive Reserve Shiraz 2005 ($50). Worth the money.

But it’s not all rosy… these are two I didn’t like:

Pillar Box 2007 ($12) – too alcoholic and smoky and had a disconcerting soy sauce flavor. What a shame.
Pillar Box Red 2007 Reserve ($20) – similar to the regular Pillar Box Red but more intense on the soy with off-putting dried herbs and little fruit.


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