Wines Worth Counterfeiting

Budget Shiraz with notes of Starbursts, candy, and earth.

Several years ago, some mysterious reverse Robin Hoods began counterfeiting Penfolds Grange, an Australian Shiraz some have called the best red wine in the world. Nerves were understandably rattled among Australia’s heavyweight wine producers — is it just a matter of time, they wondered, before these thieves begin pouring plonk into our bottles and passing it off as the good stuff?

One such producer, BRL Hardy, decided to fight back — with DNA. To protect its prized Eileen Hardy Shiraz, which costs upward of $75 a bottle, BRL Hardy took DNA from a vine in one of its South Australia vineyards and used it to encode an invisible signature detectable only by a scanner. This signature was then imprinted on a tamper-proof label that formed a seal around the wine bottle’s neck. Impossible to re-create, the genetic signature ensured that random scans at auction houses and wine retailers would foil the fakes.

Maybe someday a merry band of Wineaux will invert the stunt that prompted such an elaborate defense — perhaps by pouring the likes of Eileen Hardy or Penfolds Grange into a $2 bottle you can pick up at the 7-Eleven down the street. Until then, lovers of Shiraz’ smoky, peppery flavors can find solace for $9.95 in the form of the 2004 Shiraz from Jip Jip Rocks, a winery on the Limestone Coast in southeastern South Australia (its name is a nod to a granite rock formation in the region that looms large in aboriginal folklore). Ranked as one of Australia’s top 100 wines in the 2006 Sydney International Wine Competition, the Jip Jip Rocks had a powerfully sweet, cakelike aroma that might take a few of you back to the Easy-Bake Ovens of your youth. Given its powerful aroma, the wine’s mellow flavor came as a surprise. We tasted ripe dark berries and noted an aftertaste more like dried fruit, mixed with a little licorice. An easy-drinking wine, both alone or with food.

The smell of unbloomed flowers and artificial fruit wafted from the 2005 Amaroo Shiraz ($7.99), from New South Wales, and its taste was fruit galore — strawberries, plums, raisins, Starbursts. “Ripe and luscious” was our verdict — although one taster complained of an unpleasant tang. The sweetness of certain Asian dishes might temper the excessive acidity here.

Buying into Australia’s critter-on-the-label craze (see cuddly koala rendered in aboriginal style), the nonvintage Mattie’s Perch had an aroma of cotton candy and earth and a taste our token winemaker called “a little sweet and dirty.” I smelled seashore and found the taste a bit harsh, but we all viewed this as a passable wine, probably best with a hearty, not-so-spicy meal. At $4.99, it’s a steal. —


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