Wine Meets Whiskey

John Autry
by John. T. Edge - Kentucky - Dec 09/Jan 2010

Kentucky and Australia blend in a new Shiraz

“It is my sincerest hope that this wine offends every sommelier and Frenchman in the world,” Dan Philips said to me the other day. He was talking about a new wine in his portfolio: a 2008 Shiraz, sourced from the McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

If you don’t know Philips, you should. He’s the palate behind the Grateful Palate, which imports Australian wine and peddles mail-order edibles, including his Bacon of the Month Club. For the past few years, I’ve been eating his bacon and drinking his wine. And I’ve come to admire his taste in both. What’s more, I’ve come to admire the mind behind the palate. Get to know Philips—literally, over the course of a long wine-and-pork-besotted dinner, or figuratively, by snagging bottles stamped with the Grateful Palate import label from your local wine store—and you’ll recognize a man whose outlook owes a profound debt to the Imp of the Perverse.

He calls the new Shiraz Southern Belle. And if you have any doubt that he coined the name with tongue planted firmly in jowl, the labels, featuring twisted takes on traditional moonlight-and-magnolia belles, should clue you in. The true perversion, however, took place back in Australia, where Philips convinced a cadre of winemakers to age some of their most promising juice in used whiskey barrels, sourced from Julian Van Winkle, proprietor of the Pappy Van Winkle Distillery in Kentucky. (Before those charred oak barrels held wine for eighteen months, whiskey slept in that same wood for twenty years.)

“We work with winemakers I consider to be some of the most open-minded and innovative in the world,” Philips told me. “But, at first, they flat refused to do it. The wine business is very codified, and the peer pressure to conform is very intense. The French way is always better, and French oak is always better. And here I was asking them to use American oak barrels. Super-steroidal American oak barrels that smell of whiskey. It just isn’t done.”

Philips won the argument, and eventually fifteen hundred cases of Southern Belle Shiraz were on their way from Australia to America. Those $25 bottles should be in stores by the end of 2009.

I recently drank an early-release bottle. It was a heady, fruit-driven bomb of a wine, with a nose full of vanilla and a spine cobbled out of post oak. It was a wine that defied the dictates of terroir and tradition and begged for a rack of ribs. When I told Philips as much, he said, “I’ve always thought there’s more of an affinity between the American South and Australia than there is between the American South and the American North. The winemakers feel it; I feel it.” Now you’ll get to taste it.

To find a retailer near you, call the Grateful Palate at 888-472-5283.