Chris Hancock has been watching you eat and says he has you figured out. When you're dining, you don't bother with the sniff-sip-and-slosh method of drinking wine, he says. You just drink it.
“People take a bite of food, somebody pours them a glass of wine, they put it up to their mouth and drink it,'' says Hancock, executive director of Robert Oatley Vineyards in Australia. “It's that first impact that wins them over. If you get the texture right, you've got them.''
By “texture,'' he means the way the wine feels in your mouth, its flavors, the way the tannin kicks in at the back of your palate, the way the flavors linger.
“People taste the wine, not blueberries or something. They don't want a short hit that disappears.''
Hancock admires what the French call the “artifice'' of making wine … not something artificial, but something added to the wine. A hint of oak-barrel aging, for example.
“It's like using spices in cooking. If you can taste them, you've used too much.''
Talking about wine this way, of course, is so abstruse it gets us wine fans labeled as snobs. Which is odd, because if we devoted equal time and admiration to discussing, say, Star Trek, we'd simply be called nerds.
But when the affable, garrulous Hancock speaks this way, only passion comes across.
Robert Oatley Vineyards is a 3-year-old venture put together by Oatley, a well-known Aussie yachting racer, and Hancock, his long-time wine-making colleague.
They control 1,350 acres of vines spread over 3,000 miles of southern Australia. I tasted and wrote about some of these wines a year ago; now they have matured and opened up to riper flavors.
Hancock's favorite Oatley wine is its cabernet sauvignon/merlot. It's a classic cab, he says, not the typical Australian effort.
“Australian cabernets have an image of being cheap, fruit-bomb wines, syrupy, alcoholic Robert Parker wines, which are horrible.''
This is a little jibe at wine author Parker, who tends to praise somewhat bombastic wines.
For all his outspoken nature, Hancock lets you know he doesn't take himself too seriously.
“I just like to rabbit on about wine,'' he says.
ø 2008 Robert Oatley Rose of Sangiovese, Mudgee, New South Wales: pretty, rose-copper color, tart strawberry and raspberry flavors, creamy, very dry: $18.
ø 2007 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, New South Wales: intense, classical cassis aroma, black raspberry flavors, firm tannin, bright fruit and acid, lively; $20.
ø 2008 Robert Oatley Pinot Grigio, South Australia: crisp, saliva-inducing acids, green pear flavors, crisp, bright; $18.
ø 2008 Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc, Western Australia: sprightly and rich, with white grapefruit flavors; $18.
ø 2007 Robert Oatley Chardonnay, Mudgee, New South Wales: intense, ripe pineapple aromas, mineral and vanilla flavors, smooth, sweet-tart and spicy; $18.
ø 2007 Robert Oatley Shiraz, Mudgee, New South Wales: mint and black cherries, intense aroma, chalky dry, with a hint of tart tannin on the finish; $20.