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Painting the town red

Publish Date: 05 Apr 2016

Authored by: Casey Warrener

Allan Myers is the owner of regional Victoria’s famed Royal Mail Hotel, which boasts the largest collection of Burgundy and Bordeaux wines in the Southern Hemisphere. A red wine fan with a penchant for French, he also supports Victoria’s greats and those from across the Strait.

Do you recall the first wine you cellared?
It was a French, 1970 Château La Lagune. I bought it here in Australia, my wife liked it very much, and since then we’ve had a lot of that 1970 Château La Lagune. About 30 metres from our flat in London is a restaurant called Pétrus [a Gordon Ramsay, Michelin-star affair], and recently when we were there they had a 1970 La Lagune on the list, which seemed serendipitous. That Bordeaux style of wine is really tried and proven – they’re wonderful wines, they’re so long-lived, and even in the years said to be not so good, you can find splendid examples. I know it’s a truism that there are only great bottles, not great vintages or makers, but over the years I’ve enjoyed many remarkable red Bordeaux.

Has your taste in wine changed over time? I suppose it has, and I think it’s changed because pinot noir has become available in Australia, from Australian makers, and because Australian shiraz and cabernet wines have become much higher in alcohol. There are plenty of wines in my cellar that were made 20, 25 and certainly 30 years ago, where a shiraz or cabernet might be 12 per cent or even less. But you don’t find them now. And it’s all down to influential American wine critic Robert Parker, who had a palate for highly alcoholic wines. Australian winemakers began changing their style of wines to please him. Most Bordeaux reds are 12.5 per cent, and I think that’s the right sort of wine, with the right sort of flavour. Many Australian shiraz and cabernet wines don’t have the same subtlety. They hold so many unresolved tannins, especially when they’re young, and indeed for a long time until they get very old. But Australian pinot is around 13 per cent, the sort of traditional recipe for red Burgundy, and I think they’re much more acceptable wines. I like pinot noir from Victoria, the Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland, but most especially from Tasmania’s Coal Valley – their recent pinots are outstanding.

The Royal Mail Hotel cellar is 26,000 bottles strong – how are they organised? They’re all identified – they each have a distinctive marking on them so that one can record on the computer exactly what wine is there, and what bottle has been taken out. It’s arranged very logically: by region, by style of wine and by vintage.

How do you rotate your own wines at home? Well, I know what’s in my cellar and I go down and fetch what I think is ready to drink and will be enjoyed with the meal. Sometimes it’s just my wife and myself, and often it’s quite a lot of people, so I have to stagger up the steps with quite a lot of wine! My cellar would contain between 500 and 1000 dozen. It’s surprising how much good wine people can consume in a sitting – pull the cork on a great wine and it seems to disappear before you get around the table.

Do you have a favourite local winemaker? I’ve always thought the Thomson’s wines at Best’s Great Western are splendid, especially the pinot meunier if you can get it. The other Thomson – John Thomson from Crawford River – his white wines are outstanding. And some of the vintages of cabernet that John and now his daughter have made are really good, too; I seem to remember a 2004 cabernet that was an excellent wine. And then of the wines that are made even closer to Dunkeld – around Tarrington and part of the Henty appellation – there are some very, very good pinots. I suppose I don’t drink many young wines. I rarely touch red wine that’s less than 10 years old.

What’s the finest Australian wine you’ve tried? That’s tricky, because one’s thinking over a long period of time! I’ve enjoyed a lot of the fortified wines of northern Victoria, especially Chambers’ liqueurs, some of which have been more than 100 years old. I used to have a great affection for the wines of Coonawarra, a lot of the cabernets made there in the ’70s I enjoyed very much. The best bottles? Of recent times, I’d have to say Tolpuddle from the Coal Valley. I thought that was a marvellous pinot noir; it’s distinctively Australian, not French, and a wonderful wine. And rieslings; one drinks German, Alsatian and Austrian, but they’re a completely different wine from the rieslings made in say the Clare Valley, which I’ve enjoyed greatly. Or for that matter Crawford River Riesling, or Seppelts Drumborg Riesling, where they’ve been making magnificent rieslings for the past 50 years. But they’re just a different style – different wines, for different times and different occasions. The best Australian wine I think I’ve ever had was the 1977 Moss Wood Cabernet, one of their earliest vintages.

What’s the most treasured bottle in your cellar? I guess Romanée-Conti, in various vintages. The 1985 Romanée-Conti or La Tâche, and the ’78s and ’76s… Now, which is the really good vintage? I can’t remember! They’re all pretty good. I bought six mixed cases of the ’78 in 1985, which were all wonderful wines, and I still have a few of them left.

Is there a wine you enjoy that you’ve picked up for a bargain? The 1985 Léoville Las Cases, which was undervalued at the time I bought it. The year 1985 was not regarded as a great vintage; everyone was boasting about ’82 and ’86. But ’85 Bordeaux wines have turned out to be remarkable. When I first tasted the 1985 Léoville Las Cases I thought it was a wonderful wine. I then went and bought 16 cases of it, which is as much as I could get, and we’re still drinking it. So that was a bargain.

What about nostalgic value? John Thomson of Crawford River is my exact contemporary from my district, and I’ve known him for a very long time, so I’m fond of his wines. When I was a little boy, the only time my father bought wine was after we went to the Stawell Gift on Easter weekend. We’d come back to Dunkeld via Great Western, where Dad would always buy a dozen bottles of Best’s ‘Bin 0’ [shiraz], or at least that’s what it was called back then. So those two winemakers have a special place for me.

What’s your ideal food and wine pairing? Confit duck with a splendid Burgundy. No hesitation.

When you’re not drinking wine, what do you reach for? If you’re talking alcohol, wine is practically the only thing I drink. I might occasionally have a beer, but I wouldn’t have more than half a dozen a year, sometimes a whisky, but again, not often. Sometimes at the end of a meal I like an eau de vie, especially with certain sorts of dessert. I don’t know if anyone else does that, but I rather like it.

Next article: take a look inside Paul Henry's cellar, the creative director of Tasting Australia

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