During a recent dinner at Butterfly restaurant in The Gateway (see Dining, p. 32) I was introduced by a savvy server named Craig Smith to MadFish wines. These interesting Aussie wines have been made since 1986 in Denmark. You read that correctly. Denmark, you see, is a small coastal town in Western Australia’s Great Southern region and is where the beautiful MadFish Bay is located. Why “MadFishâ€? The story goes that when two tides merge together in the bay'thereby disturbing the normally tranquil waters'schools of small fish go mad, jumping out of the water to avoid being eaten by larger fish.
The substantial rainfall and cool summer temperatures of the region are ideally suited to growing early ripening varietals like Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The MadFish wines do not depict mad fish on their labels but rather a traditional aboriginal water turtle which, according to MadFish winery, is “a symbol of perseverance and tolerance'no doubt characteristics displayed by the poor fish in MadFish Bay who are constantly under attack by their predators.” Designed by the late artist Maxine Fumagalli, the MadFish labels are said to reflect the artist’s “Aboriginal understanding that there is unity between land, sea, stars, animals and people.” And indeed, all of those elements are represented in the wine label’s design.
Owned by Jeff and Amy Burch, MadFish is a hands-on, family enterprise where Amy handles networking and marketing, Jeff is described as “passionate about wine and mad about golf and surfing,” and brother David manages the vineyards.
But what about the wine? Well, for starters, it’s inexpensive. Here in Utah, MadFish Shiraz sells for $14.95, and you can pick up MadFish Chardonnay for $13.95. MadFish wines are pricier than the ever-popular Yellowtail wines but also taste much better.
The MadFish Shiraz ’03 is, for my money, about as flawless a wine as you can expect for $15. It’s slightly spicy and peppery'perhaps due to eucalyptus trees near the vineyards'creamy in texture with rich flavors of black and red cherries, blackberries and hints of chocolate, cinnamon and cloves. To me, it’s an absolutely smashing ready-to-drink, lightly tannic, superb bang-for-the-buck Shiraz.
The ’04 MadFish Chardonnay is made from “carefully selected” batches of premium grapes (100-percent Chardonnay). Indeed, MadFish winemaker Michael Kerrigan is known for having a reputation of being “bloody tough” when it comes to choosing grapes, rejecting more than he accepts. Since MadFish Chardonnay is fermented in 35-percent new French oak barriques and 65-percent that are a year or two old, left to mature for nine months and then blended, it has a subtle, balanced oak character that doesn’t stomp all over the luscious pear and citrus-fruit flavors. Better yet, get your hands on a bottle of MadFish Riesling 2005, a remarkable wine from a very difficult year. This is a terrific food wine with lots of lemon-lime flavors and serious acidity. It would be wonderful with raw oysters, shrimp, scallops or poached chicken.
SIPS: According to Jon Engen, the Panache Wine Bar educational program “is now a reality.” International wine judge and expert Jon Engen is currently accepting students for his Foundation Course in Wine, which he describes as “equally beneficial both to beginners and to those with substantial wine experience.” Says Engen, “Our foundation course is exactly that'students will come away with a solid foundation in wine with the ability to confidently pursue the subject and go as far as they wish in their lifelong pursuit of flavor.” For more information and a class schedule, phone 254-2707 or visit panache.net/wine-class.php. Panache Wine Bar is located in the Wells Fargo Center downtown at 299 S. Main.