They say you should never judge a book by its cover – or a bottle of wine by its label. Too often I have been seduced by the siren call of a gorgeous and well-designed label on a supermarket shelf, only to find that the contents of the bottle in no way live up to the label’s aesthetic promise. In fact, I have been heard to say that the prettier the label, the greater the chances that the wine will be a disappointment, on the basis that the entire budget was spent on a designer, rather than a winemaker! But a woman who does not share my jaundiced views is winemaker Lisa McGuigan, who said when I recently met her: “If I’m going to take a bottle of wine to a friend’s house for dinner, I want it to look as good as it tastes” – and this is the guiding philosophy behind her novel approach to both winemaking and wine labels.
The occasion was the UK launch of Lisa’s wine label and the venue was the Gaucho on Charlotte Street’s very chic glass box private dining room, complete with chandeliers and mirrored ceilings, all the better for reflecting Lisa’s beautiful black and silver wine labels. The very personable and forthright Lisa is a fourth generation winemaker from the Australian McGuigan wine family. After working in hotels for years she decided to return to her winemaking roots, armed with her knowledge of marketing and her flair for design, and launched Tempus Two wines (originally Hermitage Road, until they were forced to change it by the French wine appellation authority) in 1998. The brand was the first to feature metal labels and when it took off, Lisa left the hotel industry and turned to full-time winemaking, financially backed by her father under the McGuigan umbrella. In 2006, after her father stepped down as McGuigan CEO, she was not happy that the company or Tempus Two was taking, so she resigned as well and worked in the liquor store trade, getting to know wine retail better and getting to know many winemakers. This inspired her to start a new wine label where she could collaborate with her winemaker friends, while producing bottles of wine so beautiful they could be fashion accessories – and thus Lisa McGuigan Wines was born. Standing chatting to us in the Gaucho’s private dining room, Lisa in head-to-toe black accessorised with chunky silver seems to be the perfect walking, talking embodiment of her bold and stylish wines.
And stylish they certainly are – all of us agreed that if we saw these on a supermarket shelf, our eyes (and hands!) would instantly be drawn to them. The current UK range features the entry level Wilde Thing range (named both for Oscar Wilde whom Lisa greatly admires, and the wild yeast used in fermentation), featuring a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio and a Cabernet/Shiraz blend. In a slightly more premium category is Lisa’s Silver Collection which includes a Chardonnay and a Shiraz. We started off the evening’s wines with the unusual 2014 Wilde Thing Chardonnay Pinot Grigio white blend (a nose of apples and pears and a gently fruity palate that’s refreshing and low in acidity, yet less insipid than Pinot Grigios often are); and the 2014 Silver Collection Chardonnay, described by Lisa as a Chardonnay for people who don’t like Chardonnay green melon and white peach aromas with a crisp, citrusy palate and a medium body). These were matched with an Ecuadorian ceviche of shrimp with roasted tomato & pepper sauce, onion and coriander; as well as a smoked haddock causita with escabeche of vegetables. Both dishes were good, especially the plump, juicy prawns in the ceviche – and both matched the wines well.
From there, we moved on to Lisa’s red wines: the 2014 Wilde Thing Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend (a medium bodied red with currants and a few herbaceous notes on the nose and a fruity palate of berries with very soft, supple tannins) and the 2013 Silver Collection Shiraz (a bolder, spicier nose and a palate of dark plums with a hint of pepper and cinnamon). These were matched with a beef empanada with a dipping sauce of red peppers, Spanish onion and ground aji chillies; and a rather spectacular board of Gaucho’s signature steaks comprising tapa de ancho (top of the ribeye) and lomo medallions, all done to pink perfection in the centre with a good bit of char on the outside. On the side there were humitas (polenta and corn kernels steamed in a maize leaf), chips and excellent crunchy French beans. As a sipping wine, I preferred the more accessible Cab/Shiraz blend, but I felt that the added body of the Shiraz was a better match for the robust flavours of the food. We also tried some of Lisa’s gorgeous premium 2013 Adelaide Hills Platinum Collection Pinot Noir – a robust example of Pinot with good colour and ripe cherry flavours that will be available only from selected independent wine retailers inthe £20+ price range. A word of warning to the uninitiated though – all the reds we tried had thrown a fair amount of tartrate crystal sediment so maybe if serving, you might decant through a wine funnel with a sieve first to avoid surprising guests.
After all this glorious red wine, what better palate cleanser than the unusual and gorgeously coloured Malbec sorbet. This refreshed our tastebuds perfectly for the dessert, which was a sampler plate of three different types of cheesecake on the Gaucho menu: passionfruit & mango; roasted rhubarb; and dulce du leche. I was torn between the passionfruit and the dulce du leche… but I think the latter won in the end! My only regret was that Lisa didn’t have any of her hot pink sparkling moscato available for us to try with dessert, but it sounds like something well worth seeking out! Lisa describes her approach to winemaking as that of a curator, “selecting the varietals I most adore from the regions where I know they thrive”. She foresees that this will enable her in future to buy in grapes like, for example, Argentine Malbec to be blended and bottled under her name in Australia – which would realise her vision of being a truly global wine brand. Given her talent and determination, I have no doubt that she will bring this idea to fruition – and that the labels will be gorgeous!
GOOD TO KNOW
Lisa McGuigan wines will be exclusively distributed in the UK by Copestick Murray and the Wilde Thing Collection will have a retail price of about £7 while the Silver Collection will have a retail price of £11. For more information on these and other wines, see the Lisa McGuigan wines website; and for other perspectives on our lovely evening, see Rosana’s review or May’s review of our fab evening.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Lisa McGuigan Wines but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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