Castagna 'Adam's Rib' The Red 2016
I sniffed it and thought of lipstick. The kind of lipstick you’d find stuck to the lips of a mysterious person what hangs out in posh restaurants as much as illegal gambling dens as much as badly lit parks where squirrels face off against urban foxes; as much as flea markets, florists, delicatessens, a person what tastes of and favours the night.
The Castagna ‘Adam’s Rib' The Red 2016 is the delicious result of an odd cépage. Nebbiolo and Syrah (with only the littlest dash of Sangiovese—harvest permitting—so slight in fact it mightn’t be worth delving into—so slight it’ll only serve to upset the two-hand narrative I plan on shoehorning this article into) are here united in what could be taken as an unorthodox romance. Although coming from Australia, where odd is not only allowed it is more often than not celebrated (certainly in the wine world), the coupling of a French staple and an Italian crown jewel mightn’t turn as many heads in the swanky hangouts of Melbourne as it would this side of the equator in Parisian bistros, Roman osterias and upscaled London fish and chip shops, more familiar with the Old guard than the fast and loose creations of the New.
Oddities (or not) aside, this berry kiss and cooking-spice banger is a pure mouth party. Juicy. Zippy. Rich. Charred. Charming. And red. Really red. Red like a velvet curtain. Red like blood. Red like the first cherries of the season. Red like the lips of a Monroe impersonator. Red like a fire truck catching moonlight. Red like you might’ve always imagined good red wine would be: with a glint in it’s eye, wild-strawberry at it’s heart and throwing shades of promise.
It’s a sweet kiss on the nose. Like crushed flowers. And sticky compote. There’s a tiny bit of the stink you’d get after a practice football match or a friendly doubles tennis session, both of which you’ve lost and so the sweat and sadness of defeat have blended and settled against the breathable polyesters of your matching Adidas whites. And then it’s a rush of ripeness and bruise on the mouth. It all comes sapid and wild and abundant and lovely and sticky and has the semblance of having hung on the vine until heavy with sweetness. There’s a real wild raspberry kick and candy edge and yet it’s seductive and smooth and soft and supple and generous—oh so generous. This is a wine that wants to be drunk. And drunk now. The flashes of fruit are ripe. The spice is subtle. The liquorice apparent. The tight-grain French oak is thoughtful, considerate and only the tiniest bit smoky. And all of this swirling around a very fine-powdered (and almost disguised) tannic grip is cherry liqueur, fennel, cigarillo, grit, cheap perfume, black pepper, blood orange, hot bitumen, animal hide, late nights and some kind of romance of errors. Some kind of marriage. Some kind of something familiar and yet forbidden. It tastes like the long-held first in a long time kiss of lovers that meet in secret, star-crossed and destined for tragedy. It tastes of the undergrowth of a bridge along which the young and the heartbroken tie padlocks or throw coins and off which they might even occasion to throw themselves. And if you’re lucky, if you’re listening, you can get just a lick of their prayers before they hit the downward river with a tiny splash.
This romance that so pervades the palate also kicks of victory and curiosity, of trophies rendered liquid, of the early spoils of a feat I’m yet to conquer; and yet here I’ve been given a few drops of the end goal so as to wet the appetite, so as to spur me on to greatness, so as to give me a taste of what I’m fighting for in this mercurial life—I feel, clutching the glass, like a soldier with a black and white and thumb creased photograph of his sweetheart, like child with a borrowed toy that I just might get on my next birthday if I behave, like a goddess with a full goblet of my earnings.
The Castagna crew, now headed by Adam, son of founder Julien, are based just outside Beechworth in Victoria, Australia. They offer the ‘Adam’s Rib’ cuveés, a white and a red, as fresher, lighter alternatives to their more serious, single varietal and much sought after range of New World Syrah, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Nebbiolo. The Castagna fruit benefits from only ever having been farmed organically/bio-dynamically (since planting in 1998) and also a healthy mediterranean-esque diet of cool nights and hot days, decomposed granitic-loam on a base of clay, as well as 18-24 months in French oak and high altitude placement in what might be considered the antipodean alps. They turn wines that both emulate and deviate from European staples: broad, precise, complex, singularly exquisite.
This, the ‘Adam’s Rib' The Red, is Romeo and Juliet under cork. The French Syrah our balcony-dwelling starlet. The Italian Nebbiolo our glove-loving rogue. And somehow, after having crossed seas, after having defied their feuding families, their traditionalist guardians, through small acts of violence, through sonnets on lust in the fair Victorian mountains the unlikely marriage has taken place, in quiet, in secret, in the Castagna gardens, in a green glass bottle with a strange name and both of them wearing white. The Montague Italian with his raspberry, strawberry, roses, rocks and death. The Capulet French with her violet, meat, blackberries, plum, spice and heart. And under said cork do we reap the gains of this forbidden love; in our goblets do we find the result of this curious and dangerous liaison, of this happy accident, and with the smack of our stuck-lips after hearty swallows do we applaud it.
Pair it with red lipstick, light opera and a humble cassoulet.
tasted July 2021