Geoffrey Dean: Our man Down Under's Ashes and wine blog
I thought it couldn't get much better when I read headlines of "Ashes Humiliation" in an Australian national newspaper the day after England's total of 517 for one in the drawn first Test in Brisbane.
But when, as a wine-obsessed cricket-writer, I then flew down to South Australia, went straight to the Barossa and met Stephen Henshcke, Charlie Melton, Brian Walsh of Yalumba and John Duval (who made Grange from 1986-2002), it did get better.
To hear the Aussies soul-search about their cricket team is one thing, but to taste great wines in the company of four such distinguished wine-makers was nirvana. Duval, a big cricket-lover, will be at the Adelaide Oval for the first day of the Test before flying off to Chile on Saturday where he consults.
Having been the first person from the UK to taste Hill of Grace 2009 - it was only blended a fortnight ago when taken out of barrel into tank - I can reliably inform lovers of Australia's most expensive wine (around £375 at current exchange rates) that it was mouth-wateringly concentrated and beautifully balanced. "The best since 2005," was the Henschke line. But, for those wanting to buy it even at that price, you will have to wait till August 2013 when it is released.
Melton is also a big cricket fan, who has a bet with an English mate before every Ashes series that Australia will win it. For the whole of the 1990s and early years of the new millennium, the Englishman was having to buy Melton an expensive dinner in London every couple of years, but in both 2005 and 2009, when England were victorious of course, he won back a case of Melton's Nine Popes, the celebrated GSM blend. Charlie is worried he will be sending another case to the UK in January, but all bets are off in the entirely possible scenario of a drawn series.
One thing is for sure: it is going to be very tight.
Also supporting England, despite being a South African living in Australia, is John Geber, owner of Chateau Tanunda in the heart of the Barossa Valley, whose stellar single varietal grenache - the Everest 2008 - took the best red wine award at the recent London Wine & Spirit Competition. His shiraz also won the best in its varietal class, so his wines have shot to prominence. They are available in the UK, but the soaring Aussie dollar means you will have to pay not far short of £100 for the grenache. A superlative pair of wines though.
Two other Barossa wineries causing waves that are available to UK consumers are Teusner and Tscharke, both of whose winemakers are German Lutheran descendants (like Henschke). Kym Teusner, Gourmet Traveller winemaker of the year in 2007, is leading a crusade against over-use of new oak and is making an impressively fine range of shiraz or southern Rhone blends. Damian Tscharke, whose family also farm 700 sheep, is a young talent who was the first to plant montepulciano in Australia, believing as he does that the Barossa cannot rely too heavily on shiraz. His tempranillo/graciano blend and his grenache, both from 2008, are crackers if you come across them. His reserve Glaymond label offerings are terrific, but all Tsckarke wines represent quality at a fair price.
Geoffrey Dean, Times cricket writer who is covering the Ashes in Australia in between studying for his wine diploma and writing exclusively for Harpers Wine & Spirit