Barossa wines, Beijing, and bare ass: Torbreck wine dinner with Dave Powell

By Jim Boyce

Rare are those times when a wine maker drops his pants at a tasting  – I would guess it is on par with the frequency of an eclipse, which is an apt comparison given you would not want to stare directly if the sun were being blocked by the  “moon” displayed by Dave Powell of Barossa Valley winery Torbreck during a dinner organized by Links at the Capital Club in Beijing last Tuesday (photo below). Before we get to Powell’s, uh, white full-bodied bottom, here are a few things I learned about him and his wines during the dinner:

Visits: Powell first came to China as a backpacker about 20 years ago and spent three months touring the country, with the stops including Shanghai, Xian, Urumqi, Beijing, and Qingdao. He also once worked as a lumberjack in a forest in Scotland named… Torbreck.

Vines: The oldest he uses date back 158 years. He says these are the world’s third-oldest and that the others are also in the Barossa Valley.

Viticulture: Powell says he doesn’t irrigate his vineyards and instead uses “dry growth” techniques and avoids the use of  “nasty pesticides”. He adds that he prefers French oak to American oak because it complements the wine: “It’s like salt in cooking. It should enhance the food. If you can taste it, there’s too much. It’s the same with oak. In the end, it’s all about the fruit.” And that Robert Parker once described his wines as having one foot in the southern hemisphere and one foot in the northern hemisphere, that is, as being big and rich but having finesses and elegance. “Sure, you’re looking at me in my work boots and jeans and wondering how I can be elegant,” jokes Powell.

Volume: Powell says 15 years ago, he crushed one ton of grapes, now he crushes 1,000 tons.

I tried four of Powell’s wines at the Hilton Food & Wine Experience and enjoyed the Semillon. At the dinner, I preferred the Struie Shiraz 2005, served from a magnum – deep fruit, with some sweet oak, earthiness, and smokiness. It’s a big and round wine, with ample fruit up front. I also enjoyed the Rousanne-Marsannie-Viognier for its vanilla, floral, and tropical fruit smells.

This was the most I have spent – ~RMB700 – on a dinner in a while, but I decided to splurge given the wines, food, and venue, and because Torbreck is among the few wineries I have visited outside of China (more on this soon). Even better value: Links broke out a bottle of Cristal at the end of the night. Nothing like enjoying Champagne and gazing at a full moon…

grape wall of china wine blog torbreck dinner with dave powell at capital club beijing (3)

The story behind this photo: Powell was at a restaurant in Denmark where the owners branded the place’s name on the outdoor furniture to prevent theft. After quite a bit of wine and after watching the sous chef get his arm seared by the red-hot brand, Powell decided to get his own souvenir on a more easily hid part of his body – his ass. He added that he pretty much could not sit down for five days.

Gallery photos, clockwise from top left: Powell strips; Links head Patricio de la Fuente Saez pours Cristal; Powell speaks; de le Fuente Saez and Capital Club GM Betrand Petton introduce Powell.

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