My father grows tomatoes. Every week or so in summer he'll show up at the lunch table with an ice cream tub half-full of them. They're pathetic looking things, really. Small, diminutive, snub-nosed deformed orbs, wrinkled and splattered with scars and discolouration. They've got nothing on the large, firm, fire-engine red examples of pristine tomato-ness you can find at the supermarket. The things my dad brings to the table are the runts of the tomato community, the hunchbacked oddities.
They're my favourite fruit in the world. You take one of these cankerous things, still warm from the summer sun, and tear it into pieces with your knife (it's far too weak to be cut into slices). It'll dribble and spit seeds all over you, soggify your sandwich bread, and stain your pants. But when you eat it- oh, when you eat it, everything makes sense. There's a sudden epiphany, a realisation that this is what tomatoes are meant to taste like. All those snooty model tomatoes at the supermarket, the blue blooded hoi-polloi, the elite and the beautiful, they're just a pretty façade with nothing of substance inside. My dad's tomatoes taste like the essence of the fruit, the truth of what tomatoes were before we came along and decided what they should look like.
There is a similar experience to be had at Torbreck, in the Barossa Valley. Tasting their offerings is like a rebirth of sorts, an awakening. Because, like my dad's tomatoes, these wines make you suddenly aware of how it issupposed to be. Take grenache- you see this little kid all over the place. Shiraz grenache blends are popular, as are grenache shiraz mouvedres (usually called GSM). Very rarely would you see him on his own. He's the Paul Giamatti of the wine world- always playing a supporting role. It took Torbreck to see him in Big Momma's House and realise he had the potential to do an American Splendor or Sideways. So, finally, grenache was given a part fit for him. A leading role, a capella, on his own at last. The Torbreck Les Amis Old Vine Grenache is, simply, spectacular. None of the limp-wristed 'softening out the shiraz' for this little firecracker- this wine dominates your senses from the outset, but does so without overpowering you. It's a seductive, inky, silky masterpiece of fruit and smoke and pepper and humid afternoons in the tropics.
And it is what one may call a touch pricey- it'll set you back one hundred and eighty magical beans for a bottle. But I see it this way- you can enjoy the Mona Lisa without buying it, and the same is true here. Simply pay a visit to my pals in the Barossa and they'll be more than happy to introduce you to this suave and gentlemanly fellow. If you can't manage that, then there are always tomatoes.
[Tim's note: Rowan asked me to supply a photo of tomatoes for this post, but unfortunately I had none of his Dad's ugly-but-delicious tomatoes on hand. I apologise for the above perfect tomatoes that perpetuate the unrealistic standard the MEDIA sets to which few backyard tomatoes can aspire, and which only serves to lower the self esteem of delicious tomatoes everywhere that believe being tasty isn't good enough.]