Len Evans died on Aug. 17 at the age of 75. The Australian commentator, winemaker, wine judge, raconteur and consummate host left a big footprint in the wine world. Read my obituary of him here.
When I first met Len Evans, he was spitting. Actually, he was demonstrating how to spit wine for distance. He was a champion at it. The spittoon was a good three paces away, but his jets were splash-landing without a miss. He had drawn a crowd. It was applauding.
Len was full of unexpected talents. Once, on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Loggerheads, Evans' home in Hunter Valley, Len suggested a poker game. He and his son Toby fleeced me out of a hundred bucks or so. I still don't know how they did it. I was getting good cards.
How could I complain? Len and his wife, Trish, had put up this visiting American wine writer for the weekend and laid on a feast for 12 people the night before. Before the meal, Len led me into his cellar to find some wines for dinner. Built into an old cistern, the cellar encircled a spiral staircase. It was full of great old bottles. If memory serves, we fished out a 15-year-old Hunter Sémillon, a Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, a Bordeaux second growth and an old Aussie Shiraz. All of them were exemplary.
Rummaging through a box in a corner of the cellar, he extracted a dusty old bottle with no label. It was a Liqueur Muscat from 1875, he said. He got it from the new owners of a winery in Victoria who had hired him to go through the inventory. Evans found several cases of the unmarked bottles in the attic. He opened one, realized what it was, and got the owners to give him the bottles if he waived his fee. At the dinner party, the Muscat stole the show. More than a century old, it was terrifically aromatic, sweet and deep.
The next morning, Evans greeted me at breakfast with an empty glass that once held the Muscat. There was only a drop of wine left in it. He had placed a saucer on top of it the night before. "Here," he said. "Smell this." He removed the saucer. The fragrance was as strong as it had been the night before.
That was Len in a nutshell: savvy about wine, about people, about life, eager to share what he knew and, most of all, the sheer joy of it all.
On my first trip to Australia, Len invited me to be a judge at the Royal Sydney Wine Show. It was a lot of work. I remember one day when the assignment involved 128 Shirazes. But it was a great entree into a new country. The judges comprised a who's who of the Australian wine world. Several of the wine writer judges became good friends. The winemakers became great sources.
But most of all, Len ran an amazing week for the judges, which demonstrated for me why he was so admired by his fellow Aussies.
During the competition, he roamed from panel to panel, helping to settle disputes. Once, I was the odd man out, championing a Shiraz that had lovely fruit and was a little zippier than the others, not the typical nearly-overripe profile. Len came over, took a sip, hit the spit bucket from across the table, and exclaimed at how lively and distinctive the wine was. The other judges took another look, and it ended up with a gold medal. It turned out to be a Victorian Shiraz, among one of the judges' favorites, he admitted. It's not sold in the U.S.
Even better were the dinners. The one I remember best involved several flights served blind between courses. Once we had gone through the wines and discussed them, the next course came out and we drank them with it. One flight I remember was a series of three older reds. At first they seemed like very refined Aussie Shiraz, but after a while I wasn't so sure. They had a different cast to them. Hermitage? Côte-Rôtie? I didn't have a lot of experience with older Aussie Shiraz at the time. Maybe this is what they became.
Turns out it was a set of E. Guigal La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque from 1978, a great vintage. Evans wanted to make sure the tastemakers for Australia had a clear handle on the Old World masters so they could put their wines in context. He also wanted us to have a good time. Those wines were great with the roast lamb.
Thomas A Mobley Iii — Tallahassee, FL — August 18, 2006 10:24pm ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — August 19, 2006 10:21am ET
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — August 30, 2006 4:11pm ET
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