The rantings of a scruffy gen x winelover.
The Qwoff Boys Live from Landmark Australia Tutorial
Fire up the modem and warm up your taste buds, because next week it’s time to shout out to the world how bloody good Australian wines can be.
The Landmark Tutorial is on, and we’ve been given the job (jackpot) of corresponding (spying) on what will be a week of celebration of Australian wine in all its diversity.
And we want YOU to be there with us. Well, virtually.
We’re going to be tweeting, blogging, drinking, posting, filming, drinking, reviewing, live video streaming, drinking, arguing and sharing throughout the five days of this awesome event – we’ll be interviewing the legends who will be educating these lucky imports, we’ll be chatting with the delegates, sampling the dregs of what will no doubt be a line-up of this country’s very finest booze.
So we thought, imagine if we’re ALL taking a moment to taste and talk about the styles of wine that we’re sharing with the delegates in that moment.
A hundred voices – a thousand voices – all sharing their thoughts and passions – what a magnificent moment for Australian wine.
What a glorious week this would be – a week when the world stops and takes notice of our wines, our people and our stories in all their inspirational diversity.
Here’s a schedule of what’s happening, and the official spiel from Wine Australia:
Monday 20th September (1:30-4:30pm EST):
- Australia’s Regional Classics - presented by Michael Hill Smith AM MW
- A context-setting narrative that explores the historic origin as well as the contemporary evolution of Australia’s finest wines. We will be introduced to benchmark expressions of regional definition and excellence.
Tuesday 21st September (9:00-10:20am):
- Sparkling Masterclass - presented by Ed Carr & Dr Tony Jordan
- Some of the coolest sites on the Mainland and in Tasmania are defining the landscapes for Australia’s premium sparkling wines. A tasting of exceptional wines across many styles and regions will demonstrate the potential of this category to add to the acclaim for Australian fine wines.
Tuesday 21st September (10:40am-12:00noon):
- Shiraz Masterclass - presented by Tim Kirk
- A variety that deserves greater recognition for its many accents and styles. An exciting line-up of the country’s best, exploring varietal expression by region, as well as the added dimension of Shiraz-based blends.
Tuesday 21st September (1:30-4:30pm)
- The Great Australian Blend – GSMs, Shiraz Cab blends and Single Varietals - presented by Charlie Melton
Wednesday 22nd September (9:00-10:20am)
- Semillon Masterclass - presented by Andrew Thomas
- Hunter Valley Semillon is often cited as Australia’s endearing contribution to the world of white wine styles. A vertical of Semillon spanning a decade will uncover the idiosyncrasies of this unique expression. Other regions will join the Hunter in an exploration of complimentary Australian styles.
Wednesday 22nd September (10:40am-12noon)
- Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends - presented by Brian Croser AO
- A great wine is not just made; first, its conceived. An introduction to a range of outstanding estate and regional expressions of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon (and blends), inviting contrasts and comparison with the great Cabernet terroirs of the world.
Wednesday 22nd September (1:30-4:30pm)
- An Historic Perspective - presented by James Halliday and Andrew Caillard MW
- Australia has been making fine wine for almost a century. This masterclass will showcase the great wines of Australia, drawing together an extraordinary and historical line-up of Australia’s best, across a range of vintages and releases.
Wednesday 22nd September (6:30-8:00pm)
- Special Event - Semillon Live Video Stream and Tweet Up
- On Wednesday night we’ve got a special event – a live Ustream video tasting and chat with Andrew “Thommo” Thomas on Semillon. So grab yourself a bottle of your favourite, jump online and join us!
Thursday 23rd September (9:00-10:20am)
- Riesling Masterclass - presented by Jeffrey Grossett
- A peerless Australian classic that is also finding some stylistic dimension with a new generation of winemakers and drinkers. This masterclass will showcase a myriad of styles, from dry through to off-dry, andall with a unique Australian signature.
Thursday 23d September (10:40am-12noon)
- Pinot Noir Masterclass - presented by Tom Carson
- A compelling masterclass demonstrating that Australian Pinot Noir can rival the very best in the world. Tasted blind, this is your chance to discover the new benchmarks from regions such as Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and Tasmania.
Thursday 23rd September (1:30-4:30pm)
- Single Vineyards and Sacred Sites vs Blending - presented by Brian Walsh
- The search for consistency or the pursuit of excellence? Single vineyard, regional and multi-regional as winemaking choices in Australia. A discussion about Australia’s finest wines and the philosophy that surrounds its production.
Friday 24th September (9:00-10:20am)
- Chardonnay Masterclass - presented by Steve Webber
- A tasting and discussion about how the influence of new clones, improved understanding of sites and winemaking practices are now producing Australian Chardonnays that are among the best in the world.
Friday 24th September (10:40am-12noon)
- Fortified Masterclass - presented by Colin Campbell and Stephen Chambers
- From Rutherglen’s unique Muscat and Tokay, through to aged Tawnies and other classic styles from historic cellars. This inspiring tasting will conclude the week in an authentic Australian fashion.
Wow, I’m exhausted just blogging the schedule, but what an awesome week it will be!
So there you have it, that’s the schedule, make sure you jump online and share your thoughts with us – no rules, this is the power of the tribe, this is your voice, and the voice of many – we’re all advocates next week – we’re all on the same team:
So pick a theme you’re passionate about, and let’s fire up!
What’s your favourite style? Favourite Wine? Should we be doing more of one thing, less of another? What do YOU think are benchmark Australian wines or styles? Where would you like to see us going into the future? How do we compare with other regions in the world making this style? Got a story about the presenter? About the style?
Anything you want to share, we want to share it too!
If twitter is your platform of choice (and this is where it’ll all be happening) – we’ll be using the hashtag #LAT10 – you should too so everyone can easily search and join in.
We’ll be streaming live on qwoff tv throughout the event, so jump on to http://qwoff.tv to have a look, then chat with us live via twitter.
We’ll also be posting behind-the-scenes videos, photos and other stuff on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/qwoff
Tune in, and we’ll see you all in the space!
Justin & Andre
Happy Birthday Mr Trott
Do you know what the single greatest validation is that I've chosen my path in life well? It's being reminded that wine, and this crazy wine industry we're in, seems to draw and inspire people with vision and passion, people who want to create things - places, wines, a way of life - not because it makes the most financial sense (and indeed in most cases it makes no financial sense), but because they... well, they just want to.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of celebrating one such character - someone who seems to have inspired most everyone and helped defined the pretty damn fine way of life that is McLaren Vale. That man is Greg Trott.
He's been described to me as a visionary, a hippie, and many things in between, but always as a character. The man who built Wirra Wirra up from ironstone ruins (there's a great story in that, and some original Super 8 video footage that has to be seen - jump on the Wirra Wirra website to check that out), Trotty passed away about 5 years ago, and each year, the tribe at Wirra have celebrated with an event known as the Woodhenge Cup.
Wirra Wirra is more than just a wine brand - they seem to represent something a bit more special - it's in the place, the people, and there's no doubt it's the Trotty Spirit. It's an attitude - they make some serious wine, but they seem to have some serious fun getting there.
I arrived at lunchtime, and the cellar door was full of guests lucky enough, like me, to score an invite. Within seconds I had a Riesling in one hand, an oyster in another, and was shaking the hand of James Halliday, long time friend of Trott's and big fan of Wirra.
I'd polished off a Riesling, a Sav Blanc and a bloody nice Chardonnay - all from the Adelaide Hills, where Wirra's whites all come from, before sitting down to lunch, whipped up by the folks from Fino in Willunga, voted the best restaurant in SA.
Lunch was the Trott Shiraz Pie (invented by Greg Trott and David Swain of Fino) - and I kid you not, this was hands down the finest pie I have EVER tasted - and I wasn't the only one who thought so. So good, in fact, I'd tucked it away before I remembered to take a photo for you, but I did score a recipe, so give it a shot yourself - I will!
Trott Shiraz Pie
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 kg Fleurieu Gold lamb (leg or shoulder), diced
* 1 small carrot, diced
* 1 brown onion, diced
* 1 stalk celery, diced
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed
* 1 cup good quality shiraz
* 1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
* 4 sprigs fresh thyme
* 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
* salt and pepper
* 2 cups plain flour
* 125g unsalted butter (chilled and cubed)
* 3 tablespoons sour cream
* 1 egg, beaten
We had a couple of wines with lunch, one of which was the 09 Church Block, which accounts for a fair few of the bottles that Wirra Wirra makes, and has been around since its first vintage in 1972 (a fine year for all things, I might add).
Now I've been up and down on the old Church Block over the years, but this 09 is an absolute belter - stunning wine, and for under $20, real winner - good on them for putting so much care and love into it. A Cabernet blend, with Shiraz and Merlot, I think, I got lovely dark cassis fruits, a good whack of licorice and spice, dark chocolate and mint, really delicious.
After lunch they made us earn our ticket - sitting us through the Magic Carpet Tasting - 7 barrel samples of 2010 Shiraz from the single vineyard sites that would make up their Woodhenge Shiraz and their esteemed RSW. The wines weren't ready yet, but that wasn't the point - it was a fascinating journey around the Vale, even if somewhat akin to tannin torture.
We walked up to the shed then for a bit of a lesson in biodynamics, and a smell of some of what goes into their vineyards these days - cow shit, seaweed, clay, silica... funky and rustic. I heard a quote that will stick with me - "Biodynamics is a philosophy, not a technique."
And the Wirra tribe talk about how it might help their vines in generations to come, not tomorrow, which is all good stuff for the future, I should think.
But thus endeth the lesson - it was on to the festivities, starting with the legendary Watermelon Catapult.
It's actually called a Trebuchet, but whichever way you spin it, it's an impressive contraption. A dream of Trotty's, he had envisioned a few of his mates building some of these things, and flinging cows and who-knows-what across the Vale at each other, hill to hill.
Now Robert Hill Smith from Yalumba thought that was a good idea, and promptly built one, which until this day had been borrowed by Wirra for these festivities. But today marked the unveiling of a brand new instrument of war and frivolity - Wirra's very own Trebuchet.
Shinier and more powerful, capable of launching a watermelon hundreds of feet through the air, to disintegrate on impact in a spectacular shower of red fruits.
Our operator, who (and I quote) looked like a cross between Peter Russel Clark and Damir Dokic, but worked this baby with ease, cranked her up, and J Halliday took first honours, launching his melon about a hundred feet before it inexplicably exploded in mid air. Foul Ball.
I was next, and went with the large melons, which not for the first time was my downfall - great hang time, not so good with distance. But a good time to be had by all. Amazing what fun flinging a watermelon across a vineyard from a medieval device can be!
For the record, mine made it 140 Finnigans (a Finnigan being the measure of paces walked by 10 year-old Finnigan to get to the point of impact), and WBM's Anthony Madigan took out the trophy, with a mighty fling of 170 Finnigans.
Next up, the showcase event - The Blendin, where we divied up into teams to produce the best blend of 2010 Church Block. As team captain, and wearer of the official white labcoat, my team mutinied, going for a Shiraz-heavy blend in favour of the Cabernet, and were dismissed by the judges as "a bit rough".
All frocked up after a quick trip back to the hotel, we descended upon the barrel hall, lit with candelabras and decorated with waiting glasses of Pol Roger, for the Main Event - The Woodhenge Cup.
Our Bookie, Stu from Liquid Ideas PR in Sydney, worked us into a betting frenzy, and my odds swiftly rose from 5:1 to 10:1, such was the crowd confidence on my form.
Pumped up and ready to go, we each hit the duel longsaw, hacking and cursing our way through a round log in a desperate effort to crack the 20 second mark.
I got 24s, even after taking my jacket off, but the winner, in an unprecedented double, was none other tan Mads again. Nice work, Mr Madigan - that ought to be worth some column time for the old Wirra Wirra!!
So that was that, and we finished the evening off in the dining hall, with a feast prepared by Fino again, accompanied by some amazing wines, not just from Wirra, but from Grosset and Tintara, where the winemakers Paul and Paul had previously worked, which was a nice gesture.
Happy Birthday, Greg Trott, and rest easy, it would appear that Wirra Wirra is in good hands.
Road to Vino Ep 22 & 23:The Peter Lehmann Kitchen
We've had the honour, along this awesome journey, of meeting some of the greatest legends of Australian wine. But few have done as much as this great man (and woman!) to save a region, and shape the way wine would move forwards in the world.
And so it was with humbling excitement that Justin and I rolled up the drive to the stately manor of Peter and Margaret Lehmann, where we had been invited for a drink and a chat.
In the very kitchen, known as The Barossa Boardroom, no less, where tears and sweat and blood had been spilled, where life-long bonds had been forged, contracts sealed, where decisions had been made that would shape the very future of the Barossa we know today...
Like well behaved school-boys we tip-toed in, to be welcomed warmly by Margaret, and in seconds were disarmed by Peter's charm and humour. When the Lehmanns this slip a joke about preferring the kitchen table into introductions, you know you've come to the right place, and you're in for a good evening.
Waiting for us were two bottles - a self-titled 2004 Margaret Semillon and an 04 Stonewell Shiraz. His and hers matching wines. Margaret reckons that "when she carks and they open up her veins, not a drop of blood will spill out, only Margaret Semillon".
We love this couple more with each passing minute.
The Semillon flows, and I for one am astonished at how good it is - on a par with the great whites of the Hunter, without a doubt, and just starting to get some beautiful toasty honeyed aged characters. Having lived off their $8 Semillon in our youths, this is really something else.
"The way a good mother should be," Margaret tells us, "always there for you after school, ages beautifully... and perfect with home-made fresh tomato soup in summer."
"She seems to find reason enough to drink it in winter," Peter adds with a rumbling chuckle. "I'm a red man, myself, and seeing that I'm only allowed 2 glasses a day (doctor's orders), I don't mess around with that sissy stuff."
We nibbled on home-grown, dried and salted pistachios, mettwurst, presswurst, schinken, and you name it, while Lehmann and Lehmann regailed us with stories and laughter.
They shared with us their recipe for cucumber salad, or "cu-ee salad", which had been passed down through generations of Lehmann matriarchs, and indeed was something of a right of passage to any would-be female suitor to the Lehmann boys.
As our afternoon in the Barossa Boardroom turned into evening, the conversation took a turn, and we finally got to hear first hand the story of how the Barossa was saved from multi-national destruction.
Now you can imagine how this kind of story strikes a chord with us, not that we're anti-corporate, we're just pro-soul.
And what a story it is, and how inspiring to hear how hard someone has fought to preserve what we now could simply take for granted. I dare say there's not a grower in the Barossa who would have forgotten the foundation of Masterton - named after the gambler from Guys and Dolls.
We won't give it all away here, you'll have to watch it, but we shall take from this evening courage in our own endeavours.
And we'll never ask an Italian if we can photocopy his cheque!!!
Road to Vino Ep 21: Old Bastards and Orphans
Day 2 in the Barossa, and this day is all about one thing – old vines. And Justin has sprung a nice surprise on us – an invite to the famous Orphan Bank Day at Langmeil.
The Barossa, and Langmeil specifically, lays claim to having the oldest Shiraz vines in the world. Now they say “arguably”, but we’re going all the way. These things are ancient.
And they call us the New World…
So into the kombi we climbed and off to Langmeil we drove, to partake in a morning of drinking, eating and picking.
The Orphan Bank is named such because a few years ago, the boys from Langmeil heroically saved a vineyard of 140-odd year old vines that were destined for destruction. They actually dug up these ancient, precious vines, and transplanted them onto their own property, and over 95% of the vines survived.
And so gave birth the legend of the Orphan Bank Shiraz, hand-picked by 300 “foster-parents” – dedicated winelovers who for $500 get their own vine for 10 years, and the wine made from it – a bottle of Orphan Bank per year.
And I tell you – these folks were proud Parents of Orphans (POO for short), and took to the task with the kind of gusto that is only achieved after 3 glasses of sparkling Shiraz.
But first up was the breakfast of champions. Justin and I scored a sneak-peak of the might Langmeil 1843 Freedom Shiraz – the wine made from the oldest Shiraz vines in the WORLD, the Freedom vineyard, planted in – yes, you guessed it – 1843.
Our food match for this legendary wine was bacon and eggs with tomato and mushroom (that’s Linke’s bacon, by the way, for the record), and I tell you, it was a match made in heaven. The kind of start to the day one could grow all too quickly accustomed to, I dare say :)
Paul Lindner, the winemaker at Langmeil, took us out to the Freedom vineyard to introduce us to the gnarly old characters responsible for our fine breakfast.
I tell you, to sit next to a vine that is 167 years old, having tasted the wine that comes from that fat, twisted, noble and alarmingly delicate plant was something quite special. They’d picked the plot a week before, but there were still a few shriveled bunches to taste, teasing us with what was to come for the 2010 vintage. Special stuff indeed.
Off to work we went, donning our blue slip-on booties, and armed with bucket and a wicked pair of secateurs, we made short work of our allotted orphan.
Proud POOs we were, and we’ll be checking back in when she’s ready to drink, believe you me.
We’d had a taste of what Old Vine Shiraz is all about, from the oldest of them all, but there was another wine that we couldn’t go past, and that was The Old Bastard by Kaesler. Need more be said?
At $175 a bottle, thank god our charm (or was it our desperation) appealed to the lovely Sarah, whom we met at cellar door, and she grabbed a bottle and took us out the back where winemaker Reid Bosward, the man behind Kaesler today, was tasting the ferments.
Reid is the kind of guy you want to have a drink with in the pub. The quintessential, rough around the edges, no bullshit genius who doesn’t mind letting the wine do its own talking. He took us up the top of the tanks for a look across the valley, and gave us a taste of the old bastard himself.
Wow. Made from vines planted in 1893, when Reid explained how the roots go down 30 or 40 feet on vines like that, dining on minerals and nutrients that younger vines can only dream about, you could taste it in the glass – funky, delicious, fascinating, complex flavours and textures, all inside a wine that at 16% alcohol was undeniably harmonious.
Reid, if you can get past your prejudice against Pinot, we might have the beginnings of a beautiful friendship, and you’re welcome in the kombi anytime.
Miles is driving :)
Road to Vino Ep 20: Artisans of the Barossa
"Come on boys, the Barossa is waiting!" was the call from Yappy, our designated tour guide, and with great reluctance handed back our glasses of Rusden Sandscrub, bid the boys farewell, and headed back into the light.
The Barossa did indeed await, as did the late lunch that was an institution at Apex Bakery, but we had a few stops to make along the way...
Now Toby Yap, apart from being a damn fine bloke, is actually a veritable fount of information on all things Barossa. We learned that the palm trees soaring to the sky out the front of so many wineries are all linked to Seppeltsfield - during the depression, to keep their workers employed, they had them plant those palm trees.Thus they could hold their heads high and feed their families, when so many others were out of work.
That is a good story, and this region's history, as we would learn, has many such inspiring tales.
Our first stop was a fair way away, out past Greenock, at the very last winery before you leave the Barossa and head to Clare - Kalleske.
Tony and Troy stopped work for long enough to show us around, and take us through a few of their wines, and Yappy - you weren't kidding when you talked these guys up.
Sixth or seventh generation growers, the Kalleske brothers are making organically certified wines (the stamp came recently, but the vineyards have been organic for 140 years!) that are nothing short of sensational. Their Moppa Shiraz, for $25 or so, had us grinning, but the Johann Georg Shiraz, made from 135 year-old vines, could bring you to tears.
The Kalleske boys are part of a collective called "Artisans of the Barossa", and on the speccy Riedl glasses was the tagline "custodians of the future". It's a bunch of small production producers doing special things indeed, but it's more than just good booze, it's a movement - hand-crafted wines, made with respect and purity, sustainable farming.
It's exciting stuff, and if these wines were any indication, the future is in very good hands indeed.
On our way out, we met Wilbur. Wilbur is Troy's pet pig (he assures us Wilbur will die of natural causes and not feature on the menu at Apex Bakery at any stage in the future), who likes Shiraz. I mean he LOVES the stuff. Can't say we blame him!
Yappy has also been talking up the 1 kg T-bones from Linke's Butcher, so that was our next stop. They've been around since 1925 (so quite recent by Barossan standards), and make the best "Metty" going round, according to our hosts. But it was for beef we came, and beef we got - bloody big hunks of it. Three-inch cuts of prime T-bone, to be precise.
One more passenger to collect before we could get stuck into them, however, so we swung past the "shed" of one David Lehmann, son of the great Peter. Now David, who makes his wine under the label David Franz, has a big grin on his face, and apparently that grin does not fade until after vintage.I doubt it fades too often even after that.
With no time to spare, he jumped in the back of the kombi to show us his Benjamin's Promise Shiraz, a magnum of 02, no less, on the way to Apex. Benjamin is David's son, and whatever that promise was, this wine is delivering and then some.
What strikes you about David is his sheer passion. He didn't want to be a winemaker, under the shadow of his legendary father, but he just couldn't help himself. He just loves it, and that shines through in the wine he makes. Hell, it shines through in everything about him.
So 2'oclock and armed with half a cow and some pretty bloody special Shiraz, we arrived at Apex Bakery for Friday Lunch - an institution that has been going on for generations, and we were pretty honoured to be invited along.
Through the front door, round behind the counter and out the back into the working bakery itself, a dozen or so locals were already getting stuck into the beers and the reds.
We meet "the Baker boys", who took one look at our steaks and said "bloody hell". But I tell you, a half an hour later, we were treated to what was hands down the finest bit of meat Justin and I had ever tasted. Succulent, juicy, you could have carved it with a butter knife. The juices dripped down your arm as you ate it, on a piece of fresh-baked bread, or in my case just with my fingers.
We washed it down with $500 Shiraz or $3 beers, it didn't matter which - this was about sharing a meal and a drink and a laugh with a bunch of mates who had been doing it for years. Young and old, these were the locals that were the heart and soul of the Barossa.
And the Qwoff boys thank you again, one and all, for your Barossan hospitality. This is shaping up to be a very good week indeed...
Road to VIno Ep 19: This is Barossa Shiraz
We've just gone live with our new Barossa episode of Road to Vino, thought we'd share our tale with you...
(Note, we've also just launched our new site roadtovino.com - you can follow our adventures there as well)
6am and we're in the kombi heading up Main North Rd from Adelaide, destination: Barossa.
For Justin, this was a long time in the making. Something of a home-coming. The Barossa was his wine birth, as it were, as a student at Roseworthy, and I think of all the jewels that await us, this was one of the anticipated highlights for the old JD.
The sun comes up over the distant hills out the driver's side window as we turn into Gomersal Rd, and we're here. Before you know it, it's vines to the horizon, we're hanging a left, through the Jacob's Creek underpass, and urging the kombi up the drive to Mengler's Hill Lookout.
And there she is. The Barossa Valley, in all her glory. And JD has a mighty big grin on his face. Maybe he's reminiscing on the ex-girlfriends that are dotted across the valley.
No, he protest (a little too loudly methinks :) - it's the wine that awaits us.
And today, our Barossa initiation, is all about Shiraz. But not just any Shiraz. Justin's organised a visit to "the Rockfords of tomorrow" - Rusden Wines.
So off we go, down the hill, and before you can say Oom-pah-pah, we're bumping up the dirt road past the ancient, gnarly, dry-grown vines and into Rusden.
Standing in a bin of grapes suspended 3 metres in the air on the prongs of a forklift, pitch-fork in hand, is Yappy, our designated tour-guide for the day, and a good friend. First time we've ever seen him doing any real work, actually.
Speaking of which, it takes all of 5 minutes before Christian Canute and Chippy have put JD to work, armed with a pair of gum-boots and The Predator, a medieval-looking pitchfork. Shoveling the grapes into a little crusher that sits over the tanks is just one of the traditional methods that these guys adhere to religiously, out of respect for the generations of growers who have taken such tender care of this precious fruit.
It's a prevailing attitude that we're introduced to this morning, and would carry through the rest of our journey in the Barossa - this respect for the land, that they're all just care-takers of this wonderful, ancient dirt and the peerless fruit it produces. It was passed on to them, and they in turn will pass it on to their children, and their children's children, for generations to come.
So Justin starts shoveling, while I share a traditional Rusden breakfast - Linke's Mettwurst and a can of Cascade lager - you can't get it on the mainland, and Christian gets a half a pallet shipped over for vintage each year. Champion.
So thanks to JD's sweat, and Andre's appetite, we've earned ourselves a tasting, and the boys take us into the shed to share with us a couple of wines that will forever shape our image of Barossa Shiraz.
The Rusden "Black Guts" Shiraz is pretty close to Shiraz perfection - intense, yet soft, perfumed, spicy, complex, easy, balanced - just bloody delicious, actually.
The story of how the Black Guts got its name is equally captivating. Back in '94, Christian and his dad made a little Shiraz that was picked late in a hot year, and ended up around 16.5% - couldn't give it away.
Until, that is, Christian brings a bottle to lunch at Rockford one Friday (he was working there as a 19 year old wine brat). The great Robert O'Callaghan has a sip, orders everyone else to empty their glasses, and get taste of this. "Pure Barossa, without all the tricks", he calls it (or something along those lines), and they all proceed to drink the better part of a case of the stuff, crashing at the winery in swags that night.
And the next morning, they all woke up with... yep, you guessed it. And so is born the Black Guts.
Mark our words - this will be known as one of the great Barossa wines. One of the great Australian wines, for many years to come, so if you haven't tried it yet, you bloody should.
A pet project of Chippy and Yappy is another incredible small production, hand-crafted wine called Tomfoolery. Made at Rusden, they find great parcels of fruit and put together some amazing little wines that command pretty hefty price-tags.
We are treated to the Tomfoolery "Artful Dodger" Shiraz 2004, one of a handful of bottles left in existence. It's incredible. Darker and richer than the Black Guts, it's an absolute belter. If the artwork on the labels doesn't already sell you, you'll never look back after a sip.
This is special stuff. And yet there is more to come.
Galvanised by a few glasses of vino and a rolling camera, the boys put the pressure on Christian to dig into his cellar and crack a bottle of "the jewel in the crown" of Rusden - the Sandscrub.
Only 40 dozen are bottled, from their very best patch of Shiraz, it sees 4 years in oak (yes, that's 48 months) and 4 years in bottle before it's released, and walks out the cellar door at a mere $380, which very quickly hits $500+ in the few other places you might find it.
Christian's arm is twisted, and we head down into the cellar, and before you know it we're popping the cork of the '02 Sandscrub.
It's a pretty special moment. Even the winery cat comes down for a sniff, and would have knocked over our still-full bottle, but for a superb reflex catch from our host.
And thus ends our welcome to the Barossa - sitting in a closet sized cellar on boxes of wine, dimly lit by a naked bulb, sharing a bottle of one of the most magnificent wines in the world, with our new friends.
You just get the feeling this is going to be one special adventure...
Having just gotten through the 500 emails that were waiting to mug me on my return, I thought I'd share with you a bit of our Hawke's Bay experience.
Justin and I were over there at the very grandly-named 2010 NZ Wine Business Symposium (I love that word, "Symposium" - I've decided we're never doing another conference, only symposiums!!). As it turned out, it was over in Hawke's Bay, and we couldn't turn down a free flight (with Qantas, no less, not Tiger, which felt a bit special) and the chance to try some of the Gimblett Gravel's finest.
Our wine adventure across the Tasman started in a less than auspicious way...
Though to be fair, we weren't expecting miracles in economy class, and were just pleased not to have had to buy our water.
We got in late, after a good 10 hours of travel Adelaide - Sydney - Auckland - Napier (joy!). It was pissing down, and bloody cold, if you'll excuse my coarseness, but there at the gate to greet us were none other than the organisers themselves - Kevyn and Corinne. They'd come out in the middle of the night in torrential rain, not to take us to the hotel - they'd organised a taxi for that - but just to welcome us in person.
Nice touch, Mr & Mrs Moore. Won us over completely.
Unfortunately by the time we got back to our hotel in cute little Taradale, the pub was closed (crushed!) and the only thing open for food was Pizza Hut.
So our first night in prime wine country NZ was Super Supreme and a Pinot cleanskin (kindly provided by our hosts at the hotel). Wasn't anything to write about, yet here I find myself doing just that!
Moving on - we had the next day off, so JD and I hired a zippy little red car and, armed with several hot tips from qwoffers and at least one threat to report us to customs if we didn't visit Craggy Range, we headed out to taste some wine. Hawke's Bay turned on the weather, apparently satisfied with the previous evening's pelting.
I do have to say, that for a premium wine region, you wouldn't know it. Not many signs. But eventually, things started getting pretty, and we rounded a corner, and there they were - the Craggy Ranges.
I tell you, I don't know if I've seen a grander estate. This was ridiculous. Amazing. Makes me want to give up wine and get into the waste management business. Almost. And email me if this is too obscure, I'll explain it to you!
So Craggy Range - who makes one of my favourite Pinots. We were greeted at Cellar Door by Mary, who took us through some of their wines. But up on the wall were still quite a few special little drops, and so we thought we better pull out the qwoff card, if we want to get to taste some of the "good stuff".
Now I hate doing that, and I don't do it very often at cellar door, it's a bit of a toss, and there's always the chance that they won't care anyway, and you look like the guy who tried to jump the cue at the nightclub.
But we couldn't come all this way and NOT try everything. Mary was a bit reticent, and we had to ask if anyone from marketing was around - score, since the marketing manager was booked into our workshop the next day - but she did go upstairs to check (frankly, would YOU trust these guys...?)
So with permission sorted, we got stuck into the wines. And well worth the effort they were!
We started with a little Waitaki Valley Riesling 2008 from Northern Otago, with a fair whack of residual sugar left in there, but the acid to back it up. Loved it. Floral, limey, honey dew - zippy and beautiful.
Sipped and spat the Marlborough Sav Blanc, which was fine, if you like that sort of thing, and moved on to the Chardonnays.
The Kidnapper's Chardy 2008 from Hawke's Bay was terrific - not much oak, it was simple, yet nicely balanced, with a bit of a minerally lemonade thing going on, but not too sweet. Very nice, and great value at under $25.
The Seven Poplars Chardy 08, also from Hawke's Bay, was more old school, but surprisingly warm-climate tasting. For some reason (probably 'cause it was winter) I'd assumed everything would taste cool-climate, but most of the Chardonnays we tried were all quite ripe. Nice, but surprisingly ripe, while conversely the reds were all cool-climate.
This was explained to us, and it seems that the ripening season comes to an abrupt halt in Hawke's Bay, so early ripening varieties like Chardonnay get plenty of sun, whereas later ripening varieties cop the cool change. Made sense!
I'd seen another Chardonnay on the shelf, called the Les Beaux Coilloux - which means "The Beautiful Pebbles", and so I asked Mary if they had any other Chardonnays. Cheeky girl said flat-out "no". Somewhat surprised, I went over to the shelf and asked about that one, which looked suspiciously like Chardonnay, and under duress, Mary cracked it for us. It was a slightly uncomfortable moment, but the wine was worth it.
Top shelf. Almonds and white peach on the nose, with hints of butter, and a big palate, but lovely savoury acid, amazing length. Really stunning wine.
Moving on, we tried the Bannockburn Pinot Noir 08 from Central Otago, which was even better than the Martinborough, which had won my heart over the years. Rich, a bit of barnyard stink on the nose, but plenty of dark fruits and spice, it was superb.
The Hawke's Bay Syrah 08 was Gimblett Gravels, and just like the cracking Chardonnay, there was a distinctive minerally taste in there, and these dusty tannins that we would go on to find in many Gimblett Gravels wines. Very col climate, it was a tight wine, subtle, but with plenty of plums, dark chocolate, white pepper and vanilla.
Mary drew the line at opening their top shelf Syrah (another uncomfortable moment, but she held firm on that one), so we moved on to what the bread and butter of the Gimblett Gravels - Merlot blends.
The Te Kahu was a blend of Merlot (64%), Cab Franc, Cab Sav and Malbec, so pretty much your standard right bank Bordeaux, and it was a great $25 wine.
But the Sophia, which Mary DID kindly open for us, at $60 a pop, is a show-stopper.
The bottle weights about 3 kg, so it would double up as a good weapon if ever you were in a strife (I wonder if Mary was tempted to use it by this stage!). The nose was stunning. Brooding plums and blackberries, with heady vanilla, licorice and spice, perfume, and pure high grade dark chocolate.
Still tight and no doubt too young, but you could tell this would grow into a wine that I would call a bargain at $60.
So that was it for Craggy Range, and off to our next hot tip - Te Mata.
Now I have to say, I'm not here to bring anyone down, but Te Mata - why bother with a cellar door if you're only going to offer a couple of entry level wines? And I'm not talking about giving us your top end, but we were pointedly told that only the Gamay and a Merlot Malbec blend (both $18) were on taste (of the reds), and the others were only $34 each, so we're not talking high end.
So highly recommended too! And I can't help myself, I know it was Tuesday and winter, but I don't remember ever having been treated with such disdain at cellar door. We didn't bother pulling the qwoff card, and retired gracefully. Te Mata - seriously? Give it some thought.
We mentioned that particular experience later that evening to someone else at the Symposium, and he had the same story from 10 years ago! You don't forget the bad experiences, do you. And it's not about the wine at cellar door.
We headed over to Trinity Hill, where we were treated to a great range of wines, and Justin had been so dying to buy some, but couldn't bring himself to buy from someone that had been rude to us, that he bought a case.
Now you can only bring 3 bottles each back into Australia, so we had 2 days to get through about 10 bottles, and perhaps surprisingly, that didn't prove to be such a challenge :)
The Symposium went well the next day, though we were EXTREMELY hung over for our presentation, having attended a big dinner at Mission Estate the night after our wine tasting, which was superb, but we forgot to put the brakes on, but thankfully we're in an industry where that sort of behavior can be chalked up to product research.
All in all, stunning place, we had a great time, and pretty much everyone was super friendly in Hawke's Bay. We drank some amazing wines, met some great people, but I can't help be left with the question - what's the point of sticking in a water feature if your cellar door staff are going to blow visitors off?
Integrity vs the Wine Blogger
I'm contemplating my own integrity. Does that mean I'm a wine blogger? I am today. Next week I'm a wine traveler, bound for the land of the long white gooseberry, where Justin and I are going to be workshopping social media marketing with 150 NZ wine producers.
Now having got a lot of millage and cheap laughs out of bagging NZ wines over the years (actually more just Sav Blanc), I'm feeling a bit... well, sheepish. Ah, see, I just can't help myself, it's ingrained into my Australian culture. We can't stand there's another underdog outperforming us.
But I digress. The point of my rant this morning, if there is a point, is this: To maintain integrity in lieu of my impending date with the wine producers I have to either A) stay consistent and avoid the subject whilst over there, or B) confess that they make some bloody good booze, even the Sav Blanc.
That's an easy one, since I don't actually drink Sav Blanc by choice, New Zealand or otherwise, and I can more than make up for it to the good people of NZ by singing the praises of their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Gris...
A trickier line to ride is balancing my roles as wine reviewer and wine salesman. Even in my humble capacity, I face every day situations where I'm sent wines from producers, looking to either sell their wines or have them reviewed.
The hard line that we take is that we simply don't sell wines that we don't like. Simple, yes? What about if we liked it on Tuesday, put it out there, and then tried it a few weeks later again, and were less than overwhelmed?
I mean I don't know about you, but my palate changes, sometimes quite drastically, and I've gone back to wines occasionally and thought "what the hell was I thinking giving this a 90?"
And conversely, it's gone the other way - I've been far too harsh on a good wine that simply rubbed me up the wrong way at the time.
These still aren't decisions that send me into a moral crisis, but hang in there, it gets worse :)
What about when I really like a winemaker, and they've been so lovely and welcoming, and invited me to lunch, and offered to put my wife and I and our kids and two dogs up in their charming little cottage overlooking the lake, and they're battlers and I just love them, but the wines are, well...
My choice is usually to do everything I can to avoid having to offer an opinion, and I certainly won't write about it.
But then, I have that luxury - I'm not producing the Wine Companion, or the Penguin Good Wine Guide.
If I was, I imagine I'd be facing the same integrity dilemma that every critic must surely face when they cannot avoid staying silent.
What if your best friend makes a wine that has consistently scored mid 90's, and this year you really think it's more of an 87 - enough to make the book, but the kind of score that will kill the wine for that vintage at $50 a pop.
The wine industry is the greatest industry in the world. You can be real with people, you don't have to where a tie, you're surrounded by artists, and farmers, and generally good and inspiring people, and you make a lot of friends.
Imagine the decisions Halliday, or Stocky, have to make all the time. Sure, it's their job, and sure, they have to maintain integrity when scoring wines sent in to them, but what about the 1-2 percenters? I mean Halliday would have lifelong friends making wines he'd have to review, and you can't tell me that if he gives the Old Socks Shiraz 2008 at $160 a pop an 88, that it won't put a strain on the relationship with his old mate Bob?
Must get lonely.
I remember having a chat with Stocky when I first met him, and I asked him just that, given we had a few mutual friends who made wine, and he said that he has to maintain a distance, in that professional capacity, and his REAL friends know that, and probably avoid putting him (and their brands!) in that position.
What about a winemaker/producer, who knows that if he just leaves a smidge of residual sugar in his Riesling, it'll sell better, but he would rather drink it dry? What about if he needed to sell all his Riesling quickly to meet the repayments on the overdraft?
Would that make him a sell-out? I mean if more people liked it anyway, does that vindicate the compromise?
If it could go 88 or 89 points, I mean it's a decent wine, and a 90 would really help sales, and he's just put little Emily into private school...
Will these harmless little moral negotiations make the world a happier place, or chip away at the rock of integrity, each choice a hairline crack that weakens the structure, and leads to inevitable decay?
Okay, this has gone a bit deep, and now I'm depressed. I'm going to go and have a Sav Blanc to cheer up - the one that I make the biggest margin on!
Integrity? Maybe it's more of a Monday thing...
Lunch at France Soir
So yesterday Justin and I zipped over to the city of Melbourne for the day for a secret meeting (we can be very mysterious sometimes), but turns out the meeting was delayed, and we found ourselves with a few hours to kill in South Yarra.
With a fair few options, I talked Justin into lunch at one of my favourite memories - the institution that is France Soir. Daggy name? Yes. Sounds like a Parisian Tourist Trap. But France Soir is as authentic a French dining experience as you can get.
Why am I telling you this, you may well wonder? Because this is a wine story.
This restaurant has one of the great French wine lists in the country, I'll go on a limb to say. The winelist is actually an inch-thick, leather bound book, with what must be one of the most impressive collections of French wine in the country. I was told that their cellar ran beneath us, and also beneath the building next store, and was twice as large as the restaurant itself.
As you can see from this pic, no crap wines allowed through this door...
So we squeeze into our tiny table (it's close quarters inside), check out the tables of high-powered businessmen and impeccably dressed Melbourne dames, see what sort of wines are on the tables,who's eating what (as you do), and settle in for some serious dining.
There's a wine tasting going on at one of the tables, Someliers by the funky haircuts and manbags, and we wonder if we could sneak in there and pour ourselves a taste from one of a dozen decanters crowding the table otherwise full of bulbous Pinot glasses. Mmmm...
We refrain, and instead order our entrees, and Justin's gone for Sea Perch dumplings in a prawn Bisque ("bloody delicious", I believe, were his words), with a glass of Vouvray Chenin Blanc. Now I didn't taste the wine, but by all accounts it was ripe, full and silky.
I ordered, as I have every time I've been there without fail, the Foie Gras, which is served on little triangles of toast. They make it there, and it was like butter, but my point here is that our French waiter took it for granted that I'd naturally like a glass of Sauternes with that, and I had to remind myself that Foie Gras and Sauternes is one of those classic Bordelais matches. I'm a bit of a stickies with dessert man, and I was hoping it didn't smash the Burgundy I was no doubt going to follow it up with.
But my pedestrian inclinations were happily shushed, as I sipped this little glass of ice cold amber magic. Can't even remember who made it, but it was stunning - smoky and savoury amidst this perfect balance of tantalising sweetness and zippy refreshing acid.
Nothing cloying or syrupy about this one, and as centuries have attested to, the perfect match for my buttery, gamey foie gras.
My thought - who's making this kind of sticky here in Australia, with that piercing line of acid?
So Justin and I checked our wallets at that stage as we scanned the section of the winelist titled "Bourgogne".
Now to those of you with an acquired taste for Pinot, you'll understand why we checked our wallets. You just can't buy a decent Burgundy for less than the price of a small car. Or at least the price of a bicycle. Why??!!! It's NOT FAIR!!!
We settled for a half bottle of a delicious, albeit young Mongeard-Mugneret Vosne-Romanee 2006. PLEASE, can more restaurants up their stocks of half bottles? It's a great way to order wine over dinner, you get a decent glass and a half each, and you can try a few different wines through the meal without having to stick with the by the glass options. Besides, it ages faster, so you get a more mature wine without having to cellar it for a decade. Win win!!!
So that modest little "Villages" Burgundy sets you back a poultry $80, and there's a DRC down the bottom of the page for $14,500. Expensive habit, Burgundy, but more rewarding than Sav Blanc :)
Now we make some cracking Pinot in this country, no doubt about it, but there's something about the stink of a Burgundy that I love. Something just distinctly Burgundian. Went down a treat.
So another question - who makes the stinkiest Pinot in Oz - Ashton Hills?
Onto the mains, and Justin's ordered a veal and mushroom dish, and I get my staple - the France Soir signature Fillet Steak Bearnaise. It's a wonderfully tender and juicy wedge of fillet, charred on the outside, pink and bloody on the inside, with a gravy boat full of the thickest, deliciously tangy Bearnaise you'll ever taste. And a side of Pommes that look and taste remarkably like MacDonald's fries, which (when you fluke them fresh out of the deep fryer), which I must clarify is more of a nod to Maccas than a slight on these Pommes!
We ordered a bottle of 1994 Bordeaux Superiore (Cab Merlot etc. blend) from the Haut Medoc region, which stood out among giants at only $110, and was going to go smashingly with my steak, but when Justin took a sniff, he passed it my way with a grimace, and sure enough, it was a glass of wet cardboard. Cork taint. Now Justin's good with wine faults - I'm okay if I'm familiar with the style, but it has to be pretty obvious for me to call it on an old world wine, but this one even I could be fairly sure.
Still, when the maitre 'd asked from across the room if the wine was okay (asking only with his eyebrows, I might add), I replied with my eyebrows and a bit of a hand gesture. He frowned, poured himself a glass, sniffed it, and without so much as a word, looked over to the bar and drew his hand across his neck.
I was sincerely hoping that was in reference to the wine and not to the customers.
Unfortunately, that was the last bottle, and so we switched to something safer - a Northern Rhone Shiraz Viognier blend from Saint-Joseph. Since there was nothing too ridiculously priced, we asked the Somelier to choose us his favourite.
He did well. Out came a very simply-labelled bottle of 07 by Herve Souhaut, which I'd not heard of before. And when I tell you it was like cough medicine with three tablespoons of white pepper, a sprinkle of ash and a dash of ribena, I mean that in a good way.
Ah, this was a great lunch. Don't know how much business we expected to get done later that afternoon, but we were fairly well beyond caring.
We topped it off with a little platter of cheese, from a creamy brie to a feral chevre, a stunning roquefort and a couple of harder cheeses that I couldn't pick, and didn't understand when our very French waiter rattled them off.
Now the Saint-Joseph really didn't work with the cheeses, and I was reminded that I don't think I've ever found a red wine and cheese match I've liked. I know, I know, you probably have some, and Justin certainly thinks I'm full of crap, but I genuinely don't like red wine with cheese. Give me a sticky, or any number of whites with a Brie, but I'm sorry, hold the red.
Unless you can give me some fail-safe suggestions?
That aside, it wasn't so hard to finish off the wine and cheese separately, and I undid a few buttons on the old jeans, sat back in my chair, and asked Justin why it is we don't have Thursday business lunches more like this one more often.
So there you go - an afternoon of French food and wine. Thought provoking? Well, to be honest, and this is going to upset some people, but you can't help but think that gee, the French get such interesting characters in their wines, and it's exciting to explore them.
But then, as we reminded ourselves, these are $50-$100 wines, and so they bloody well should be interesting. And if you drank Saint-Joseph and Vosne-Romanee all the time, a glass of Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot, or a Rusden Black Guts, would be an exhilarating experience.
The lesson in this? Push your palate sideways. There's a world of wine out there to explore, and that's the great beauty of this most magical elixir.
(Justin and Andre getting chummy with owner Jean-Paul Prunetti)
Grange Bolognese 5 - Lunchtime
Phew. On blog post number 5, I feel about the same way now as I did at 9am on Sunday - Game Day.
First thing I did was skim the sauce of the oil that had floated to the top - it was tasting a touch oily last night. I also added a big handful of chopped basil, shopped parsley, and a decent amount of sea salt, brought it back to the boil on the stove and popped it in the oven for the final bit of cooking that would hopefully bring everything together nicely.
I then moved on to the Panna Cotta, which was pretty simple - good thickened cream, caster sugar (I always use at least a third less than recipes for all my desserts, I just find they often come out too sweet), the seeds scooped out of 3 vanilla beans, and then the pods chucked in for good measure (hold the sugar, but you can't have too much vanilla!!), and then some gelatine leaves (why do they call them leaves? They're just sheets!), which I first softened in cold water.
Stirred it all around until dissolved and infused, took out the vanilla bean pods, and poured the mixture into 8 ramekins, which I put in a deep baking dish and put int he fridge to set. The baking dish will make sense later.
So that done, it was time to make the pasta. I love making pasta - it's easy and it's rewarding, and you get to really work something with your hands.
500g flour (I couldn't find any durum wheat flour when I was shopping, unfortunately. Why is it so hard to find??!!), and a dozen eggs - 3 whole and the rest just yolks. Takes a while, but eventually I got a beautiful big elastic, silken yellow ball of goodness, which I wrapped in gladwrap and put in the fridge to rest.
Time check: Aargh! 15 minutes until showtime. Best have that shower...
This was getting exciting. Guests arrived, and I put my mate Shaun to work on the pasta machine...
He loves his cooking, and he's bloody good at it. We rolled all the pasta out into thin sheets (setting 5, if you have a pasta machine like mine), and then I just sliced a sharp knife down them lengthways, creating inch-thick tagliatelle.
Had to quickly duck into the shed to come up with a hanging solution, which a bit of gaffer tape and some marquis poles fixed (wiped clean, of course, in case my guests are reading this). I suspended my rack across two benchtops, floured it down, and hung the pasta out - we all thought it looked magnificent, but then, we men do like to congratulate ourselves for our little achievements, don't we?
Okay, so that was pretty much the main sorted, we were all getting hungry, so I passed out the Hendricks and Tonics (with the obligatory cucumber slice), sent them outside, and got stuck into the entree.
Quail with Figs, Chevre and Capicola
Had this idea from Anton van Klopper from Lucy Margaux in the Adelaide Hills, who invited us up for lunch not long ago, so Anton - we'll have to have you round soon! It was basically figs, capicola and goats curd, and I decided to add some quail, which I'd marinated in Sangiovese verjuice the night before.
So I took out the quail, and cut it into little leg/thigh and wing/breast pieces - which requires then patience of a surgeon, by the way, to get all those tiny little sharp rib bones. Splashed some balsamic over the pieces and very lightly pan-fried them.
Then I popped the quail, torn-up capicola (which is cured pig meat - neck?) and figs into the over for a quick burst, and sprinkled on some sprigs of thyme for good measure. That didn't take long at all, I just wanted to warm the figs to get the juices going, and I plated up with some lovely Chevre from Udder Delights, EVOO from Ngeringa and this amazing little 4-leaf aged balsamic I save for this sort of thing.
We served the quail with a bottle of Craggy Range Pinot Noir 2008 from Martinborough, NZ, but most of the girls were sticking with the Champagne, which was Henriot, I think. I didn't try it, but it seemed to go down well.
The entree, to be honest, looked better than it tasted, I thought. I'd overcooked the quail and the capicola a bit, so they were both a bit dry. But there's no such thing as bad figs!
On to the mains -Shaun had brought some Sourdough Bread he'd made at home the traditional way, by fermenting flour and water for 2 weeks. It was still warm and absolutely perfectly cooked.
Sourdough Garlic Bread
Sliced it thick, and I made a spread with butter, EVOO, garlic, dried marjoram and salt and pepper, which we melted and brushed generously over the bread, and popped it under the grill.
While the water was boiling for the pasta, I then made a Roma Tomato and Mozarella Salad, with some delicious Buffalo Mozarella and basil leaves, and again the Ngeringa EVOO and aged balsamic, and HEAPS of salt and pepper. I could just eat this every day with some good bread to mop up the oil and vinegar, and die happy.
And then of course, came the main event...
Grange Bolognese with home-made Tagliatelle and Parmigiano Reggiano
The pasta only took 5 or 6 minutes, and sauce was peaking, and a big sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano was all it took. She was ready. My fantasy was about to be fulfilled.
I cracked the oldest bottle I still had in my cellar (after the Grange), which was a Black Wattle Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 from Mount Benson. I expected the wine to have fallen over, but quite the opposite - it was stunning.
And just quietly, so was the pasta.
Woo hoo!!! Jubilation. I don't know if everyone was having the same moment that I was, but this was good. And amazingly balanced in flavours. And I wasn't sitting there thinking how clever I was (well, okay, just a bit) - more that I could taste each step, and I could tell what each ingredient was doing, and yet when you stopped analysing, it had all come together in lovely harmony.
Only thing I would have added is more wine!!
The second wine was a bottle of Alpha Box and Dice Blood of Jupiter Sangiovese Cabernet 2006 from McLaren Vale, which was also really good. Both wines, I'm happy to say, went nicely with the pasta.
We took a couple of hours off, and then I trotted back into the kitchen, which was now looking post-apocalyptic, to get the dessert happening.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Sauternes Poached Figs
I gently poached the rest of the figs in a bath of Le Tertre du Lys D'or Sauternes 2005 - I love this wine, because it's cheap (well, at $70 for a 750ml Sauternes, that's cheap!), and it still has that nice acid.
The Panna Cotta had set nicely, and I poured some hot water into the baking dish, which warms up the ramekins, so that when I tip them up, the Panna Cotta slips out nicely. A little too nicely, actually! Almost melted them!
Took the figs out to plate, and then added a couple of tablespoons to the Sauternes and reduced it into a syrup, and the last touch was a scoop of Maggie Beer Burnt Fig Ice Cream - heavenly.
Looked awesome, though the Panna Cotta ran a little where I'd softened it, but it tasted divine, and we polished off the rest of the sticky to wash it down with.
Well, so that was that, a nice shot of Macchiato, and there was nothing left but to lean back in my chair, enjoy the afternoon sun, and the company of friends and family.
Grange Bolognese IV
So I poured about half a bottle of 1996 Penfold's Grange over the meat and simmered. You know it's a funny thing, but in the end, when we finally sat down and ate the Bolognese, I thought it could have done with a bit more wine.
But I digress, where was I? Ah, yes...
Reduced the wine over the meat, which turned the richest and most delicious colour as it simmered away in its Grange bath, and so it bloody well should!
Then I ladelled over some chicken stock that I'd made. A note on chicken stock - I like to roast the chicken necks, legs, wings, carcass, onions, celery, carrots, and whatever else I use in the oven first, before putting it in the stock pot - makes for a richer, darker stock, if that's what you're after, and I certainly was!
I didn't reduce the stock all the way down, just got it simmering for 5 or 10 minutes (probably used 2 cups or so), and then over the nicely moist and gooey meat and stock, I poured the rest of the ingredients back in the pot, which was as full as it was ever going to get, put the lid on, and stuck it in the oven, which was sitting on around 160.
At that point, and it was about 8pm by that stage, I rewarded myself with another glass of Grange, which was opening out very nicely indeed.
So it was all on track, really - Bolognese with the beef and ox tail was in the oven, the pork belly was confit-ing, thought I did have to turn the oven down to 120, or else I would have ended up with deep fried pork belly.
Two hours and one very empty Grange later, I took the pot out of the oven (which was smelling quite fine, I might add), fished out the pieces of meat, which were just falling off the bone, and started breaking it up into fine shreds. I just used two forks for this, which went very smoothly for the beef osso bucco and the pork belly, but I had to get my fingers into the ox tail, which seemed to have very little meat to offer in the end, but at least I got all those flavours (and I did enjoy sucking on the pieces after I'd picked off what meat I could!).
Here's the last shot I took before heading off to bed.
The sauce was very close to finished, I'd season it and add fresh herbs on the morrow, and give it a last little bit of time to slow cook all the flavours together, but it was a big day in the kitchen, and I was done!
Oh - and I did marinate the quail in some Maggie Beer Sangiovese Verjuice (no I'm not sponsored by Maggie Beer, I just think she;s the most adorable woman, and makes some smashing stuff!).
I was pretty excited about our Sunday lunch the net day. The sauce had me a bit nervous - it was quite subtle (or maybe I was too drunk!). Would it all come together with seasoning and that "next day magic" that Bolognese gets?
Tune in very soon for the final installment of Grange Bolognese!
Grange Bolognese III
Saturday, 1pm. Time to cook.
Okay, so one thing I'd been playing around with in my mind was the idea of confit-ing. Wasn't sure what, but I wanted to confit bloody something! I also wanted to have bits in the Bolognese - nice soft bits, but bits of meat, bits of onion, etc. in more of a ragu style than a mince.
So I took a ceramic dish and placed in it some basil leaves, the bay leaves, some sprigs of thyme, and then peeled the shallots and a head and a half of garlic, leaving the cloves whole, and placed them over the herbs.
Filled up the dish with olive oil I'd pre-heated to warm on the stove, until it just covered the bulbs, and then placed the roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthways, on top, half in and half out of the oil. Seasoned with a fair whack of sea salt. I'm not shy with salt, butter and oil, when it's needed. Looked like this...
Pretty, huh? I thought so. Covered the dish with foil and placed it in the oven on 110 degrees, which is obviously not very hot - plan was to leave it in there for a couple of hours, or until the shallots were soft. I'd keep an eye on the tomatoes, and take them out when they were looking soft and cooked.
Next step - the meat. The idea was to slow-cook the meat in whole pieces until it was ready to fall apart, and then break it up into little shreds. So I seasoned the beef osso bucco and the ox tail, dusted them in flour, and browned them in some of the olive oil from the confit, in my casserole dish in batches. Did the same with the pork belly, but didn't dust it in flour, then set the meat aside.
I love all those golden, caramelised bits of meat and juices in the bottom of the pan, and I wanted to keep as much flavour from every process in the end dish, so I stirred that round a bit, then added my finely chopped onions, celery and grated carrot, added some more of the confit oil which was still simmering away in the oven, and slow-cooked on the stove, sweating and caramelising the mix. This is where the sweetness of a bolognese or a stew comes from, and I just kept tasting until I was happy, which was about half an hour on a very low flame. Very important not to brown or burn at this stage, that just kills all the sweetness.
So while that's going on, I took the confit tomatoes out of the oven (they'd been in for about an hour), leaving the shallots, garlic, etc. to cook some more. I took the skins off, and scraped out the pith and seeds from the core, sustaining only minor burns, and ended up with some sloppy, oily confit tomato pulp, nice and soft and juicy. Mashed it up with a fork and added a generous sprinkling of sea salt, because I love the way salt brings out the sugars in tomatoes.
Reason I was going all this was to make my own type of tomato paste. I'd also bought a nice Italian tomato paste, which did actually taste like concentrated tomatoes, and I added some of that, for richness, bit by bit until I was happy with the balance and richness I was happy with. Then I simmered that for about 20 mins, reducing and concentrating it into sort of a roast tomato paste, but still with that zing of fresh tang.
Needed a bit of a kicker on taste, so I added a splash of this Maggie Beer Aged Red Wine Vinegar I have, and that did the trick. I was digging it.
Anyway, so I stirred the tomato paste into my caramelised onion/celery/carrot mix, cooked it in a bit - so far so good. I wanted to get some nice earthy, salty flavours in there, so I had re-hydrated the dried porcini mushrooms (couldn't find fresh ones, or even vac-packed) in warm water. Finely chopped my pancetta, and sauteed that with the mushrooms in a separate pan with a splash of the oil again from the confit. In to the pot that went.
Time for some of the herbs, so I added a little rosemary, and the thyme and bay leaves from the confit, plus the now deliciously softened whole shallots and garlic cloves from the confit, drained of oil, and gently stirred that in.
Now it was getting exciting. Plan was to add the browned meat in whole pieces, turn up the heat, and pour over the wine, letting it reduce and infuse into all the ingredients.
This, however, is where I encountered my first real problem. You see, placing all the meat into the pot made for one very full pot...
My first solution was to transfer it all into my big stock pot, but my stock pot was too tall for my oven.
But then, as I have no doubt many cooks and winemakers alike could attest to - necessity being the mother of all invention, adversity inspiring creativity and all that - I decided to go left of field, and I think it added something special to the whole dish in the end.
I decided to confit the pork belly separately, in the oil I hadn't (thankfully) tipped out from the shallots and garlic. I placed the pork into the oil bath, covered it with foil, and placed it at the very bottom of the oven, hoping that if the main pot was cooking at 160 up top, the confit would be around 130 or so, and all would come together just swimmingly.
That didn't completely solve the pot space issue, so I tipped all the onion, carrot, shallot, pancetta, etc. mush into a big bowl, plan being to reduce the wine and stock over the meat, then add it back in.
Which led me, of course, to the wine...
Now this wasn't going to be called Grange Bolognese for nothing. This was it - the main event. This was the big shabang. This was, well to be perfectly honest, the fantasy.
Now I'm not someone who's had so many bottles of Grange, apart from the odd industry or cellar door tasting, which really isn't the same thing as buying one and cracking it yourself. So I felt a bit like a naughty schoolboy, cracking my very dusty bottle of 1996 Penfold's Grangethat had been slowly aging in my cellar for the past 5 years or so.
I poured myself a little glass (just to be sure it was okay, you understand), swirled it around a bit to get it breathing, and had a taste.
Very nearly lost my resolve at that point, and started running through some other options in my panicked mind - Basket Press Bolognese had a good ring to it at that point, let me tell you, and about a $600 bonus.
I'm not so sure that this magnificent wine thought that her fate was going to lie in a pot of Bolognese, but hey, it's my Grange, and I shall do with her what I like.
Still, I've got to tell you, it's not so easy tipping a Grange into a pot of meat. What if this whole dish doesn't turn out well? What if the pork belly just kills it, and it all tastes like shit? What if I burn the damn thing!!??
Man up, Eikmeister, this is the stuff dreams are made of! And in she goes...
(To Be Continued...)
Grange Bolognese II
Tick this one off the bucket list. Sunday May 9th, 2010 - Made Grange Bolognese.
I very nearly chickened out, I'll be honest, after my wife and most of my friends reminded me of the madness of tipping a $600+ bottle of wine into a pasta sauce, but you know what? This wasn't about pasta sauce, or even about good wine. This was about doing it.
This was like a weekend getaway. I started on Saturday morning, and finished Sunday lunchtime, when I served up this indulgent culinary challenge to my wife Jodie, mother-in-law Bobbie, Justin and Maya, and good friends Shaun and Jane. Most of whom, by the way, with the exception of Justin, thought I was crazy.
Maybe I was, but I thought I'd share with you more than just the recipe, but the adventure, that was my Grange Bolognese.
Saturday morning, 8:30am, I sat the kids down in front of Rolie Polie Olie with some corn flakes and pulled out a half a dozen cookbooks - Maggie Beer, Guy Grossi, Salvatore Pepe, Stephanie Alexander, Jamie Oliver, Larousse, and scoured through them, jotting down ingredient ideas, technique tips, anything I thought might help. I also looked through all the tips and ideas you guys sent in on qwoff, facebook and twitter - thank you, by the way, I'm cooking for you, too!
Here's the menu I came up with to be served for Sunday combined Mother's Day / my birthday lunch:
Hendriks Gin and Tonic with Cucumber
Roast Quail and Figs with Capicola and Chevre
Grange Bolognese on home-made Tagliatelle
Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil Salad
Panna Cotta with figs poached in Sauternes
Off to Burnside Village, and first stop was the butcher. I'd been thinking about meat for a while now, and planned to use a mixture of Beef Osso Bucco and Pork Belly, but they also had some Ox Tail, which looked fantastic, and I got excited about the gaminess that might bring to it. Also brought back memories of being a kid, and mum making a rich ox tail and onion stew, and digging around the bone to scavenge the bits of sticky meat and licking my fingers and forearms as this dark orange-brown sauce dripped everywhere.
Three hours later, and my cart was full. I had my list of ingredients, and here they were:
For the quail...
8 fresh ripe Figs
12 thin slices of Capicola
1 jar Udder Delights Chevre
1 bunch Thyme
4-leaf Aged Balsamic
For the Pasta...
12 organic free-range eggs
500g Strong Flour
For the Grange Bolognese...
4 large pieces Beef Osso Bucco
4 strips Pork Belly
6 pieces Ox Tail
1 litre Olive Oil
Organic Plain Flour
Murray River Sea Salt
2 large Carrots
2 large Brown Onions
3 sticks Celery
8 large ripe Roma Tomatoes
200g Tomato Paste
Aged Red Wine Vinegar
6 x 2mm slices mild Pancetta
100g dried Porcini
3 Bay Leaves
1 bunch Rosemary
1 bunch Thyme
1 bunch Marjoram
1 bunch Basil
1 bunch Italian Parsley
2 heads Garlic
1 litre Chicken Stock
For the Tomato Salad...
8 large ripe Roma Tomatoes
3 balls Buffalo Mozarella
Handful Basil Leaves
Salt and Pepper
For the Garlic Bread...
1 loaf crusty Italian Bread
1 head Garlic
For the Panna Cotta & Fig Dessert...
750g Thickened Creme
120g Caster Sugar
3 Vanilla Beans
6 leaves Gelatine
8 Fresh Figs
1 bottle Le Tertre Sauternes
1 tub Maggie Beer Burnt Fig Ice Cream
I think that's it. I always forget something. So I got home, cleaned the kitchen, and got started.
Ah, yes - one important ingredient, nearly forgot. Down to the cellar, up the back in the hard-to-get-to corner where the dust has settled, and there it was...
My long-cherished bottle of 1996 Penfold's Grange Bin 95.
(To Be Continued...)
To me, a good Bolognese transcends the old 15 minute spag bol. I consider it one of those dishes that tests the mettle of a cook. Anyone can chuck together some mince and tomato paste and call it spaghetti, but a truly good one involves a fair bit of technique.
And a bottle of red wine.
Which brings me back to my fantasy…
You may think it's a nerdy fantasy, compared to, say, threesomes with twins or PVC bodysuits, but it's my fantasy, and you can't take it away. But you can help...
I’ll tell you straight up - I used to make a mean Bolognese. It was a recipe taught to me by an ex-girlfriend’s crazy father (or was that a crazy ex-girlfriend’s father? It's debatable where the adjective best sits) - it was just rich, syrupy sex in a bowl. I had never tasted anything like it, and for a while there, it was all working for me.
And then, for some reason, I lost it.
Couldn’t get back to that incredible texture, that heavenly harmony of stewed flavours. It's depressed the hell out of me, to be honest.
So I’m thinking it’s time to man up and get back in the saddle. It’s my birthday next week, don't ask me how old, and I'm thinking of giving it a crack. I'm going to attempt to conjure up the perfect Bolognese.
Now I love to cook, but I’m no Heston Blumenthal, or Gordon f%&^ Ramsay, but here are a few key things that work for me (or at least they bloody used to!!):
I DON’T use lean meat – I use a mix of nice fatty beef and also pork. I’m thinking for this one I might try some nice sticky leg meat off the bone, and perhaps some pork belly, go for a bit of a ragu, rather than a mince.
This ex's father used more onion than meat, and he caramelised the hell out of the onions in plenty of good olive oil. Worked for me.
I've added livers, finely chopped, which I love – I might try something interesting in this one, like duck or even venison livers. Not sure.
What I am sure of is the wine.
I’m thinking of going a Grange. Yes, I know, it’s flashy, and a bit wanky, but I want to do it.
(Justin – you reading this? I’m short one key ingredient…)
But I want to get it right. So I decided to do a bit of research into cooking with wine.
I’ve always subscribed to the theory that you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, but there’s got to be more to it than just red or white.
Turns out there is.
When you cook wine, the alcohol evaporates faster than the water (at a lower temperature), so for instance, if you’re deglazing a pan, you’ll lose most of the alcohol before the liquid reduces.
And like with any good sauce, the flavours of the wine concentrate as you reduce the liquid. So a fruity wine will concentrate those fruit flavours (cherry, blackberry, plum, etc.), and a sweet wine will get sweeter.
A crap wine will get crappier.
So what’s likely to happen to my Grange?
One of our qwoffers, Scott G, was on the forums talking about his experience working in a three-hat restaurant, where they served a beef dish with a 74 Grange Hermitage jus, as part of a six-course degustation for Valentine’s Day. Said the sauce was sex on legs.
So assuming she’s got a few years on her, like the 74, I’d expect some lovely tarry, caramel, leathery, coffee savoury flavours, with some blackberry hopefully still hanging in there.
Cook that up (wow, I wonder if I’ll have the courage to tip it in the pot, after sipping a glass), and all those amazing savoury flavours should concentrate.
So how is this coffee caramel going to blend with the sweet onion, gamey stewed meats, carrot, and tomato?
I’ve no idea, but I intend to find out!
So I put it to you, and I’d seriously like some advice here.
What should I not do? Should I take it easy on the tomato? What about choice of meat?
I would pour the wine in over the meat as it's browning in the pan, before too much else, and reduce it, infusing the meat with the wine flavours, rather than pouring the wine in over all the ingredients and just letting it simmer, but what's your advice?
Shoot me a note (just click on "have your say", below) and I shall report back to you on the results, my friends. Stay tuned…
Road to Vino: Lunch with Lucy
I read something not so long ago about zealots and idealists, and how they “move the middle”, as in the middle ground.
And though their views or ways may seem a little extreme to the masses, it’s their uncompromising vision that can shift the views of the masses, even just a little.
Well, a long boozy lunch on the last day of our Adelaide Hills adventure has shifted my middle, and I’m all the richer for it.
It started out with some badly scribbled and very confusing directions, taking us out the back of the Basket Ranges in the Hills, to the start of a dirt drive – a very steep dirt drive, marked only with the number 274.
And an invitation to Lunch with Lucy.
Lucy Margaux, that is, or rather with Anton van Klopper, the man behind Lucy Margaux Vineyards that are producing one of the most exciting wines in the Hills.
With a reputation for his uncompromising belief in biodynamic farming, and for rearing, gathering and farming his own food, this was an opportunity worth delaying our trip to the Barossa for.
So long as we manage to get up the drive in the Qwoffmobile…
If there’s a steeper, narrower, more hazardous drive in the Hills, we haven’t found it, and even if your 4WD or tractor makes it up, there are blackberry vines like cat-o-nine-tails protecting the Margaux Castle like Sleeping bloody Beauty’s rose bushes.
But make it up we did, with a bit of get out and push, to be greeted by a goat, 3 chickens, and Anton van Klopper, who makes a mean coffee.
He took us down to his own vineyard, which produces one of his 4 estate wines, the Lucy Margaux Pinot, and believe me when I say it’s not going to make it on the cover of the Adelaide Hills Visitor’s Guide.
A scraggier, more pathetic bunch of struggling vines I have never seen, clinging to life on the side of a slope that goats would struggle with.
And I mean that as the greatest compliment. This stuff has never touched a spray, I swear he’d be lucky to be getting 100kg to the acre of the smallest, darkest berries you’ve ever seen, but man, they tasted bloody good.
Anton and Sally’s home is a beautiful place that is in about the same state as Anton’s hair – wild and charming, rustic and cluttered with life.
An old John Coltrane LP was playing on the record player, and bowls of produce from his own lands and the community veggie patch covered the big old wooden table in the kitchen.
We sat down while Anton peeled the spuds for the gnocchi and sliced the wax seals off his range of 6 Pinots.
This, fellow winelovers, was a rare treat indeed.
And we must thank Anton even at this stage for his generosity – to open 6 wines, I mean he only makes 120 cases or something altogether, and to open his home to a couple of wandering strangers – but then, after 15 minutes of chatting, you realised that this was who he was, this was what he was all about.
Food, wine, love, passion – this is the Lucy Margaux philosophy, I gather. Certainly it seems to be Anton’s.
Over a plate of home made Cacciatore and Capicola (he and some mates slaughter 5 Barossan free range pigs each year to stock their larders), we started our journey through the kind of Pinot that could save the world.
It’s impossible not to get caught up in these wines – they speak so much of the sites their grown on – the morning sun of the Monomeith, the dark earth of the Jim’s Vineyard, the spicy afternoon sun of the Little Creek, and the wild and elusive seduction of the Lucy Margaux.
The Domaine Lucci, Anton’s “base” Pinot, is made up of the pressings of the other wines (the Estate wines being all free-run juice), and “the stuff we don’t like”, and if that’s the benchmark, then we knew we were in for quite a lunch. This “just tastes like Pinot” wine would sit proudly amongst most of Australia’s good Pinots.
The Estate wines are a journey through the Hills, four beauties each so free spirited and individual.
And then the Little Creek Single Vineyard wine – it’s hard to even describe. The intensity is unlike any Pinot I’ve ever tasted – inky licorice and hedonistic spices and the blood of petrified blueberries… you see where it’s taken me, don’t you?
We came back down to earth with a plate laden with fresh figs, goats curd, pan-fired Capicolla and fresh thyme.
Justin was in heaven. We smashed it.
And then back through the wines we went, each having opened out a bit more, each revealing a few more secrets.
You don’t drink these wines. You travel with them. They take you to not-so-faraway places, places mysterious, yet welcoming. Places of wild beauty and wonder.
We were quite philosophical, you might have gathered, by the time the gnocchi was ready, and a credit to Anton for juggling the cooking with the conversation.
Tomatoes, garlic, sage, toasted chunks of bread, lavished with olive oil and a whole lot of other ingredients (Anton – we forgot the preserved lemons!) made up the kind of dish that reminded me that it’s worth giving gnocchi another chance when it’s made well.
Bloody delicious. We all ate off the same big plate, forks and spoons digging in as we sipped and talked about science, and people, and love, and
Anton has chosen the kind of place he wants to live in, and has gathered some kindred spirits to share the fruits of his labour and love with. But they’re not hermitting away up in their thorny castle, hiding from the destructive excesses of a commercially driven world, they’re inviting strangers in.
They’re a movement. A revolution. A revalation.
You get a glimpse of this life, and it looks like hard work, but you get the feeling there’s more time for… life.
Count me in.
Road to Vino: Adelaide Hills - Cool Climate Shiraz
Mention Adelaide Hills Shiraz to those in the know, and one name will come right back at you: Ngeringa.
As they say in the classics, "hard to pronounce, easy to drink". The "g" is silent. The wine is extraordinary. But I get ahead of myself...
Cool climate Shiraz. That's what we set off in search for, and our trail led us swiftly and surely south, where we found ourselves picking Pinot grapes in the Nairne vineyard of Ngeringa, in the shadows of Mount Barker.
Now I would recommend that every winelover make sure they get out and taste grapes during harvest, of a wine you are familiar with. Jump the fence, grab a bunch, and walk into cellardoor, apologise for stealing their grapes, and ask to taste the appropriate wine. Better still, buy a bottle - it will make up for the petty theft.
You'll be astounded. Wine grapes taste like wine. Not grapes. Yes, they're sweeter, but all the fruit flavours, the tannins, you get all that. You'll understand fruit ripeness, and phenolic ripeness (when the seeds turn from bitter to nutty), and you will be all the happier and wiser for it.
That's my excuse for eating more grapes than I picked. Thank goodness I didn't quite back the tractor into the side of the shed, or I may have been evicted before I got to taste what we really came for...
Erinn and Janet, the caretakers of Ngeringa, are passionate about sustainable farming, passionate about making the wines they want to make, and just really good value. They took us up to the summit of Mount Barker (Erinn drove the kombi), and share with us a bottle of their 2006 Syrah.
They call it Syrah, because they're going for a style that is more European - perfumed and elegant, less of a statement of fruit and tannin. I don't know if it'll catch on, as a distinction of style for consumers, but Syrah it is.
And extraordinary Syrah, at that. A wine of mystery, that unveiled itself over the course of the couple of hours we sat there, on a rocky outcrop, looking out over the southern Hills, layer by wonderful layer.
Tobacco and cigarbox, then all manner of baking spices, with delicate and seductive perfume notes lifting off the nose. Bitter chocolate and coffee bean would then come and go, and before you knew it, I was tasting my Viennese mother's apple strudel.
But it was the way this wine FELT that really set it apart. It had texture. It was rustic, yet sophisticated, and cried out for a nice cut of rare venison, or a leg of rabbit, or the pork belly of a wild boar.
With those thoughts in mind, our next stop was another southern Hills lone ranger, who had promised us a view to remember. They weren't kidding.
Longview, in Macclesfield, must surely be the most stunning property in all of the Hills. It's postcard perfect. No, better.
We pulled up on the greenest, plushest lawn you've ever seen, must to the horror of the groundskeeper, I dare say, to be greeted by what we shall dub the Southern Rangers of the Hills.
Erinn and Janet were there, with little Elliot, and so was Hylton McLean from Honey Moon, whose Shiraz we had tried when we were hunting for Pinot. The Saturno boys, Mark and Peter, from Longview, had put on a spread, and invited a few locals around to join us.
We stood on the hilltop out the front of the cellardoor/restaurant, and plate after plate of absolutely mouthwatering tapas was brought before us. Everyone drank each others' wines, we ate and laughed and shared stories, and it was quite the most enjoyable afternoon we've had on this journey to date.
Sure beats hiking up Lofty ;)
The wines - each so different, and yet all sharing a delicious savoury elegance, went with everything that was laid on the table, from caramelised onions to Mark and Peters' dad's own air-cured ham, to goat's curd and figs to salmon gravalax (okay, maybe not quite so much the gravalax, but it was delicious nonetheless).
And that's the thing about Adelaide Hills, indeed cool climate Shiraz. It doesn't need a steak.
The Honey Moon Shiraz re-defines elegance. Delicate red berries and perfume, with spicy, smoky oak in perfect balance. I got hints of butterscotch, and more evolved over time, but it was quite simply regal in its mouthfeel, and wielded the power of its flavours and length with self-assured restraint.
The Longview Yakka Shiraz, on the other hand, could pack a punch. Brooding dark berries and spices and cigarbox, tobacco and coffee bean flavours, all dwelt inside a wonderfully balanced, utterly delicious wine.
Extraordinary value, at under $30, this wine was both warm and inviting, yet intriguingly complex.
And bloody delicious. With all this elegance and sophistication, let us not miss the point that these wines taste absolutely fantastic.
Seemed a shame to leave, so we took a doggy bag, camped the night nearby, and continued our own little brand of wine education back in the kombi.
This is a good journey, my friends, a very good journey indeed...
Road to Vino: Adelaide Hills - Chardy with Altitude
Ah, yes - where was I?
What the hell were we doing?
That's right, they were my last words as we started hiking Mt Lofty with an eski full of ice and Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay. Why, you may well ask, were we carrying an eski full of Tapanappa?
We wanted to taste through it with Mr Michael Hill Smith, who was probably waiting for us up the top, admiring the view.
Now I'm assuming, given our international audience, that most of you haven't climbed Mount Lofty, so I'll give you the stats: It's 4.2 km long, and end up about 700m above sea level.
To a seasoned hiker, on a cool autumn's day, that's probably not so horrifying, but to a couple of scruffy winelovers, in jeans and bad shoes, on a 35 degree summer's day, carrying an eski that started weighing about 15kg and ended up weighing more like 150 (I'm sure), this ended up being the trek from hell.
If the point was to give us an intimate appreciation for altitude, then mission bloody accomplished, you cruel bastard. But if the idea was to give us an appreciation for cool climate Chardonnay, then I can tell you straight up, the point was sorely missed on the journey.
Only a quick pit-stop and the icy-cold Tapanappa saved us from death by exposure to the elements.
Two hours later... sweating like pigs after a bender, chafing in places that simply aren't pleasant, and questioning our enthusiasm for this entire journey, we stumbled up to onto Mount Lofty Summit, where a decidedly smug and clearly amused Michael Hill Smith was waiting, with 3 glasses of Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2006 waiting.
Gatorade for grown-ups. Never has an ice-cold Chardonnay tasted better, I can honestly tell you.
For a cruel bastard, Michael you make a mean Chardonnay. I'm talking the kind of wine that could single-handedly sway the staunchest ABC constituent.
We're talking lean, tight acid, bright, crisp lime and white peach, with this flinty, savoury minerality and spice that gives it such an interesting edge.
Amazing wine, really truly, and bloody refreshing :)
Michael Hill Smith is one of those people that I'll remember having met for the rest of my days, with infectuous passion and humour, a twinkle in his eye, and an excitement for Chardonnay, for the Adelaide Hills, and for wine in general that reminds us why we're so hooked on vino.
I dare say his flash-backs to a stint in a similar kombi at the 1971 Myponga Rock Festival may have had something to do with that twinkle in your eye, MHS. Don't come knockin' if the kombi's rockin'...
So on we went, even more convinced that the Chardonnay revolution was a comin', and our journey led us to a very small producer over in Charlestown with a very funky cellardoor, making about a hundred cases of a Piccadilly Chardonnay that rocked my bus.
Brendan Keys looks like he'd be as much at home manning the turntables in his cellardoor spinning funkier tracks than I'm used to, as he would be coaxing magic out of his vines.
Scruffier even than we are, he's got big dogs, a very cute little son named Archer who walks like I did for the last km of Lofty, and a very pregnant wife.
He also makes a Chardonnay that hits the spot. It's bigger and butterier than the Tapanappa and the M3, but it's still got that great acid structure and length. Popcorn, he describes in his tasting notes.
But his small producer passion is what really impresses. He's not afraid to share his opinions; an idealist, who's standing by his cause. He loves Chardonnay, he loves making Chardonnay (he'd make 20 if he could), and he really is championing it with gusto.
And his wine speaks the truth.
Adelaide Hills Chardonnay is the way forwards. Don't like Chardonnay? You'll like these.
Hell, we climbed a mountain for Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, and if Brian, Michael and Brendan were waiting up the top with an eski, a glass, and a bottle of magic, then we'd climb it again!
Road to Vino: Adelaide Hills - Croser's Chardonnay
What the hell were we thinking??!
That is a question that we asked ourselves more than once as we sipped and swirled and sweated and swore our way through the highest peaks of the Adelaide Hills in search of one thing: Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.
Chardonnay, that much maligned, most magnificent of whites, is the grape by which the reputation of the modern Adelaide Hills wine region was forged.
The great Chardonnays of this country (by price at least) for the most part have come from the Hills - Penfold's Yattarna, Petaluma's Tiers - these are $100+ Chardonnays, and no - price doesn't always mean a great wine, but it sure sets the bar and peaks the curiousity when one is in search of great wine.
There's one man who started it all in the early 80's. He and his wife Ann climbed the mountain and planted their flag 450m above sea level on a site called the Tiers Vineyard, and not long after that, a white wine revelation emerged, in the deliciously buttery, yellow-labeled form of Petaluma Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay.
And this drink, along with a handful of peers in Victoria, Margaret River and the Hunter Valley, transformed a nation of winelovers.
Riesling was ousted (mostly pretend Riesling), and Chardonnay was King.
So that's the history that lay before us as we drove down the drive toward that very same Tiers Vineyard, to meet the man who might possibly be the most important and instrumental mind in the Australian wine industry, Mr Brian Croser.
So there's the first - what the hell were we thinking??!
This man has something of a reputation for speaking his mind, for not suffering fools too gladly, and though we don't like to qualify ourselves as jugglers, we have been known to play up a bit on our quest for vino-topia.
Would he think we're idiots? I mean seriously, these are the thoughts going through our heads.
Toughen up, boys, this is about great Chardonnay, we told ourselves, and he's been kind enough to give us his time, just go in there, don't say anything dumb, drink the Chardonnay, and get out with your lives and hopefully your dignity.
Well, after all that fretting, what transpired was a fascinating, informative, laughter-filled morning of stories, lessons, insights and absolutely cracking Chardonnay with a man who was warm, generous, witty and welcoming.
This was all about Tapanappa, by the way, Brian's more recent venture, post his Petaluma exit. It's no secret that selling Petaluma to Lion Nathan wasn't exactly a unanimous decision among the Crosers, but even in this, looking down over the winery that he recently bought back, he was gracious.
And why not? The Tapanappa 'The Tiers Vineyard' Chardonnay was the kind of wine that washed away lingering memories of wines past.
As Brian himself described it - "like a tall, skinny pregnant lady, long and fine with a big round bit in the middle". The length is the amazing savoury acid, giving the palate a zippy, exhilarating freshness of lime and spice, while allowing the voluptuous body to swim with the fuller flavours of white peach and melon, almond and brioche, without feeling weighted down.
We did sweat a little when Brian poured the wine, leant back in his chair, and insisted we tell him what we get out of the wine. I mean, yes - wine's an individual thing, and there is no "wrong" when you're describing your own experience with a wine, but this was Brian Croser, and things had been going fairly well up to this point...
But again, whilst this man likely knows more about Chardonnay than anyone else in the world, he's no clinical wine snob. He indulged our excited fumblings as the Tapanappa unveiled more and more of its mysteries, and shared his own imaginative insights, without a hint of condescension.
His passion for cool climate wines is infectious, and you're left again wondering "what the hell were we thinking" as a nation of winelovers, ever having abandoned the Chardonnay ship?
Of course, it wasn't this sort of Chardonnay that turned the masses to Sav Blanc. But it's this sort of Chardonnay that is winning them back.
Well, maybe not exactly the masses, at $80 a pop, but these two scruffy winelovers, absolutely.
So it was bloody good wine, great company (in no small part thanks to wife Ann and daughter and Business Manager Lucy, not to mention the golden retriever, whose name I've forgotten, but whose poos I shall carry with me a while longer :)
If I sound star-struck, it's because I am. It was an honour, an unforgettable experience (and thank you for cracking the 06 in the kitchen, Brian, before Lucy informed you that was one of the last 2 cases left in existence!), and a wine discovery that will grace the table in this man's wine life for many years to come (as long as the wife doesn't find out the price!)
But onwards, and upwards, as they say, for we had another legend of the wine industry waiting for us, up the top of Mount Lofty Summit, over 700m above sea level.
And if we wanted to meet him, and try his wine, then we were going to have to hike up the 4.2 km trail from the bottom of Waterfall Gully.
What the hell were we doing??!
Road to Vino: Adelaide Hills - Sav Blanc for Grown-ups
I’d be lying if I said that this was an adventure I was really looking forward to.
Sav Blanc and I don’t have an enormous amount of respect for each other, and to be honest I’ve always looked a bit down on anyone for whom the gooseberry juice is drink of choice.
I’m not proud of my little window of wine snobbery, it’s precisely that sort of thing we’re challenging here, but I’m only human, and that’s how I feel.
Add to that a stinking hang-over from indulging ourselves on cracking Pinot the night before, camping high on a hill overlooking the fair city of Adelaide, and at best I was hoping to just grit my teeth and bare it, get through some ripe, tropical, boring whites and move on.
I was wrong. Adelaide Hills did indeed have something to offer in the Sav Blanc department, and I have found a place for bright, clean young Sav Blanc in my wine life.
7am, and Miles, our merciless cameraman, woke us up, along with an overly-enthusiastic South Australian sun, and we set off.
Now Adelaide Hills has some reasonably famous main-stream Savvies that you’ll see on the shelves of most bottleshops – Shaw & Smith, Nepenthe, Bird in Hand, that sort of thing, and they score well with the critics.
But we were more interested in discovering something a bit less mainstream, and a sea of Savvy B led us eventually (to my sweet relief) to the picturesque gardens of Barratt Wines.
More famous for their Pinot, gentleman Lindsay Barratt, as it turns out, makes a Sauvignon Blanc that rises above the pack.
Crisp, bright, and refreshing, the Barratt Piccadilly Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was impressive, and – yes, I admit – delicious!
But I had to ask, Lindsay being a Pinot and Chardonnay man, if he actually liked Sav Blanc, and his reply has stuck with me, and re-shaped the way I look at Sav Blanc.
“I don’t like it with food, but as an aperitif, sitting outside in the garden, on a nice summer’s evening…”
And just like that, the last vestige of wine snobbery (I hope) in me was gone. That was the key – I just and to find a place for it. And he’s right.
Onward we went, and up in the hills behind Hahndorf, along a long dirt drive with one of the best views in the Hills, we came to The Lane Vineyard.
Now we’d heard a lot about The Lane, they’re making a lot of noise at the moment, and the cellardoor/restaurant is impressive.
And so was our poet-come-cellardoor host Christian, who finally explained to me – better than any wine writer I’ve heard – minerality.
“Like it’s sucking the lime out of the soil, or the wine’s been washed over rocks…”
Gold. Pure gold.
And so was The Lane Vineyard ‘Gathering’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008. Sav Blanc for grown-ups, they call it, and indeed it is a Sav Blanc to impress the staunchest Chardonnay tragic.
Some French oak treatment has given this wine some structure and complexity – this great mouthfeel, while still retaining freshness, and yes – there’s minerality in there as well.
This is a direction I’d like to see more producers experimenting with, and Christian’s suggestion of goat’s cheese was inspiring, if somewhat a tease, given the kitchen wasn’t open yet.
So we settled for a very impressive burger from a great little café in Bridgewater and continued our journey.
Our journey led us finally to Gumeracha, which is miles away, to the remote Vineyards of Nova Vita.
No cellardoor (yet), Mark Kozned gave up staring at 4 computer screens trading Asian junk bonds to start a vineyard. A beautiful, sprawling vineyard, as it turned out, and we followed his ute down to a dam of lake-like proportions down in the gully.
I mean, this dam had a beach, it was awesome.
And Mark is one of those guys you want to have a drink with. Just don’t go riding in his tractor, without life insurance. (You’ll have to ask him about that one).
His Nova Vita Firebird Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was a breath of fresh air. Unpretentious, pure, clean pine-lime sorbet fruit, crisp natural acid, modest in alcohol… elegant.
He called it the Grace Kelly of the wine world, the kind of girl you want to bring home to mum (I can tell you my mum would be pretty stoked if I had ever come home with Grace Kelly, prince or no prince).
As opposed to Elle McPherson in her lingerie, which is how he described the stuff from Marlborough that has taken over the world, pinned on the wall of every second teenage boy, as it were.
Now I think that’s being kind – I’d think your average NZ Savvy is more like a porn star – sure, she’s well-endowed, and she goes down like a… ah, well, we’ll leave that analogy there.
We sat on the beach with Mark as the afternoon wore on, talking about anything but wine, actually, just enjoying the breeze, the water, the sand, and yes… even the Sav Blanc.
But our journey wasn’t over.
We’d found such great Sav Blanc here in the Adelaide Hills, it begged the question – why the hell was Australia drinking so much NZ plonk?
And right here in Adelaide, when wines like these were just a quick trip up the hills?
Only one way to find out, and so we took the kombi back down the hill, to the streets of Adelaide.
Ducked into Cibo for some brown paper bags and an espresso pep-up, and hit the streets of King William Rd, dragging unsuspecting victims into the back of the kombi for a bit of a blind tasting.
We had a respectable Marlborough Sav Blanc (Oyster Bay) in one bag, and one of the three Adelaide Hills Savvys in another.
No hints, no suggestions, we genuinely wanted to know which people preferred, given that NZ Savvy has such a following, particularly amongst the young beautiful people.
Yes, that’s why we steered towards beautiful people – for the research.
We didn’t really know how it would turn out, but the results surprised us.
Not just because more than half the people actually preferred the Adelaide Hills Sav Blancs, which is great news, but because everyone, regardless of their level of wine confidence or experience, knew exactly what they liked.
If they preferred the kiwi plonk, it was because they liked a riper, sweeter style, and the Adelaide Hills was preferred for its crispness. Even the oak-treated Gathering savvy was universally enjoyed, which surprised us, so not just for wine snobs there either.
So there you go. What did we draw from our little blind-tasting poll?
I guess, if anything, it was that you’re going to like what you like, and there’s no wrong in that situation, you can’t be wrong about wine, but you can be stuck in your ways, so get out there and try something new.
And if you like Sav Blanc, there are some pretty smart offerings coming out of the Adelaide Hills, so go on, treat yourself.
Road to Vino Adelaide Hills: Sexy Pinot
I’ve been living in Adelaide for the last 5 years, and all this time, the key to my happiness lay but 15 minutes up the road.
Call it wine wanking, but I sit here before you in cyberland and proudly proclaim that a special wine can change your life. I, for one, am a happier man for my recent Road to Vino wine adventure in the Adelaide Hills.
It started off very Sound of Music. Parked up on a hill overlooking the sprawling metropolis of Adelaide (ahem), the sun was beaming, and JD and I planned our journey. The mission was simple – find bloody good Adelaide Hills Pinot.
A few phone calls, a bit of googling, and some inside info led us to our first hidden treasure…
Romney Park. No cellar door, Rod Short greeted us at his house, where he grows, makes and bottles one of the most delicious Pinots I’ve ever tasted, the Romney Park Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2008.
And that’s the word for it – delicious. Intense strawberry and cherry fruit with layers of spicy, earthy, gamey loveliness wafting up from the glass at the kitchen bench, with a view of the billiard room turned bottling hall. You can tell he knows he’s making something special, or at least something that he himself genuinely loves – there’s a twinkle in his eye like I haven’t had since my first time in high school… ah well, that’s a story for another time.
The palate is just… delicious. Intense flavours, endless length, wonderful structure, it’s Pinot heaven.
He took us out into his vineyard, and showed us his one acre of Pinot (yes that’s right – one acre). Only 500 cases made – thank you, Rod, we’re converted.
So back in the kombi, and back on the road. A half a dozen cellar doors later, and we decided to follow up on a tip that Rod from Romney (as he seems to be known by the locals) gave us, and drive the 50 km or so to Honey Moon Vineyard.
It’s a bloody big region, the Adelaide Hills, by the way.
Now as it turns out, Tour Down Under was also winding its way down from the Barossa, and in the ensuing chaos of road blocks, detours and dehydrated middle-aged cyclists on their quest for glory by proxy, we found ourselves promptly lost. Miles our cameraman (who claimed intimate local knowledge) was something of a disappointment during our crisis and we lost valuable time somewhere between Hahndorf and Echunga.
But cartographical dyslexia aside, we bounced and rolled and chugged and spluttered our way into Honey Moon Vineyard and the eclectic home of Hylton McLean.
A good man, and a wonderful host. With exuberant kelpies.
He took us down to his winery shed for some barrel tasting of his 09, and we fell in love with his one barrel of wild yeast, whole-bunch fermented, hand-picked, foot-crushed and feral 09 Pinot.
Can’t wait for that one. But it was for the 07 we came, and we were not disappointed.
A lot of people use the word 'elegant' in the Hills, but this wine, more than any other, truly defined it for us. An honestly elegant wine, lovely raspberry and red cherries dancing off the surface, embraced by delicately rustic pepper and spice, with smoky, earthy complexity, all in a magically light-bodied, full-flavoured wine.
This wine was all class, as was our host, and if he’d made a gift of his bohemian racing hat, I may have asked to move in, Bromleys and all!
But there was one more stop we’d saved til last, and the sun was headed west, so we made haste to Ashton Hills. By reputation, this was no astute discovery, but for me, it was nothing short of life-changing.
Well, that’s maybe a bit extreme, but it was an afternoon I shall not forget, and a taste sensation that I can recall in the finest, funky, dirty and delectable detail as I sit here and write.
Stephen George of Ashton Hills is a Pinot legend. The patriarch of Adelaide Hills Pinot, his wines are revered by Pinophiles all around the world.
And so when JD and I and our little old kombi rolled up the dirt road to Ashton Hills, we were feeling somewhat star-struck.
What ensued was an afternoon with a gentleman.
Welcoming, but not gushing, Stephen invited us into a small part of his world, like a mother might allow you to have to have a hold of her baby. Well-spoken, I found Stephen to be utterly self-assured, and yet open, humble, ever a student of life, with an utterly charming self-deprecation that came through in the Monty-Python-esque moments that punctuated his uncompromising quest to not “stuff up” the treasures that his vineyards and mother nature provided each vintage.
We tasted a few barrel samples, he taught us more about clones, and then he gave us a taste of what was likely his final blend of the 09 Reserve Pinot, concocted only hours before. We felt honoured, absolutely honoured.
This was the stuff that make this journey of ours life-changing.
We learned that Stephen is scared of fruity wines, is somewhat embarrassed by his use of the word “Reserve”, and believes that Australian Pinot can and should be made to age more than 10 years.
To prove it, he took us down to his cellardoor to try his 02 (a cool year, amazingly youthful) and 03 (umami in a bottle – google it!), and then, somewhat apologetically, poured us his current vintage, the 07, which he’d really prefer one drinks in 2012.
But even in its youth, we could see why this place had the reputation it did.
Sweet and pretty out of the bottle, all raspberries and cream, this sexy seductress soon took the coat off, dropped the handbag, dimmed the lights, and got sexy.
I'm talking feral, animal kind of sexy – porcini mushrooms, brambly, earthy forest-floor, wicked spices, and the juice of a still-steaming goose dripping into the baking tray... this was naughty, dirty, sexy Pinot.
As Stephen himself described it – “a sit-down wine, you’d have it with a meal, and crap on a bout it.”
Have a Merry Qwoffing Xmas!
As I sit here typing on this, my last day of qwoff for the year, I feel somewhat conflicting emotions.
Yes, I'm ecstatic that this is my last day, and I can lock the office doors and throw myself into the planning of the Xmas turkey, and just play with the kids for a week and a half, and re-introduce myself to my long-suffering and very understanding wife.
But I'm also reluctant to let go of this year, which has been, without a doubt, the most significant year of my adult life.
We're poised at the beginning of an amazing journey, about to set off around the country in search of wine utopia. I'm doing what I love, working at my passion, and I'm sharing it with 18,000 fellow winelovers, fellow qwoffers who make this a truly remarkable community.
So on behalf of Justin and myself, who started this whole crazy wonderful thing, I'd like to say thank you, welcome, and Merry Christmas.
May the new year bring you courage, and may we all try to add a bit more to the world than we take out.
Cheers, drink only wine that you like, and see you next year for even bigger and brighter things!
Andre & Justin
PS> If we can give you one piece of advice: If you see a kombi sitting in an orchard in the Barossa, for sale for only $1000 bucks, DON'T buy it...
Road to Vino Hunter Valley - The Hunt for Lake's Folly
There are a a very select few wines in this fine country that I like to call "Holy Grail" wines - wines that are made in small quantities, sold only by mail order to a select lucky few, who pass on their hallowed place on the mailing list from generation to generation like MCC life member tickets.
Wines by producers such as Noon's, Wendouree, and Australia's first boutique winery - the legendary Lake's Folly.
The Lake's Folly Cabernet is indeed legendary, in part because the great Dr Max Lake had no business producing such a good Cabernet from the Hunter Valley, but mostly because it's a cracking bloody red, and so hard to get your hands on.
Only 3000 odd cases are made, and all of them go to the lucky buggers on the mailing list - which includes most of the 3 hat restauranteurs from Sydney and Melbourne, including Tetsuya's.
Despite a few decent attempts, in all my wine life I've not managed to get hold of one, and so I was determined not to leave the Hunter on our Road to Vino tour without having tried one.
Our hunt started predictably enough - the gate to the winery/cellar door was closed, wines being all sold out. I think they only open for one weekend a year, for those few cases that are left for anyone willing to camp out for a week in line to snaffle one up.
So off we set, for surely someone in the Hunter must have a bottle - one of the cellars, perhaps? Wrong. Not available. Try up the road...
So none of the wine stores had any, no surprises there. We followed a couple of leads - maybe so-and-so has still got a bottle or two, I know they used to be on the mailing list...
Nup. Nothin'. No joy.
Were we to leave the Hunter empty handed? Slinking away, our tailpipes between our legs?
No bloody way.
Delirious after our fruitless search, we returned to Lake's Folly, parked the kombi, jumped the gate, and tip-toed down the long drive to the winery.
We knocked on the door, hoping fervently that no one is residence was a member of the local gun club.
After a while, a stern-faced fellow opened the door, politely but firmly reminding us of the sign on the gate. "I'm sorry, but we're all sold out."
At least he didn't shoot us.
With nothing left to lose but our collective prides, and so much to gain, we begged. I'm not ashamed to admit it. It's not the first time I've begged for a taste of a special wine, and it won't be the last.
Maybe it was the camera, maybe it was just the pathetic expressions on our faces, but the gentleman, whose name was Roger, had a change of heart and invited us in for a taste.
Roger, as it turns out, was cellar door manager at the winery (well, for one weekend a year at least, I guess then he just looks after the lucky mailing list customers!), and he turned out to be a bloody nice bloke.
He shared a couple of stories about micro surgeon Dr Max Lake, founder of Lake's Folly in 1966, after sharing a bottle of 1930's Penfold's Hunter Cabernet Petit Verdot with his good mates Dan Murphy and Johnny Walker.
"I must reproduce this in the Hunter!" he exclaimed, falling instantly in love with the wine that hadn't been produced for decades.
"No, you can't make Cabernet in the Hunter!" was the collective reply.
"Well, this is a Cabernet..."
"Just a freak, can't be done..."
"We'll just see about that..."
And the rest is history.
Roger opened a bottle of current vintage 2007 Cabernets from their private tasting stock, and shared it around. Even young, you could tell it was a special beast. So elegant, yet bubbling with intense raspberry fruit, and earthy, spicy promise.
But too young to drink, surely. We could only imagine what this saintly drop would develop into with a bit of time in the cellar.
And then, in answer to our prayers, Roger pulls out a bottle of 1999 that he was saving for his dinner. What a good sport.
Now this, winelovers, was the stuff of legend. So smooth, so lovely and leathery, brooding with flavour, layers and layers of savoury delight...
"One of the best aged Cabernet's I've ever tasted," was Justin's call. I was in too much rapture to speak. (Okay, so I'm never actually short of a word, but you get the idea).
Bloody good wine, and worth the wait. Worth any wait.
And wait we would have to do, for there's a waiting list for the mailing list, with about 50 people on it. We're 51 and 52. So that means that 50 people have to cark it, basically, for us to get our 1 case a year of Lake's Folly Cabernets.
Sounds like a long wait. Then again, we hear they're a mature list...
Are You Ready for Revival?
R.E.V.I.V.A.L. Sing it, brothers and sisters - R U REDDY??!!
I can feel it, it's coming. NO LONGER shall it bare the brunt of ridicule and persecution. NO LONGER shall it be pushed aside on shelves whoring their Sav Blanc.
What's the next great white hope? Forget your Pinot Gris, your Viognier, your ill-fated Albarinho, 'cause Chardonnay is COMING BACK.
Right then, got that off my chest, and on the page. Maybe its just wishful thinking, but I have a hunch that we're on the verge of a Chardonnay Revival.
Flying high and dizzy from the excesses of the 80's, Chardonnay absolutely dominated the Australian wine scene, certainly for whites, until the abuse of sun and oak turned a new generation of drinkers off. And along came Sav Blanc, opening the door to our neightbours across the Tasman, who've spent the last decade or so laughing their gooseberries off all the way to the bank.
But Australian producers have not been sitting idle in defeat. Well, not all of them, anyway.
We're starting to see more and more of a "modern" style of Chardonnay on the market, and I'm not talking that miserable excuse for a half-way white, the Unoaked Chardonnay. No siree.
Where once we were clubbed over the palate by fat, flabby, over-buttered, over-oaked beasts, we're now seeing elegance, and (dare I say it?) restraint.
From the cooler climate citrus fruits to white peach and honey-dew, these crisp, higher-acid gems are being given the subtle, aged French oak treatment they deserve to balance the wines with creamy vanilla and delicate spice.
Balance. That's the key, isn't it?
Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, even the Hunter Valley - these are great Chardonnay-producing regions.
Lord knows we've still got enough of the stuff planted in Australia, perhaps it's time to stop pinning our anti-Marlborough hopes on alternative varieties, and embrace the CHARDY.
Come on, you know you want to...
Road to Vino Hunter Valley - Hunter River Burgundy
So with the lingering taste of the sublime Vat 1 Semillon still dancing on our tongues, we set off on an entirely less certain challenge.
It's no secret that Justin is a devout Barossa boy. When it comes to Shiraz, I struggle to sway him towards McLaren Vale offerings. So when the challenge was set to find him a Hunter Shiraz that he didn't think smelled like the fungus that grows around the bottom of a bachelor's toilet, I for one, was not entirely confident.
Don't get me wrong, I've been a fan of Hunter Shiraz for many years. I've always thought of them as a kind of Burgundian style of Shiraz, and I felt weirdly validated to learn that they actually used to be called Hunter River Burgundies (as we saw on some of the Tyrrell's Shiraz labels from the 60s & 70s).
But every time I've pulled one off the rack to try to convert Justin, it's failed to perform.
So we called up 2008 Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year and legendary no-bullshitter Andrew Thomas, of Thomas Wines, and threw down the gauntlet.
"Find us some Hunter Shiraz that will win this Barossa boy's palate!"
When we rocked up, it was beers all round, and a quick tour around his new winery, which was an inspiring shrine of organised chaos. Anecdotes were written in bold black marker on the stainless steel tanks, and a baby basket press was half-buried under cartons of his famous Kiss Shiraz, doubtless waiting to be sent to the already converted.
A more than gracious host, but clearly in demand, Thommo's hot little mobile did not stop ringing, so he switched it off (unlike our soundman Hicksy, who still owes us a slab for answering a call from his missus in the middle of a take!), and we got stuck into the wines.
"So I rang a few of my mates, and I said 'send me some wine, boys!!' and here they are..."
I was sitting in the middle of Thommo and Justin in case things got ugly, and within second, they were at it. But words weren't going to solve this - the 8 wines on the barrel-top were what this challenge was all about.
First off the top was a cheapie - the David Hook 'The Gorge' Shiraz 2007. A sub-$20 red, it was classic Hunter, with not so much fruit as savoury - a spicy, peppery, earthiness that would very much define the wines we would taste that afternoon.
Lighter in body, with not a lot of oak, it was a smart little wine - though Justin was still getting a little bit of that funk on the nose...
But that was quickly put to rest wit the next wine. In the immortal words of someone I can't remember... "Hard to pronounce, easy to drink" was the call for the de Iuliis 'Charlie' Shiraz 2007 (pronounced "de-yule-ee-us").
Much richer in fruit intensity, it was dripping with blood plums, with some caramel oak, and again that lovely savoury, earthy spice. A step up from the Hooky, this was a great wine. So easy to drink, even Justin was getting a bit of a smile on his dial - this might just turn out to be a fine afternoon.
As we moved through the big guns from then on - the Mount View Estate Flagship Shiraz, the Tyrrell's Vat 9 Hunter Shiraz, the Meerea Park Alexander Munro, it was apparent that the Hunter style was changing. This were intense wines, full of dark fruit and chocolaty goodness. But ever present was this spicy earthiness, and all were high in acid, medium in body, and savoury in character.
These are great food wines, built to age. Indeed, the Mount View and the Tyrrell's were both a bit closed when we tried them, and it was only later that night at the eclectic Shakey Tables restaurant for dinner did they really come into their own, and what a pleasure they were.
But the hero for us on the day was none other than Thommo's own flagship, the Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2007 (pronounced "kiss-yur-ass"). It was a superstar. Lovely rich dark fruits and chocolaty goodness, we went on a journey to spicy Shiraz heaven with every sip - and there were many, particularly back at the trusty kombi.
So with mission firmly accomplished, it was back to the kombi, where we parked on a hillside on the way to Mount View and cooked up what Thommo had shared with us as his preferred accompaniment to Hunter Shiraz - Peking Duck Pancakes.
We found the Nulkaba Hatchery, who sold their own Peking Ducks, and set up the little camper cooker, and had a crack at this decadent treat whist re-tasting a few of our favourites.
And Justin, with good grace, did officially admit that the Hunter made some great Shiraz, blaming my cooked wine rack for his previous prejudices, which is not altogether unfair!
So the conclusion - the Hunter make a unique style of Shiraz, that is indeed somewhat Pinot-like, and "something to behold", as Thommo had put it, for the good ones.
This was a discovery in the truest sense of the world, a validation for me, and a whole new world of wine pleasure for Justin, and that's the aim of this whole adventure, really, isn't it.
So thank you Thommo, thank you to the awesome winemakers who helped expand our palates, and winelovers of the world - give Hunter Shiraz a crack, you will be delightfully surprised!
Road to Vino: Hunter Valley - Vat 1 Vertical
Day two, bright and shiny. Actually, somewhat overcast, but did we care? Not a jot!!
For this morning, 9am, we were meeting with Chris Tyrrell, and latest edition to the Tyrrell family, to taste through a few vintages of the Vat 1 Hunter Semillon.
Now not to understate this event, we're talking the finest Semillon in the Hunter, with apologies to Mt Pleasant, which makes it the finest Semillon in the country, indeed the world.
So hung over or not, this was going to be a morning to remember, so long as the kombi starts first go...
Not even a temperamental 35 year old German was going to delay this date with wine perfection, and the Qwoff mobile was as keen as we were.
So we rocked up, and Chris was holding a Semillon Masterclass later that morning, which meant a row of 1998's sitting on the counter, which he was critically eyeing for colour variation.
But he joined us, we sat around a barrel on the dirt floor of the barrel shed, and got stuck into it.
The 09 was first off the rank, which was great considering our day yesterday, which was all about young Semillons, and 09's in particular.
No label, bottled two days ago, it was tight, yet full of lemony limey promise. At least on par with the Braemore, and with a couple of weeks to settle in the bottle, would be quite lovely.
But what a waste to drink this wine a few weeks old, for it was on to the 2005.
What struck both Justin and myself was how youthful it was. I mean this is a 4 year old white, and it hadn't even begun its journey. The acid was even sharper in the 05 than in the 09, with 2005 being a milder year, and it was so bright and crisp.
Hints of lemon butter were creeping in, and that fuller mouthfeel had begun, with a bit of lanolin.
This was a wine for the ages.
But what was it doing on the market, when traditionally Tyrrell's launch the Vat 1 on the market only with 7 years bottle age.
Funny story. The 05 was accidentally entered in a wineshow, not sure which one, but it was entered in a commercial category, which of course meant it had to be commercially available. I'm sure that hapless cellarhand would have been spit-roasted for the mistake, had not the wine gonged a trophy for best white in show!
So just quietly, the 05 is available, theoretically, though you'll find the 02 more prominently displayed at cellar door!
Anyways, our final breakfast beverage was the unstoppable 1998, the most awarded Australian white wine in history, with 17 trophies, about 39 golds or something like that - so many awards that instead of medals on the bottle, they've just got a black strip with the totals written across it, which is delightfully understated.
Only reason it hasn't won more, Chris suspects, is because of the cork. But the 1998 he has for us has had no cork trouble what-so-ever, I can assure you!
This is the glass slipper of all white wines. This is Grace Kelly. My feeble grasp of the English language is inadequate to describe this wine.
Let me just say that it was a wine experience both Justin and I will never forget, to be talked about when we're 65 on dialysis machines to keep our livers going, reminiscing about the best of the best.
It must be tried to be believed, and I challenge any lover of wines to pick fault in this wine, cork withstanding. And you'd still get another 20 years out of it, that's the unbelievable thing about this wine.
We did not spit. We barely spoke. We just drank, and smiled reverently.
Chris Tyrrell is a charmingly understated guy, young, and certainly he's grown up with this legacy of a wine brand, but there's no arrogance, there's not even a chip that we could see, there's just a clever young guy with a sharp wit and a good sense of humour, trademark country Australian self-deprecation, a passion for wine, and what we read as admirable and moving respect and love for his mum and dad.
Hats off, Chris, and thanks for your time, and for sharing with us those magnificent gifts to the wine world.
Hope the footy went well (he was off to play union after the masterclass), and we were off then to cook up some Stockton Bite BBQ prawns back at the kombi, with nothing but a squeeze of lime, a dollop of butter, and a sprinkling parsley.
Nothing to distract from the taste of the 2005 we were going to tuck away with lunch.
What a day. What a day...
Road to Vino Hunter Valley - Young Hunter Semillon
It was dark when we spluttered into Morisset, Lake Macquarie, our arrival delayed by a three-hour attempt to jump start the kombi in Sydney earlier that afternoon. But arrive we did, and a bottle of Langhi Shiraz and some pretty decent beef curry were there to take the chill off the noisy winter drive up the freeway.
We were achingly close to our destination, and the beginning of something we'd been looking forward to for a very, very long time...
This was Road to Vino. This was adventure. This was an excellent excuse to score some free booze.
Next morning, bright and early at 11am, we rolled out of bed, gave thanks for the mid-winter sunshine, and 2 panadols, another jump-start, some hospital-grade visine, bacon and eggs and three cups of coffee later, we were there.
Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Birthplace of Australian wine. It was feeling good.
Roll cameras, and out of excuses to delay our opus a moment longer, we began our search for Hunter Semillon. Because that, more than anything, is what this under-appreciated region is all about.
We learned a lot about Semillon that day, scouring the Hunter, from Pokolbin to Mount View, from Broke to Lovedale. We learned that everywhere else in the country, Semillon is just a filler.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I used to churn through Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon like it was water, and at $8 a bottle, it was a perfectly servicable quaffer, but to anyone who has not yet had the pleasure - Hunter Semillon is something else.
It's Cinda-fucking-rella. Seriously. This is the glass slipper, and we the horny prince in search of that fleeting moment of love.
Okay, I'm getting carried away. But this is a wine, folks, that is delicate, restrained, all things that I, sadly, am not.
A comparison I read somewhere with Sav Blanc has stuck with me, and I'll embellish a bit for you here. If Sauvignon Blanc is the bold, sexy teenager, all curves and fumbling satisfaction in the back seat, vibrant in its youth, queen of the dance floor, she sadly lets herself go, soon growing flabby and dull with age.
Hunter Semillon is the shy one in the corner, the bookish type with a sparkle in her eye if you take a closer look. introverted, yet with an elegance and grace, and a sharp wit that holds promise of things to come. With age, she blossoms into something entirely wonderful.
Renowned Master of Wine (Mistress of Wine?), Jancis Robinson, described Hunter Semillon as "Australia's unique gift to the wine world". Where Burgundy has given the world its great Chardonnay, Bordeaux its Cabernet - The Hunter Valley, here in Australia, produces the finest Semillon known to man.
You would find few learned wine snobs who would disagree with that, and after a long day's sampling, these two scruffy winelovers agree wholeheartedly.
But we'll start with young Hunter Semillon, and we discovered three great small producers who produced stunning 09's - Ballabourneen, Meerea Park and Thomas Wines.
So young Hunter Sem - It's irresistibly bright and zesty, it's lemon and lime. High, almost puckering acid in some, low alcohol (10.5% is common), with subtle layers of suggestion - sometimes the tang of lemongrass, sometimes a hint of sorbet, sometimes herbaceous freshly-cut grass, wild blossoms, a hint of spice here, a whiff of musk there, but always, always deliciously refreshing.
This is lunch by the sea. this is perfection with oysters, prawns, steamed fish, chicken caesar.
It's wonderful, simply wonderful, but only a taste of things to come...
Shiraz Masterclass Part 3 - Heathcote
The Australian Idol of Shiraz. Discovered from tens of thousands of young hopefuls, plucked from near obscurity...
There's no doubt that Heathcote is the rising star in these parts. Iconic players like Jasper Hill have been amongst collectors' favourites for quite some time now, but compared to Barossa and McLaren Vale, there simply haven't been enough wines to come out of the region to really make a splash, but that's all changing.
Pull out Halliday's wine guide and you'll find a half a dozen finalists scoring up in the mid to high nineties. Some very interesting small producers like Buckshot, Flynns, Redesdale and Stefani producing no more than a couple of thousand cases each, in some cases under a thousand.
It's not like Heathcote is a young region - Shiraz has been planted there since the 1860's, but it didn't really take off until a couple of Italians - Albino Zuber of Zuber Estate and Bruno Pangrazio of Jasper Hill, left their mark in the 1980's. You had Wild Duck Creek getting near perfect Parker scores with their Duck Muck, and things have been on the steady rise for Heathcote since.
People talk about the Heathcote Terroir as being perfectly suited to the good old Shiraz grape. It's the Cambrian earth, which is the region's equivalent of the Terra Rossa soil of Coonawarra, that gets everyone excited (pictured above) - something about the potassium levels and good root penetration, but that's where we pop the kids off to bed and get into the dirty stuff...
We're talking deep, deep colour and inky, ripe, black flavour explosions - blackberry, dark plum, licorice and black pepper is what I find characteristic of a good Heathcote Shiraz.
And you can't miss the alcohol - 14.5% to 15% is common, so there's your Parker points right there!
Heathcote is not alone in that it has experienced a succession of drought years, with low yields but high quality, which can't be hurting the price of the wines, but is undoubtedly a strain on the growers and producers.
But we thank them for their perseverance, and I for one am watching with keen interest to see just what impact this region can have over the next 10-15 years.
Shiraz Masterclass Part 2 - McLaren Vale
It has been said that for many years, McLaren Vale provided the middle palate of Barossa Shiraz. (It must be noted that this was said by McLaren Vale growers, not Barossa winemakers!)
McLaren Vale has been growing Shiraz since the late 1800s, but it's not until much later they really started being taken seriously as a wine producing region, most of their fruit being sent to the Barossa or the Hunter Valley to be turned into wine.
Strong Italian influence that has really imparted a love for food and wine and life on the region.
There has developed an interesting rivalry over the last few decades between McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, arguably Australia's two most successful Shiraz producing region.
Both make rich, full flavoured Shiraz, but the differences are pronounced. The Vale benefits from its maritime climate, it's on the sea, basically, and sheltered by the Adelaide Hills, so you get the cooling gully breezes that temper what is otherwise a pretty hot climate in summer.
I think what sets McLaren Vale apart is the fact that it's just so easy drinking. I remember sitting down a couple of years ago with legendary Master of Wine and all round decent fellow Drew Noon, and he said something like "I mean, they're just so soft, and rich... I mean they just taste good!"
Couldn't agree more, Drew.
Ripe cherries, blueberries, dark chocolate and spices, like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, that's what defines a McLaren Vale Shiraz for me.
High end numbers are the Coriole Lloyd Reserve, a tantalizingly complex Shiraz, there's the Tintara reserve range, which further explore the subregions of the Vale, the famous d'Arenberg Dead Arm, Kay Brothers Block 6 Shiraz, Wirra's RSW, and then there's the Noon Reserve Shiraz, but you better be on the mailing list for that one.
Mollydooker's Carnival of Love has cracked the US market, and is commanding prices over $100, and you've got some pretty smart young winemakers like Justin McNamee of Samuel's Gorge doing very exciting things with his Shiraz.
Not unlike the new Barossa, there's a vibrant young core of wild and crazy wine makers and growers, committed furthering the reputation of the region.
Justin and I dispute which region is king for Shiraz in Australia, he's on the Barossa side of the fence, and I'm on the McLaren Vale, but it's a personal taste thing. No doubt Barossa has a bigger range of icons that have built its reputation, but there's no doubt the Vale is consistently growing some of the finest Shiraz fruit in the country.
But we're all suffering a bit of parochialism down here, so when next we convene, I shall be heading across the border to Victoria, where we'll take a look at the young hot shot of Australian Shiraz, Heathcote...
Shiraz Masterclass Part 1 - Barossa Valley
Shiraz, Syrah, Hermitage (oops, strike that one, not allowed to go there anymore)...
Ask an Australian what his or her favourite red is, and 7 out of 10 will answer you Shiraz. Not so 15 years ago, perhaps, when the answer may have been Cabernet, but certainly of late, Shiraz is the red of choice in these parts.
No surprises there, Andre, I hear you say, get to the point.
Well, the point is... actually I have no real point, but bare with me. I've been through a few different styles of Shiraz over the past week, from Barossa to Heathcote, from McLaren Vale to Wrattenbully, from the Napa to the Rhone, and I've found it fascinating to consider the differences, as well as the similarities.
So I thought I'd go through a few of the regions and define what I think distinguishes a Basket Press from a Jasper Hill, a Cote Rotie from a Noon.
But let's start with a bit of background...
Certainly one of the more powerful reds, and a fairly easy drinker as far as tannins go, it's not as widely planted in the world as we in Shiraztralia might think.
Its origins can be traced back to the Rhone region in the Southeast of France, and in the late 90s it was DNA proven that the Syrah grape was the offspring of two rather obscure grapes, the Dureza and the Mondeuse Blanche. Nope, I'd never heard of them either. Moving on...
This may be obvious to you, but I get asked it a bit, so here it is: There is no difference, grape-wise or stylistically, between Syrah and Shiraz. It's just a name. It's called Syrah in France, as well as in the rest of Europe, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, parts of South Africa and the US.
Interestingly, New Zealand seem to be adopting the name Syrah, presumably to differentiate themselves from Australian Shiraz.
We like it straight here in Australia, but then again we can be a bit blend-o-phobic. It blends particularly well with a bit of Viognier, with Grenache and Mourvedre, and we seem to think it goes well with Cabernet.
So let's take a little look at some of the more famous Shiraz-producing regions, starting with Australia, and the mighty...
Barossa Valley Shiraz
No doubt, the most famous of Shiraz regions is the good old Vaterland, the Barossa Valley. You've only got to look at some of the icons of Australian wine, and chances are it's a Barossa Shiraz - Glaetzer's Amon-Ra, Henschke's Hill of Grace, Kalleske's Greenock, Langmeil's Freedom, Rockford's Basket Press, Torbreck's Run Rig, I mean these are the kind of wines that tickled Parker's privates and helped put top end Australian wines on the international stage. Not to mention a certain Penfold's offering.
But I've come across plenty of great little small production gems as well in recent times - artisan-style producers like Teusner, Rusden, Tomfoolery, Spinifex, to name but a few.
Peter Lehmann is quoted as having once said "when God created Shiraz, he did so with the Barossa in mind" - well, the Barossa Barons would certainly have us think that, but I'm not sure what the good folks of Hermitage or Cote Rotie would have to say about that.
So let's have a look at your average BS then...
Well, it's hot, for starters, there are plenty of old vines, with Langmeil for one claiming, if I'm not mistaken, to have some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, given that Phylloxera wiped out most of France's vines in the late 1800s.
Barossa's bread and butter is your big ball-tearing, rich, full-bodied inky dark blackberry, blueberry, dark chocolate and licorice. I get a lot of coffee in most Barossa Shiraz, and an appealing dose of salami, or perhaps that should be Mettwurst.
"An iron fist in a velvet glove" is an expression I've heard bandied about, but then I've also heard that said about McLaren Vale Shiraz.
You see mostly American oak, often plenty of it, though there seems to have been some restraint exercised in more recent times. 14.5%, 15% alcohol is not uncommon, and that's one of the things that has been criticised on the world stage in recent years, as the European wine market experiences its Parkerzilla Backlash.
"Big fruit bombs", they're often referred to, not altogether kindly, at worst jammy with overripe fruit flavours that taste flat, not vibrant.
But many Barossa producers would write this off as jealousy from cooler climate producers, who struggle to get that kind of fruit weight. "Ask the public, don't ask the critics."
So what is fair? I mean what should the Barossa be producing? Should it be fighting what it's generous terroire offers? Should Bordeaux be trying to extract more fruit flavours out of its Cabernet blends? I mean, sure, winemakers can back off on the new American oak, and let the fruit express itself more purely, but if we're talking about what's coming out of the vineyards, why do we want to homogenise that?
I guess that's what this little investigation is all about, in essence, is exploring the individuality of the world's Shiraz regions.
More on this tomorrow...
And you thought 16% alcohol was HIGH
So I'm catching up on my daily wine news, courtesy of Winebiz (it's industry focused, but it's great and it's free!), and I come across this funny but not so funny bit of wine news...
Okay, it's a lot funny, it's Friday!
So first I'm thinking, bargain! No more falling asleep after that second bottle on a Friday night. I gots ta try me summa dat...
But no, it's not a bonus ingredient, it's actually a smuggling exercise.
Of the 765 litres of Kohlberg wine shipped, 714 litres was pure liquid cocaine.
Wow. Apparently earlier this year a London cabbie died from drinking a bottle he was given quite by accident. Sure it was an accident. Oops, mixed up the Cab Merlot with the "reserve".
So Bolivian wine - I've not tried one, but it has a cult reputation for its "High altitude" wines, apparently. Well, we'll just leave that one alone, and wish you all a great weekend.
Perhaps stick to Eden Valley, if you're after a high altitude fix this weekend...
The Sav is Dead. Long Live the Sav.
I’m going to say it now, for the record. Sav Blanc is in some trouble.
And I’m going to come right out and ask it:
“Are we seeing the beginning of the end of her mighty reign? Or is this just the end of the beginning?”
I don’t mean to sound too excited about the prospect of trouble for Sav Blanc, and no, I haven’t been commissioned by makers of Eden Valley Riesling or Hunter Semillon to stir up controversy with this radical piece of speculative journalism. Ahem...
But there are undeniable forces at work, and I’m intrigued with the ramifications.
Let’s take a look at the state of play...
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, quite deservedly, has made its mark on the three major English-speaking markets. That’s Australia, the US and the UK, for the skim readers.
Nobilo from Marlborough has just replaced California's Kendall Jackson as the number one selling brand of Sauvignon Blanc in the US.
Sav Blanc is the highest selling white wine in Australia, having overtaken Chardonnay, and Marlborough Sav Blanc makes up about 8-10% of the market, but is generally regarded as a superior product by consumers.
It's always been a good value wine, but perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that the last 6-12 months have seen more and more specials on the shelves of the big retailers. And it’s happening in London as well.
Enter 2008 and 2009, both bumper crops, with 285,000 and 275,000 tonnes of NZ Savvy being produced respectively. New Zealand has produced 30% more Sav Blanc than the market is likely to demand – that’s the word on the street.
That means that very soon we are going to be absolutely flooded with bulk white from Marlborough. Already more and more cleanskins are coming on the market. Proprietory brands will crop up as every Australian producer and his dog launches a Marlborough Sav Blanc, never mind that they’re based in Margaret River, or Sonoma County for that matter.
What will Fosters do? What will Constellation do? After all, they control the market supply, answerable to Woollies and Coles, of course.
So your Oyster Bays and your Giesens are going to plummet in price in order to remain competitive, surely. This will likely happen across the board, with the exception of a collection of strongly branded smaller producers.
And what about the pressure this will put on the "lesser" Australian Sav Blancs – how are they going to compete? Again, they'll be forced to drop prices.
But that's all production. What about consumption? Demand is still rising. No doubt the merry consumers of the world will be over the moon – NZ Sav Blanc for 5 or 6 bucks a bottle? Fantastic! It’s still delicious, what could go wrong?
I'm sure that's what they were saying a decade or two ago about another popular white varietal enjoying its time in the sun.
Call me crazy, but I can smell the winds of change, and just as the buttery, peachy King of Whites of the 80s - the Chardonnay - was dethroned as the masses rebelled, so too, methinks, will the collective pallet turn its back on passionfruit and gooseberry, and the Queen of Whites will reluctantly abdicate.
And what will be next? Viognier and Pinot Gris have failed to really excite the nation, I think its fair to say, and certainly not the two-faced Albarino.
Much as I’d love to see the Rise of the Riesling, I’m not so sure it has the backing of the People either.
I’m no soothsayer, and I honestly have no idea what will be next, and it may be another decade before the excesses of the Sav Blanc frenzy start to take their toll on palates thirsty for change.
But if you’re still sipping an Oyster Bay in the Summer of 2020, I’ll eat my gooseberry.
City of Golden Gates and Rainbow Pride Judges the World's Wines
Just a few days ago, a prestigious panel of experts gathered to sniff, sip, swirl and spit their way through a host of the world's wines at the San Fransisco International Wine Competition.
First I heard was that Taylor's of Clare was awarded the Best of the Nation gong for Australia, so I jumped on the website and decided to see what else was lauded, from here and around the world.
(Yes, I am a bit of a wineshow junkie - and yes, bling is only as important as you value the show judges' opinions, but I can't help myself. I DON'T have a problem..
So what did I find? Well right there on the home page it proudly states that "judging is based on a blind, consensual procedure, ensuring that its rigor and integrity remain the nation's most respected competition."
That's appaling English, and doesn't really distinguish it from most of the wineshows I know, but anyway, I'm glad the judges aren't paid on commission, let's proceed.
Who were these impartial judges ? I recognised Alison Eisermann from Tertini in the Southern Highlands (yes, it IS a wine region, it's in NSW. I know, I know, you thought that was the Hunter, but there are a few others too...). There was also local judge and food & wine writer Jim McMahon, author of Wine World 2000. A couple of NZ representatives, and the rest were pretty much US consultants, merchants, judges, critics and producers.
Onto the wines...
Wow. A 4.1mb download for the results? As I patiently wait, I'm thinking either there are 3 million wines, or this is some sort of multimedia extravaganza. Ah, here it is. Turns out it's the former. 85 pages of results. This Friday morning blog could eat into my weekend at this rate!
Best Chardonnay: Clos du Bois 2007 Reserve Chardonnay, Sonoma County. "All the French you need to know" is their slogan. Catchy. All 6 double golds awarded are for Napa wines. Not a Yarra Valley or a Burgundy in sight. A TLC 2008 Limestone Coast Chardonnay got a gold, and a Marlborough Chardy from Auntsfield.
Best Sauvignon Blanc: Ra Nui Wines 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough. Sanity is restored. In fact, all 5 double golds in this class were for Marlborough wines, including Hunter's Wines, my personal favourite. Ding, ding. Not even a single gold for Australia.
Best Semillon: No double golds, no golds, and I mean not for anyone, and the silvers and bronzes went to a ffew US wines. I can only assume that Tyrrell's didn't enter any wines this year.
Best Riesling: Interesting. Chockstone 2008 Riesling from the Grampians, Victoria, took it out. Congrats. Taylors Jaraman Clare Riesling 2008 also won double gold.
There was also a Slovenian Late Harvest Riesling, the Pulius 2008, that took out Best of Show. I need to get out more!!
Onto the reds...
Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Napa Creek Winery. Sorry Bordeaux. There was an Alta Vista from Argentina on the list of double golds, but the rest were Mondavi and co.
We did win best Shiraz Cabernet with Penley Estate's Condor from Coonawarra, but I'm not sure anyone else makes a Shiraz Cabernet, so that's just as well really!
Red Bordeaux Blend: Ah, so here we are for Bordeaux then... Nope, still all Napa.
Best Merlot: Napa
Best Shiraz: Napa. Double gold for Block 50 2007 Shiraz, Central Ranges. As in Orange, in Australia, not Orange County. Kilikanoon also took out double gold for their 06 Covenant, as did Willandra Estate, Langhorne Creek, for their 06, and Wyndham for their 05 Show Reserve.
Best Pinot Noir: Again, all US wines... oh, hang on, there's one from Canada.
WAIT!!! HANG ON!!! Best Chianti... is from Tuscany. Yes, Tuscany, as in Italy. Good thing no one else is allowed to use the word Chianti.
Do I sound bitter? Over this truly International Wineshow?
We'll just quickly wrap it up:
Best Sangiovese: Coyote Wines, Columbia Valley. Yes, that's right.
Best Italian Blend: Dick Cooper Barbera, Amador County
Best Red Blend: Mustang Red
Best Gamay: No, not Beaujolais, but Old Mission Peninsula.
I'm sorry, but this is bullshit.
No, I take that back - best Rose: Borgo di Colloredo 2008 Biferno Rosato, Gironia, Italy.
Best Sparkling: Moet & Chandon 1995 Vintage Brut, also awarded Best of Show.
And Japan did take out best Sake.
Look, I've got nothing against American wines, and yes, naturally Australian wines do dominate our shows here, but we shouldn't be touting them as International, should we?
Oh well, congratulations Taylors, at least for being there!
Wine without the hangover?
As I pour my fourth glass of Serafino Temp Grenache Shiraz (and I'm not beyond a shameless plug - it's a cracking wine!), and set my iphone for a 6:30 wake-up to go to the airport, I'm reading an article by Philip White with the header Red wine without the hangover .
Needless to say, it's got my attention!!
I try to skim read, but it very quickly regresses into chemistry 101:
"This particular GM Saccharomyces cerevisiae wine yeast (ML01) contains bacterial and non-Saccharomyces genes that enable it to convert malic acid into lactic acid..."
Four glasses of Serafino later, such jargon proves almost too much for me, but I forge on, and I won't plagarise the fine forensic journalism of Mr White, you can read it for yourself if you like. The gist of it is:
Dr Hennie van Huuren, of the University of British Colombia's Wine Research Center has, after 16 years, apparently worked out how to genetically modify yeast to make a wine that is less likely to cause hangovers.
Something to do with biogenic amines, but let's not get caught up in the how. Let's assume Dr Hennie knows his stuff, and has not wasted 16 years of his life.
This life-changing (for me at least) yeast is called GM Saccharomyces cerevisiae wine yeast (ML01), though I very much doubt that knowing the name makes any difference to you, but what about the no hangovers?
And more importantly, who's using it, and where can I get some?
Well (and here's the pinch), it seems the official position of the Australian Wine industry is that no such epic yeast shall be used in the production of commercial wines until the rest of the world has accepted it first.
How very forward thinking of us.
COME ORN!! Surely this is at least worth trialing?
So many myths float around about red wine and hangovers, namely that only cheap red wine gives you one. Well I can tell you that I've drunk a lot of good booze in my time, and the morning after a night which included a Grange, an Eileen Hardy and a Classic Clare was punctuated with a doozy of a hangover.
I challenge any to achieve such levels of misery on a cask of Renmano.
But I digress. The point is - if some clever wine nerd has come up with a new yeast that lessens the dehydrating effects of alcohol, then why are we not pursuing this scientific breakthrough?
I mean this could be right up there with steak from cows farting less methane, and ice cream that helps you lose weight. This is big stuff, folks!!!!
Listen to the man!!!!
Ah, bottle's empty. Alas, time to go to bed. I'll be thinking of you , Dr Hessie, when my alarm goes off at 6:30...
We Put WIne in a Can to the Taste Test
You might recall that a few weeks ago I wrote a little blurb about the new packaging phenomenon of Wine in a Can. You know the one, with Paris Hilton spritzing all over her belly button?
Well, after reading a HILLARIOUS review by the unstoppable Philip White on Drinkster , his balls and all wine blog, we had to try some of these ourselves.
The folk at Barokes, who have pioneered the packaging, as far as I can figure, were very helpful and send us out a sample pack, and they've been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks (well, not the red), while we summoned up the courage.
And on Friday afternoon, we sat down with a couple of glasses and a bottle opener, tossed them both, and cracked the first can. And rather than reviewing them officially, I thought I'd share with you our thoughts here...
Firstly, let me say that though I like to think I'm hip and funky and open-minded, in truth with wine I'm not.
So I can't help but come into this with more than a little apprehension.
First off the rank: The Bubbly white - Bin 242 Chardonnay Semillon.
We poured it into a big tall Riedel, which seemed a bit silly, but helped see the colour, and we perhaps shouldn't have. You know that wee colour you get when you've had a Berocca - yep, that's the one. It was lemony, sweet, with a decidedly fanta-like taste. Now I know I couldn't shake the can thing, so my mind went straight to the soft drink comparisons, try as I might not to. Even moreso when I tried it straight from the can. It tasted like a wine cooler, and I just couldn't drink it.
So onto: The Still white - Bin 241 Chardonnay Semillon.
Now I couldn't find any mention of vintages, but at this stage, that's the least of my concerns. This one was again piss-colour, excuse my bluntness, and tasted sweet, sickly and warm, even though it was chilled. Can something "taste" warm? Well, this did. It was like leaving the dregs of a cheap fizz in a plastic cup out for 3 days after New Years, and then taking a swill as you vacuum the loungeroom. Not so good.
Alas, we press on: The Bubbly pink - Bi 382 Rose.
See now this one was for me the closest thing to drinkable. It tasted like a strawberry dessert, almost a late harvest something or other, but given I was drinking it out of a can (the thin sexy type like "V" or Red Bull", not like a VB), this sort of worked for me. I wouldn't go rating it against other pink bubbles, but I don't think we're going for that. We're creating a totally new beverage here, or Barokes are - to appeal to a new young market. At least that's my take on it.
And I want to point out that I'm not trying to slam Barokes or anyone trying new things like this - I think it's great, and we need to do something like this, but we've got to get it tasting good, surely?
On we go to the reds: The Still red - Bin 121 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot.
So this was the unchilled one, which I gather is the point? Well, pulling the ring seal on this, and we discovered an astonishingly okay nose - cherry, coffee, plums... it smelt like wine! So, emboldened, I took a swig. Unfortunately. Should have quit there. It was stalky, bitter, with a funky leathery something going on that was less Hunter Valley and more footy boot. It was sweet and it faded quickly, all but the bitter aftertaste.
Justin was slightly less critical, but he is younger than me, so I might be the wrong guy to tackle this one, 'cause it's not going well so far.
Last up: The Bubbly red - Bin 171 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot.
This worked a bit better for me as a drink concept - rich blackcurrant, cloves, chocolate, it was fizzy. Tasted cheap, but was at least identifiable as a Sparkling Red.
So the verdict? For me personally, I can't go the still wine in a can. The bubbly stuff, I think, has some potential, but why can't we get some semi-decent stuff in there? I'm just talking Rumball quality, nothing flash.
Barokes, and any other producers attempting this kind of thing - I apologise for the bad reviews, it's easy to take a shot at something new, and I hope you keep at it, but some of the wines were really undrinkable, and I'd be up for the concept if the stuff inside was okay, and I was still allowed into nightclubs.
And maybe if Megan Gale was spritzing the can over her belly button, but then I think she's probably moved on from there as well. Bless her.
The Empire Strikes Back
If you like wine like I do (and I'm assuming you do, given you're reading this blog), then you probably agree that Dan Murphy's is taking over the world.
Well, it's just Australia now, sure, but I've no doubt that by 2025 I'll be seeing a big green and brown sign when I look up at the moon, selling $2 Grange.
And with co-founder of the Dan Murphy's Galactic Empire, Tony Leon, recently moving over to Coles' 1st Choice, wine retail in Australia looks set to become a duopoly.
So what do you think about that? What do I think about that, for that matter?
Well, it disturbs me.
Oh, sure, I'm happy to go and buy wine from one of the four Dan Murphy's football fields within walking distance of my house, it's a good range, it's cheap, it's wine heaven for me, the consumer, isn't it?
Well, yes, but that's the shallow, self-serving me. The me that loves wine and the wine industry, and wants to ignite and fuel a passion for wine around the world, starting right here, wants to look a little deeper.
Let's recap the Dan Murphy (pictured above as he contemplates world domination) story...
A fine man, by all accounts, born in 1920. Wine journalist, vigneron, retailer and visionary, there's no doubting that. Instrumental is getting wine on Australian tables, and getting good Australian wine onto tables around the world. Such was his vision.
Mr Murphy commented in the late 60's "let us forget about exporting cheap, fruity Burgundy to the boarding houses of England. Our future in export trade is to ship choice vintages to the best homes in the world."
In 1966 he published the Australian Wine Guide, the first detailed guide to Australian wines for the inexperienced consumer.
BUT then in the 80's he launched Dan Murphy's: Lowest Liquor Prices Guaranteed, in Melbourne. The name said it all. Big stores, big range, lowest prices.
Dan Murphy passed away in 1991. Tony Leon was his right-hand man, and he and Dan's slashed and burned there way to a nice little market share.
In 1998, Woolworths bought Dan's, with 5 Melbourne stores, and an annual turnover of $100 million, for $55 million, and the last decade has seen a meteoric rise towards wine retail domination. Quickly expanding to up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and through SA, they'll be opening their 100th store this year.
Yep. 100th. Crushing the pitiful rebellion of independent liquor stores.
Together Woolies and Coles have a 54 per cent share of the liquor retailing market, up from 36 per cent in just 4 years. Woolies don't release figures specific to Dan's, but you can bet it's leading the way, and reports are that their annual turnover exceeds $2 billion.
"Good on them," I used to say, "if they're going to drop their margins to sell cheaper, then that's fine with me." For surely they must drop their margins - that's how they sell everything cheaper, isn't it?
“A lot of people thought (that) in Dan Murphy’s I didn’t make a profit, I gave away liquor,” says Leon. “We made more profit in Dan’s than any other retailer in liquor by far.”
This is very quickly confirmed with a chat with a producer I know selling to Dan's.
When it came to wine, Tony Leon is dispassionate. “A lot of wine companies get confused between smelling the wine and selling the wine and making a profit. I separate this in my business.”
Cute turn of phrase. It's not unusual for Dan's to ring up a supplier and ask for a reduction in price, if they want to keep competitive shelf space. And more and more that competition is a proprietary brand exclusive to Dan's.
Leon does his homework, and he expects the same of his suppliers. In 2001, Southcorp, now owned by Fosters, made a famous push towards discounting, and delivered their 4 big brands - Lindemans, Penfolds, Wynns and Rosemount - directly to Leon's door, removing the distributor's markup and allowing Dan's to sell those wines at prices well below other retailers.
Needless to say, this didn't win Southcorp any friends amongst the independents, and those brands suffered as a result.
Leon, though it worked nicely for he and his Dan's stores, was unimpressed on principal. “Southcorp,” he says, was “hopeless. They destroyed Rosemount, Penfolds, the whole lot. You can’t be that stupid, I’m sorry to say.”
But the beautiful thing about the free market is that everyone has choices. There are plenty of good, strong wine brands who don't sell to Dan's. They've taken a stand, and they still manage to get their wine to market, one can only assume.
Others are completely dependent on the large retailer, having committed capital to produce large quantities that they would be stuck with without their Dan's contracts.
But what does that mean? It means wines get produced with price in mind, not drinking.
Now as I've said, Tony Leon (and don't get me wrong, he's a business man, not a villain) has defected to Coles, who currently have 45 or so 1st Choice stores, and will no doubt see them grow to equally heroic proportions, so we're likely to see this trend of wine discounting increase even more, unless producers (and consumers, for that matter), take a stand and find other places to sell and buy their wine.
Dan's has a 5 year plan to have 200 stores by 2013. 1st Choice will no doubt be not far behind.
No one is going to be selling Penfold's Kalimna or Lindman's Bin 65 cheaper than the Empire.
But if you, like me, enjoy shopping in the "fine wine" corner of the oval, you might find that they're not actually cheaper for the most part. Duck down to your independent, or jump online, and you might find that Dan's and co, though perceived as cheaper for everything, don't actually compete so aggressively in the lower volume, higher priced end of the market.
Ignore the big ticket wines, and you'll find that the Ed down the road (for me, at least), is actually cheaper for a lot of wines.
It's a start, at least.
Thanks for listening, I'm off to grab that $42 special on Heineken with the two free glasses...
Two Buck Chuck Strikes Down Under
I sit as I read this piece of news, and I shake my head. Bloody Two Buck Chuck. But as they say in the classics, let's start from the very beginning...
For those of you who haven't heard of Two Buck Chuck - it's a nickname for a Californian wine brand, Charles Shaw, that hits the shelves of Trader Joe's for $1.99, hence the snappy A.K.A. Two Buck Chuck.
It's been a success for the Bronco Wine Company, and opened up the world of wine to rednecks and cheap-arses all over the States. Okay, maybe I'm being harsh, but here's why:
They're about to release a $3 Chardonnay, from our fair shores, and they're calling it... yes, you guessed it: "Down Under".
PA-LLLEEEEEEASE!!!! Have we not come further than that?
Leading Australian wine merchant in San Fransisco, Tyreice Jones of The Jug Shop, was equally unimpressed. "Are you serious? They're calling it Down Under? Jesus. Does it come with a free download by Men At Work?"
Here, here! Though if you're selling boobs, Mr Jones, you should be careful what you bandy about. Sorry, I digress. Good name for a breast augmentation clinic though, don't you think?
But we're talking booze, not boobs, so let's get back to it. This is not just an embarrassing leap back 20 years, it's damaging to the reputation of Australian wines altogether in the US market.
Our cheap wine reputation can be blamed on the critter brands, like Yellowtail, who sell over 8 million cases of wine to the US, a quarter of which is Chardonnay, which retails for around US$6 a bottle.
Clearly they were in need of a cheaper alternative (groan).
Bronco's outspoken, populist CEO, Fred Franzia (pictured above, biting the ass out of the Australian wine industry), is clearly not satisfied with the fact that Two Buck Chuck has offended American wine snobs from Napa to New York, and has decided to take aim at Yellow Tail's 8 million case market share.
"They're overpriced and we're going to pound them for a while," Mr Franzia told the San Francisco Chronicle this month. "We're taking our fight international."
John Casella, marketing director of Casella Wines in Griffith, who make Yellowtail, doesn't seem particularly alarmed.
"Sure, a three-dollar Chardonnay doesn't do Australia's reputation any good," he says. "But there's no point belly-aching about it either. At the end of the day it's a free market. Besides, we have long-term relationships with our grape growers, and can ensure quality and consistency. He (Franzia) is trawling the bulk wine market, taking advantage of the huge chardonnay surplus. That's not a sustainable way to build a brand."
An Adelaide bulk wine broker, who asked not to be named in the article in The Australian, explains that Australian winemakers were left with about 20million litres of unwanted chardonnay sitting in tanks and barrels after the 2008 vintage. As a result, the going rate for chardonnay on the bulk market fell to about 60c per litre - which does not cover even the cost of production, let alone the cost of growing the grapes.
"So when Bronco came out here looking for chardonnay to buy, there was no shortage of Australian wineries lining up to sell," the broker said. "Including almost all of the major companies. Yes, the price was pitiful, but the wineries saw an opportunity to empty their tanks in time for the 2009 harvest and get some cashflow - as opposed to having full tanks and no cashflow."
Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation's Paul Henry, general manager of market development, believes this is dangerously short-term thinking: "If I could have my way, I would have entreated the Australian wine industry to destroy its excess stock rather than export it and see it end up in a three-dollar bottle with Australia on the label.
"This is a profoundly disturbing direction to be heading in. The irony is that we as an industry have finally established a top-down rather than bottom-up approach to promoting our wines overseas.
"We are focusing on our fine, regionally-specific, high-quality wines. Another lowest common denominator brand has the potential to undermine that."
And so, like Paul Henry and so many exporters of GOOD Australian wine to the US, I sit here and shake my head.
Come on growers - 60c per litre? And Mr Henry (who is a right gentleman, I might add, and a noble champion of our wines, even if he is a pom and wears pink ties:), maybe the industry should have offered to fund the "dumping" of the grapes, at 60c per litre. I dare say it's something Yellowtail would have considered funding.
Too late. No point crying over spilt Chardonnay, especially now it's cheaper than water. Time to reel out Paul Hogan, pump him with a bit more botox and fire up Crocodile Dundee V, or VI, or whatever they're up too, crank out the kangaroo gags, and mourn the loss of the hard-fought credibility of Australian wines in the US.
Let's just pray Parker doesn't give it a good score...
Twitter, Tweets, Twitt-Twoo... another crazy "fad", or here to stay? What's it all about, some of you might ask? Or some of you are probably thinking "Twitter? That's so February 2009..."
What's it got to do with girls in bikinis writing cryptic messages in the sand? Nothing at all, actually, but it was that ohrt e Twitter logo, so bikini-girl won.
So... I started exploring this new world of micro-blogging, social chatter about a month ago.
Granted, my motives were selfish, I wanted to spread word of the Qwoff Blog, and Twitter was by all accounts the place to do it.
On we went, signed up an account, under the username TheQwoffBoys , (if you're already twittering, then "follow" me up, and we'll be able to follow you, too.
Follow me up? What's that all about? That's how you build your Twitter network. You find people you want to follow, and you get to see their little 140-characters-or-less posts on your Twitter home page.
That's all there is to it? Yep. You write a little message, either to the Twitter ether in general, or to specific users, and other people write their little messages, and all the little messages are out there in Twitter land for all the little Twits like us to see.
WHAT'S THE FRICKIN' POINT!!!!????
That was my first impression. It seemed like everybody was just trying to say something, or sell something, but no one's really listening.
Or are they?
It's hard to ignore the stats. Twitter got 32 million visits last month. Yep. 32 million. And it's been doubling each month for the last few months.
And there's no shortage of winelovers.
Plenty of web-savvy wine producers are twittering, and pretty much every wine social site is doing something. There's also wine news up to wazoo. In fact, you really have to wade through what everybody's trying to sell (including 50,000 people who seem to have the secret for twitter marketing) to get to the good stuff.
But there does seem to be good stuff. I was reading an article this morning on forbes.com , suggesting we should organise Twitter tastings. I've heard of it happening before - a producer, or a wine site like us but with not such fabulous members :) - sends out a few bottles, or you and your friends go and buy the same bottles, and then at an allotted time, you all crack the wines and start Twittering your tastings.
It's a virtual wine party. Now that may sound a bit geeky to you, and it does to me, too, but I'm going to give it a go, for sure. (Being a big wine geek at heart, the idea also has appeal).
So why don't we give it a go? Sign up on twitter if you're not already, follow us - TheQwoffBoys , and we'll see what we can organise - what do you say?
It may be a ridiculous idea, but it might just work. We'll start it with different wines, and if it works, then we might just organise to send some wines out and we'll all have a big world-wide Twitter wine tasting!
We'll look out for you...
Oh, and you'll be required to taste your wines in a bikini. That's the catch. Yes, you too boys...
Keven Rudd's Wine Cellar
Don't know if you caught it, but last week there was a bit of media buzz about Kevin Rudd's wine cellar. Apparently, he's delivered the Queensland wine industry a great sub by not stocking any plonk from the Sunshine State.
COME ON, PEOPLE, LET IT GO!!!!
I'd like to first say that I'm personally a big fan of Queensland - I've lived there for a few years, and we have a winebar in Noosa - it's all beautiful.
I'd like to follow that with saying that I have tried a couple of Granite Belt Verdelhos. Drinkable. Absolutely. For a Verdelho, anyway, but that's just a personal taste issue, and I think it's great that we're trying new regions, bring on Northern Territory, I say - let's get some real Albarino in there.
HOWEVER... The "vast" priministrerial cellar, as one local journo put it, is hardly that. $20K worth of plonk, according to last year's audit, which doesn't really get you that far. We're talking 800 bottles, at $25 a pop (let's say), or 65 odd cases.
Apparently there is an '85 Dom, and a Bollinger NV, but they're the highlights, if you're talking big ticket items. No Grange, no Hill of Grace. 246 bottles of Tellowglen Sparkling, in readiness for a stripper party at Kirribilli House, no doubt, you foxy wildman, Mr Rudd!
Point is, and there is a point to my rant, I assure you, this is no comprehensive wine cellar representing the nation's vinocular wares. I strongly doubt K Rudd is even aware of what's in his cellar, though you can bet he is now.
And I'm sure there are a couple of bottles of Amberley Edge or Ravens Croft fruity white sitting alongside the Pikes Rieslings by now, so the Queensland wine industry no doubt achieved the publicity they were after, and more power to them.
In my mind, however, the real point is - what SHOULD the PM be serving his visiting dignitaries? Australian wines, naturally, and from a broad selection of regions, ideally. But what if he LIKES Merlot and Sav Blanc? I mean he's allowed to drink what he enjoys, surely, but what about when he's on show, whipping up a sheppard's pie for the King of Tonga and his wife?
I've been inside the wine cellar at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, which I guess is the closest thing we have to an "official" wine cellar for the nation, and let's just say I'd be happy to camp in there for a few months with a warm doona and a big box of cashew nuts.
Ah well, another week looms before us, and I shall leave you all to get on with yours.
But leave Rudd's cellar alone, and let him get on with his stimuli, please!!
Jukesy's Top 100 Revealed at London International Wine Fair
The wine world is abuzz with the London International Wine Fair ths week, and loveable larrikin and UK winewriter Matthew Jukes (pictured above with Tyson Stelzer) has just revealed his Australian Top 100 wines.
It's a list that has the clout, I'm told, to significantly boost UK sales for those honoured wines within, and for those not... well, there's always next year.
But before we delve into the have's and the have not's, let's have a look at what's been going on at the Wine Fair.
So it is a Fair, with stalls and hoopla representing 1300 exhibitors - wineries, naturally, as well as importers, merchants, agents, restauranteurs, wholesalers, sommeliers... practically the entire wine world comes together for 3 days of booze-fueled excitement and deal-making and breaking.
25,000 wines are represented, conventiently loaded into a fully sortable list , which I've kindly linked to here you, in case you're interested.
Apparently Wines of Australia is represented by a big green shoebox, which is nice, considering we're all trying to up the image of brand Australia, but never mind - I'm sure Ric Birch would be proud.
How did we do? (They do, amongst all the schmoozing and boozing, have a Wine Show, with bling and everything).
Pretty well, I'd say. Australian wines have scored a shwag of medals (591), including 43 golds out of a total of 304 awarded, which was a close 2nd - you bloody bewdy!!
France took the honours, with 49 golds, and Portugal came in third on 36. France also took out the total medal honours, on 729, we came in again 2nd, while Italy came in third on 405.
Interestingly (well, I thought so), English wine, which has started earning a winning reputation with sparklings, won a record 24 medals, inclusing a gold for one of their Riesling-esque whites. Denmark and Mexico also won a silver each - the Danes for a Brut and the Mexicans for a Shiraz.
But back to Jukesy's Top 100.
I've had the pleasure of working with Matthew Jukes - in fact Qwoff are a Major Sponsor of his awesome event, Touchwine - a day of food, wine, music and touch footy in the Adelaide Parklands, raising money and awareness for Hutt Street Centre for the Homeless.
It's an incredible day, and fantastic cause, and I somewhat sheepishly but very proudly slip in here that last year I was personally awarded the Sister Pauline Medal for services rendered for the event. I didn't know that drinking and cheering warranted such recognition, but I shall continue to do my bit!
But I digress - you want to know who won the gongs according to Jukesy?
Here's where you can see them all , with reviews (you'll have to use the submenus on the right - took me a while to figure that out!), but for the lazy, here's a snapshot:
Jansz, Trilogy, Croser included in the fizz; Nepenthe Sav Blanc, Cape Mentelle SSB, McWilliam's Lovedale Semillon, Tyrrell's Vat 1, Fox Gordon Fiano, Leasingham Bin 7 Riesling, O'Leary Walker Riesling, Pewsey Vale, Plantaganet, Skillogalee, Jim Barry, Pikes & KT and the Falcon (my fav) Rieslings, Gemtree Albarino (or is it a Savignon...?), Yalumba Viognier, Windy Peak Chardy, Step Rd, Cape Mentelle, Stonier and PHI Chardonnays, not to mention Eileen Hardy, Cullen, Leeuwin Estate and Yattarna.
Wirra Wirra and Charles Melton were amongst the Rose winners, then the reds included Pinots by Windy Peak, Tamar Ridge, Ten Minutes by Tractor and Piper's Brook; Battle of Bosworth, Knappstein, Moss Wood and Penflds 707 Cab Savs.
The Shiraz/GSM-ish standouts were Wirra Wirra's cheapie Scrubby Rise (selected over Penfolds RSW on its merits), Mitolo, Paxton, Torbreck, BVE Ebenezer, Glaetzer's Bishop, Teusner, S.C. Pannell, Clonakilla, Elderton Command, Armagh, and the 04 Grange; and then there were the blends/indies - Church Block, Kangarilla Rd Sangio, Majella and Bin 389, to name a few.
Like your Stickies? Peter Lehmann Bortrytis Sem and Seppeltsfield Muscat were included.
Oh, heck, see for yourself with the link above!
I love my lists - of course you can always come up with about five hundred "but what about...'s", but it's a daunting task, no doubt, and always fun to read.
So enjoy, have a great weekend, and CHEERS to the Australian producers who've done us proud!!
DIY Wine Bordeaux-style
My first job in the wine industry was with the Cellarmasters juggernaut, selling wine over the phone, before moving "upstairs" witht he suits to join a small team in a new venture called "My Label".
You know the type - "John and Jane's Wedding Shiraz" or "ADMA 1999 Direct Marketing Conference" on a label of Fosters something-or-other Cab Sav. Wasn't particularly sexy, and no offense to Cellarmasters, but back then they didn't do it particularly well either.
Then in 2005, along came Crushpad. Michael Brill, a San Fransisco corporate with dreams of being a winemaker, teamed up with Mike Zitzlaff, a winemaker from Yarra Valley, to take DIY winemaking to a new level. What started in Mike Brill's garage soon grew to a thriving global business.
For $6000 you could call up, or email, or jump online, and get your own barrel of wine made. You can choose the varietal, or the blend, you can be as involved or uninvolved as you like, from assisting with the winemaking to designing your own labels, and Crushpad can even help sell it through their network of 150 restaurants and retailers.
Fantastic idea. In 2008 they pitched for investment to scale up the idea, and turned away millions to settle for $8M, and now they've expanded to that most traditional of wine havens, Bordeaux.
Franco-American Stephen Bolger read about Crushpad in Fortune Magazine, and is now president of Crushpad France. But as you can well imagine, bridging the culture gap to get the Bordeaux wine industry on board was no simple task.
"It'll never work" was his most common response. But persistence, as they say, is one of the key ingredients to success, and Bolger's enthusiasm was infectuous, and he soon got a couple of brokers on board. 30 wineries soon followed. I dare say there's a bit of fruit around Bordeaux, like the rest of the world, and they may secretly have been pleased to have an outlet.
And customers have been flocking.
Estonian expat Taavet Hindrikus from London signed up immediately. "You have access to some of the world's best grapes -- and you could make a really good, Old World wine. I think it's very exciting."
By virtue of being in Bordeaux, the expectations in terms of quality are clearly high.
"It's going to be interesting to see the quality we can make," said Asko Kassinen, a manager for Hewlett-Packard based in Helsinki. "We know the grapes come from great sources, and the consultants are very good, so it's the barrels and the blending."
He has already selected his grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, the same used by Chateau Cheval Blanc, a legendary estate in Saint Emilion.
Cheval Blanc costs hundreds of dollars per bottle. Kassinen's barrel at Crushpad Bordeaux will cost between 6,750 euros and 9,000 euros -- or 22.50 to 30 euros per bottle.
"I don't know enough to make the wine myself, but I'm learning about winemaking," said Hindrikus. "I look at the reports they send me. Every time they do something, they send an email. They even send tasting notes."
From his desk in London, Hindrikus felt like he was living the dream. The main draw: "It's posh. Who wouldn't want to have their own wine?"
On a personal note, when JD and I first read about Crushpad a few years ago, we're not ashamed to say we were envious. What a cracking idea - wish we'd started it!
We might have to get a qwoff wine together, the ultimate community wine!! What do you say, qwoffers - anyone interested??
Stars, Points and Medals - Lost in Translation
In following on from yesterday's blurb about wine judging and scoring, I opened up the new edition of Winestate this morning, and they had an article on their Star Rating system, and they provided a very helpful table with comparative scores of the 20pt show system and 100pt rating system, as well as what that's worth in a medal, what colourful adjective that wine deserves, etc, etc.
Marvelous! I thought - I'll share that with you!
So here it is:
Informative, yes? So no matter what your preference, you can slot it in against whatever bling you come across.
Now this differs ever so slightly from the scale of stars vs. points scale we've got on qwoff, only a point here or there, so I dare say we might review that over the next few days, and we do like to be a little more, shall we say "creative" with our comments than "Good/V. Good", and I personally think that 5 stars deserves "Wow. Better then sex", but maybe that's just at my age.
Disclaimer: That's not to say , dear wife, if you're reading this, that such activities are not at least "outstanding", certainly 93-100 pts... erm, perhaps I shall shut up now and move on from direct comparisons between sexual relations and Hill of Grace...
Back to wine scoring, since after this, I fear, that may be the only scoring I get to participate in for some time...
We don't want to turn this all it a science (and Winestate, somewhat rudely I thought, proudly claimed that "Wine judging is an inexact art, not a science - even at the highest levels of proficiency. Accordingly, Winestate uses the star rating system which reflects a range, rather than a specific point score. Point systems indicate a level of accuracy that simply does not exist."
Well, I agree it's personal, but I personally like the 100 pt system - it gives me a chance to rank my enjoyment of a wine to a degree I'm comfortable with. So there.
So what's the point of all this? It is Friday, and my mind seems to be wandering. Ah yes, just wanted to share a comparative chart with you, so you can translate your bling.
Sniff, Sip, Swirl and Spit - Is That All It Takes?
Hello qwoffers! Bit of a departure today, since an hour of trawling through wine news didn't really inspire me.
Something I've wanted to talk about for a while now is the subject of wine tasting, and specifically wine judging techniques.
I was always a bit of a medal critic, until I had the pleasure of witnessing first hand the judging of a McLaren Vale regional wineshow. Brian Croser and Nick Stock were judging, with Debra Meiburg, a Master of Wines from the US who has a delightfully uncanny resemblence to Jessica Simpson.
Now some of you may know this, but it was new to me, and altogether reassuring. The most obvious criticism to the whole shenanigan of wine judging is that with one sniff, one sip, a wine can be lauded with a gold, or spat disdainfully into the melting pot of insidious mediocrity. How can, amongst hundreds and sometimes thousands of wines, a wine judge get it right every time, no matter how impressive their palate?
The answer is, of course, quite simply - they can't. There was a study in the US last year by retired professor and vigneron Robert Hodgson, where a room full of prominent wine judges blind tasted a hundred or so wines. The results weren't encouraging - only 10% of wine judges were able to consistently give the same rating, or something close, to the same wine sampled multiple times. Another 10% of the judges were WAY out over multiple tastings, ranging from gold medal to no medal on the SAME WINE!!
Well, there you go, I hear you say. How can you trust medals. The answer (by no means definitive) is safety in numbers. As extremely busy wine writer and oft judge Nick Stock explained to me, any notable discrepancies between the 3 judges are revisited, and certainly anything up for gold medal contention was re-tasted by all three judges.
Now this doesn't mean they're all going to agree, but it does go a long way to minimising the chances of a better wine going unnoticed. And by better I mean according to he panel of wine judges.
Also, even though such shows as Canberra and Sydney are regarded as prestige wineshows, it's the regional shows that really allow a judge to rate the wines on their true merits, amongst their terrior peers, not to mention that the judges have so much more time to consider each wine, given there are far fewer up for consideration than a national or international show.
But I'm not here just to talk about judging, but HOW they judge wines, and how you and I do. Robert Parker, love him or hate him, has pretty much set the standard with his 100pt rating system.
Wines get 50pts for turning up (sort of like Under 7s soccer competitions, really), and then the remaining 50pts are divied up for the following:
Look (max. 5 pts)
Since most wines today are well-made, thanks to modern technology and the increased use of professional winemakers, they tend to receive at least 4, often 5 pts for colour and clarity.
Smell (max. 15 pts)
The aroma and bouquet merit up to 15 points, judging the intensity and dimension of the aroma and bouquet as well as the cleanliness of the wine in terms of unwanted smells (faults).
Taste (max. 20 pts)
The flavour and finish of the wine merit up to 20 pts, and again, intensity, balance, cleanliness, depth of flavour and length on the palate are all under consideration.
Quality & Potential (max. 10 pts)
Finally, the overall impression of quality, and/or potential for aging, merits up to 10 pts.
And that's how Ringland Shiraz gets 100pts, and that's why a wine given 75 or so points is actually pretty shit, pardon the French.
Now I loosely follow these guidelines, though I don't really consider clarity - some of my favourite pinots are opaque, and I probably give more like 20pts to overall quality. I certainly don't work it out mathematically.
I'm also a bit of a sucker for a good label.
How do you go about "scoring" a wine, if indeed you even bother? (Lest we forget it's all about the pleasure of the experience, and less about the merit!)
Monty Python, Ab Fab, Spice Girls & Savvy Blanc
Okay, so firstly, this article has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Posh and the girls, the picture is only there because I couldn't bare the thought of another vineyard pic.
And, bless their slinky little pumps, they're very UK. Which brings me to my little bit of news:
London's first commercial vineyard since medieval times was planted yesterday.
That's it. That's my news.
The vineyard was set up and funded by Capel Manor Horticultural College as part of a wider community project, and they've hand-planted nearly 1500 Bacchus vines at Forty Hall Organic Farm in the London Borough of Enfield.
"Bacchus is ideally suited to cool climate wine production and produces a crisp, light white wine with Sauvignon characteristics of gooseberry and fresh grass. It's a perfect wine for summer picnics," said Sarah Vaughan-Roberts, the vineyard manager.
Now I must confess I hadn't come across the Bacchus varietal prior to reading this, except in homage to the Drunken Lord of Booze and Revelry.
Vaughan-Roberts hopes that the free-draining, gravelly soil at Forty Hall will become the 'terroir' of London wines. Will make a nice change from the sweaty pumps on High Street, the fragrant fear of the GFC on Bond St, or the salty stagnant muck of the banks of the Thames.
"Imagine London's Mayor toasting the opening of the Olympics with our very own London grown wine in 2012," said Steve Dowbiggin, chief executive of Capel Manor College. Imagine. Forget the Krug, this is British!!
"Our vineyard will produce a range of still and sparkling wines of the highest quality which express the fresh, light and fruity characteristics of the best English wines." Best of English wines? One might say that's not setting the bar too high, by Olympic standards at least.
The Forty Hall wine will be sold directly to consumers within a ten mile radius of the vineyard and all profits will go towards promoting sustainable urban agriculture in the local area.
Now that's what we're talking about. Bless them, that's what we want to hear. Low carbon footprint wines, promoting sustainable growth.
And don't say you don't get your value for money out of the qwoff blog, here's a free jibe at Australian wines , care of the incomparable Monty Python team.
Gordon Ramsay's F@#*ing Selection Bordeaux
My favourite TV chef is lending his esteemed moniker to one of his favourite Bordeaux labels, which will proudly bare the "Gordon Ramsay's Selection" stamp of approval. But dig a little deeper (well, at least Wine Spectator dug a little deeper!), and we uncork a very interesting and somewhat disheartening tale...
F#@k me. Seems Gordon Ramsay Holdings is in financial trouble. In March they issued a statement that it had basically run short of funds to pay creditors. BIG trouble, in other words, but not unheard of in this day and age of GEC.
On a parallel plane, Chateau Bauduc, a Bordeaux Superior/Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux producer announces that their wines, which have long been house wines at most of Mr Ramsay's esteemed institutions of gastromomic genius and grandios verbosity, will now feature a band across the top of the bottle toting "Gordon Ramsays Selection".
"This is to celebrate 10 vintages on the trot as the house wine in the restaurants," Ramsay said in the latest edition of Château Bauduc's newsletter.
"My sommeliers swear by Bauduc, even if the accountants swear every time someone orders a bottle instead of Chablis or Pétrus."
The interesting link here is that Chateau Baudoc is actually listed among the creditors awaiting payment from Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd.
"We are not paying Gordon any royalties for this – neither for the signature nor for the link from his website,' said Bauduc owner Gavin Quinney. "Our wine has earned this label from consistent hard work and quality. If Gordon had wanted to earn a quick buck, why not approach the big guys?"
Now I'm not really outraged at any of this, it's a perfectly amicable win win solution, should the two events be linked in any way.
And it's not like the wine's reputation, or Gordon's are under threat of whoring themselves out. Great wine, great chef. all good there.
What I'm upset about is that Gordon Ramsay Holdings are in financial trouble! Just how brutal is this GEC??!! What hope is there for the rest of us??!!
Wine in Plastic?
I know only last week I was talking about wine in cans (Paris Hilton's cans, to be precise), and I don't want to turn this into a wine packaging blog, but this is interesting, I think, and I'm curious to know how you feel about it.
Fosters today is shunning tradition in a bold move, releasing two new Wolf Blass "Green Label" wines, bottled in PET plastic, rather than glass.
$17 a bottle, a dry white and a shiraz cab, and they're about to launch into a $1 million marketing campaign.
So I'm sort of cringing already, at the thought of opening a 750ml PET bottle and pouring out a glass of wine like it's soda water, but let's look at the upside:
29% LESS greenhouse gas emissions than glass bottle packaging, and (apart from the PET bottle itself) they're using 100% recycled and recyclable packaging materials and alcohol-free printing (am I the only one catching some irony here on the alcohol-free?).
Oliver Horn, global brand director of Wolf Blass wines, said research showed more than 90 per cent of consumers wanted brands that enabled them to make "greener" choices.
Mr Horn said that apart from the recyclable PET bottles, the use of 100 per cent recycled and recyclable packaging materials and alcohol-free printing, had led to major emissions savings.
The main saving resulted from the filled plastic bottles being 36 per cent lighter than filled glass bottles. Unfilled bottles, which weigh 51 grams, were 90 per cent lighter than glass bottles.
"You save on a six-pack about 2.5 kg of weight," Mr Horn said.
"It's significantly easier to carry, the bottles are easier to pour and can be taken to places where glass (usually) can't because it doesn't shatter."
He said the taste of the wine had undergone rigorous testing for several years both in the laboratory and at wine tastings plus had been tested every month for the past 12 months.
Oxygen scavenging technology was incorporated in the PET manufacturing process.
"There's no difference between the glass product and the PET bottle," Mr Horn said.
Mr Horn said a Wolf Blass PET trial into Canada in 2006 had failed but claimed it was because the environmental benefits could not at the time be substantiated.
He said the wines had also met with consumer resistance at the time because the bottles were shorter.
So it's a first for Australia, and we'll ignore what those crazy Canadians are doing for the moment :)
There are those little 187ml plastic wine bottles you get on planes, so it's not completely new, but a big step for consumers to go for a full-size plastic wine bottle.
All Hail the 2004 Grange
For those of you who've been living on the moon today and weren't aware, this day marked the release of the new vintage of Penfolds Grange - the 2004.
It's been all over twitter and every wine blog from here to Oregon, which is not so unusual, as the release of a Grange is always a bit of an event in the wine world, but this year particularly so, due to the fact that winemaker Peter Gago has been talking this up as the best vintage in Grange history, or at least in the last 25 years. At least on a par with 1990, is the word.
So Justin and I took ourselves smartly over to Magill Cellars to have a tasting - at $30 a glass, but we had a pretty cool guy serving us who topped it up quite nicely (and took the photo on the iphone!). We also made our way through half a dozen other icons, including the Yattarna Chardonnay, RWT, Magill Estate Shiraz and St Henri.
But back to the star of the event, the Grange...
You'll find our reviews on the site, but we first must say that for a baby Grange, it was AMAZINGLY approachable. Yes, you want to wait 10 years to really enjoy it, but often a young Grange is completely overpowered by its 25 years in new American oak (okay, 2 years...). Not so with this one. Yes - the tannins were chalky, but the fruit was rich and almost elegant, but no lack of power, and the oak was integrated with lovely licorice, cigar-box flavours...
But I'm not here to review it. Critics are lauding it as almost perfect, and I dare say at $550 a bottle it'd want to be bloody good.
More interestingly, its maker Peter Gago is hailing it as among the finest. "The wait for the 2004 Grange release has been worthwhile ... arguably one of the finest in recent times,'' Mr Gago said.
For those of you interested, it's 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet, 100% American Oak, and for the knockers who don't believe any wine is worth $550, I have to tell you, whether by reputation alone, we two Qwoff Boys stood with genuine reverence in the Magill Estate cellars, and every sip was embraced like a kiss with Monica Bellucci.
So celebrate, Australian winelovers all, for another great champion of our wines has been unleashed.
We wish it well.
Paris Hilton's Cans
Okay so firstly, apologies for the low brow title, but it's Friday morning and I just couldn't resist. Gets me thinking of a Hungry Jacks Whopper, but that's just me.
So one of our qwoffers brought this up earlier this morning in a forum topic, and I'd read an article a couple of weeks ago that sales for the Rich Prosecco (Italian sparkling) weren't doing so well, and everybody's blaming Paris, but bless her little semi-clad heart, looks to me like she's doing her darndest here to flog some spritz in a can.
Maybe it's not Paris - maybe it's the fact that no one wants to drink wine out of a can?
So I thought I'd do some research. (Yes, don't keel over in shock, every now and then I do research these random musings!)
I'd heard movements in the Constellation camp (Hardys, Houghton, Leasingham, etc.) that they were playing with putting wine in cans, and I know it's been done in the US and Europe.
Seems they're looking for celebrities to market this - there's this Rich Prosecco that Paris champions, then there's Sofia Francis Coppola's "Sofia" Blanc de Blanc from California - the Sofia is apparently moving reasonably well in the US, if retailers' reports are to be believed.
I discovered an Australian label doing a smart looking range of wine in a can - Barokes Wines. Reading their latest news, seems they've won a patent challenge in Europe, with the courts acknowledging their patent on the "sine in a can" concept. Bold move.
They're also claiming a gold medal at the Berlin Wine Trophy 2009 for their Cab Shiraz Merlot. I'm finding it hard to imagine a panel of German wine judges sipping this Merlot and that Riesling, then cracking the can of Barokes for a sip. "Ach, ya - Super!!"
But I jest. Who am I to stand in the way of progress. I've embraced the Stelvin - why not the can?
I know that the Australian wine industry, and indeed the world wine industry, is struggling to find new ways to get wine in the hands of Gen Y, in clubs and other on premise venues, to compete with the RTD and beer markets, and I can almost get my head around a cheap, sexy sparkling in a can - maybe a sparkling rose.
But still wine? Hmmm. And a red, no less? I mean, a warm can in anyone's book is a bit of a challenge, isn't it? But we've contacted Barokes, and we're going to organise some samples, and give it a bit of a run.
I put it to you - ever tried any of these, or any wine (or sparkling) in a can? What's the verdict?
I Was Made for Lovin You, Baby
Ah, now perhaps it's just me, but this one brought back some die hard memories. You know how yesterday with the lunar biodynamics, I had an epiphany that took 10 years off my age? Well, those ten years are straight back on with this one, plus interest...
But on with the story. What's Paul Stanley doing on the Qwoff Bog, you may ask? Isn't he in the studio making a new KISS album? Actually, yes, apparently he is.
And he's making wine. Or rather, he's (thankfully) having wine made for him.
The exclusive "Paul Stanley Collection" is in the works, a joint venture with his friend and fellow winelover Andrew Roper, owner of "Wines to the Stars" (Wine Marketing and Wine Introduction to the stars - now why don't we have one of those? I'm sure the cast of Neighbours would love a little Wine 101).
But I must say, bad hair jokes and starburst guitars aside, this is all for a good cause, and could end up being some pretty smart wine.
Saddened by the recent Victorian bushfires, Paul has suggested the first wines out of the barrels, due to be released in the US in 2010 for restuarants and casinos, mostly, be donated to the Red Cross. The wines will be auctioned in Sudney and Melbourne to raise funds, as well as the orignal label artwork, also done by Paul himself.
The wines (only 100 cases or so, and magums, no less) are being made by none other than Kaesler Wines in the Barossa, and will only ever be produced if the vintage is perfect, apparently. Except that I'm guessing they'll be 2008 vintage, so apparently somehwere in the Barossa it was perfect.
Wine Maker and owner of Kaesler, Reid Bosward said this to the press: “As we are producing the wines for Paul’s future label, we are only too pleased to offer our winemaking expertise and assistance to help raise funds for people in need.
"The Paul Stanley Collection Wines will be an exclusive production of only a hundred or so cases, and the wines will be some of the best ever produced from the Barossa Valley.
"These wines are made for the long term, and being bottled in the large format bottles, will keep for well over 20-30 years. The Paul Stanley Collection will be made only if the vintage is perfect, he is a perfectionist with all he does, and we have shown that we too strive to this elite level.”
Hang on, back up - "best ever" produced int he Barossa? Come on, Reid, are you serious? That's putting it out there.
We wish you and the mighty Paul Stanley all the best, and look forward to trying this "best ever" creation!! I guess that means we better shut up and get bidding.
If you, too, are a die hard KISS fan, and love your Barossa reds, then contact Hilda Green from the Australian Red Cross on (03) 8327 7742 for more details on the auction.
And on that note, I shall Rock and Roll all night and party every day, and suggest you do the same!
The Wine of Aquarius
You know, it's not every Tuesday morning one drops the munchkin off to kindy, grabs a flat white one sugar and rocks into the office, sits down, and has an experience that shaves 10 years off his life.
Well, I had one this morning. At least, I'm going with the theory that I've shaved 10 years off, with 40 fast approaching.
I'm scanning google and what not for interesting bits of wine news, and I find a piece that asks: "Does the lunar cycle really affect how wine tastes?"
Is this the best they can come up with, I scoff, splurting my scalding bevvy across the keyboard. What hippy rot, mocks the capitalist pragmatist leaving his open-minded twenties in the shadows of intractability. (On fire this morning, eh, with the vocab... it's the enthusiasm of YOUTH, I tell you!)
But where was I? Oh yes, the story...
So basically, Tesco (the largest supermarket chain in the UK, for those of you who haven't traveled to the motherland) is arranging their wine tastings according to the biodynamic lunar calendar . Yep, have a click, check it out - it was new to me, too.
The theory is that wines (and various other produce, I imagine) taste better on certain days of the moon's cycle - "fruit days" for instance, but avoid pinot on a "leaf day".
So yes, I wrote it off as desperate journalism, as you no doubt just have, but I read on, as you too should.
A fellow named Rudolph Steiner posted such theories in 1924, and the idea has struck a chord amongst some. Apparently it's a devisive subject - no surprise there.
So I quickly write off the UK wine journo's own tasting experiences (he noted significant improvements in wines across the board on certain lunar days - I say he was just stoned). Spiritual nonsense, surely...
And yet I soon discover, as I read on, that among the believers are several of the finest producers in Burgundy, including Leroy, Lafon and Leflaive, as well as a few top Riesling producers in Alsace. Riesling and Burgundy? We're talking some of the greatest wines in the world, IMHO - surely if they're open to it...
My mind begins to open up. And suddenly I find this weight of boorish scepticism lift from my shoulders, and mother nature calls to me. No, I didn't run to the bathroom, I embraced the world, and all its magic, and I thought - how utterly sad that I would sit at my desk with my coffee in a plastic take-away cup and assume that the moon, in all it's glory and energy, couldn't affect something like the taste of a wine. Who am I to mock such theories. Come on, man, embrace the magical, give it a go!!
And so I shall. And I feel all the better for having just opened my simple little mind.
So have a great day, everyone, and don't block the wonders!
Best Vintage Ever for Margaret River?
A light shines on the west, it seems. Emerging from the doom and gloom of the South Australian vintage 09, winemakers in WA's Margaret River are talking up 09 as possibly the best vintage they have ever seen.
Yield was down on last year, so less wine will be made, it seems, but that's not a bad thing. Seems they're pretty confident that what's been picked is very, very exciting.
The chief executive of the Margaret River Wine Industry Association, Nick Power, says the lower yield was due to a number of early setbacks.
"It was really to do with the elongated spring and cool early summer pretty well up to mid-December," he said. "With the cool weather you just basically get poor fruit set. We were then also troubled by the apple looper moth, so those two factors have contributed to the yield this year."
Apple looper moth? I had to google this one, and it seems they've never attacked grapes before. Seems there's also a cabbage looper moth, even an alfalfa looper moth... Fraugth with danger, this grape growing business! Predators at every turn!
Go back to your apples, domn you, looper moths, and your cabbage and your alfalfa!! Sprouts we can do without, but leave us our wine!!
"The one thing the winemakers are telling me this year is that the fruit quality is absolutely superb. They're going into raptures over the Sauvignon Blanc ... so a good sign for everyone."
Yeah, yeah, so the Sav Plonk is fine, woo hoo, but what about the Chardonnay? What about the Cabernet? Now you're exciting me...
No seriously, hallelujah, about time we had some good news!! Congrats, Marg River winemakers, and do those grapes proud!
Will the Real Albarino Please Stand Up?
Oh dear, oh dear. What was feared has come to pass.
Perhaps you've heard of the grape Albarino, a very clever, drought-resistant Spanish white varietal which has been planted rather extensively over the last 5 years or so. It's been pegged as a great white hope of the future, with McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley investing significant resources on the crisp, aromatic white.
And then circulated the rumours that perhaps this Albarino was in fact NOT albarino, after a French expert raised questions about a particular vine in the Barossa, and growers started getting a little nervous. What had happened? Was all this Albarino we've planted actually a Traminer, or Savignin Blanc?
Alas, it appears their fears were founded, as DNA testing has revealed that the Albarino imported and released by CSIRO was in fact Savignin.
"There'll be repercussions for us financially," Barossa Producer Damien Tscharke said yesterday.
"We are trying to be world leaders as viticulturists and wine producers and they haven't done the proper tests before making the material available," he said.
"It's disappointing that we're trying to make the most out of our resources and we have bodies like the CSIRO who have let us down."
And Mr Tsharke, who has a fair bit of it bottled, labeled and ready to go, is not the only one somewhat peeved by it all. I remember speaking with a couple of McLaren Vale producers, including Mike Brown from Gemtree, who's also produced a fair batch, and is ready to go to market.
It is understood the discovery will impact more than 30 South Australian vineyards and an estimated dozen examples of the wine now in bottle.
By Australian law, they'll be required to change their labels, for a start, but I don't think that's the worst of it. It's the years of marketing a profile for the upcoming white, which for me had quite a sexy appeal to it.
So what's the future hold? Will we jump over to this Savignin, or will we replant the REAL Albarino and keep going?
Time will tell, I guess. But CSIRO's boo-boo couldn't have come at a worse time, really.
All I can say, is get out there, winelovers, and try this new white hope to reach our shores - Savignin Blanc!
Happy Easter Everyone!
Hi qwoffers, just want to wish you all a happy and safe easter!
Enjoy the chocolate and the wine, and don't let anyone bite 'ya bum!!
Justin & Andre
Blueagle has done it again!
Our heartiest congratulations to proud qwoffer Blueagle, our Top Qwoffer for March.
As usual, Blueagle has contributed an impressive number of wine reviews that are, as most of you are no doubt aware, creative, comprehensive and complelling (we'll call those the 3 C's of Qwoffing). And he's also been on the new forums, which is great to see!!
And now for the good bit - he's won himself a Vino & Vibes mixed case, featuring wines from a fine group of Barossa and Eden Valley artisans, including Torbreck, Langmeil, Vinecrest, McLean's Farmgate, Murray Street, Kabminye and Tin Shed!
So thanks Vino & Vibes for generously donating this awesome prize, and hope we'll see some of our qwoffers at Vino & Vibes this month.
Yum, I say, and congratulations, Blueagle, couldn't have gone to a nicer qwoffer...
... except maybe ME!! Why is it we can't win the good ones??!!
Wickedly Sinful Wine
Oh dear. Just when I'd convinced myself that the therapeutic qualities of red wine FAR outweigh the calories, and is perfectly acceptable AS LONG as I cut back on chocolate, Kim Crawford Wines in NZ goes and ups the ante - chocolate wine.
And pinot, no less!! What's a man to do??!!
“We are very excited about this new varietal,” says Erica Crawford, co-founder of Kim Crawford Wines. “The 2009 Pinot Chocolat is unique and another world first for New Zealand.”
The wine was developed and tested under a shroud of secrecy, extracting the essence of chocolate from cocoa beans at the right acidity to successfully infuse with the Pinot grapes.
“There was some controversy in the beginning,” says Erica. “Although it tastes delicious, many stalwarts in the Kim Crawford Wines team wanted to veto the idea as they felt it would mar the integrity of the brand.
“However, in the interests of starting something new, we decided to emulate our forefathers who brought the first vines to this country. We threw caution to the wind and jumped in.”
Hmm. Methinks this warrants investigation...
Geoff Scott, renowned chef and advocate for food and wine pairing, delighted with this leap forward in the wine industry. Geoff was pleasantly surprised by the layers of taste to the new Pinot.
“New Zealanders should be proud that we are on the cutting edge of a new tasting experience," says Geoff Scott, renowned chef and advocate for food and wine pairing. "The Kim Crawford Pinot Chocolat is a fine balance between style and substance.
“The rich, bitter chocolate essence is a great counterpoint for the sweet fruit notes of the Pinot grape and I look forward to serving it to my customers at Vinnies.”
Daily Wine News reports that once poured, the difference between the colour of the Pinot chocolate and the Pinot Noir is subtle. The wine retains the walnut plum of the red grape but, when held up to the light, you can see just a hint of russet.
The consistency is a little more viscous than the Pinot – which consumers may take a while to get used to — but it hangs nicely on the glass. The weight adds an air of decadence.
Kim Crawford Wines has timed the release for Easter. The production team is working on a limited edition, Easter-egg style foil wrapped packaging for the first 1000 bottles. The remainder will look much like the rest of Kim Crawford wines, except for the quirky new foil lid.
The Pinot Chocolate is the first in Kim Crawford Wine’s ‘Let’s Start Something’ initiative and there are plans to add to the Vino Chocolat range with seasonal flavours.
The Sauvignon Blanc Chocolat will be a treat on the ski slopes this July with its distinctive winter white colour. The Suisse Chardonnay will be a perfect accompaniment for springtime with its clever balance of sweet and buttery notes. Finally, the indulgent Merlot Lait chocolat will arrive just in time for the festive season.
Kim Crawford Wines is in discussion with all major supermarkets and wine stores to have the Vino Chocolat range placed in their own category. Look out for the new range, on the newly-titled Vino Chocolat shelves this Easter.
So there you have it. We shall have to find one of these little surprises for easter, to go with my usual 426 fererro rochers...
For a sneaky-peek at the new wine go to: www.kimcrawfordwines.co.nz/pinotchocolat
Penfolds Bubbly Plan
Sparkling wine? Fizz? Bubbly? Damn it, I want champagne!!!!! Well, Penfolds have a plan...
“People say you can’t use the word Champagne for sparkling wine any more. I say to them, ‘Yes you can if it is actually made in Champagne’,” Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago said in Australian magazine, BRW in early March.
And so, clearly, the solution is to make champagne in Champagne, as in the region, northern France!
The concept would either be conducted by Penfolds or through a joint venture in France, Gago said. Another idea was to make a sparkling wine in the region of England where the company’s founders, Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold and Mary Penfold, were from more than 165 years ago.
Bottle Shock Hits the Cinemas
Ever since Sideways had me laughing and crying and cringing and racing to the nearest Maccas to crack my long-saved bottle of 1990 Hill of Grace to down in a plastic transformers cup with a quarter pounder and fries, I've eagerly awaited the release of new wine films.
Today "Bottle Shock" hits cinemas, a film starring Bill Pullman (snore) and Alan Rickman (phew) that tells the story of events leading up to the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting wine competition, when the Californian plonk out-sniffed the french offerings, sending (agad! shock waves around the wine world. The event came to be known as the Judgement of Paris.
Reviews have been mixed, from "intoxicating" to "Sweet, frothy and laced with cheap sentiment, the film's palate is all over the place" (ah, yes, thetimeless appeal of a simile), but I've no doubt I will like it, if it doesn't get too George W. Bush on the ole US of A.
The big question is, did Alan Rickman get to sample any cracking wines during the shoot? "It was grape juice on the set," he reports.
Sure, Mr Rickman. Your professionalism remains intact. Come on, you can tell us the truth...
Wine Terrorists Strike Again
A more drastic response to combat cheap booze is, of course, straight out terrorism, and a shadowy group of wine militants from the southwest of France have decided that a bit of villainy is what's in store to dissuade merchants from selling cheap Italian and Spanish plonk.
French police are searching for members of the group which poured more than one million bottles worth of red, white and rosé down the drain in their third commando-style attack in three weeks.
In a predawn raid, the wine activists broke into the vignerons des Garrigues, a wine co-operative group in Nimes, pulled out the plugs from eight huge vats and emptied 11,000 hectolitres – the equivalent of 1.2 million bottles – of wine into the premises, from where it seeped out into an adjacent river.
While nobody will own up to being a CRAV member, it is not hard to find sympathisers. Gilbert Foucart, head of the Les Collines du Bourdic cellar in the Gard, said that he understood people were angry that merchants intended to drop prices. "They want to cut them by five euros per hectolitre. If you've got 80,000 hectolitres like me, you stand to lose 400,000 euros," he said.
Mr Foch said that he agreed that market prices were "catastrophically low. Wine growers cannot live given the current market prices. But the problem is I have to sell wine... I'm afraid things will get worse before they get better," he warned.
Hmm. And we thought they took their wine seriously in the Barossa...
The End of Cheap Wine?
Some very interesting news just in from Canberra that might just spell the end of cheap, cheap booze!
Rob Moodle, key gvt. adviser in KRudd's war against binge drinking, is examining setting a minimum floor price for alcohol to end the era of cheap booze, which, in Mr Moodle's findings, "contributed to a culture of excess in which intoxication was considered normal."
Erm, I blush a bit at that one. At least we encourage consumption of GOOD booze!!
So the policy would set a price per standard drink that retailers could not discount below, which you would think would be scaring the crap out of Dan's, but apparently that floor will be something like $2 a bottle.
So I think it's safe to say MOST of us will be unaffected.
Watch this space...
The legendary Sting (ah, yes, I am a die hard Police fan from WAAAY back), is to start selling wine!
In the interest of avoiding such low-brow puns as the obvious "Every Sip You Take" and "Merlot in a Bottle", we'll skip to the facts:
He's produced 30,000 bottles of sangiovese cabernet merlot from his Tuscan estate, Figline, embracing (naturally) organic, non-monocluture practices, so effectively, Sting has a wine garden and he's apparently made some good booze!
The wine should hit the US and UK stores in September, but we are going to make a concerted effort to score some allocation.
Watch this space, and you die hards out there, let us know if you DOO DOO DAH want a case!
A Tribute To A Barossa Founding Father
HT, considered a founding father of the Barossa, has died at the respectable age of 96, in Lyndoch. I confess I didn't know much about Mr Thumm, but a quick search revealed some interesting facts:
He escaped Stalinist Russia after WW2, immigrating to South Australia in 1946, and followed his father’s footsteps going into the wine business, building his "castle" Chateau Yaldara.
In 1999, he sold Chateau Yaldara and built a grand new winery called Chateau Barossa, just up the road, planting a rather large rose garden. The winery, like the region, is named after the La Barrosa region in Spain.
Thumm received an Australia Medal in 1980 for his innovative approach to winemaking, and leaves this world, by all accounts, a most respected man.
Cheers, Mr Thumm.
Enough with the Whinging Poms!
One more bloody complaint about Australian wines – I was reading YET ANOTHER article this morning, this time by “Award-winning British wine writer” Andrew Jefford.
In his esteemed wisdom, he says our wines are viewed as “something you cut your teeth on before you move onto something that’s more subtle and smooth and experienced.”
And in the next breath, he says we need to be more true to regionality, and that our diversity will take us to the next level.
Well, Mr Jefford, regionality involves staying true to the fruit that your region gives you, correct? Terroir, and all that? Well, trying to pump out a delicate shiraz from the Barossa, or a dainty little low-alcohol, low-carb, pale bloody pink Grenache from McLaren Vale, would most definitely NOT be expressing the regionality of those regions.
Perhaps we should, instead of putting pressure on our producers to pick early, don’t oak, we should be promoting those regions that DO produce a more subtle, elegant style of red, like the Grampians, or Frankland River, and so on, alongside our big ball-tearing regions.
Perhaps it’s precisely this kind of homogenised pressure that’s threatening centuries of fine winemaking in regions like Burgundy and Tuscany, bending to meet the tastes of American consumers and wine writers.
Now I suspect that Andrew was hinting along these lines also, so he’s not to be blamed, really, (sorry Mr Jefford, keep up the good work) - I jut got fired up at the opening lines of his article. But I’ve had my coffee, now, and I’m deep breathing.
Inhale, 2… 3… 4… exhale, 2… 3… 4…
Massive Bushfire Wine Raffle
It would be inadequate of us to try offer words to describe the fires that have ravaged Victoria - you all know what's gone on, it's devastating.
What we can do is promote this AWESOME fundraiser that the Australian Wine Trade has put together - there is over $50,000 worth of wine to be won, over 40 prizes, with a MASSIVE 1st prize of $25,000 worth of wine, donated from producers all over the country.
Tickets are $25, and proceeds go to the Australian Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal 2009, prizes drawn on Friday, March 13th, could be a very lucky day!
But really, who cares if you win the booze - it's a damn good cause, and we encourage everyone to go and buy some tickets:
Great job, Australian Wine Industry, and good luck, qwoffers!
Something exciting we've been working on is finally here - and it's Hot Off The Press!
Our new "feed" function keeps you up to date with what's happening on the qwoff site - who's doing what, what's being reviewed, all sorts of stuff.
You'll find "Hot Off The Press" on your home page for now, let us know what you think!!
Wine Judges Score Poorly
In a four year study just released this week of California State Fair Wine judging, some intriguing results emerged, that will be sure to fire up the wine judges of the world in defense of their palates.
In a large blind tasting, only 10% of wine judges were able to consistently give the same rating, or something close, to the same wine sampled multiple times.
Retired professor and small winery owner Robert Hodgson (maybe he got a bad score, but a four year study?) also found that another 10% of the judges were WAY out over multiple tastings, ranging from gold medal to no medal on the SAME WINE!!
He's pushing to lower the maximum number of wines tasted by judges in a day to 75, to reduce palate fatigue (not to mention straight out drunken-ness - spitting's not full-proof, at least not for me!).
"Consumers need to gain more self-confidence in their own opinions and tastes..." he goes on to say. We might award him an honorary qwoff membership!
Having said that, to all you "medal sceptics"- I must point out that although most wine judges are self-confessed alcoholics (isn't that right, Stocky?), they do taste wines in teams, which goes a fair way to minimising a left-of-field score, so don't go too hard on them!!
Wine Theft Mastermind Gets A Year In Jail
Now I know that the economic climate is tough, and wine sale have dropped, but this cheeky Napa local seemed to have found a solution - get a job at a winery and just nick the booze - $100K worth, in fact, and flog it off to online wine sellers!
Was going splendidly for a while there until, would you believe it, he and his merry band of Robin Hoods got nabbed.
Sentenced to a year in the slammer, but may be allowed to serve some of that in Home Detention - hope he saved some of the booze for himself!!
Cheeky bugger. Hang on - looks familiar...
2009... Bring it on!
Alas... how brief the holidays seem. Just a fond memory as I fire up the qwoff computers for another year. (sigh).
Okay, get over it - 2009 is going to be a mighty year! Tough times in the wine industry (and we send out a big well wish to everyone who works so hard to make us wine in this country and round the world, keep 'em coming!) means plenty of good wine out there, and plenty of bargains.
And to all our qwoffers, put it out there to the universe or whatever and may all good things come to those who believe.
See ya soon!
Merry Christmas, Qwoffers!
Well ho ho ho and a bottle of bubbly, it's Christmas at last, and on behalf of Eikmeister, JD, Yelly, Benno and Sharmo, we'd like to wish you all a very merry Xmas indeed, and may 2009 bring you everything you put out there to the big old universe.
Stay safe, eat and drink well, and cheers!
Hallelujah the forum is here!!
Well, qwoffers, we snuck it in just in time for Christmas! And on time, too - see, miracles do happen, it's the season.
You'll find all the threads from the Questions & Answers section of Qwoff 1.0, the new forum format is different, but the conversations still work.
So go forth, qwoffers, and purge yourselves, but remember to be nice to each other!
Wine Spectator Reveals World Top 100
Wine Spectator magazine has just released its Top 100 wines of the World for 2008. They base it on rating vs. price, basically, so though the #1 wine wasn't a 100 pointer, it was a lot cheaper than the #21 wine.
So what was #1? Casa Lapostolle Merlot Cab Sav blend from Chile!! Awesome.
And what about home grown winners? The mighty Mollydooker Carnival of Love McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007 at #9, Elderton Ode to Lorraine Barossa Shiraz 2005 at #16, and some high performing relative cheapies from Gemtree, Two Hands and Yalumba.
For more info, check this out
The Forum Cometh!
Hello patient forum contributors!
We're very pleased to announce that we're nearing completion of the brand new qwoff forum, which we'll be launching on Monday 22nd, so we'll be expecting some serious Christmas/Hanukka/New Years/Whatever-you-choose-to-celebrate-over-the-holidays discussions.
Bubbly, perhaps? The origins of wine and Father Christmas?
Thanks for your patience, and we look forward to some exciting debate!
Drink to Victory
Well qwoffers, with the holidays coming up, we're thinking bubbly, so I thought I'd share with you perhaps my favourite champagne story.
Just a few years ago, Christian Pol Roger, of the Pol Roger Champagne house, came to Australia for a famous Yalumba Museum Tasting. He brought with him six bottles of the 1914 vintage of their champagne.
He stood up to toast the wine, and he said something along the lines of:
“1914 was an interesting vintage. We had a lot of visitors to France in 1914, but they weren’t very friendly. All the men and horses were gone, off to war, so the women and children picked all the grapes, and they did it two weeks early because France was under attack. Many of them lost their lives. Everyone said the wine would be too acidic, but Maurice Pol Roger who was in charge at the time said that this would be the wine we drank with victory.”
That wine, that 1914, proved to be one of the best champagne vintages of the 20th century.
So whatever your victories may be, make sure you've got some fizz to celebrate. And try some sparkling red - it rocks with turkey!
Houghton Long Lunch in WA
If you're over in WA at the end of the month, there's an awesome wine event on in Swan Valley just out of Perth on Saturday 29th Nov - The inaugural Houghton Long Lunch.
It's just beautiful out there, and their winemakers Rob Bowen (hi Rob!) and Ross will be matching some speccy dishes with some cracking booze, not the least of which will include their Jack Mann Cabernet, which at over $100 a pop is quite a special wine I might tell you, and is sweeping all before it in the trophy stakes. (Come on Rob, how 'bout you send one over our way... hint, hint...).
They've got music, and food, and wine, and jacarandas. What more could one ask for, really?
You might want to cut and paste this one - for info and bookings go to http://www.houghton-wines.com.au/pages/news_events/calendar/houghton_long_lunch.jsp
TouchWine is back!!
If you're in Adelaide on Sunday, 9th Nov, (this weekend!) PLEASE come on down and say hello at Portavin Touchwine 08 in the South Parklands.
It's an awesome day of food, wine, fun and footy, and we as qwoff are a major sponsor, so BE THERE if you can! You'll find Justin and I at the scoreboard, no doubt lurking about causing trouble.
48 wineries are competing in the touch footy tournament, and let me tell you it's a heart attack waiting to happen! There's also a celebrity match, and a politicians vs. homeless grudge match, and last year we had a champion streaker during the grand final.
It's a worthy cause, raising money for Hutt Street Centre for homelessness, and we're really proud to be involved, hope you can come along and help make it a big day!
For more details, goto www.portavintouchwine.com.au
Invite your friends to join qwoff
We have successfully squashed the invite friends bug once and for all (famous last words?), and you can now set about inviting your friends to join qwoff! Hooray!
They'll be added as your winefriends automatically once they join, and vice versa, and you'll also earn yourself 30 qwoff points for each friend in the process.
So send out an invite to everyone you know, (you'll find links on your home page, profile page, friends page, and the my menu drop down up the top under "friends"), and let's all help the qwoff community to grow!
Qwoff 2.0 is here!!
Well, it's been 9 mths, 50,000+ of lines of code, and 463 awesome qwoffer ideas and suggestions... welcome to qwoff 2.0!!
I know things will look a bit scary at first, and there are still hundreds of little things we need to clean up (note the beta tag, and please be patient:), but we hope you'll love the new design and features, and lookout for new stuff every day. You might have noticed qwoff cellars, which we're most excited about, so check it out if you're after some good booze.
We'll leave you to explore, so from all of us here at Qwoff HQ, cheers, and thanks for being a part of something special.
Shiraz Month Winners
Mighty effort from a couple of qwoffers last month, one new member and one of our stalwarts. Hoorah to our May top qwoffer missbee of Unley, SA - the winner of our May Wine Prize, a case of DogRidge Shirtfront Shiraz 2006.
And being new to qwoff herself, missbee's win might be something of an inspiration to our newer members out there - join qwoff, write up a few wines, win a tasty dozen... nice.
But it's not just about Top Qwoffers. Our Best Shiraz Review, we're very proud to say, has gone to Blueagle of West End, QLD, for his glowing praise of the Pondalowie Shiraz 2005. If that doesn't get you wanting to try a wine, then nothing will! And Blueagle takes home a very special bottle of Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2004 for his eloquence.
So that's it, congratulations to our winners, cheers to all of you, and don't forget there's a Best of Sea & Vines Dozen up for grabs this month, so get out there, qwoffers, and review those wines, answer qwoffer questions and invite all your friends and you could find some of McLaren Vale's finest sitting on your doorstep!
Sea & Vines
Huge yearly wine, food & music festival Sea & Vines hits McLaren Vale this long weekend, with over 22 participating wineries.
It's on Sunday 8th and Monday 9th, and past experience tells us that the Sunday afternoon can get a bit rowdy - great if you're out to party, a bit hectic for families. So if you've got little munchkins, Sunday earlier or Monday would be our advice.
But it's an awesome event, so if you're anywhere within a plane flight of McLaren Vale, get on down there!
A little piece of Oz wine history...
Q. What are two of the most recognisable names in Oz wine?
A. Max Schubert & Grange
And one of our qwoffers is auctioning a 25th anniversary Grange poster on ebay signed by, you guessed it, Max Schubert himself!
If you are interested, check it out here
Peace, love and good booze.
The Shiraz Challenge Is On!!
Following the wild success of our Pinot Challenge last month (well, that might be slightly overstating it, but we had fun!), we've decided to run the Shiraz Challenge for the month of May.
Now you'd have to say that in Australia alone, the competition is fierce. Add the rest of the world - Northern Rhone, Napa, etc. - and you've got a battle of epic proportions!
So go forth, qwoffers, and immerse yourselves in this rich and powerful grape, and tell us - what are your favourites? Who produces the best Shiraz?
And in our usual benevolent way, we are giving a very special prize to the best Shiraz review for May. Our friends at Hardys have provided a bottle of their iconic Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2004 valued at around $100 and an absolute cracker!!
And this is on top of our regular Top Qwoffer prize, so if you want to win the booze for May, get out there and review those wines, answer qwoffer questions and invite all your friends, and you could find a shiraz surprise on your doorstep!
He went hard, reviewed some terrific wines, and though we do have slight concerns for his liver, cheers to a mighty effort! He also reached the esteemed ranking of qwoffmaster, which is just awesome.
Friendy, we love you, keep up the good work, and keep sharing those wine experiences.
World's most expensive wine?
Was just reading the other day that a WHOPPING US$500,000 was paid for 27 bottles of Romanee Conti, which is a Burgundy producer responsible for squeezing out arguable the world's best pinot - or certainly the dearest!
So by my humble calculations, that makes it around A$20,000 per bottle. That could make for one pretty special spag bol, eh?
You can check out the full story here.
In another close call...
Check out his reviews qwoffers, always a great read!!
In other exciting news and in light of this months Australia vs NZ Pinot Challenge, Oz producer, Cloudbreak Wines, have kindly provided April's Top Qwoffer Award, a 6 pack of their Cloudbreak Pinot Noir 2006.
Adding even further interest this month, we are awarding the author of our Favourite Pinot Review a bottle of single vineyard Mt Difficulty Long Gully Pinot Noir 2005 valued at over $100!
For the love of Pinot
As one of the many Pinophiles constantly looking for a great value drop, I thought it would be nice to focus on this frustrating but incredibly seductive variety in the month ahead.
As my fellow pinophiles will testify, it is a little tough to get a great value Pinot from its traditional home of Burgundy, so we thought we should look a little closer to home.
The Australia vs NZ Pinot Challenge is born. With NZ quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best producers outside of Burgundy of this noble variety, we thought it would be interesting to see what you qwoffers thought. What are your favourites and who produces the better Pinot?
And to make it a little more interesting we are giving a very special prize to the best Pinot Noir review for April. Our friends at Mt Difficulty have provided a bottle of there single vineyard Long Gully Pinot Noir 2005 valued at over $100 and rated by one of NZ's most repected wine writers, Bob Campbell MW, as the best Otago Pinot he has ever tasted!!
Cloudbreak Wines are a highly regarded boutique producer from the Adelaide Hills so I'm sure the lucky winner will no doubt be converted after sampling these delicious wines.
So if you want to win these fabulous wines in April then you know what to do... be the top qwoffer for April, by earning the most points.
Coming a close second last month...
Only 400 more qwoff points and power389 will become the third member to reach qwoffmaster status
The March WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for March, by earning the most points this month.
In a close call the winner is... Blueagle
We always look forward to reading your reviews blueagle, as no doubt, do all of the qwoffers out there. Also congratulations on becoming a qwoffmaster!!!
A Special mention must go to power389 - the runner up this month. Let's just say it was VERY close.
The February WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for February, by earning the most points this month.
The Qwoff Xmas Dozen goes to... Mia
These beautiful wines, valued at over $220, are available for a limited time for just $99 so please check them out here.
I'm sure you will have a great time drinking these ones Mia.
The January WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for January, by earning the most points this month.
Merry Xmas Qwoffers!
'Tis the season to be jolly, as they say, so cheers to all, stay safe, drink good booze, and may the new year bring you closer to your dreams, whatever they may be.
Merry Christmas from JD, yelly and eikmeister, and we'll see you all in 2008!!
The Hazyblur case goes to...
It is a cracking wine from the amazing producer Hazyblur Wines who put so much into the growing and sourcing of grapes and making of incredible wines. I look forward to reading your review nomiyasui.
We will be running a special Christmas Mixed Case WIN WINE competition this month so be the qwoffer who earns the most points in December and you will get your hands on these delicious wines.
Qwoff gets a nip 'n tuck!
Hi there qwoffers! Do you like my new look? Do you think it makes me look... younger, more distinguished, dare I say it... sexier?!
So many of you have been sending in suggestions on how we can improve the site, and I'm very excited to say that it's slowly beginning. We're going to be implementing some of your awesome and extremely expensive new functions, and fixing those annoying bits, so keep an eye out, and we'll keep you posted.
And the old qwoffster will be getting a bit of a face-lift, a gleam here, a polish there, so he's all shiny and sparky. And in the end we hope that the site will be completely pain-free to use and quite possibly even enjoyable.
So keep the ideas coming, and spread the word y'all - qwoff is bringing sexy back!
The lucky new owner of a dozen Mr Riggs "The Gaffer" Shiraz 2006 is... Winokat
This beautiful wine was generously donated by the extremely talented team at Mr Riggs in the charging McLaren Vale. We look forward to your review Winokat.
The November WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for November, by earning the most points this month.
The September top qwoffer is...
It's a beautiful wine, generously donated by our wonderful friends at Barwick Estates in the beautiful Margaret River. We look forward to reading the review nomiyasui!
The October WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for October, by earning the most points this month.
Qwoff into the Future
We've got some pretty exciting developments in the works at the moment in our strive towards making Qwoff the BEST DAMN WINE WEBSITE IN THE WORLD! Woo hoo!
One of those things planned is a qwoff application on the unstoppable facebook, where you'll be able to access your qwoff reviews and recommend wines and all sorts of things. We've started a little group of qwoff winelovers there too, so jump on and have a look.
We've had a few great suggestions from members already for cool new features and functions on qwoff, including inboxes, wineclubs, photos, videos... so we're working on things. But we want to know more! So now's the time for you to tell us what you want, and we'll see if we can give it to you.
So talk to us, friends, and help us move Qwoff into the future!
Drum Roll......Squashedgrape wins the August wine prize
This beautiful wine was generously donated again by our wonderful friends at Barwick Estates in the majestic Margaret River. We look forward to reading the review Squashedgrape.
The September WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for September, by earning the most points this month.
The Vale Cleans Up!
It seems the rest of Oz had best stay on their toes - McLaren Vale in SA is taking the wine world by storm!
You may have heard the recent announcement of the Jimmy Watson Trophy winner Scarpantoni for their 2006 The Brothers Block Cabernet Sauvignon, which is no mean feat given that McLaren Vale has built its reputation on Shiraz and Grenache, not Cabernets.
Who or what is Jimmy Watson, you may ask? Probably Australia's most prestigious and controversial award, it's awarded to the Best One Year Old Dry Red at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show each year, which means it's more than likely being tasted out of the barrel, before the wine's even bottled!
And our congrats go also to Gemtree, another boutique winery from the Vale, who were just awarded Wine of the Year at the 2007 Hyatt Advertiser SA Wine of the Year Awards on the weekend for their Gemtree Obsidian Shiraz 2004.
Now I'm lucky enough to know Mike Brown, the winemaker, and you couldn't give a nicer bloke the award.
So all you McVale fans out there, cheers, and to everyone else around the country - what do you think? What's your favourite region? Write in to us, tell us what you think!!.
Some bright spark (good one eikmeister) decided that we should go up into the hills in the middle of winter and chuck cheap wine at each other. And so we purchased about 25 litres of Golden Orb at about $5 for 4L (Bad enough it went in our eyes, god help you if you actually got some in your mouth!!)
It was a lot of fun, bloody cold, and big thanks to Nigel Parsons who took the photos. Great bloke, very funny.
Click here to see more photos
and the winner is...lifebytheglass
It's a beautiful wine, generously donated by our wonderful friends at Barwick Estates in the majestic Margaret River. Can't wait to read the review lifebythglass!
The August WIN WINE competition has already started, so if you want to win, be the top qwoffer for August, by earning the most points this month.
There's Something About Jane
The Great Signature and Octavius
A long lunch with Yalumba legend Jane Ferrari was the plan and that's what we did. Food was sensationally matched by Richard Keir (Yalumba) and Peter Cullen (The Bay Hotel)
Jane has been a great ambassador for aussie wine overseas and she has a great understanding of not only wine but the marketing behind it.
Favourites for the day were the 2005 FDW Chardonnay, the 2003 Signature, and the 2003 Octavius. (ok Sewelly it is great!!)
I think perhaps the Signature is probably the best value of the bunch - it really is a top class wine so do your tastebuds a favour and go and try some.
NB. No innocent brain cells were harmed during the creation of this blog.
It's the flagship Shiraz from our friends at Tapestry Wines in McLaren Vale who were kind enough to put up the prize, and it's a pretty special wine. We'll be expecting a review soon, lucky Steph!
We'll be running a WIN WINE competition every month, for the qwoffer who earns the most points for that month, not necessarily the Top Qwoffer in total points, so everyone has a chance.
We're Officially Launched Today!
We are very proud to say that today we are off beta, and officially launched!
I think that calls for a drink, don't you...?
Flu's Gone, Andrew Thomas is in town
Peter Cullens "Bay Hotel" @ Bonnells Bay was the venue and on arrival I met with Sewelly, Cullo and the man himself, Andrew Thomas.
For those of you who don't know Thommo, he is a McLaren Vale boy who is now one of the Hunters top winemakers. He is passionate about the style he makes and is very well respected by his peers.
For entree with some great Sydney Rock oysters we had the 2007 Thomas Braemore Semillion. Lots of citrus, lovely and delicate but crisp. The wine had just been bottled so I can't wait to see what it'll do over the next 5 years.
With a nice steak we then had a Cyril Henschke 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon and a Vasse Felix Heytesbury 1999.
Thanks Cullo for a great lunch and thanks Thommo for letting us try your great new whites. Cheers guys!!
Qwoff Goes Live!
Wow. Phew. Uh oh...
This is it folks, this is when it all starts to happen. We're putting qwoff.com.au up live today. We'll probably still find a couple of little things that will need fixing, but basically she's ready to sail!
We'd like to say a big thank you to Sean from Static Dream for all his hard work in getting the site this far - he's cool and he has the passion. Secretly I don't think he even likes wine particularly, but we'll get him there!!
And thank you to everyone that has come on board so far - you are the founding qwoffers, and shall always be remembered.
Now go on and drink with passion and tell us all about it!!
qwoff is free!!
Free from my head, free from the limits of my imagination, free from the jumbled, excited and sometimes drunken scribbles of the drawing board and into design!!!
It?s a very exciting time. This is something I?ve been developing for a long time now. I believe that ideas have their time, and this is the time for this one.
Today I begin work on the design. God help me!! I have bundles of scrap paper, some of it splotched with remnants my 1 yr old son?s breakfast or lunch or spew or what have you, I have emails and post-it notes and ideas written on my hand that has not been washed for 3 months. Okay, I made that bit up.
I am passionate about wine. I love the wine industry. I make movies and websites for the wine industry, and now I want to make a wine website for me and for you.
The greatest wine website in the world.