Monday, November 12, 2012

Unbroken Bonds. Dominique Portet Wines.

The wines that we drink invariably have a great story behind them. Where the vines came from, winemaker adversities, generational tradition, the love between two people or between heart and land. There are thousands of stories. Hundreds of thousands. I like hearing the stories of wines and the diverse nature of "how things came to be". Let me share with you a great story about a winery logo, from the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Australia.
image from Portet Wines
Julia Portet, wife of winemaker Dominique, tells the story to those who happen to drop by the cellar door when she is there. Julia met the famous Greek jeweller, Ilias Lalaounis and his family when she was a student. A long term friendship flourished and Julia is the extremely proud owner of a pair of earrings created in the form of what is now the logo on her husband's wines. This intricate and unique logo takes the appearance of an arabesque, a sinuous unbroken line that is characteristic of Moorish decoration. The design represents the links and close bonds between generations, families and continents. The emblem style first crafted by Ilias Lalaounis, is as unique and as beautiful as the Portet wines. The jeweller has very generously given his permission for the form to be reproduced on the Dominique Portet label.
images from Portet Wines
As the ninth generation winemaker in his family, there are many, many stories that could be told when you pour a glass of Dominique Portet wine. I, for one, enjoy retelling the story of the logo. A shape which the Portet family will tell you suggests grace, strength, purity of line and unbroken bonds. Qualities the winemaker encapsulates with his beautiful wines.
blogger's own images- a favourite brunch!
  • Visit Julia, Dominique and the team at 870 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria, Australia, 3770
  • Visit the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum at Kallisperi 12 & Karyatidon Str., Acropolis 11742, Athens, Greece
  • Visit my Facebook page to keep up to date with my New World adventures ~

Monday, October 22, 2012

Be-bop-a-lula! It is a PINOT PALOOZA!

Robert Louis Stevenson once said: "Wine is bottled poetry." With this being the case, I dare to say that the fickle, rascally, Pinot Noir grape is then made into "The Bottled Noble Prize in Literature". Of all single varietal wines, Pinot Noir has the biggest 'cult' following. Pinot lovers often call themselves Pinotphiles. On Sunday, I attended PINOT PALOOZA, an event to celebrate the love for this regal, yet rather temperamental grape- and those who covet thy drop.
Pinot Noir fan wearing a Pinotphile t-shirt, bottom right
It is handy to note (for the uninitiated), my accepted definition of Palooza; an all out, crazy party, extravagant event, with a plethora of people and the considered thought that there may just be no tomorrow. Well, Pinot Palooza certainly fit the bill.
all out, crazy party props

Crazy ~ Dan and Ben from The Wine Guide who created and organised the palooza
Extravagant ~ held at the commanding and iconic Ormond Hall, Melbourne
Plethora~ 70 producers brought 130+ wines to TWO sessions of a packed house
Considered Thought~ "try ALL the wines!"

I went along to the Pinot Palooza to try new Pinots, meet the winemakers and see what treasures I could add to the Christmas wine lists of my clients. Success! In  a little under three hours I managed to try twenty-eight wines from seven wine regions across two countries. I met winemakers, vineyard owners and grape growers.
De Bortoli Wines 'Riorret' from their Emu Vineyard
Delightfully surprising, enormously enjoyable.
The passion in the room from both the 'artists' and the attendees was palpable. Pinotphiles and Pinotnoobs were enjoying themselves equally. I have a 'stocking filler' list the length of my forearm and a great time was had by all. Future posts will share more about the people I met and the stunning array of Pinots being produced in the Southern Hemisphere. Until then, feel free to share your Pinot Noir stories and favourites with me here, or via email

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Recline, Wine & Dine

Just about as soon as I became of legal drinking age I discovered the delight of Hotel Lobby Bars. My gal pal and I decided that we'd like to frock up and head out to drink pretty cocktails in elegant surrounds. We lived on the Gold Coast, certainly weren't staying in any fine hotel, and chose the Surfers Paradise Marriott (Lobby Lounge Bar) as our first grown-up drinks venue.

This was to be the beginning of a life long hobby. Hotel lobby bars are usually grand, exaggerated, architectural masterpieces. Luxuriously fitted out, with a fine attention to detail by way of accessories, flowers and cocktail lists. The clientele is always greatly varied, with an ambiance of confident, worldly, happy people.

Recently, I discovered The Travellers Bar in the lobby of the Rendezvous Grand Hotel (previously Duxton Hotel) at 328 Flinders Street, Melbourne. They have an impressive cocktail list plus a wine list covering local and international wines.
The bar snacks are tasty, on-trend and tapas-style so that you can mix and match flavours as you wish. I have visited on Friday evenings where the vibe is 'Playful Elegance' and mid-afternoon on a weekday seems to be more 'Recline and Wine'.
As you'd expect with a hotel that was built in 1912, the décor is simply beautiful, complete with stained glass windows partially muting the busy Flinders Street view. The ornate ceiling trims perfectly offset the fresh, modern lounge furnishings and the staff look dapper in waistcoats and ties.
The Travellers Bar perfectly fits the bill for relaxation, rest and the opportunity to Recline, Wine & Dine. It is a venue that I will have on high rotation over the Spring months and I look forward to trying most of the wine list. For a Lady that likes to stop mid-dailygrind at any time of the day, Hotel Lobby bars are the bomb. Email me via to share your favourite Recline, Wine & Dine venues.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sparkling, Happy & Thoughtful

I remember the first French Champagne I ever purchased. It was a bottle of Veuve Clicquot NV. I selected it because it was made by a woman. A woman who appeared to have become a phenomenally successful wine producer despite the horrendous odds of her time. I was about nineteen years old and fiercely pro girl-power. It was the most delicious beverage I had ever drunk.

Over the years I have discovered Champagnes that are cheaper, nicer, prettier and better produced. However I will always be a raving fan of the yellow labelled, Veuve Clicquot. It was my first. It was there for new jobs, new homes, life's wins and life's loves. It was there on the morning of my birthday and all manner of special and fun occasions. It was there as a motivating reward for goals set and it was there as a well-known constant. It has never let me down.

To me, Veuve Clicquot is Sparkling, Happy & Thoughtful.
When you are faced with the often daunting task of buying wine as a gift, think of the recipient first. Ask yourself, what do they like? Recall the wines poured during some of your fondest memories together. It may not be the best or the most expensive wine, but it may be the wine that makes them happiest.

Or, think of what the wine represents. Perhaps choose from a local region or a lusted-after wine maker. Possibly a wine that has a story which resonates with the drinker. Maybe the vintage was a significant year for the two of you. If starting a new relationship, try a wine that is new to both of you.

Wine can create memories. You may not yet know what those memories will be when buying your wine gift, but you will be forever thankful that you took the time to put a little effort into your purchase.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Grenache Pash

Pink wine is a tricky thing to buy. Blush, Rosata, Rosado, Rosé. It can be made like a white wine, but from a red grape or it can be a blend of red and white wine. What is termed pink, or rosé wine, can also be orange, copper, crimson or even purple in colour. Once upon a time, rosé wine was usually pretty sweet. Syrupy sweet. Nowadays, dry rosés are wildly popular. Fruity, fresh and light, a good 'pink' wine goes well with a variety of Spring & Summer dishes, or savoured slowly on a sunny balcony.
named after the vineyard Cat. Wirra Wirra wines.
I must confess, on this #GrenacheDay that Grenache grapes made into a dry rosé wine is pretty much my favourite pink drink. The McLaren Vale appellation in South Australia is a region particularly good at producing this yummy kind of wine.
Stunningly crimson. Geoff Merril Wines.
Rhone, in France, offers more Grenache-blend, than 100% Grenache, but as the Grand Daddy of producing regions, you can't leave it out.
50% Grenache blend. Vins Guigal.
And my good friends in Oregon, USA, have caught the dry-style bug and you can sometimes find a lip-smacking rosé when the vintage is good.
Burnt orange tones. Del Rio Estate.
So now you see that I have a passion for pink wine, and if i could only choose one grape in my pink drink it would be Grenache. I like to drink pink with pork, salmon or berry treats. Or just in a comfy chair on a sunny day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Befriend a Sommelier

Almost a decade ago, I moved from Brunswick to Southbank and all the culinary delights that came with the location. One evening I strolled into Number 8 Restaurant and Wine Bar and took a riverside seat. It was early in the week, early in the evening and I was very fortunate to meet David Nichols, head Sommelier. I then confessed that I did not know how to order French or European wines.

David's answer?
  • ALWAYS consult the Sommelier staff
  • READ the on-menu recommendations
Some of my beloved would probably say that I have taken that advice a fraction to far- however I have come to enjoy wines with food so much more that it has been totally worth it. During Mr Nichols tenure I would have visited Number 8 somewhere between fifty and one hundred times. (You'll have to ask Visa for the exact number).

Christmas with my brother, Liam
I have visited for after work drinks, boozy and non-boozy lunches, birthdays, first dates, last dates, career celebrations and even many Christmas day meals. I have sent clients there, taken friends there and told complete strangers to visit. Walking in to Number 8 is exactly like slipping in to your favourite comfy jeans.

In all that time, I have rarely had the same wine twice. I engage the services of the Sommelier staff on hand, I express mood, occasion and food preferences. Sometimes I have not met the staff member before but I know that to enhance my dining experience I need to be open and honest with them so that they may do the job the are trained to do. The job that they are passionate about. The task they absolutely delight in- if you let them.

This year, Tim Stow, previously of PM24 has taken the helm as Head Sommelier at Number 8. I haven't met Tim yet, but I certainly plan to. Every restaurant I visit now, I seek the advice of the Wine Stewards or Sommeliers. No matter how many times you visit, they will know the food and wine intimately. They will know about seasonal variances and Vintage conditions. Tap into that knowledge and have the best possible dining experience that is on offer.

Riverside at Crown, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank.
For Bookings phone: 03)9292 7899

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pinot Noir from Ballarat makes me want to buy wine

People often ask me how I got into the business of wine. This is what I tell them:

I once went along to a Ballarat Wine Show, where several wine master classes were feature events. Ian Pym from Mt Coghill winery spoke for an hour about the history of wine in Australia and Appellation Ballarat. Winemaker John Harris and Craig Mitchell from Mitchell Harris Wines & Mount Avoca ran a packed out session entitled Winemaking 101. At 1pm there was a Pinot Noir Master Class and I was the sole attendee in the 40-seat classroom.

Via the curriculum, I learnt
  • approx 10% of Ballarat Pinot Noir grapes go into making Yellowglen bubbly
  • there are two main soil types in Ballarat, Quartz Clay & Volcanic Ash
  • the widest planted Piniot Noir grapes come from the NV6 clone
  • the majority of current vines were planted in the 1980's & 1990's
  • Ballarat is considered a Cool Climate wine growing region

I was treated to tastings of
  • Wightwick 2005 Pinot Noir, planted 1996 in Quartz, very light wine, fruit not foremost, brick/garnet
  • Nintingool 2008 Pinot Noir, planted 1998 in Quartz, grippy tannins, spicy, purple
  • Sinclairs of Scotsman 2007 Pinot Noir, planted 1997 in Volcanic, quite young, simple, plumless
  • Myola 2007 Pinot Noir, planted 1994 in Volcanic, fruit driven, no oak taste, plummy, medium grip
  • Mt Coghill 2008 Pinot Noir, planted 1995, less than 1 tonne per acre, weighty, rich flavours
  • Cavalier 2001 Pinot Noir, planted 1977, 100% new Hungarian oak, well decanted, herbs, prunes, raisins

I was invited to taste any of the Ballarat wines that had been submitted for judging. White, Red, Pink, Bubbly, Fortified, Experimental.. all adorned with the scores they had been given the night before. The Mount Avoca Frizzante (Sauvignon Blanc) was fun, playful and very refreshing. I tried as many Pinots as I could find amongst the two, heavily-laden trestle tables.

I met a (kinda shy) long time, seasoned wine maker who told me about the devastating effects of the recent glut of good fruit. Several years of perfect weather conditions had led to an abundance in supply. The usual marketing message were not reaching the desired audiences. Sales reps were doing the same old job they had always done and bottles of Pinot Noir were still sitting on shelves.

The cost of shipping to wine liquidators was prohibitive to the prices the wine would sell for. The costs of emptying and re-using the glass bottles was more trouble than worth. Storage facilities were either too costly or unavailable. So pallets of bottled Pinot were BULLDOZED. As a wine lover, a patriotic Australian and a marketer- this news was INSANE to me. "All part of farming", I heard.

Yes, Ballarat Pinot Noir does not get discussed in a #PinotSmackDown debate. No, it is not a similar wine to Central Otago, Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, Sonoma or Burgundy made wines with the same grape. Is Ballarat Pinot tasty? Yes. Does Ballarat Pinot offer value? Yes. Should it be pulped because not enough consumers know about it? No.

Now I seek out to learn and discover about ALL wines made around the world. I believe there is a time for EVERY wine. I don't expect others to be as adventuresome as me, but I do encourage every wine drinker I meet to try new things, drink what they love and sometimes, at least, step away from the grocery store and buy something other than supermarket wine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bob Curtis, Cabernet King

In honour of #CabernetDay 2012, I thought it only fitting to introduce you to a local Cabernet hero, Bob Curtis of Victoria's Yarra Valley wine region.

~ Bob with his wife Diane, image courtesy of Leader newspapers

Bob Curtis is a vineyard owner who a recent media campaign refers to Bob as ‘the Cabernet King’, such is his pride, passion and level of involvement at Yileena Park winery, located at the foot of the Christmas Hills in Yarra Glen. The 40-acre property features the obligatory rows of vines, a handful of sheep guarded closely by a stern alpaca, a dozen head of cattle and at dusk on any given day, a troop of kangaroos hopping down the hill to graze amongst the vines.

Behind the bar is where you will find Bob, or indeed his wife Dianne, pouring their range of wines that span a delightfully refreshing Pinot Grigio right through to a deeply seductive Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bob is a born story teller. Once he picks up a bottle of his beloved wine and starts to pour he simultaneously opens his heart. You will be captivated by his wine, his knowledge and his enthusiasm. Bob’s story telling repertoire includes history of the local area, wine making fads, food and wine pairings, and of course, all that is grand about Yileena Park.

In my many shopping sojourns to the Yarra Valley I found Yileena Park to have the oldest barrel and bottle aged Cabernet in the region. Bob is well aware of consumer’s buying habits (the majority of Australians purchase their wines merely hours before drinking) and as such he likes to keep his wines from release until they are showing beautifully. The reds are kept under cork and Bob allows release only with his personal tasting approval.

If cellar door experience is Bob’s way of differentiating his wines from the hundreds of others in the Yarra Valley then I shall mark Yileena Park 11 out of 10. A quick-stop to pick up your favourites is nigh on impossible if Bob Curtis has his way. You will likely suddenly find yourself with a glass in one hand; cheese in the other and on the receiving end of one of Bob’s amazing stories of winemakers old and new.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Melbourne Food and Wine Blogging Event : @ProBlogger

So what does a Wine Valet blog about?

As you can see from my recent posts (i.e. none) I have had 'bloggers block' for quite some time now. (& you all thought that I was just too busy boozin'). So last night I attended the Melbourne Food and Wine Blogging Event presented by ProBlogger to see if I could find some divine-wine inspiration. Held at Maha Restaurant Melbourne, I didn't really need any more reasons to attend but the lure of Wine Talk Guru: Dan Sims plus real life The Age Epicure contributor, Hilary McNevin had me RSVP- cork, line & sinker.

I met some very awesome ladies and a few top gents over an amazing array of flavours cooked up by Shane Delia and the Maha team. Best of all, I decided that this blog should be about my job as a wine valet, my life in the wine world and the random ramblings that my friends and colleagues know and love me for. (Ramblings are generally romantic and wistful in nature, based on my inner conflicts of an inclination toward practising great etiquette of times gone by and the modern realities of behaviour and place.)

I shall consider this day one of my blogging life, so expect an evolution and a journey. I do not promise to be perfect, however I will endeavour to always improve. I plan to continue studying as a blogger and a writer, as well as an oenophile, just as I plan to always keep at least one foot on the ground as Pretentious is an awfully dirty word to me.

Welcome to my blog. Feel free to share your own thoughts with abandon. Drink Champagne as often as you can and always remember that the best wine is the wine you like.
Catherine A
with Leanne DeBortoli, photo courtesy of the extremely lovely @GastronoMel, cheers Melissa!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Prestige Cuvee Champagne

A 'Prestige Cuvée' is a champagne at the very top of a producer's range. It is the highest quality, the most refined - and the most expensive - champagne that the house offers. What makes these champagnes so special? Since there are no official guidelines for designating a Prestige Cuvée as there are for other categories of French champagne, this question can only be answered by understanding a champagne house's wine making philosophy and tasting the end result of the wine maker's best effort.

Which are your favourite decadent drops?