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.