Desert Island Wines

by Martin Field

Len Evans is reported to have once said that he’d hate to be marooned on a desert island with nothing but goats’ cheese to eat and sauvignon blanc to drink. With that in mind I conducted a straw poll of Australian wine writers (and one cheesemaker), based on the premise used by the BBC’s Radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs. That’s the long-running program where celebrities are invited to choose music to take with them in the event that they are about to be marooned on a desert island.

The hypothetical situation set for the writers was that they were about to be stranded on a desert island and they could only take with them two currently available Australian wines, a dozen of any one red and a dozen of one white (including bubbly).

Here’s what they said.

Huon Hooke. ‘I’ll ignore the obvious problem that being on a desert island usually involves shipwreck or similar, and therefore not a lot of time to shop for a couple of cases of vino, but I’ll assume I can be as picky as I like. I like wines with some age on them, and this is a problem, especially when selecting currently available Australian red. In order to avoid the six to ten per cent cork taint or random oxidation which would spoil one or two bottles in each case, screwcaps are a must.

‘So, for the white, I’ll take a case of Pewsey Vale, The Contours Riesling 2000, just because it’s their current release, and it’s delicious, and starting to build some aged complexity. Desert islands are usually hot and dry and riesling is the best thirst quencher. No fridge but I’d put it in the sea for a while to cool down.

‘Again because of the likely climate, and the fact that we have to choose current release red, I’d go for pinot noir, because it tastes great young and doesn’t need cellar time to soften. So pinot it is, and it would be hard to go past Wellington The Hoodster’s Blend 2002. This is a great pinot, it has a screwcap, it’s released with some age on it, and I wouldn’t get bored drinking bottle after bottle of it.’

Jeremy Oliver. ‘Orlando Steingarten Riesling 2003. Best ever from this label, incredibly intense, complex, mineral, sculpted and racy. As good as the species can get. Briny enough for the oysters I’d be pulling off the rocks, but still able to last on the island (given a deep enough hole in the ground as a cellar) for as long as I could.

Mount Mary Quintet 2003. Brilliant wine. Smooth enough to quaff all day, yet packs everything it would need to handle a barbecued cut of rare gibbon. Another terrific cellaring wine, although I reckon a dozen would last a week at most.’

Andrew Caillard. ‘The 1999 Penfolds Grange – because it’s a wine that will evolve with great interest and would be able to last the distance in such a robust environment – presuming that one could dig a deep hole in the sand. After opening each bottle there is the added benefit of it lasting for a few days more than some p[i]ss weak Victorian Pinot Noir. Obviously I would take magnums.

2005 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling – because of longevity and it’s chameleon like quality. I could also make fish hooks out of the metal Stelvin caps and use the bottles for bludgeoning passing fowl.’

Jeni Port. ‘Tahbilk 2005 Marsanne (around $15). I drink marsanne all year round but it’s particularly good in summer and since my desert island is going to be in a warm tropical part of the world (it had better be) this is the white wine to have. It’s fresh and clean with high acidity and gentle honeysuckle flavours. I hope there is some way to chill the wine on the island, but if not marsanne is still pretty good and refreshing as is.

Clonakilla 2004 Shiraz/Viognier (around $60 I think). A gorgeous wine that isn’t too heavy or too alcoholic which is probably an important consideration for a desert island wine. The wine has the most beautiful aroma and would be great comfort during my stay. It is a wine I never get tired of.’

Paddy Kendler. ‘My selections are guided by the likelihood of a warm to hot climate on the island and a limited if exotic range of food available. Re the latter, I’d want something to go with bananas, periwinkles, wild pig, crocodile and coconuts. I would opt for Southern Victorian shiraz or shiraz viognier and cool climate chardonnay. A crucial consideration would be that they are sealed with a screwcap for ease of opening in case there is no corkscrew available and to avoid the usual percentage of corked bottles.’

Ben Canaider. ‘The only trouble is I would not take two dozen of anything. In a desert island situation I would need more than that. Which is why I would take a wine store. Randall’s would do, or Armadale Cellars, or East End cellars in Adelaide. I’m sorry, but the thought of life having to be eked out on only a few bottles of this or that is too depressing. Two dozen bottles would be lucky to last me a working week; besides, raw fish and coconut really gives you a thirst.’

Chris Shanahan. ‘First let me name my desert island. As I dislike sand and heat, I choose Deception Island, Antarctica. It goes without saying that’s it cold. Very cold. Permanent glaciers etc. It’s also an active volcano. So the stay could be entertaining, if short. I love fireworks. Deception Island also has several penguin colonies. But they’re so isolated, they wouldn’t know a wine label if they were printed on it. So there’ll be no competition for my meagre stash.

‘Acclimatisation could be challenging. Immediately upon arrival, therefore, I’ll chug a nip or two of my chosen white, Morris Old Premium Liqueur Tokay. Ahhhh! Warm to the toes. Perfect combination of age and freshness. And just think: parts of this luscious liqueur probably predate the 1914 Amundsen or Scott Polar visits.

‘Now warmed, I’ll toast all those bold Polar explorers – from Amundsen, Scott and Mawson, through to John Rymill, son-in-law of Coonawarra pioneer, John Riddoch. And I’ll read the old bloke’s name on the Wynns [John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon] 2003 label. And I’ll toast Sue Hodder and gang for putting the elegance back into Coonawarra. And I’ll savour every bloody drop.’

Peter Forrestal. ‘I hope you have good refrigeration on the island as I’ll need to chill down the 2005 Grosset Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. I love the fresh fruitiness, hint of minerality and zingy acidity of the Grosset. If you only have one white you need one that you can come back to a dozen times, so that influences choice.

‘I was tempted to go for the 2002 or 2003 Leeuwin Chardonnay – but didn’t want to appear too parochial – see below. I can drink serious amounts of this as I prove – once a year – on the Leeuwin Concert evening. And if we were venturing overseas, I’d love the 2002 Te Koko from Cloudy Bay or a fresh vermentino from Italy.

2004 Cullen ‘Mangan’ Malbec Petit Verdot. A lush, deeply flavoured red that is wonderfully approachable and I can come back to time and time again. I would be tempted by the 2002 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Grenache if it were available still or the 2004 Torbreck ‘Juveniles’ which is far too drinkable.’

Max Lake. ‘Unfortunately both my choices are in short supply, and at my age I reserve the right to be the selfish b[a]stard kept long hidden. Previous experience has shown any wine I dote on soon becomes unobtainable. Tell you what though, when the result comes out, I’ll try and add a broad hint, if any needed. I’m currently enjoying Les Malconsorts and Chambolle Amoureuses, which may give a pointer.’

But I persisted, ‘Hi Max – Do keep your top choices safe but just for the readers how about your third and fourth choices?

Max replied, ‘Cullen Cabernet Merlot [ed.: 2003?] and McWilliams Lovedale Semillon [ed.: 2000?].’

I asked cheesemaker Richard Thomas to select not only wines for his sojourn on an island but also for two favourite cheeses to accompany the wines. For the white he chose Brown Brothers Noble Riesling 2002. ‘The first great Australian cheese wine that I ever encountered. I’d serve it with the Cloth-bound Kenilworth Cheddar, a cheese with an irresistible appeal to a primitive part of your senses. Kind of like the love-hate thing that people have with durian.’

Richard’s second choice was the St Hallet Old Block Shiraz 2002. ‘This epitomises the classic Australian shiraz style I love: soft and rich with lots of fruit. With it I’d serve the King Island Black Label Brie, a cheese that approaches in quality Brie de Meaux, the yardstick for the style. The King Island Brie has assertivity, great complexity, layers of flavour and enormous length.’

Martin Field, your thirsty editor, would take a case of Pikes Clare Valley Riesling 2004 for its lemon lime intensity, steely palate and tangy finish. Then there’d be a case of Morris Durif 2002. Ripe, warm, and chewy, and to paraphrase a well-known saying: like a three course dinner in a bottle, including a glass of port afterwards

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