Category Archives: Wine – General articles about wine.

BYO Wedding Wine?

Wine Etiquette.

Frangi from Melbourne writes, “My circle of friends are of an age where we are often asked to attend weddings and engagements. We don’t expect these functions to provide top class restaurant food and wine but the wine we’re served is usually awful. We call it “reception wine” and it is often of a quality that would strip the enamel off a hippo’s tusks. As a result, a friend has taken to sneaking in his own wine and surreptitiously drinks it instead of the provided stuff. Do you think this is proper behaviour for invited guests?”

Hi Frangi, yes of course! I know that weddings etc. are not fine wine tasting events but the food and wine should be of a certain standard whatever the budget. And as the Bible tells us, did not Jesus, in his first miracle as a guest at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, turn the contents of six pots, each holding two or three firkins of water, into wine?

In my younger days the wines were also dodgy and the food was probably worse. Believe it or not, for years (still?) there was a hideous convention where men were served beef and the women fish or chicken – while the bridal party sneered from a dais helping themselves to top shelf tucker and booze.

Your friend has the right idea, though he might draw the line at taking a picnic hamper to some of the more infamous reception houses. And I can recommend a hip flask of Cognac and an emergency stash of Tabasco when you are entering unknown territory (including some restaurants, which shall remain nameless). It has worked for me.

I have only one thing to say to wedding planners: even if the bride has to wear a second-hand frock and the groom a pair of old Levis, make sure you look after the guests.

Top shelf drinking

Champagne Duperrey Brut Rosé NV – up to $45 – 89/100. Pinkish onion skin hues and fine bubbles in the glass. Berries and yeasty baked bread aromas are evident in the bouquet. The palate exhibits hints of strawberries and stone fruits and is unexpectedly off-dry. Though not a sweet style, this will appeal to those who dislike bone dry bubbly.

Knappstein Clare Valley Hand Picked Riesling 2012 – $20 – 92/100. A nose of citrus blossoms and lime zest. Light and elegant in the mouth, well structured with citrus fruitiness which at first seems sweet but then progresses into a lingering dry finish.

Forester Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $25 – 89/100. Margaret River, Western Australia. Ripe kiwi fruit scented nose with subtle notes of barrel fermentation. A fuller flavoured style of SB with underlying oak toastiness and good length. Would go well as an entrée wine.

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2008 – $33 – 95/100. Perfumey nose reminiscent of cumquat marmalade. The palate expands with essence of nobly rotted semillon and if this were a dessert you would have to liken it to a superior lemon meringue pie. A superb after dinner drink. Continue reading

Review – Bold Palates

Bold Palates – Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage

By Barbara Santich. Illustrated hardback. Wakefield Press 2012. $50.

This excellent book traces the post European settlement history of Australian food and cuisine. Bush tucker, pumpkin scones, picnic races, the Aussie BBQ, mutton chops, pies ‘n’sauce – it’s all there, and more. The test is peppered with excerpts from old books and newspapers and larded with photographs and retro illustrations.

Most fascinating to me is the chapter on our national cuisine. Way back then and to this day it seems no-one can agree on whether we have one or not. Judging by local Queensland menus “Modern Australian” is a cross between Surf ‘n’Turf or possibly Mooloolaba prawns followed by slow-cooked pork belly.

If you’re looking for a gift for a foodie you can’t go past this. In fact it is just the book that I would unwrap with delight.

No more Australian cheap wine?

Cask wine drinkers be afraid – it seems that the era of cheap wine could be at an end in Australia. Ongoing media reports suggest that the federal government remains under pressure from lobbyists to raise taxes on wine. If this happens it could mean that a four-litre cask (bag in a box) of wine that currently costs around $14 could cost over $50, and the cheapest bottle of wine, $8 to $10.

There seem to be two main arguments for the rise in taxes. The first assumes that cheap wine is the main cause of alcohol abuse and that a price increase would reduce this. The second is that wine is taxed at a lower rate than beer and spirits and that for reasons of uniformity it should be taxed at the same rate as other beverages.

Politicians, who probably never drink cask or cheap wine, will be attracted by both arguments, especially the financial one. As cask wine accounts for some 50 percent of wine sold in Australia, a new wine tax could raise over a billion dollars in extra revenue. Continue reading

Cosmic Green Wine

Noosa attracts more than its fair share of visiting winemakers and most recently Margaret River winemaker, Vanya Cullen presented her wines to the locals. The occasion was a degustation dinner at Sails Restaurant, where I was able to chat to Vanya before guests arrived.

Vanya Cullen in Noosa

Cullen Wines not only has a reputation for superb, long-lived wines but also for its “green” credentials. Since its establishment over 40 years ago the company’s winery and vineyards have achieved certification as being organic, biodynamic and carbon neutral. A trifecta perhaps unique in Australian winemaking. Continue reading

A hazy geography of blended vs single-varietal wine terroir

The great wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Loire, Northern Rhone, Barolo, Mosel, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia use only one grape variety, while those of Bordeaux, Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Portugal are blended from many grape varieties. One can easily draw a line separating the blenders from the purists… but the line is not straight: neither geographic latitude nor Winkler index (GDD) correlate to this distinction. What if it all came down to how hazy the sky is?

blend or single varietal wine areas

Looking at a map of the great European wine areas – those with a not too recent history of superb winemaking – one could easily draw a curved line separating the generally more northern areas, emphasizing the purity and completeness of single varietal wines, from the southern areas, whose wines achieve comparable complexity by blending several grape varieties. The line is curved, because climate is influenced not only by latitude but also by winds, seas, microclimates, etc.. This paper results from a speculative but reasoned inquiry to see if I could identify a climate parameter that correlated well with the distinction between blending areas and single varietal areas.

Continue reading

Christmas Indulgence

Recently I bought a delightful little book by Oscar Wilde’s son, Vyvyan HollandDrink And Be Merry is the title and Holland was vice president of the Circle of Wine Writers at the time. Accordingly, his book is a very readable guide to wines of the world, peppered with anecdotes and other useful and entertaining wine lore.

Very Merry

What caught my eye was his suggestion for wines to be used at Christmas. For a Christmas dinner for eight people he suggests:

  • 2 bottles of champagne
  • 1 bottle of Fino sherry
  • 1 bottle of Sercial Madeira
  • 3 bottles of claret
  • 2 bottles of port
  • 1 bottle of brandy, which will be needed anyway, for the mince pies, the plum pudding and the brandy butter

This equates to one and a quarter bottles of beverage for each guest, noting that five of the bottles are table wine, four are fortified and one a spirit.

If we assume that the guests also enjoy a glass or two at other times of the day and that all or most of the dinner list is consumed, we can imagine they would sleep very soundly and need a drop of the hair of the dog on Boxing Day.

Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd. London, 1967.



First wine column – 1978

In 1978 I thought I’d write a wine column. So I rang the editor of a Melbourne weekly paper and to my surprise he went for it.

Recently I found a yellowing clipping of that column – here it is – from the The Melbourne Times of 19 July 1978

Local red gets Double Gold

At the ninth International Wine and Spirit Competition held this year, the Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon of 1972 won the Double Gold award as the best Cabernet exhibited. There were only thirteen Double Golds awarded in a competition comprising 428 entries from 19 countries.

Old news, views

The award will be presented to Wynn Winegrowers at the opening ceremony of the World Wine Fair in Bristol U.K. this month, and will make Wynns the recipients of the highest prize granted to an Australian wine in recent years, if not this century.

I tasted this wine soon after it was released and vaguely remembered it as being a pleasant but unremarkable Coonawarra of a great year.

Acknowledging however that wines of this particular region — Redmans especially — can develop tremendously with a few years bottle age, 1 felt that in light of this accolade another tasting was in order.

Accordingly, I invited a few friends around and last week we tasted the ’72 and ’73 vintage Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

The ’72 had an immediately promising light bouquet, an agreeable blend of good berry fruit with slight oak overtones. It was of fine colour, a delicate transparent red with just a tinge of Cabernet purple, and one looked forward to rolling it around the tongue.

As is too often the case when tasting wine, the palate did not match the colour and bouquet. There was little acid or astringency considering its relative lack of age, and it seemed to be all middle palate with a trace of sugar sweetness detracting from any subtlety. The finish was smooth but did not linger and therefore disappointed.

It tends in style towards the lighter European clarets but in my opinion lacks the complexity apparent in the classier French Bordeaux. The wine is very drinkable now but I doubt its long term prospects. As it is virtually unobtainable at present, this should not worry too many wine drinkers.

In comparison, the ’73 vintage is a much bigger wine, except perhaps in bouquet. Clear to brilliant in appearance, it had more wood and tannin astringency, balanced well with plenty of fruit and a very firm finish.

Definitely a wine to cellar and enjoy in five to ten years’ time. It retails for around $5.70 and can be obtained at one of the better-known wine merchants for $3.70 on discount. I can recommend it at either price as good value for money.

After Midnight…

…We’re gonna let it all hang out,” so goes the old J.J Cale song. I was reminded of it by recent news that licensed premises in Kings Cross will be forced by the New South Wales government to serve alcoholic drinks in plastic after midnight. The ban on glass – a response to the increasing frequency of glassing assaults – will also apply to glass bottles and jugs.

In addition, it’s not only beer, presumably bar and restaurant owners will now have to decant wine from bottles into plastic decanters before serving in plastic goblets. Hardly a gourmet’s delight. That is if any gourmets frequent the Cross after midnight.

You can just imagine a wine lover poring over a plastic mug of, say, Penfolds Bin 389. “Mmm, do I detect a delightful nuance of Bisphenol-A among the savoury berry fruit? No, wait, Antimony? No, most definitely Pthalate.”

One wonders if Riedel are already designing a neutral tasting Plasdonnay stem in anticipation.

But why stop there? Logically, the authorities should also follow the airlines’ example and use only paper plates and plastic cutlery after the witching hour.

The intent of the change is clearly an attempt to reduce the occurrence of glassing and if that is the consequence who could argue? However, legislators are apparently unaware that not all assaults occur at the Cross, or after midnight. Nor is glassware the usual and preferred weapon of choice.

A dinner with 22 whiskies

Everybody has wine and food matching favourites but I have not come across a whisky and food matching dinner before. Until that is, Hobart-based writer, Greg Stanton reported on one he hosted.

We’re all doing well down here in Hobart although the cooler weather has hit with a vengeance. One of the things we decided to do to keep us warm was have a whisky-inspired dinner at home.

A few months back I bought a recipe book from the Laphroaig distillery online shop – The Whisky Kitchen: 100 Ways with Whisky and Food by Sheila McConachie and Graham Harvey.

I was hard-pressed to whittle down the diverse choice of recipes to a manageable three-course dinner.

The original idea was to match the dishes with the whiskies that were used in the cooking, but then there were some other fantastic choices in the cabinet that were difficult to leave out. It’s like choosing a favourite child, but then again an Edradour 10 year old doesn’t cry out in the middle of the night like a four month old.

There were eight of us and I pulled out 22 bottles of single malt, hoping that people would help me deplete stocks but also to taste ones they’ve never tried. Continue reading