Last Sunday found me travelling to London for #ARSE4, the fourth of Andrew’s Really Secret Events, Andrew being Andrew Barrow aka @wine_scribbler who writes wonderful stuff about food and drink at www.spittoon.biz. Rather intriguingly, the venue and theme of the event was to be withheld until I met Andrew and several other equally curious bloggers outside Farringdon tube station at midday.
A short walk round the block took us to Vinoteca, just opposite Smithfield Market, where a tasting and lunch had been arranged with several winemakers from ‘Australia’s First Families of Wine’, a collective of family-owned wine producers from across Australia. Their aim is to portray the real character and personality of Australian wine, whether it be a single vineyard bottling or a regional blend, and to show that Australia doesn’t just put out the commercial styles that we see all over UK supermarket shelves. You can find out more about the values of Australia’s First Families of Wine together with details of who they are on their website.
Our pre-lunch tasting session was akin to speed-dating as we moved round quickly from producer to producer, hearing about their vineyards, winemaking practices and wines. Themes that resonated throughout the tasting were:
- the wine is all about the fruit – get it right in the vineyard and let the grapes speak for themselves;
- taste the place – wines of the same grape variety will pick up the essence of the soil and the climate and will therefore be representative of the place they originate from;
- only use oak if necessary – a move away from the once fashionable trend of oaky, fruity, big Australian wines;
- sustainability – the impact on the environment, of growing vines and harvesting them, should be minimised.
It was an honour to meet these passionate winemakers who were hoping to open our eyes to what is out there on offer from their country and open my eyes they did. There is nothing quite like tasting a wine with the person who produced it. Even allowing for that, I was impressed with the elegance, flavour and minerality on display and would happily buy any of these wines for drinking at home.
Onto lunch: First up was salt baked celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke, red onion and aoili with which I chose De Bortoli’s Estate Chardonnay 2008 which worked well alongside the complex flavours of this starter. Leanne De Bortoli told us that one of her favourite pairings for this Chardonnay is John Dory and it would also be delightful as an aperitif.
Meltingly tender braised lamb followed with minted peas and spring vegetables. It seemed appropriate to try Yalumba’s The Scribbler Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2008 with its herby, savoury flavours and this turned out to be a wise move.
A wine not included in the tasting itself was brought out to match our pudding of Williams pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream: Campbells’ Muscat Topaque, with its lush, silky, caramel and toffee flavours, was a delight and I reckon this was a match that had been tried before!
In the week when Matthew Jukes announced his “100 Best Australian Wines 2011” and commented that they “reflect what is truly exciting, engaging, passionate and essential about Aussie wine”, I am pleased to see some of the Australian First Families of Wine on his list. If I had to choose my favourites from the tasting, I would go for the McWilliam’s Semillon, De Bortoli’s Chardonnay and the d’Arenberg Roussanne, not forgetting the lovely Muscat Topaque from Campbell’s (available at www.corkingwines.com). Brief notes from the tasting are set out below.
Thank you to Andrew Barrow, Australia’s First Families of Wine and Vinoteca for a most enjoyable afternoon.
McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2005 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Voted IWSC Best Semillon 2010 and Best Single Vineyard Wine 2010. Six years old but still fresh with lemon and lime on the palate. Low alcohol: 11.5%. Try it with fish chowder. £17.95 www.bbr.com
Tyrrell’s Winemaker Selection Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2003 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Good acidity which is a mark of Hunter Valley Semillon. Lovely citrus flavours. Hints of honey and toast coming through. Low alcohol: 10.5%. Enjoy with baked white fish or smoked fish. £25 www.majestic.co.uk
Howard Park Riesling 2009 (Great Southern, Western Australia)
From a cooler year and displaying taut lime flavours. For drinking in the sunshine with elegant, spiced fish dishes. Will evolve over 8-10 years. £12.95 www.slurp.co.uk
Tahblik Viognier 2009 (Central Victoria)
A lovely freshness for a New World Viognier. Lots of apricot and white fruit. No oak. Roast pork, please. £11.65 www.slurp.co.uk
Brown Brothers Banksdale Chardonnay 2008 (North Eastern Victoria)
From a single vineyard, 800 metres above sea level. Powerful white fruit flavours and minerals. Integrated oak. Baked fish would be good or courgette flowers stuffed with mild goat’s cheese. £8.54 www.waitrosewine.com
De Bortoli Estate Chardonnay 2008 (Yarra Valley, Victoria)
More stunning minerality on show with this elegant example of Chardonnay. Really long finish. Fermented in oak casks for texture. Recommended with John Dory or spinach & ricotta ravioli. £13.33 (when you buy six bottles) www.chapelplacewines.co.uk
d’Arenberg Money Spider Roussanne 2009 (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Oodles of flavour in this unoaked, powerful yet silky wine – citrus, a touch of honey, stone fruit and an endless finish. This is fun and would be great with a big platter of Thai canapés. £13.71 (when you buy six bottles) www.everywine.co.uk
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2008 (Clare Valley, South Australia)
From a single vineyard at 480 metres above sea level. Vibrant and zingy grapefruit flavours. Clean with fantastic length. I’d go for chilli & lime squid with this. Good now but will develop over the next decade. £11.60 www.slurp.co.uk
Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2005 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
From a vineyard of 93-year-old vines and at 400 metres above sea level, this 100% Shiraz is pretty special. Bold and lingering with full-on dark fruit. Drink now or hold onto it for another 10 years. Big, meaty dishes required. £47.59 www.drinksdirect.co.uk (minimum purchase six bottles).
Yalumba The Scribbler Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2008 (Barossa Valley, South Australia)
A lovely elegance with blue fruit from the Cabernet (65%) and power from the Shiraz (35%). Recommended with a rack of lamb. £12.10 www.slurp.co.uk
Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Clare Valley, Southern Australia)
From Taylors Wines and named after the river that starts on the estate and flows on to the town of Wakefield. Blackcurrant fruit and a lingering finish with mint and liquorice flavours. Perhaps a Greek lamb stew brimming over with herbs? £9.99 (or currently £7.99 if you buy two bottles) www.majestic.co.uk
Campbells Bobbie Burns Durif 2006 (Rutherglen, Victoria)
Durif is a popular grape in the Rutherglen area and is now being grown in other parts of Australia. This wine is typically intense with plum fruits on the palate. A correspondingly big dish is called for and I’d go for a venison casserole or roast. £10.26 ex-VAT www.newlondonwine.co.uk