Friday, September 23, 2011

Castagna Sauvage 2003

The Castagna description of the makeup of this wine: "Made from single-vineyard, estate-grown shiraz, with a touch of viognier and a dollop of sangiovese."

I recently had my last bottle of this, which is essentially de-classified Castagna shiraz from the smoke-hit 2003 vintage in Beechworth. Unlike most of the smoke-year wines I've had, this did improve with age. There are smoke characters here, but they thread and fold through a wine of real interest. A meaty wine, wildness with a spit-shine.

Not until this last bottle did I really have a sense that there was sangiovese at work here, but I am now thinking that perhaps the savoury note it provides, as well as the different line of tannin and acid, played a crucial part in balancing out the pretty characters of shiraz-viognier and the smoke below.

Anyway, my few bottles of this, drunk over several years, have been fascinating and thought-provoking, including to my preconception that smokey wines are best used as marinades.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Canberra Italians (at the wine show)

So, what does the 2011 Canberra Regional Wine Show results have to say about Italian grapes in the Canberra District and surrounds? Surrounds includes Tumbarumba, Hilltops, Gundagai, Southern Highlands and the South Coast of NSW, give or take.

Class 4 covers 'other' white varieties and blends, from the 2011 vintage. Pinot gris and grigio took the top gongs: gold for the Mount Majura Pinot Gris; silver for Lerida Estate's pinot grigio; and silver for Southern Highland Wines'gris. The Mount Majura is my pick: tight, expressive, fragrant with green pear.

Three of the 14 wines entered in Class 17 (2010 other varieties or blends) were sangiovese. Both Ravensworth and Pankhurst Wines entered a straight sangiovese, with a shiraz sangiovese blend from Little Bridge Wines. Both the Little Bridge and Ravensworth wines picked up silver medals, with the Ravensworth being my pick of the bunch.

In the next class (#18, 2009 and older other reds or blends), the 2009 Ravensworth sangiovese picked up a bronze. The other Italians (A.Retief's shiraz, sangiovese, malbec from 2008 and Grove Estate's 2009 Sommita Nebbiolo) in this class didn't grab a medal. For what it's worth, I preferred the 2009 Ravensworth sangiovese over the 2010 version - both wines crying out for food and a bit of time.

And that was it. Given the small number of Italians or blends of Italian and other varieties entered, the hit rate was not too bad, but none of these wines really took the event by the scruff. Out of what I tasted, the Mount Majura pinot gris and the Ravensworth sangiovese wines are what I would recommend and buy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011 Canberra Regional Wine Show

I had a look at the entries to the 2011 Canberra Regional Wine Show last night. This wine show is a 'feeder show' now for the National Wine Show later in the year, and is a well-run affair rather than a tidal wave of samples and judging panels. Judges this year included Ben Edwards, Jim Chatto and Mike Bennie (doing his ninth show this year, Mr Bennie told me).

A bit of added drama this year: both from the chemical fire and explosions that had cut off parts of North Canberra, as well as a mercy dash attached to the judges lunch on Friday. Out at lunch, another diner managed a nasty compound fracture and judges Chatto and Bennie went in to help. The subsequent exhibitors and sponsors tasting seemed quite sedate in comparison.

Bryan Martin's Ravensworth took home a bunch of gongs for his excellent 2009 shiraz viognier. Mount Majura took the prize for best exhibitor of show, in part due to the trophy-winning show their 2010 TSG blend of tempranillo, shiraz, graciano. Riesling, shiraz, chardonnay and the 'other whites' brackets stood out - not just for the Canberra fruit, but also for Tumbarumba chardonnay and wines from Hilltops and Gundagai. The latter region's showing being an eye-opener for me.

For full show results, see

In my next post, I'll home in on how wines from Italian varieties fared in the show this year.

In the interests of transparency, no Quarry Hill wines were entered in the show this year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New friends, Italian & Sons

A nice night with a table of eight people at Italian & Sons where half the people are completely new to me and the venue.

We started with rosemary focaccia and a plate of mixed olives. The bread, fresh from the wood-fired oven, even a touch undercooked, had a beautiful light slick of crunchy, savoury olive oil, sea salt & rosemary. Some of us has beer (Menebrea for me), others most of a bottle of 2008 Anselmi Soave (garganega) ordered (well) by an American in the party.

After my beer, a glass of Orvieto for me while the table plowed through entrees in share mode of kingfish carpaccio, sardines in saor, whitbait fritters and bresaola with rocket. Lovely. Groans from the table, especially the first time visitors to Italian & Sons.

Then a bottle of the 2009 Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba. Please don't tell me it's a typo on the menu when I have had the 2008 here before and you've clicked over but not changed the wine list. Not as richly fruited as the 2008, even a touch warm, but good drinking with the food.

Part way through the food (Wednesday night is tagliata night, of salt/pepper crust eye fillet cooked in the wood oven, served with a horseradish aioli on rocket), we have drained the Barbera and move to a beautiful bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. Close to Montepulciano (not d'Abruzzo) in flavour, this wine (I will have to check the maker, this was a Tony suggestion) had an astonishing fit with the acid tang of the fresh horseradish sauce that went with the thin strips of wood-fired eye-fillet. Newcomers to Italian wine got this, straight off the bat. Well done, sommelier Tony.

Then the dessert round. I had cannolli with quince marmeleta. Beautiful. And the gambit of a few Italian digestivo for the table. First, Cynar (artichoke liqueur) over ice with a wedge of lemon. Second, a deceptively complex limoncello, chilled and neat. Third, a nocello (disappointingly dominated by insipid sweet hazelnut, rather than complex green walnut flavours). And Vince pulled a good short black.

I suspect Italian & Sons got a few new repeat customers tonight, and perhaps some coverts to Italian wine, even if not Italian digestifs. And great conversation with people from around the world, pulled together at this impromptu table. Another reminder of how lucky it is to live in Canberra.

At the end, back home, time for a real digestif. A glass of my own nocello. Made from green walnuts, grown two suburbs away, redolent of cola, nuts, lemon & dry spice, it's better than what I had tonight, and a fitting capstone to a good evening with new and old friends.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico 2006

Push, shove, on the spot - I'd go for Chianti Classico as my favourite Italian wine. Sorry, Montefalco and your sagrantino, just shaded.

There's a directness of pleasure from good chianti. Not so much hedonism as a sense of everything being just right, especially alongside a plate of Italian food. Brought in by Arquilla, this 2006 vintage Chianti Classico from Castellare is 95% sangiovese and 5% canaiolo. A beautiful cork, a moment in the glass to wake up, and this was away. Red, ripe fruits - nothing purple - refreshing acids and a lick of tannin to remind you what you're drinking, but all so nicely resolved. Made eating pizza even easier than it usually is.

I would have paid about $25 for this (the Riserva version currently sells for about $60 in Australia). A bluebird on the label too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Risotto, for dry white wine

I've been trying out some food combinations for the new 2011 Quarry Hill North Block dry white, which is a blend of savagnin and sauvignon blanc. This risotto worked really well - with the wine picking up the pea and pea pod characters in the dish.

Take enough fresh peas, in the pod, to produce about a cup of shelled peas. While shelling, soak a half-handful of dried porcini in hot water. Add the pea pods, the porcini and soaking water to some vegetable stock and simmer. While the stock is simmering, cut some pancetta into small pieces and sweat in olive oil until they have gone half-brown and a little crisp. Add rice (I used carnaroli, but arborio would be fine) and stir over heat for a few minutes until the rice has taken up the oil. Add dry white wine, bubble away and then start to ladle in stock, a ladle at a time, with a bit of stirring and shaking of the pan as you go.

When the rice is about 3/4 done, you'll have used most of the stock and can fish the porcini out and add to the risotto pot (keep the pods for the worm farm). Add the fresh peas for the last couple of minutes of the cooking time, remove from heat, stir in butter and grated parmesan, adjust the seasoning and let stand, covered, for five minutes. Stir and serve with a little more cheese and perhaps some flat-leaf parsley, and white wine.

This is a fairly robust risotto, with some brown colours from the porcini & cooking of the pancetta, that set off well against the green of the fresh peas. While a sangiovese could also pair up, a white wine with a bit of herb or grassy characters can pick up the peas and pea pods, as well as cut against the smooth, rich textures of the rice. A Soave, or other garganega based wine, would also be worth a try.