Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back in Canberra

Blog services to resume shortly, having had a brief break for the season over in Adelaide. If ever a place glad to visit, chuffed to leave and ecstatic not to live there...

That said, there were some good finds on the trip, some Italian, some wine, some just good:
- Espresso Royale on Magill Road. By a flying mile the best coffee I've ever had in Adelaide. Roast, ground and made on site by people who know coffee. Drove there twice in two days before they closed down for three weeks.
- Around Espresso Royale is a bit of a Magill Road cluster of good businesses trading in organic produce, including a bunch of organic nonnas knocking out excellent handmade pasta, plus a good organic butcher. Double cut tbone for bistecca, and very fine ham.
- Cheese diversity & quality at the Central Markets is looking up. The Smelly Cheese Shop had crowds three deep for some excellent cheeses (candied cumquats also excellent). And a very good Assam laksa from the Malaysian stand.
- Melt restaurant looked like it still needed to settle into the Italian-Spanish mix/fusion thing, but the highlights (including some of the pizzas) were having me second-guess my expectation of Adelaide food disappointment.

On the way over to Adelaide, ducked in to Tahbilk at Nagambie and a brief stop in Heathcote. Aside from the strangeness of seeing the wetlands at Tahbilk very wet, their 2010 riesling was a real surprise and worth an on the spot six pack buy.

Heathcote was an even bigger surprise. My impressions had been of a red-wine and French-variety focussed (even obsessed) region - a lot of big reds carrying more heat than needed and in a fairly narrow stylistic vein. I now think I need to go back for a proper look. The Heathcote Cellar & Store, with an ex-Hardy's viti manager on the floor, is a good showcase for the region. The number and diversity of non-French vines and wines really surprised me, especially sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo. And when the local showcase is confident enough to run a month featuring Spanish wines (mainly imports), and local winemakers (Sanguine Estate) drop in with wines left-over from a tasting, you know some things are working right for a region. A trip back after vintage is in order, I reckon.

And Australian wines from Italian varieties from the trip? Vermentino is starting to appear more in wine lists, including in Adelaide (such as the Serafino vermentino, which acquitted itself better than some fairly dire greek food on Rundell St). At dinner last night at Stefano's in Mildura, the 2009 Chalmers fiano went very well with a simple fried squid dish - gentle phenolics and a nut skin character on the finish adding interest to the wine.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Italian & Australian sparkling reds

While I think of sparkling reds, especially sparkling shiraz, as one of the distinctly-Australian gifts to wine, there are Italian red bubbles as well. This week, I did a tasting organised by the Canberra District Vigneron's Association of 16 sparkling reds, with an Italian in the mix.

Before the tasting, sparkling red winemaker Damien Cofield (Cofield Wines in Rutherglen) talked about the history, characteristics, techniques, challenges and diversity of the sparkling red category.

The tasting was done in three brackets, with the tasters knowing what wines were in each bracket but not which glass (single blind tasting). Small tasting glasses were used rather than flutes. Prices are what the organisers paid at retail. The alcohols should be read as highly questionable on many of the wines, or the products of some serious intervention. The notes are as I took them at the time.

Bracket one

1. Ulithorne Flamma sparkling shiraz NV, McLaren Vale, 13% alc., $29.95.

- Boot polish, clear bottle age, some leather, prickle of something wild/feral, earthy, mulchy smells. Cloves, purple fruits. Brett. Nice creamy bit of texture. Slightly sickly sweet but also dried out finish. Decent length.

2. Chandon sparkling pinot/shiraz NV, Victoria, 14% alc., $22.90.
- Pongy in pond style. Brett? Crisp fruits and acid. Creamy texture. Nice lingering finish. Colour showing some age. Evident tannin.

3. Lini 910 sparkling lambrusco rosso NV, Emilia-Romagna, 11%, $24.95.
- Interesting sweet red fruits. Italian? Aromatic. Looks cool climate. Crisp, dry palate. Real contrast to proceeding sweeter wines. Crunchy. Lots of interest here. Flavours of stalks, stems, pips, and a bit of green tannin. Charmat?

4. Ashton Hills 2002 sparkling shiraz, Clare Valley, 13%, $58.
- Subdued, dusty nose. Some red cherries, mulberry. Dullish at edge. Strange disjointed palate and line. Confected notes combine with olives. Leather through finish. Lightest colour of bracket. Medicinal notes.

5. Robert Stein, sparkling shiraz brut NV, Mudgee, 13%, $22.95.
- Herbal and tobacco smells. Most persistent mousse of bracket. Tastes like there is some cabernet/merlot in the base wine. Aged elements, but also some brisker, livelier notes. Not sure about the sweet finish.

Bracket two

6. Cofield sparkling shiraz 2006, Rutherglen, 14%, $28.

- Roughish bubbles, drying texture. Not sure about fruit stripping by brett. Oxidised. Not keen (but liked by group).

7. Quarry Hill 2006 sparkling shiraz, Canberra, 14.5%, $25.
- Nice to smell. Brisk and bright purple. Fine mousse with persistence. Dry. Good length. Has crust.

8. Rumball SB18 sparkling shiraz NV, Coonawarra, 12.5%, $19.50.
- Clove. Pepper. Mulchy. Light. Older. Brett. Leather. Too sweet. Lacks weight and intensity.

9. Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Reserve sparkling shiraz NV, 13.5%, $42.50.

- Crisp, red/purple fruits. Somewhat aggressive bubbles. Nice lift (viognier). Complexity and freshness. Length. Lip smacking. Nice wine.

10. Mount Langhi Ghiran Cliff Edge sparkling shiraz NV, Grampians, 14.5%, $35.
- Mouthfilling rush of bubbles. Drying, evident tannin. Almost burg-ish in being mid-weight but intense. Purple fruits, savoury notes. Bit of creamy texture.

11. Morris sparkling shiraz/durif NV, Rutherglen, 13.5%, $15.30.
- Lighter than #7 and #10 above. Bubbles and acid a bit rough. Young? Lighter, drying, tannic. Not sure has old bones. Good length.

Bracket three

12. E&E Black Pepper sparkling shiraz 2004, Barossa Valley, 14%, $53.50.

- Nice smells. Fruit, leather, cloves. Popcorn and tamales. Drying finish, good length. Nice ripe tannins. Big and sweet. Touch of sweet/sour going on, but some savoury (near salty) notes. Dried herb. E&E?

13. Primo Estate Joseph sparkling red NV, shiraz/cabernet/fortified, McLaren Vale, 13.5%, $61.20.
- Slightly smoky smells. Cherry, leather. Complex. Funk. Age. Joseph?

14. Leasingham Classic Clare sparkling shiraz 1996, Clare Valley, 14.5%, $50.
- Rush of peppery fruit. Classy. Grilled meats, game. Castagna? Jangled on second look a bit. Hints of grippy tannin not 100% ripe.

15. Craiglee sparkling shiraz NV?, Sunbury/Geelong, no details on alcohol or price.
- Good spice. Slightly dropping colour at the edge. Leasingham? Nice, direct nose. Complex, layered palate. Length, layers, great integration on finish. Bit too sweet.

16. Castagna sparkling genesis syrah viognier 2005, Beechworth, 13.5%, $110 ($75 ex winery).
- Great colour. Bright, vibrant purple. Fine bead. Persistent mousse. Classy. Smooth, creamy textures. Age and lees time? Maybe just too much bubbles at the moment. Has some confected, candy/jube notes, but not distractingly so. Craiglee?

So what did I get out of the tasting?

- There are some good sparkling reds out there, across a range of price points, including wines that are not over-sweet.
- The lambrusco was my favourite wine of the first bracket. It stood out from the others for its different profile of grape and gamey flavours. Most of the tasters did not like it at all.
- The category could really do with some more ethical transparency and better information for consumers. Labels should disclose accurate alcohols and residual sugar. NV wines should have a date of disgorgement to allow reviewers, stockists and consumers to identify batches.
- I was very pleasantly surprised to see how popular the 2006 Quarry Hill sparkling shiraz was with the tasters. This sounds a little silly, but I couldn't pick it blind because the wine I first thought it was looked too good to be ours (and it was ours).
- There were disappointments, such as the 2002 Ashton Hills and the Rumball, and wines I loved that most other tasters did not (the lambrusco, the Primo Estate Joseph). It made me wonder if the challenge of the category is that it is both a boundary-crosser and within it there are so many stylistic options that even interested consumers can trip up or have very different preferences.
- Brettanomyces is still an issue in the category, driven by both poor handling of old oak and the need to drop sulfur during the secondary ferment. Better barrel hygiene and more use of filtration could help, as would a willingness to let the wines see some younger oak.
- Too many of the wines lacked attractive, lifted aromatics. To me, this dimension of the style is often neglected, including at the point of making decisions about the expedition liqueur.

I enjoy, and buy, quite a bit of sparkling red. I suggest the category needs more focus (like rose, why make it as an afterthought, with lower quality or surplus fruit? Why not plan to make it, with dedicated fruit managed appropriately?). There is too much fear of tannin, of new oak character and of dryness. Wines are over-sweetened, with high dosage adding 1% or even 1.5% alcohol to base wines that are already north of 13.5% (unless intervened with through dilution or alcohol removal). Yes, chilling brings out oak and tannins, and some sweetness helps to balance, but more sugar does not make more balance.

But it is good to know there are decent sparkling reds out there for not just the Christmas season.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Under-rated things: fresh pasta, fresh pesto & Barossa semillon

Some nights, some dinners, are good reminders of how much pleasure there are in simple foods and under-rated wines. Fresh pasta is an easy and fast thing to make, once you have the hang of it. I work on 100g flour and one egg per person, whizzing the ball of dough together in the food processor, resting it in the fridge for 20 minutes, then putting through my simple pasta machine for kneading and cutting. This time, fettuccine (with some extra egg yolks snuck in). While the water for the pasta is coming up to the boil, make simple pesto: a bunch of basil, 75g or so of pinenuts, garlic all into the blender, whiz while adding olive oil, finish it off with grated parmesan and any salt you need.

Cook the fresh pasta quickly in the biggest pot you have (I use an 11 litre stock pot for most pasta), drain not quite completely and mix in the fresh pesto (off the heat - direct heat is pesto kryptonite). A bit more cheese if you wish, and some flaked salt are all you need for serving. Oh, and a glass of something similarly under-rated, like a 2006 Rockfords Growers Semillon (Barossa Valley). Still acid line to show, but age in the colour and palate weight, plus attractive lemon and butter smells. Goes well with the nuts and cheese in the sauce, with enough weight to match, yet acid to cut, freshen and agree with the light freshness of the home-made fettuccine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Importer profile - Andrew Guard Wine Imports

This is the fifth in a series of profiles on importers of Italian wines into Australia. Today, Andrew Guard of Andrew Guard Wine Imports, is providing the answers. You can find their website here.

Q1 What is your business?
- I am an importer and wholesaler of fine wine.

Q2 How long have you been importing Italian wines into Australia?
- I have been importing Italian wines here for 1 year and French wines for three.

Q3 How did your interest in Italian wines start?
- Someone poured me a Boscarelli Vino Nobile a long time ago that I loved and I’ve been on a voyage of discovery since.

Q4 What kind of Italian wines do you focus on in your portfolio and why?
- At this stage Piedmont is the region that I have chosen to specialise in and purely because it produces the Italian wines that I love most.

Q5 What Italian wines sell well out of your portfolio at the moment?
- Dolcetto, Barbera and also Nebbiolo d’Alba – the market is still a little fragile for Barolo!

Q6 What Italian wines do you find hardest to sell in Australia?
- Within my little business I find Cru Barolo hardest but that is only due to price.

Q7 What do you think is the place of Italian wines in Australia, and is this changing?
- Due to the large Italian migrant population in Australia; Italian wine is ubiquitous and the many Italian restaurants we have proudly serve and promote them. I think there is a friendliness and a romance that surrounds the image of Italy that has helped Italian wines gain broad appeal and this will continue – the future is very bright.

Q8 Recent years have seen significant increases in the number and diversity of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. What are your thoughts on Australian wines made from Italian varieties?
- There have been some OK ones but on the whole I think the wrong varieties have been planted in the wrong area – the best yet to come.

Q9 Greatest Italian wine moment?
- Finding my first bottle of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo by Valentini and then drinking it with a good friend, smiles all round.

Q10 What Italian wines are you most likely to drink at home?
- I have always loved Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Vernaccia di San Gimignano for drinking around the house and with casual meals and for red wines I like high quality Barbera d’Alba and Valpolicella.

Australian wine, Italian food

A couple of worthwhile matches of Italian food and Australian wine from the past week:

1. Spaghetti with a sauce of speck, braised onion, rosemary, a little fresh tomato, and just-picked harvest of home-grown broad beans and peas. A 2009 Kay Brothers McLaren Vale grenache had an inky character that went well with the speck, onion and rosemary in the braise, and allowed the sweetness of the vegetables to come through.

2. 2005 Williams Crossing pinot noir (the Curly Flat second label) with double-peeled broad beans smashed up with olive oil, mint, salt and parmesan. Spread on grilled sourdough bread you have wiped over with a cut clove of fresh garlic. The sweet and salty in the food brought out the clean, refreshing acid of the wine, with the developed, just-mushroom characters doing well with the char on the bread.

Simple stuff, but reinforced to me the fit between honest Italian food and the diversity of Australian wine.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spaghetti Frisinsal & Seppelt Jaluka 2005 chardonnay

A Jewish-Italian dish from the Venice Ghetto, courtesy of Claudia Roden's outstanding The Book of Jewish Food, frisinsal is usually served with tagliatelle, but spaghetti also works. The dish manages to deliver against cravings for pasta and roast chicken, at the same time. It is also an excellent match for white wine with a bit of weight and drive: in this case served with an excellent bottle of Seppelt's 2005 Jaluka chardonnay from Henty.

To start, roast a whole chicken. While it is still quite hot, take the meat and skin off the bone and cut or shred into small pieces. Keep covered and warm. Take between 50 and 100g of sultanas and soak them in water for about half an hour (start this in the last 20 minutes or so of the roasting time). As a variation, use half dry marsala and half water.

Put on a big pot of water for the pasta. Toast in a pan about 100g of pine nuts and let cool on a plate. At about the same time you put the pasta (about 500g for six people) into the water, drain the juices and fat from the chicken roasting tray into a small saucepan. Combine that with 2-3 sprigs of finely chopped fresh rosemary, the soaked and drained sultanas and the toasted pinenuts. Gently simmer the sauce while the pasta cooks. You can add some fresh sage with the rosemary if you wish.

When the pasta is cooked, combine it with the warm chicken and the simmering sauce. Stretch with a little pasta water if needed and check seasoning. It often needs salt.

Enjoy with a good white wine, such as a chardonnay or perhaps a falanghina or viognier.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Importer profile - Trembath and Taylor

This is the fourth in a series of profiles of importers of Italian wines into Australia. Today we have Trembath & Taylor, with answers from Matt Paul. Trembath & Taylor also have the Sotto La Pergola blog I have written about back on October 12.

Q1 What is your business?

- Importers and distributors of Italian wine.

Q2 How long have you been importing Italian wines into Australia?

- The company was established in 1994 by Michael Trembath and Virginia Taylor.

Q3 How did your interest in Italian wines start?

- David Chapman, then sommelier at the Melbourne Wine Room, served me a glass of 1994 Brancaia Il Blu and I never looked back.

Q4 What kind of Italian wines do you focus on in your portfolio and why?

- We do business with a handshake, the old fashioned way. The wine has to be good, of course, but most important is the relationship between us and the grower. The fact that our portfolio is more central and northern concentrated reflects our preferred styles.

Q5 What Italian wines sell well out of your portfolio at the moment?

- Chianti Classico and Nebbiolo, with customers frequently asking for both wines with some age. Pinot Grigio is on the move, although I don’t think New Zealand Sauvignon need worry just yet.

Q6 What Italian wines do you find hardest to sell in Australia?

- Lambrusco is a challenge, but we sell Lambrusco. Real Lambrusco is dry, refreshing, great in summer and it’s place in Italian wine deserves representation. Its image has been ruined by the lolly water stuff that, unfortunately, is still available. But when people try real Lambrusco, they like it.

Q7 What do you think is the place of Italian wines in Australia, and is this changing?

- It’s always changing. Italy is an old wine producing country with the benefit of centuries of localised cultivation of specific grapes. But then much of the production is recent history: quality Chianti only began in the 1980’s. In Australia, it’s about adding another layer of diversity to our industry.

Q8 Recent years have seen significant increases in the number and diversity of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. What are your thoughts on Australian wines made from Italian varieties?

- The short answer: it’s in-fashion to plant varieties like Nebbiolo, but Australia is much better suited to exploring the potential of Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro (to name a few).

Q9 Greatest Italian wine moment?

- Any dinner with the Colla family (preferably during truffle season!). Bruna is a great cook and the cellar is full of gems back to the 50’s. Wonderful family and an incredible history of classic Piedmontese winemaking.

Q10 What Italian wines are you most likely to drink at home?

- Nebbiolo is my favourite grape but I could drink Sangiovese everyday. Great with just about anything I like to cook.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chrismont La Zona NV Prosecco (King Valley)

Prosecco, like cava, often seems to have no desire to thrill, but is built for easy pleasure. There are worse things for wines to try.

Chrismont, in Victoria's King Valley, have invested significant time and effort in Italian grape varieties. On a recent trip to their cellar door, the 2009 barbera was the standout wine for me, eclipsing the sangiovese and other Italians, though I also bought the marzemino frizzante and this prosecco.

Made in the charmat method as with the vast bulk of Italian prosecco, there are several apple characters apparent on the nose and palate. Red-skinned apple is the most apparent, with a bit of Granny Smith at the edges. There is a slightly tired, oxidative, old apple skin character that comes and goes, giving me the impression that this is an ASAP drinker (but no harm in that). The bead persists, and neither it nor the acid are harsh or grating, just refreshing. Don't look for mousse, or depth: it's not that kind of wine. But as a relaxed pre-dinner drink, a bottle of this won't last long at all.

Great to see this under a crown seal, dressed up in a decent hood. Given the perception issues crown seals on sparklers have for some market segments, this approach seems sensible, compared to a naked seal or pass-over paper strap.

Continuing my recent Italy & the Middle East theme, this was tasted with flathead fried in sumac, carrots with mustard seed and a green salad. Would also work well with mezze.

Source: Milawa cellar door purchase. Alcohol: 12%. Price: $22 rrp. Closure: Crown seal, under hood.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Importer profile - Negociants Australia

This is the third in a series of profiles of Italian wine importers. Today we have Negociants Australia, with answers provided by Tim Evans.

Q1 What is your business?

- Negociants Australia is a fine wine distributor representing the finest wines of the world. That we are passionate and knowledgeable about fine wine is no accident. It is compulsory - as is our commitment to professional representation of the finest wines from family owned wineries who craft the wines we love. Our outstanding portfolio and people, make Negociants Australia one of the leading fine wine merchants in Australia.

Q2 How long have you been importing Italian wines into Australia?

- Since 1984.

Q3 How did your interest in Italian wines start?

- I guess I have been very lucky from my humble beginnings and being exposed to such a fantastic portfolio of wines and as I have grown and travelled it is the people, regions and food that really gets you hooked.

Q4 What kind of Italian wines do you focus on in your portfolio and why?

- Quality established wines from key producing regions such as Piedmont, Tuscany, Puglia, Veneto and Alto Adige to name a few.

Q5 What Italian wines sell well out of your portfolio at the moment?

- They all have their moments and is getting a little harder to read patterns but the following producers are performing well; Antinori, Allegrini, Isole e Olena, Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia), Tenuta dell Ornellaia, Prunotto, Gaja, Cantine Pra, and Argiano are doing well and a few others.

Q6 What Italian wines do you find hardest to sell in Australia?

- Sparkling wines are certainly difficult as they compete with Champagne and our home grown Sparkling’s out of Tassie which are certainly delivering great value and quality.

Q7 What do you think is the place of Italian wines in Australia, and is this changing?

- Imports have been a positive thing for Australian consumers. Encouraging them to try and experience more varieties and styles. Italian wines go very well with our multicultural cuisine and we find a healthy percentage of our sales are sold through the on-trade.

Q8 Recent years have seen significant increases in the number and diversity of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. What are your thoughts on Australian wines made from Italian varieties?

- It is good to see Australian winemakers/viticulturists experimenting with Italian varieties and styles, but we have to be careful to have a focussed approach on planting these varities in the appropriate regions and sites.

Q9 Greatest Italian wine moment?

- There are numerous moments, but one that certainly will never be forgotten is hosting Angelo Gaja at Perugino Restaurant, Perth a few years back now! All 60 + guests were mesmerozied by Angelo with his stories well crafted wines and amazingly matched food. The other moment nearly ended in tears as we were travelling back from Ornellaia in 2003 after an amazing visit (and arriving in Italy from Australia 5 hours earlier) and wondering what these little pots on fire on the side of the road and then suddenly working out how to stop in a few metres travelling at a great speed…..they were meant to warn us of an accident which wasn’t meant to be our’s!!! but I think everyone has great travelling moments and places that they have visited.

Q10 What Italian wines are you most likely to drink at home?

- A couple of favourites are Isole E Olena Chianti Classico, Cantine Pra Soave and a little Dolcetto from Poedri Aldo Conterno.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's wrong with 'All For One Wine'

Aside from the irony of an anti-import, 'Buy Australian' wine campaign being promoted with a slogan derived from a French novel, there is plenty wrong about 'All For One Wine'.

The campaign, launched by South Australian winemaker Stephen Pannell, asks Australians to stop buying imported wines from 1 January through until Australia Day on January 26. Instead, consumers who sign up on the pledge site will drink only Australian wine for those 26 days. The campaign seems to be addressed to the wine trade (winemakers, wine show judges, retailers, reviewers) and to the general consumer (at home or out at a pub, cafe, bar or restaurant).

Stephen Pannell's open letter explains the reasons why the campaign has been launched (I wouldn't say 'developed' as that could imply a depth of research and thinking):

'Have a look at your local wine-bar or favourite restaurant: imported wines are everywhere.

I appreciate the importance of benchmarking with European wines, and admit I have been an enthusiastic consumer of imports over the years. But I think we have all gone too far. Just think about our wine shows, where foreign judges are plastered with Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone every night. What does this say about how we regard our own wines?'

He goes on to describe as a 'cultural cringe' the drinking of imported wines with local foods. The answer is not a ban on imported wines, but asking 'ourselves' (the Australian wine industry) if 'we couldn't do a better job'? This better job would involve making more Australian wines that were more like imported wines, something that should not be too hard:

"Imagine if we couldn’t import any wines at all. If the wines we like to drink weren’t available, then we could easily make them. So why don’t we?"

So why do I think this is a bad idea?

First, I have 'skin in the game'. I help out in an Australian wine business in the Canberra District that grows grapes from mainstream (shiraz, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc) and 'alternative' varieties (such as savagnin, sangiovese, sagrantino and tempranillo). I also have a blog site that has a focus on Italian grapes and wines in Australia. Both of these are volunteer efforts that provide me with no income. I do them because I can and because the doing is challenging and worthwhile.

That aside, here are my top reasons for why 'All For One Wine' is a bad idea:

- The chief proponents come across as 'reformed sinners' regretting how their past consumption of imported wines has possibly been at the expense of Australian wine, and wish to perform their acts of contrition in public. As powerful a motivator as guilt can be, people feeling like they have created a problem does not neccessarily position them well to provide solutions.

- The proponents of the campaign do not seem to understand that there are many people active across Australian wine who have invested a lot of time and effort in understanding and promoting the regional and varietal diversity and distinctiveness of domestic wines, including those made along food friendly lines and from grapes suited to our climates. The guilt of the reformed sinners is not collective guilt, shared by all.

- There is very little evidence of evidence, or of research effort, behind the idea. Contrast this to the effort behind the First Families of Australian Wine initiative, where significant amounts of research and consultation happened before any public launch of the concept. It comes across more like an after-dinner idea, sparked off by a parade of Mo'vember 'taches.

- The idea that we can make domestic versions of any imported wine here easily, with similar quality and distinctiveness, directly contradicts the idea of terroir that many campaign advocates use to sell their wines. If we can make anything 'they' can make, just the same and just as good, then what is special about particular wines?

- The very exposure of Australian consumers to imported wines helps broaden wine knowledge and makes market opportunities for domestic producers making wine in different styles or from 'foreign' grape varieties. Competitive pressures work for good and ill.

- Australian wine history already includes many wines that are lighter, lower in alcohol and more food-friendly. This campaign ignores this history: of grenache, semillon, riesling and other wines. It is a history available as a starting point for consumer education and awareness.

- All For One Wine is anti-import before it is pro-Australian. The last thing the Australian wine industry needs is to seek refuge in the negative, to stigmatise imported wines as tastes for the cringing. The website did not come wrapped in a flag, but would be something Pauline Hansen would endorse at speed and without equivocation. Just that thought-experiment should have given pause.

- An export-dependant industry should not advocate a campaign in their domestic markets they would not wish to see happen in countries they export to. How would Victorian wine exporters to China feel about a buy-local campaign in that market?

- The time of the year chosen is spectacularly poor. If you wanted to promote to Australian consumers the idea of drinking exclusively Australian wine, much of it likely to be red, and shiraz, perhaps the height of summer is not the best time to choose? If you want to eat local and seasonal, the wine should not need air-conditioning. A whole bunch of 2008 South Australian shirazes, drunk at room temperature in mid-summer will do wonders for bringing consumers back to Australian wine.

So what might have been better?

To start with, use the evidence. Make fact-based cases that put real information in front of consumers about Australian wines, including export volumes, average prices of exports and what makes up the import story. People drink New Zealand sauvignon blanc for a whole host of reasons that make sense to them, which makes them 'good' reasons, not ignorant mistakes, or a lack of Australian sauvignon blanc.

Then pitch a pro-Australian initiative that is positive from the beginning, not predicated on stigmatising imports. If you want to influence the opinion-makers in Australian wine, then why not a campaign (pledge or otherwise) where Australian winemakers, wine show judges and the like drink widely across the diversity of Australian wine (including the diverse pricepoints) and tell the stories of their discoveries back to the industry and to consumers? Perhaps do it through the month of November (alongside Australian Music Month) and covering the National Wine Show? National Wine Show dinners with all-Australian wine lineups, perhaps?

Or skip the problem of picking a month in mid-Summer or elsewhere by having Australian wine show judges and other leading lights commit to 12 months of drinking only Australian wine, rather than 26 days of riesling and heat.

Or avoid choosing between Australian wine and imports completely. Try a pledge campaign where for a month people drink only wines that are not chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, whichever country they come from. Or pledge to only drink wines from regions, varieties, blends and makers you do not normally try?

Instead of assuming that there are gaps in the market for food-friendly domestic wines and that new wines need to be produced once the market is better educated (educated by not drinking these wines from other places?), you could run a campaign that highlights wines already being made along these lines in Australia. Writers like Max Allen have spent years advocating and publicising these wines, grapes and producers. Efforts like those should be a recognised starting point for a new, pro-diversity campaign.

There are all kinds of options for encouraging positive investigations of the diversity of Australian wine without starting in guilt and pandering to protectionism. Australian wine, and the consumers of Australian wine, deserve campaigns more positive and less hypocritical than All For One Wine. 'We' can do better.

Duck and barbera - Chrismont La Zona Barbera 2009 (King Valley)

Italian grapes and wines work well beyond the edges of the Italian table. A case in point - many Italian grapes or wines sit comfortably with many dishes from Middle Eastern cuisines. I cook a fair bit of food that is loosely 'Middle Eastern', courtesy of prods from books like Claudia Roden's excellent New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

There is a Persian dish called fesenjan that is usually a stew of chicken with pomegranate juice and walnuts. Variants of this combination exist in other parts of the Middle East, but the balance of nuts, poultry and fruit-sharp acid are common. Crossing over to Italy, agrodolce sauces and stews, cooking down vinegar in the presence of sugar, courtesy of Arab influences through Sicily, have something in common with the balance of fesenjan type dishes, especially when pine nuts or almonds feature.

So barbera and a fast version of fesenjan-ish flavours makes some sense. The juicy fruit and acid of the barbera (this time a Chrismont La Zona barbera from 2009 and the King Valley) balance the fruit and acid aspects of the sauce, with the tannins playing off against the nuts and meat.

Take two duck breasts and fry them off, skin side down, in a moderately hot pan until fat renders and the skin is crisp. Drain the rendered duck fat, give the meat a touch of the pan on the flesh side, then off to a warm oven to finish and rest. Sprinkle sugar in the pan, let go to light caramel, then deglaze with the juice of a pomegranate, some sherry vinegar, and let the caramel dissolve. Finish with some toasted and chopped (rough or fine) hazelnuts, salt, pepper and a knob of butter. The sauce should be sharp, sweet, nutty and deep. Serve with the rested duck and some steamed vegetables (and barbera).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vigna Cantina 2010 Trebbiano (Barossa Valley)

This Torzi Matthews trebbiano comes from vineyards dating back to 1905 at bookends of the Barossa (Altona in the south and Koonunga in the north). I like it a lot, and much more than the Vigna Cantina sangiovese recently tasted. Only 200 cases made, the wine has partial wild yeast ferment in seasoned French oak for three weeks, plus lees aging for three months. The intention is to build texture without oak character and they have succeeded.

It has some things in common with the 1919 vines dry trebbiano from Booths Taminick cellars, but is a more intriguing and accomplished wine. Where the Booths wine had a single pulse of waxy texture through the mid-palate, the structure of this wine has several curves along its line. The nose shows bright, citrus elements, with a hint of something floral. The palate is full of surprises: starting out fine and drying, then a curve of waxy texture with lemon rind, then more more acid, back to wax, then the drying acid length again. As you taste, there is almost a sleight of hand game going on between drying acid and what you realise are phenolic, lightly grippy characters. The integration of acid and phenolics is excellent, and in alternation with fruit characters makes for a whole wine of genuine interest.

Tasted with a souffle of globe artichoke, parmesan and ricotta, which was a very good pairing.

Source: sample. Alcohol: 12.5%. Price: $22 rrp. Closure: Screwcap.

Winery website here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Importer profile - Global Fine Wines

This is the second in a series of profiles of Italian wine importers. Today, we have Global Fine Wines, with answers supplied by Robert Zalums. You can find out more about them, including their Italian wine portfolio by going here. The photograph is Rob (l) talking and tasting Italian wines with Nicolas Belfrage (r) MW and author of excellent books on Italian wine, including Barolo to Valpolicella: The Wines of Northern Italy.

Q1 What is your business?
- We import and wholesale distribute premium wines from Italy and other regions (including Australia) to fine wine retailers, top restaurants and cafes.

Q2 How long have you been importing Italian wines into Australia?
- 5 Years.

Q3 How did your interest in Italian wines start?
- Before I got into importing and wholesale distribution of wine, I was in IT and mad keen about all things wine. First positive Italian experience was attending an Antanori tasting that John Osbeston organised a very long time ago. I bought a bunch of wine for my private cellar and quickly acquired a taste. Initially I only drank Tuscan red wine, until I discovered Gaja Barbaresco wines and realised there was much more to Italy than Tuscan (e.g. Chianti) reds. Then working in Europe for three years massively broadened my appreciation of the vast range of exciting Italian taste sensations. I was hooked! I loved the diversity and uniqueness of Italian wine. Especially when combined with food where magically the food would taste better and indeed the wine would taste better still.

Q4 What kind of Italian wines do you focus on in your portfolio and why?
- None especially, we enjoy the range and diversity. Having said that, all but one of our wines are from Central and Northern Italy.

Q5 What Italian wines sell well out of your portfolio at the moment?
- The Pinot Grigio wines are the hottest closely followed by the Soave.

Q6 What Italian wines do you find hardest to sell in Australia?
- The most expensive ones. This may be partly due to economic factors.

Q7 What do you think is the place of Italian wines in Australia, and is this changing?
- Italian wines, perhaps more than any other, broaden the minds of Australian wine enthusiasts. This is because they are so much different to Australian wines. If variety is the spice of life, then Italy delivers it in spades to Aussie wine drinkers. They are also helping Aussie’s learn about making (and enjoying) wines with more complexity, new grape varieties and enhance the enjoyment of food. All this without spending much more than on a local product. Is this changing? Not yet. But I think home grown Aussie wines will continue to become ever more enjoyable because of the importing of Italian wines to this country.

Q8 Recent years have seen significant increases in the number and diversity of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. What are your thoughts on Australian wines made from Italian varieties?
- Brilliant! The Australian climate is well suited to the Italian varieties and in the right vineyards will produce beautiful wines in years to come. They will naturally be different to the same varietals from Italy, but perhaps one day just as great and offer diversity from the traditional French varieties we have grown for over a century.

Q9 Greatest Italian wine moment?
- Drinking a 1990 Gaja Sori Tilden Barbaresco with my wife in a 2 Michelan Star restaurant in Tuscany. We were long lunching with our two young (non-drinking) sons and were the only people in the restaurant. The magnificent food and the marvellous wine had a multiplying effect on our enjoyment. Never forget it.

Q10 What Italian wines are you most likely to drink at home?
- Reds: Mostly wines from Piemonte. I love the Nebbiolo (including Barbaresco and Barolo), Barbera, and for everyday drinking a Dolcetto. Whites: Probably Soave – love the stuff.

Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico DOCG 2008

Just a quick look at at glass of this yesterday, with lunch at Il Bacaro in Melbourne. I usually enjoy Castellare's wines, including their vin santo. The distinctive labels featuring drawings of bird species local to their vineyard areas are attention-getting and help anchor their wines to place, for me. They have a website (you can find it here) that is packed with useful information about their history and the wines. On of the more useful Italian winery websites I have come across.

There are several tiers of sangiovese based wines, including Chianti, produced by Castellare. This wine is their entry level Chianti Classico, with the range also including a Riserva Chianti and the Il Poggiale Riserva. It is sangiovese with a little canaiolo (one of the traditional Chianti blending partners) added, but none of the 'international' varieties are used. The fruit comes off 20 year old vines grown on calcareous soils, spending seven months in old oak and six in bottle before sale.

The wine has good colour and a directness of sangivese varietal flavours, including cherry and red fruits, a little grilled nuts and dried herbs. Not trying too hard for intensity, impact or length, the wine is all the better for it, and went well with a dish of guinea fowl and vegetables. Was $16 a glass off the Il Bacaro list, but should be found at retail in Australia in the mid-$30s a bottle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Importer profile - Mondo Imports

This is the first in a series of short profiles of Italian wine importers active in the Australian market. You can find the website for Mondo Imports here. Answers are provided by Anthony D'Anna.

Q1 What is your business?
- Importers of fine wines from Italy.

Q2 How long have you been importing Italian wines into Australia?
- Four years.

Q3 How did your interest in Italian wines start?
- Our family have been in the wine business since 1963 and I think over time your palate evolves. I love Australian wine but my passion for Italian wine has grown over the years. My parents were born in Italy and I travel there every year. We thought could improve the selection available in Australia by bringing is some quite unique producers and increasing the offering currently available in Oz. For example, we have a sparkling from Piero Benevelli in Piemonte called Freisa about to arrive. Over time, there has been only one importer who has imported this variety. These are the sort of wines I love to import.

Q4 What kind of Italian wines do you focus on in your portfolio and why? - We cover most of Italy but with never more than two producers from the same region. A strong focus for us is Southern Italy which offers unique indigenous varieties and fantastic price points.

Q5 What Italian wines sell well out of your portfolio at the moment?
- Most sell through really well. With Hoddles Creek Estate in the family, we have applied the same pricing philosophy so how we import wines. If you had to pick the big mover, it would be Gran Sasso from Abruzzo and Pipoli from Basilicata with sales of these two brands pushing 200,000 bottles imported into Oz a year.

Q6 What Italian wines do you find hardest to sell in Australia?
- Funnily enough, Chianti. Brunello is always hard and sometimes it is hard to see the value in it.

Q7 What do you think is the place of Italian wines in Australia, and is this changing?
- I think Italian wines are forging a fantastic niche market through the importation of indigenous varieties. Up until a couple of years ago, the likes of Chianti and Brunello were getting the airplay. But now it is the likes of Grillo, Nero Mascalese, Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, etc that is turning heads and that is where the interest is. It also pushes Italy out of the mainstream and makes people realise that Italy isn't as straightforward as it might seem.

Q8 Recent years have seen significant increases in the number and diversity of Australian wines made from Italian grape varieties. What are your thoughts on Australian wines made from Italian varieties?
- I think it is a great thing as it creates interest in Italian varietals. I don't think we can replicate the wines of Italy in Australia but we are contributing to the variety by showing the world 'our take' on their wines. Sangiovese in Australia will never be like Chianti but that is not to say that it doesn't have its place as a fantastic wine style in the Australian market.

Q9 Greatest Italian wine moment?
- Taking a bottle of 1958 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco that we brought along to La Libera in Alba last year.

Q10 What Italian wines are you most likely to drink at home?
- Chianti Riserva, Nero Mascalese, Barbaresco and Barolo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vigna Cantina 2009 Sangiovese (Barossa Valley)

Vigna Cantina is a label of Torzi Matthews out of the Eden Valley, although this 2009 sangiovese comes from Barossa Valley fruit. I first came across Torzi Matthews through their Frost Dodger shiraz, which draws on some of Domenic Torzi's Italian heritage in its use of amarone-style partial drying techniques for some of the shiraz bunches involved.

Sealed with a Diam cork, the wine contains parcels of fruit from the Gomersal, Moppa and Kalimna subregions of the Barossa. Both the information sheet for the wine and the website provides useful information on vine age (11-13 years), oak (16 months in 'seasoned' French oak), vineyard and winemaking choices (30% whole bunch, wild yeast, small open ferments, basket pressed, bottled unfiltered). Three clones are involved: Gomersal having the 'Brunello' clone; Moppa the 'Piccolo' clone; and a 'Grosso' clone at Koonunga Hill.

The wine itself starts out smelling of cherries and plums, with a touch of something herbal, vegetal and smoky trailing behind. The first taste is all about layered fruit sourness (in a good way), taking me by suprise after the implied richness of the nose. Over time, the fruit comes up a bit in the mix, but the palate mainly tells a story about acid. It's good acid, but in the absence of a solid tannin structure or better fruit weight, the wine looks like it needs better balance. Perhaps a more neutral oak treatment would have given the fruit more room to show through, or a touch more fruit intensity.

Try with roast meat, or something richly sauced but lowish acid, such as veal in marsala. Tasted with roast lamb rack, portobello mushrooms and braised globe artichoke hearts.

Source: sample. Alcohol: 13.5% (bottle), 13% (information sheet). Price: $20 rrp. Closure: Diam.

Winery website.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Western Australia trialling alternative varieties

Courtesy of @Good_Drop, I noticed a new project in Western Australia to trial alternative grape varieties for warmer climates. There are 20 varieties in scope for the trials, with WA Government funding, and management by students from the WA College of Agriculture at Harvey.

Media release follows:

Fri 05 November, 2010
Warmer testing ground for alternative wine grapes
Portfolio: Agriculture and Food
Vignerons of the present and future have come together to trial new wine grape varieties for Western Australia.

Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said the trial of about 20 varieties was being planted and managed by the students at the WA College of Agriculture in Harvey.

The plantings will be under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture and Food, on behalf of the WA Vine Improvement Association.

Mr Redman said the trial would examine how both new and existing wine grape varieties performed in warmer growing areas.

“The grapes being planted include new varieties from southern Europe suited to warmer Mediterranean climates,” he said.

These include Savagnin blanc, Durif, Tannat, Lagrein, Pinot Gris, Fer and Alicante Bouschet (France); Arneis, Brachetto, Fiano, Dolcetto and Pignoletto (Italy); Vermentino (Sardinia); Harslevelu and Kadarka (Hungary ); Sciacarello (Corsica); Graciano (Spain); Saperavi (Georgia); Scheurebe (Germany); and Chambourcin (French-American).

“The information about performance and management gained from this trial will also be relevant to similar warmer growing areas in WA, like the Geographe and Peel regions, as well as the Swan Valley and Gingin,” the Minister said.

The trial builds on the significant gains made by the long-standing alternative wine grape variety trial at the Manjimup Horticulture Research Institute, which evaluates cultivars suited to cool climates.

The WA Vine Improvement Association initiated the idea of the Harvey trial which will eventually provide for a source block of grapevine material available for industry.

Mr Redman said it was important for industry to continue exploring, adopting and adapting new wine grape varieties for WA to provide for a sustainable future.

“Traditional French varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc remain the mainstay of our industry but consumers are always looking for something new,” he said.

“New wine styles, blends and varieties can provide an edge in the market.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sangiovese and Australian climates

An observation from Italian Winegrape Varieties in Australia (McKay, Crittendon, Dry & Hardie, 1999, Winetitles, p79):

"The climate of Tuscany is most broadly similar to selected locations on the western approaches of the Great Dividing Range in Victoria (e.g., Beechworth), NSW (the Canberra region, Young) and Queensland (Stanthorpe). These regions have in common with Chianti similar heat summations, moderately high sunshine hours, a similar degree of continentality and mean temperatures of the ripening month between 19 and 20.5 [degrees] C"

And yet so much of our experience with sangiovese in Australia is in South Australia, the King Valley and regions such as Mudgee. More to learn yet, I suspect.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Australian sagrantino at the 2010 Alternative Varieties Wine Show, Mildura

The results, though not yet judging comments on classes, are out from the 2010 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show held in Mildura last week. My main memory of Mildura from my last visit is a very large speeding fine copped while running late for a dinner at Stefano De Pieri's restaurant. I didn't make it to the show or the seminars and other events that coincide with it this year, but the results provide plenty to chew over about where Italian varieties, blends and styles are at in Australia.

This is the first year sagrantino and sagrantino blends had a class of their own. It is also the year pinot grigio/gris 'graduated' to mainstream status and out of the show. But that's another story.

The sagrantino inaugural class had nine entries, from a spread of regions. Five bronze and one silver medal were awarded across those nine wines, making for a pretty high hit-rate by my books. Five bronzes and two silvers were awarded across 26 presented wines in the 2009/2010 sangiovese class, by way of comparison.

The show would be better served if the results identified wines using actual wine regions, rather than place names many people will not know. That aside the sagrantino roll call, in scoring order (points the last number in each entry, out of 60) is:

Terra Felix (Port Melbourne), Terra Felix Sagrantino 2009, 52.5, Silver.
Oliver's Taranga Vineyards (McLaren Vale), Oliver's Taranga Sagrantino 2009, 49.5, Bronze.
Amadio Wines (Felixstow), Amadio Sagrantino 2009, 48.5, Bronze.
Chalmers Wines (Colbinabbin), Sagrantino 2009, 46.5, Bronze.
Coriole Vineyards (Mclaren Vale), Coriole Sagrantino 2007, 46.5, Bronze.
Preston Peak Wines (Preston), Sagrantino 2008, 46.5, Bronze.
Chalmers Wines (Colbinabbin), Sagrantino 2008 45.0.
Andrew Peace Wines (Piangil), Australia Felix Sagrantino 2007, 40.5.
Gracebrook Vineyards (King Valley), Sagrantino 2008, 40.0.

For the results, see Results.pdf

I'll have to go to the AAVWS next year. In the meantime, I'll pull together as many of these wines as I can and have a good look. I like the looks of how the list covers NSW, Victorian and South Australian regions, across a mix of climates.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Moscato and globe artichokes

A small experiment last night at a dinner. The globe artichoke crop here is large, so I picked 14 and after soaking to evict the earwigs, boiled them up to serve with melted butter, salt and balsamic vinegar dipping. There was a bottle of Kay Brothers 2010 moscato unopened from the dumpling dinner Friday evening, so this was the match-up.

Globe artichokes, particularly if you eat quite a lot and they aren't denatured by preserving, have an interesting impact on sweetness perception. The further you go with eating them, the effect of making subsequent food or liquid seem sweeter heightens. But what about with sweet wine, like moscato?

The effect on sweetness was as expected, but could be partly counteracted by vinegar if used in dipping of leaf bases. But there was also an impact on perceptions of bitterness and astringency which I had not expected. The moscato became sweeter following the artichoke, but an astringency also appeared when tasting the wine that had not been there when having it beforehand. Not something I have a particular explanation for, but a fascinating experiment.

And I still have around 40 artichokes still to pick of the first flush. The dry-land Mediterranean landscaping of the front yard is loving this wet year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wet Spring in the vineyard

Aside from risks of mildew and soggy boots, a wet start to the vineyard year in Spring can make it tricky for the tractor.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Viticoltori Ponte Prosecco Extra Dry NV

Prosecco, like cava, is the kind of sparkling white wine I most enjoy for casual drinking, or having with food. As good as Champagne is for peak wine experiences, I'd have to admit I've had more pleasure, more often, from cava and prosecco.

Last night, visiting Sydney for work, I ducked in to the Canteen space at Sailors Thai up in the Rocks. A salad of grilled squid with green mango, and a stir-fry of ground pork and green beans were food highlights. But the compatibility of the Ponte Prosecco with food was startling.

Viticoltori Ponte produces several sparkling wines, including this 100% prosecco (glera) from vineyards in Treviso (Piave DOC). The acid is brisk, but not grating. The fruit moved between red-skinned apple, lemon and Granny Smith. In spite of the 'Extra Dry' designation there was enough generosity (even sweetness) to balance the hot/salty/sour/sweet of the dishes. Green mango and prosecco... a new one for me, but it worked, including for a second glass.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taminick Cellars 1919 Series Trebbiano 2010 (Glenrowan)

Trebbiano is a name common to a group of different, if related, vines, usually sharing a common feature of acid blandness. Often dismissed as a wine-lake grape for jug wines and vermouth makers (ugni blanc is a trebbiano), it can make for honest, even surprising wines.

Booth's at Glenrowan have trebbiano plantings dating from 1919 and currently make three trebbiano-based wines. This wine, retailing for $14 a bottle, is the dry, racy, table wine, sold in a riesling bottle (an accurate signal). There is also a sweet trebbiano and a fortified 'gold' trebbiano made in the mode of a white port.

The 2010 1919 series trebbiano from Taminick Cellars is tight, dry, has racy lemon acid and a bit of length about it. But the best feature is the slightest curve of waxy texture and flavour through the mid-palate. I'm no expert with trebbiano, but the good ones I have had show that waxy hint at richness as the acid races along. While some trebbiano can age with interest (especially when made into vin santo), the vast majority are for quick drinking. This is one of those: grab and enjoy it young, fresh and sharp, perhaps with salt and pepper squid, chicken in a tarragon and cream sauce, or octopus marinated in olive oil. 12.5% alcohol.

The image is of quince blossom.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beechworth, King Valley, Glenrowan: 3 parts Italian

Got back last night from a weekend in Northern Victoria. The major drawcard was the first open day at Castagna in Beechworth. I consider the Castagna La Chiave straight sangiovese and the Un Segreto 'super-Beechworth' syrah-sangiovese blend some of the top Italian wines in Australia and have been purchasing Castagna wines for several years.

But the trip also meant I could look at the Italian wines of Chrismont at their new cellar door in the King Valley, and then cross the Hume Highway to look at the 1919 vines trebbiano from Booths Taminick Cellars at Glenrowan.

Highlights for me:
- the 2004 La Chiave sangiovese from Castagna has developed beautifully with years of growth still to come, though the Genesis syrah and Sparkling Genesis were the standout Castagna wines
- the Chrismont prosecco had all the dangerous drinkability of good cava, but their Barbera was the most impressive Italian in the range
- at $14 a bottle, sourced from trebbiano vines planted in 1919, with some attractive fruit and flesh on the midpalate, the 1919 Taminick Cellars trebbiano seriously over-delivers.

Each visit deserves a separate write-up, but the two days as a whole confirmed the prospects of three northern Victorian regions to make distinctive and interesting wines from Italian grape varieties.

The image, taken by Tammy, is of the 2008 Genesis syrah, looking out to the Castagna vineyard.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, Colle Vecchio, Pecorino 2007 (Le Marche)

Just how many grape varieties are there in Italy? More than 350 varieties have authorised status, and estimates range widely as to how many hundreds (even thousands) there may be in total.

This wine, from the Marches (that coastal and hilly region of the centre, adjoining Umbria and Tuscany), is the first wine I have had from the pecorino grape. Pecorino, grown in Le Marche and a handful of other Italian regions, was a grape 're-discovered' by Guido Cocci Grifoni in the 1980s. An early ripening white grape, pecorino can develop rich flavours, textures and potential alcohol. Low productivity had caused its decline until the recent revival of interest.

This bottle started out showing cheesy characters, with passionfruit and pear carrying through the nose and into the palate. Nice, lingering phenolics, even a bit of tannin, takes you out (along with some oldish, slightly oxidised, citrus notes). Interesting wine, and could go well with antipasti such as grilled marinated vegetables or a seafood salad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cantina dei Colli Amerini, Terre Auree 2009 Trebbiano (Umbria)

My sagrantino issues threaten hopeless bias in favour of the wines of Umbria, though the whites from there are still mysterious to me.

This wine, from Cantina dei Colli Amerini, is 100% trebbiano. There is lemon, lemon cordial, a note of Bickfords lime, some chalky/talc characters, and a refreshing finish. While it is a bit one-dimensional, the acids are layered, lengthy and add genuine interest to the wine. 12% alcohol.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spring in the vineyard

I quite like some of the dancing forms and shapes you can see in young vine shoots. This is a nine year old shiraz vine, taken tonight in the early evening.

The grafted sagrantino is waking up more slowly than everything else in the vineyard. The 2006 plantings of tempranillo and savagnin are all showing good early growth on those cane-pruned vines.
This photograph shows early shoot and leaf growth in the cane-pruned savagnin; looking like a good set of possible bunches.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Italian lamb, 2008 The Story Grampians shiraz

Sometimes for me it is easy to forget how well certain Italian dishes and Australian wines go together. Last night, a case in point: simple roast of organic lamb with rosemary, paired with the 2008 The Story Grampians shiraz. The lithe, savoury, bright aspects of the wine brought out the sweetness of the lamb and the crisp oily aromatics of the rosemary. More Grampians shiraz for me in this style, I think. The pairing would also have worked with the crisp sage and sweet, salty meat of a veal saltimbocca.

The simplicity and beauty of the single panel label, shown here next to developing fruit of a dwarf purple shahtoot mulberry, is also something to admire. And did I mention it is available for $22 a bottle and has good development ahead of it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sotto la pergola - new Australian Italian wine blog

Twitter is good for all sorts of things. It let me know that a few days ago a new wine blog came on to the scene. Sotto la pergola, or under the vine, is the Australian blog for Italian wine importers Trembath and Taylor.

The first couple of posts, including one on closures in the Italian wine industry, show some of the benefits of having direct knowledge of the Italian wine scene. Italian wine (even more so than German?) can be a bit of a maze, as my slow rate of learning is showing me. Great to see people with years of experience (going since 1994 as importers) taking the time to share knowledge about their passions and their business.

This also reminds me that I wanted to do some profiles of importers and distributors of Italian wines for this site: Arquilla, Mondo Imports, Bibendum, Douglas Lamb Wines, as well as Trembath & Taylor, are just some of what is an active import scene.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Alinga 2009 Sangiovese (Canberra)

This is the first sangiovese I have had from the Four Winds Vineyard at Murrumbateman that provides fruit for the Alinga wines. Advertised as hand-pruned and basket-pressed, the fruit is from vines of the 'Yarra Yering' clone (no longer grown at Yarra Yering, if I recall correctly). I am unclear as to whether this clone is the H6V9 clone brought in from UCD Davis in the late 1960s, or of one of the later imports from Italy in the 1980s.

The wine is attractive. Very much at the lighter end of the colour and fruit-weight spectrum, it shows best without being too cold. Red fruits, slightly medicinal cherries, good acid and some clear tannin. On night two, it had put on weight in the bottle and went well with beef dumplings, showing less acid and tannin and more the characteristics of a generic dry red. While more clearly varietal when first opened, it went well with food and is decent value at $19 a bottle.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Poggiotondo Cerro del Masso 2006 (Chianti)

Poggiotondo, or 'round hill' makes several wines, including a Chianti Superiore and this wine: a blend of 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% syrah and 5% colorino. Alberto Antonini is responsible for managing the operation, following in the footsteps of his father Carlo, who founded the original Poggiotondo property (called Cerro del Masso) in 1969.

This wine, sealed with Diam, offers appealing Chianti freshness: a lightness of fruit, tangy acid and some good length. The blending components seem to fill out the fruit profile, adding flesh and structure. I would not have picked the 5% shiraz in this wine, which made me wonder what difference the shiraz made beyond the impact of the merlot and the colorino.

Tasted over two nights, the wine went well with home-made pizza. Perhaps the best match of wine and topping was with roast jerusalem artichoke, mashed with confit garlic and fresh thyme, spread over the base and then topped with cubes of organic bacon.

The image is of Alberto Antonini tasting Poggiotondo grapes.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Path life

The last four rows of grenache are to go in today. Lots of time at ground level, working planting spears and dormant vines into soil, mulching, guarding. Lots to see at ground level - this fungi from a path in the front garden (dryland Mediterranean) at home.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pruning Australian sangiovese

The photograph shows the MAT1 clone of sangiovese at stage 5 of its annual growth.

The Chalmers Nursery description of this clone is:

'The vine has low vigour, with short internodes. The form of tip is half-open. The bunch structure is typical of Sangiovese “Prugnolo” biotype, characterized by a cylindrical-pyramidal form and loose density of berries; but has a large size of clusters, usually shows a physiological alteration: “hen and chicken” (green millerandage). The berry has small dimension and elliptic shape. Good resistance to botrytis.'

Reading the 1999 McKay et al book on growing Italian grape varieties in Australia has me wondering how some of their predictions and homoclime analyses have panned out.

A case in point: a significant reason for cane pruning sangiovese (aside from low basal bud fruitfulness in some clones) is managing frost risk from early budding. While I know some growers cane prune (such as Bryan Martin of Ravensworth) their sangiovese, it would be interesting to see statistics on how these vines are managed across the Australian regions, matched against heat degree days perhaps?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Planting grenache and cinsault

At Quarry Hill, we are part of the way through removing a struggling block of pinot noir and converting it to a planting of mixed varieties that will produce a red Rhone blend.

The photograph shows the use of an about-to-fail planting spear from our grenache planting session last Saturday. Four rows of BVRC38 clone grenache sourced from Elite Nursery in the Barossa went in, with four more to go next weekend. We have also planted two rows of cinsault (old vine selections), and prepared a row for grafting to roussanne. This is on top of the initial grenache planting at the top of the hill we put in in 2009.

When completed, the block will supply grenache, shiraz (Great Western clone), cinsault and roussanne. With a planting of mataro/mourvedre going in below the 2006 plantings of tempranillo, we should have the makings of a decent volume of a hopefully good red Rhone blend.

Chalmers 2005 Sagrantino

The Chalmers family have done a lot for alternate grape varieties in Australia. Their old Chalmers Nurseries business brought many interesting grapes to field trials, to the market, and then to plantings around the country. Sagrantino (MAT1 and MAT4 clones) was one of their imports, with, if I recall correctly, the first vintage being released being the 2004.

This 2005 vintage sagrantino was made by Sandro Mosele at the Kooyong winery, but the fruit came from the Chalmers vineyards at Euston in NSW. These young plantings were the source of the sagrantino fruit I bought in 2007 for a trial make in part-amarone process.

The fruit in the 2005 is starting to thin out a little, though still offers preserved cherry and dark bramble berry characters, as well as an attractive, dusty, bitter chocolate note. It is a wine where the flavour of fruit and the taste of tannin are hard to separate. And it does have tannin. Serious, chewy, drying tannin.

I was in the mood for tannin, to go with a full-flavoured pork ragu and fettuccine, and this hit the spot. Bottled under Diam, if you have any of these left, I'd suggest drinking up this year before the fruit fades further. For what it's worth, I reckon this is a wine that would have presented better under screwcap than Diam.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dumpling run

The monthly tasting group, sans one, did an informal session last night at the Beijing Palace in Hawker. The place was packed with moon festival folks and the kitchen was really pumping out the dumplings and Schezuan gear. It is a no-pretensions joint, in the Canberra gem hidden in small shops style, where they make the dumplings by hand, to order.

Unlike the usual sessions, where one person provides all the wines and there can be a bit of a theme, this time was 'everyone bring a bottle'. Mr Lole kicked off proceedings with an excellent 1996 Veuve Grand Dame. We then hit a speedbump with a sherried 2003 Leeuwin Estate Art Series riesling, before Mr Lole pulled a rabbit with a stonking aged German riesling from the Mosel that I could have sworn was a gewurtz blend, so strong and clear the hit of turkish delight. Boiled white fish dumpling, pan fried pork dumpling, steamed vegetarian dumpling: all disappeared at high speed. [update: the riesling was a 1994 Maximin Grunhauser MSR Abtsberg Auslese Fuder 45.]

Then we had some 2005 Lillydale Estate chardonnay and a cold dish of Szechaun spiced poached chicken. I liked the Lillydale, but the riesling handled the heat of the spices better.

After that the dishes started rolling in: braised pork in foil, stir fry beef & vegetable, sizzling bean curd, squid in spicy peppery salt. Brett provided a lovely bottle of Yalumba's Signature (1996?), which went really well with the pork and the beef & vegetables. The additional wine from Tammy (2001 Ashton Hills sparkling shiraz) didn't get opened, but reckon it would have also worked well with the food.

Great night, $35 a head, no pretensions venue (did bring glasses though). Like it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Blind tasting of 23 Canberra District shiraz from the 2009 vintage

Last night I got to do a fascinating horizontal blind tasting of 23 Canberra District shiraz wines from the 2009 vintage. First, a big thanks to Len Sorbello and the Winewise crew for putting this on. I won't post scores, and will wait until Winewise publishes before I make specific comments on particular wines, but it was a fascinating exercise. I thought the idea of a wine publication conducting a horizontal tasting, but inviting winemakers and growers involved in producing the wines to come along and participate, was a really good one, and not something I have seen before. Seeing the similarities and differences in fruit flavours and aromas across sub-regions, makers and styles was eye-opening for me. Thankfully, I could pick the Quarry Hill wine out of the blind lineup. It is a strong vintage for Canberra, including for shiraz, with the average standard of the wines high.

We tasted, in order of serving, not any ranking or scoring:
1 2009 Lerida Estate Shiraz
2 2009 Capital Wines Frontbencher Shiraz (Tank Sample)
3 2009 Brindabella Hills Shiraz (Tank Sample)
4 2009 Lambert Vineyards Shiraz
5 2009 Quarry Hill Shiraz
6 2009 Mount Majura Shiraz (Tank Sample)
7 2009 Eden Road The Long Road Shiraz (60% Canberra)
8 2009 Collector Reserve Shiraz
9 2009 Dionysus Winery Murrumbateman Shiraz
10 2009 Bourke Street Shiraz
11 2009 Capital Wines Kyeema Reserve Shiraz (Tank Sample)
12 2009 Nick O’Leary Shiraz
13 2009 Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier
14 2009 Alinga Shiraz
15 2009 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier
16 2009 Dionysus Winery Estate Shiraz
17 2009 Collector Marked Tree Red Shiraz
18 2009 Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier
19 2009 Long Rail Gully Shiraz
20 2009 Jeir Creek Shiraz
21 2009 McKellar Ridge Basket Press Shiraz Viognier
22 2009 Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz
23 2009 Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier

Well done Winewise for doing this, and Frank Van de Loo from Mount Majura for hosting. Made me feel lucky to be involved in Canberra District wine.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not Sicilian pasta

Hardly the traditional Sicilian sardine pasta, but this went well tonight with pinot noir of the acid/tannin/structure variety (Quarry Hill 2008 pinot noir to be precise).

Take half a bulb of Florence fennel, dice it fine and sweat off in olive oil with a little salt (add some garlic near the end). While the fennel cooks slowly, soak some sultanas (could also use currants) in marsala (I used a dry marsala). Take some good bread, for me it was two small slices from the end of a Knead sourdough, blitz to crumb in a food processor, spread on an oven tray, sprinkle with olive oil and roast off in the oven until the crumbs go mid to dark brown. Spread on a plate to cool off the pangrattato.

Cook off some oricchiette (ear pasta) and when nearly done, add to the fennel around 8 chopped anchovies, the drained sultanas and a bit of something green (I used a bit of leftover cooked english spinach) for colour, plus some of the pasta cooking water. Toss the drained pasta through the sauce over very low heat until it takes up some of the liquid. When on the plate, top generously with the pangrattato and enjoy with something crisp and acidic to cut against the oil and earthy flavours.

Monday, August 30, 2010

2008 Eden Road Barbera Nebbiolo (Hilltops)

A bottle picked up at the Southern Highlands wine centre in Berrima, on the way back from a few days in Sydney. The centre stocks wines from beyond the Southern Highlands, including from Canberra, Tumbarumba and Hilltops. This effort, made in Canberra by the capable crew at Eden Road Wines, is from Hilltops (Young) fruit. Grove Estate, perhaps?

This is a world apart from nebbiolo-dominant barbera blends. Inky, rich, almost tarry fruit offers a profile of smells and tastes more like a GSM blend than anything Italianate. But that is a good thing with this wine. The tannin profile works, the ripeness level works, it is an all-round good drink. Not trying for complexity, this drinks well now, including with aged cheddar and a stew of borlotti beans. Screwcap. $17-$20.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peter Lehmann turns 80, so I drink Barossa - 2005 Rockford Moppa Springs GMS

I found out last night that yesterday was Peter Lehmann's 80th birthday. The only Barossa reds stored at home were Rockfords and Spinifex, as all my Lehmann gear is out in the cool store at the vineyard. But a 2005 Rockford Moppa Springs grenache mataro shiraz seemed like a good option.

This was under cork, and I got a good one. The barest of soaking and staining. The wine started out a little muted, with mainly inky, verging on tarry characters on the nose and palate, so was left alone in a decanter for two hours while I watched snatches of ABC coverage of the Brisbane 'town hall' meeting and pottered through getting dinner sorted.

After the decant, the fruit really powered through. Rich cherry and ripe bramble fruit, with a good balance of soft and strict in flavours and tannins. The grenache dominates, but the mataro gives interest and a bit of wildness. The last glass was the best by some margin, and I think this wine will flesh out nicely over the next couple of years.

A good match to barbecued organic lamb cutlets marinated in Herbie's bay spice, cabbage panfried in ghee with caraway and mustard seeds, and a couscous with mint and parsley. And maybe a good match to a milestone birthday for an important figure in Australia wine.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Freeman Vineyards 2005 Secco Rondinella Corvina (Hilltops)

The 2005 release of the Freeman Rondinella Corvina blend sports a different label to the earlier vintages I have tried, and a new name: Secco. It certainly is a dry, and drying wine, as much from extract as tannins, with fruit currently in more of a supporting than leading role.

This wine uses a CSIRO built solar/gas dryer at Prunevale to dry a portion of Brian Freeman's fuit, along the lines of an amarone wine. As well as using two of the traditional amarone varieties (rondinella and corvina) that are little planted in Australia, the partial drying of the fruit modifies the tannins, producing a characteristic bittersweet and dark chocolate profile. The drying takes around 30% of the wet-weight out of the fruit, concentrating juice and sugars, as well as affecting the tannins in stalks, stems and skins.

From this tasting, the wine needs a few years to come into itself, but was still an excellent accompaniment to beef cheeks braised in red wine, served with a saffron risotto.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Australian sangiovese and pork neck ragu

The 2009 Coriole sangiovese is a wine I've looked at a few times now. It has the goods: price point, fruit, clarity of expression, tannins... It also managed to look good on night three after opening, tasted with spaghetti and a ragu of pork neck, bay leaves and tomato. Interesting to note, a character of beetroot and earth really showed itself on night three. This release could well have the legs to develop over the next ten years.

Hardly a deathmatch tasteoff, but the last glass of the Coriole was had alongside a 2005 Blue Metal Vineyard sangiovese cabernet sauvignon, from the NSW Southern Highlands. The comparative tasting made the cab sav component very apparent, as you might expect. The blend looked a little oxidised and tired, but with fresher fruit underneath. Outclassed, but not disgraced, and still a good foil for the pasta and ragu.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pork in milk / Maiale al Latte

There are versions of pork cooked in milk in several cuisines I know of, but I tend to think of it as an Italian dish. It is something I have never got around to making before, so when planning to cook a dinner for family in Sydney last night, thought it would be good to try. The objective with the dish is to slowly cook out a piece of pork (often a rolled loin with the rind off, but I used a large piece of pork neck) in a sauce of milk, herbs, garlic, sometimes onion and lemon zest. The length of the cooking both breaks down the meat to a shredding texture and causes curds to form in the reducing milk. The texture of the finished sauce - balancing liquid and creamy-solid textures - is the point of the dish, I think.

Anyway, a quick description:

Take a large piece of pork neck, season and brown in oil in a large pan. You need more than light brown colour, but not too dark. Get the excess oil and dark bits out of the pan after the pork is taken out. Chuck in a half ounce of butter and two chopped onions. When softened a little, add five peeled and halved cloves of garlic plus three fresh bay leaves and cook for one minute. Have 4-6 cups of full cream milk warm while frying and add to the onions and bring to the boil.

Now you have a choice. You can add the pork and juices, plus large pieces of lemon zest (at least 8) to the pan, put a lid on ajar and let it simmer for 3-4 hours. Or, tip the sauce into a good-sized baking dish, add pork and juices, scatter lemon, and cover with foil (leaving a small vent for steam) and cook at 180 degrees C for 2-3 hours (longer OK). If, with either method, the sauce hasn't reduced enough by the end of the cooking time for the pork, transfer to a saucepan and bubble to reduce, stirring as attentively as you would a custard, until you get the volume and thickness you want.

Substituting fresh sage leaves for the bay leaves will give a different riff on the flavours. Don't forget to eat the softened pieces of lemon zest.

And the wines:
- a little Quarry Hill 09 sauvignon blanc to sip while cooking
- then on to a lovely but way-too-young Rockfords 2007 riesling
- and then with dinner, riesling plus a switch to a 2006 Donny Goodmac Pyrenees shiraz.

This would also work well with an honest Chianti Classico, or Australian sangiovese.

The sides were jerusalem artichokes roasted in butter, pork fat and rosemary, a dish of 3step beets, and a green salad. For 3step beets: boil whole beets until just giving through the middle, cool in pan, add sufficient salt and vinegar to form a brine, leave in brine for three days, drain, top, tail, quarter, then roast the wedges in butter and salt (some marjoram is an option too) and serve hot.

Both the riesling and the shiraz matched well with the pork and sauce. The shiraz had an edge with the jerusalem artichokes and the 3step beets.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Naming Australian wines from Italian and 'alternative' varieties

I've been thinking a bit about the options for choosing names of wines made in Australia from Italian or other 'alternative' varieties. Pizzini have had a bet each way. Their base wine is labelled for the variety - Pizzini Sangiovese 2008, etc - whereas the top tier sangiovese gets a flash name from an Italian word - Rubacuori (which means heartbreaker).

The Castagna sangiovese has been named La Chiave (key) and later Un Segreto for his 'secret' Super-Beechworth blend of sangiovese and syrah.

Coriole call their basic sangiovese by the name of the variety, Contour 4 as the name for their shiraz-sangiovese blend, and then flag the 'Brunello clone' as the label for that clonal selection wine.

This coming year, I'll hopefully have the first pick and make from the 2006 plantings of tempranillo planted at Quarry Hill (the sagrantino and sangiovese are further off). One option is to label it as tempranillo, another is to give it a name with a Spanish flavour. Pronouncing the Spanish word for quarry, which is 'cantera' in an Australian accent would certainly be a point of distinction...

Underneath these decisions are perhaps some other choices: are these wines Australian wines with some kinds of local distinctiveness (and therefore perhaps should have a local name), or is the Italian or Spanish connection (whether intended to be imitative or not) significant enough to warrant a word or phrase from that language? A veer into the piss-elegant could be all too easy here, but perhaps using a foreign word tongue-in-cheek is the most Australian thing to do?

Pizzini Sangiovese 2008

To me, there is a kind of triangle of styles with sangiovese in Australia. There is Coriole's well-made and well-marketed sangiovese from McLaren Vale, priced at under $20 rrp a bottle. There is the small-volume and high quality boutique sangiovese from Castagna in Beechworth, in the over $50 rrp bracket.

At the third point in this triangle is Pizzini, with their entry level sangiovese in the $25-$30 price range. Pizzini also do a super-premium Rubacuori version of their sangiovese at a super-premium price.

In the past, I have enjoyed vintages of the basic Pizzini sangiovese, but have never quite been convinced that it offers good value for money compared to the Coriole basic wine. With the 2008 Pizzini release, from a challenging King Valley vintage, I think I am changing my mind.

The wine opens attractively, with bright red fruits to smell. The fruit has real depth of flavour, especially through the somewhat sweet mid-palate. The acid and tannin profiles are varietal and settled, as is the oak presence. The fruit built in weight and length on the second night. For $27 a bottle, this is Australian sangiovese of genuine interest.

On the first night, this matched well with a 1kg t-bone steak done in bistecca alla fiorentina style. As the fruit put on weight for night two, the wine then matched well with a wet-roast of organic lamb leg, borlotti beans and rosemary.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Primo Estate Moda 1997

If pressed, I would probably pick the Primo Estate Moda part 'amarone' as my favourite Australian 'Italian' wine. The wine is mainly cabernet sauvignon, with some merlot blended in. The distinctive, 'Italianate' feature of the wine is the rack-drying of a portion of the grapes, in the method of amarone. The result is a wine built for ageing, developing attractive leathery and sometimes tarry characters after ten years. To my palate, the drying process modifies the cabernet tannins, adding an additional bittersweet character, somewhat like bitter chocolate.

The 1997 Moda is 90% cabernet sauvignon from McLaren Vale, with 10% Merlot from both Coonawarra and McLaren Vale. It opens up with bitter cocoa, resolved cabernet fruit, a hint of coffee and an attractive depth of fine, drying tannins. On the showing of this bottle, the wine will continue to develop over the next three years (though this had a perfect cork).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Frati, Ca Dei Frati, Lugana 2008

Tasted blind, this offered some interesting richness of texture and palate weight. As well as lemon rind and a refreshing crunch of acid, there is something spicy going on as well. At the time, I wondered if this was 100% dry. It had some of the characteristics of a richer riesling, and some of what I thought reminded me of grechetto.

Hailing from Lombardy, this is Ca Dei Frati's top white wine. Four generations of the Dal Cero family have worked the estate since it was purchased in 1940, the estate is focussed on lugana (a type of trebbiano). This did not show that well for me in this tasting, but suspect with air and over a lengthier time (like dinner or a long lunch) would have been more attractive. Definitely not a bland version of trebbiano, much of this went through malolactic ferment before spending months in tank on lees, then going from steel to bottle. It would go well with a seafood salad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Australian Nebbiolo - 2004 Di Lusso Nebbiolo, Mudgee

I'm starting to come around to thinking that nebbiolo is not a one nighter kind of grape. Over the past two nights, I've had a bottle of the 2004 Di Lusso Nebbiolo open. At 13.6% alcohol, seeing only old oak, and having a splash of barbera for a bit more fruit, on the first night this looked like something that should have been had two years ago. While still a serviceable match for a lasagna of lamb and mushrooms, the wine lacked interesting nebbiolo fruit, presenting a dry palate of slightly blocky tannins and considerable acid. It had a good decant, but clearly not enough.

Night two, this time with a roast chicken, red pepper, celery and pea pasta, the wine was completely different. Engaging fruit had come up out of nowhere, the tannins and acids settling back into a well structured and refreshing drink. The second half of the bottle went quickly. I have a couple more of these from a cellar door visit a few years ago, and will have another next year and maybe hold the last for 2014. Sealed under cork.

Carpineto Vino di Nobile Montepulciano 2003

For foreign drinkers, the heart of montepulciano has a confusion between name of grape and name of place. The montepulciano grape makes Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines in the Abruzzo part of Italy. Away from Abruzzo, a separate wine is made near the village of Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany, mostly from sangiovese.

This wine, the 2003 release Vino di Nobile Montepulciano, is made by Carpineto. It is 90% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo nero. I am not aware of anyone growing canaiolo grapes in Australia, but from what I understand it played a softening, extending and preserving aromatics role similar to blending trebbiano into chianti.

The 2003 vintage was difficult in and around Montepulciano - hot, dry and fast for many producers. This wine doesn't quite have the expressive elegance I look for in good examples of sangiovese from Montepulciano. There is an inky character accompanying the aged fruit and still somewhat unresolved tannins. The wine looked like it may have brettanomyces issues on the first night, but this backed off on night two to produce a decent accompaniment to a slow beef casserole and braised fennel.

Still, when the sangiovese wines from Montepulciano are on song, they can offer much of the pleasure of good brunello for quite a lot less money.

Kyle Phillips has an excellent overview of the impact of the hot 2003 vintage for the Vino di Nobile Montepulciano:

Tasting group dinner - Italian wines at Italian & Sons

I'm in a tasting group that meets once a month for dinner and a brace of wines. We take it in turns, with a different person each month choosing the venue and providing the wines. It's a good way to try a range of wines from some very different cellars. May was my turn, so I decided to do an all-Italian lineup at Italian & Sons.

The food and wines:

Bellavista NV cuvee
- I think this is my favourite Italian white bubbles from the French varieties. Liked the balance of development and acid on this. Good with the antipasto.
Antipasto: focaccia; cured salumi plate; assorted olives with sage, chilli and rosemary
- Excellent quality smallgoods here. The bubbles went best with the salt and rosemary focaccia just from the wood oven.

Bracket of two whites with the next two dishes:

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco 2005
- Stunning, mesmeric white wine for me. Constantly shifting and evolving (had been decanted for three hours). Sometimes fresh lemon, sometimes candied lemon peel. Some development, but still freshness and intensity. Maddening smells that would come and go - fennel bulb, fennel seed, fenugreek, hay. Made from carricante vines, goblet-pruned and grown on the slopes of Mt Etna. Had a 2003 of this a few weeks ago and this was a whole order of better. Having an elderly Italian wine waiter who grew up 20 minutes from Benanti's vineyards was a magic touch.

Corte Sant Alda Soave 2009
- Very much a contrast to the Benanti! Good fresh characters, including a little pear juice, and attractive acid. Handled the soused sardines very well. Nice example of soave.

'Sarde in Saor' sardine fillets, pinenuts, currants and chardonnay vinegar
Tortellini di zucca, filled with roast pumpkin, ricotta and leek, with a burnt butter and sage sauce
- My pick of these was the sardine dish. Lovely balance of sweet and sour. Even tempted two of the group who had sardine issues... though they did also have some deep fried salt cod puffs.

Ciacci Brunello 2004
- This was really on song. All the power of good brunello - waves of nutty tanins (almost like tasting the skins of roast hazelnuts), attractive dried herb characters, restrained cherry fruit, even more restrained oak. Lovely. My wine of the night, I think, as stunning as the Benanti was. Everything I like in sangiovese.

Wood roasted fillet of beef 'Stracio' with lemon rucola and horseradish maionese
- This was the best dish of the night, for me. Very simply presented, slices of rested beef from a fillet cooked off briefly in the wood oven, salted and arranged on lemon-dressed rocket. A dollop of hot horseradish mayonnaise gave a contrasting sweetness and spice. Blissful, quality, simple Italian cooking, and just about perfect for matching the brunello.

Borgogno Riserva 1999 (Barolo)
- Always a pleasure to try a Barolo with more than ten years on it. This looked a little older than a 1999, having moved through much of the secondary fruit spectrum and showed plenty of leathery development. An interesting tannin contrast to the Brunello - here less about waves of tannin, more like a lake. Good to drink, and excellent to accompany the roast suckling pig and cheeses later, but shaded by the Brunello for me as red of the night.

Roasted suckling pig on the bone 'Sardinian style' with baked apple and sage, cavalo nero, pan juices
- Pat and co at Italian & Sons source small pigs (3-5kg) and roast them whole in the wood-fired oven, before breaking down the meat and crackling. Especially liked the large, fluffy pieces of baked apple and the excellent crackling here.

Braida Brachetto
- I really enjoy brachetto. All about fresh, sweet, red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), attractive bubbles and not too sweet. Very easy to drink, especially with desserts. Better a match with the fruit and panna cotta than the cheeses though. A different part of the sparkling red spectrum to what we tend to see in Australia.

Formaggi - selection of Italian cheeses served with crisp bread and dried muscatels
- Good cheese mix, though hazy memory of exact details. I do remember two of the party sneaking in a couple of panna cotta.

A good espresso to finish and all done for another month. Great night, with lots of laughter. Always a good sign.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Winter in the vineyard - young grenache

In 2009 we started converting the struggling upper pinot block to varieties for a red Rhone blend. The photograph is of a 2009-planted BVRC38 clone grenache vine being taken back to two buds. Gro-guards are reapplied after cutting the vines back, checking the mulch isn't touching the trunk, weeding if needed and giving them a bit of fertiliser. These vines will come away strongly in Spring, pushing up the guards and to the cordon wire. Later this year, the conversion of the block will continue with grafting of some roussanne and the planting of more vines.

The intention for the blend is to have something like:
  • grenache, 33%
  • shiraz, 28% (different clones to the other Quarry Hill shiraz)
  • mataro, 23%
  • cinsault, 10%
  • roussanne, 6%.

Something to look out for in 2012, perhaps? Or after. These things take a while.