Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ochota Barrels 2011 'surfer rosa' sangiovese (Adelaide Hills)

A fragment of a note from Max Allen put me onto this wine. Ochota Barrels, the wine project of Taras and Amber Ochota, is a producer I know from their initial release of grenache, but until Max's aside, I'd no idea there was a sangiovese part of the project too.

And there is another story here, apart from the generally-excellent story of Taras and Amber making wines around the world, including a stint making wines in Puglia and Sicily for a Swedish wine importer. Not to mention the time with Two Hands, Murray Street, Nepenthe, Californian producers and a winery in Southern Sweden. I kept expecting a story about the first vineyard in the Arctic Circle...

The most recent story has to do with a trip in Mexico and a decision to stay sticking together things surf and wine, which somehow leads to taking the best McLaren Vale grenache and the best Barossa shiraz and making the best wines they can, from the best stuff, from the best places... all of which makes sense, but none of which makes obvious sense for a sangiovese from the Adelaide Hills.

But this wine does make sense - a whole lot of sense. All 1168 bottles of sense. 110 cases of falling for a small parcel of fruit then swinging through some very different (for Australian sangiovese) wine making. It looks like a darker-rose, to start with. It's bottled in blue glass with a snappy blue label. It has barely a brush with sulphur. The fruit was handpicked in June. Not summer-June. There is 1% of Arneis skins included (bagged & frozen three weeks earlier just for this purpose). It has 20% whole bunches, a seven day cold-soak and a a wild yeast ferment.

It spent 77 days on skins. Days. There is tannin rippling all through this wine, pulling along beautiful, crunchy-fresh acids. There is sangiovese fruit in fleshy display ('vamping' as Taras puts it) but nothing plush or reliant on sweet-ripeness of fruit. Basket pressed, settled and bottled with speed.

Light, yet intricate, this is a $25 bottle of mesmerising fun. I've not tried an Australian sangiovese remotely like it. Get onto this.

$25, winery purchase, screwcap, 12.5% alcohol. Bottle 234 of 1168 tasted. Two more to go, which won't make it past Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sangiovese at the 2011 AAVWS #1

Class 15A of the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) covered 2010 and 2011 sangiovese. In much of the country, 2011 was not a good vintage for sangiovese, with fruit suffering under the disease pressures of cool and wet. But 2010 was a different story, many regions having a break from heatwave, drought, frost and other difficult conditions.

This was a small class of 14 entries. Some wines definitely needed more time to come up (like the 2010 Vigna Cantina), but my general impression of the class was poor. From what I saw under show conditions, the wines I would buy were:
- 2010 Chalk Hill sangiovese (McLaren Vale, stainless steel, then large-format old oak), which took a bronze from the judges
- 2010 Coriole sangiovese (McLaren Vale, strong showing, well worth a gold medal, which it received)
- 2010 Watershed Premium Wines 'Senses' sangiovese (Margaret River, the other gold medal awarded).

It is useful to look at the prices as well as the regions here. The Coriole has a $25 rrp but will often retail at about $20 a bottle if you look. The Chalk Hill is a $22 rrp. $25 for the Watershed. These wines can hit a good balance of quality and price point - something I still think is a fundamental problem with quite a bit of Australian sangiovese. Of the three, the Chalk Hill could afford to dial the 15.5% alcohol back, but did not really show distorting heat that much. The Watershed made me think I need to have a closer look at Italian varieties coming out of WA (the Juniper Estate Tempranillo extending that case into Spain).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fiano & Malaysian food

A quick note on a surprising match (for me). Dinner for a birthday last night at Abel's Kopi Tiam restaurant in Manuka. Walking over from the bus, I go past Vintage Cellars and decide to duck in. Let's not dwell on the service, but I notice a bottle in the chill cabinet of the 2010 Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills Fiano for less than a $20 and decide to take it to dinner, along with the 2007 Lazy Ballerina McLaren Vale shiraz viognier from David Hook I was already lugging.

A large-ish group, so a banquet was the plan. Fried squid in spice, a good chicken satay, fresh roti, lots of vegetables, rich noodles, a chicken curry, beef rendang & rice... The fiano did a surprisingly good job against everything other than the rendang. The fleshy, candied-lemon texture and flavours, plus a touch of phonolic grip, all worked well with the moderately spiced food.

So, Fiano and Malaysian food. Worth a try, I think.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vigna Cantina 2010 Sangiovese (Barossa Valley)

Here is a wine that requires a bit of time to show itself (and to get its measure). Vigna Cantina is the 'Italian' label of Torzi Matthews, with the range also including a good old-vine trebbiano. The Barossa has some older-vine sangiovese to work with, including on sandier soils that can help balance out the vines at sensible cropping levels. Some of the vines Penfolds have used for their Cellar Reserve Sangiovese were experimental Kalimna plantings put in in 1982. Apparently, there are a few early trial wines made that never saw external release... Wonder what they were (or are) like?

But back to Vigna Cantina. These vines, at Moppa Springs and Koonunga Hill in the Barossa, come in at 15 years of age and are cropped moderately (2.5kg per vine). Winemaking choices are similar to the 2009 version of this wine (reviewed here) - whole berries, 30% whole bunch, wild yeasts, small open ferments, basket pressed and taken to bottle unfiltered.

The wine itself shows a good balance of fruit character, acid and light, burring tannins, but needs time in the decanter or glass to come up (a couple of years in the cellar could work too). As a pop-and-pour, it can look a touch under-fruited, with a note of something lifted, almost volatile. Perhaps as a result of the wild yeast ferment, this lifted character (not VA for me) can be a bit distracting, but with time the purple and red fruits well up nicely to balance things out. A good wine, straddling the categories of sangiovese and Barossan dry red, and decent drinking with time and grilled meats. Sensible alcohol a further plus.

Sample, $22 recommended retail price, screwcap, 13.5% alcohol. Winery website here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Umani Ronchi 2008 Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore

This wine is the unoaked but 'serious' older vines verdicchio from Umani Ronchi. While it shows the work, especially in skin & pressing derived phenolics and a drying, chalky finish, it is a satisfying drink. Brought in by Trembath & Taylor, this needs to be served a bit warmer than a full chill to give the fruit a fair chance at expression. The acid profile is all lemon with length and structure delivered by the phenolics & a lick of skin tannin. While the acid suggests chardonnay, the nose and the palate say this is something different. At the recommended retail price of $45, this is worth a look if you have an interest in seeing 'serious' treatment of Italian white grapes. Personally, I prefer verdicchio more directly expressed and focussed on refreshment rather than complexity, but this did drink well with a barbecued pork fillet, roast baby capsicum, couscous and a green salad.
Cork, 14% alcohol.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2011

For three days last week I was a steward at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year at the beginning of November in Mildura. It was a good thing to do, giving me an insight into how a (good) wine show runs that you don't get as an exhibitor, punter or observer.

I'll do a few posts focusing on different aspects of the show and the results, but to start off, here are a couple of general comments:
  1. The quality of the alternative whites, including the 2011 vintage, surprised me. The 'other whites' class (Class 10 - other white varieties or blends) had 11 of 19 entries take a medal (including a bronze for the 2011 Quarry Hill North Block savagnin sav blanc blend). It was the strongest of the classes I tasted through from the steward's table.
  2. The judges liked the sangiovese classes a lot more than I did. Not much there I would be prepared to pay full tote for. But a couple of good wines that I'll write about later.
  3. The quality of organisation for the show is evident in the excellent presentation of the results, including the capacity to drill back into wine-specific information. See here for an example. One step further would be to publish the summary judges' comments for each wine, along with the summary of entry.
  4. Having tasted all 24 of the straight savagnin wines in Class 5 (a class awarded a solitary bronze medal), I think the judges might have missed some decent wines (such as the 2011 Tscharke 'Girl Talk') that have done well with other reviewers and in other shows. This class and the white rhones really needed to be served with some chill on them, rather than at a Mildura room temperature. Room to do better here, I think, as tricky as the logistics can be.
  5. The 2011 Scott Fiano from the Adelaide Hills is excellent - well-deserving of the gongs it collected, including Best White Italian Varietal and Best White Wine. I reviewed the 2010 of this back in January here and mentioned this was a producer to watch, something this show's results confirm.
  6. The 'Steward's Choice Award' (a packing room prize), clearly the best nod to get from the whole show, went to the 2010 Greenstone Colorino. My pick for the prize, it was, looking even better than my earlier quick look at the Bibendum roadshow. It will get a proper review, with food, sharpish.
All in all, a great wine show experience. Well-organised and well-run, with a good mix of judges from different backgrounds and viewpoints. Knocked the edges off some of my wine show cynicism too, which is good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Preston Peak 2008 Sagrantino

My first sagrantino from the Granite Belt. I first encountered wines from this region when I moved from Sydney to Brisbane at the beginning of 1995. Because long trips are best done with stops in wine regions along the way, I spent time in the Hunter (keen on semillon chardonnay as I was) and then a Granite Belt stop off out of curiosity. I haven't really kept an eye on Queensland wines since my early years in Brisbane, so when I heard good things about Toowoomba-based Preston Peak's Granite Belt sagrantino, I was keen to get a bottle to try.

It smells good, and like a sagrantino. Loganberry. Lots of loganberry. Purple and black fruits to smell and taste. The raft of tannin carries the fruit into the mid palate, but beyond that the fruit goes missing and only acid and tannin (mainly tannin) continues. Has promise, but also has that lack of fruit carry that can come from young vines. A producer, vineyard and variety to watch though.

Screwcap, 14%, sample, rrp $38, http://www.prestonpeak.com/

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Argiano 2005 Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello with a bit of age on it can be dead-right drinking with Italian grilled meats. There is something so right about the fit between charred meat and grilled nut-skin tannins.

Argiano's 2005 bottling of Brunello comes out light in the glass. Less an orange rim from development - more a wine that will have been light in colour the whole time. An observation from my dining companion: have you ever seen an Australian sangiovese of that colour? I struggle to think of an example of an Australian sangiovese that has the light-red sparkle in the glass, like a lighter-hued pinot, rather than a deeper red.

We have polenta fritters stuffed with gorgonzola, rosemary focaccia from the wood-fired oven, and some smallgoods (proscuitto & capocollo) to start. The wine does well. It does that Brunello thing of leading with tannin, then refreshing acid, then fruit tucked in behind. The tannins really do taste and feel like the skins of grilled nuts (hazels, especially). A tagliata, again from the wood oven, of beef crusted in salt & pepper, served on radicchio & rocket, with a horseradish sauce, also sits well with the wine. I finish with some truffled pecorino, the last of the wine, and a good short black.

Good eating (at Italian & Sons), good company and a bottle of Brunello. Enough to feel lucky about, really.

About $120 (list price), sealed with a cork.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A sagrantino dinner

A wine memory. 2006. A McLaren Vale connection, an invite through the Kay's of Amery, through Mark Lloyd of Coriole to a dinner with sagrantino wines brought back by friends of the Lloyd's from Montefalco in Umbria. The friends had decided to grab a bunch of the wines they'd brought back and put on a dinner at Fino in Willunga. Another layer to this: the wines had been put together by the people the friends stayed with, at a pensione just off the three-walled historic square of Montefalco. Generosity and friendship, folding over each other.

I hopped on a flight to Adelaide, then to the Vale. Good food, great service from Sharon Romeo, but the wines were my highlight:

- 1998 Adanti Arquata Montefalco
- 1999 Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco
- 2001 Rocca Di Fabbri Montefalco
- 2002 Fongoli Montefalco
- 2002 Ruggeri Montefalco
- 2002 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco

- 2004 Murry Darling Collection (Project Wine Series), Chalmers (Euston, NSW)

- 2001 Adanti Arquata Montefalco Passito
- 2002 Ruggeri Montefalco Passito

The Caprai and the Scacciadiavoli were my pick of the dry sagrantino wines, with depth of fruit, clarity of expression, acres of ripe tannins and a dusting of bitter cocoa. The Adanti passito wine was also an attractive introduction to the traditional mode of sagrantino.

It was a great night, I was welcomed warmly by a room full of people who didn't know me from Adam, the wines were a gift and we only paid for food. An affirming moment of wine culture for me, and a night that confirmed why sagrantino is worth chasing - as a drink and as a vine.

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 www.rncas.org.au

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. www.castellare.it

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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fennel, for red wine

Here's a dish aimed at pushing florence fennel to red wine territory.

Halves, quarters, eighths, cut a fennel bulb, keeping some of the stem & core attached with each wedge. Marinate the cut fennel in salt, sugar, a little extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a blood orange. Get a bbq grill hot and flash the fennel wedges for quick and deep colour. Back the bbq heat back to very low and slowly cook out the fennel.

As each piece (some will break up) cooks soft enough, drop back into the bowl of marinade and toss around to steam and soak. When all the fennel is cooked and in with the marinade, top the mix up with a very little bit of raw garlic, the juice of the other orange half and its zest, a touch more olive oil and some flat-leaf parsley torn up by hand. Toss it around and check the seasoning - you may need a splash of red wine vinegar to sharpen up the sauce, which should have taken on a beautiful caramel colour from the bbq.

Serve this cool. I had a slice of terrine (guinea fowl & orange), some sourdough bread and butter, a big spoonful of the fennel with some leftovers of pinot noir (2005 Williams Crossing) and 2008 Barwang Hilltops cabernet sauvignon. Both matched well with the game terrine and the fennel, including against the sweet/sharp orange & caramel of the sauce. A richer sangiovese or grenache would also have matched well.


Radio, live transmission.

Transmission resumed, and that Joy Division song stuck in my head.

Bianco-rosso has taken a back seat over the past month and a bit. Illness, the death of my father, travel, work, a bit of falling out with Quarry Hill folk. All car seats full, only the boot left for wine.

But things are picking up. Drinking, cooking, making beer & wine, writing... all coming back. As affirming a mix as Joy Division.

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong.
And hide from these days we remained all alone.
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time.
Touching from a distance,
Further all the time.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mapping Italian wine

Mucking about with maps is one of the things I do in my day job. There's quite an art to laying in different types of information to produce an arresting, engaging and memorable map.

I have recently come across Antoine Corbineau's national and regional map of Italian wine. Full of whimsy and playful images, the maps overlay history and the contemporary, including other produce and history of the regions.

I wonder what a similar map of Australian wine regions might look like?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting started

My earliest wine memory is Italian. A Sydney Christmas, I would have been thirteen, left with the dishes to do with everyone else in bed. A bottle of Donelli Lambrusco left out on the bench, amid the piles of pudding bowls and pavlova crumbs. A little sip... this stuff tastes alright. A sink of dishes, a bit of wine, more dishes, pour some more wine.

Nothing broken, slept as well as ever on Christmas. Years later, back to Italian wine and still find something quietly satisfying about doing dishes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pork skin, meatballs, red wine

What to do with a small piece of home-made pancetta, some pasta and a bottle of red wine?

Take a piece of pancetta, rind-on, about the size of the back of your hand. Soak it in water for a while. During the soak, braise some finely-diced onion, carrot and celery in a little olive oil until soft, adding some bay leaves, thyme and garlic towards the end. Lift the heat, add some white wine, bubble it off for a bit then top up with stock and chopped tomato. Add the soaked pancetta and cook the sauce out very slowly for seven hours or so (try a simmer pad).

Make some meatballs. All pork mince is fine. Get some garlic into the pork mix plus seasoning and grated zest of a lemon. Work the mix until it sticks to the bowl. You are aiming for lightness of flavour here and a worked texture, not something loose and open.

When the sauce is ready, pull out the pancetta. Strip off the skin and cut into small strips. Break up the pancetta meat and return to the sauce. Fry off the meatballs and then give them a little time in the sauce while you cook off your pasta (spaghetti works well with this). When the pasta is just shy of done, add it to the pan of sauce and meatballs and finish it off.

What you should have is a depth of flavour in the ragu and a lightness (leavened by the lemon rind) in the meatballs. The thin pieces of slow-cooked rind and the pasta will have textures that play off each other too. You might find yourself wanting more rind next time...

And for wine? Try a bottle of Masi's Campofiorin ripasso wine, using rondinella and corvina grapes. It has depth enough to handle the sauce, without overbearing the other flavours. I opened a bottle of the 1995 Masi Campofiorin, which looked like a good, aged red underneath the oxidised characters. Thank you cork. A fall back bottle of Preston Peak 2008 Sagrantino from Queensland's Granite Belt did a fine job as a backup bottle.

Friday, June 3, 2011

In response, on alternatives, great wine & Canberra

[written in response to a post on Nick Stock's postferment blog and cross-posted here for convenience]

So many possible things to say. Thanks Nick for the post over on your postferment site.

I’ll start with a bit of clarification: the sentence you quote from me about preferring sharing learning rather than expertise refers to my wine writing and blogging. I have higher and different standards for wine I make or have made. If I’m not happy the wine would impress me as a drinker, in and of itself, and with a story wrapped around it, it’s not fit for release. I dumped my whole make of 2007 sagrantino, from Chalmers fruit, as it didn’t come up to spec. As for pricing, my own philosophy (with a nod to Stephen George at Ashton Hills and Drew Noon) is a price for that wine I’d be happy to pay as a punter, and no more. Speaking as myself, not for Quarry Hill here.

Preamble aside, here are my first responses:
1. Great wines are not the only wines people want (and are able to) make and drink. There are many times where what I want from sangiovese in the glass is Chianti and not Brunello, even when I can afford the latter. Sometimes ‘great wines’, in the sense of wines that challenge, fascinate, capture and command attention, simply demand too much, or are wrong for the food or mood of the table. Tuscany without Chianti would, I suggest, be unable to do Brunello. Great wines may actually lean on their ‘lesser’ bretheren for support and cash-flow.

2. Great wines take committed experimentation and time. Even in ‘new’ regions like Priorat, Hawkes Bay or Canberra, it takes a progression of vintages and wines to learn, improve and sometimes know what to give up on. The commitment (or at least interest) of producers, trade, writers and consumers along that time of learning is what is needed to produce great wines. Yes, some of that commitment and interest may be driven by novelty, but that does not preclude a simultaneous commitment to excellence. You can be trying to produce great wine and doing something new at the same time. Likely to be harder than other options, riskier as well, but possibly more fun and maybe even a better fit to site and district than doing something more mainstream.

3. Is the 40 year modern history of the Canberra District long enough an experience, across enough sites/terroir, grapes, techniques, vintages and people to support an injunction to stick to our shiraz and riesling knitting? Perhaps it is. But I’m unconvinced enough testing of those possible combinations, over enough time, has taken place. Successful shiraz in Canberra, with ‘great wine’ in its sights, is something I’d say there is 10-15 years of evidence for. Is this categorical proof that, for instance, tempranillo may not be the best red grape for the District?

4. If Canberra did stick to its knitting of riesling and shiraz, even forgetting about climate change, what happens when Australian shiraz moves further from fashion in domestic and international markets? You could have a tiny district, with a small crush, producing a heap of great wine, which can’t sell. And I would not be expecting this swing in fashion to coincide with a riesling revival. Wouldn’t it make sense, even for small producers hell-bent on making great wine, to have some diversity in their vineyards, cellars and price lists? Perhaps along the lines of a Clonakilla red rhone blend, for example? Or the Mt Majura blend of tempranillo, shiraz and graciano. Or Alex McKay’s rhone white and ‘serious’ sangiovese?

5. There are at least some producers who go into alternative varieties, techniques or blends with good heads on their shoulders, packed full of homework. Did Mt Majura rush into tempranillo without a long run-up of thinking and learning? No. As well as time spent knowing that site, Peter Read’s knowledge of tempranillo helped inform the decision to plant and where on that site. The result being a good wine, aiming to be great, since the 2003 vintage. People like the Grilli’s at Primo Estate, Mark Walpole and Louisa Rose don’t devote time, passion and energy to alternatives on shallow whims or as low stakes bets. These stories need telling to balance your critique, I suggest.

Yes, there will be lazy dabbling, producing wines of similar quality, in Australian ‘alternatives’, but is that really any more prevalent than the lazy, poor, heartless and dishonest wines being made in Australia from chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet? If you wanted to see more great and less average or poor Australian wine, perhaps the mainstream is closer to the heart of the problem?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Expertise (fish, ponds, size)

A comment from wine writer, reviewer and maker Nick Stock at the recent ANU Wine Symposium is still rattling around in my head. Among a diverse range of arguments, observations, provocations and fripperies was a comment about how some sommeliers and other people in Australian wine were focussing on alternative grapes and wines because it was easier to be an expert there - easier to be a big fish due to the small size of the pond.

Nick named no names, so the comment floated free of any yoke to specific examples, but it got me thinking. I probably would not disagree with Nick that there will be some people who have a focus on the alternative and the rare because it is an easier path to expertise than say mainstream French varieties and wine styles. But I could not honestly say I know who these people are, that I could name them and would do so publicly.

Most wine people I know, in and out of 'the industry', even where deeply involved in the alternative or the rare, would hesitate to call themselves 'expert'. For me, the more I know, for instance about the grapes and wines of Italy, the more clear to me become the gaps in my knowledge, its limits and constraints.

If I disavow a desire to be 'expert', where does that leave me? As an 'enthusiast', an 'amateur', 'dabbler', 'dilettante', a 'practitioner' because I work with Italian vines and wines... (certainly not a 'professional' as that's tantamount to expertise)?

For my writing and blogging, I think I am happiest with 'student'. My knowledge is less than 'expert' in wine or in Italian wine, and suspect it will always be the case that there is more left to learn than I will ever know. And I think I'd rather share my learning than my expertise, whatever size this pond is.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pio Cesare Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese 2009

Grignolino is a new grape for me. Reading up, I find it is one of the tribe of 'lesser' red grapes of Piedmont. Now quite rare in Piemonte, plantings cluster between Asti and Monferrato. The name refers to the many seeds found in grignolino grapes. Grignolino is sometimes described as making rose-like wines, of light fruit, freshness and often a somewhat orange colour. This 2009 grignolino from Pio Cesare is not like that at all.

The fruit is mainly fresh strawberry and sour cherry to smell and taste, and sparkles in the glass rather than blocking all light. In fruit character it somewhat resembles village beaujolais, but the tannins and acid say Italy to me. The integration of fine, grippy tannin and acid is excellent, stretching out together from start to finish, without dipping or coming apart. Genuine refreshment here. Not for drinkers looking for fruit-forward styles of lighter red wine, but well-suited to cut through a plate of lasagna or sliced smallgoods.

$33.25 at Dan Murphy's in a mixed six-pack, sealed with natural cork (about to fail, this one), 13% alcohol.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The numbers on Italian wine imports

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released March quarter 2011 data on wine sales and imports earlier this week. So what do they tell us about Italian wine being brought into Australia?

Annual figures have 6.607 million litres of Italian wine cleared for Australian import in 2009-10. The 2011 March quarter showed 1.604 million litres, up 23% from the 1.301 million litres of Italian wine imports for March quarter 2010.

New Zealand provided 63% of Australian wine imports by volume for the March quarter 2011, Italy the 2nd ranked source at 12.6% of imports by volume, just ahead of France at 12.5%.

By customs value, New Zealand had 59% of March quarter 2011, 25% for France and Italy at 8.5% share.

Underlying trends for Italian wine imports into Australia are positive for wine by volume (growth of nearly 20% in volume between 2001 and 2010). But over the same period Italian wine imports into Australia grew 29% in customs value.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Noble' grapes

I attended the 7th ANU Wine Symposium yesterday, which continues with Canberra District vineyard and winery tours today, concluding with a gala dinner tonight at which James Halliday is the after dinner speaker. The speakers at the symposium included Brian Croser talking riesling, Dan Buckle from Mt Langhi Ghiran talking shiraz, Nick Stock on why alternative varieties aren't a path to great wine, Libbie Tassie on alternative varieties suited to Australian regions and an excellent presentation on climate change (Andy Pitman).

Lots to think about and discuss, including content relevant to Italian grapes and wines in Australia. But to start, a few comments on some ideas threading through the day, as well as through discussions out of session. Brian Walsh from Yalumba tugged at some of the inconsistencies of wine thinking, especially that the arguments valuing single site wines of 'terroir' often advocate avoiding winemaking interventions that efface diversity, yet also hold that those single sites should be managed for consistency (rather than diverse expression across that single site, or over time). So managing for consistency to express vineyard terroir, then swinging round to avoiding managing for consistency in the winery to also express vineyard terroir.

Threading through some of the day, especially conversations I had out of session, were continuing ideas that some grapes are 'noble'. This can be an inherent claim to nobility (the genetic argument), a claim that only some grapes have made 'great wine' (the historical argument), and a muddy two-step starting with the idea that great wine is basically French wine so therefore the noble French grapes are the path to making great wine.

For me, when people argue for terroir expression as how great wines are made (akin to Andrew Jefford's 'wines of place' category) and argue that only some grapes are 'noble', there is a rift through the middle of their arguments. If great terroirs and wines are found and made through a lengthy process of trial and attunement, surely the starting point can be the broadest possible set of grape varieties capable of optimal expression of that terroir? Wouldn't starting with a small set of 'noble' grapes to try against and within a terroir actually reduce your chances of finding best fit?

My own small experience since 2005 has been that at Quarry Hill sauvignon blanc is less of a good fit that savagnin; shiraz a better fit in most seasons than pinot noir. The 'noble' grape thinking, for this specific site, has to me effaced what's positive and distinctive about our terroir. The ignoble, here, speak more clearly. Perhaps this means we can never produce 'great wine'?

[The Francophile list of 'noble grapes' is usually riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon & merlot. If the categorical belt goes out a notch, nebbiolo, sangiovese (Brunello mode) and shiraz might sneak in.]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Primo Estate Joseph Moda 1999

The cork on this has worked so well the wine shows barely any development. This could be a three year old wine, instead of one past its 11th birthday. The 10% merlot (Coonawarra & McLaren Vale) is quite evident, especially as a hit of olive & plum to taste. The tannins are still to soften - a full wall of drying grip - but the fruit has weight and stability enough to wait it out. All the cabernet for the 1999 Moda 'amarone' came from McLaren Vale, and it is good fruit. Assuming you have a good cork, this is a Moda to leave until 2015 before re-trying. 14.5% alc.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Last look (Gran Sasso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008)

What did I think of this wine in 2009?

This is very tasty. Great colour and good fruit intensity. Cracking value at $120 delivered for a case. Dangerously easy to drink with barbecued food, or pizza.

Where is it now, with my last bottle from a case?

Still good fruit, but less of it than previous bottles. As the fruit drops away, notes of astringency and bitterness sound out more clearly. Drink up now, if not already.

Top-notch value Italian drinking over a couple of years from a case delivered for $120. Not much more to ask for, really.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Silverfish (Primo Estate Moda 1990)

The silverfish clearly appreciated this bottle of 1990 Primo Estate Moda 'amarone' cabernet merlot. A beautiful example of how the Moda wines can age, this was expressive and distinctly cabernet from opening. Resolved tannins with a touch of bitter-sweet to them, this was excellent drinking and showed no sign of being near the end of its life. Unlike the label.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vin santo

I have been working on a vin santo (ish) trial project for a while now. In 2010, savagnin fruit from our 2006 plantings at Quarry Hill were allowed to ripen a little further than for a crisp, dry table wine. The grapes, still with sound skins and good acid, were transferred to wooden drying racks, which were then stacked into wheeled towers. Half a ton of fruit made two drying stacks.

The fruit took a couple of months to dry, with regular checks, rack by rack, to remove any grapes that looked dodgy (an especial eye for sour rots). Drying rates were checked against a series of tagged sample bunches, weighed periodically through the drying.

The final dried weight of the fruit had dropped by around 45%, which is probably a bit too far. I would try 30%-35% next time (as I did in my 2007 trial of drying sagrantino). The dried fruit was then crushed by feet before being bucketed into the tiny manual basket press above. The acid, honey and raisined juice was given some time to settle before being racked to ferment.

So far, much of the techniques used were as common to French vin de paille wines as they are to Italian vin santo. The next step was to both ferment and age the thick juice (27 baume) in an oxidative environment. Lacking the small, cigar-shaped caratelli barrels used for much vin santo, I used two small plastic fermenters and then into glass demi-john for conditioning - both vessels with significant headspace, as with vin santo.

The wine took about 10 months to slowly tick through a ferment in ambient conditions, no heating or cooling. It has been racked twice, some off-spec juice discarded, and all remaining 44 litres of it now need a final tidying up before bottle.

So does it taste like vin santo, or a French vin de paille, or something else entirely? Tasting it earlier this month, I'd have to say bits of all three. Depending on how it negotiates the last steps to bottle, there could be half bottles of something distinctive to sell, or even give away. This has certainly whetted my appetite for looking deeper into Italian vin santo, as well as helping appreciate the work involved in taking half a ton of fresh grapes into 40-odd litres of finished wine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Clafoutis, slow-cooked quince, scorched hazelnuts

Adapting a David Herbert recipe, via a tip from Bryan Martin, plus a bit more.

Take a couple of quinces, peel, core and quarter. Make a light sugar syrup, add a splash of vanilla, white wine vinegar and then the quinces (include the peels & cores). Put a round of baking paper over, then a lid, and bake at 120 degrees C for at least three hours until the quinces have developed full colour. Overnight at a lower temperature is also fine.

Cut the purple/red, cooled quince into pieces of about 3cm. Scatter in the base of a buttered pie dish, dot with a little butter and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of brandy or liqueur. I used some cumquat brandy I've had on the go for a couple of years.

Now the batter. Take 250ml of milk, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of vanilla, two eggs and another tablespoon of brandy and add to a food processor. Process to a smooth batter then pour over the fruit and bake at 180c for 30 minutes or so until set and showing a little colour on top.

While the clafoutis is cooking, shell a couple of handfuls of fresh hazelnuts, scatter on a baking tray and the roast off briefly in the oven when the clafoutis has come out. Let them scorch just a little, then rub some of those scorched skins off in a towel. Serve wedges of the clafoutis warm or hot, with cream and the scorched hazels. A dessert wine with some age and cumquat marmalade characters goes well, such as a botrytised semillon sauvignon blanc, or try a Moscato d'Asti.

Cherry and prunes are two traditional clafoutis fruits. If using fresh cherries, roast them off in the buttered pie plate with a little butter, sugar and brandy (or kirsch) at 200 C for 5-8 minutes before turning the oven down, adding the batter and finishing the cooking as above. With prunes, try reconstituting them in some dry marsala before adding the batter.

To make cumquat brandy, take a good, solid and clean glass jar. Pick or buy enough good quality cumquats (not calamondins), give them a wash, flick off any stems, pack into the jar and add a decent amount of sugar. Fill the jar with brandy and seal. Keep in a cool, dark place, giving it a turn or two every couple of days over the first few weeks until the sugar has dissolved. Leave for a further three months then start to draw off the brandy or fruits. Will keep for years.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

Riserva chianti can sometimes be a story of same fruit but more oak, age and cost, not always to the benefit of wine or drinker. But there are good values around in riserva chianti. This wine, from Castello di Gabbiano, from a chianti vintage I like, can be found between $30 and $35 at retail and shows that sometimes riserva chianti can show good sangiovese character without excessive oak. A good foil to salt & rosemary foccaccia from a wood-fired oven, it also went well with bresaola and then a beef tagliata with rocket, horseradish and lemon. Purple fruits more so than red, it shows more fruit stuffing than many entry level chianti, as well as some attractive grainy tannins. Worth a look.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Made a batch of ricotta at home last night, for baking into a cake with quinces & hazelnuts today. Which would then be good with a bottle of Italian sweet wine, perhaps a passito from Pantelleria, or vin santo. Or a botrytised semillion.

Here's a simple method for making ricotta (recipe thanks to Bryan Martin):
- take 2 litres of whole milk and bring it up to 90 degrees, stirring so it doesn't catch (a jam or candy thermometer is useful here)
- when it gets to 90 degrees, add salt and the juice of a lemon, reducing the heat
- give it 10 minutes on lowish heat for the curds to form, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid catching (but try to avoid stirring the curd too much)
- ladle the curds and whey through two layers of cheesecloth or muslin in a colander over a large bowl
- drain the curds for at least 20 minutes (overnight is also fine), pressing if you want a tighter cheese.

Eat the cheese, or cook with it, over the next couple of days. If you want a creamier cheese, add some cream to the starting milk. Vinegar or citric acid can also be used to curdle the mix.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Brown Brothers NV Prosecco (King Valley)

I have never had a wine that tasted so much of lemon sherbet. This is fairly simple and straightforward charmat-style prosecco, but none the worse for that. The wine has a final alcohol of 11% and stays bright and crisp from nose through palate and finish. The lemon sherbet flavours and characters (the pressure-tank fizz) do repay some attention. There is a fresh lemon aspect, a touch of candied lemon, and also a kind of 'chemical lemon' commercial confectionary note (much better than it sounds) all working together. Perhaps fruit of different ripeness and multiple picks from the Banksdale vineyard in the King Valley? While I'm unsure a cork closure rather than crown seal makes sense for this wine, it does the business as a $20 a bottle aperitif prosecco. Which is more than I can say for the Flash-dependent Brown Brothers website.

Update - Brown Brothers are certainly on the ball. They've advised me they are part way through removing Flash from their website, aiming to have the whole site iphone compliant. Nice work and great to have feedback from the winery at such pace.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trio Italian

Three simple things, Italian and local, coming together well:

- fresh hazelnuts, picked myself from a planting close to the vineyard, including a couple of Italian varieties that have reddish skins or are flattened out and pointed, rather than round.

- fresh figs, from the coppiced tree at my back steps.

- nocello (or nocino), an aromatic liqueur I made from green walnuts picked two suburbs over, steeped in neutral alcohol with spices, lemon zest & balanced out with some sugar.

Makes a simple, local, Italian and good dessert. Bite of ripe fig, a hazel or two, then a sip of nocello.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dinner with pecorino and barbera

A relaxed dinner with friends at Italian & Sons last night. Trapped into drinking Peroni by asking if it was local or not, but then into good wines and food.

With a dish of sardines marinated in vinegar, onion, pine nuts & sultanas - a glass of 2009 Caldora Colle dei Venti Pecorino. Recommended by the waiter as a good match for the sweet/sour/fish/onion challenge of the sardine dish, this turned out to be a good recommendation. Not overtly fruity of definitive in flavour, the wine's most obvious characteristics were a light gold colour and a line of oxidative flavour (in a good way) that really worked against the fish dish. Somewhat like how the oxidative line and weight of fino or manzanilla sherry is also so good with sardines.

Even better drinking was a bottle of the 2008 Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba. While the rest of the table had a round of pizza, I had the Thursday night special of White Rocks veal with marsala and king brown mushrooms. Excellent, it was, with the veal tender, the marsala well-judged and the mushrooms inspired. The balance, poise and acid of the barbera sat well against and across the savoury and sweet of the veal dish, as well as the different pizza I may have helped myself to.

So a good, relaxed time of Italian food, wine and conversation. Even if no one agreed with my dislike of Mad Men's version of late-fifties and early sixties America. A good short black and a glass of Nocello get me over these things.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Coriole Sagrantino 2007 (McLaren Vale)

The back label text for the 2007 Coriole sagrantino reads:

"Sagrantino is the most recent addition to Coriole's range of Italian varietals. It has a reputation for being one of the most tannic varieties in the world, but with great structure and longevity. This wine will reward patience with careful cellaring."

There's an admirable Australian directness about that reference to tannins, kind of "right, we've said it, that's out of the way now." The wine is not as tannic as the back label suggests, but it is about structure. It is also about deep fruits, purple-black but shot through with red fruits notes. Some Umbrian sagrantino (not just the blended ones) show a touch of dried herb in behind the dusty, bitter chocolate characteristic of the variety. This wine has some of that chocolate, and good persistence to go with the structure, but needs some time to fill out and add further complexity.

There is a fear among sagrantino makers and marketers from the few Australian vineyards and wineries who have it that consumers will think it too cabernet-like. Yes, it is a tannic variety, but these are not cabernet tannins. With the grip, there is a dusty, gritty, sandy, nut-skin character to the tannins that, combined with the bitter chocolate notes, make for something distinctly Italianate (and very good with braised or roast pork; Umbria is the porcine heart of Italy, after all).

If I had to try and describe good sagrantino through an Australian frame, I'd say it has the structure, length, fruit intensity, depth and persistence of a top cabernet-shiraz blend, with Italian notes throughout the nutty tannins and bitter chocolate finish. But I think I prefer the Coriole label approach - take it on its own terms, with directness and honesty.

$45, cork, winery sample, 14% alcohol.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yarrh 2004 Sangiovese (Canberra)

This wine, along with several of Bryan Martin's Ravensworth sangiovese wines, convinced me that sangiovese could be a good fit with the Canberra District. I bought a six pack and have followed them over the last six years.

The Yarrh vineyard is in Murrumbateman, closer to Ken Helm's site than it is to Clonakilla or Quarry Hill. It's a sloping site, wrapped around with native vegetation, including reveg plantings, topped off with a well-designed winery and cellar door. While the vineyard has some good air drainage, frost, disease and drought pressures, as well as sangiovese being a tricky prospect in the district, mean that a crop of quality each year is far from certain.

The 2004 as a younger wine had expressive cherry fruit and an attractive mix of nutty tannins and dried herb varietal characters. Through the bottles had between 2006 and 2009, these characters remained, topped up by a little tannin softening and bottle development. But this bottle suggested a wine on the downhill run. The nose has unstitched itself from the rest of the wine, turning dry-reddish rather than varietal. The varietal characters are still there on the palate, but they are fading, with the bones of the wine poking through.

Matched with a tray-roast of chicken thighs, onion, carrot, tomato, thyme, rosemary, oil and red vinegar, the wine clearly had its best days behind it. Still drinkable, it has lost the characters that attracted me to it over the past four bottles. Still good to follow these wines over time though.

Yarrh Wines, $25, screwcap, 14% alcohol.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Picking savagnin at Quarry Hill

Savagnin was planted at Quarry Hill in 2006. Thought at the time to be 'real' albarino, it has since looked well-suited to the site. A tiny amount of fruit was picked in 2009 for a micro-ferment of 27 litres. In 2010, more fruit (most rack-dried to make an experimental dessert wine, some off to Brian Schmidt at Maipenrai).

For vintage 2011, the savagnin vines were cane-pruned back to 6-8 buds per cane, with double or tirple buds flicked out by hand. Later in the season, the vines were shoot-thinned to control yield but also to shape the canopy and ensure good airflow in this wet year.

Picking happened on Monday March 7, along with the sauvignon blanc, and the savagnin plantings provided 2.4 tonnes of good quality fruit. Tasting the fruit at picking, then the juice from the press that evening, the main impressions were of citrus and crunching through a green-skinned apple.

So from planting vines in the winter of 2006, we should have a dry, textural new white wine available around August 2011. It's important not to rush these things.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

David Hook 2009 Barbera (Hunter Valley)

What is the point of barbera? Where does it sit against sangiovese and nebbiolo as 'the' red grapes of Italy? And why bother with barbera in Australia?

I have a lot of time for barbera as a grape. When done well, it can be both 'serious' (for whatever that's worth) and functional. There are few wines I reckon do as well with dishes using slow cooked tomato sauces, in part due to barbera's ability to retain natural acids as it ripens. Ripe barbera can sit in the purple (rather than red or black) fruits spectrum, riding high on acid, with a generous set of dusty, grippy, sometimes sandy tannins.

Whereas some sangiovese will offer grilled nuts, nut skins and dried herbs, barbera can substitute a slightly bitter, fresh herb, astringency. Against tomato-based pasta sauces, for example, or an osso bucco made with tomato, that bitter herb character, combined with bright and bouncing acid, yet still a decent weight of primary fruit, can see barbera a better match than sangiovese or nebbiolo.

But it can go wrong. Overcrop it, shade it out, don't thin the fruit back and you can end up with a thin, barely-fruited, overly-tannic, searingly acidic underdone soup of a wine.

This 2009 Barbera from David Hook in the Hunter Valley avoids many of the problems that can befall this grape. There is a bit of a hidden story about the Hunter Valley, cloud-cover and sunshine hours that make it a region nominally too hot for some types of 'quality' grape if considered on heat summations alone. This is ripe, with red and purple fruits, a touch savoury and attractive to smell. The nose says real wine and brambly spice to me, before a palate that builds tannins and acids as you move through a glass, then a bottle.

It livens up even more with food. The fruit folds back into the wine (this was tasted with bistecca) and lets the tannins and acid cut and refresh. My minor quibble about what is otherwise an enjoyable barbera is that with more airtime the acids and astringent finish become more pronounced, including a tinny note of pressed citrus rind (almost as you can find in young-vine tempranillo). A glass carried over to a second day continues this trend.

Fully-priced at $27.99 from Dan Murphy's, this is $25 a bottle from cellar door and is sealed with a Stelvin Lux closure. This could settle a flesh out a little more with time in bottle, but I would drink it in the next two years, not trying to hold a bottle over more than a night open. Worth a look to indicate what barbera is doing in Australia (and can do in the Hunter), but the current release Chrismont 2009 Barbera (King Valley, $26 rrp) is a more convincing and better value argument for the grape in Australia.


Two new discoveries for me:
- Using my pancetta and artichokes preserved in oil as a pizza topping (just a bit of cheese and tomato sauce underneath). A great combination of salt, oil and sharp from the artichoke brining, plus the giving texture of the artichoke against the chewy resistance of pancetta cut into batons. Went well with a Rockfords Moppa Springs grenache mataro shiraz blend. A sangiovese or barbera would have been a good match too.
- Hazelnuts in pesto instead of pinenuts. Dictated by the necessity of having run out of pine nuts and needing to make pesto to go with a pane di casa loaf I'd just baked. Usually, I have little time for pesto variants (especially commercial pre-mades that substitute many of the key elements that make fresh, traditional pesto so good). But this time, using good hazels with the skins on, the pesto turned out lighter and crunchier than usual. The skins gave the pesto a length of flavour (and tannin grip) that made it an excellent accompaniment to the fresh bread. Surprisingly good with a sparkling pinot noir from Adelaide Hills fruit (done as a white bubbles with the barest touch of bronze), but would have also been good with a prosecco or pinot grigio.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Wednesday night dinner was a visit to the newish Dieci e Mezzo (half past ten?) restaurant in the base of the new ACTEWAGL building here in Canberra. With a chef ex of Otto in Sydney and some cluey owners, Dieci stretches across breakfast, lunch and dinner services, with a largely Italian menu (though does not pass itself off as such).

There is some good Italian cooking, respectful and daring, going on in this kitchen. Some excellent marinated fish and gnocchi were had. After a Menabrea beer while looking through the menu and list, two other dishes stood out for me as interesting experiences with wine:
- A savoury pannacotta made with a deft loading of taleggio cheese sounded like a good chardonnay match to me. The chardonnay (from the good winelist, as this is not really a BYO venue) was a 2009 Oakridge. The matching did not work at all. Even though the food texture was light and creamy and the cheese flavour restrained, the chardonnay needed more weight, texture and generosity to complement (and compliment) the food. As it was, the wine looked thin, tinny and green-edged, all bone no curve, and exaggerated the mild fungal note of the taleggio.

Moving on...
- Veal stracotto with kipflers and quail eggs. Lots of soft, stewy, sweet-edged savoury textures and elements in the stewed and pulled-apart veal. The excellent service at Dieci included a suggested additional salad that provided a contrast of light, bright, crunch and acid: pea shoots, inner leaves of red radicchio, pickled red plums, pistachio. A winner of a salad, and exactly what the dish needed.
The wine I had was a glass of Nerello Mascalaese, a red wine from a grape often overshadowed by Nero d'Avola. A little wild, brambly spice (almost reminiscent of mataro), a pulse of ripe tannin and enough easy acid to balance the sweetness of the slow-cooked veal. Tenuta Della Terre Nere the producer, if I recall correctly.

So the unfamiliar Italian wine the better match with both the braise and the salad, while the pairing I thought most likely did not work at all. But definitely a restaurant to go back to. Very different to Italian & Sons, but a strong addition to Canberra's options.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Octopus, basil & white wine

Excellent fresh octopus are being fished out of Eden on the far south coast at the moment. Light braises and warm salads are some of my favourite late summer cooking and eating, and made with seafood can partner very well with pinot grigio, vermentino or Hunter semillon.

Take one medium-sized fresh whole octopus. Cut between head and legs, push out beak, slit down the side of head, trim membrane to remove guts, cut out the eyes and give everything a good rinse. Take care to not break the ink sack. You will end up with the head in one piece and the legs in another. Add to simmering water in which you have a bay leaf, some peppercorns and seed of wild fennel. Simmer, skimming to remove scum, until the octopus is tender. An hour is often about right.

While the octopus is simmering, finely dice onion and red capsicum. Sweat very slowly in olive oil with a little salt until very soft (as per a Spanish sofrito), adding chopped garlic near the end. When soft, lift the heat and deglaze with white wine, then back to a simmer.

Take the octopus from the water. Remove any skin you don't feel like eating, then cut the head and tentacles into bite sized pieces. Add these to the sauce and stir for a minute or two over low heat to get the octopus to take up some flavour. Add sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to bring the sauce up to a balance of sweet/sour, check seasoning and remove from heat. Stir in a generous amount of torn fresh basil leaves and serve.

Good with bread and butter, and a glass of something white and fresh.

Friday, February 18, 2011


My Italian is terrible, but I can appreciate the poetry in "delusione" as one of the Italian words for disappointment.

Two old Italian bottles this week, at a dinner at Rubicon:
- 1961 Pira Barolo
- 1979 Produttori del Barbaresco.

The first, oxidised. The second, cork tainted. But the bottles themselves, beautiful glass and design.

The dinner also redeemed by other excellent wines:
- Krug 1995
- Maximin Grunhauser M-S-R Abstberg Auslese Riesling (Fuder 45) 1994
- Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling Vendange Tardive 1989
- Jean-Jacques Confuron Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts 1996
- Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases 1985
- Ch. Coutet Cuvee Madame 1986
- Taylors Vintage Port 1970.

Raviolo of confit rabbit with braised mushrooms an outstanding match with the Confuron red burgundy. Using powdered porcini as flavour and a buckwheat-like texture in the pasta for the raviolo was something new and good to me.

Many thanks to David Lole for providing the wines.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Primo Estate Joseph Moda 1998

My three favourite Australian red wines would be Penfold's St Henri, Tyrrell's Vat 9 and Primo Estate's Moda. St Henri is its own creature, but both Vat 9 and the Moda have something 'Italianate' about their tannin, acid and fruit profiles, while also being distinctly Australian.

Where Vat 9, at least in its traditional form, is all about Hunter shiraz in large format old oak, built for drinking from 10 years of age, the Moda tells a different story. The 1998 version says 'Joseph 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot' on the front label, 'Moda Amarone' only appearing on the back of the bottle. This was Jo Grilli's 13th vintage make of an 'amarone' style wine, and it is 90% cabernet, 10% merlot. Sources vary with different vintages of this wine, with the 1998 taking the cabernet from McLaren Vale and the merlot from both the Vale and Coonawarra.

The cork on this bottle had just started to seep and fail - the barest of stained creases under the foil. Unusually for a Moda, the merlot component showed through quite clearly, though the overall impression was of dust, olive, bitter chocolate and beautifully mellow bittersweet tannins, courtesy of the grape drying process. Still fresh and bright, across fruit and acid, with no real dropping off of colour or a thrown crust. Lovely drinking, a wine in a good window at thirteen years of age.

Drunk with a rack of free range pork, roasted in the Weber over stock vegetables and herbs, the pan deglazed with dry marsala. A gratin of organic Desiree potato, cooked in butter in the oven, with lemon thyme and golden marjoram went well with the pork and the wine. Aged Moda and salty, puffy, crunching pork crackling is a very good thing indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sparkling pinot grigio - tasting without category

Even when tasting blind, I use categories to order my expectations, process what I taste, and make judgements however subjective. If I can see the wine, the visual cues start the categorisation: white, pink, red; bubbles or no; age cues or no. Tasting non-blind, category cues can be stronger. Knowing the year, the variety or blend, region, maker, the pricepoint, how the wine made its way to you... all these cues help build a frame for evaluating a wine.

But the efficacy of these category cues largely depends on having past examples to populate these categories with. Judgements of difference, or similarity, rely on other taste examples. But what happens when you have a new category and a new example, such as a sparkling pinot grigio from the Adelaide Hills?

One aesthetic judgement argument would suggest that the new object (bubbly, lemon juice on fresh pear, crisp, light to drink) could be processed against how it makes the taster feel. What do the senses say? What sensations are produced by watching, smelling, looking, tasting, drinking the wine? Is there an emotional response? This is judgement from affect (emotion, sense, sensation, considered together).

But I don't find I can taste wine from affect alone. Categories creep in. I have never had sparkling pinot grigio before. But I have had Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, German bubbles and sparklers made from 'other' grapes, such as riesling, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. And I have had pinot grigio before, the grape in the grigio-to-gris range, from different countries and regions. I know that I prefer gris to grigio, that I like the grape to taste of bright pear juice more than citrus, and to not show alcohol heat.

The glass in front of me, even while I try to not think categories but focus on newness, on the affective dimension of the wine, ends up passing by these other categories (variety, style, region) in my head. It's my first sparkling pinot grigio, and I quite like it (the Japanese woodcut label another aesthetic cue), but I end up tasting it with mouthfuls of many other wines. Which is fine by me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Pancetta #3 - Amatriciana & pinot noir

Thinking about a good pasta dish to match with pinot noir? Recent experiments with the home-made pancetta included a good match between some young pinot noir (2008 Wickham's Road) and spaghetti all'Amatriciana.

While cured and dried pig cheek (guanciale) is my ideal meat for combining with tomato and chilli for making the Amatriciana sauce, home cured pancetta is a good variation. The sauce can be stripped back to olive oil, cooked-out pancetta, tomato and chilli. Or done slowly starting off with onion and pancetta in a little oil, braising over low heat for 20 minutes or so, before adding garlic, chilli, a little white wine, tomato and a touch of sugar. Cook out slowly until the sauce 'cracks' and oil starts to separate. Check for seasoning and serve tossed through pasta. Bucatini is traditional, but I also like this sauce with penne or spaghetti.

As much as barbera-based wines can be good fits for sauces using tomato, I find young, bright and brisk pinot noir can also have a fruit and acid profile that matches well with pasta and Amatriciana sauce.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Corte Normanna Falanghina (2008)

Tasted blind in a lineup of Italian whites, the 2008 Corte Normanna Falanghina impressed me. Starting with a little onion skin, this falanghina also offered smells of dried herbs and marshmallow. Candied citrus peel and good acid carried through the palate, tailing out along a long, acid finish.

From my scribbled notes, I guessed this could have been a bright vermentino, or even a soave or other garganega based wine. Wrong on both counts, and another confirmation of falanghina as an interesting Italian white grape.

Sourced for the tasting through Enoteca Sileno.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sangiovese and serving temperature

Last night, out for dinner at Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie, we worked our way through a simple bottle of a sangiovese from Abruzzo at a range of different temperatures.

First pour: This would have been served at about 25 degrees. Almost volatile, fruit flavours blurry and diffuse. Not really drinkable, but better with a little ice added from the water glass. Bottle returned to the fridge.

Second pour: Around 20 degrees. Started to show a demarcation of red and purple fruits. Nose lost lift and prickle and started to show some cherry characters. Better drinking, including with potato and chive gnocchi. Sent back to the fridge for more cool time.

Last pour: Around 16 degrees. Much clearer expression of varietal characters. Acid and tannin now in focus, though still a softer, easy drinking style of sangiovese. A good match for a simple but tasty dish with cotechino sausage and lentils.

Kind of good to have some of the wisdom about impact of serving temperature confirmed like this - in the one place, from the same bottle.

Pancetta #2

My toe in the smallgoods water has been pancetta. Unsmoked bacon or petit sale, really. The Gallic dry cure used salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns and juniper berries. As Jane Grigson notes in her excellent book on the history of French charcuterie and pork cookery, much Roman preserving of meat followed Gallic examples, flavourings and techniques. Which helps explain why I found myself using a French cure recommended by an Englishman (Hugh F-W) to make an Italian product.

Anyway, the first test of the dry cured pork belly was the bacon sarnie. Salty, crispy, porky bacon unsmoked goodness with soft white bread, a bit of butter, some lettuce and sauce. Test passed. Second test: bacon and eggs, also passed. Third and fourth tests still to come: pasta and then soaked and simmered with peas, petit sale style. Think I like this smallgoods thing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Zucchini risotto and riesling

In honour of the summer of riesling, I matched up a good, young Australian riesling with some Italian cooking tonight. A simple risotto: sweat some proscuitto crudo off in olive oil and butter until starting to colour, add arborio rice and give it five minutes in the fat, stirring. Hit the base with some white wine (Tahbilk 2010 riesling from Nagambie Lakes in Victoria) and when taken up, start adding chicken stock with a small zucchini coarsely grated. Keep it just moist, stirring in more stock as you go. When the rice has nearly lost its chalky centre, take it off the heat, add a second grated zucchini, stir in some cubes of cold butter and grated cheese (a bit of pecorino tonight), touch up the seasoning and let the creamy, oozing rice rest for a few minutes. Serve with a bit more cheese and seasoning if it needs it, and a crisp dry white wine (like the 2010 Tahbilk riesling).

Much as we think about wines like riesling having different textures and qualities over phases of their lives, this dish gives you two cuts of zucchini. One cooks all the way out, losing colour and texture into the background of the rice. The second add barely cooks, giving youth, colour and freshness. And there is something about the taste and sweetness of just-picked young zucchini flesh and skin that works so well with the crisp and cut of young, dry Australian riesling.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Making pancetta

Making Italian smallgoods is a new thing for me, so I'm starting out at the easy end with making some pancetta. Unsmoked bacon with a dry salt cure plus some aromatics, basically.

A tad over a kilo of pork belly, skin on, has gone into a glass dish. Juniper berry, black peppercorns and fresh bayleaves have been ground with salt. Mixed with more salt and soft brown sugar, the dry cure mix is rubbed into the meat once a day. Each night, I'll drain off the liquid and rub another handful of cure into the pork.

Around day 5, there'll be bacon. Or pancetta (pre-drying). Or something.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Scott 2010 Fiano (Adelaide Hills)

My second wine from this new Adelaide Hills producer and I like it a lot. Fiano has the ability to retain natural acidity even in the heat of South Australian vintage, as well as delivering some genuine interest in flavours, textures and palate weight.

What I like best about this wine is that it does not taste of young vines. Sure, it is ripe fruited (13.5% alcohol), but there is weight and intensity that is unforced and honest. The citrus is there (more in the just-candied lemon part of the spectrum), there is an attractive lemon pith bitterness, it has length, persistence and crispness, but for me the star of the flavour show is a clean and clear hit of pear drops - pear fruit and pleasantly sour acid, working together. While a little less ripeness and alcohol might freshen the wine and give it a more brisk carry through the mouth, I wouldn't want it to come at the expense of that clarity of pear drops flavour and acid, nor the richness of mid-palate texture the wine has.

Good fruit, smart winemaking and a characterful wine of versatility and persistent interest. A producer to watch, I reckon.

$25 rrp (10% off in a six pack), 13.5% alcohol, screwcap. Website here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scott 2009 Shiraz Sangiovese (Adelaide Hills)

I have a lot of time for the Adelaide Hills as a wine region. Ashton Hills is around the top of my South Australian wine tree, but newer producers such as Ngeringa and Mike Press also feature in my buying and drinking. That said, some of the Adelaide Hills standard bearers do not do much for me (the Shaw & Smith shiraz being a case in point - much prefer their chardonnay).

Scott Winemaking is a new Adelaide Hills producer. The range includes a Fiano, a sparkling pinot grigio, a multi-vintage sparkler from the traditional French champagne varieties, and this wine, a blend of 82% shiraz and 18% sangiovese. Blending trials for wines like these must be fascinating - seeing the shifts in flavour, aroma, texture and finish as the balance of the blend alters.

There are the hallmarks of Adelaide Hills shiraz here, with purple fruits, a little tar, some violets and a plushness of texture, especially through the mid palate. The 18% sangiovese adds notes of cherries and a lightness through the length of the wine, including a touch of furry tannins. The overall lift (not VA) of the wine makes me wonder if a bucket of viognier might have found itself in the shiraz ferment at some stage. Delicious is not a word I often use for wine, but there is a fruit-driven succulence to this that warrants the word.

The wine went well with herbed lamb, roast borlotti beans and a dressed salad of broad beans and mint. I doubt it has the bones for age in bottle (not a wine about structure, tannin and acid, more about fruit shape, weight and texture), but that is no bad thing given how well it drinks now. The 20% new and 80% used French oak seems a good balance, but I suspect a little more sangiovese in the blend may have made for a better wine.

14% alcohol, sealed with screwcap, rrp $25 a bottle or $22.50 in a six pack ordered via their website.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Italian food, two slices, Penne Salsiccia

Two versions of penne with sausage:

1. Machine cut raw capsicum thin & unpeeled. Make basic sugo. Boil, fry, or boil then fry, simple 'Italian' pork sausages to stabilise, then cool and slice into rounds. Frypan, heat, olive oil, saute the raw capsicum until it softens a little, add a handful of sausage slices, fry a little more. Add a ladle of sugo, a few black olives and cooked penne. Toss, heat and serve.

2. Boil an uncooked cotechino sausage gently for about an hour, lift and cool. While that is happening, make tomato sugo. While the sugo is reducing, take a mix of capsicum colours and either roast in the oven, barbecue or grill over the gas hob until the skin blackens and the pepper softens. Rest, covered, to loosen the skins with steam, then peel, remove seeds and tear or slice into strips. Slice the cotechino, push the skin away and crumble into medium sized pieces. Sweat a little onion in olive oil until softened and just starting to colour, adding a little fresh garlic (crushed with a knife) at the end. Turn up the heat, add the sausage, fry a little, then add strips of roasted capsicum, a splash of white wine, some sugo and a little fresh thyme. Start to cook the penne as the sauce gently simmers. When the penne is just cooked, lift, drain a little and add to the sauce with a few black olives. Cook gently for a further minute to have the pasta 'take' some of the sauce, without overcooking, then serve.

The back story here is dinner out last evening at Bellucci's in Woden. Penne Salsiccia was explained as penne with cotechino sausage, roast capsicum and sugo. As with #1 above, penne and sugo did feature, but the cotechino and 'roast' capsicum were no shows. While the second version does involve a few more steps and take a bit more time, it is a more honest accounting.

The sausage penne dish was accompanied by a bottle of 2003 Fox Gordon cabernet sauvignon from the Barossa. The sweetness in the wine, and the capsicum flavour, went well with the capsicum (undercooked and skin on as it was) and the sausage pieces.

Earlier in the evening, another bottle of the Taminick Cellars 1919 vines Trebbiano was well-liked by the table. A touch more development has helped bring forward the waxy texture and integrate the crisp, lemony acid.