Spitbucket Sessions Vol 13: Western Australian Wunderkinds with Mark Gifford

13 04 2011


(The man himself, sharing typical Western Australian hospitality at Prevelly Beach)

The picture above serves several purposes. First of all it shows just how stunning the Western Australian coastline is. It was taken at Prevelly Beach, just a stone’s throw from the Margaret River township and dozens of top wineries. What it also does is illustrate the generosity of Mark Gifford, who with his mate Brad Wehr (of Wine by Brad and Mantra Wines fame), hosted an impromptu beach-side tasting for my wife and I on a recent trip there. Cracking wines and fantastically friendly people. The third thing it does is show you what Mark looks like, so that when you pass him on a Sydney street this week, you’ll be able to grab him by the arm and take him to the nearest watering hole.

Mark has rounded up a special selection of top WA wines for this lucky 13th installment of the Spitbucket series. He has modestly only included one wine from his own estate, so I suggest you get online sharpish and check out the others from the fantastic Blue Poles range.

Bracket 1:
Mantra SSB 2010 [@mantrawines]
Moss Brothers Moses Rock SSB 2009 [@Moss_Brothers]

Bracket 2:
Howard Park Chardonnay 2008 [@HowardParkWines]
Fraser Gallop Estate Chardonnay 2009 [@FraserGallopEst & @kate_morgan]

Bracket 3:
Mantra Shiraz 2008 [@mantrawines]
The Collection Shiraz 2008 [@vinedrops]

Bracket 4:
Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2008 [@BluePoles]
Greedy Sheep GA HANNETT Premium Reserve Malbec 2009 [@GreedySheep]

Bracket 5 :
Fraser Gallop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 [@FraserGallopEst & @kate_morgan]
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 [@Mentelle]

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 13th April from 6.30pm sharp. I’m a bit late with the wine posting this week so it is now sold out – sorry! In future just tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Spitbucket Sessions Vol 12: Hogan’s Heroes

26 03 2011

(Lifesize Hogan action figure available on the night)

The year was 2003 and Tom Hogan was working in several of Adelaide’s finest establishments: Supermild, Rhino Room and B Sharp Records. His life was populated by Too Many DJs, not Too Many Winemakers. Then one day Tom, his girlfriend (now wife) Alice, and I took off to the Barossa and I took them around some of my favourite cellar doors. At Torbreck he had some sort of epiphany. Must have been serious as he and Alice proceeded to snore quietly in the back seat all the way back to Adelaide. Up in the front seat I had an amazing run of green lights along Main North Road…and no one to share this wonder with – but I digress.

Little did I know that just like Usher, I had discovered my Justin Bieber. Ok Bieber has more hair than both of us put together but you get the point. Tom has gone on to put vintage hours in at some of Australia’s top wineries and work the floors of some of Melbourne’s top restaurants. Currently he is Head Sommelier at the Two-Hatted Lake House Daylesford where his wine list is recognised by Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards as one of the best in the country.

Sadly he now knows much more about wine than me and much more about music than Usher, though if you manage to get a ticket to this Spitbucket tasting this is pretty good news for you. The topic is intriguing and brings together 10 of Victoria’s hottest producers, some established, some up-and-coming, but all doing exciting things. I suggest you get your seat request in early for this one! Those of you on Twitter will know Tom well as @iloveriesling.

To Start
2005 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Chardonnay Sparkling (@BrownBrothers)

Pair 1
2010 Crawford River Riesling

2008 Gembrook Hill Sauvignon Blanc (@GembrookWine)

Pair 2
2009 Oakridge Mackay Vineyard Chardonnay (@BicknellFC)

2008 Sutton Grange Viognier

Pair 3
2008 Curly Flat Pinot Noir

2007 Greenstone Sangiovese

Pair 4
2009 Syrahmi Shiraz (@monsieurfoster)

2008 Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot

To Finish
Bress Bon Bon Cider (@bresswinecider)

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 30th March. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Spitbucket Sessions Vol.11: Italian Varieties in Australia

12 03 2011


Italy has given so many great things to the world: Silvio, quite a lot of good food, Paolo Maldini, some pretty slick art and over 900 grape varieties. Of course the rest of the word hasn’t got around to planting all of those 900 varieties yet but we’re definitely having a good crack. Always remember my WSET exams and trying to get to grips with the Italian elements…just how many major regions, the intense viticultural differences between them and the myriad indigenous grape varieties.

Well Australia is going at it as hard as anyone else in the world, and while sales of imported wines are falling, interest in Italian grape varieties vinified on Australian soil seems to be increasing. If made well these should be perfect food wines and so are the perfect foil for Adam Lord’s food at Coast. This should be a pretty special Spitbucket I reckon so get involved!

Pair 1: Vermentino
Ducks in a Row Vermentino
Chalmers Vermentino

Pair 2: Fiano
Oliver’s Taranga Fiano
Coriole Fiano

Pair 3: Nebbiolo
Pizzini Nebbiolo
Primo Estate Joseph Nebbiolo

Pair 4: Sangiovese
Coriole Vita Sangiovese
Capel Vale Cellar Exclusive Sangiovese

Pair 5: Sagrantino
D’arenberg Cenosilicaphobic Cat (DISASTER has struck – d’Arenberg have sold out of this extremely interesting 91% Sagrantino, 9% Cinsault blend with a name that take’s a little practice. I will have to hustle to find another suitable Sagrantino! Any ideas?)
Oliver’s Taranga Sagrantino

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 16th March. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

After David (from Eldridge Estate) did such an amazing job at the last Spitbucket, there have been calls for me to “sit this one out again” and at the very least “raise my game”. I will, of course, do neither of these 🙂

When is a gold medal not a gold medal?

11 02 2011

…when you lose the argument! I was lucky enough to enjoy a fascinating Royal Sydney Wine Show behind-the-scenes judging experience earlier this week, thanks to McWilliam’s and the WCA. First of all it was extremely good fun, though the genteel, academic way we examined 30 wines in two hours is far different to the real coalface where judges go hard from dawn til dusk, with only the odd egg sandwich to keep them upright.

I have to admit I was quite daunted before I arrived as I hadn’t done much scientific tasting in this style since those heady Adelaide uni days. You have to leave your prejudices at the door and break the wine down in quite a methodical way, at least until you get a real feel for it. After squeezing into the tighest labcoat ever we were faced with fifteen 2010 Sauvignon Blancs. We whipped through these in 30 minutes of silence, tasting each in turn, scoring and then returning to any high scoring or contentious ones at the end.

We then discussed some of the wines and the stylistic questions and decisions that come into play when the judges get together at the end of a bracket to retaste and assign golds. Nick Bulleid MW, who was leading our session (above), was also able to discuss with us the views of the real judges and what medals were awarded where. In this class of 15 I gave 1 Gold, 3 Silver and 4 Bronze, compared to the judges tally of 2 Silver, 7 Bronze. So I was slightly more generous overall, but pleased to find out that my selections roughly corresponded with the judges’ and that my top wine, was also considered the best by the judges, if not quite gold medal standard. You could spot the Marlborough wines in there quite easily and their intensity, acid and drive stood out quite clearly (hasty postscript – I thought NZ wines were allowed in show when in fact they aren’t. Oops! Only in Perth and Hobart of the capital city shows). At the start we had been told that, flavour-wise, we were really looking for a balance of green fruit/herbaceous and tropical fruit, so high marks were on offer for wines that showed true varietal definition and really fit the judging panel’s view of where Sauvignon Blanc should be heading. This is a very important point to bear in mind, as the Wine Show system in Australia sees the improvement of wine overall one of its primary goals; hence judges have to take a position on what characters point towards a Gold medal.  

With the threat of humiliation now out of the way I was able to relax a little in the second flight of fifteen Pinot Noirs. This was interesting again as I wasn’t sure whether the really dark, rich, almost Shiraz-like Pinot you find sometimes these days would fit the constraints of what the judging panel was looking for. Once again I was in agreeance with the judges on the top wine of the bracket (actually the Top Gold of the whole class), but I disagreed with them over another Gold that they awarded, which only merited a bronze for me. Many in the room agreed with this view, as did Nick, who had scored it Bronze but lost out in the debate. The main bone of contention on this wine was the use of oak, which was very apparent on both the palate and the nose. Too much for me, but not apparently for the final judging decision. It’s fascinating (but dangerous!) to think that as a judge your debating skills come into play as well, as the Gold contenders are retasted, discussed and ultimately decided upon. Have your arguments ready and make your voice heard! This is where subjectivity and taste really threatens to play a part, but also where decisions about the stylistic directions for grapes / regions etc. are formulated.

I would say as a general rule that some of the weightier Pinots scored slightly better with the judges than they did with me. Oak will always be contentious with Pinot and where I thought a couple were overdone, the judges thought they still retained elegance. I gave 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 4 Bronze. The judges went for 3 Gold and 4 Bronze. 

It was a brilliant experience and has left me wanting more. That said I really hope they get in some bigger labcoats for next year…

Riesling is Rising

5 02 2011

It’s been a big few weeks for the Riesling lovers of Syndey…and hopefully the rest of Australia too. We’ve had all manner of Riesling events: rampages, riots and risings, with plenty more to come in the next couple of weeks. Make sure you check out the “Summer of Riesling” website for all the details.

The crucial thing about the Summer of Riesling has been its clear focus on getting Riesling into people’s mouths. Major broadsheet wine critics have been reviewing Australian and Kiwi Riesling regularly and brilliantly for years, but this doesn’t seem to trickle down to the majority of drinkers. If you have pre-conceived notions of  Riesling: “sweet”, “popular with grannies”, “go back to the 70’s” etc. then a newspaper review isn’t going to move you. The only thing that will is a top tasting experience and that’s what we’ve all tried to provide in the Summer of Riesling.

Last week’s Spitbucket provided a beautiful snapshot of the diversity of Riesling around the world. Personal favourites of mine included the Clonakilla 2010, the Tamar Ridge 2009, the Donnhoff Dry 2009 and the sensational Haart Piesport Domherr Spatlese.

A couple of weeks prior Fine Wine Partners hosted a fabulous tasting in the beautiful Tokonoma restaurant in Surry Hills. The goal was to show off a tip-top Riesling portfolio and get as many people tasting as possible. I was still amazed that despite my urgings, people didn’t want to break stride, come inside the bar and taste Riesling…for free. Even so, the bar was packed for the duration. Enjoy the Spitbucket video below:

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 8: Riesling Rising

31 01 2011


(Pikes’ Clare Valley vineyard)

Riesling makes the heart and the spirits soar. Not just because of the spine-tingling acid, mineral poise and layers of complexity. Not just because of the beautiful way it evolves in the bottle, from taut, tense youngster to languid, laconic oldie. Not even because, along with Pinot Noir, it is the noble grape variety that speaks most of the dirt it was grown in. Where it’s planted is what you get. No mucking around.

No, it’s all of these things plus the fact that you can still buy some of the best Rieslings in the world for under $50. But why? Well Riesling is still deeply uncool where the masses are concerned. Despite the imploring of wine writers, winemakers and sommeliers all around the world it is still a niche pursuit of the passionate. But that is what the Summer of Riesling has set out to change. Crafted brilliantly in Australia by Jason Hoy (@summerofriesling) and Stuart Knox (@fixstjames) and building on an original idea by Terroir & Hearth in New York, the calendar of events around Sydney has had one goal in mind…to put Riesling in people’s mouths, on their minds, and on their restaurant’s wine lists. See the Summer of Riesling website for more info.

There’s only one snag though. If everyone starts loving Riesling as much as we do…then inevitably the prices will go up one day. But I suppose it is a small price to pay to get more great Riesling on the shelves and on the wine lists. So cheer for Riesling with gusto…and then pour yourself a glass.

Pair 1
Capel Vale Whispering Hill Riesling 2009, Mount Barker WA
Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Riesling 2009, Tamar Valley TAS

Pair 2
Jamsheed ‘Westgate Vineyard’ Riesling 2009, Great Western VIC
Clonakilla Riesling 2010, Canberra District ACT

Pair 3
Pikes The Merle Reserve 2010, Clare Valley SA
Urlar Riesling 2010, Wairarapa NZ

Pair 4
Weingut Stift Göttweig Göttweiger Berg Riesling 2008, Kremstal AUST
Donnhof Riesling Trocken 2009, Nahe GER

Pair 5
Knebel Winninger Bruckstuck Feinherb 2008, Mosel GER
Reinhold Haart Piesport Domherr Spatlese 2007, Mosel GER

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 2nd February. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Thanks as always to the wineries who have supported this event and to Eurocentric Wine and Cellarhand for helping with the German and Austrian bottles.

Spitbucket: The Best of 2010, some of Jo Taylor’s favourites

19 01 2011

2010 was a momentous year for The Spitbucket Sessions. After travelling from Adelaide to London, then back to Sydney over the course of seven years, they found the perfect, permanent home at Coast’s Roof Top Bar. Through Twitter, Spitbucket also found a seemingly endless supply of people passionate about tasting and enjoying wine, and wineries generous enough to support the events. Along the way we all needed a bit of sustenance too and we thank Coast’s top-notch chef, Adam, and our resident meat man, Tim, for their tasty contributions too. 

We all made new friends through Spitbucket and so it is with great sadness that we said goodbye to Jo Taylor, one of the most passionate wine lovers you’re ever likely to find. Jo, there will always be a seat at the Roof Top Bar and at Spitbucket for you.

In our first session of 2011 we take a look back at some of the wines that made our 2010 sessions special.

To Start: Stonier Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2006

Pair 1:
Vinteloper Watervale Riesling 2010 (@Vinteloper)
Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2009 (@LarkHillWine)

Pair 2:
Golding La Francesa Savagnin 2010 (@GoldingWines)
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier 2009 (@philipshawwines)

Pair 3:
Saint Clair Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2008 (@saintclairwine)
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Pair 4:
Teusner Albert Shiraz 2008 (@Teusnerwine)
Petaluma Shiraz 2007 (@Petalumawine)

To Finish: #Giantbeers aka. Mac’s Hop Rocker

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 6: Champagne

29 11 2010


Champagne, in northern France has the most fascinating history of any wine region in the world. Just about every European conflict has rumbled through the region, with marauders always inspired equally by gaining territory and raiding cellars.

The story of the ‘world’s favourite wine’ is full of larger-than-life characters such as Dom Perignon, who tried hard to keep bubbles out of wine for much of his life, the Sun King Louis XIV, who liked a glass or two and Napoleon, who introduced the world to his favourite drink, while trying to conquer them at the same time.

Claude Moet, Champagne Charlie (Charles-Camille Heidsieck), Veuve Cliquot, Madam Lily Bollinger, Winston Churchill, James Bond and many more famous names have played their glorious parts in the history of this great region and wine. Perhaps then it is no surprise that it is such a flamboyant, cash-rich and compelling wine category. New world producers have long copied the name – Champagne – for their sparkling wines as it is such a well recognised and aspirational wine style. This is no longer allowed, however, after the European Union gained agreement to restrict the use of the word Champagne to only those wines from the (expanding!) Champagne appelation.

And so to the final Spitbucket of the year…and we will be keeping to the geographical confines of Champagne as well. A stunning line-up of posh fizz for your delection that will include:

Bollinger Special Cuvee NV
Lanson NV
Jacquesson Cuvee 734 Brut NV
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV – just confirmed
Mumm Vintage 2002
Dosnon & Lepage Blanc de Noirs NV
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV
Ayala Brut Rose Majeur NV
Dosnon & Lepage Brut Rose NV

One more wine still to be confirmed…

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Rooftop Bar. It is on Wednesday 1st December. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Sorry all – this tasting is now full.

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 5: Outstanding Adelaide Hills

12 11 2010


(Petaluma’s Mount Barker Shiraz Vineyard)

I was in the Adelaide Hills last week and it is looking stunning. When you wake up to a frosty, clear morning you are reminded that it’s a pretty cool climate vine growing area, so wine-wise as a (very general) rule you might expect to see more spicy, peppery characters rather than lush, luxurious fruit.

Let’s put it to the test then shall we? I’ve plumped for a pretty mixed bag, including a couple of white wine wildcards, and two red varieties that do very well up there…Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

Petaluma Project Company Dry Riesling 2009
Petaluma Project Company 30g/l Residual Sugar Riesling 2009

Bird in Hand Chardonnay 2009
Golding Chardonnay 2008

Weird and Wonderful
K1 Arneis 2010
Golding La Francesa Savagnin 2010

Pinot Noir
K1 Pinot Noir 2008
Pike & Joyce Pinot Noir 2008

Bird in Hand Shiraz 2008
Petaluma Shiraz 2007

We hope to get some good input on the night from @birdinhandwine, @petalumawine, @goldingwines and @K1byTheHardys.

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Rooftop Bar. It is on Wednesday 17th November. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 4: Aromatic Whites

28 10 2010

(Aromatic whites: wines to wave your proboscis at…)

Continuing on the educational tip, the 4th Volume of the Spitbucket Sessions will cover a lot of ground in order to get an up front, quick smart, lowdown on aromatic white wines. An aromatic white doesn’t mean much on its own…it’s a white wine with aroma. Big deal. But the phrase has come to be associated with certain varieties that fire spicy, floral, exotic, downright sexy smells right up your proboscis.

We had to excuse a few and send them on their way…Albarino. Aromatic…yes, but recently it’s been proven that many Australian vines planted from CSIRO propagated material are actually Savagnin, a variety that originates in the Jura region in Eastern France. Oops! Vermentino…a bit tricky to get hold of. Sauvignon Blanc…I’ll get my coat. Torrontes…tastes like soap. And on and on…

In truth there are many ‘aromatic’ white varieties, which really reflects the tastes of today. No oak, less malo-lactic fermentation and more acidity (in many cases) all add up to vibrant, food-friendly wines. Acidity is an interesting one as Viognier and Gewurztraminer don’t have naturally high acid…but are chock-full of exotic flavour compounds. Beware the flab though…

In our tasting line-up I’ve plumped for some classic varieties which should show off the spectrum of aromas and flavours these wines are famous for. What do they taste like…you’ll have to come along and check it out…

Vinteloper Watervale Riesling 2010
Knappstein Handpicked Riesling 2010 (both from the Clare Valley, SA)

Gruner Veltliner
Nigl Kremser Freiheit Gruner Veltliner 2009 (Kremstal, Austria)
Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2009 (Canberra District)

Pinot Gris
Johanneshof Pinot Gris Trocken 2007 (Marlborough, NZ)
Henschke Littlehampton Innes Pinot Gris 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)

Louis Sipp Gewurztraminer 2008 (Alsace, France)
Borrodell on the Mount Wine Maker’s Daughter Gewürztraminer 2009 (Orange, NSW)

Madeleines Viognier 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier 2009, (Orange, NSW)

The tasting is at 6.30pm sharp on Wednesday 3rd November on the Coast Roof Top Bar. Tweet @coastrestaurant in the usual way to book your spot. All details here…