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

Marlborough and Wither Hills: serious wow factor

3 12 2010

The sun beats down as we set off around the vineyards with chief winemaker Ben Glover. I flush my mind of the previous night’s festivities and all talk of mankinis and animals beginning with ‘A’. Visiting journo and MW student (and all round brain) Rebecca Gibb asks all the tough questions, while I just look pretty and take pictures. First stop is roadside (above), looking over the majestic Rarangi Vineyard, a large vineyard based on uplifted seabed, with pea gravels and pockets of silt and clay. This is the jewel in the crown, providing Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and most importantly, Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is really at home here, with the single vineyards Rarangi bottling particularly impressive. Situated a couple of hundred metres from the sea, at the end of the Wairau Valley, and in an area where few other wineries fear to tread, Wither Hills’ Rarangi Vineyard survived its early years thanks to the hand watering of over 200,000 vines, while waiting for water rights go-ahead.

Rarangi is also home to a magical creature called a ‘Callum’ (every vineyard should have one!). After admiring the regenerated wetlands skirting the vineyard, we stumble through some bushes and into a clearing where our very own Callum was popping home-made pizzas into the wood-fired oven and lining up Rarangi Sauvignon Blancs from 2007/’08/’09 and ‘10. What a fantastic advert for the ageability of high quality Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, where acidity is the key.

The 2007 is sinewy with lemongrass, thyme, flint and a chalky back palate. Fresh as a daisy and with years of goodness ahead of it. The ’08 and ’09 come from warmer vintages and show tropical fruit over the apple, asparagus and nettles; the ’09 showing that same level of complexity as the ’07. All are compelling in the mouth, with the texture and profile coming from the acidity (they are unoaked). The 2010 is very slatey on the nose, like the 2007 and a herbal infusion on the palate, with savouriness and crunchy chalkiness. Complex and very interesting.

As a Riesling freak it is a pleasure to see a couple of single vineyard bottlings, even if the quantities made are so small as to make them cellar door only wines. The Kersley 2009 has classic slate and lime on the nose, with a refreshing palate of sweet fruit. It’s only 8g/l RS but seems very dry thanks to the high TA. Might have picked it as a Clare Riesling to be honest. The Rarangi 2009 is more rounded with riper, lusher, yellow fruit, with hints of honey, herbs and dashing lemon acidity. Again the acid profile is key to the success of Wither Hills Rieslings.

We journey 15 minutes back up the valley to the two prime Pinot Noir sites: Benmorven and Taylor River. As we pull up I notice some abandoned mountain bikes by the shed. No, not abandoned. Before I know it I have a helmet on and my stomach on fast spin cycle as we take hilly dirt tracks through the two vineyards. As I nonchalantly try not to plant face, Ben explains the character of the different sites. The Benmorven (to be certified organic in 2012) wines are more feminine, showing great succulence and acidity, whereas the Taylor River provides gutsier, denser, man wines. The glory of both is captured in the blended Wairau Valley bottling, while the single vineyard wines draw on the particular fruit deemed to be the ultimate expression of the character of that specific vineyard.

Later we head to a balcony high up in the beautiful cellar door building where the sun and the tasting line-up both dazzle. There are glasses, bottles, food and just the faintest whiff of a Callum in the air. There are some beautiful whites, from the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (intense, alive, green pea, mineral and straight line) all the way back to the 2003 vintage of the same wine (honey, richness, herby, palate weight, ripe acidity, like an old Aussie Semillon).

Things get really exciting with a Pinot line-up that included:

Pinot Noir 2001 – 100% Taylor River, “the wine Ben would turn gay for”, very complex, forest floor, cherry, tobacco, smoky chorizo, acidity delivers freshness and balance

Pinot Noir 2005 – masculine but with elegance (thanks to “two sheilas in the winery!”), strawberry, plum, tea leaf, ginger, linear finish, ’05 the vintage the vineyards came online structure-wise

Pinot Noir 2008 – super tight, primary fruit, cherries, raspberries and plenty of structure, texture leaves you wanting more

Pinot Noir 2007 – forest floor, hint of oak and of stalk, smoky hint too, funkiness, layers and balance

Benmorven Pinot Noir 2007 – finesse on nose, grainy, high quality French oak in there, alluring and soft with powdery fresh fruit, layers again

Taylor River Pinot Noir 2007 – more closed on nose, vanilla, plums and blackcurrant, a fruit wall, hint smoky bacon. Tonnes of structure, though tannins still soft and refined.

A quick rest and it’s back to the cellar door for the Battle of the Shirts. In the paisley corner, representing Wither Hills, it’s Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen Glover. And in the Hawaiian corner, representing Mount Difficulty, it’s Maaaaaaaatt Dicey. Also time to catch up with a member of Bibendum’s foreign legion, Becky Potez, who helps the whole dinner pass off beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that my notes from the Chardonnay blending session the following morning are a bit patchy. I blame Ben, Becky, Callum, Maxine, Rebecca…in fact anyone who was there that night!

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.

District Dining

31 10 2010

(I’m not sure about taking pictures of food in restaurants so I think I’ll follow the Petrogasm route and choose an image which sums the experience up instead) 

Bloody Hell.

It’s sometimes easy to forget how refreshing a refreshing thing is if you haven’t been refreshed for a while. Like a big, cool, watery slap on this steamy Sydney Sunday. This fair city is spoiled for good eating and I like to think that I’ve tried a few, but I reckon I could count on one hand all the meals that were actually fault-free. It’s poor value, or a stiff atmosphere, or a pain to get to, or surly waitstaff, or one course really lets it down. It doesn’t ruin the evening but it does stop you raising it immediately into the Hall of Eating Fame.

And so it was with some trepidation that I got up this morning and tried to figure out if last night’s meal survived the 12-hours-later-test. The Pike & Joyce Pinot has worn off, the harsh light of day is asaulting the senses. The young lady and I look at each other…“Shit…it really was bloody good, wasn’t it?”

And so it was. District Dining has only been open 9 or 10 days and while the service might not be faultless yet, there is an absolute mountain of stuff to like about this place. The entrance area bears the soon to be iconic Mondrian-esque map of Surry Hills that District Dining has created. Visually striking…and practically useful…a long overlooked combination. Decor-wise you’re in a rolling dining car, somewhere in the Rockies, with dark timbers, well-spaced tables, lots of mirrors, regular rectangular windows overlooking treetops. You ask the ticket inspector what the next station is. He looks at you quizzically and offers you the wine list…with an Aussie accent. Oh yeah…

Everything we ordered was good. Actually excellent. You could go back again and again and again and not get bored of the menu. It manages to use a wedge of varied ingredients and make everything sound mouthwateringly good. Simple, strong flavours are matched together into rustic formations on wooden boards. Except it’s not rustic. The food is extremely polished, and the complex flavours very well thought out. YL and I started with Smoked eel pate with basil pesto laden pitta and fresh cucumber, alongside quail eggs, tarragon mayonaise and white anchovies. Not only were both dishes spectacularly tasty, but the presentation was striking. Wait…$14 for each dish. Is that the first of 3 easy-to-pay installments? No, it’ just $14. In Sydney.

Okay, anyone can wow with starters, but mains are often a criminal letdown. We scan the menu again, which is a simple paper mat on the table, and see that the starters and mains aren’t really categorized. The dishes are all meant to be shared…so often a cunning cloak for tiny, overpriced plates of food. But not this time. We plump for Crispy skin Chicken with coleslaw and Barramundi, with cous-cous, caponata and eggplant, both about $24 on the menu.

We devour the Barramundi first. Beautifully salty, crisp skin over melting white flesh and accompaniments that accentuate the pop of the chickpea and the ooze of the eggplant. Then the chicken. I may just need a moment….     ….   …  ..  . it’s the poshest KFC ever. EVER. And I mean that in an entirely brilliant way. Huge chucks of succulent chicken in the crispiest, thinnest batter…without any grease dripping down my arm and off my elbow. Yum. The coleslaw is overly salty but we let them get away with that becasue the chicken is so good. Warren Turnbull, of Assiette fame, is in charge of the kitchen here and he has certainly hit the ground running.

We’re stuffed so we pass on dessert this time and finish off our glasses of the aforementioned Pike & Joyce Pinot Noir ($50). It’s a juicy, satisfying Pinot with elegance, rather than punch. The list is varied and interesting all the way through with some great value bottles hidden in there. The bar is also one that I would happily sit at and knock back a beer and a few nuts – very welcoming feel. We paid up and were very happy to hand over $131 plus tip for the pleasure. It was very good. It was even good the following day. And 3 minutes walk from my house. The district is on fire these days.

Verdict: 4 great bottles of wine on a lazy Sunday afternoon

District Dining, 17 Randle Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW 2010, (02) 9211 7798, info@districtdining.com.au