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.


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Where next for wine in Australia?

2 04 2011

 

Wine is missing its golden opportunity. It’s got two tickets to the Gun Show and it’s not using them. Fact: there’s more good and great wine made in Australia today than ever before. Fact: wine is the drink of choice with good food and there are more top rating food shows, columns, books and blogs than ever before. We are obsessed with food (though I hope not Conviction Kitchen…God help us). Fact: social media has seen wine chatter levels rise to pitch never seen before.

But we’re missing something here. We are preaching to the converted. And the converted are preaching to each other. And everyone is having a grand time. But what about the unconverted and the sort-of-converted? Who’s talking to them? For most wine drinkers (and please try to be really honest with yourself here), wine is a tasty, accessible, sociable liquid, enjoyed in relaxing surrounds with friends. It’s usually refreshing and let’s face it…allows people to “unwind”. They don’t want to talk about wine on Twitter, or read a newspaper column, or pay to go to a tasting. They don’t remember long wine names and it doesn’t worry them. They buy wine for many different reasons or occasions and most don’t want to have a very involved, agonising time deciding.

What is the industry doing to make wine easier for them? Not more intellectual or more involved, but simply more welcoming. Apparently the only answer here is to make wine cheaper, have more sales and generally race to the bottom until mutual self-destruction is assured. In real terms, the average price of wine (and cars) has grown very little over the past 20 years, so why do we insist on trying to outdo each other with low prices? Price is important, but it isn’t the only thing. Drawing people into a store with cheap booze isn’t sustainable.

Don’t get me wrong…thanks to improved viticulture and winemaking, the grape glut and squished export markets, the quality of this cheap wine is pretty good. But it isn’t sustainable (there’s that word again which everyone uses, and which everyone mentally files to try to challenge manana…manana). A lot of small wineries have already given up on retail, understanding that their wine clubs, mailing lists, cellar doors and increasingly social media marketing are the only ways they will achieve the margins necessary to survive.

I’m all for social media, which has created an interactive community where wine lovers, producers, suppliers, writers, sommeliers and enthusiasts interact like never before. And sure it reaches a portion of new or less involved drinkers, but how many really? People are time poor, so are they going to research and engage with the topic via social media if it isn’t one of their primary interests? Probably not. I’m no Facebook expert, but perhaps its mass reach, superficial interactivity and accessibility offers more here. Online peer reviews are the way forward. They already dominate other categories, like travel, so use them!

But online still only accounts for a relatively small portion of wine sales. And I suspect that those highly engaged in wine social media are happily serviced by Australia’s high quality (but shrinking) independent retail sector. What I am really trying to get across here is that our wine retailers are failing the average wine drinker i.e. the majority. I’m not talking about the evil corporate side of the argument, but more the engagement side. There’s no imagination in our retail wine category, only price wars and endless aisles of hundreds of complicated labels.

Back in Boston, USA in 2005 I was so excited when I first walked into Best Cellars, a wine store that brought a small (100 max in about 8 style/taste categories), cheaper (around $15) range of wines to life. It made everyday wine cool and interesting. That’s why I was very sad to read just this week that most of the stores have been bought out and converted to something else. It wasn’t dumbing wine down, it was bringing it to life.

Wine education is important…there should always be wine open in a wine shop to try. See how The Sampler has brought interesting wine to life in London with sampling machines. But it isn’t what everyone wants. DON’T expect drinkers to want to learn more, but DO try to engage them and excite them on a wine level that they are comfortable with. This isn’t a nice-to-have, but in a retail future where something has to give, it will be a must-have.

This post was originally written for the Wine Communicators of Australia blog. You can find their blog 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 Sesssions Volume 10: Mornington Peninsula

25 02 2011

Our tenth edition of the Sessions will be a little different. I’m knackered so I’m off on holiday to Perth and Margaret River. But that sort of thing doesn’t wash with spibucketeers so we have press-ganged a guest host in to help out. We didn’t have to twist David’s arm too hard though and he was dead keen to fly up from Mornington and share his time and considerable wisdom with the group.

David Lloyd has been making wine since 1977 (previously in Coonawarra and Yarra Valley) before striking out on his own when he and his wife Wendy bought the Eldridge Estate Vineyard (above) in 1995. Eldridge Estate is an 800 case vineyard and winery at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. Immediately the Lloyds changed the vine canopy system to Scott Henry and started a grafting program to add Gamay to the existing plantings of Pinot and Chardonnay. In subsequent years the grafting program was extended to build a collection of Pinot Noir clones that perform best at the Red Hill site. The current plantings of Chardonnay is a blend of 6 clones and the Pinot Noir 7 clones. The vineyard is mostly 26 year old vines and the main varieties are based around the special clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on a very unique and cool 3 hectare site. Most people are surprised to hear that the wine that he enjoys the most is actually Chardonnay.

David has managed to cajole some of the very best producers on the Peninsula to provide wines for this Spitbucket installment so it should be a real treat.

Pair 1: Pinot Gris
Ocean Eight Pinot Gris 2010
Paradigm Hill Pinot Gris 2010

Pair 2: Chardonnay
Eldridge Estate North Patch Chardonnay 2009
Stonier Chardonnay 2009

Pair 3: Gamay
Eldridge Estate Gamay 2009
Eldridge Estate Gamay 2007

Pair 4: Pinot Noir
Stonier Windmill Pinot Noir 2007
Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2007

Pair 5: Shiraz
Foxeys Hangout Shiraz 2009
Paringa Estate Shiraz 2009

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 2nd 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 9: Kiwi Reds that ain’t Pinot, part 1: Hawkes Bay

16 02 2011

This Spitbucket theme came about after a chat with Monty James – New Zealand wine’s main man in Australia. We’d already decided to focus on non-Pinot Kiwi reds for a change after having successfully covered Pinot before. So that left world-class Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet from the North Island. “How about a two part tasting? Hawkes Bay up first, compared with Waiheke Island which I’ll help to host next time I’m up?”

Sounded like a PLAN to me…so here we are…

Pair 1: Hawke’s Bay Syrah
Villa Maria Private Bin Syrah 2008 (@villamaria_wine)
Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2008 (@elephanthill)

Pair 2: Gimblett Gravels Syrah
Mission Estate Reserve Syrah 2009 (@missionestate)
Te Awa Syrah 2009 (@teawawinery)

Pair 3: Merlot
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot 2009 (@villamaria_wine)
Elephant Hill Merlot 2007 (@elephanthill)

Pair 4: Left Bank Style Bordeaux Blends
Mission Estate Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2009 (@missionestate)
Cornerstone Cabernet Merlot Malbec Blend 2006 (@forestwinesNZ)

Pair 5: Right Bank Style Bordeaux Blends
Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red (Merlot Malbec blend) 2008 (@TheWildRockGuy)
Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2007

(Aerial shot of the Gimblett Gravels, top, with close up below, both courtesy of Trinity Hill)

The tasting is full up now unfortunately, but you can still get your fix of great New Zealand wines and awesome Coast food when the winemakers come to town in a week or two. Chef, Adam Lord, will be matching his dishes to a range of wines from the length and the breadth of the North and South Islands. More details here.





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