Archives for March, 2011

Murray Valley wine: With texture & interest

Last Friday I flew into the Murray Valley town of Mildura to check out some grapes that were ripening slowly.By co-incidence the bright Italian-origin local Stefano de Pieri shared the flight. One chat after another and we were soon sharing some decently-brewed caffe lungos at his nearby cafe.

“Mildura has been a twenty year journey for me, and for that it’s meant perseverance in a large country town” says Stef.

I quickly processed the fact that Mr de Pieri had engineered some new directions with his commercial bent, and with these on the tip of his tongue I garnered the excitement.

First there is Stefano de Pieri branded wines. These wines dare to be made different but this has been underpinned by his stalwart support for the wine show of no equivalent-the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS).

“The first year of the show had just 17 entries. Last year there were over 600, and this year I expect 700″ says the expectant vigneron.

Stef has cleverly developed his wine to contain varieties figuring in this show, but probably not well known. Now they receive a moment of national glory when the publicity shines on the AAVWS and the results pour from this wine-producing town.

Stefano de Pieri’s Tre Vini 2009

His Tre Vini 2009 (three wines) or what I expect to be a three grape blend is in fact quite obscure: moscato giallo, greco di tufo and garganega together. If grown in Italy the wine would join three regions: Piedmont (north, white muscat), Campania (near Rome) and Soave (west of Venice). 10.5% alcohol.

Stef’s vision is quite clear. “I wish to make lower alcohol wines-10.5-12.5%-with more savoury characters for my styles of food; not to be heavy. They need to be inexpensive (USD 9.50), memorable and easy drinking summer wines.” I guess his request has been answered with Tre Vini.The next de Pieri enterprise is the Mildura Brewery (a disused picture theatre) now churning out artisan quantities of Stef-named micro-style beers.

Two beers caught my eye-his Pilsner (from a homeland taste influenced by the Austrians) and Choc Hops (640 ml), 5.2%.

Stefano de Pieri Choc Hops Stout

The choc hops is a dark, sweet, chocolated up with ample aromatic hops and superbly roasted malt in the stout mould. It’s a dessert beer.

And of course Stef comes from the Veneto town of Treviso, also the origin in 1910 of the very popular dessert tiramisu (means pick-me-up).

So I hope you can see it coming! The liqueur used in tiramisu being marsala can easily be substituted by Choc Hops, and there you have it-an original Mildura tiramisu recipe to enjoy alongside this vanilla-etched stout.

Also Treviso is the big city close to the most unpretentious sparkling wine region around-Prosecco.

Stef has gone the whole way and imported a single wine but only one in sync with his Slow Food convictions. This is an artisan wine known as Farmers Prosecco.

It is a wine having its first ferment in bottle and that’s the bottle you buy. It comes with the normal tirage closure which is a crown seal.

However the contents contain the original yeast, so it will pour cloudy, just like a Coopers Sparkling Ale where drinking the yeast is a religion.

The wine is non-vintage, historically the way Prosecco was sold, 11% alc, and as tradition would have it, a blend of the widely-known prosecco grape plus two rarer wines from the area in Valdobbiadene, verdisa and bianchetta.

For the iPhone App try Beer Buddy; it’s very instructive.



Italy Wine & Food Tour: Drinks and cicchetti

Last Tuesday I had an excuse to serve a small range of Italian wines launching the Italy-Wine and Food Tour 2011 downtown in Brisbane’s Il Centro restaurant; just on dusk on a day which did not rain!

It’s always important to take a little of the seriousness out of the occasion by having some frivolity. This lightening of the air was in the form of serving some unpretentious Italian sparkling wine with lots of bubbles.

La Riva Dei Frati Prosecco NV is from Treviso although the growing part is right in Valdobbaiadene where this grape thrives; (+++); 11.5%; pale green, beautiful fresh and fruity nose, crushed grape aromas are all over it, then crushed lime fruit flavours, dry palate, no sugariness and a pleasant gulp. Guests enjoyed it too.

As the tour will go essentially to two regions, Tuscany and Piemonte, the standout red grape varieties were served: barbera, nebbiolo and sangiovese wines.

The cicchetti (small bites in Italian) or cocktail nibbles were likewise centered around the two regions with Il Centro owner Marcia Georges (a self-confessed Italophile with all the food passion) directing the menu.

It has become a tradition on Uncorked and Cultivated to serve Prosecco as a welcome drink; and on this occasion pair it with small wheels of smoked salmon enclosing mascarpone and caper filling, or, a small serve of seasoned chicken liver pureed to fit on crostini.

The latter wine is widely served in both Tuscan and Piemontese circles.

If these tantalising tastes did not fit the event, then the tiny slices of fig wrapped in prosciutto waved the flag for the myriads of preserved meats made in Tuscany (and many places elsewhere).

Barolo Vineyards-hazy Piemontese day

The Burlotto Barbera D’Alba 2009 Piemonte; (+++1/2); 14%; is modestly-coloured, heavily infused with dried herbs, earth and forest floor aromas (just like the smell of the air in an early morning Albanese truffle dig); jam nuances then a tapered palate where the pointy end of the taste is crisp acidity.

That’s barbera; and another morsel of cicchetti will balance up your mouth flavours.

Roving around the eager palates were tartlets of porcini; paper thin and aromatic from a topping of truffle and wash rind taleggio (origins a little further north in Lombardia but now widely made from cow’s milk); or tortellini filled with potato and walnut (soft crunch) and a truffle salsa over a bed of radicchio (served in spoons).

White truffle enjoyment is a big part of the enjoyment during this tour.

As the flavours got bolder, so did the wines.

Burlotto Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 Piemonte; (+++1/2); 14% is the pale russet-edge but brick colour of this grape (don’t be fooled by that); lots of baked sugar, toffee from ripe grapes, hot year, exceptional conditions; then a long silky palate with a twist at the end-drying tannin grip and bold acidity.

Served was arancini (rice balls) flavoured with saffron sitting on top of a grilled tiger prawn.

Chianti Classico vineyards

The final wine was Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico 2009Tuscany; (+++); 13.5%, medium coloured, rabid with heady wild herbal aromas, full-on savoury and testing tannins of the sangiovese grape (and a little canaiolo nero) which demand a mouthful of food at the same time, quite mature for 2009, drinking best now.

Served were tiny pizzas (pizette) of vine ripened tomato (how can you miss them in both regions, hanging on their vines even when the season has closed off, leaves missing). The savoury topping was bagna cauda or anchovy dip sauce.

For tour itineraries try Uncorked and Cultivated Italy Wine and Food Tour 2011.

Sample South Burnett: Qld food pairing

The Wine and Food in the Park festival in the peanut capital of Kingaroy was a hoot.

The bands were loud: as you do, with mixes of country, blues and rock, not much too modern yet entertaining the crowd.

They kicked back with their portable chairs and other comforts; drinking either South Burnett wine or that black Queensland spirit which does not always make locals proud.

Meanwhile in the PCA tent (Peanut Company of Australia) were lots of discussions about South Burnett wine.

Local chef Sheree Strauss who rattles pans at Kingaroy Caterers, and does a terrific job at scouting up local produce (a locovore with similar to convictions to mine) matched flavours with a series of wine varietals grown in the region.

Arriving by mid-afternoon this writer discovered the Sample South Burnett food and wine pairing sessions sold out. Hooray, lots of yummy bits and crisp cold wine to pour too.

Wines were ordered from light texture to full texture and flavours paired with a little bit of deft foodie thinking.

Nina Temperton of Bellbird Vineyards

Bellbird VineyardsVerdelho 2010 (+++1/2) USD 13, 13.8%, has glorious peanut-leaf green colour, pale, then an effusion of verdelho fruitiness, nice lean palate, dry, cleansing acid. Vineyard site is the Coolabunia red soil uplands 14 km from Kingaroy.

The flavour pair was Kingaroy Cheese factory’s cow feta made spreadable with some plain yoghurt and mascarpone; nice dairy flavours which kept a degree of neutrality to stimulate the mouth with this demure white wine.

Tipperary Estate Verdelho Semillon 2010 (+++), USD16, 13.6%, is mint green, attractive mix of verdelho aromatics of tropical fruits plus waxiness of semillon; a good blend, left with about 12 grams of sugar, much bigger wine than the Bellbird; more extract then tight finish. From Moffatdale, 15 km south-east of Murgon.

As a wine with more dimensions the rice paper rolls containing steamed peanuts, marinated chicken dice and aromatic herbs stood up to the wine, cleansing the palate and reflecting on the versatility of peanuts in Asian-influenced flavours.

Maryanne Pidcock & Peter Eaton of Captain’s Paddock

Captain’s Paddock Unwooded Chardonnay 2009 (++++), USD 20, 12.4%, is intense lemon-skin colour, reeks of white peach (the signature aroma for the variety in this region) and great bottle characters; then moving to medium weight mouth texture, elegant acidity and creamy-soft finish, a real delight. Single vineyard 8km north of Kingaroy.

The matching flavour was quite simple, sliced poached Bendele organic duck breast (farm near Kilkivan); subtle seasoning in the fat layer, then hyped a little when dipped in a drizzle of balsamic which lifted the duck flavour up to reach the chardonnay richness. Acidity enlivens fatty mouthfuls!

Crane WinesViognier 2010 (+++1/2), USD 18, 14%, has the ginger aromas of this grape from warm regions, then a monster palate of grape texture, full body this one though composed. Winery 10 km north –east of Kingaroy, grapes from a Nanango grower.

The match was simple and elegant-Kingaroy Cheese’s Triple Cream Brie; aged not to its fullest; crisp white mould skin which pumped up the viognier’s texture, ample butterfat to be slippery like viognier (around 65% fat).

Clovely Estate Left Field Barbera 2008 (+++), USD 20, 13.5%, is a wonderful rendition of the new crops of Mediterranean varietals with restrained texture weight, savoury fruits and a finish softened to the point of obvious acidity. A bright wine. Vineyard 13 km south-east of Murgon.

Carrying on the food friendliness of this variety (it has very little tannin/dryness), a couple of slices of local chorizo showed slight chilli heat, balancing such a soft wine; giving out all the beef flavours yet holding wine savouriness.

Moffatdale Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (++++), USD 18, 14%, is rich red, already opening up with mint and oak cedar, then has good medium body with the usual level of drying cabernet tannin. Vineyard at Moffatdale, 10km south-east of Murgon.

The match: Kinbombi Beef grass-fed rib fillet, cooked pink, sliced thinly and doused in green peppercorn sauce. Wine without trapped sauce was unctuous, wine with the peppercorn taste influence ruined the match. Hot sauce flavours fight with high tannin wines like cabernet. Be careful.

Kingsley Grove Hilltop Shiraz 2005 (+++), USD 20, 15.5%, now deep garnet, lots of coconut American oak then a full-bodied impression, biggest red of the tasting showing just how massive this variety can be when fully ripened. Vineyard is 13 km south-west of Kingaroy.

The score for this match was shiraz 2; Barkers Creek Pork 0; as delicately-roasted white pork, layered with fat flavours is overloaded by this shiraz. That flavour inundation is reversed very well by a second mouthful with Kingaroy Kitchen pawpaw chutney; a high spice attack of cinnamon and clove tones down the wine and the additional acidity from vinegar softens up the big oak dry finish.

Even more enlightening was my retiring stay at Taabinga Homestead afterwards, 18 km from Kingaroy; built in 1846 and still beautifully preserved. My digs were a cottage in the complex, oh so comfortable and equally enjoyable was Colin Marshall’s country-style breakfast in the original kitchen building.

You really need the whole day to absorb Taabinga: the clipped gardens, ancient trees and shrubs (growing well from soaking rains), history all around, outhouses, music, fine accommodation and leisurely entertainment.

Taabinga Homestead built 1846

Next year if you live on the Darling Downs or the South Burnett: try the wines at Wine & Food in the Park. I can recommend some new drinks.

Brown Brothers: Patricias excite; Prosecco, Durif, Grigio

Ross and Katherine Brown from Milawa dropped by this week: they were showing their signature wines – Patricia – around Brisbane town.

Katherine & Ross Brown – Brown Brothers

Also Brown Brothers’ new Prosecco 2010 is awesome. That’s the prosecco grape; origin Veneto Italy and now grown increasingly in the King Valley, and no doubt elsewhere in high county Victoria.

The Italians have stamped this wine up with a DOCG in their country, and any maker outside the delineated region must describe the wine as glera, the ancient name for the prosecco grape.

But in Australia it’s good old prosecco. Italian Prosecco DOCG is coming into Australia in increasing quantities, and is very good.

Both strands of wine are made by tank fermentation or Charmat. That’s the process which makes unpretentious bubbly wine.

Brown Brothers Limited Release Prosecco 2010 (USD 20); 11%, +++1/2, is uncomplicated but this varietal has a habit of igniting the nose with pleasantries; what you smell is soft yet distinct pear/varietal prosecco grape, little yeast, then an equally pleasing mouthful, fizz, little sweetness, clean mouth, pleasant swallow. Great.

Brown Brothers Limited Release Pinot Grigio 2010 (USD30), 14%, ++++, is the most serious attempt on this grape which I have seen from Browns. It smells worked (had portions of chardonnay-types of manipulation during fermentation, probably some going through old barrels and such complexing tools). Powerful nose, lots of pear fruit, clean, fruity, long flavoured and very trite finish.

Brown Brothers Patricia Chardonnay 2008 (USD 40), 13.5%, +++1/2, is the first chardonnay to make the Patricia standard (top in the company) for five years. It’s green (young), has a nose full of interest (nutty fruit, sweet-smelling barrel ferment), and a lovely taste; that’s mixed fruit flavours, then minerality and a long time after, a touch of dryness from barrel use.

It’s a long wine to age a long time, made from Yarra Valley and Whitlands; all Victorian grapes.

Ross Brown quipped “this style is in the space where we want to be” meaning he has one of those modern Australian chardonnays which some English critics are now saying are well set to rival the whites of Burgundy. With their screw caps Browns bottles will certainly last longer.

Brown Brothers Patricia Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (UDS 56), 14.5%, ++++1/2, is dense; it’s going to be a deep drink, it smells of cedar and mint, then black fruits, it’s tannins are soothing but not dumbed down, it’s sufficiently rich to make me salivate. Grapes come from King Valley, Mornington, Pyrenees and Beechworth.

Brown Brothers Limited Release Durif 2009 (USD 20), 14%, +++1/2, has real attitude, its dark and brooding, grown in Heathcote (cooler spot than traditional Rutherglen examples), has flavours of blackberry pips, a lovely dimension on swallowing, ripe, soft and engaging.

Ross Brown spoke about his company’s purchases of the assets of Gunns in Tasmania with strong assurance that the USD 33 million investment will return dividends.

The first immediate payoff has been the replacement of lost pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from Whitlands due to hail damage.

Ross spoke of the cycles in Australian wine supply: red in the 70s, white in the 80s; generally the span of the cycle is 15 years, sometimes closer to 10; chardonnay went 15 years from the 90s, sauvignon blanc is 12 years in and working hard to destroy itself.

He predicts that red wine consumption is on an upswing, with pinot noir showing a 24% growth pattern from a slim 5% market share.

If it does move upwards as a category, the 45% of the Gunns purchase which is pinot should be a boon for the Brown family.


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