Checking in October 23rd 2011
POSTCARD FROM AUSTRALIA #1
ORIGINALLY POSTED ON IMBIBE.COM
BY EMILY O’HARE
At check in, I was checking out the other passengers. Could any of the lone travellers in the queue be on The Trip. How do you spot a fellow wino? Is there a look? A glint in the eye, a certain way of breathing through the nostrils – short, little sniffs?
I boarded the plane, scanning the seats. I was squeezed between an elderly couple and a smart, dark haired chap, with a serious air about him (Off to close a deal? meet up with family? Breathing seemed normal, No clues). I settled into 43 B, selected a film, chose chicken over beef and then slept for 9 hours.
Awaking somewhere high above Singapore, Smart, Dark Haired Chap brought out a book, the biography of Veuve Cliquot – A HA! I introduced myself “Im Emily, are you about to go tasting wines in Australia for 2 weeks, from Hunter Valley to Margaret River, and do a spot of squid fishing on Day 9”. He was. Aigars, from Latvia, was a Master of Wine student, and wine writer. As we exited our seats Sunthil,, Head Sommelier at the Oxo Tower restaurant (whom id met in May) appeared from row 41. On arrival in to the departure lounge in Singapore we met Jackie, and Richard, who’d just met Matthew.
It would be at Bills, in Sydney, at brunch the following morning, where we’d finally get a good look at each other. We were 14 strangers, nibbling sweetcorn fritters and trying to work out the motives of the person in the next seat. It felt like the start of a murder mystery weekend. Tim – trip co-ordinator/The Butler, talked us through our journey. Today we’d have free time to sightsee Sydney. Tomorrow the wine would flow, we were off to the Hunter Valley.
The wine began to flow at little earlier than planned. That evening, we met at House, a restaurant specialising in the streetfood of N.E Thailand. We were joined by James Gosper-the head of Wine Australia. James, had not come empty handed. He’d brought a Riesling from Tasmania, Nick Glaetzer-Dixon’s Uberblanc, 2011. It smelt of white grapefruit and ginger and tasted Pineapply and pebbley, it sang with it’s supper. To follow, a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the Hilltops region in New South Wales – Freeman’s ‘Fortuna’. This white had more weight and texture than the previous wine, apparently the winemaker looks to Northern Italy, for inspiration. It suddenly made sense. There was, in this Pinot Gris Plus, the purity of fruit and linear acidity so typical of the Alto Adige, and yet a richness and weight, even some fine tannin, reminiscent of the whites of Friuli. (Interestingly there is a splash of Aleatico added to the P.G blend to “heighten the aromatic structure” and lend those tannins).
The Reds were equally exciting (crikey – James, that bag you brought in looked so small, and yet so many wines…is it a magic bag? A magic wine bag. How do I get one of those??!!) From Grove Estate, Hilltops region, a Shiraz Viognier, 2009. But there were no bubbles. I so often pan Aussie Shiraz for being too bubbly. Sweet black and blue fruit pops in the mouth and then disappears almost immediately, neither acid nor tannin leaving their mark. This red and the one that followed from Tasmania, Glaetzer-Dixon’s ‘Mon Pere’, 2009, were so much more challenging, Firm tannins held on tightly to the bubbly black and redberry fruit flavours and didn’t let them disappear. Both had concentration without feeling too rich, and essentially, worked well with food.
The final wine was a red from Freeman again, and again, the winemaker, Brian Freeman, has looked to Northern Italy – to the great dried reds of the Veneto. Secco 2004 is a blend of the Valpolicella grapes, Rondinella and Corvina. A portion of the grapes are air dried on racks for 3 days in a neighbours’ solar powered prune dehydrator. The grapes are then added to the fermentation tanks and subsequently aged in American and French oak for 12 months. This wine made me smile. I arrive in Australia and on Day 1, taste Italy. Those classic Italian aromas and flavours of red cherry and violets were there, bigger and brighter than I’d previously known them. In the mouth, the wine is intense, of course, those grapes were dried to create this sensation, but there too is that key acidity that prompted us all to try a mouthful with a forkful of deep fried snapper, and it worked.
The group split into two camps post dinner. One group headed into the night, to sample the Sydney night life, and break in some new shoes. The other group headed back to the hotel, and after a couple of pathetic attempts to break in to the rooftop pool, settled for some Marsanne 97 from Tahbilk and Mosswood Cabernet 98 on this blogger’s terrace. So much for the early night we had promised ourselves at brunch.
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