Friday, January 28, 2011

The Best Wine Tasting in the World: Return to Terroir at the 2011 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival

Emily Laughton and Ron Laughton, Jasper Hill

The most remarkable wine tasting I have ever been to took place in Beechworth in late 2004. The tasting was the highlight of the International Biodynamic Wine Forum and featured wines produced by members of Return to Terroir, an association of top vignerons from around the world united by their commitment to the biodynamic system of organic farming.

I’ll never forget the awe that shone from everyone’s face that day. The audience of winemakers, grape growers, retailers and journalists - wine tasting veterans all - was unusually excited, animated and amazed by the incredible flavours we kept finding in our glasses. Each of the wines we tasted - from the most humble rosé to the grandest burgundy - had an utterly distinctive character, a lively energy on the tongue, a totally engaging personality.

That weekend forum - and the tasting in particular - inspired many Australian winegrowers to explore biodynamics. McLaren Vale grower David Paxton is typical: he was sceptical about the more controversial ideas associated with BD espoused in the seminars, but the jaw-dropping quality of the wines he tasted convinced him to convert all of his extensive vineyards to certified biodynamic practices.

Now you have a chance to experience for yourself the thrill that inspired everyone in Beechworth in 2004 when the Return to Terroir group holds its first public tasting in Australia as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March. Simply put, this is an unmissable opportunity to taste the world’s most profound wines - 50 members of the group will be represented - many of which will be poured by the people who nurtured the vines and crushed the grapes. I urge you to secure your ticket to this event right now, as it is sure to sell out.

Janet and Erinn Klein,
The local heroes
There are four Australian members of Return to Terroir: Castagna, Cullen, Jasper Hill and Ngeringa. These producers have participated in most of the group’s tastings from Bordeaux to New York, and all will be at the Melbourne tasting in March.

Vanya Cullen, Margaret River
‘Having Return to Terroir in Melbourne is such a coup: to get so many people dedicated to making wine that truly represents the purity of the land in one place in incredible. You just don’t see these amazing wines all together anywhere else.’

Julian Castagna, Beechworth
‘I try to attend as many of the tastings as I can because I think it’s really important showing that Australia has a place in this diverse group of remarkable people. It is an extraordinary tasting: even in the wines you might not like, you still taste an individuality and purity that makes it a worthwhile experience.’

Ron Laughton, Jasper Hill, Heathcote
‘A Return to Terroir tasting is a fabulous event. People come to it with such curiosity, to find out first hand what biodynamics is all about beyond the mumbo jumbo and dancing naked in the moonlight. And what they discover is intelligent winegrowers producing wines that are totally authentic and true to place.’

Erinn Klein, Ngeringa Vineyard, Adelaide Hills
‘The tastings are very exciting. There’s such an amazing buzz in the room. I’m always ultra-keen to get round and taste as many wines as I can, because find a lot of inspiration from being with like-minded winegrowers, all so proud of their wares.’

Who’s Coming to Melbourne in 2011? Some of the best winegrowers in the world ...

Nicolas Joly, Loire Valley, France
Founder of the Return to Terroir group, passionate advocate for biodynamics and custodian of the remarkable Coulee de Serrant vineyard, source of one of the Loire’s most profound and mineral-rich dry white wines.

Christine Saahs, Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria
Nikolaihof is both Austria’s oldest wine estate (it has been producing wine for 2,000 years) and Europe’s oldest biodynamic vineyard, having converted in the early 1970s. Extraordinary single-vineyard riesling and gruner veltliner.

Telmo Rodriguez, Rioja, Spain
One of the most important and influential winemakers in Spain’s new-wave, Telmo Rodriguez is also a passionate supporter of warm-hearted, soulful traditional Spanish wine styles grape varieties.

Ricardo Palacios, Bierzo, Spain
The Palacios family is deeply involved in the revival of one of Spain’s most complex and profound red grapes, mencia, grown in scraps of old vineyard flung across the steep mountainsides of Bierzo.

Elisabetta Foradori, Trentino, Italy
Elisabetta Foradori has championed the ancient indigenous red grape, teroldego, through painstaking research and clonal selection. Her wines are exquisitely perfumed, spicy and elegant.

Annie Millton, Gisborne, New Zealand
The Millton Vineyard has pioneered biodynamics in New Zealand for 25 years. The wines, among New Zealand’s best, include fabulously textural viognier and some of the best chenin blanc outside the Loire.

Gilles Lapalus, Sutton Grange
NEWSFLASH, Jan 28: four guest winegrowers have also been invited to participate in Return to Terroir in Melbourne - Felton Road, Seresin and Rippon from New Zealand and Sutton Grange from southern Bendigo.


Public tasting: Monday March 14, two sessions: one from midday to 3pm and one from 4pm to 7pm. Each session will also feature a roundtable discussion between members of the group: a fantastic opportunity to listen to some of the world’s greatest winegrowers discussing their craft.
Where: Zinc, Federation Square, Melbourne
Cost: $65, including Riedel tasting glass to take home

For more about the Return to Terroir group:

(this is a version of an article first published in The Wine Magazine Dec 2010)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flood Relief Dinner on Australia Day

Flood Relief Fundraising Dinner
Australia Day, Jan 26
Maris restaurant, 15 Glenferrie Road, Malvern
Phone: (03) 9500 0665

Four course dinner with wines selected by me, plus fundraising raffle of food/wine books (MoVida, The Future Makers), a place on my wine course (value $275), bottles of wine, a hamper from Phillippa’s and more.
Wines include Jansz Late-Disgorged, De Bortoli Yarra Valley Sauvignon, Wanted Man Heathcote Shiraz, Highbank Coonawarra Cabernet, Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato ...
$100 per person
Bookings essential

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vermentino and Sardines - The Musical! Coming Soon to a Capital City Near You!

A frenzy of sustainable seafood and wine - Eskies full of crisp, cold Australian vermentino, charcoal grills groaning with delicious Australian sardines - over the next couple of weeks at:
Adelaide Central Markets, Friday Jan 21
Melbourne Rialto Forecourt, Monday Jan 24
Sydney Fix St James, Tuesday Jan 25
(more details below)
Why? Because of the following article I wrote for The Weekend Australian Magazine, Nov 7-8, 2010 ... be careful what you pray for:

I love sardines. Love ‘em. Nothing says summer more than sardines blistering over glowing charcoal embers, and that first cold crisp draught of dry white wine to wash the little fishies down. Not only that, but sardines are also packed to the gills with Omega 3 brain lubricant. And they’re, what, two dollars a kilo? Maybe five. Certainly ludicrously cheap. I went to my friendly Greek fish purveyor the other day and asked for a dozen small whole sardines - and then another dozen just to push the price up into single figures.

Anyway. So. Sardines. Cheap, tasty and bloody good for you. And, it turns out, eco-friendly.

Seriously. According to Sydney fish expert, John Susman, Australia’s sardine stocks are under-fished by two-thirds. That means we could catch and consume twice as many sardines as we do and still not threaten the sustainability of the fishery.

Okay, so why am I telling you about sardines in a wine column? Because I’ve also been drinking a lot of cold, crisp, dry vermentino recently, and I can’t think of many white grape varieties more perfectly suited to sardines.

Originally from the Mediterranean - it thrives in Sardinia (coincidence? I think not) - the vermentino vine is also rapidly finding its feet in warm, dry Australian vineyards thanks to its heat- and drought-tolerance.

You can find examples of vermentino now produced by quite a few very good local boutique producers such as Chalmers and Ducks in a Row. Crucially, you can also find very affordable examples from the really big players such as Banrock Station, Yalumba and Brown Brothers. Liquor retailer Vintage Cellars even sell their own, deliciously mouthwatering vermentino under the retro Seaview label for less than $13 a bottle (if you buy by the case).

I think we could seriously be onto something here. In fact, I have a vision: an Aussie sardine and Aussie vermentino-led recovery. Worried about reduced water allocations in the Murray Darling basin? Worried about food security? Never fear: sardines and vementino are here.

We need a new national marketing campaign. Forget cans of piss-weak lager and chucking another prawn on the barbie. I’m thinking flash-mob sardine grill-ups in suburban shopping strips; the sudden waft of charcoal smoke and Eskies full of crisp, dry vermentino. Delicious, cheap, good for you, and totally sustainable. Resistance would be useless.

So. Who’s with me?


UPDATE: Who's with me? Turns out quite a few people are. A group of vermentino producers has got together to turn the idea into reality.

Grape-treaders from 919 Wines, Boyntons, Brown Brothers, Chalmers, De Bortoli, Ducks in a Row, Foxey's Hangout, Mitolo, Trentham Estate and Yalumba will be pouring their vementinos to wash down freshly-grilled sardines here:

Friday 21 Jan, Adelaide Central Market from 5pm to 8.30pm: Eskies full of Australian vermentino, sardines on the barbecue, grill-n-sip tastes of both offered to late-night shoppers

Monday 24 Jan, Melbourne Rialto Forecourt, 495 Collins Street (outside Grossi’s new Merchant restaurant) from Midday to 2pm: Eskies full of cold, crisp vermentino; sardines on the grill. Then, in the evening, at the Cellar Bar of Grossi Florentino 80 Bourke St, three different sardine dishes will be offered for dinner, each accompanied by a glass of Australian vermentino for $18

Tuesday Jan 25, Sydney, Fix St James, 111 Elizabeth Street: free public tasting of Australian vermentino from 4 to 6pm. Then dinner at 6.30pm: three sardine dishes including sardines and smoked eggplant and Sicilian sardine spaghetti, accompanied by glasses of vermentino; $60pp - to book:

Satellite sardiney happenings:

For the next couple of weeks, the restaurant at De Bortoli, Yarra Valley, will be showcasing vermentino wines matched to three dishes: a sardine sandwich of layered butterflied fillets, pine nuts, parsley, breadcrumbs, chillies and olive oil; linguine con sardine, with garlic, chillies, wild fennel fronds, parsley and pine nuts; and whole grilled sardines with panzanella salad. The restaurant is open Thursday to Monday for lunch, Saturday for dinner. Phone (03) 5965 2271.