Monday, 28 January 2013

A Visit of Australia Part 2

Before we start I have a little confession to make. Before we arrived in Perth, I had little knowledge of one of Australia's great wine making regions and where some of the finest wine in the world is made. That is, of course, the Margaret River wine region of Western Australia, an area we were going to be be spending four days.

I mentioned in my last blog that I had always been rather dismissive about Australian wine and for my WSET certificate knowledge of Australia was rather confined to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the areas near Adelaide in South Australia. So to 'discover' Margaret River was a bit of a gem.

We were staying in the lovely seaside town of Busselton in the north of the region and travelling in our friends car. They have a young son so getting to a few wineries was going to be difficult but I came across a great idea whilst reading a tourist brochure on our first night in Busselton. A guided tour of the region including 5 wineries, lunch in a brewery and they pick you up and return you to your accommodation. Ace, Louise thought so too so we made the necessary arrangements for two days time.

Gerry and Astuti of Cellar d'Or Winery Tours
Cellar d'Or winery tours is run by Gerry and Astuti Cunningham who we met on the day. They appear to offer the best value tour in the area at AUS$82. I checked them out on Tripadvisor and the feedback was glowing. There are more expensive tours available on which you may see higher profile wineries and perhaps have a more formal lunch but for us they were perfect. I felt relaxed from the second Astuti collected us from our accommodation. We picked up two further couples and made our way to our first winery for our first tasting of the day at around 10.45am!

Yours truly discussing the wines of Mongrel Creek with Shirley
Mongrel Creek is a relatively young winery, having opened in 1996. There slogan is 'No Pretence, No Bullshit'. This marketing angle seemed slightly at odds with the lovely tranquil atmosphere in their beautiful cellar door where we were guided through the wines by Shirley, wife of Larry who own the Vineyard. We started with some fizz, always the best way to start a day, and worked our way through six lovely wines which included a rather delicious sweet red, a style which you hardly ever find in Europe but seems to be something of an Australian speciality. A great start to the day and we came away with a bottle of said sweet red.

Swooping Magpie range of wines
At the next winery we met up with another group meaning that for the rest of the day there would be 13 of us . Swooping Magpie appeared to be a rather larger operation than Mongrel Creek and we were met by owner Neil Tuffield who was clearly very passionate about his wines. With the larger group the atmosphere was busier and there were also some members of the general public in the cellar door. A nice touch was to offer several varieties of cheese and biscuits with the wine and we liked it so much we bought some cheese and biscuits to take home for later along with a rather fine Verdelho, although all the wines were great and I really loved the 'kid on a bike' motif.

Next stop was the Bush Shack Brewery for lunch where we also received a 100ml taster of one of their brews. The lunch consisted of a simple platter of meats, cheeses, pate, bread and salad. Simple, yes but perfect for us and there was more than enough to go round.

Cape Naturaliste, Lovely view shame about the attitude
After lunch we visited the nearby Cape Naturaliste Vineyard in Yallingup and our first poor experience. We were met by Lisa whose presentation style could be most kindly described as 'in yer face'. She started by pouring everyone water and telling us how to taste wine. Now, as someone in the trade this is important, but not so important for tourists out to have a good time. She then told unnecessary stories which included some rather off colour material about lesbianism, I kid you not. Maybe she was just nervous but it did not come across well.
The winery had won quite an auspicious award in London for their Torpedo Rocks Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Lisa gave us the impression that they were quite nonchalant about entering it, winning it or even collecting the trophy. I noticed they were not quite so nonchalant about charging an eye watering AUS$110 a bottle for said wine with the rest of the wines priced at an also quite pricey AUS$35. A whiff of profiteering filled my nostrils. The general public are a great barometer and when the tasting was over everyone went immediately back to the bus with no one buying anything. This was the only time this happened during the whole day.

Liz and the fabulous House of Cards
Spot on!
The next winery could not have been more different. The House of Cards winery is owned by Travis and Elizabeth Wray and Liz was on hand to guide us through the tasting. The styling of the winery was really beautifully done both with the marketing of their wine and the layout of the Cellar Door. There was lovely cook books, art, jewellery and various ornamental nick nacks to purchase as well as the wine. The wine was also a joy and after trying the full range I purchased a bottle of the 2011 Cabernet Merlot which I have yet to open. It is also the place where I got my favourite photograph of the holiday with me and the Sauvignon Blanc sign. As it's my favourite variety it could not be more appropriate.

The final winery of the day was Fermoy Estate a rather grand winery with considerable pedigree having been opened in 1987 which by Margaret River standards is a long time. I shouldn't say this but I was kind of expecting the same look down your nose attitude that we got at Cape Naturaliste but I'm pleased to say that wasn't the case, indeed the wines we tried were definitely the best of the day. They make quite a big deal about the fact that their wine, the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen to be served at the Danish Royal Wedding when Australian Mary Donaldson married Crown Prince Frederik in May 2004. We tried the same wine in the 2010 vintage and it was absolutely superb, by far the best wine of the day with soft tannins and lovely chocolate and cherry flavours. A purchase was made.

By this stage we were all tiring, as you probably are reading this, and it was time to say our goodbyes and return to our accommodation but not before Gerry organised a prize draw where one person (sadly neither of us) won, yes you guessed it, a bottle of wine. All in all a fantastic day and something I would recommend to anyone able to visit the fabulous region of Margaret River.

Next time: A visit of Australia Part 3. My personal visit and tour of Barton Jones Wines in Donnybrook, oh and Mitz the dog!

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!


Friday, 11 January 2013

A Visit of Australia Part 1

We, meaning myself and my wife Louise, arrived in Australia just under a week ago with a fab three part plan which involved time with our recently emigrated friends Richard and Emma and their son Sebastian in Perth, a trip with them to Busselton and the fabulous Margaret River wine region, and finally a few days in Sydney prior to our return to the UK. But let's not think that far ahead.

Since my love of wine began many years ago I have never really been into Australian wines, thinking it was all about heavy, oaked Chardonnay and full bodied spicy Shiraz. Now I do know that isn't the case and on this trip I am determined to dispel myself of that image.

Australia's version of Majestic?
I'm lucky enough to be staying in the very upmarket area of Applecross where there are many multi million dollar houses and in the village there is Vintage Cellars, Australia's answer to Majestic Wines in the UK, where better deals are offered for multi bottle purchases.

Vintage Cellars Applecross and my helpful friend in store
Once inside the store, which is pretty large, I was astonished by two things, firstly much of the Australian wine was quite expensive $25+ (£16+) and secondly the imported wine from Chile, Argentina and particularly New Zealand offered much better value. I asked one of the guys in store about this at the same time as asking if I could take a couple of photos. His answer was yes to the photos and a vague answer about importing in bulk. A great shame but so goes world commerce these days.
Fine Pinot Noir with soft tannins and cherry flavours

To the wine: I began searching for an appropriate red for us to drink that night. Now my wife does not drink red (rose for her) and my friends are only recent converts so I thought a nice Pinot Noir would be good. Ideally I wanted one from Western Australia so I asked my friend in store and he recommended a Bellarmine Pinot Noir from Pemberton, one of three WA Pinot they offer. The others were rather out of my price range. We drank it with some grilled chicken salad and it was rather good. Black cherries and subtle spice with soft tannins and my friends liked it. Indeed we moved onto another bottle of red, but I'll save that for another day.

Next time.....More Australian wine adventures.

Enjoy your wine.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Why buy two glasses, when you can get the bottle

Once upon a time in Britain buying wine in a pub or bar was seen as the preserve of oddballs and wannabe continentals. Men drank beer, by which I mean bitter or mild, never lager (at least until the mid 1970s) usually in handled glasses and women drank sherry, martini, possibly gin or if feeling a little racy Babycham. No, I don't know either, it was horrible stuff.

Then, almost overnight, drinking wine became de rigueur and when I was growing up in the late 1980s wine bars became the 'in' thing, with many having no draught beer at all. If you wanted beer then you drank it out of a bottle but that's a different story altogether. If I remember rightly in my home town (now city) of Wolverhampton 'The Press' was the archetypal bar of this type. Of course I don't know this to be exactly true as I was too young to go in there but that is how I remember it.

In those days there were two types of wine available, red or white, take your choice and it was served in 125ml measures in goblet glasses. The only time buying a bottle of wine was acceptable was in a restaurant where of course quite a performance was given by the maitre d' in presenting and opening the bottle and then allowing you to taste. That type of presentation still does go on today, I do it myself as part of my job, but a lot of the glamour has been lost with the coming of screwcap bottles.

For many years as wine drinking developed the 125ml continued to be the only pour available until someone, not sure who - possibly the same advertising agency who thought up the Large Big Mac Meal decided a large measure of 175ml should be offered. For a little while these two measures worked hand in hand until about 10 years ago someone decided wine should be sold in 250ml measures and the 125ml measure was quietly dropped by most establishments. In recent times the 125ml has made a bit of a comeback as binge drinking and excessive consumption has led for calls for interested parties in the hospitality trade to discourage the worst excesses. Of course, wine isn't really the culprit it is cheap spirits and alcopops that do the most damage.

Getting back to my point about buying the bottle the phrase is actually a family thing. It was first used by my mother-in-law Norma when having lunch in the Lygon Arms, a very fine and famous hotel in the Cotswolds, a few years ago. Now I have to be very careful what I say about Norma as she treats me like her own son and I love her to bits but she does like a glass or two. There is a point about this though. At one time you went to the bar and ordered two glasses of wine. End of. No one thought "ooh, would it be better value to get the bottle". These days everyone savvy enough to do some simple maths should be able to calculate what is the best value way of buying your wine and most operators work their prices out so that buying the bottle will give you best value. Not all though and if you ever see wine priced so that three 250ml glasses is less than the bottle price ask them if you can have those 3 glasses but left in the bottle and see what they say.

In my business we continue to offer wine at 125ml, 175ml, 250ml and bottle size and I spend a considerable amount of time working out how to price them accordingly (Actually a good rule of thumb is £1 between each glass size - Try it, it works perfectly) so that each larger size gives you a bit better value. But I'm also offering something for all as not everyone wants to drink a 250ml bucket of wine and with screwcaps you can even take the bottle home.

Next Time:
Australian wine. I go to Australia for three weeks tomorrow and hope to be blogging from there.

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!