Published on 27 August 2020
The last three delicious things I drank were all from the Macedon Ranges. I’ve been here since the start of the first lockdown and I’ve had the chance (when rules permitted) to get out and savour some of what this great region has to offer. We spent a couple of hours one day at the front bar of The Royal George Hotel in Kyneton. Their Special Negroni is a treat, made with local Animus gin, Contratto bitters (a natural Campari alternative that I import) and a secret splash of Bitterwind white pepperberry bitters that Royal George proprietor Frank Moylan has been making during isolation. Delicious! On a jaunt to Daylesford, the newly released 2019 Josh Cooper chardonnay from the Captains Creek vineyard at Blampied went down a treat with some of Winespeake’s superb cheeses and cold-cuts. Then a couple of nights ago at home, we got the open fire going and opened a bottle of 2017 Wendouree shiraz mataro. So, so good.
As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne or Victoria is,in more normal times, out front of City Wine Shop in Spring Street. This has to be one of my favourite places on earth to have a few glasses and something to nibble on, and it always finishes with an impromptu catch-up with some friend or other. There’s always a range of interesting wines open or if you’re feeling indulgent the bible that is the “big” wine list is only an ask away.
My favourite place to buy booze is Prince Wine Store in South Melbourne. I often find myself there on Saturdays pouring new releases at their free tastings between 12 and 2pm. It might be new Dr Loosen, new Burgundies or local gear, but no matter what’s on offer it always attracts a keen and educated drinking crowd. More often than not, after the tasting I’ll take a little wander around the store and find a bottle or two to buy. I have more wine than I could ever possibly need in the CellarHand warehouse but that’s not going to stop me buying more, I can assure you.
When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I usually try to palm it off to someone else. It can be something of a poisoned chalice to be the so-called expert who’s made to choose all the time. Failing that, I’ll embrace my inner creature of habit and will check out the rieslings, white and red Burgundy, nebbiolos from there (Italy) or here, and generally seek out wines that taste of their provenance and ideally aren’t served too warm (reds) or too chilled (whites). Australian chardonnay is a particular interest of mine at the moment. There are so many great examples to explore: A.Rodda in Beechworth, Willmee in Macedon Ranges and many examples from the Adelaide Hills and Tassie.
The Victorian spirit I’m digging the most right now is Animus Arboretum Gin from Kyneton. The botanicals in this one are things like orange, bush tomato, bay leaf and coriander seeds. It’s superb in a Gimlet or even straight up as a heart-starter when it’s really icy at the farm. It’s amazing how far the artisan gin scene has come in a few short years in Australia. It wasn’t long ago that a mate said he was leaving his good winery marketing job to go and distil gin in Healesville. We all thought he was mad, but that was the start of Four Pillars.
There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Beaujolais, the wonderful gamay wines that are made just south of Burgundy. At the moment, as the prices of Burgundy’s wines continue to skyrocket due to demand, scarcity and hype, the value to be found in some of the satellite regions like Chablis, the Maconnais and particularly Beaujolais has come to the fore. No longer just renowned for producing watery, insipid light reds, Beaujolais has rediscovered its verve and is producing some superb medium-bodied, bright and crunchy red wines. The likes of the 2018 Dominique Piron Beaujolais Villages that you can buy for around $25 at somewhere like Blackhearts & Sparrows is a great case in point. Lovely freshness and balance, easy to drink on its own or with a variety of foods, the soft tannin profile of these wines makes them a real winner.
I’d love to see us planting more wine varieties in Victoria that suit particular sites. There are still plenty of cool-climate areas to be explored where more pinot, chardonnay and the likes of gamay could go, but having worked with the Chalmers family for pretty much my whole career in wholesaling I’ve learned a great deal from those guys about the wide viticultural scope Victoria has to offer. I look forward to the Sicilian variety nerello mascalese being available to plant here; I think it could be excellent in some of the warmer areas with volcanic soils. I also reckon there are plenty of spots in Victoria where the Austrian grape grüner veltliner could do very well and produce some interesting results. As the climate evolves so too does our understanding of what to plant where. It’s a very exciting time for growing wine in Australia.
My guilty pleasure in the fridge is cheese. Try as I might, I just can’t shake the habit and really, why would you want to? I love to pair a ripe mountain Gorgonzola with a German auslese riesling (definitely not red wine, please) or nibble on some Comté or Manchego when I’m finishing off a bottle of something red and delicious. Cheese is such a vast subject, a lot like wine, and there’s always more to learn about how it’s made and where it originates. From Victoria, I’m loving the Holy Goat cheeses made near Sutton Grange. Happily, the new Winespeake cellar and deli in Daylesford has all of our cheesy needs covered.
The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been the fact that we are more than ever taking on board the notion that wine ought to be made in the most sustainable way possible and should ultimately taste like it comes from somewhere – ideally the place where it actually comes from. I’m not dogmatic about wine needing to have any tag attached to it, be that natural, organic or biodynamic, but as the producers in the CellarHand portfolio will tell you, being the first consumers of their own wines, they ultimately want the least amount of crap possible in their wines. And that can only be a good thing for us all. We also seem to be craving and appreciating wines that are harmonious on release and these are ultimately the wines that will best reward careful cellaring.
For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is… firstly, a nod to a couple of guys who are no longer with us: Walter Bourke, of Walter’s Wine Bar, and Don Fitzpatrick (Dogs Bar, Melbourne Wine Room) who pretty much invented the drinking scene we enjoy today in Melbourne. Right now, though, it would have to be Leanne Altmann who oversees wine for Andrew McConnell’s group of restaurants. I say Leanne, not just because she’s a dyed-in-the-wool Liverpool FC tragic (like myself) and riesling nut (ditto), but because she is the benchmark for the industry in terms of only making buying decisions based on wine quality and always making those decisions informed by what the end users – diners and drinkers in the restaurants – will most enjoy. Leanne displays a non-biased attitude to wine, appreciating that ultimately wine selection should go beyond one’s personal taste. She’s also a brilliant and insightful wine presenter. But mostly, it’s the Liverpool FC bit…
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