Tag Archives: Australia

Wine not tasting good enough? Salt it.

26 Nov

If you haven’t been to Harvard’s Science and Cooking lectures, it’s your free opportunity to geek out with Ferran Adrià, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne– basically, people you wouldn’t mind hiring to cater your death row meal. They come into town to give a lecture, and the food science faculty takes them out for ice cream. In a dorm. Yeah, that’s way po-mo hipster brainy cute, no?

Anyhow, last night’s lecture was from Nathan Myhrvold, mad polymathic genius behind Modernist Cuisine, the gifting of which automatically makes me Girlfriend of the Year (or so I keep telling Gin Savant) for the next six of them.

So after an hour of really cool videos in which the audience oohed and aahed at food changing phases, and you know, SCIENCE bitches, he drops in this coy little takeaway: if your wine isn’t savory enough for your liking, put a teensy pinch of fine-ground salt in it. Red or white. Myhrvold said he did it right in front of Gina Gallo with one of her Cabs, the cheeky imp. This is also the guy who thinks running wine through a blender is a thing. Myhrvold said that we salt food to bring balance and amplification to flavors and food, so why not do it with wine?

Some wines do indeed already have a marked, pleasing taste of salinity–also called sapidity in certain sommelier circles, which makes me think “stupidity” or “vapidity.” A lot of times these wines are made in areas near the sea, as you might expect: reds from Apulia in southern Italy, assyrtikos from Santorini, Greece. Oceanfront access is not a requirement, either, as you’ll find it in wines from vineyards along the Murray River in New South Wales and Victoria, and in the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Muscadets from the Loire tend to be salty (and perhaps one of the reasons they go so well with oysters).

I tried it with the Aglianico del Vulture in my fridge that was probably open a day too late, and it only magnified the metallic taste you get with a wine that’s been overly oxidized. Then I tried it with a newly opened Basque red and that threw everything out of balance. My suspicion is that it might work really well with a northern Italian red from one of the mountainous regions like Alto Adige–I’ve long been a fan of their acidic whites, but found their reds, due to the cold, less than thrilling. If you try it, report back in the comments and I’ll do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My take on opportunities and challenges for the Australian wine industry (if anyone cares.)

20 Aug

A lot of you know Aussie wines were my first loves, so this subject is near to my liver, oops, heart. The Guild of Sommeliers held a essay competition for members for an Australian educational enrichment program. I didn’t get the trip, but hey, I got a blog post!
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The past few years have not been easy for the Australian wine industry in general. The success of mass-produced wine and status of Yellowtail as the number one imported wine in the US have given rise to a perception solely based on cheap, over-engineered bulk wine that even the recent years of drought cannot entirely erase—-or export in toto with success.

The Australian dollar’s parity with the U.S. dollar now negates Australia’s price-to-quality advantage even on higher-prestige names. The challenge lies in negotiating a middle path that keeps both extremes of the industry—-both small vineyards and large brands—-producing and profitable. By shifting the public’s awareness from $10 and under wines to higher $15 to $45 ranges, Americans will eventually realize that there is greater variety—-and reward—-to Brand Australia.

In addition, Australia’s flagship wines—-easy drinking yet bold Shiraz, heavily oaked Chardonnay—-are out of favor currently with American palates. Being able to point to a specific region can also lessen the challenge to educate consumers about the flavor profiles and nuances of critical but misunderstood or lower-profile wines such as Riesling and Semillon. The latter may be an easier sell then the former, given the unfortunate mark that budget European Riesling has left on American tastes over the decades.

It could be argued that Australia’s current perception problem has deeper roots than simply agricultural ones, stemming back to Australia’s worldwide pop culture juggernaut in the 1980s fueled by entertainment exports such as Men at Work, Air Supply, The Thorn Birds, and of course, Crocodile Dundee. Boomers and Gen Xers have indelible, iconic–and erroneous– ideas of Australia as a casual, beach-going, laid-back, bushwhacking, Foster’s Beer-swilling, Vegemite-snacking society where both the men and the women are tough and proficient in knife-throwing.

Millennial consumers have less need for “retraining” than their parents and grandparents. They have fewer touchstones and perceptions of larger-than-life Australian culture and personalities to set aside. And given this generation’s propensity to forge their own paths earlier in life and take more risks, the ability for the Australian wine industry to present them with images of younger winemaking stars such as Ben Glaetzer and Anna Pooley could resound very deeply.

Given that Americans are now more concerned than ever with where their food products come from, there may be potential for the Australian wine industry to position its wine as a complement to the locavore movement. Affluent consumers who are inclined to pay more for organic apples from New Zealand at Whole Foods Market, or shares of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, are more willing to pay premium prices for goods of higher perceived quality and benefits, as well as experiment and try both new varietals and wine regions. This may especially be effective in areas where local wine is sub-par or the viticulture industry nascent.

The strategy to demarcate regionally-specific wines can also assuage Americans’ aversion for surprise. The similarities between the two nations as former British colonies establish an instant kinship. Australia is on the other side of the world, but in many ways, it is as close as Canada. That Australia is also the most significant English-speaking wine producing nation after the U.S. would instill a level of high level of comfort in consumers who avoid the French wine sections of their purveyors because they confuse Cotes du Rhone with Cote de Beaune or think Chablis is an actual grape variety. This is where education engenders loyal consumers. When consumers feel empowered enough to confidently make purchases themselves based on regions they have begun to trust and appreciate, they will often stick to what they know and venture out slowly.

Those who tell stories for a living know the advice that “if you want to write about or depict the universal, you must be specific.” Put in other words, consumers will find something identifiable in organic or market-driven narratives if they themselves can recognize something in them about themselves.

Americans have a soft spot for underdogs. And Australia is home to some of the harshest, most difficult winemaking conditions on Earth. The story of winemaking there is an epic one of surviving and thriving against the immutable forces of nature and carving out beauty and bounty. The end of the story—the bottled, finished product—are in their own ways miraculous, poetically mad things: manifestations of devotion, sheer determination to succeed in harmony with (and often despite) nature.

For the American wine-consuming public, there are still epic stories for Australia to tell.

Craneford Barossa Valley Grenache 2002

31 Mar

Oldish and still goodish

A bunch of years ago, I bought two bottles of this because I was enchanted with the idea of 100% Grenache (I still am). The first bottle was long ago consumed, but I remember how it was one of the most spectacular wines I had ever had. So I hoarded that last bottle for as long as I could. Years. And I forgot about it. And how it was a screwtop. Sure, a lot of great wines come in screwtops, but most of them aren’t nine years old.

So when I decided to reheat a pot pie from KO Catering & Pies, I knew which wine I had to open with it, and hope for the best.

Still has some nice color. Plus the screwcap.

You know how Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Greta Garbo, and a bunch of other glamour girls still had that sparkle, that mystique after their heydays? How you were excited to see them, even after all these years (rehab and bloat aside)? That was this wine. Take a bunch of strawberries, black cherries, cassis and blackberries. Add tobacco and a little cedar, violet and anise. And voila. Probably not the bestest ever wine to put with meat pie but still managed to hold its own. There was still a little heat (alcohol) climbing out of the glass and ready to bitchslap me as I tilted the glass toward me, and a bit of tannin left. But mostly this was a red fruit lovefest, even with a little fridge time.

Cro-Magnon screwcap

I tried some after dinner, and it was still lovely and as hedonistic as Ava Gardner, but overwhelming and a little cloying without food. I had a second third third and a half glass anyhow.

Craneford Wines, point of purchase forgotten, probably around $25