Tag Archive | Australian wine

Cucumber wine, bring it on!

We all know plenty of foods with wine flavour. Winegums, to name but one, but what about sherry trifles, or port-marinated Stilton cheese? To find wine that tastes of food is a more challenging task. Or at least: it used to be. Because lately, and especially in summer, the shelves at the bottle shop are suddenly stacked with all sorts of fruity newcomers.

Sangria in a carton...

Sangria in a carton…

Now of course: flavor-infused wines are nothing new. The ancient Greeks already flavored wine with honey and herbs, and everyone who goes to Greece should at least try a Retsina, the resin-infused national wine that really only tastes nice on a Greek beach, but turns into cat pee once drunk back home. And of course there’s sangria from Spain, the notorious cocktail of cheap red wine, fruit and lemonade that is reponsible for so many holiday hangovers, not to mention teen pregnancies… Sangria has been on sale ready-made for decades, usually at the bottom of the wine section, in large bottles or convenient cartons. Cheap fruity summery plonk for the undiscerning palate, great for when you throw a garden party but don’t really like the guests well enough to spend money on it. I’m not saying Sangria is awful. In Spain I drink it all the time. But in Holland it just seems daft to drink the stuff. Our weather is never good enough for it, and really… it’s a childish sort of drink.

Years ago, I discovered a little known traditional infused wine in Belgian Luxembourg, where around the unpleasant town of Arlon every springtime ‘Maitrank’ is drunk. This ‘may-drink’ consists of a blend of the very uninteresting local wine with a wildflower called Gallium Odoratum, or woodruff in English. It adds a perfumed, honey-like flavour to the wine and especially the first sip is completely bewitching. It’s served over ice with a twirl of orange peel and drank as an aperitif. Hard to get outside the Ardennes/Luxembourg area but worth looking for if you’re ever in the area! I fondly remember Maitrank as one of the first alcoholic drinks (low alcoholic, okay) that I actually liked enough to get drunk on…

Maitrank should be more popular

Maitrank should be more popular

I guess because of those experiences I have never been against the idea of combining wine with other flavor-adding ingredients. I love wine, but I am not a vinofundamentalist! So I was thrilled to discover very grown up-looking infused wines in Australia a few years ago. No country in the world is more irreverent when it comes to wine, and therefore more innovative. Aussie winegrowers plant grapes from across the globe side by side, and have no qualms whatsoever blending Portuguese with Austrian grapes if that gets a result. Of course there are heroic failures, how else does one learn. But there are also lovely inventions. The way Australians blend verdelho with riesling for instance, or how they use viognier to add a kick to pinot grigio… wonderful.

Elderflower and lemon wine from Rosemount

Elderflower and lemon wine from Rosemount

But lo and behold, searching for a nice and refreshing wine during a Perth heatwave, I stumbled across a new range from Rosemount. White wines, infused with mint, green apple, lime and even cucumber! So bizarre, that I felt compelled to buy them. Well… let me tell you one thing: Australians do not do bad wine. If Rosemount thinks it’s good enough to sell, you can bet your backside it’s good enough to drink. And that cucumber infused sauvignon blanc… my, what a delicious little quaffer that was! Especially with oysters, absolutely terrific. To those who balk at the idea of cucumber-flavored wine… have a Pimms, and see how that tastes without cucumber in it. Nuff said.

Sadly, the cucumber wine is no loner available but Rosemount has launched new ‘botanicals’ with slightly more conservative additves like lemon and elderflower. Quite nice, but not as exciting as that greenish cucumbery one. Lately, the French have picked up on the wine-plus-fruit craze too. they already added lemonade to beer and call that Panache. A lovely refreshing summer drink that’s a third of the price of what Dutch brewers only launched last year under the German name ‘ Radler’. Wonders never cease. Anyway, in France we bought grapefruit-infused rosé and granny smith-flavored sauvignon blanc, that were delicious and perfectly drinkable with a picknick or a barbecue.

Grapefruit rosé

Grapefruit rosé

And what will the next trend be? I already discovered weird oddities like lavender-infused sauvignon (fabric softener?), and even weirder: marijuana wine. I predict it will not be very long until someone -probably in the Napa valley- invents a bacon-flavored shiraz. Hm. I don’t think I am adventurous enough for that.

Marijuana wine anyone?

Marijuana wine anyone?

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Sour grapes at Brown Brothers

Amazing wines from across the globe, all in one place: Brown Brothers.

I thought I knew wineries, before I went to Australia. Dank caves and musty cellars in rural France, where even the air was 12 percent proof and where devious old ladies would pour you so much free tipple that you’d find yourself happily drunk and in possession of sixteen bottles of Chateau Whatever. A wine that seemed awfully delicious in Saint-Lunatique but that, at home, has lost all its charm and barely makes it into a stew. Or is only useful as a gift to people you don’t really like that much.
Don’t snigger: we’ve all done it! And most of us who have done wine tastings in Europe will recognize the experience. Although I must say that there are many, many wonderful and lovely winemakers with charming tasting rooms and great wines. But about them I will write another time.
Wine tasting in Europe is a very down-to-earth sort of thing, but then, in countries like France, Italy and Spain, wine isn’t seen as something to be snobbish about. I had heard horror stories from friends who had ‘done’ the Napa Valley in California though and found it to be impossibly snooty, overprices and really no fun at all.
So it was with a sense of trepidation that I entered the tasting room at Brown Brothers, in rural Victoria, a mere three hours north of Melbourne. Australian wine could for me, up until then, be summarized in one word: cheap. And quite frankly, I was quite sick and tired of the thick buttery Aussie Chardonnays from the supermarket. So, I was not really expecting much, yes I apologize for that.
Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with the massive, massive range of wines at Brown Brothers. It seemed as if every single grape that had been cultivated in Europe, had found its perfect new home in Australia. Grapes you did not find in one and the same province, let alone country, happily grew side by side. And -shock! horror!- were BLENDED into ungodly, unholy mixtures!
I just could not get my head around it. Who would blend a noble Riesling from Germany with the zesty Verdelho from Portugal? What crazy mind stirred Viognier in with Gewurztraminer?
Of course, the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and I took my first sip… And another… and another…
Long story short, it wasn’t even 10:30 am and I was happily tipsy already. I chatted with the lady behind the counter, who kept on pouring me delicious wine after heavenly nectar, and apparently I came across as this savvy bigshot European wine connaisseur. Which I really am not, I just happen to know what I like and what grape to expect it from, that’s more than enough oenology for me!
So, I got invited for a special occasion: they were about to uncork the first batch of their brand new Nebbiolo range. Yes, Nebbiolo, the noble grape that creates the black and seductive Barolo wine. Another emigrant that thrived in the Victorian climate.
And now you expect another euphoric paragraph about how wonderful that Nebbiolo was. Well… it was awful. Like licquorice drenched with vinegar, it was sour and astringent and just yukky. Which winedrinkers know of course: a young Nebbiolo is just undrinkable, it takes ten years or more to become rich and velvety and delicious.
So I left Brown Brothers, head spinning with new knowledge and certainly the equivalent of a bottle of wine in tastings… with a bag full of desert wine and a nasty taste in my mouth from that very young Nebbiolo. And that was 12 years ago… and I am just kicking myself that I did not buy some Brown Brothers Nebbiolo back then. Because right now, it would have been absolutely gorgeous.