Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Margaret River's worst kept secret

If I asked you to name the top cabernet sauvignon producers in Margaret River, you’d probably rattle off Moss Wood and Cullen without blinking. And for good reason. But does the name Woodlands also spring to mind? If not, it should, because Woodlands cabernet easily equals the region’s - the country’s - best.

I can understand why this vineyard hasn’t developed the household name status it deserves: it’s hard to build a reputation with more than a decade gap in full commercial production.

Things started well: the vineyard was planted by David and Heather Watson in 1974 with cuttings provided by legendary winemaker Jack Mann, and when a Woodlands cabernet won three best-of-show trophies in 1982 it helped catapult Margaret River to national prominence.

But from 1988, while the Watsons put their kids through school and uni, the vineyard was leased and most of the fruit sold, with Woodlands grapes anonymously ending up in other producers’ wines. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when sons Stuart and Andrew became involved in the business, that more and more of the Woodlands grapes started being made into Woodlands wines at the family winery.

I caught up with the Watson boys recently and was blown away both by the quality of the wines and the enthusiasm they share for their vineyard. They are very different souls: Andrew, who studied to be a lawyer, is excitable and talks a million miles a minute. Stuart, who worked as a brick cleaner and windscreen fitter before taking up winemaking, is solid and laconic but no less passionate.

‘We grew up surrounded by Margaret River locals, grapegrowers and winemakers, and were always being told that we had the best vineyard in Australia,’ says Andrew. ‘With that kind of self-belief, you can make things happen.’

‘Every time I walk out of the winery,’ says Stuart, ‘there’s this one spot on the path that looks down across the vineyard where I think: holy shit, this place is awesome! How great is it that I get to do what I do?’

The current release Woodlands reds are all excellent, across a wide price spectrum. If you’re a serious wine nut with a cellar and a bit of cash, you simply must splash out on the 2008 ‘Shelley Anne’ Cabernet Sauvignon (around $100): from the original block of low-yielding, dry-grown vines, this exceptionally fine, cedary, balanced wine will mature gracefully for 20 years or more. If you’re looking for a special dinner party wine, the 2008 ‘Margaret’ Reserve Cabernet Merlot  (around $40) is more generous right now, with wonderfully complex black olive and chocolate richness. And if you’re into good value Margaret River red for more frequent drinking, then the 2009 Cabernet Merlot (around $21 and available from quite a few retailers including the Dan Murphys chain) delivers in spades: intense, elegant blackcurrant fruit and fine, savoury tannins.

(This article was first published in the Weekend Australian on 17 September 2011)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

And the winners are ... best wines from the 2011 Australia / New Zealand Organic Wine Show

This is my pick of the best wines from the 2011 Australia/New Zealand Organic Wine Show, which was judged by myself and four others in Sydney on Monday September 26.


2009 Lowe Zinfandel, Mudgee - BEST RED, WINE OF SHOW
An excellent expression of zinfandel, and a testament to the quality of the Lowe vineyard in Mudgee: dark, dense and brooding, it has lots of woody-spicy fruit framed in a complex, dusty tannin structure.

2011 Battle Of Bosworth Puritan Shiraz, McLaren Vale - BEST PRESERVATIVE FREE WINE
This preservative-free red fair bursts out of the glass: heaps of joyful black fruit, but layers, too, of more complex flavour - garrigue (wild thyme, dried oregano) and game (rare seared venison, I think).

2009 Tamburlaine Noble Chardonnay, Orange - BEST WHITE           
A glorious sticky for sipping with rich parfait and brioche toast: super-rich and peachy to start - almost like apricot syrup - it finishes with, and is balanced by, fresh citrusy acidity.


2011 Thistle Hill Riesling, Mudgee - SILVER MEDAL
A good follow-on from the trophy-winning 2009, this lean and savoury riesling has lovely crystalline green acid line and structure. Should develop well in the cellar.

2008 Robinvale Wines Kerner, Robinvale - SILVER MEDAL
A perennial favourite at this and other shows: rich fruit flavours, like mandarin juice and butterscotch, balanced by fresh acidity. Very drinkable wine.

2009 Ascella Semillon, Hunter Valley - SILVER MEDAL
Gently easing into what looks like being a happy life as a classic Hunter sem: some tangy lemony richness, developing classic waxy complexity and length.           

2010 The Millton Vineyard Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, NZ - SILVER MEDAL
Bloody ripper of a viognier, this: rich and creamy, honeyed and fine, with lovely weight and complexity.

2011 Salena Estate Ink Series Vermentino, Riverland - SILVER MEDAL
Some of the judges thought this was one of the best examples of Australian vermentino they’d ever seen: crisp green apple and feijoa fruit; bright, chalky texture.

2010 Richmond Plains Pinot Noir, Nelson, NZ - SILVER MEDAL           
Terrific, lighter style of pinot that screams its origins: juicy, sappy, herbal, powdery, some beetroot juice, rhubarb, forest floor and tamarillo. Phew ...

2008 Cape Jaffa Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Benson - SILVER MEDAL
Tastes more like a big Spanish red (think Toro, Ribera del Duero) than a typical Limestone Coast cab, but loadsa fun: mocha oak, blackcurranty fruit, ample sooty tannin.

2004 Temple Bruer Reserve Cabernet Petit Verdot, Langhorne Creek - SILVER MEDAL
This rang many judges’ bells because it has more than a touch of mature Bordeaux about it: cedary oak, dark, licoricey blackcurrant fruit, savoury tannins.


I thought the following two wines were very good indeed, but my fellow judges weren’t quite so enamoured. Both wines are quite tight, tannic and savoury. I perceived these qualities as positive expressions of terroir and vineyard; other judges perceived them as ‘lacking varietal character and fruit’. As I was totally out on my own on this one, I had little chance of talking all of my fellow jurors round - I’m no Henry Fonda - and, after all, the whole point of having multi-person panels in wine shows, surely, is to encourage consensus, not bullies. But I thought I’d tell you about them all the same. Just in case, like me, you like tight, tannic, savoury wines.

2010 Switch Organic Wine Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills           
From a new label on the organic wine scene, Switch’s pinot is all about powdery tannin, dried herb aromatics, brooding black fruit and cellaring potential - classic Hills pinot characters, really, I would argue.
2009 Lowe Wines Reserve Shiraz, Mudgee
I thought this wine was stunning; it certainly had a very commanding presence. Tight and sinewy, with iodine and black soil and graphite rippling though it, it’s a wine I’d love to have in my cellar.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rain stops play? How biodynamic and organic vineyards fared in 2011

It started last November. Back when the heavens opened on vineyards across south-eastern Australia, bringing every grape-grower’s worst nightmare: the triple fungal whammy of downy mildew, then powdery mildew and, finally, botrytis.

When the downy first appeared - as distinctive yellow ‘oil spots’ on the vine leaves - I heard a winemaker utter a phrase that would be repeated across the industry time and time again: “This is one year you really wouldn’t want to be organic or biodynamic.” By the end of the wettest, most disease-ridden vintage since 1974, this view seemed to have become accepted wisdom: that unless you used systemic chemical fungicides during the growing season, 2011 was a write-off.

But is that true? After speaking to dozens of Australia’s organic and biodynamic winegrowers it is clear that, on the whole, they did not fare any worse than their chemically-assisted counterparts. Indeed, in some instances, being organic or biodynamic has been beneficial.

Sure, there are stories of total or near-total crop loss in organic and biodynamic vineyards. The Cooper family at the recently-certified Cobaw Ridge vineyard in the Macedon Ranges, for example, did not pick one grape - partly because the incessant rain made it so hard to get into the vineyard to work and partly because they refused to resort to systemic chemicals: “If we had it would have meant loss of our organic status for three years,” says Alan Cooper. “And we have invested too much emotionally to go back to the start.”

The Baldasso family at Protero in the Adelaide Hills also eventually succumbed to mildew rather than lose their biodynamic certification: they managed to pick just a couple of tones of pinot noir and cabernet, but this may not be released under the Protero label. “Vintage was a disaster for us,” admits Rosemary Baldasso.

It was a similar story for Julian Castagna in Beechworth: “We discarded more than 60 per cent of our grapes on the sorting table - and what wine we have made is not typical and therefore unlikely to be released as Castagna.”

But “disasters” like this aren’t limited to organic or biodynamic growers by any means: plenty of “conventional” vineyards that were sprayed with synthetic chemicals also lost some, most, or all of their crop. It was, remember, the vintage from hell - as Julian Castagna points out, “We had more rain between the end of November and the middle of March than we've had in the last 10 years.”

And for every tale of woe, there is at least one tale of survival. Larry Jacobs from Hahndorf Hill reports that a spray regime consisting solely of organic-approved doses of sulphur and copper and applications of biodynamic preparations resulted in minimal crop losses for most varieties - particularly the Austrian grapes gruner veltliner and blaufrankisch - and that, thanks to rigorous fruit selection, “what ended up in the tanks is really excellent.”

Some growers are even more positive. “We came through vintage 2011 with some of the best fruit we have seen for years,” says Sue Carpenter of the certified-biodynamic Lark Hill vineyard in Canberra. “Acid levels were high, fruit flavours were pristine and delicate, sugar levels were moderate.”

Biodynamic Barossa winegrower Troy Kalleske is more cautious in his assessment. “Overall we fared pretty well this vintage,” he says. “Some wines are good, some great and a couple so-so. There were some people in the region who thought the Kalleskes would be screwed this year and it’s quite the contrary. We just did our usual biodynamic spraying regime, but just a couple more times than normal. And we were able to pick all of our blocks - unlike many vineyards in the Barossa, who sprayed up to 15 times with chemicals, and still ended up dropping grapes on the ground or leaving them hanging.

“People think that organics is only good in an easy growing season but I think the opposite: that a tough, wet, disease-prone season is really where organics comes into play. I do genuinely believe that because we have been farming this way for so long now, the health of the soil has given the vines a natural resilience.”

Angove winemaker Tony Ingle is also impressed with how the company’s certified organic block at Nanya vineyard in the Riverland and the biodynamically-farmed shiraz in McLaren Vale held up this year.

“There were a few revelations,” he says. “Firstly, the vine leaves appeared to be sturdier and more resistant to disease pressure in the organic blocks. Secondly, we noticed with the shiraz that the skins seemed thicker than conventional fruit. Not just on our own vineyard: we took fruit from other growers, and saw the same thing, where organic fruit came in fine and other fruit was rejected. And we also discovered that some organic certified fungicides worked better than the synthetic chemical products - and we ended up using them instead on the conventional vineyards towards the end of the season.”

According to Yalumba winemaker Heather Fraser, the various South Australian growers who supply fruit for the company’s range of organic wines fared no worse - and in some cases better than - “conventional” growers.

“On the whole, the organic and biodynamic vineyards took longer (if at all) to show signs of disease than neighbouring non-organic vineyards,” says Heather. “The biodynamic chardonnay vineyard, for example, was almost the only Riverland chardonnay block to show no sign of powdery mildew. And in the Pewsey Vale Contours vineyard in Eden Valley, which is in the first year of conversion to organic and biodynamic management, we saw no disease other than a small percentage of botrytis, and there was no significant difference between this and the conventionally managed blocks.”

So, yes, 2011 was as challenging for organic and biodynamic growers in the south-east as it was for everyone else. But a total write-off? Not at all.

(This article was first published in Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine in August 2011)

Into the mystic

Agricultural scientist John Gladstones is a demi-god in Australian wine circles. A thesis he wrote in the 1960s helped to inspire the establishment of the Margaret River wine region, and his 1992 book, Viticulture and Environment, is regarded as a seminal work. Given Gladstones’ status, his new book, Wine Terroir and Climate Change, will no doubt be read as gospel. Appropriately, it tackles some very big themes.

Like a one-man IPCC, Gladstones has waded through the climate literature and concluded that not only is global warming not as bad as we’ve been told, but climate variability is natural, none of it’s caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, and the next few decades are likely to be cooler.

In other words, don’t panic.

This is a view that will no doubt provide succour for many - despite the fact that it contradicts the work of almost every other scientist involved in wine-related climate research.

I’m sure many people will also agree with Gladstones’s stand on organic and biodynamic, or “BD” viticulture. Being a natural-BD-wine-loving old hippy, of course, I don’t.

Gladstones supports the pragmatic, quantifiable aspects of organics - improving wine quality, for example, through composting. But he dismisses biodynamics, with its homeopathic preparations and following of lunar cycles, as “nonsense”: “rituals” practiced by “true believers”. And he warns, gravely, that because BD is founded on the ideas of controversial philosopher Rudolf Steiner - “medieval superstitions that science has long superseded” - adopting BD in the vineyard is but one step away from practicing witchcraft or sacrificing virgins: “[It is] an unhealthy retreat into irrationality and mysticism, such as the world has too much suffered from in the past. [It has] no valid place in an enlightened 21st century.”

I think he’s missing the point. He’s not asking the human question: if there’s no place for mysticsm and irrationality in our oh-so-modern world why are so many of us attracted to biodynamics? Could it be that we feel dissatisfied with the too-rational approach to grape growing and winemaking? Could it be that we are yearning for greater depth, beauty, and even spiritual nourishment from the wine we drink?

Ironically, Gladstones himself answered these questions two decades ago in Viticulture and Environment: “Post-industrial man is instinctively returning (to wine) as a remaining link with the natural world,” he wrote, “as an antidote to the barbarity of his mechanistic surroundings. Quality in wine is an artistic goal in its own right. Like other artistic goals to which humans aspire, it is a civilizing influence. The world needs such influences.”

Indeed we do. Even if they’re irrational. Or a bit mystical.

(This article was first published in The Weekend Australian Magazine on 6 August, 2011)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who's coming to Return to Terroir - the complete list

Here is the full list of participants in the Return to Terroir event, a highlight of this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Wines from 62 of the very best biodynamic vineyards from around the world will be on tasting - over 340 wines in total - with many poured by the growers themselves:

       Alvaro Palacios, Az Agr Emidio Pepe, Az Agr San Fereolo, Cascina degli Ulivi, Castagna, Champagne Bedel, Champagne Fleury, Champagne Marie Courtin, Château Fonroque, Château La Grolet, Château Le Puy, Château Moulin du Cadet, Château Tour Grise, Compania de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez, Coulée de Serrant, Cullen Wines, Descendientes de J. Palacios, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, Domaine Barmes Buecher, Domaine Cazes, Domaine de Quintaine, Domaine de Villaine, Domaine de Villeneuve, Domaine Delesvaux, Domaine du Coulet, Domaine du Pech, Domaine Giboulot, Domaine Josmeyer, Domaine Lafarge, Domaine Landron, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Les Aphillantes, Domaine Les Bruyeres, Domaine Les Chesnaies, Domaine Marcel Deiss, Domaine Nivet Galinier, Domaine Ostertag, Domaine Pierre André, Domaine Pierre Morey, Domaine Saint Nicolas, Domaine Viret, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Felton Road, Foradori, Jasper Hill Vineyard, Loacker, Mas de Libian, Meinklang, Millton Vineyard, Ngeringa Vineyard, Nikolaihof, Porta del Vento, Rippon Vineyard & Winery, Robert Sinskey Vineyard, Seresin, Sutton Grange, Tenuta di Valgiano, Weingut A. Christmann, Weingut Busch, Weingut Geyerhof, Weingut Schoenberger, Weingut Wittmann.     


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

Trade tasting: Tuesday March 15, from midday to 5pm. Members of the wine trade (winemakers, growers, sommeliers, retailers, media, etc) can register here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

STOP PRESS: extra Masterclass and Forum on Biodynamic Winegrowing announced

As part of Return to Terroir at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March, Nicolas Joly and the Australian members of the international biodynamic winemakers' group will be holding a day-long masterclass and forum on biodynamic winegrowing at Vue de Monde restaurant in the city on Sunday March 13.

‘What I find fascinating is to see the sensibility created in a vineyard after some years of biodynamic farming: to see how spraying as little as one glass of dynamised tea – a plant stirred in water – can have such a powerful effect. Biodynamic farming is much like pressing keys on a piano – they just have to be the right notes.’
Nicolas Joly

In his only teaching assignment while in Australia, Nicolas Joly will explore Biodynamic Viticulture through the above statement. He will be joined by the Australian Members of Return to Terroir – Julian Castagna, Vanya Cullen, Erinn Klein, Ron Laughton – in an open forum with the audience. Come and listen; come and ask questions. The four Australian members are amongst the most experienced biodynamic vignerons in the southern hemisphere and will help with any questions on growing biodynamic wines.

The cost of the master class includes refreshment, lunch – designed by Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett – together with a tasting the of all the presenters’ wines, is $260.00.

There are only 50 places available.

To book a place, email Julian Castagna

Masterclass and Forum on Biodynamic Winegrowing
Vue de Monde
Normanby Chambers
430 Little Collins Street
Sunday 13 March 2011
9.30am to 5.00pm

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: www.biodynamy.com

(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
Web: www.maris.com.au

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: reservations@fixstjames.com.au

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.