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:

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.


  1. I'm off to the fish shop to buy sardines for dinner tonight. The De Bortoli recipes sound great. Thanks for the tip. Pippa

  2. Sounds like a wonderful combo. I'll be there on the 24th.

  3. That was great fun Max, sorry I couldn't chat, you were on-line or on the phone a bit!

    I was unsurprised by how meaty and powerful the Chalmers version was, but I was staggered by the acidity and freshness of the Trentham Estate La Famiglia. That really caught me by surprise.

    Geez, the sun turned it on in the end, the morning was utterly un-Sardinian!

    Cheers, and thanks again

  4. Sorry we missed this - would have loved to come, sounds great! Only heard about it today.
    Hope you do it again!

  5. At a recent gathering around 'The' wood fired oven , a well fed and wined group enjoyed a series of simple Spanish inspired tapas. The highlight being baked sardine tapas well matched with a Crittenden Pinoccohio 2006 Dolcetto. This wine provides a fresh cleansing acidity that goes well after the oiliness of the sardines. A good Vermentino such as the Lee Brother’s Foxey’s Hangout would work wonderfully with this dish. If anyone is interested I will post the recipe.