In rememberance of cork


My first corkscrew was a true gentleman: The Duke of Cork. He was a good mate- a double hinged waiter's friend with a pleasant grip. He and I parted ways when I was late for a flight and had to take all my luggage on board, sans hijacking instruments. For a while I screwed around with whichever corkscrew would open up for me. Sometimes it was the cheap and nasty disposable corkscrew whores you find in hotel rooms, sometimes it was a high class girl with gorgeous pins, sleek lines and a smooth sigh as she opened my bottle, so to speak. Though I enjoyed those hedonistic days, I decided it was time to settle down with someone more permanent. I found my true love in Chile, in an antique store. She's a little past her prime, it's true, but I wouldn't have her any other way. She's an old goat's horn, starting to split and splinter, with a blackened old screw rudely jutting out, ready to get stuck into any bottle it sees. She's no nicely levered lass- this delighful old bat is stubborn as a mule. Once you've got her in the cork (no mean feat) you've got to do the old fashioned bottle between the legs trick to get anywhere at all.

And all this is ending. Every winemaker in the Clare Valley turned their backs on cork almost ten years ago now, turning to aluminium Stelvin screw caps. Henschke will shortly release all their wines under a nifty glass cap, including their super premium Hill of Grace. A wander along the aisles of any bottle shop in the country will make it clear who's winning the battle. Cork is losing friends fast.

I'm not so naïeve as to think that romantics like me stand a chance against the forward march of economics (and one bottle in ten ruined by cork taint is a hard argument to counter), so let this stand not as an impediment to the Stelvin stampede, but simply as an ode to a centuries-old part of winemaking. Who among us wine drinkers doesn't feel the onset of salivation as soon as we hear that glorious sound of a bottle being liberated from its cork? Who would be happy to replace a soaring champagne cork with a metal cap and a keyring bottle opener? The humble cork has done its job- perhaps imperfectly- but it has done it for long enough to deserve a proper farewell, instead of this hurried redundancy. I grew up with a wine-cork pin board, with a sandwich toaster held open with reused corks, with fake beards applied using the burnt end of an old cork. Many a camping trip has been enriched by the frantic search for something, anything, to get a cork out of a bottle (and enriched even further by the eventual success).

Enough remeniscing, though. Our spongy wooden friends are still around, though in dwindling numbers. I'll save the eulogy for their funeral, and simply end with a plea for all to savour these glorious, endangered seals while they still last.

Cankerous tomatoes?


My father grows tomatoes. Every week or so in summer he'll show up at the lunch table with an ice cream tub half-full of them. They're pathetic looking things, really. Small, diminutive, snub-nosed deformed orbs, wrinkled and splattered with scars and discolouration. They've got nothing on the large, firm, fire-engine red examples of pristine tomato-ness you can find at the supermarket. The things my dad brings to the table are the runts of the tomato community, the hunchbacked oddities.

They're my favourite fruit in the world. You take one of these cankerous things, still warm from the summer sun, and tear it into pieces with your knife (it's far too weak to be cut into slices). It'll dribble and spit seeds all over you, soggify your sandwich bread, and stain your pants. But when you eat it- oh, when you eat it, everything makes sense. There's a sudden epiphany, a realisation that this is what tomatoes are meant to taste like. All those snooty model tomatoes at the supermarket, the blue blooded hoi-polloi, the elite and the beautiful, they're just a pretty façade with nothing of substance inside. My dad's tomatoes taste like the essence of the fruit, the truth of what tomatoes were before we came along and decided what they should look like.

There is a similar experience to be had at Torbreck, in the Barossa Valley. Tasting their offerings is like a rebirth of sorts, an awakening. Because, like my dad's tomatoes, these wines make you suddenly aware of how it issupposed to be. Take grenache- you see this little kid all over the place. Shiraz grenache blends are popular, as are grenache shiraz mouvedres (usually called GSM). Very rarely would you see him on his own. He's the Paul Giamatti of the wine world- always playing a supporting role. It took Torbreck to see him in Big Momma's House and realise he had the potential to do an American Splendor or Sideways. So, finally, grenache was given a part fit for him. A leading role, a capella, on his own at last. The Torbreck Les Amis Old Vine Grenache is, simply, spectacular. None of the limp-wristed 'softening out the shiraz' for this little firecracker- this wine dominates your senses from the outset, but does so without overpowering you. It's a seductive, inky, silky masterpiece of fruit and smoke and pepper and humid afternoons in the tropics.

And it is what one may call a touch pricey- it'll set you back one hundred and eighty magical beans for a bottle. But I see it this way- you can enjoy the Mona Lisa without buying it, and the same is true here. Simply pay a visit to my pals in the Barossa and they'll be more than happy to introduce you to this suave and gentlemanly fellow. If you can't manage that, then there are always tomatoes.

[Tim's note: Rowan asked me to supply a photo of tomatoes for this post, but unfortunately I had none of his Dad's ugly-but-delicious tomatoes on hand. I apologise for the above perfect tomatoes that perpetuate the unrealistic standard the MEDIA sets to which few backyard tomatoes can aspire, and which only serves to lower the self esteem of delicious tomatoes everywhere that believe being tasty isn't good enough.]

On the similarities between wine and anything else that's spectacularly brilliant.

There are, on occasion, some things in the world that are a little confusing. What does it mean to obflisticate someone? Why are they called guinea pigs if they aren’t pigs and they’re not from guinea? Why is water wet?

In these times of conundrum and despair, it is reassuring to turn to something unchanging, something solid, some reliable point of reference from which to encounter our wild and dynamic world. With this in mind, may I present Windy Creek Chenin Blanc.

This wine is, and always will be, divine. It tastes like what water has always wanted to be. Clean, pure, refreshing and bright. You can serve it warm or ice cold, with salmon or cheese or roast lamb, in summer or in winter, and it always weathers the changes and tastes amazing. It tastes like the words ‘tranquil’, ‘soliloquy’, ‘lullaby’ and ‘ephemera’ have been liquefied. If humanity were required to justify its existence, this wine would balance out Cheryl Crow, the Crusades, and people who test new ring tones on public transport. It’s so delicious some customers have started to evolve taste buds in their oesophagas because tasting even more of this wine is essential for the perpetuation of our race. It is the vinified equivalent of Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 at the Olympics.

And it’s twelve dollars a bottle.

AMEN, AUSTRALIA. I salute you.

Wine as slouch-hatted gaucho in tattered pants

Firstly- apologies on Tim's behalf for the lack of updates. He and I have both recently started full time jobs (he's fixing people, I'm licking rocks), and I guess we're slowly getting used to this 'work' concept we've heard so much about. Enough with excuses though- let's get on with it.

Imagine this: a limp-wristed, clean-nailed, quiche-eating effete ponce in a ruffled shirt, plus fours and golf shoes arrives at an rowdy outback pub and asks for a glass of ice water. This, give or take a burly man in a torn singlet, is what can happen if you go wine tasting in the Barossa Valley for the first time. You expect a mild day in the Autumn sun with some lovely wine, but it can get serious quickly when you come face to face with a broad shouldered shiraz blocking your path. Bold, rugged, rough edged and gravel-voiced, this is not a wine to be toyed with.

I grew up among these kind of bottled blokes, so on a recent trip to Argentina (purely in order to write this post) I was keen to head down Mendoza way and introduce myself to a bottle or two.

A farewell feast

Roast beef

If I'd known how much fun a farewell feast was, I'd have left years ago. In fact, my new goal in life may be to move somewhere, live there long enough to find friends who will attend a farewell dinner, then leave. My life will be a glorious adventure from one farewell feast to another, perhaps interspersed with an occassional welcome home feast when I return to Adelaide.

It's a pretty easy process too. The first step is to leave your hometown, leave all your friends, your family, your favourite places and faces. Easy, right? Next up, host a farewell dinner for yourself. Once that's done, you're free to dream up any kind of menu you desire.

Here's what I went for:

We started with a light sparkling pinot served with ricotta and chargrilled capsicum on something that I don't know the name for. It's a little bread square, buttered on both sides and crammed into a small muffin dish so when you put it under the grill the bread toasts into little cups. Let's call them toastinis, or crustettes, or something similarly naff.

Fortunately, I had my partner in crime Tim to attend to the entree. He made up a prawn stock by boiling up tomatoes, lemon zest and pulp, salt, prawn shells, parsley, and whole peppercorns. This was then magically turned into seafood risotto which was served with a prawn poached in butter, with a garnish of chilli oil. I'd have a photo and a recipe, but it was far too delicious to tear myself away from. This one went hand in hand with a NZ gewurtztraminer, which was a lovely and buttery supplement to the seafood.

The next dish was a purely experimental one. The official name was lime salmon with avocado and mango salsa on a bed of coconut rice. The coconut rice was simple enough (rice + water + coconut milk + rice cooker), as was the salsa (avocado + mango + coriander + lime juice). I panfried the salmon with a sprinkling of lime zest at the end, and constructed a mini food tower consisting of a rice and salsa foundation with a salmon ground floor and lime antenna. In retrospect, the hot salmon on cold salsa was an odd combination, despite the flavours working well together. An Adelaide Hills sav blanc provided the tasty wineyness for this one.

If you think that two tasty courses were enough to get me to leave, you're sadly mistaken. Main course, dessert, and a big breakfast cook-up are after the jump.

Cooking 2.0


How are you?

The funny thing about this whole web business is that my tapping words into a screen is fundamentally separate to your reading them, as is my reading of all the other various words floating around in the ether. I've decided that today, for this post, I've had enough with the first person navel gazing and that it's time for a bit of good old-fashioned second person correspondence.

So, to reiterate: hello. How are you?

And, now that we've got the pleasantries out of the way, let's get down to business: I need a favour.

I'm planning a dinner for next week and, as the winely minded person that I am, I have several bottles selected for what will surely be a delicious evening. What I do not yet have, however, is the food to go with them. That's where you come in. I'm opening up the virtual floor to suggestions for what to have with each wine, and any that suggestions that end up being made will be dutifully photographed and written up on this here piece of electronic parchment.

So, with no further ado, here's the plan:

further ado

Start with a bottle of Bird in Hand sparkling pinot. This is a delightfully fresh, vibrant, eclectic little sparkling. It has a hint of redness to it due to the juice being kept on the skins (it's the skin of grapes, not their juice, that gives the wine it's colour) for only 3 hours. It's a beautiful wine for summer- which, conveniently enough, is our season at the moment- and deserves a very casual, easy, simple nibbly thing to start with as we all mill about enjoying the evening's sunlight. What do you think I should serve?

Next up, I've got either a sauvignon blanc from the Adelaide Hills which is so full of fruit you could slice it, or a gewurtztraminer from New Zealand that's so smooth and buttery you could spread it on bread. The savvy would probably go hand in hand with anything light and airy, whereas the gewurtz would be beautiful with some slightly richer seafood (I'm thinking salmon with avocado-mango salsa and coconut rice). Any suggestions here?

This next dish didn't exist until a second ago, when I decided that having something here would require less volume (and therefore less money) for whatever tasty meat I buy for the next one. So, I've got a faaaaaantastic Adelaide Hills pinot (from Abbey Rock who, sadly, have closed down) and its regional sister, an Adelaide Hills merlot. The pinot doesn't mess around- it's a kick you in the teeth, stomp around the palate kind of wine, which is unusual in a pinot but very welcome. Still, true to its variety, even with this boldness it's not so strong that it would overpower a more gentle dish. The merlot, if memory serves, is perfectly balanced between soft cherry and berry fruits, and the slight touch of oaky warmth at the back. If you could think of any stewy, soupy, crock-potty, ragouty dish to make en masse and ladle out to fill people up on, I'm all ears. Well, except for all the non-ear parts of me.

The next dish (whatever it ends up being) is the whole reason for this dinner. A few months ago my grandfather gave me a bottle of Wynns 1986 John Riddoch Coonawarra Cab Sav. This is a wine that I couldn't dream of affording if this year's vintage was half price, let alone one one that's over 20 years old. It will be, if you can forgive the understatement, nice. It will be quite nice, in fact. So to complement this niceness, we'll need a meal sturdy enough to stand up to this mighty old bastard of a wine. Something with backbone. No delicate aromatics and subtle hints here, give me flavour and give it to me straight. My second pancake partner in crime, Tim, is thinking that a whole beef tenderloin with a blue cheese butter could do the trick. Can you outdo him? Go on, I dare you.

Finally, I've got a bottle of birthday port, so named because it was made the same year I was: 1985. If it's as well developed and mature as I am, then it'll be a disappointment. If (fingers crossed) it's spent it's time more productively than I and has actually made something of itself, then it will be a dark, rich, intoxicating drop that will hopefully taste like christmas pudding in a glass. This could probably be suited to some old ripe cheeses and quince paste but, once more, I'm open to suggestions.

So what say you, gentle readers? What should I make? It's for 10-15 people, so anything bulky will probably be easier, for practical purposes, but I was never one for being sensible anyway. Give me orders, and I'll do your bidding.

Fine times in McLaren Vale


Figure 1: Relationship of wine posts to thesis writing.

An independent study recently found a long-suspected negative correlation between the writing of a thesis and the writing of wine posts (figure 1). A thesis, these authors concluded, takes an inordinate amount of time and, as such, prevents the writing of other, more enjoyable things.

That being said, I have no idea why it's relevant here. Even, hypothetically, if I had just completed a thesis, why would I feel compelled to bring it up here? Surely I would put it behind myself as soon as possible and return to the fun task of reliving tasty wine times. I certainly wouldn't be so crude as to bring it up as some awkward excuse for my being so remiss in my duties to the second pancake. And, God forbid, if I did such a thing there's no chance at all that I would then spend a paragraph pretending that I didn't. I think we can all agree that we're above such unnecessary hand-wringing.

In other news, going wine tasting is a remarkable thing. Imagine if you could drive for half an hour and chat to the farmer who grew your tomatoes, and discuss the soil, the weather, the techniques he uses, and his suggestions for the best way to use them. And imagine that, down the road, the dairy farmer welcomes you to her house where she delights in showing you her best cheeses and the new batch of butter she has just freshly churned. Next door, an old Italian couple lead you through their herb garden where you can compare notes about the best way to make pesto or how soon to pick mint and the best time of year to plant sage. This couple then recommend that you visit their friends over the hill, who bake fresh bread every day with their own grain. Now imagine heading home with bulging bags and creating a meal with everything you'd picked up. A meal that is enjoyable for not just its taste, but it's history. You know the name of the person who grew these beans, you've shared a joke with the people who dug these potatoes, you've shared stories with the friend who collected these eggs.

This is the beauty of wine tasting. Not because you get to try a wonderful new range of wine each time (though this is wonderful), but because you get to meet the people behind the products that you love. On Friday I was in McLaren Vale, less than an hour south of Adelaide. I started at Geoff Merrill, who really ought to be charging double for every one of their bottles. As we left, our host insisted that we take a free corkscrew, just in case it was needed on the road. We motor on to Shottesbrooke, where a simple tasting extends into over an hour of easy and unaffected conversation that ranged from wine to university to travel to love to loss, and back to wine again.

I'm back home now, but I've brought them with me. When I open the Geoff Merrill 2000 cab sav (for $12.50! Unbelievable!), I'll remember the soft morning under the vines there. When the time comes for the divine Eliza Shiraz from Shottesbrooke to be liberated, it wont be without the memory of Mary's laugh on that wonderful afternoon in McLaren Vale. And it'll be all the better for it.

Geology rocks

Desert sunset

Before I begin, I'd like to thank the universe for the opportunity to be here. If a supenova billions of years ago hadn't performed a bit of nuclear fusion to make zinc atoms, I wouldn't have been able to write this post about wine in the desert. I also wouldn't be alive, but that's another matter. I'd also like to thank global warming in the Miocene that created a tropical, acidic environment that leached our friend zinc from its rock and set it free in the soil. Finally, I'm indebted to the capacity of zinc to improve photosynthesis in leaves, which means it gets sucked up by plants, which means that geologists can come up with mad theories to pick leaves as a way to study the subsurface, which means that I get to hang out in the desert and drink wine.

These are the Mundi Mundi plains in western New South Wales. As it's a proven fact that deserts and wine form a mutually beneficial relationship*, I decided it was time to open the Primo Estate Sangiovese. Now, this post isn't really about the wine at all. I could have been drinking the cheapest swill and it still would have been great. Like food, it's more than just taste and flavour. Sitting on the bonnet of a dusty NSW Geological Survey 4WD, the sun setting with the landscape glowing almost purple in the fading light, the moon full behind us- this is far more important than how long the wine was kept in oak barrels or what time the grapes were picked. So get out there. Find a desert. Drink up.

*See McCrae and Vittermoser's famous 1993 article 'Semi-arid environments and fermented grape juice: hell yeah'.

Desert sunset

Pairing food and wine

There are those among us who would have you treat your meals with a Spartan, militant set of criteria when it comes to food and wine. There are those who would, for their own nefarious puposes, cling to their outdated theories of eugenics and cry foul whenever they see any kind of foody miscegenation:
"How appalling", they attest, "to see the innocent white flesh of the fish befouled with the dark blood of the shiraz".

It is upon us to lead the way out of these crude limitations and base assumptions. Join me, friends, and we will have justice (and food) for all.

Barosssa Valley weekend, part two


Why did the scarecrow get a Nobel prize?

Because he was out standing in his field!

For a second pancake equlivalent of this joke, feel free to continue on with this post. This post will be slightly less funny, but every bit as unrelated to hair brush design. It will focus slightly more on the Barossa Valley, and will have one or two more meetings with winemakers, but it's otherwise pretty much the same.

It does have a recipe though, and probably the best recipe you're ever going to find on this site.

Sorry, Tim, but it's true.