While tasting (and enjoying) the 2010 Oxford Landing Cabernet Sauvignon, I perused the flowery prose on the label but was most intrigued by the last sentence: "Vegan and vegetarian friendly." If you're wondering how meat or dairy is involved in your wine, it has to do with a clarification process called fining. (Winedefinintions.com has good overview of the process) You use a protein, such as egg whites or isinglass (aka fish bladder), to attract unwanted particles that could make a wine cloudy or affect its color. The goal of fining is to make a wine more stable, especially if it is exposed to heat. (Useful if you've ever left wine in the trunk of your car, but I know you've never done that on a hot day, right?) A clay, bentonite, is a popular alternative. This is not to say you're going to see a egg white or a fish bladder floating in your wine; these are removed, too, once their work is done. And you've got to think, considering the size of wine tanks, that there are negligible amounts of these fining agents that make it all the way to your glass. But I'm sure to many vegetarians and vegans it is a matter of principle and, if animal products are being used in the process of making wine, that needs to be disclosed.
A brief side-note on fining: there are many winemakers who find the process anathema. While fining (and filtering) remove unwanted particles from wine, many feel something important is also fined and filtered out: flavor. You'll see a lot of bottles proudly displaying "Unfined and Unfiltered" on the label; you'll either have to decant the bottle or keep it upright and pour carefully when you get close to the bottom.
Interestingly, Australia's wine labeling law for the internal market mandates that if dairy is involved in the processing of wine, it must be noted. This diagram of a wine label shows a "Produced With Milk Products" notice. And while certainly there is a marketing aspect involved with noting your wine is vegan and vegetarian friendly, I think the more information you get on a label about what's in the bottle, the better.
A couple other things to like about Oxford Landing:
If the battery on your smart phone dies, they have the tear-off tag to remember the wine.
Oh, I guess I should tell you how it tastes. Quite good and a bargain for under $10! Breaks the stereotype of "fruit bomb" Aussie reds. It's medium-bodied and easy-going. Very versatile! A worthy red to pull from your quiver of available daily drinkers.
I'll be looking out for more wineries who are highlighting their vegan- and vegetarian-friendliness and would love to hear from more wineries who are doing so. In the meantime, Barnivore is a good resource. Are you interested in seeing more rigorous wine labeling?
I love bubbles. Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco? Bring it on. I purposefully strode through the (automatic) doors at Chandon's outpost in the Yarra Valley of Australia, ready for something sparkling. The full lineup of bubbles had nary a disappointment. (To my eternal surprise, I even enjoyed the Pinot/Shiraz, which is Thanksgiving-worthy. Is is wrong to be thinking about Turkey Day pairings in March? In Australia?)
The 2006 "Z*D" (Zero Dosage) Blanc de Blancs was the star of the show for me. Most sparkling wines made in the traditional or Champagne method have a bit of a sweet liqueur (dosage) added to them just before corking that tames its acidity. The Z*D is devoid of this so it is super-dry. (I wish I could find and cite the page that described zero dosage as "ferociously" dry. Love that.) This 100% Chardonnay sparkler just screams for oysters or (at least) a seat in one of the green chairs on the patio at the top of this post.
One other thing I like about the Z*D is that it's sealed with a crown cap rather than a cork and cage. It's distinctive and unusual:
Before leaving I had to indulge in an ubiquitous "I Was Here" photo:
If you need to find me, I'll be under this tree, with a bottle of Z*D, watching the clouds blow off as the day turns sunny and sparkling.
I really did a poor job planning any tastings in Australia's Yarra Valley. I had a lunch appointment that I had scheduled but the rest of the day was embarrassingly free. A mad google search reminded me that one of my favorite old-school producers would be open for tasting: Yarra Yering, where they've been making wine since 1973.
I was giddy with anticipation when I saw the amount of wines available for tasting, but quickly honed in on one bottle in particular: the 2001 Underhill Shiraz. Beyond pleasantly surprised to see an older vintage offered for consumption, my lofty expectations were met: this was a lovely wine with wonderful, subtle fruit and completely integrated oak and tannin. Perfectly balanced and lovely. And in a climate of supercharged Aussie Shiraz (though certainly the Yarra Valley is home to many exceptions), it was nice to sample a bottle with a modest 13% alcohol.
My reverential mindset in the tasting room was provided with some levity by a rambunctious kitty and companion:
Thank you Yarra Yering for wines as inspiring as the view:
Touched down in Melbourne and stayed at the Crown Promenade Hotel, where lunch was the first order of business. Connected by a tunnel are a casino and, more importantly, the restaurants of the sister Crown Towers Hotel. I was about to heed the siren song of Nobu when I was distracted by two words: wine bar. Hello, Number 8.
I decided my theme would be seafood and it served me well. The first course pictured atop this post:
What can I say? It tasted as good as it looked. Perfectly cooked, tender shrimp (which is no mean feat as shrimp go from tender to rubber in nanoseconds) with a light sauce set off with some peppery arugula. (Or "rocket" as they call it here, which just sounds cooler.)
And here's the follow-up act to my prawns (aka shrimp):
Roasted Cone Bay barramundi, crisp baby calamari, à la grecque dressing
Barramundi is a fish extremely common in Australia; it has a medium firmness and some oily richness but flakes nicely with some gentle fork-prodding. The dressing was a Greek-inspired Mediterranean medley with an undoubtedly tomato base. And note the nicely crisped skin on top that was like the most holy alliance of fish and chip.
The icing on the cake? Naturally, the wine I had to accompany both courses. I was doggedly determined to drink Aussie and something I never had before. Hello Riesling from Tasmania! How cool is that? The 2010 Freycinet drank just like its counterpart from the continent: dry and refreshing.
Now that's what I call an auspicious beginning to my food and wine adventure in Australia! Bravo, Melbourne.
For better or worse, in the mind of many wine-drinkers, Australia=Shiraz. Couldn't blame you for thinking that way; a decade-plus ago, when I was first introduced to Aussie wine, I was guzzling oceans of Shiraz and little else from Down Under. Hell, I didn't even know there was any wine besides Shiraz. My willful ignorance was cured when I discovered a world of wonderful dry Rieslings (criminally underrated) and great Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends reminiscent of good white Bordeaux. But the real gem, and one of the more collectible and age-worthy whites in the world, is Hunter Valley Semillon, particularly Tyrrell's Vat 1.
Through a bit of providence I was able to get my hands on some of the 1999 vintage. And then, even better, got to drink some. I knew I was in for something good when I first poured the Vat 1, as aged Semillon takes on a hue that seemingly comes from the touch of King Midas. But what really blew me away was the freshness of this wine. An 12 year-old dry white wine has no business being so lively and exciting, but this Semillon was a smooth, delicious white reminiscent of a top quality dry Riesling. I had expected it to have developed some secondary characteristics, like a bit of nuttiness, but it was still quite primary. So it's no shrinking violet; you could tuck it away in your cellar for years to come. (Though I'm not sure I could keep my hands off it, it's so tasty right now.)
But don't just take my word for it. One of my favorite wine writers (and customers), WINEcouver, had quite the experience with a bottle of the 1998. (Way to make me blush.)
What regions or countries do you think have wines that aren't getting their due or are a bit lost in the shuffle?
1999 Tyrrell's Vat 1 Hunter Semillon $40 (limited)