Wine lists are no longer just wine lists. Matching degustation drinks increasingly include great beers, Japanese sakes, quality ciders and even fruit juices. At the same time, the choice of imported wine in Australia has expanded enormously. This means the sommelier’s job is increasingly complex, demanding greater levels of passion and commitment. Twenty years ago, by-the-glass wine was the exciting new thing: now, sommeliers are pouring things you’ve never heard of. And offering it in two sizes of glass, or even a carafe. The proliferation of importers has meant Australian wine is looking neglected in some top restaurants. The big lists have gotten bigger, although they’re in the minority, while small lists have become tighter and more inventive. There’s never been a better time to be a wine lover dining out.
It was like Woodstock without the Grateful Dead. Peace, love, food and drink, not necessarily comfort but long queues, accompanied by the steady hum of the crowd and the clink of glassware. Alternative lifestylers in vino, rocking to the beat of the different drummers of wine – the makers and purveyors of sustainable, artisanal, organic, biodynamic, low-input, ‘natural’ and low-intervention wine. Even ‘orange’ wines, of which more later. The first Rootstock Sydney Sustainable and Artisan Wine Festival on February 17 pulled a major crowd – possibly as many as 1,000 responded to the call.
What should we make of an invitation to attend a Hot Pants wine tasting in Rozelle? The invitation depicted girls wearing skimpy shorts, 1970s style, and attendees were invited to do the same. However, in the interests of not frightening the horses, your correspondent chose to wear his customary long baggy modern shorts.
Tom Shobbrook is a young man who thinks outside the square. He’s into biodynamic viticulture and ‘natural’, or low-intervention, winemaking, but he’s also quality orientated. He’s no hippy winemaker, but he has a strong sense of nature and respect for the earth. After a year studying agricultural science he went to Italy, and spent five years with the esteemed Chianti producer Riecine. The Tuscan experience affected him deeply and gave him a different sense of a way of life involving various agricultural pursuits. Upon returning to his Barossa Valley home, he couldn’t find anyone in the valley he wanted to work with. He was interested in biodynamic viticulture and natural winemaking, and those ideas were eccentric to Barossans. So he spent a year working in Rob O’Callaghan’s biodynamic vegetable garden at Rockford, helping grow the produce for the Rockford Stonewallers’ lunches.
If you’ve been out and about in wine bars recently you might have noticed a large clear container of red wine perched on the counter. It has a steel tube coming out of the top with a tap and a lump of cherry-wood for a handle. Scrawled on the demijohn is its name: Voice Of The People. You’ll see it in Balmain’s Riverview Hotel, Danks Street Depot, Firefly, Delicado, Fratelli Paradiso, Glebe Point Diner, Fix St James, and several other establishments.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock out west of Oodnadatta, you would have picked up on the fact that natural and ethical winemaking are the buzz wine trends of the moment. Grow your grapes organically, biodynamically or at least with minimal inputs, and in an environmentally responsible manner. Then add little or nothing to the juice during winemaking (maybe some sulfur to protect it from gross oxidation), and take nothing away (no fining or filtration).