McWilliam’s is a rare breed amongst Australia’s largest and oldest wine companies, as it is still Australian-owned and still in the hands of the McWilliam family. Its long history of winemaking (140+ years) bestows a provenance that deserves to be proudly upheld. Its McW range celebrates the regional diversity and elegance of cool climate, high altitude wines, the 660 denoting the fact that the fruit is harvested from vineyards at an average altitude of 600 metres above sea level. This Cabernet is from the Hilltops region of New South Wales, where McWilliam’s has long held vineyards, giving it access to mature vines producing elegant wines that pair well with a wide range of dishes. This one has dark chocolate and blackberry notes, and we think it would go well with meatballs, a hearty roast or slow-cooked beef.
With a range of altitudes and micro-climates, Canberra is a versatile region, capable of producing a number of varietals of excellent quality. Shiraz is one of its flagship varieties, the cool Canberra climate producing medium-bodied reds with an enviable finesse and elegance. It’s because of this that McWilliam’s chooses to label its McW 660 Reserve Syrah, suggesting a softer European-style than the full-bodied Shiraz produced in many Australian regions. This one is a vibrant purple red with spicy oak, gentle tannins, bright red berry flavours and a long finish that invites you to kick back over a winter-warming meal or in front of a roaring log fire. Enjoy!
Winemaker Sue Bell pours some of her Bellwether wines at Wandering Cooks.
Wandering Cooks is one of our favourite
venues in Brisbane. It’s so unique that it’s very hard to describe it to anyone
who hasn’t been, but if you love food, wine and quirky entertainment, it
deserves to be on your radar. Located in an old warehouse in South Brisbane,
its main purpose is as an incubator for artisan food businesses, providing micro
start-ups with commercial kitchen space to get their ventures off the ground.
But it’s also much more than that, featuring
classes and workshops in everything from mushroom growing to minimising waste, as
well as a great bar, beer garden, coffee spot and food stalls. There’s a strong
emphasis on ethical and sustainable food production, which resonates with us.
We especially love going to Wandering Cooks on Sunday afternoons when it
regularly offers Sunday Hot Club with live gypsy jazz music that lures people
of all ages to the dance floor.
We’ve enjoyed all the dishes we’ve tried
while kicking back at Sunday Hot Club, and we’ve also taken the opportunity to
sample some really interesting drinks from the bar. Wandering Cooks actually
has one of the most interesting wine lists in Brisbane, and it’s great to see
it supporting small producers who are doing some really smart, interesting
products. For some of the producers, Wandering Cooks is their only outlet in
Queensland, so they are lucky to have such enthusiastic support.
Fruit for the Bellwether Wines is sourced from leading Australian regions.
Last month Wandering Cooks hosted a
ticketed event called ‘Unknown Pleasures’, an afternoon of cellar door tastings
with some of the boutique producers whose wine is sold through the bar. Most of
the tastings were poured by the winemakers themselves, offering a great
opportunity to talk with the winemakers in a relaxed and unpretentious setting.
The wines we tasted came from as far afield
as Margaret River, Tasmania, McLaren Vale and Macedon, and there were some real
treasures amongst them. It was a hard choice but probably our favourite of them
all was the Stargazer 2017 Chardonnay from Tasmania’s Coal Valley, a sleek wine
with notes of hazelnut and lemon curd. It is wild fermented, adding the tiniest
bit of funkiness (which we love) balanced by subtle oak. It was only later that
we learned this wine sells for $55 a bottle. Yes, we do have expensive tastes!
Stargazer winemaker Samantha Connew became captivated with Pinot Noir while working in Oregon.
All the Stargazer wines are wild fermented,
according to winemaker/director, Samantha Connew, who spent 10 years as senior
winemaker at McLaren Vale’s Wirra Wirra Vineyards, followed by a couple of
years at Tower Estate in the Hunter Valley. “The fruit in Tasmania is so
pristine we are using wild ferment to add interesting flavours,” she said.
Connew established Stargazer in 2012 and
one of the things that sets her wine apart (other than flavour) is the cool
packaging – all the labels have vintage pictures with a Tasmanian theme. Her Palisander
vineyard was planted by Norm and Jan Gangell in 2004 and acquired by her in
2016. It’s planted pretty much half and half to Riesling and Pinot Noir. Connew
expanded it in late 2017 to include two more hectares of vines, including Pinot
Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Stage two of the expansion is planned for 2020,
by which time she hopes to be totally estate grown.
The Stargazer 2018 Riesling has typical
Tasmanian acidity with generous citrus notes and hints of ginger on the nose.
We particularly liked the 2018 Tupelo, an Alsace-inspired blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
and Riesling, named for the Van Morrison song, “… She’s as sweet as Tupelo
honey”. It is perfumed and spicy, with quince paste, pear and rosewater notes.
Cambodian style wagyu steak, from Aburi Boi Street Food, one of the delicious dishes we tried.
Connew became captivated with Pinot Noir
while working in Oregon, and her straight Pinot is another $55 beauty. But she
also does Rada, a co-fermented blend of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir in which
the Noir component contributes soft red berry flavours and the Meunier more
savoury, earthy, spice notes.
Although Sue Bell is based in Coonawarra
with her Bellwether label, she has been sourcing Tasmanian fruit since 2009. In
a previous life she worked for Hardy’s, which sourced Chardonnay from various
places, but her favourite was always from Tasmania. We really enjoyed the
Bellwether 2015 Chardonnay and 2017 Riesling, both from Tasmania.
Chicken pot pie, from In Pie We Crust.
Bell, who calls herself
“winemaker/director/gardener”, doesn’t actually have a vineyard, instead buying
in all her fruit. Inspired by some fruit she was given from a CSIRO project,
Bell made a Rosé blend of Nero d’Avola, Barbera and Pinot Grigio. She liked the
results so much she has continued to make Rosé this way. The 2018 Rosato 2018
definitely got our tick of approval. We also enjoyed the Bellwether 2014
Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra and 2016 Shiraz Malbec from nearby Wrattonbully.
Jane Bromley and Hylton McLean, from Honey
Moon Vineyard, are passionate about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Burgundy,
Rosé from the Southern Rhône, and Shiraz from the Northern Rhône, Hermitage and
Côte Rôtie. All of these have informed their winemaking, and their basket-pressed
2016 Pinot Noir in particular was a stand-out for us.
Bromley said their small family-run
vineyard in the Adelaide Hills was so named because the moon looks like honey
at harvest time. The vineyard was planted in 2004 and all their wines are made
from their own Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Their “Fancy Rosé” is a blend of Pinot
Noir, Shiraz and Chardonnay; we found it to be a refreshing, easy-drinking wine
with good acidity and generous fruit.
Paolo Bottin, with his Italian-inspired Vigna Bottin wines.
Also very easy drinking was the Dirty Black
Denim 2017 Syrah, a Mornington Peninsula label at the vanguard of style and regional
experimentation. With an alcohol content of just 11%, this light-bodied Shiraz
is great for those who don’t want to drink a big red on hot days.
Margaret River producer South By South West
was offering tastings of its European-style 2016 Syrah, but it was their 2017
Tempranillo One Tonne Project that appealed to us most, for its delicate spiciness.
The South By South West 2016 Malbec Cabernet, a surprising diversion from the
Cabernet Merlot blend more commonly seen in Margaret River, was big and jammy –
one for those who love a big red.
Paolo and Maria Bottin, owners of McLaren
Vale winery Vigna Bottin, make a wide range of wines inspired by their Italian
heritage, including Vermentino, Fiano, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nero d’Avola and a
sparkling wine, cleverly called Versecco, made from Vermentino and Fiano.
Street art in nearby Fish Lane.
We particularly liked their 2017 Vermentino,
with notes of lemon curd and a little spiciness, their silky smooth 2015
Sangiovese, and their 2018 Rosato (made from Sangiovese). Vigna Bottin is opening
a cellar door in September 2019. It’s great to see these small producers going
from strength to strength.
This is just a small sample of the wines we
tasted and the lovely winemakers we met at Wandering Cooks. Pop along to this terrific
Brisbane venue to see what other treasures they have in store for you at the
While the Canberra region has great success with Riesling and Shiraz, a lot of people are unaware that it also produces some fine Cabernet, especially around Murrumbateman where Shaw Vineyard is located. Graeme Shaw has had great success with Cabernet over the years and this 2016 blend is no exception. Both 2015 and 2016 were excellent vintages for Shaw Cabernet, and so for these two vintages, Shaw chose to produce an 85% Cabernet 15% Shiraz blend rather than the predominantly Shiraz blend favoured in previous vintages. Matured in French oak for 22 months, this classy red has generous notes of blueberries and blackberries, with subtle hints of pepper and spice. It’s already scooped up a few awards in international competitions, which is not surprising as in our eyes it is definitely a winner.
Dan Buckle is a meticulous winemaker and the evidence of that is in the pristine sparkling wines he turns out at Domaine Chandon’s Yarra Valley winery. This is the first Chandon Vintage Brut to be made purely from estate vineyards, allowing even greater control and precision in the process. Chandon has two wonderful, mature cool-climate sites at Whitlands and the Strathbogie Ranges, and with this new approach, the blend begins in the vineyard, with the best blocks already selected at pruning time. By pressing the grapes in the vineyard, thus minimising the time between harvest and pressing, the delicate aroma is protected and phenolic extraction is minimised. Such a lot of love and care to produce a wine for our drinking pleasure. A little yeasty and nutty with zesty citrus notes, it has fine bubbles and persistent mousse, and frankly, you could drink it with almost anything.
Cat Amongst The Pigeons 2017 Fat Cat Barossa Shiraz, $29
The producers of this big, bold, full-flavoured Shiraz have definitely set the cat amongst the pigeons with this one. Intensely ruby-purple coloured with rich plum and blackberry flavours and alluring chocolate and spice notes, it has fine tannins, nicely balanced oak and a long finish. Available at Dan Murphy’s and BWS, it’s a lovely wine to drink now but you might also want to pop a couple of bottles in the cellar to drink at a later date.
Cat Amongst The Pigeons 2018 Fat Cat Eden Valley Chardonnay, $29
The fact that this range is called “Fat Cat” suggests a richly flavoured wine that invites you to sit up and take notice. As indeed this Chardonnay does. A departure from the over-oaked and buttery Chardonnays of the past, it is nevertheless bold and fruit-forward, its tropical fruit flavours making it perfectly suited to seafood, roast chicken, salads and a wide range of other dishes. Sauvignon Blanc, eat your heart out. The fruit comes from South Australia’s Eden Valley, a sub-region of the Barossa that produces fruit with oodles of natural acidity. Judicious use of French oak balances the acid out, resulting in a refined and elegant but beautifully expressive Chardonnay. Available at Dan Murphy’s and BWS.
On Saturday, May 25, Wandering Cooks will
host an afternoon of cellar door tastings in the heart of Brisbane. The
inaugural Unknown Pleasures event will feature tastings of wines from as far
afield as Margaret River, McLaren Vale and Macedon.
Known for its innovative food-incubation
model and a die-hard ethos of ethical, high-quality, locally sourced
ingredients, Wandering Cooks has also become a quiet hero of the local wine
scene. Today it has one of the smartest, ever-evolving, seasonally-driven, all-
Australian wines services in Brisbane.
Located in Cordelia Street, South Brisbane,
Wandering Cooks specialises in sourcing bottles direct from some of the best small
wineries in the country – producers who often have no other outlets in
Queensland – and showing them off to its faithfully curious crowd.
Unknown Pleasures is a celebration of those
small producers. It’s a day for Brisbane wine-lovers to come and see some of
the country’s best-kept vinous secrets, to talk and taste with cult winemakers
from all over the country, and to hear first-hand how and why these incredible
drops are made.
The first six wineries announced in the
line-up include recently shortlisted Young Winemaker of The Year candidate,
South By Southwest, from Margaret River. Passionate Tasmanian Pinot Noir,
Riesling and Chardonnay producer Samantha Connew will pour wines from her
Established regional legends Sutton Grange
(Bendigo) and Vigna Bottin (McLaren Vale) will bring their wide array of
estate-grown, European- inspired wines. Two young labels working at the
vanguard of style and regional experimentation, Dirty Black Denim (central
Victoria) and Konpira Maru (Queensland & Victoria), will also be there.
Wandering Cooks’ indoor/outdoor converted
warehouse will be devoted to bringing winemakers and wine-lovers together in a
way that eschews the stuffiness that often characterises wine tastings. For
those who want to stop for a bite to eat, four beautiful little kitchens will serve
a range of cuisines. As well as tastings, tickets include a glass of your
choice from one of the producers.
This is wine-tasting the Wandering Cooks way – casual, friendly and fun, with time and space to drink it all in. Tickets cost $60 and are available here.
Photos supplied by Wandering Cooks and used with their permission.
South Australia’s Eden Valley is known for its excellent Riesling in particular, but surprisingly there’s no Riesling in Yalumba’s new Samuel’s Collection. Instead, I’m turning my attention to the Chardonnay, which has wonderful stone fruit and citrus notes. The aroma is like grapefruit and lemon curd, with other citrus and stone fruits thrown in. It is zesty and refreshing, with subtle oak, and will pair beautifully with many dishes.
Founder of Atze’s Corner, Andrew Kalleske, comes from a long line of vignerons in South Australia’s Barossa Valley but his eyes are squarely on the future with this crisp, fresh white made from Vermentino, a variety that is only just starting to take off in Australia. More commonly seen around the Mediterranean – we fell in love with it in Sardinia, where it is widely planted – Vermentino has been part of the Atze’s range for a couple of vintages now. Kalleske has been tweaking it a bit as he gets to know it better, so this one has a little more zest and longevity than previous vintages. It’s aromatic with tangy, citrus notes and vibrant, fresh acidity. It’s also beautifully packaged in a bottle decorated with the wild roses that feature in the name of the range, which in turn is inspired by the roses that herald each new vintage.