Hunter Valley wine: Cracker vintage for 2014

TOP SCORE: Suzanne Little of the Little Wine Co is upbeat about this year’s wine quality.
Nanjing Night Net

TEN out of 10, that’s how the red wines from the 2014 vintage are rated by some of the Hunter Valley’s leading producers.

Last week, as the first of this year’s whites were being bottled and the reds were quietly maturing in oak barrels, I sought the views of 10 wine men and women on Harvest 2014.

They responded by rating their whites at between 7.5 and 9 out of 10.

And the reds? None of the 10 rated their 2014s below 9.

Suzanne Little, who forms the Broke-based The Little Wine Co winemaking team with her husband Ian, rated her reds at 11 out of 10 and her whites at 9 out of 10. Bruce Tyrrell, Ian Scarborough, Mike De Iuliis and Jim Chatto all came up with 10 out of 10 scores for their reds. Liz Jackson and Rhys Eather each gave their reds 9.5 out of 10 scores and Andrew Thomas, Mark Woods and Peter Hall hit upon 9 out of 10.

Jim Chatto, the Hunter Valley Wine Show chairman of judges and McWilliam’s chief winemaker in charge of the group’s Australia-wide portfolio, said he had never seen better reds in his 21-year experience with Hunter wine.

Peter Hall, McGuigan Wines’ Pokolbin-based senior winemaker, has more than 35 years of winemaking experience and has presided over 33 Hunter Valley vintages and told me 2014 was the easiest he had experienced.

Peter, who was 2013 Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year, rated his whites at 8 out of 10. It had been a very good white year, with grape tonnages average. Red tonnages were down because of smaller berries, but the quality promised to be only exceeded by the 2000s, he said.

Hunter vignerons and winemakers are used to vintages plagued by rain. Red grape harvests, such as the wipeouts of 2008 and 2012, are especially vulnerable.

The Hunter produced superb shiraz reds in 2011 and great whites in 2013 and this year the quality and quantity of both reds and whites have delighted winemakers.

The first of 2014’s whites, from the verdelho variety, have already gone on sale and new semillons will begin hitting the market from next month.

The 2014 shiraz wines, which probably will weigh in at around 14 per cent alcohol compared with the 13 to 13.5 per cent of 2011s, won’t be released until 2015 at the earliest.

Tyrrell’s managing director Bruce Tyrrell said he could not remember such a quick and trouble-free vintage.

His company’s 2014 white grape crush was 33 per cent above 2013 and red grape tonnages were about the same.

The 2014 reds were “fantastic”, showing great intensity and structure and deep colour – which had been presaged by the black hands of vintage cellar workers.

Mark Woods, senior winemaker for Bill and Vicki Widin’s Leogate Estate in Broke Road, Pokolbin, said his 2014 vintage was “the best you could hope for”, with all picking completed in four weeks.

Mark, who made the Leogate Estate 2011 Western Slopes Reserve Shiraz that I chose as my 2013 wine of the year, said it was too early to judge if the 2014 reds would match those of 2011.

The 2014s, however, would be of excellent quality, although of fuller body and higher alcohol than the 2011s.

Scarborough Wines’ father-and-son winemaking team Ian and Jeremy Scarborough were delighted by the quality of both shiraz and pinot noir grapes from 2014.

“The vintage was as good as we have seen in the Hunter,” Ian said.

He was particularly pleased with the 2014 harvest of chardonnay and vermentino from the former Rosemount Roxburgh vineyard at Denman.

The vineyard, now reduced to 36 hectares and renamed Ogilvie’s View, was bought by BHP Billiton in October 2009 and has now been contracted out to the Scarboroughs.

Andrew Thomas, proprietor and chief winemaker of Thomas Wines and contract maker of such acclaimed boutique brands as McLeish Estate and Pokolbin Estate, rated the overall quality of 2014 whites at 8.5, but gave semillons 9.5 out of 10.

It had been a fine vintage all-round for reds, which had great structure and showed more muscular character than the acclaimed 2011s, he said.

Meerea Park chief winemaker Rhys Eather rated his 2014 semillon grapes as “good, but variable” and his chardonnay crush as “fantastic and the best since 2000”.

Meerea Park’s white yield was up 20 per cent on average and the red harvest was up 25 to 30 per cent.

Rating the 2014 reds at 9.5 out of 10, Rhys said the wines promised to be outstanding, if not quite equal to those of 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The De Iuliis family wine company’s chief winemaker, Mike De Iuliis, reported 2014 semillon tonnages up and chardonnay down, while the shiraz crush was above average.

He rated this year’s reds at 10 out of 10 and better than 2011.

THE Hunter may have had a bumper 2014 vintage, but the same can’t be said for South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley and NSW’s Southern Tablelands areas.

The Adelaide Hills grape yields are expected to be down by as much as 80 per cent because of poor fruit set resulting from cool conditions during flowering at the end of last year.

Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot grigio have been particularly hard-hit, although the big-volume sauvignon blanc crush has been close to normal, as have red varieties.

The saving grace for sauvignon blanc has been its later flowering, allowing the fruit to set quite well.

In the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley, rain during spring has been blamed for cutting yields by up to 70 per cent. Pinot noir and chardonnay have been particularly affected.

Recent rain on the NSW Southern Tablelands has caused outbreaks of botrytis cinerea parasitic fungus in some vineyards, spoiling up to half of some red wine grape crops.

TWELVE downloadable music tracks are the latest promotional tool for Grant Burge’s Barossa-based wine brands.

Under the Savour The Sound banner, the Burge company has matched 12 original music performances by South Australian musicians to nine Grant Burge Vineyard Series wines plus the Burge Moscato, Non-Vintage Sparkling Pinot Noir-Chardonnay and Aged Tawny fortified.

According to the PR blurb: “For centuries wine has been keenly matched to the senses of sight, taste and smell, and this winter Grant Burge enhances the senses further by launching the Savour The Sound campaign, bringing music to the ears of fine wine drinkers”.

The 12 tracks can be listened to or downloaded at savourthesound南京夜网.au/.

Lovedale Long Lunch: The mother of all feasts

Muse Restaurant’s white chocolate and yoghurt mousse with smashed meringue and berries. Pic: Flashme Web Design and Photography.AFTER more than two decades the Lovedale Long Lunch isn’t resting on its laurels. Instead, this year marks a series of firsts for the May event.
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For the first time in the event’s 21-year history, hatted Muse Restaurant (at Sandalyn Estate) and The Deck Cafe at Gartelmann Wines will join a host of wineries and restaurants for the two-day celebration.

Allandale Winery will also launch its new sparkling red wine and Saltire will open its Barrel Room to punters for the first time. The event has a long history of selling out, so get in quick for tickets to the May 17 and 18 Lovedale Long Lunch.

An arguable icon of Hunter Valley dining, Muse Restaurant has earned accolades including hats for the past four years in the prestigious Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Sister establishment Muse Kitchen has earned two hats to boot.

Chef Troy Rhoades-Brown told GT the decision to join the Long Lunch came after an approach from family-owned Sandalyn Winery, one of the venues which helped establish Lovedale’s signature event.

“We are constantly working with wineries, restaurants and local producers the entire calendar year. It’s so important to be involved in events that show the assets of our region,” Rhoades-Brown said.

“We have created two successful restaurants through showcasing what the Hunter Valley can offer – great wine, food and service. We just consolidate it into our two dining rooms.”

The focus on seasonal ingredients and produce for which his restaurants are renowned will be replicated at this year’s Lovedale event, despite the huge volume of punters expected on the day. Think 3200 serves of lamb shoulder, 2400 serves of prawns and cod salad, 2000 serves of mousse and 1800 serves of whipped ricotta.

“Although the number of customers for the Lovedale Long Lunch are huge, we have really focused on serving seasonal ingredients and produce that we use at the restaurants,” Rhoades-Brown said.

“We are slow braising these beautiful award-winning Milly Hill Lamb shoulders, cooking them really slow for about 10 to 12 hours and serving it with a puree of chargrilled eggplant and Binnorie marinated feta with a rich tomato, baby caper, black olive and autumn vegetable sauce.”

The second main on offer is lightly fried North Queensland prawns and Coffs Harbour blue-eye cod marinated in fresh ginger and coriander root before being served on a “tasty, tasty” salad of shaved wombok cabbage, celeriac, spanish onion and pickled ginger. It is finished off with an aioli made with organic New Zealand wasabi root, local lime and avocados.

Rhoades-Brown is putting a sweet twist on the traditionally savoury cheese course.

“I am making a vanilla bean-scented ricotta that will be served smooth, warm and whipped,” he said.

“We are ordering in 600 litres of local jersey cow milk to make our own ricotta cheese with and will serve it with some fresh local honeycomb from Mudgee, and house-made brioche fried in brown butter and cinnamon.”

If your mouth isn’t watering yet, it will with dessert: a white chocolate and yoghurt mousse finished with smashed berries, meringue and garden sorrel from a bath of liquid nitrogen, which the chef says “promises to be tasty, textural and fun”.

The Muse team has been planning for the Long Lunch for four to six months to ensure smooth service throughout the weekend. Both Muse Restaurant and Muse Kitchen will be closed for lunch, taking all 30 of their staff to assist in the running of the Lovedale event.

“It’s definitely a new type of challenge but we are all looking forward to it. See you there,” Rhoades-Brown said.

Meanwhile, Matt Dillow’s The Deck Cafe at Gartelmann Wines will also take part in the Lovedale Long Lunch for the first time, following the chef’s previous appearance at the event in 2010. Dillow, also of The Verandah Restaurant at Calais Estate and Twine Restaurant at Wynwood Estate, will be returning to tempt diners at Gartelmann for this year’s event with a menu including slow-braised pulled and pressed pork shoulder with crackle dust, caramelised onion, root vegetable puree and broccolini.

Allandale Wines will launch its first sparkling red wine, along with its 2014 Pinot Gris, on the weekend of May 17 and 18 alongside a menu from The Cellar Restaurant. With the vintage winding down for the year, Allandale’s chief winemaker Bill Sneddon said what has set 2014 apart is that it has been “excellent across all varietals . . . it is certainly the best year for Hunter Valley reds and chardonnay for a long time”.

All seven venues in the lunch will also have new release wines available for tasting at the event.

In another first, Saltire Wines will open its Barrel Room for long lunchers to enjoy a meal by Wandin Hunter Valley, along with Hunter wine. Otherwise, diners can tuck into their food and drink outside on the new viewing deck.

There are also plenty of tried-and-tested favourites returning to the 2014 Lovedale Long Lunch.

As well as its events arm presenting a menu at Saltire Wines, Wandin Hunter Valley will offer a menu from its Wine Bar & Diner including saganaki king prawns in a rich tomato sauce with feta and chunks of crusty sourdough bread, and spicy Moroccan lamb cutlets with cashew and raisin rice.

Tatler Wines takes an in-house approach to the weekend with food from its Tapas Cafe, including a dish of 200-gram grass-fed scotch fillet and tatler chipolatas served with herbed butter, tomato chutney and a rocket, pear and walnut salad.

Fellow noted name Amanda’s On The Edge will present a menu at Emma’s Cottage, with dishes such as baked ocean trout fillet with avocado and creme fraiche salsa on roasted sweet potato with snow pea sprouts; and seared prime beef eye fillet with peppercorn sauce.

Lovedale Long Lunch is on May 17 and 18 across seven wineries in the Lovedale region.

Tickets, accommodation and transport packages can be found at lovedalelonglunch南京夜网.au.

Side Pocket Espresso, Mayfield: Try This

Amy Baldwin, owner/manager of Sidepocket Espresso, Mayfield. Pic: JONATHAN CARROLLAFTER a decade as a barista, Amy Baldwin expects nothing less than perfection for every coffee served at Side Pocket Espresso.
Nanjing Night Net

Whether you prefer a long black or espresso made with a changing single origin from Botany’s Single Origin Roasters, or a flat white, macchiato or – for the non-coffee drinkers – chai latte or hot chocolate, Baldwin will be at the Pocket making sure your drink meets her high standards.

Side Pocket Espresso opened in March with Baldwin and partner Jaime Picken at the helm, drawing on Baldwin’s extensive barista experience, which started when she made coffees at a Kotara cafe as a teen. She’s also had stints at Newcastle’s Estabar, Belmont’s Double Shot and Islington’s Suspension.

In addition to coffee, Side Pocket Espresso also offers an all-day food menu.

“I just wanted to serve fresh food, healthy food and really good coffee,” Baldwin said.

Produce is sourced from the weekend’s farmers’ markets, delicious baked goods including fruit loaf, muffins, cakes and slices from Islington’s Uprising, as well as free-range eggs from chickens kept nearby at the duo’s Mayfield home.

Choose from the chalkboard menu or a changing selection of specials such as free-range eggs with ham, cheese and baby spinach on Turkish bread; roasted pumpkin soup with a dollop of cream and kale chips served with toasted sourdough; herbed smashed eggs with prosciutto on toasted sourdough and golden corn and zucchini fritters with slow-roasted tomatoes, avocado salsa and lemon with sourdough.

Check Instagram or Facebook for the day’s special.

All-day food menu: Toasted Turkish with ham and cheese, with tomato or pineapple $7; toasted Turkish with shaved chicken, sun-dried tomato, baby spinach and cheese $8; eggplant, sun-dried tomato, zucchini and cheese $8; toasted sourdough with vegemite, jam or honey $5; fruit loaf with butter $5; banana bread with butter $5; croissant with ham or jam $4.50; croissant with ham and cheese $5; toasted muesli with yoghurt, honey and berries $9; breakfast smoothie with banana, acai berries, mixed berries, coconut water and a dash of milk $5.

OFFCUTS: Table is for meals

A table setup styled by Bright Young Things at Campbell Point House on the Bellarine Peninsula. The “Water MasterClass” will be held at Campbell Point House during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.Photograph Paul JeffersThe Age NewspaperJan 17th 2014.
Nanjing Night Net

GROWING up, we always sat at the dining table for dinner. Sometimes the kitchen table, but generally that was for lunch and breakfast.

Dinner was eaten in the official dining room at the official dining table.

It was someone’s chore to set the table and then to clear it after the meal.

It wasn’t anything fancy, it was just the view of my parents that meal times were for eating and conversation, a chance to talk and reflect over the day’s events and to discover what was coming up in each other’s lives.

I can count the number of times on one hand when we sat in front of the television eating. It was either because there was only one or two of us there for dinner, or because something really important was on television at that time.

Years later and now I am in a household of my own. For quite a while I tried to maintain the tradition instilled in me by my parents.

But somehow, at some point, things have slackened and the evening meal is now inevitably eaten on the couch.

The conversation is still there, but perhaps not the attention given to each other and not enough given to the food we are eating.

I noticed this the other day as we watched something mind-numbingly entertaining.

The sense of occasion and ceremony in preparing a table and enjoying the act of eating a meal together shouldn’t just be reserved for dining out or for occasions.

It’s a chance to learn more about the people you see every day, to taste your food and to give a sense of special to the everyday.

I’ll be heading back to the dining table next time dinner comes around.

Nibbles: Rouge passes the acid test

Hunter Valley Verjuice and Hunter Valley Verjuice Rouge pic credit Liz Burgmann Babbingtons Bar and Grill crispy hoi sin and five spice duck wings, served with cucumber and shallot salad and chilli pear relish.
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HUNTER Valley Verjuice is positively blushing about its new addition: a rouge variety of the non-alcoholic and mildly acidic juice used in French, Middle Eastern and European cooking. The original white verjuice was awarded a bronze medal at the 2013 Sydney Royal Fine Food Show.

Verjuice, which has been made in the Hunter Valley since 2012, is an alternative to lemon juice or vinegar. It is popular for salad dressings, marinades, granitas and desserts. It can even be enjoyed as a drink, poured over ice or topped up with lemonade or soda.

Hunter Valley Verjuice producer Bob Leonard, who ran East Maitland’s Hunter River Hotel for 36 years, told GT the rouge variety was made with whole bunches of Hunter Valley merlot grapes to produce a more delicate drop than the original white verjuice.

“It is a little bit softer and gentler, it has a sweetness on the front of the palate,” Leonard said. “It also has soft cherry-fruit flavours.”

Leonard recommends using the rouge verjuice in place of red wine vinegar in salad dressings; in place of balsamic vinegar on strawberry salads; on warm roasted beetroot; as a glaze on a duck breast or duck Maryland; or even reduced down as a sauce for quail.

Limited to production of just three pallets a year, Hunter Valley Verjuice is available at a number of stockists including Soul Foods, Newcastle; Charlestown’s Hunter Valley Growers Market; The Essential Ingredient Newcastle, Cooks Hill; Frank Frasca’s Growers Best at Newcastle West; Jesmond Fruit Barn; and Darby St Quality Meats.

Visit huntervalleyverjuice南京夜网.au for more information and recipes or email [email protected]南京夜网 for stockists.

See Free Lunch on the opposite page for your chance to win a twin pack of Hunter Valley Verjuice.

CHARLESTOWN’S Apollo International Hotel has taken out the title of Australian Pear Month Restaurant of the Year 2014.

To celebrate Australian Pear Month last month, eateries were challenged to add a pear creation to their menu to compete for the title.

Beating more than 200 Australian restaurants and cafes across the nation, the Charlestown hotel’s Babbingtons Bar and Grill won the title for its innovative pear creation of crispy hoisin and five-spice duck wings, served with cucumber and shallot salad and chilli pear relish.

“All the ingredients in this dish marry perfectly,” said Babbingtons head chef David Cross.

“Balancing textures and flavours, the sweetness of the pear, sour and heat from a touch of chilli, brought this dish together. I was very excited to hear the news about winning Australian Pear Month Restaurant of the Year 2014. There was stiff competition with some great pear recipes but we believed in our dish all along.”

SUCHAI Sushi Train has opened at Westfield Kotara on the level one fresh-food precinct outside Woolworths.

The sushi train joins others in the Hunter Region – Sushi Bay, Charlestown Square and Sushi Revolution, which has stores at Darby Street, Cooks Hill and Beaumont Street, Hamilton.