Well, I have never picked grapes in my life, so when Katrina Hill, a good client and a friend of many years asked me if I could come and help as her grapes needed picking a week earlier than planned, I tough it would make a great day out in the country side. A good two-hour drive south of Sydney in Canyonleigh, at 700m of altitude, Far Ago Hill is a boutique vineyard making an excellent Pinot Gris and soon to be released, what should be a great Shiraz. The vines have been progressively planted since 2004, so int is quite established and the Pinot Gris has an excellent reputation amongst the high end of Chefs in the Southern Highlands (Biota Dining) and beyond, as it is now poured at the new Peter Gilmore restaurant Bennelong. It is also served on Qantas First Class. Not a small achievement for what started as a hobby!
Once you leave the small road which leads you to the entrance of the property, you need to drive up hill on a very rough dirt road for two kilometres until...
After a welcome (and welcomed...) cup of coffee, I was offered to taste the juice of the first grapes picked to assess the ripeness. I am not an expert, but they were very tasteful and sweet, and after the approval by better informed people than myself, the grape picking had commenced a good two hours earlier by a hastily assembled crew, as the grapes were ripe earlier than forecasted and the vineyard was pounded by heavy hail the night before, hopefully to little damage thanks in part to the netting...
Après le réconfort, l'effort! Down to the vineyard and start picking grapes after a quick training with the secateur. Fortunately, even though the clouds eventually melted away, it was a cool 20deg in the morning
It took two days to a crew of ten people to harvest the 16 rows of Pinot Gris producing 8 tons of beautiful fruit. The grapes were then transported in two trips to the winer, a two hour drive from Canyonleigh...
After six hours of picking grapes under an increasingly sunny sky takes its toll, but the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie with people i didn't know earlier in the day and a shared lunch of sausages, boiled potatoes salad and some Pinot Gris 2015 are the biggest rewards of the vendanges!
Not to mention the fact that when we finally drink the 2016 vintage, I will have that particular connection between the land, its bounty and the labor of love which went into producing the finest bottle of wine! Merci Katrina
Philippe Durst is the Export Manager of a significant winery in Alsace, Dopff au Moulin. We have been "friends" on Facebook for over three years but, until last week-end, we had not met...
Philippe is not only great at his job (he, together with Dan Murphy, sells half of the Alsace wine sold in Australia...) but has a great reputation of being an expert at matching wine with food!
Julien Dopff invented the Crémant d'Alsace after getting his training in Champagne and it is still a great part of the production at Dopff, and still their trademark.
So, it was great to finally meet him over a combined trip to Melbourne, Sydney and Hong-Kong to promote wines from Alsace. He also havegreat sense of humour and millions stories to tell about his 30 years selling Alsace wines around the world, first for Wolfberger (available in Oz at Vintage Cellars) and for the last 8 years for Dopff au Moulin. For reasons which will be revealed in a later post, we first met at the Fish Market, a place he never had a chance to visit over his previous visits to Australia, so I was happy to give him the grand tour! And I guess he was suitably impressed...
But when it came to having lunch, he was keen to get to somewhere more comfortable where we could still enjoy some good seafood with a couple of glasses of wine, bien sûr. I took him to Ventuno, in Walsh Bay, one of my favourite places in Sydney, as they make great scallops, have a short but good wine list, usually great service and obviously the view is not bad either...
So, after this lovely lunch, some Pinot Grigio and a great cup of coffee - thanks for picking the tab, Philippe - we were off to Prince Wine Store in Zetland for a Northern Côtes-du-Rhone tasting, all from the famous Guigal empire. Although Philippe had visited Ultimo Wine Centre many times in the past, he had never properly mey Jon Osbeiston, so I was quite chuffed to be the one to introduce them to each other.
From the less known Côtes-du-Rhone Blanc, made mostly out of Viognier grapes and a great drop,
to a great everyday Côtes-du-Rhone rouge for less than $20, which I regularly consume, to Crozes Hermitages, St Joseph, Côte Rôtie and Hermitage, we had a blast sampling these beauties from Northern Côtes-du-Rhône, home of the best Syrah. Although I usually prefer Southern Côtes-du-Rhône and the GSM blend, I am certainly a regular drinker of Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph.
What a great venue for a great event, organised by Australia Trade Tasting! Philippe had invited me to join an Alsace wine masterclass there last Monday, organised by the CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d'Alsace) and run by the legendary Huon Hooke who I had the pleasure to meet for the first time. He is a great presenter, with a dry sense of humour - not unlike a good Riesling! We tasted 12 Alsace wines, from a Pinot Noir Rosé to four different Pinot Blancc, a wine I am not familiar with but one I will certainly investigate further, three Riesling, one of them from Dopff and from probably the most famous vineyard of the region Schœnenbourg which carries one of the rare Grand Cru label, which I had the pleasure to drink before on Philippe's recommendation, then onto a Pinot Gris 2013 from Domaine Rieflé-Landmann and finally three Gewurtztraminer, the last one "vendanges tardives" 2009 from Domaine Mersiof with a staggering 74g/l od sugar! All wines were from different wineries and the Domaines scattered from North to South of the Rhine Valley. A great education for a wine region that I didn't know very well.
Also, on the Expo floor, I met some interesting people and had a chance to try my first wine from India - Grover Zampa - a pleasant surprise of a Sauvignon Blanc that could easily have passed for a kiwi wine on a blind tasting! Obviously, there was a great delegation of twelve Alsace wineries , a number of boutique Australian wineries, a great delegation from Spain and Portugal with not only wine, but also Jamon, quests and olive oil.
Choucroute (sauerkraut) is a traditional alsacian/german way of conserving cabbage. It is traditionally served with pork belly, sausages and charcuterie.
Over the last 20 or 30 years, a new trend has emerged to replace the meat with seafood.
More recently, I had the chance to taste or make various implementations of this "choucroute de la mer" - literally "seafood sauerkraut".
And as people do "vertical tastings" of the same wine from different vintages, I propose we go on a "horizontal tasting" of these various avatars of one of my favourites dishes.
So, to go from the most amateurish to the most professional, I will start with my own implementation:
Sauerkraut (from a tin) - try Andre Laurent if you can find it.
Note: the photo above comes from their website
White fish, like turbot or snapper
Mussels, Scallops and Prawns
see photo underneath and recipe here - keeping it simple!
The second recipe comes from a restaurant in the island of Noirmoutier, where my sister took me, and where we used to go when we were kids (the island, not the restaurant...). I will have to find out their name later...
Again, choucroute, mash, mussels, white fish and small scallops (called petoncles) with a nice creamy sauce.
The presentation was certainly the messier of all, but it tasted very nice - although you can't beat the taste, freshness and crunchiness of Australian prawns...
Last but not least, Maitre Karl had his own choucroute de la mer last Friday. I usually have lunch there on a Friday, and I had my camera handy, so all was going to be all right.
It started even better with Karl pouring me a glass of German Pinot Gris, not what I would have chosen myself, but I know I can trust Karl and so I went along and was rewarded with a very good drop, certainly not as sweet as one would expect and a great match with the choucroute.
And again the sauerkraut and the mash were topped with a very nicely cooked piece of salmon, and surrounded with beautiful scallops and prawns. A light creamy sauce keeps everything moist and interesting!
None of these recipes contained a combination of fresh fish AND smoked fish, which might be a mistake, as a piece of haddock gives some flavour reminiscent of the smoked meats used in the traditional choucroute.
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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