28 Apr 2008

Australia in 17 Wines

'...not precisely wines for connoisseurs...'
[A.J. Todd]
I HAVE had a pleasantly busy few days. On Saturday afternoon I took a look at the Wapping Project (above). Within, an occasional cushion softens decommissioned hydroelectric power generating machinery. It is abutted by a dark art gallery currently filled with dreary films, the unsmiling subject matter further subdued by the knowledge that the sun was shining outside. Dishes looked well crafted. I would have happily made friends with the Monkfish and its Scallop Roe had there been time. The wine list is, curiously entirely Australian.
That evening I headed to the damp sofas of the dubious Charlie Wright's International Bar to confirm again that they didn't serve the "best wine in the world" (what do I mean?). Jeremy Pelt eventually smoothly unwired in a power-cut.
On Sunday night, to soothe my nerves following a break-in to my car in a flood of daylight by two youths desiring my Sat-Nav (I have no sense of direction), Christoph von Dohnányi conducted two symphonies at the rejuvenated, but still slightly design flawed Royal Festival Hall. The triumphant Timpanist almost got a standing ovation.
Just before, I visited 'Fire & Stone', uncovering drab, mono-toned, near indigestible 'pizza' (really slippery foccacia). If you are in the mood for toppings of Tandoori Chicken and Cabbage, head on down. I guarantee there will be space. Personally, I think the fact that this place is still in business is a remarkable indictment on West End gastronomy.
Today I headed to the grand triangle of Australia House (aka. Gringott's Bank, Harry Potter) for a tasting of the best Australia has to offer. The Southern Hemisphere's first Master of Wine, Michael Hill-Smith led, a charismatic, stunningly knowledgeable presenter who first came to England during a gap year in '74. He reminisced about the embassy's reading room which was a haven back then. Inside the marbled cocoon, Australians 'overwhelmed' by London would flock to get their fill of the dailys from home, 'eat pies' and rendezvous with eachother.
The highlights, weaving the country's vinous narrative, included:
'05 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling from Clare Valley. An electric nose. Fresh lime flower, slate minerals, and an angular structure. Mouth-watering with a long, precise, pulsing finish leaving a dry residue of chilli spice. Smith said Riesling was thriving in Australia pre 1900.
'98 Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley. Originally crafted by a 'visionary myopic', this was sweetly expressive and forgivably a little rough. Also enormous, hedonistic, with a determined finish. Sawed wood momentarily eclipsed butternut and plantain. Vanilla and caramel chews also came to mind. Smith said that this was not a wine to 'accuse of being elegant'. The 'grandfather' of Australian Chardonnays, it sunk Shaw and Smith's unexciting '06 Adelaide M3 wannabe Burgundy into the Indian Ocean.
Beloved of Robert Parker, Ben Glaetzer's Barossa '06 'Anaperenna' Shiraz/Cabernet leviathan was pitch-bleak in colour. An intense, juiced mammoth, fruit-filled, seasoned with sweet vanilla. Ripe, but balanced, spiced with herbal undertones. The aftertaste lasted so long, it virtually took root.

In terms of straight Shiraz, Penfold's '04 RWT ('red winemaking trial') Shiraz, also Barossa was fresh, lush and creamy. Hardy's '99 McLaren Vale Eileen Hardy was endearingly sweet, calm and balanced mingling pleasant pineapple and pepper, whilst Mount Langi's Ghiran Langi '04 (Victoria) had lifted almond aromas, reminiscent of (curiously) Pieropan's (white) La Rocca Soave and pepper. The most distinctive wine of the day.
During a lunch of gloopily chilli salsa spiked lamb , I again tasted Jacob Creek's Riesling from Steingarten, South Australia. The simplistic '96 had plasticated fruit, with jellied kiwi and the '98 was dusty. The '06 was better, however, but somehow posessive of a sludy, pond like texture. I don't know why people in the trade never mutter critical words about this vineyard. I wrote 'I'd prefer cocooning my tongue in cling film than another afternoon with this tart Tart...' in October '06. I feel the same today.

However, the majority of the wines sampled disproved any negative connotations from critic A.J. Todd (who penned those words in 1922). Excellent fodder for fanatics.


Incidentally, according to Celebrity Chefs, Gordon Ramsay is to move into the hotel business, beginning with a ten bedroom 'boutique'.