food festival aversion

I’m a food blogger: a sporadic one, I’ll grant you, but a food blogger nonetheless. So why did this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival leave me cold?

Some of the initiatives sound great, for example Lauren Wambach’s Rickshaw Run in Footscray, or the wonderful SpeakEasy Cocktail Tram (I wonder how many people dressed up this year?). But I feel many fall a bit flat, sounding great on a website but ending up a bit disappointing in their execution.

One recent case in point was the Taste of Melbourne event that took place in Albert Park last November. We headed down there late on Sunday morning, cancelling our usual breakfast plans to spend a sunny day grazing amongst the stalls. What we got were hour-long waits for tiny portions of food from a dozen or so trendy restaurants, and the rest of the food stalls banned from selling ready-to-eat food so that the named few got the revenue. Our only spoils were a couple of sticky beef buns and a soft shell crab tortilla to share from The Smith. They cost $20 and barely made up a couple of mouthfuls of food each. We left after two hours, stomachs still rumbling.

And so it was that, in the spirit of eternal optimism, we headed down to The Immersery last night, expecting to spend the evening sampling some good food and wine. Southbank was buzzing with crowds enjoying the Moomba festival, the Food and Wine festival and one of the last balmy evenings of summer. We found our way to the floating bar and settled in.

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The festival’s website painted an exciting picture:

A bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s hottest food, wine and cocktails.

Celebrate the wonder of water at the Festival’s spectacular hub anchored to the Yarra River in Queensbridge Square; a bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s most inspiring food, wine and cocktails over 17 days.

The website also promised “fine drops from Victorian wineries including Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant”.

What we got was a wine list that featured only the three wineries mentioned above, all of which undoubtedly offer great quality wines, but the narrow choice was disappointing. There was a couple of cocktails of the day if you were interested, and a handful of beers and ciders.

The food offerings were two tasting plates, both costing $30 and neither looking larger than a starter. We surreptitiously inspected what our fellow diners were eating, decided we were all much more hungry than that, and toddled off to find some proper food on Southbank. Pity, because the river views were perfect.

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Thankfully there are other, much more entertaining, experiences to try in this great foodie city, like the growing fleet of food trucks, or the Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce annual picnic and Westies awards, so all is not lost.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has its place in terms of tourism and industry publicity, but I have concluded that it’s often better to keep it local and personal, rather than rely too much on these huge commercial festivals to deliver on what is, after all, a passion for most and a labour of love for many.

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the big barossa

A free hire car upgrade is always a good way to start a weekend away. Satnav on and away we go, out of Adelaide, up the Main North Road to wine country. Shiraz country, to be precise: the Big Barossa.

Once past the outer suburbs the landscape becomes more and more sun-scorched, all browns, ochres and straw-yellows. An hour later we round a bend in the highway and there they are: vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. “Hello vines!”, I call excitedly.

Off the main highway we meander towards the town of Nuriootpa. I welcome each winery sign like an old friend: Torbrecks; Richmond Grove; Peter Lehman. We locate our guesthouse and head straight to the cathedral of wineries. Penfolds seems the perfect place to worship on an Easter weekend.

I queue to buy some tawny, then join the crowd at the tasting bar. Never mind the pinots, or the affordable Koonunga Hill: I ask the pourer to start me on a shiraz-grenache-mourvedre mix. The first sip is divine, and so it begins.

On down the list I go, past an interesting shiraz-mourvedre and a very lovely cool-climate shiraz, but predictably it is the big Bin 28 that has my eyes rolling back in my head as the deep purple liquid hits home.

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The big hitters of 2010 – Bin 408 cabernet sauvignon and Bin 389 cabernet shiraz, the Baby Grange – are tempting. But it’s the last pour, the 2010 Bin 150 Marananga shiraz that is the very best of all. As the last drops trickle down, I thank the lord for those first pioneering Barossa winemakers who made their home here way back in the mid-1800s.

Back in our guesthouse, we open a bottle of the farm’s own 2008 shiraz and lower ourselves into the waiting hot tub on the verandah. We sit and gaze over the vines as the sun sets, moving on to a decent local tawny as we put the world to rights.

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Back inside we curl up on the sofa with a platter of local pates, cheeses and salamis as darkness settles and the countryside falls silent.

Another day in wine paradise.

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cork wine cafe

cork wine cafe
61a Gouger Street, Adelaide
08 8410 0645

A pre-night-market drink with Noela took us to Cork Wine Cafe, a cosy little wine bar right in the centre of the market precinct in Adelaide. We sat on chocolate leather banquettes surrounded by cushions and friendly patrons, sipping Some Young Punks shiraz from enormous wine glasses and listening to rare groove on the stereo.

The people next to us had a pâté grazing plate, which would have tempted us had we not already made dinner plans.

I have read some reviews citing pretty bad service, but we were treated well by two friendly staff. Certainly worth a second visit.

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>Torbreck Woodcutter’s shiraz 2008

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What a welcome home. I will hardly need dinner: there’s eating and drinking in this wine. Concocted purely from blackberries and not from grapes, if I’m not mistaken. I close my eyes each time I take a mouthful to make sure I don’t miss anything.
Now I’m really looking forward to Mena’s birthday trip to the Barossa. There is a wine tour company there called Life Is A Cabernet. With a name like that, who could resist?

fill up on wine

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I just spent three weeks in Ireland, enjoying the availability of lots of wine I don’t normally see: Argentinian, Chilean, Spanish, Italian, French. We can of course get non-Australian wines here, but the range in your average off-licence can be limited, a bit like the range of Australian wines you can get in Europe. So back in Ireland I loved quaffing lots of Chilean merlots, French Côtes du Rhônes, and excellent Spanish riojas, tempranillos and valdepeñas.
Back in Dan Murphy’s yesterday, I was re-stocking my woefully empty shelves. This picture was taken of Dan’s fine wines section. The rest of the warehouse is full of cheaper wines, beers and spirits stacked high.
You can see from the signs that the wines are displayed in order of state of origin. Along the walls are foreign wines, mostly French and Italian, fortifieds (both domestic and foreign) and rarer, more expensive bottles.
The wines lying flat on floor display are then stored below on the square shelves for selection. Each of those display bottles is a different wine from a different producer. It took me over two years to venture outside the three or four aisles of local Victorian wines: why would I? There are literally dozens of wineries within an hour’s drive of my house.
I am fortunate to know the owner or chief winemaker of a handful of wineries personally. I am always tempted to return to their familiar wines but I make a concerted effort to try new bottles, especially after the Melbourne Food and Wine Show when we have the chance to try lots of new producers.
This time I chose half a dozen durifs from Rutherglen – three Campbells and three of The Bruiser. I threw in three bottles of my weekday favourite, Tar and Roses, a Heathcote shiraz (well, it’s Mount Macedon next week and their over-the-counter selection isn’t fantastic). Then I went completely mad, ended up in the South Australia aisles and selected three Torbreck Woodcutters shiraz from 2008, which has superstar written all over it. Can’t wait.