>Pinot Week dinner at Montalto

>With our own little slice of Burgundy on the doorstep, it seemed churlish not to get involved in the Mornington Peninsula’s Pinot Week this week.

Eileen organised tickets for the Montalto event – an afternoon of tastings at three of Halliday’s five-star-rated pinot wineries, followed by a gala dinner at Montalto itself. The weather held: a beautiful sunny (but brisk) afternoon spent wandering through sprouting vines is no bad way to go.

First winery was Scorpo (not Scorpio) winery, where we tried barrel samples from this year’s vintage and got a sneak preview of the 2008 vintage. I even went as far as to try the Chardonnays on offer, which as most of you will know, is a miracle for me.

Off on the bus to Prancing Horse Estate, who practise organic and bio-dynamic viticulture. We sat in their beautiful house (about 30 of us) sampling their locally-produced pinot and comparing it to their very own Premier Cru Burgundy whilst Sergio explained the origins and basis of bio-dynamics. A huge platter of gooey cheese perfected the experience.

Back at Montalto as the sun – and warmth of the day – started to fade, we stood in the piazza under gas heaters whilst owner John Mitchell and his chief winemaker Robin took us through three 2009 barrel samples from three different blocks, explaining how clone types and aspect differences make for such varying wines despite their close proximity to each other.

Sipping a glass of bubbly and downing oysters, sushi and tempura, we watched the light fade over the vines and olive groves before dinner was served. Interesting flavours abounded, including my personal favourite of wild hare ravioli served in a pinot and chocolate sauce. Sounds odd, but it really worked. We sampled six more pinots from 2001 upwards, and put the world to rights with Eileen and Kelvin.

A long drive home (thanks Orlando) meant a 2am end to the day, but a great start to spring.

>le parisien geelong

>15 Eastern Beach Road Geelong
www.leparisien.com.au

A long lingering lunch with my sister Mena was in order. We had much to catch up on. we headed to Mena’s favourite place on a breezy Sunday afternoon, to sit by the water and graze the afternoon away.

I was feeling really ill, with a chest infection picked up in Perth just not going away. I kicked off with two paracetamol and a full-fat Coke to get the heart going, quickly followed by a nice glass (or two) of Austin shiraz – a local red. I was starting to enjoy this.

We both chose the seafood chowder to start, and we were not disappointed. This is one of my favourite soups and it is rare to get a good one anywhere I find. By the time I had soldiered through mine I was feeling much better and wondering how I could fit my main course in.

The waiter had taken a shine to me so our service was impeccable. The owner, a grand-sized Frenchman, also took time to visit each table and chat with the lunchtime crowd. It was a nice vibe and we really felt at home sitting at the window. There was no rush.

An elderly lady came in to lunch alone, nicely dressed up in a navy blue suit complete with hat. Perhaps she had been to church that morning. It seemed to me that she was a regular – maybe she had a favourite dish she had every week. She stayed about an hour and then walked briskly on home along the waterfront in the wind. I want to be like her when I am that age.

My fillet steak Cafe de Paris was huge: topped with sauteed mushrooms, bacon, onions and garlic butter it was a heart attack on a plate but I dug in and mopped up the sauce with chat potatoes. We tried to ignore the complimentary French fries on the table but failed dismally. My defence is that I did my sore throat good with all that salt.

How we managed to leave I do not know. We sat for over four hours putting the world to rights, sipping on our wine and finishing off with a couple of good quality lattes before facing the long drive home. It was comfort food at its best, and a location probably best enjoyed in the autumn or winter months when you want cosiness with your lunch.

At $202 the bill was not cheap, but I can see why it is Mena’s favourite and I will find an excuse to accompany her there again!

yarra valley after the fires

>I had reason to travel to Healesville and Yarra Glen this week, ten days after the worst bushfires in Australian history hit.

Read more here.

We all want to help, so what should we do? Go there. Have a coffee. Go for lunch. Taste some wine. Buy something. Tell your friends.

We love our Victorian wines and our country towns. Now is the time to support them.

If we all promise to make at least one trip to a bushfire-affected town sometime between now and Anzac Day, spend some time and spend some money, maybe some of the local businesses will survive and life will be better for all of us.

Make your plan. It’s not a stay-or-go plan. It’s a Go Plan.

>WBW #50 – The Great Outdoors

>Russ Beebe from Winehiker Witiculture asked:

Imagine you and your significant wineau walking in the cool woods of Autumn. An
amber glow lights your path, golden leaves fall around you, and as you walk,
you’re working up a sizable hunger for that post-hike picnic you’ve got planned.
Not to mention that sizable thirst! Which wine will you pour in the Great
Outdoors?

So what are my thoughts on this wine blogging question?

Well, I have lived in Australia for the past three years. Having lived in Ireland and the UK most of my life, the novelty of living slap-bang in the centre of a major wine-growing region has not worn off yet.

To my west I have Shadowfax winery not 30km away, my sister’s local wintery and one of my favourites. Further west into the Grampians we have amazing full-bodied reds. East to the Yarra Valley gives us plenty of pinot noir and excellent sparkling wines – Domaine Chandon has a winery there. Up in the King Valley and Rutherglen the reds are wonderful but the tokays and muscats are breathtaking. North-west of home brings me to Heathcote, one of my favourite areas for picking up reds of great quality.

Closer to home, about an hour’s drive away are the Macedon Ranges. A beautiful ridge of mountain overlooks the city. Walking trails criss-cross the landscape, or you can head a little further over to Daylesford, the heart of spa country, for a more lazy sort of weekend.

Hanging Rock is an extinct volcanic outcrop made famous by the movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock” back in the eighties. It’s a good place for a Sunday afternoon yomp in summer or winter. You’ll see plenty of wallabies hopping around, and the cockatoos are cheeky but entertaining.

Nearby, Hanging Rock winery is small and welcoming. John Ellis and his wife run a tight ship, with their grown-up son and daughter also playing key roles in the business. A good day out would be to park at Hanging Rock, climb to the top and take in the views, then stroll down the Lancefield-Woodend Road to the Hanging Rock winery on Jim Road. It’s only about forty-five minutes at a comfortable pace.

There, the wines to be tasted abound, but reserve a place for their 2005 Heathcote Shiraz. I have a magnum of the stuff which I could use for my wine hike, which I won at Hanging Rock Winery’s 2008 winter luncheon.

It is coming into spring here in Australia, so our picnic would be a more hopeful springtime event. Our wine would be accompanied by plenty of local produce – olives, salamis, fresh local bread, and eaten under a flawless blue sky with plenty of sunscreen to protect against our hole in the ozone layer.

We could use the barbecues at Hanging Rock to cook a few Bullboar sausages, a rare recipe handed down from Swiss-Italian immigrants who live nearby. They don’t make them on the Swiss-Italian border anymore, so Australia is the keeping place for this ancient tradition.

However, they recommend not to open this huge wine for at least five if not more years… what to do?

The Cambrian Rise 2005 Heathcote Shiraz is not a bad second choice. Drinking well now, and about a third of the price of the Heathcote Shiraz, it is worth opening two or more and sharing with friends. And that is what I shall do.

>Waves

>Busselton Highway, Margaret River, WA

Saturday night in one of the best wine-producing regions in Australia. We had a reservation in Waves, a well-known seafood restaurant on the main strip in the town. We’d been out all day marvelling at the amazing scenery of the Southern and Indian Oceans, and vainly looking for whales. I was ready for dinner and more than ready for a glass of wine.

The restaurant was almost full when we arrived: we were glad we’d booked. The restaurant appeared to be run by a husband and wife team, the husband cooking and the wife running front of house. We got a table away from the windswept door and settled in to read the menu.

The first thing that I noticed was that the menu had no alcoholic drinks on it, and no other wine list was offered. To my horror I realised that when the man had said earlier on that they were BYO, he meant BYO only. Shit. I would never drink a bottle of wine on my own, Orlando doesn’t drink red and we were leaving the next morning on a plane to Melbourne. There was no point in heading to the off-licence for a bottle now.

I was sitting in the middle of a wine region with only sparkling water to drink.

Orlando sensibly tried to take my mind off things while we read the menu. It was late by Australian small-town standards: 8.30pm meant a few things were off the menu. Spookily we both chose the same things – seafood chowder to start, followed by swordfish.

We are both huge fans of chowder. I have never been able to find a decent recipe to make at home, so we always order it when we see it. It is difficult to better some decent Boston chowder or the legendary Moran’s of the Weir chowder served with real Irish brown bread.

This was not half bad. Laden with white fish, king prawns, mussels and crayfish, it had no cream in the base but it was full of flavour. We made it last by dunking our bread into the broth, and savouring every mouthful. It was sensational.

I go on and off swordfish, so I haven’t had it for a long time. This was beautiful: served with roasted tomatoes, green beans and creamy mash, everything was drizzled with basil oil and the fish was perfectly cooked. Again, we ate slowly to make it last.

Around us the tables slowly emptied. A local couple, well-known to the owners, came in late and were treated like royalty. I could hear the chef talking to the sous-chef, telling him quietly that these were very special customers and he should take special care preparing their food.

There was no chance of dessert: we were stuffed. Despite the disastrous no-wine situation (and those of you who know me understand) it was a great meal. I would have no hesitation recommending Waves as a good place to dine in Margaret River – but don’t forget to pick up a bottle of the local stuff before heading in.

>Wino’s

>85 Bussell Highway, Margeret River, WA

Our first Friday night in the town of Margaret River, the centre of the eponymous wine region, and I was ready to go. My appetite whetted by a bottle of Clairault cabernet sauvignon in my hotel room, and numerous other local wines by the glass, I was looking forward to a couple of evenings with good food and good local wine to enjoy. Wino’s did not disappoint.

A casual bar and restaurant, Wino’s boasts an excellent wine list and a good choice of wines by the glass, which is what I am always looking for. We arrived early for our table and settled into the bar with glass of Juniper Estate cabernet for me – served in my very own baby carafe. The bar food listing itself was tempting – fresh Coffin Bay oysters, raw or Kilpatrick; chorizo; duck pate and goose rillette. The clientele seemed to be a mix of locals and visitors, with plenty of people around us being welcomed back again or engaging in a bit of local gossip with the wait staff.

In the restaurant, the menu was not the longest, but there were plenty of specials on order and we struggled to choose. I went for a fresh ravioli with pumpkin which was divine: plump and bursting with flavour. Orlando’s calamari and chorizo was similarly appetising: it should have been served with mussels but he negotiated larger portions of the other two ingredients instead. I am not sure it would have worked with the giant mussells invariably served here in Aus.

Given we were not in a Chinese restaurant, it was no surprise that Orlando ordered pork belly for his main course. Beautifully presented on a rectangular platter, the portion size was not large but the flavours were good and the pork properly crispy.

My fillet of snapper was served on a bed of comfort-food mash and drizzled with the essence of the Mediterranean itself.

I can see why this place gets booked up for weekend dinners long in advance. I availed myself of a few postcards at the counter on the way out. I would not have been unhappy eating there two nights in a row.