>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.

>Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander Winery

> A summer’s evening in Healesville brought me to the new Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander pizzeria-bistro-artisan bakery on the outskirts of town. It is a modern new complex where you can tour the winemaking facility, try any of their wines, have lunch on the terrace or dinner in the airy restaurant.

I sat at the bar and tried a glass of their chilled rose. The wines are stored in temperature-controlled fridges and the beer casks are in full sight behind glass, rather than hidden in the cellar.

The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the restaurant was fully booked for their regular Curry Night that evening.

I am looking forward to coming back to try their Harry’s Monster, a huge cabernet/shiraz/merlot/ petit verdot blend retailing at $49 a bottle.

>WBW#30 – the verdict

>

WBW this month was right up my alley. Living in Victoria, Australia, I am surrounded by more shiraz wineries than I know what to do with. Luckily, I had just stocked up on two of my favourites just before WBW#30 was announced.

A girls’ night in at Glenda’s house was just the venue for our tasting. We had three bottles to hand:

Paulett’s Polish Valley Shiraz 2001 (Clare Valley, South Australia) – one of Noela’s favourite drops
Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2003 (Grampians, Victoria)
Candlebark Hill Shiraz 2005 (Macedon Ranges, Victoria) – my favourite

We started with the Mount Langi. This is the affordable shiraz in the winery’s range, and it is a classic shiraz, all berries and pepper (other tasting notes refer to coffee flavours but I didn’t get that). The grapes for the Cliff Edge wines are selected from local small producers with younger vines, who do things by hand. While 2003 was a late vintage in that region, Mount Langi Ghiran was one of the last to harvest, and it shows.

The result is a smooth, classic Shiraz with the signature spiciness/pepperiness so often found in Grampians wines.

Our second bottle was the Paulett’s Polish Valley Shiraz 2001. It followed on well from the Mount Langi, and the few extra years in bottle were apparent: a really smooth red. Lots of fruit flavours, less spicy than the Mount Langi but more loaded with tannins. I liked it.

Our final bottle was my local hero, the Candlebark Hill Shiraz 2005. I love this little winery in the Macedon Ranges – it is one of the closest wineries to our house, and I buy direct from the winery owner, David, at Victoria Market. They say that the Macedon Ranges is at the “sharp end” of cool-climate viticulture, but it turns out the soils of the northern Macedon Ranges is perfect for cool-climate shiraz. And Candlebark Hill is a classic example.

I brought some of this wine home to Ireland last year. My brother opened his two bottles on Christmas Day, and subsequently told me it was the best wine he had ever tasted (and he has drunk his share of shiraz). This wine is rich, full-bodied, and almost assaults your taste buds from the first mouthful. After the highly-regarded 2001 Paulett’s one might have expected to miss the nuances, but Noela’s first sip stopped her in her tracks. The Candlebark Hill shiraz may not be long past bottle-shock, but it displays an unexpected maturity and roundness of flavour that is hard to beat. It’s what brings me back to this boutique winery again and again: they have not let me down for six or seven years now.

They make pretty delicious muscats and tokays too, but that’s for another WBW…

Next evening we continued our WBW weekend (as it was turning out to be) at our local Thai restaurant with our mates Sam and Amanda. Sam had brought along another favourite of mine, Pepperjack Shiraz. Pepperjack is a stalwart of the Barossa Valley area in South Australia, taking its grapes from fairly old vines in the Barossa and Eden valleys. It is another firm favourite of mine. It is a beautiful ruby red in colour and never fails to impress. Another classic shiraz with plenty of plummy fruits and spices, and maybe a touch of liquorice. Pepperjack is consistent and elegant and will always have a place on my wine rack.

>WBW#30 kicks off

>Winecast is hosting this month’s WBW, which is on the wonderful topic of New World Shiraz. Now, this is a topic I can really run with.

I already have a girls’ night out lined up for Friday night, and I happen to two have to fantastic local Shirazes to hand, so it is looking good.

The first is my old favourite Candlebark Hill from the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne. We will be trying the 2005 vintage which has already been drinking quite well. I stocked up at the Queen Vic night market the other night, served by the owner himself, David.

The second is a new favourite of mine, the affordable shiraz label from Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians region north-west of Melbourne (we also love their main label shiraz but at $55 a bottle it’s certainly a special occasion drink). We passed the winery on the way home from a trip to the mountains last weekend and I picked up a few bottles of their 2003 Cliff Edge shiraz. Arlene and I had a bottle of this at Stokehouse the other night and it’s gorgeous.

Read the official tasting notes here next week! If you want to participate, simply head over to Winecast and read the rules, then either send your tasting notes to him directly, or I’ll be happy to post your opinions here on FUOB.