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Keeping Sane While At Home

While not strictly wine related, most of us are going to be feeling slightly out of kilter with the sudden need to stay at home (thanks, COVID19). As someone who works from home, my routine has been thrown by my partner now working from home full time AND my valuable ‘out of the house’ time has all been cancelled.

One of my cats is less than impressed with human intrusion on his valuable nap time …

But those kind of inconveniences are nothing compared with the utter upheaval experienced by the hospitality industry, culminating effectively in a shutdown on Monday – and with yet more closures announced last night (Tuesday 24 March 2020) there will be even more people forced out of work.

So – no matter why you’re at home, I thought I’d put together some ideas to help keep you sane.

If you’re working from home, a great idea is to book-end your day with a walk. Think of it as walking to work and then walking home from work. If you’re not working, incorporating some form of exercise and routine into your day is a good idea so by starting your day with a walk, you get yourself moving and enjoying some fresh air. Obviously, you can’t do this if you’re in isolation!

In the house, YouTube is the world’s most amazing resource. With yoga classes now off my radar, I’ll be heading back to some of my favourites (Yoga with Adriene, Erin Motz (the Bad Yogi) and Tara Stiles). For anyone struggling with sleep in particular, have a search for yoga nidra which is a form of deep relaxation. It does take practice so start off with shorter videos (and you might need to try a few before you find a voice that works for you!). If yoga isn’t your thing, search YouTube for what is – whether it’s ballroom dancing or Brazilian jiu-jitsu …

The internet is full of recipes and cooking videos so now may also be the time to up your cooking game or cook all the things you’ve never had time to try in the past. If you’re patient – build a sourdough starter (and then you won’t be hunting down dried yeast in the supermarket!).

To keep your brain ticking over, head to sites like Khan Academy and FutureLearn. For those of you with children, Prodigy is a maths game which comes highly recommended by my nine year old.

In South Australia, Libraries SA has a huge number of digital resources (newspapers, magazines, ebooks and online learning)- and earlier this week announced that Ancestry would be available via remote access (usually only available in library). If you’ve ever thought about delving into your family history, now is the time!

And while you can’t catch up with friends and family, technology such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts (inside gmail) means you can meet face to face (in a manner). Shift your book club, knitting group or Friday night drinks to online …

And if all else fails – watch a cat video (the whole point of the internet after all).

If you’ve got great ideas for other things to do while home – drop them in the comments below.

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The Charmat Method

Depending on your preference … watch the video or read the words!

I put together this video and blog post after being at an event where more than one winery noted that their sparkling wine had been made by the Charmat method. My first thought was that I was surprised they were making note of that … but this was closely followed by the thought that how many normal people (ie not wine trade!) would know what the Charmat method was.

It’s reasonable to assume that a good proportion of the wine buying public probably doesn’t care – ultimately, if a wine tastes good and is at the right price point, most of us aren’t that interested in the ins and outs of production. But … if you’re one of the ones who is interested … here we go!

This method of sparkling wine production was first patented by an Italian, Federico Martinetti, in 1895 – and it was, unsurprisingly, know as the metodo martinetti. In 1907, after some tweaks and development, it was patented again in 1907 by a Frenchman from Bordeaux, Eugène Charmat – which is where it gets one of its modern names. It’s also referred to as cuve close (in French), the tank method, granvas (Spanish) or autoclave (Italian).

In Champagne (and other premium sparkling wine) production, a still base wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in a bottle. This fermentation (and subsequent ageing) can be anywhere from 15 months up to … well, as long as you want really. Vintage Champagne is required to spend a minimum of THREE YEARS in bottle. Above all, this is time consuming – as a producer you can’t react to consumer demand and get more wine out there quickly! But it’s also expensive (you’ve got bottles sitting around for years not generating cash flow) and labour intensive (in some instances, those bottles will be turned by hand).

The Charmat method solves all of these problems. You take your still base wine (made the same as any wine) but instead of putting it into individual bottles, you put it into a pressurised tank. You then add your yeast and sugar and allow the secondary fermentation to happen. This is a rapid secondary ferment – you’re most certainly not hanging around for years – you’re looking at one to six weeks. The longer the ferment, the finer and more durable the bubbles and the better preserved the wine’s aromatics. Once the winemaker is happy with where things are at, the contents of the tank are chilled to below 0°C and fermentation stops. Keeping the (now bubbly) wine at a low temperature and under pressure, it is then filtered and then bottled (using a counter pressure filler – keeping all those bubbles in).

Straight away – you can see that this is FASTER. It’s also CHEAPER – you don’t need to have hundred or thousands of bottles hanging around the winery and monitoring what’s going on in one large tank is a lot easier than worrying about all those bottles – making it LESS LABOUR INTENSIVE. And guess what? The wines are sometimes (but not always!) cheaper.

Of course, you don’t get to take a few shortcuts without some impact on the finished product. While sparkling wines made using the Champagne/traditional method will often be described as bready, yeasty, toasty, brioche-like you don’t get any of those characteristics with a wine made by the Charmat method. Wines made by the Charmat method are more likely to taste like the base wine plus bubbles. This means the method is really well suited to wines that drink well young and don’t have great ageing capacity.

In general, you won’t find CHARMAT METHOD plastered all over a wine’s label – so it’s not going to be immediately obvious if a wine has been made by this method. If you’re at a cellar door or talking to winery staff, they might be able to tell you and often the tasting/technical notes for a wine will include this information.

If you want to try a Charmat method wine – check out the Golding Last Hurrah. This is an incredibly consistent sparkling from one of our favourite Adelaide Hills producers.

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Riesling Tasting with Somms Australia

Last Monday (10 Feb 2020) Sommeliers Australia hosted a Riesling tasting at Mother Vine in Adelaide’s East End. There was a group of about 15 of us, including John Hughes (Mr Rieslingfreak himself) and Phil Lehmann – who were on-hand to offer some of the more technical insights into the wines.

We started off on some very familiar territory, with John’s 2018 No 2 Clare Valley Riesling and the Pewsey Vale 1961 Block 2017 from the Eden Valley. This pairing prompted the obvious question from the somms in the group about how to pick the difference in a blind tasting. The thoughts on the day were that Eden Valley is often more delicate, showing jasmine, green lime and even Bickford’s lime cordial, often a little more saline and showing more talc, while Watervale wines (in particular) are more powerful and edge towards the lemon end of the citrus spectrum. That’s not noticeably reflected in my tasting notes from the day but if you are training yourself up for blind tastings, those little differences (eg lemon vs lime) are good ones to remember and look out for. And it’s definitely going to be an excuse for me to open a Watervale and an Eden Valley Riesling side by side some time in the near future!

The next (bonus) bracket was another couple of SA Rieslings – Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill (Clare) and Phil’s Max & Me (Eden Valley) – both 2019s . In this bracket, I felt the Max&Me did show more of the chalky/talc character.

We then moved on to ‘Other Australian Riesling’ – the 2018 Pooley Margaret Pooley Tribute from Tasmania (my pick in this bracket, and possibly in the whole tasting, possibly as I’m not familiar with Tasmanian Riesling and this was great!), the 2017 Frankland Estate Poison Hill from Great Southern in Western Australia (also delicious – and my notes suggest it may look even better with oysters) and the 2018 Seppelt Drumborg from Henty in Victoria.

Next up, on to NZ and Austria. This was an interesting line up – the 2017 Framingham Classic from NZ was noticeably different from the two Austrian wines. There was definite sugar weight on the palate (I haven’t been able to find exactly what the RS is on this) and the fruit was almost swerving into stone and tropical fruit. The sugar was (as you’d expect) perfectly balanced by the acidity – and this was another great discovery for me.

The two (dry) Austrian wines, 2016 Nikolaihof Vom Stein Federspiel from the Wachau (say that three times fast!) and the 2015 Weingut Bründlmayer Heiligenstein 1er Alte Reben from the Kamptal were much more challenging wines. Both took a little while to open up and while I felt the Nikolaihof was a really interesting wine, it wasn’t really my cup of tea – although it did have some big, big fans at this tasting. The Bründlmayer was quite a bit more savoury and probably another good food wine.

Now, talking of wines taking a while to open up … we moved on to the German bracket and there ensued a really fascinating discussion about the use of sulphur. That probably warrants a whole other blog post but our first two wines were LADEN with it AND THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. Sulphur is in everything (and generally in far higher concentrations than in wine) – if you have a sulphur allergy, you will know about it. If you get a headache from wine … it’s not sulphur. Both the 2016 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Kabinett and the JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett needed a good lot of glass swirling and time in order for the sulphur to blow off. But blow off it does and you are then well-rewarded. I’m not sure I can write in an unbiased way about either of these wines as I have plenty of very positive memories associated with both producers – but I’ll give it a go. The Müller was all green apple, apple skin, a touch of saltiness (maybe think preserved lemon) and amazing length with a touch of smokiness on the finish. I’ve tried a few vintages of this now and it always seems to be such a beautiful, ethereal wine.

The Prüm was more sherbet, lemon curd and floral (honeysuckle) but again with great length.

The final wine in this bracket was a bone dry 2017 Keller Dalsheim Hubacker Trocken GG from the Rheinhessen, Germany’s warmest Riesling producing area. Much, much less sulphur and a bone dry wine with searing acidity and a spicy, green apple skin, pithy palate. Given that the tasting was geographically grouped, I understand why it sat next to the Müller and Prüm but I think a really interesting comparison would have been to have it alongside the first two South Australian Rieslings, with whom it probably had more in common style-wise than the other two German Rieslings.

The last bracket was a look at aged Rieslings from a few places – Germany, the Alsace (France) and Oregon (US). The pick of this bracket was the 2013 Georg Breuer Berg Schlossberg from the Rheingau in Germany. Apparently this winery uses a lot of old oak and a very traditional approach to winemaking – amazing length, with lots of Granny Smith apple, without the super aggressive acidity of the Keller in the previous bracket. The last two wines (2010 Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile from the Alsace and the 2009 Tunkalilla Vineyard from Oregon) were both a little underwhelming. I wondered if the Trimbach had hit something of a flat spot although someone commented that they thought there was some premature oxidation (prem-ox for the cool kids) as it had a definite touch of the bruised apple character about it. The Tunkalilla felt a little simple – pleasant enough but not wowing anyone in the way some of the other wines had. Someone mentioned ‘spiced pear’ which I felt was close – think apple crumble or frangipane (the pastry, not the flower!). However, this assessment is pretty brutal because this wine actually sits at around $40 retail … considerably cheaper than some of the other wines!

In the space of 2 hours we tasted through 16 wines and had interesting discussions about sulphur, cork, Riesling grapes themselves, wine making … I’ve really only covered off my tasting notes in this post!

SommsAust events (and others like these) are always worth going to – it’s a very different kind of discussion than you have in consumer-focussed events and while you might find that some of the winemaking detail (and acronyms!) goes over your head you get to taste a really broad range of wines and the selection has always been thoughtfully put together.

We’re very lucky to have plenty of Rieslings in stock – including limited quantities of FOUR vintages of the Egon Müller. If you’ve got any questions about Riesling, or a particular wine you’d like to track down – then definitely let us know – either in the comments below or by contacting us.

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Cellar Door Fest 2020

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to the Cellar Door Fest. I’m not the biggest fan of elbowing my way through crowds to have a taste of a wine (and, thankfully, most trade tastings don’t work like that!) and in general, February is a crazy wrangling of Fringe, Festival, return to school and the start of our WSET courses, so there’s not a lot of time or mental capacity to indulge in a day out.

But this year, I was very lucky and I won a couple of tickets for the Sunday from Artis Wines. With plenty of large event attending experience behind both me and my +1 we opted for an early start. If you want to avoid the bulk of the crowds, I absolutely recommend heading to the Cellar Door Fest on Sunday at 11. There was one year when Friday evening was very quiet – the year it opened on 14 February (scheduling mistakes – we all make them!) – but in general Friday evening is the crowd who are enjoying knock-off drinks. Saturday is CRAZY and Sunday – I guess people are still in bed and don’t want to be feeling under the weather for work on Monday.

I had a bit of a hit list of small wineries I wanted to check out and so the Emerging Producers was a great place to hang out. However, even the regionally themed areas had plenty of small producers. We actually headed to the Adelaide Hills to start because I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to Andrew at Artis.

We spent a couple of hours tasting, with a detour via Barossa Cheese – which was doing halloumi on a stick for $3 (surely the bargain of the day!) and finally wrapped up in The Distillery tasting through a few gins. By then it was time for food (from Flammekueche) and to call it a day, as it was starting to get pretty busy.

The spacing and layout is pretty good (after 10 years you’d hope they’d be on top of this) but sometimes the location of wineries felt a bit wonky – like they’d had one or two more wineries for a region/theme than they really had space for. And I felt that putting Flammekueche in the Adelaide section rather than the Food was a bit odd(we actually had to go out to the glass collection area and ask someone where to find it).

One thing the organisers are still not on top off are the spittoons and water stations. As far as I could tell there was just the one water station (near the food) and each aisle had a spittoon roughly at either end. This made it a challenge if you were tasting from a winery in the middle – especially as it got busier and you had to dodge people. My friend and I solved this problem by sharing our tastings. We reserved one glass for reds and one for whites, so we weren’t needing to rinse before tasting and we had a plastic cup which we used as a makeshift spittoon while talking to a winery. Setting up spittoons between the winery stands would be a great improvement, because even when the spittoon was relatively close you still had to move away and interrupt the conversation.

Some wine highlights to wrap up:

Cobbs Hill Estate Shooting Star Sparkling Pinot Noir – dry pink fizz – what’s not to like?
Salena Estate Vermentino – a BARGAIN at $20 a bottle
Artis 2016 Clare Valley Riesling – just starting to show some oiliness from bottle age – delicious!
Sussex Squire Samuel’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon – super minty and moreish

And a shout out to Red Hen Gin, for what stood out as the smoothest neat gin I tasted!

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How to Help Bushfire Affected Wine Regions

It’s been a horror summer (and it’s not over) for Australia in general, and many of our beloved wine regions have been severely impacted by horrific bushfires. Close to home for Wine Academy, Christmas got off to a terrible start with a fire ripping through Cudlee Creek, in the Adelaide Hills region. Things didn’t improve, as fires then raged on Kangaroo Island for weeks. In other parts of Australia, it’s been a similar story.

So here are my thoughts on how you can best help your favourite region.

Firstly – buy direct. If you have a favourite winery that has been impacted by fires (and that doesn’t necessarily mean fire damage to any of their assets – the down tick in tourism dramatically affects everyone) buy wines directly from the winery. I know that might sound a bit strange from a retailer – but really, buy direct and the money goes directly to the winery. Don’t have a favourite winery, don’t want to buy a six pack? Then by all means – buy from retailers (like Wine Academy) because every bit does help. And all our Adelaide Hills wines can be found here.

Next – visit the region. This might be easier said than done – but for those who live in metro Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills is just a short drive up the freeway. By having lunch in a winery, and buy one (or more) bottles of wine, you’re helping ensure a region’s tourism remains sustainable. I was saddened to read that the magnificent Simon Tolley Lodge has had a run of post-fire cancellations. Simon Tolley makes great wines AND lost 80% of vines in the fires before Christmas so staying at the Lodge is a great way to support him while the business recovers from the loss of vines. But even if you can’t justify a few days away, at least head out for lunch and a winery visit. In SA, the #bookthemout campaign has recently launched to highlight just how much there is to do in both the Hills and Kangaroo Island.

Finally – donate. I’m not going to tell you where to donate BUT I do encourage you to make sure you understand where you money is going. For example, here in South Australia, the CFS Foundation supports volunteer firefighters who have suffered a loss (physical or financial) during service. Particularly if you live in an affected region, you may prefer to donate to your local brigade, which will allow them to buy otherwise unfunded equipment (defibrillators seem to be a big one). The state government administered State Emergency Relief Fund (and SA Bushfire Appeal) raises funds for people directly affected by the bushfires. And there are countless charities also raising money, not to mention gofundme (or similar) pages for individuals and businesses. I’ve not linked to any of these quite deliberately – all are equally worthy causes. Sadly, money is finite so make sure you understand the cause you’re supporting.

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Wine in a Can – Why Not?

We drink beer out of cans, we drink soft drink out of cans, we drink RTDs out of cans … and for a couple of years now, it’s been widely predicted that wine in a can is the next ‘big thing’. As with a lot of ‘big things’ it’s actually been a bit of a slow burn … with its market share remaining small and growing slowly. But, if we look abroad, we see that that might not last for long: while still small in market share, sales in both the UK and the US have seen double digit percentage growth in the last couple of years.

If you think about it, there are plenty of excellent reasons to buy wine in a can:

  • Aluminium is light – so easy and cheap to both ship and store
  • Aluminium is recyclable (10c refunds – yes please!)
  • Aluminium won’t smash if you drop it – also good for shipping
  • Smaller serving sizes mean more flexibility and less wastage – you don’t have to open a bottle that won’t get finished
  • Perfect for outdoor consumption – festivals, picnics, even parties – no need for a corkscrew (remember those?) or a glass
  • From a technical perspective – no light, no oxygen, no chance of bubbles escaping

My own experience with wine in a can has been limited. A few years ago I attended an event where we were served a glass of sparkling on arrival. Both my friend and I noted that the wine had a very distinct taste to it which we couldn’t put our finger on. Eventually, we put it down to the wine being poured too soon and left to sit around in the glass. But later, we googled the wine and discovered it had come from a can – and everything fell into place.

So when I was in England and spotted wine in a can on the supermarket shelf – I just had to try it. For the princely sum of £2.50 (approx $AU5) I was able to nab myself 250mL of Chilean Pinot Noir in a slimline can. While this works out at £7.50 (approx $AU15) for a full bottle – well above the average spend on a bottle of wine in the UK – it’s interesting because in general Pinot Noir isn’t producers’ first choice of fruit for cheaper wines. I was keen to see what I was going to get for my money …

You can see the result for yourself in this video. A significant caveat – the wine did end up travelling back to Australia so that may have had an affect on quality. Although – given that it did travel halfway around the world with not a skerrick of damage that speaks volumes for aluminium’s robustness!

What about you? Have you tried wine in a can? Do you have a favourite?

And, if you’re looking for some wines not in cans … don’t forget to get your orders in for our Wine Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas!

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Final WSET Foundation Course for 2010

There’s just one week left to sign up for our final WSET Foundation course of 2010 … registrations close at 5pm on Monday 27 September for the course running on Saturday 9 October.

The course is running at the Edinburgh Hotel in Mitcham, and starts at 9am.  During the day we taste seven wines from around the world while focussing on the basics of all aspects of wine appreciation – from the vineyard through to the glass.

We wrap up the day with the exam and successful students are issued with certificates from the WSET in London.

The course fee is $200 which includes the study guide and course notes, the exam, lunch at the hotel and all wines tasted.

Don’t be worried about the exam – it’s a fun day out and, just before the Christmas party season is the perfect time to brush up your wine knowledge.  Not only will you be able to wow at parties but you should be able to find a perfect wine match for Christmas lunch.

To join us, get in contact or call Alex on 0414 562 859 – but make sure you do so by Monday 27 September.

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PayPal Payment Problems

We’ve just discovered that our online payment system, which uses PayPal, has not been working.  At this stage, we’re not sure why, so we’ve removed the option from the website.  Unfortunately payments appear to ‘work’ while in test mode but not when switched to live.

I’d like to take the opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been affected by this.

This means that payments for our forthcoming WSET Foundation and Intermediate courses (Saturday 17 April for Foundation and starting Saturday 1 May for Intermediate) can only be received via direct bank deposit or by cheque.  If you need to make alternative arrangements, please do get in touch and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.

As registrations for Foundation close at 5pm this Thursday (Thursday 1 April), I would urge anyone who wishes to participate to get in touch, either through our Contact page, or by calling me on 0414 562 859 (please be sure to leave a message if I don’t answer right away).

Once again, apologies from Wine Academy for this technical glitch.  We’re fortunate that wine tasting is not dependent on technology!

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WSET Foundation Congratulations

Wine Academy’s results for its second WSET Foundation course, held in January at the Edinburgh Hotel, are in and we’re pleased to announce that all candidates passed with flying colours! Results were even higher than our first course, with an average mark of almost 94%.

Congratulations to all the students. You should all feel very proud of your achievement!

And a reminder to anyone interested in either WSET Foundation or Intermediate – registration is now open for both courses. WSET Foundation is on Saturday 17 April and WSET Intermediate begins on Saturday 1 May.

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New WSET Course Dates and Some Tastings

You may have noticed that we’ve released our second lot of course dates for 2010.

The WSET Foundation course will be run on Saturday 17 April. The course runs from 9am and the day wraps up around 5pm. The course fee of $200 includes lunch – as well as the study guide, study notes, the exam and the wines tasted.

Registrations for this course close on Monday 5 April, but, as the class size is limited to 12, we recommend registering sooner rather than later.

The WSET Intermediate course will start on Saturday 1 May. We start with a full day on the Saturday and complete the course with 5 sessions of 2 and a half hours on Monday evenings. The final session will be on Monday 31 May. The exam will be held at the end of this class. During the course we will taste around 50 wines from all over the world. The course fee is $650.

You can sign up for Foundation here, and Intermediate here.

We’re running the courses again at the Edinburgh Hotel and Cellars in Mitcham. It’s a great venue and, if you want to check it out (and taste some wine!) prior, they’re currently holding tastings in the Cellars on Saturday afternoons from 1pm to 5pm.

This weekend (Saturday 20 February) they are featuring two Tasmanian wineries, Moorilla Estate and Joseph Chromy.

Next weekend (Saturday 27 February) you have a chance to taste wines from Austria, as well as meet winemaker Bert Salomon.