The fare horizon By CLAUDE FORELL (The Age)
When I was a schoolboy in small-town country Victoria in the 1940s, dining out on special occasions meant a stroll to the best of the three local hotels, where the fare seldom strayed from the staples of roast beef, roast lamb and (only on Sundays) roast chicken. My father's request for a bottle of red wine (other than tawny port) was regarded as an eyebrow-raising European eccentricity.
Fast-forward to 1980, when the first edition of The Age Good Food Guide came out, and good eating other than pub-grub beyond the metropolitan fringes was still hard to find. Apart from the acclaimed, banquet-style Baxter's Provender near Frankston, only two provincial restaurants merited a chef's hat award in the guide.
The top honors went to the Copper Pot in Bendigo and La Scala in Ballarat, both founded by that dynamic godfather of fine dining and wining in country Victoria, Luigi Bazzani, and his wife Athalie, who today are still in the business, running Warrenmang Vineyard Resort in the Pyrenees. Where Bazzani pioneered and persevered, others have followed with similar pride and passion. Perhaps the most heartening aspect of this development is the encouragement of specialist producers, the evolution of regional cuisines, and the promotion of local wines to match.
Today, the names of Alla Wolf-Tasker, George Biron, Stefano de Pieri, Gary Cooper and Chris Tahlimanidis rank high among pioneering country proprietor-chefs, while the Melbourne veteran Hermann Schneider is still involved in his Mornington Peninsula establishment on Arthurs Seat.
This year in Victoria, the country restaurateur with the widest and highest profile has undoubtedly been Mildura chef Stefano de Pieri, who burst on to our television screens earlier this year in the endearing ABC television series, A Gondola on the Murray. When the former public servant and political adviser married a daughter of the owner of Mildura's historic Grand Hotel, he turned the hotel cellars into an imaginative wine bar and "cantina", and indulged in his love of cooking and wine. There is no menu at Stefano's: as at a celebratory Italian family feast, the food just keeps coming. And what food! If you are lucky, there may be Murray cod, saltbush lamb, wild asparagus; always there will be antipasto, pasta and risotto of exquisite quality and flavors.
For the second year in a row, de Pieri's efforts and talent have brought his cellar restaurant three hats in The Age Good Food Guide 2000, making Stefano's one of only four country restaurants to receive three hats - the top rating for country restaurants in this year's guide.
But accolades and acclaim are not always enough. Hungarian-born, self-taught chef George Biron and his partner Diane Garrett have run a restaurant and thriving weekday cooking school in their colonial home on a hill near Birregurra in the Western District for eight years. But this year, despite being awarded three hats in The Age Good Food Guide, also for the second year in a row, the couple has decided they want their house back and will close the restaurant next winter.
Food lovers who have made the almost religious pilgrimage to the charming property; who have strolled through the fantastic kitchen garden between courses; who have eaten dishes cooked with ingredients from that garden as well as local produce; and who have witnessed Biron and Garrett's vision and energy, may be heartbroken.
Thankfully, there are others outside the city who continue to pursue their vision. When former teachers Allan and Alla Wolf-Tasker began building and landscaping on the shores of Daylesford lake nearly 20 years ago, sceptical residents simply could not understand. A classy restaurant? In Daylesford? Crazy! But 20 years later, Alla is still directing her passion and professionalism towards Lake House, one of Victoria's most highly acclaimed out-of-town restaurant and accommodation complexes, which this year received three hats in the Good Food Guide.
And in the Yarra Valley there's a young chef with fewer years behind him but just as much enthusiasm. In 1997 Gary Cooper moved down into the valley from the Dandenongs (Cotswold House and Wild Oak Cafe) to make Eleonore's at Chateau Yering the best new country restaurant of the late 1990s. It also has been awarded three hats. In a grand, Edwardian-style dining room in keeping with the historic property, Cooper serves finely crafted, contemporary dishes.
The development of Victorian wine regions and the consequent drawcard cellar door culture have been key factors in the blossoming country food scene. Food and wine and a picturesque setting now can be found in tandem not only in the Yarra Valley, but at the pioneering Mitchelton, on the Goulburn River; at Brown Brothers' "Epi Centre" at Milawa; and at the All Saints Terrace Restaurant in the Rutherglen wine region. Winery restaurants on the Mornington Peninsula are booming.
Luigi Bazzani and his two-hat Warrenmang Vineyard Resort are at the forefront of this movement in the Pyrenees wine region. Bazzani's chefs have always sought out produce from the area, particularly Pyrenees hare, which is always the house speciality, and the Warrenmang wine list is heavy with local wines.
A culinary legend on the Surf Coast, veteran seafood specialist Chris Tahlimanidis is renowned for his Beacon Point Restaurant and villas high up on a hillside near Apollo Bay. He has also re-established a beachhead in Lorne with his fashionable Marine Cafe, managed by his son Taki, and an offshoot on Apollo Bay's foreshore shopping strip called Sea-Grape, run by his partner Penny Kernik.
At Avenel near Seymour, the enigmatic Susie McKay has turned a former country pub into a magnet for food and wine lovers. Harvest Home has a regionally based cooking style that relies on prized secret suppliers and her own vegetable and herb gardens.
North-east Victoria is fast becoming a food and wine destination as well, with a wonderful range of specialist producers and restaurants that support them. Patrizia Simone, of Simone's at the Ovens Valley Motor Inn in Bright, and Karen Dosser, of Beechworth's Parlour and Pantry, have done much to put this region on the gastronomic map.
At Simone's, you might find a roast dinner, but it's more likely to be roast Buckland Valley goat with polenta, than roast lamb, roast beef or roast chicken with all the trimmings.
The Age Good Food Guide 2000 features reviews of more than 170 country restaurants and gourmet getaways.
Cafe Life by MATTHEW EVANS
Tony Starr's Kitten Club Upstairs, 267 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, Phone 9650 2448
Prrrrrr. You can almost feel the slinkiness in the air. Upstairs at the Kitten Club has a very feline, very sexy allure. There's no Tony Starr (it's owner Peter Labourne's "stage name"), but believe it or not, there is good food.
It's a constant source of joy to find you can eat well at such wildly different places in Melbourne. Bars like the Melbourne Supper Club, Vis, Hairy Canary and the Candy Bar prove that being hip doesn't mean you have to hide your palate like you do your natural hair color.
To find the Kitten Club, first you must find a tall, yellow, virtually unmarked door in Little Collins Street. You climb the stairs (don't you just love that private club feel when you climb or descend stairs?) to a dimly lit room where gangly lads are chatting up girls in fake fur. Groups cluster around coffee tables in the lounge area at the front, or at proper-sized tables further back. There's live jazz six nights a week. Office workers drop in after a long day, groovers meet here before clubbing-on elsewhere, and there's barely a thread of denim in sight. The lively waiters in their tight-fitting black threads don't know that much about the food, except that they like it. It's hard not to agree.
A moist, roasted quail is plumped and pert, filled with black sticky rice and served with a good plum sauce. Supermodel-thin asparagus is beautifully grilled and lifted with very good melted affine (aged goat's cheese) and thyme oil. On the more homely front, spiced lamb loin is pink and tender, served on celery and carrot in a red wine sauce. Afters, if anything, are even better than befores. We liked a banana tarte tatin last time, and tonight try a good chilled pear and aniseed crumble.
There's a lot of image and style at the Kitten Club: it's the main reason a lot of people congregate here. You probably won't come just for the food, but if you do, you won't be disappointed.
Licensed. Prices: snacks $5-$7; smalls $6.50-$13; large $12-$18; afters $6.50-$7. Cards: AE BC DC MC V EFTPOS. Open: 4pm-late daily (kitchen closes 10pm Sun-Thurs, 11pm Fri-Sat)
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 37, 8/11/99
A trip to the Sunshine Coast for a week is the reason for the hiatus in scribblings. Oddly enough, I found no music of consequence in that sunny place, other than the tunes I found myself humming toward the end of long days lazing on the beach or in the exotic pool (complete with sunken bar) that meandered around the resort. It was reminiscent of Venice with the pool lapping at the door of all the units – simply stagger out of bed and into it. Being on the first floor made that a little daunting, but the nearness of the bar -a simple 4 strokes there and five and a half strokes back to one’s banana lounge – led to the surf beach a whole 50 metres away being somewhat neglected. The bar was surrounded by bar stools under water so one could sit and philosophise with the cool bartender in Hawaiian shirt, or swim sidestroke back to the lounge chair maintaining the cocktail above the Plimsol line at all costs. Now this may seem to you like a pretty shallow way to spend a week of one’s life – but as Ron Sexsmith sang “There’s no crime in wasting time”.
Back into the Melbourne music with the Shelly Scown Quartet, comprising Shelly (vocals), Paul Grabowski (piano), Dave Beck (drums), and Gary Costello (acoustic bass). Shelly was inconvenienced by a dose of the Lurgi, but managed to maintain pitch and feeling very well despite her discomfort. Shelly has quite a pure soprano voice, and is at her best when displaying sensitivity rather than power. A number of the tunes were very well chosen for her voice, at least three of which were impressive collaborations with Paul (Two Perfect Strangers, Angel, and Revival). Others, such as Eric McCusker’s Willing To Learn, were rather too poppy for my taste, but were salvaged by some over-the-top treatment during Paul’s solo. With what I thought was appropriate and delicious irreverence, the piano amplified the simplicity of the tune into something anthemic and humourous. The depth of feeling in her singing was particularly evident in Night and Day, My Ideal, and Angel, whilst other enjoyable numbers were Two Perfect Strangers (Paul), Takes Two To Tangle (Grabowski & Hardy), I Fall In Love Too Easily, Never Let Me Go (Richard Whiting).
While there was plenty of opportunity for solos during Shelly’s numbers, two singer-free numbers allowed the group to explore more adventurous terrain. Trident and Bruce Wayne were both written by Paul, and contained the sort of complexity of rhythm and themes one has come to expect from him. His style can be that of a superb accompanist, sensitively using light, shade and harmonies to enhance a singer’s performance. In his Mr Hyde persona, however, he challenges the listener with unexpected flourishes and angles, staccato rhythm changes, and tortuous changes of direction. I found these difficult to follow in Trident – fortunately the rhythm section was up to the task, and it was a most exciting piece. Paul appears to have lost weight, and I thought his demeanour rather more animated, even mischievous at times. Whether the two events are related I couldn’t say, but his playing was wonderful to listen to.
When I first heard Dave Beck a couple of years ago, I was impressed by his technique, though I thought he was then inclined towards heroic drumming. In recent times, I’ve admired his capacity to support rather than drive, especially in a singer plus trio group. He was never too loud, and didn’t require drum flourishes to demonstrate his presence. Dave’s brushwork on Never Let Me Go was much appreciated. Gary Costello is an experienced and well-respected bass player – sartorial, and dignified in his manner. His playing is similarly precise, responsive to his confederates, and he holds a good solo.
A rather small crowd for Oaks night, no hats, but much appreciation for a fine couple of sets. The band may also be seen on 11th and 25th November at Bennetts.
Gigs of note over summer:
That anarchic band The Hoodangers have a season at Mayfields (103 Smith St) from 10/11 to 8/12 on Wednesdays. They mat also be found at The Toucan Club (251 St Georges Rd, Nth Fitzroy) on Mon 13 Dec. I’ve often written of the enjoyment they’ve provided. Below is an extract:
The Hoodangers music has been described as “feral trad jazz”, implying that although their music stems from the tradition which has spawned Dixieland and New Orleans style jazz; nevertheless, their approach has deviated markedly from that expected upon hearing of those two venerable styles.
The band’s lineup looks more or less traditional: trumpet (Eugene Ball), clarinet (Chris Tanner), trombone (Ben Gillespie), banjo (Mal Williams), bass (Shannon Birchall), drums (Ollie Browne). To those who have heard the musicians play in other places, however, it is clear that they are well-versed in other predominantly jazz genres. The frontline players have done and continue to play in bebop bands, a style pioneered by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis among many other luminaries from the 1940’s to the 1960’s (the seminal bebop period). In this arguably more challenging musical style, improvisation is likely to be based on chords rather than on the melody of a given tune. I’ve never been quite sure what this means musically, but I recognise it when I hear it. Suffice to say, it is classed as modern rather than trad jazz.
In listening to The Hoodangers, each of these styles can be discerned, with a further difference lying in the rhythms chosen to support the frontline. One can hear rock’n’roll, ska, reggae, and R & B beats driving the tunes. While this is unnerving initially, the tunes both old and original sound remarkably fresh and exciting. Most listeners to trad jazz” are familiar with the “jam” - when the frontline improvises simultaneously in a riot of sound, which at its best has a coherence despite its apparent anarchy. The jam occurs in most trad groups as an occasional finale to a piece, which for most of the tune comprised a series of predictable solos from the frontline, and occasionally from the rhythm section. For The Hoodangers, the jam appears to occur with much greater frequency, and with frenetic, unconventional ensemble excursions.
An additional element to their performance is visual: a sense of mania, mayhem, and edgy unpredictability pervades the scene. This air of uncertainty, irreverence, and outrageousness is saved from being discomforting by the quirky sense of good-natured humour which pervades the band. They are reminiscent of a bunch of school students unsupervised on their first trip to the city. The humour evident in the lyrics of their tunes (I Want a Cabby from Another Country) is countered by savage political comment (This Garden State is on the Take), and hometown appreciation (Northcote). Many of their tunes are original (Danger Suite), some (Tom Waits - Evening Train) are imaginatively reworked, and a few standards are included.
St Huberts Vineyard in the beautiful Yarra Valley has had a summer music program for quite a few years. Though it was once a monthly affair, now 4 Sunday events comprise the program. Entitled Wine, Women and Song the program begins on Nov 14 (1-4pm) with (singer) Nichaud Fitzgibbon, supported by brother Mark (piano), Phillip Rex (bass), and Danny Fischer (drums).
Dec 12, Kerri Simpson leads Dean Addison (bass), Andy Swann (drums) and Ben Grayson (Hammond).
Feb 13, Michelle Nicole with Ted Vining Trio, with Ted (drums), Bob Sedergreen (piano), Barry Buckley (bass). April 9, Nina Ferro with Michael Harding (?) and Dean Cooper (?).
Another date to keep in mind is Saturday night, December 11 at the Eyton-On-Yarra vineyard (near Healesville) for the first of this summer’s marvellous outdoor concerts. A talented latin jazz band, led by pianist Sam Keevers, is known as Un Grupo Cabrones (A Pack of Bastards). There is something very special about sitting out by a lake, sipping wine, watching the sun sink, and watching and listening to fine music among a happy crowd. The setting is a natural amphitheatre, so being able to see is no problem. The band performs from within a sound shell and amplification is superb, so clear easily-heard music can be achieved from any part of the amphitheatre. Most people bring rugs to lounge in, though the older, stiffer-limbed fogies prefer to employ deckchairs, only allowed further away from the stage.
Yarra Valley in depth By Max Allen
Fifteen years ago, you could have driven through the Yarra Valley almost without realising you were in one of Australia's most celebrated wine regions. Apart from the odd patch of vines here and there, and the odd sign pointing to cellar doors down dirt tracks, very few major vineyards and wineries were visible from the highway.
Sure, makers such as Mount Mary and Yarra Yering had created a reputation for the region's wines. And the popular wineries such as Fergusson and Kellybrook had built up some solid tourism loyalty. But the Yarra Valley didn't feel like a real wine region in the same way that, oh I don't know, the Barossa always has, or Coonawarra.
Flash forward to the end of 1999, though, and it's a very different story indeed. Follow the Maroondah Highway out of Melbourne, through Lilydale and down into the wide, blue-mountain-rimmed bowl of the Yarra Valley. Now you now speed past row after row of young vines fringed with green, past ever-more glamorous winery buildings jostling for your attention and paddock after paddock, cleared and ready to be turned into yet another vineyard.
The Yarra Valley has exploded in the last ten years. Nobody knows how many vineyards there are now: it could be well over 250, amounting to perhaps 4,000 hectares of vines, making it the largest premium wine region in Victoria by far.
This is the Valley's second boom time. In the 1880s, three large vineyards and their attendant glamorous wineries dominated the region's then-flourishing industry. Yering, St Huberts and Yeringberg had been established in the 1850s and '60s by emigre Swiss aristocrats, and each was built on a far-from-humble scale: in 1888 alone, St Huberts comprised 300 acres of vines and was holding 200,000 gallons of wine in its capacious cellars.
By the 1920s, however, the vineyards were almost all gone. Changing tastes, changing times, all contributed to the valley's viticultural demise. In the 1940s, Francois de Castella, son of one of the original vignerons, famously hoped that the region's vineyards would 'arise once more like the legendary phoenix.'
In the 1950s and '60s, the phoenix began to stir. People like John Middleton at Mount Mary and Bailey Carrodus at Yarra Yering planted vines and began making wine. Others followed throughout the next couple of decades, mostly small-scale, weekend vignerons.
In the mid-80s, things shifted up a gear when De Bortoli, Coldstream Hills and Domaine Chandon entered the fray. And, as I say, the 1990s have seen the most extraordinary activity, with most of the industry's major players now involved in some way or another, and a whole host of little producers emerging. The Phoenix has not only arisen; it's flapping its wings like crazy.
But is it all too fast? Can the rate of growth be sustained? And if it can, can the Yarra Valley be developed in such a way that prevents it turning into what the Napa has become an over-commercialised Disneyland of wine?
Frost can strike with devastating results here, as it did in late September 1997, dramatically reducing the 1998 crop. Controlling diseases such as botrytis and downy mildew is a constant battle. Although the devastating vine louse, phylloxera, never really reached the Yarra Valley last century, there is no reason to think it might not appear one day. And for the larger scale commercial vineyards, the availability of water will always be a potential limiting factor.
More importantly, the more successful the Yarra Valley becomes, the more it will attract people with dollar signs in their eyes, rather than passion - people dangerously unaware of these problems and pitfalls. And the more frantic the rate of planting, the more likely the occurrence of a backlash from already vocal local conservation groups. The legendary Phoenix, you may remember, set fire to itself.
Fact File The almost alarming rate of growth means that reliable figures are hard to come by, but here goes... Vineyard area: at least 2,500 hectares, probably much more Number of Vineyards: over 200 Number of wineries/brands: 53 Sub-regions: central area around Lilydale, Coldstream and Yering; northern area around Dixons Creek; southern area around Seville and Yarra Junction; north-eastern area around St Andrews Heat Degree Days measure: between about 1000 in the cooler vineyards down south near Yarra Junction and 1500 up in the north near Dixons Creek - a better way of describing this variation is by saying the Yarra Valley as a whole is warmer than Burgundy but cooler than Bordeaux Annual rainfall: between 900 and 1500 mm Mean January temperature: 19.4C Harvest: early March (chardonnay and pinot for sparkling) to late May (cabernet and petit verdot in a cooler year) Soil: differing soil types, from fertile red volcanic down south in the cooler, hillier parts near Seville, through boring grey-brown alluvial soils, sometimes over rocky subsoils in the central part around Coldstream and Yering
Yarra Valley Wine Styles In its 19th century heyday, the Yarra Valley was known for its European-style light table wines - particularly long-lived fragrant white wine (made from marsanne) and elegant, Bordeaux-like cabernet sauvignon.
The modern era's reputation has been founded mostly on complex, white-peach and cashew-flavoured chardonnay and gamey, foresty, succulent pinot noir (the two most widely-planted varieties in the area). But there is a growing awareness that, particularly from good vintages such as 1997 and 1998, cabernet (and the more recent addition, merlot) often makes the valley's best wines: wines that combine an intensity of cassis and cedar flavour with an almost deceptive delicacy.
Despite a couple of good wines made from marsanne and its older brother, roussanne, the Yarra's other main white wine style is the semillon/sauvignon blanc blend, which can succeed in both the herbaceous, crunchy unwooded mould, or the richer, more complex barrel-fermented version.
The most contentious variety in the valley, though, is shiraz. Its critics claim that the region is simply too cool for this warm-climate grape, producing lean, green wines. Its supporters say that when it is grown in a good, north-facing site, cropped low and from a good, warm year, it makes brilliantly spicy, taut, elegant red wine.
The cooler parts of the valley are also superb for the production of high-quality sparkling wine grapes, but the region's best wines - Domaine Chandon and Yarrabank - are usually blends of Yarra fruit with fruit from other areas such as the Mornington Peninsula.
Yarra Valley Vintages 1990-1999 by Max Allen.
Max Allen Max Allen is the editor of Wine Planet. He is Australia's first recipient of the prestigious Andre Simon Memorial Award for his book "Red and White, Wine Made Simple". Previous Max Allen articles can be read in the Media Room.
10 Ludicrous Wine Terms
Let's face it, describing wine can be a self-indulgent, flowery, even faintly ridiculous affair at times. You know the kind of thing: ''This wine has a nose like a wheelbarrow overflowing with blood plums and veal stock, and explodes on the tongue with a cascade of tart little youngberries and black cumin seeds. Leaves one breathless, and gasping for more. A steal at $5.95.''
Occasionally, though, some bizarre tasting terms hit the descriptive nail on the head so effectively that they pass into (relatively) common usage. Here, then, are some of the wine world's more treasured gems - poetic terms that you may want to tuck up your sleeve for later. I hope, however, that you never find them all in the one glass at the same time.
Sweaty saddle - A classic Australian tasting term that was used to describe the slightly feral, leathery, warm smell of mature reds from the Hunter Valley. Used to be a term of reverent praise until some wowser pointed out that the smell was often derived from careless winemaking.
Petrol - Believe it or not, mature (say ten-year-old) riesling can sometimes smell uncannily like Mobil's finest. If only we could buy ten-year-old riesling for just 69 cents a litre ...
Cigar-box - Go and stick your nose into a box of cigars. Take a deep sniff. Now pour yourself a glass of old coolish-climate cabernet sauvignon and stick your hooter in that. You may find that the cabernet smells a bit like the cigar-box. Spooky.
Wet dog - Love this expression. It accurately describes the smell of a wine with excessive sulphur dioxide, but does so in a way that makes you think the wine has been shaken from a large, stupid, panting Old English sheepdog.
Smoked oysters - A bit tenuous, this one, but some people swear that old sparkling wine that has spent many years on lees (where the wine is in contact with the dead yeast cells in the bottle) can smell just like smoked oysters. Hmmm.
Cold tea - Another classic tasting term, this refers to the liquorous, deep, slightly malty aroma and flavour of that great old fortified wine, tokay from Rutherglen. Assam or darjeeling, vicar?
Oatmeal - Very trendy term at the moment, describing the wheaty, savoury smells that good barrel-fermented chardonnay can display. Drop this one into the conversation at your next dinner party and watch the eyes bulge with admiration.
Tar and roses - Only those red-blooded, romantic Italians could dream up poetry like this: it is the classic tasting note for wines made from the nebbiolo grape, originally found in the hills of Piedmont. Sounds more like a rock group, but there you go.
Cat's Piss - In its home of the Loire Valley in France, the sauvignon blanc grape (when it's good, mind) can produce wines that smell just like Tiddles' litter tray. And people will pay good money for the pleasure of drinking the stuff. Honest.
Shit - Really scraping the bottom of the list here, but this would have to be the mother of all far-fetched tasting terms. It is, according to those in the know, what the very greatest wines made from pinot noir should taste of. Deeelicious.
Max Allen This article originally appeared in The Age Epicure 'Uncorked' magazine in June 1997.