The thing I love most about wine is the stories it tells. Not just those of the land, the fruit, and the winemaker, but my own stories from my own experiences in the world of wine. I sat down to a wine lunch with Bob Campbell MW and five other food and lifestyle writers from Australia and Auckland late last year. This is a little story about it, but as always with wine and with me, expert diversions.
We were having lunch at Seafarers because Emirates wanted us to tell you about the fine wine offering on their Trans Tasman business class flights. The airline buys millions of dollars worth of New Zealand wine every year, and they serve it on flights all over the world. Each of those bottles is like a little ambassador for our country, telling its story and creating new ones wherever it goes.
You probably think I’m romanticising things, and I am a little… I’ve watched wine being made, and I know it’s not that romantic at the time – trucks full of grapes, great steel pipes and very tall gumboots, late nights, early mornings, the stress of poor weather and sleep deprivation. Vintage is not a particularly romantic time, but the outcome of it is. Each year millions of bottles all over the world give a beautiful snapshot of a specific time and place: shafts of sunshine and days of rain, frost and wind.
I became a wine tourist at the age of 16 without even realizing it when I was taken to Margaret River, a famous wine region in Western Australia, by some family friends, and we did a wine tasting. I can’t remember the name of the winery, all I remember is hearing the woman at the cellar door tell the story of each wine as we tasted it. I took home a precious bottle of very pale rose to my parents. I was hooked.
When I turned 21, my sister and I decided to forgo a party in favour of our first big trip together. We bought a terrible little car in the UK and drove it through France and Spain for five weeks with our mum in the days before Google maps. It was a true adventure, with so many stories that have become almost mythical in memory.
On the day of our 21st birthday we arrived in Epernay in the Champagne region of France. This was planned, for what better place to celebrate a significant birthday than in the home of the world’s most beloved celebratory drink? We did a tour of the caves at Moet and Chandon and I was introduced to the process of making champagne for the first time. The kilometres of dusty bottles under the earth, aging on their ‘lees’ – the yeast sediment that gives the wine it’s golden hue and brioche-y flavours, and it’s bubbles. I saw the rows of riddling racks, designed to gather that sediment at the head of the bottle in time for disgorgement. I learnt about the bead and the mousse – the very fine bubbles that champagne is famed for. It was incredible, and we were so delighted that we eventually drank too many glasses, fell asleep in the afternoon and missed dinner entirely. It was quite a birthday.
Let’s not tell her that I put this photo up. She won’t forgive me.
A few days later, we entered the Chablis region, famed for its crisp, mineral Chardonnays. We stayed in a quaint little hotel and at dinner that night my sister was recommended the shellfish. She fell ill with food poisoning, and spent the remainder of our stay in the adorable village staring at a toilet bowl. She couldn’t look at a bottle of Chablis for years.
Back to the lunch though. We began on the Seafarers rooftop with a glass of Moet and Chandon, the champagne served on Emirates Business Class flights, and immediately my mind took me back to Epernay, to twenty-one years old. Bob Campbell turned our lunch into a test of sorts. With each of the three courses, we were served two wines, and we had to guess what they were. Having seen the movie Somm, I expected it to be impossible.
He made the first one easy for us by telling us one wine was a Chablis, and the other was an Australian Chardonnay. I sipped the wine on the left and it had the crisp, mineral flavour that my sister still says reminds her of bile (sorry). On the right, the wine was more golden-coloured, heavier, with a distinctive oaky flavour that some new world Chardonnays are known for. It was from Margaret River. I sipped on my Chablis while nibbling on tortellini and Brussels sprouts, and crispy duck from the Ostro kitchen. I remembered a particular moment when we were driving out of Chablis and my sister demanded I pull over so she could throw up, but the road was bordered with high cobbled walls and there was nowhere to stop.
On our next lunchtime adventure into the wine world, we were presented with two reds, and asked to guess the varietal. I didn’t have a clue. They were both fruit forward, but one had a distinctly green, waxy scent that Delaney Mes suggested was green capsicum. I love a green red wine. I love pinot that’s been whole-bunch pressed so every sip builds jungle gyms on your palate. It turned out to be a Shiraz from the Yarra Valley, a beautiful spot just north of Melbourne where my mum lives. No wonder I loved it. I had actually tried that particular wine before, called Jamsheed, made by a winemaker who travels Australia buying up interesting grapes to turn into surprising wines. I tried it at a wine bar on Gertrude St in Melbourne called Marion.
The second wine was more familiar, so I deduced it must be from New Zealand. I was right, it was a Burn Cottage Pinot Noir from Central Otago – somehow totally representative of the varietal and the region, but also fruitier and fuller on the palate. With our reds we ate rolled turkey and tender beef cheek and a crispy-skinned market fish with a whole host of sides. I was full and rosy-cheeked, and there was still dessert to come.
We finished with two ports, or fortified reds. Cleverly, the crew at Seafarers served them with a cheese board, which was a perfect balance for the delicate and very sweet wines. Sweet red wine has a special place in my heart because the love of my life and I drank a whole bottle on our second date. I don’t know if they’re good wines for falling in love, generally, but that one certainly worked for me.
Our beautiful, and unexpectedly nostalgic lunch ended with a taxi ride to the airport, because now that we knew about Emirates’ business class wine offering, they were sending us all to experience it first hand. Keep reading to hear about my favourite Melbourne experiences from the adventure.
A huge thank you to Emirates for giving me and my fellow lifestyle enthusiasts this mad, wonderful experience.