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  • A brew on the wild side

    Experimental: The founders of Abbotsford's Moon Dog Craft Brewery, Karl van Buuren, and Josh and Jake Uljans. Photo: Ken Irwin The founders of Abbotsford's Moon Dog Craft Brewery. Photo: Ken Irwin
    Nanjing Night Net

    You can't see it but you can certainly taste it. It worries winemakers and delights a growing breed of brewers. What is it? It's a funky little wild yeast called Brettanomyces (Brett for short), increasingly prized by the most adventurous craft brewers because - when used skilfully - it adds complexity and depth to their beers.

    Not that winemakers are convinced. "I can see why wineries are paranoid, as their wines can age on oak for years, giving Brett plenty of time to alter the flavours," says James Brown of La Sirene, an Alphington brewery that uses the yeast in a beer called Wild Saison. "I've just been to [Northern Californian brewery] Russian River in the Sonoma Valley, where some winemakers won't even come in for a beer, lest they leave with some Brett on their shoes!"

    The reason for this is to do with Brett's tenacity (it can live for many years in oak) and its opinion-polarising flavour. "I would describe Brett as 'horsey/goaty' or 'Band-aid'," says Brown, 38. "I know this doesn't sound very appealing but … there's a sense of 'Old World'. These days, everything is manufactured so cleanly, so purely, that these more rustic, challenging flavours are rarely experienced."

    The most famous breweries to use wild yeast are the Lambic producers of Brussels and the Senne Valley in Belgium. The likes of Cantillon, which has been brewing in the Belgian capital for more than a century, believe that the use of wild yeast ensures that their beer perfectly expresses the local terroir. Winemakers fear Brett can do the opposite: it destroys fruit character and therefore masks their product's native flavours, they argue.

    Cantillon's devotion to the traditional method used to produce Lambic has inspired brewers around the world, including Josh Uljans at Moon Dog Craft Brewery in Abbotsford.

    "A few years back, [my business partner] Karl van Buuren and I made the pilgrimage to the Cantillon Brewery," says Uljans. "It was so inspiring to taste beers that were so perfectly crafted, but made in a way that is so completely different to modern brewing methods. We knew that we wanted to make wild beers that paid homage to the traditional Lambic breweries, but at the same time we wanted to put our own spin on the beers."

    Brett's rise in popularity has come courtesy of the growing interest in experimental brewing, and the increasing demand for sour beers - Brett does not produce sourness but is often used alongside bacteria that does.

    Moon Dog uses Brett in conjunction with oak barrels and fruit in order to produce a complex, unusual beer. "We've got a pretty decent collection of oak barrels that we use: ex-bourbon barrels, cognac barrels, pinot and shiraz barrels, French, American and Hungarian oak," says Uljans. "They all provide their own unique characters that we pick to work with the flavours of the Brett. Right now we've got heaps of shiraz barrels from Mitchelton Winery filled up with our Perverse Sexual Amalgam [a dark wild ale] with cherry plums."

    The rising popularity of Brett is shining new light on the critical role yeast plays in brewing (and, indeed, winemaking). Much of the focus of the recent craft-beer movement has been on hops, but cannier brewers have always known that yeast is the real star: you only have to taste beers made by British family brewers like Fuller's, in London, and Adnams, in Suffolk, to realise what a big difference yeasts make to beers produced using fairly similar ingredients.

    "Yeast's unpredictability appeals to me," says Brown. "You get the same, repeatable flavours from malt and hops, but yeasts are so sensitive to environmental factors (such as temperature, nutrients, etc), that you can make completely different beers with the same strain. We have only scratched the surface of Brett's potential in brewing."

    Leading the way in investigating this potential are American brewers like the aforementioned Russian River, which has built a worldwide reputation despite distributing only in a handful of American states. It's a sign that craft-beer drinkers are now ready for more challenging flavours, Brown believes. "The reaction to the Wild Saison has been very positive," he says. "I think that beer tends to attract the more adventurous drinker. I don't think Brett beers will ever be top-sellers, but I think there is still a lot of room for growth."

    Uljans agrees. "Some people that haven't tried them before are a bit shocked by the flavours, but once you explain where the flavours come from and what you're trying to achieve - the balance of flavours, structure and mouth feel - most people want to try more."

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Mr sippy: Shirley, the queen of mocktails

    Say what you like about Academy Awards, Nobel prizes, Victoria Crosses and grand slams, the true mark of having burrowed into the public imagination is having a drink named after you.
    Nanjing Night Net

    Of course, it helps if people remember the drink. There are any number of cocktails named after famous people - the David Bowie (chocolate liqueur and bourbon), the Joan Collins (vodka, grapefruit, sugar and soda water), the Jean Harlow (light rum and sweet vermouth) - that rarely, if ever, see the light of day. Which is what makes the Shirley Temple, named after the child star who died this month, so legendary.

    Not only does the Shirley Temple live on, 80 years or so since it was first concocted for underaged superstar Shirley (at the Brown Derby on Wiltshire, or Chasen's in Beverly Hills, or the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki, depending on whose story you believe), but it does so without any help from booze and with most people not knowing exactly what's in it. This sweet, pink mixture of ginger ale and grenadine, served in a glass full of ice and topped with a maraschino cherry, is the queen of mocktails.

    Mocktails are treated with a certain amount of derision, which is a fair enough default setting, especially if they're of the unimaginative sort that take a perfectly good cocktail - a bloody mary or a margarita, for example - and simply leave out the alcohol. A similarly hamfisted approach is to make overly colourful, sickly sweet concoctions, bristling with a thousand garnishes as if all the colour, movement and sugar will keep you from noticing the lack of booze. But it needn't be this way.

    To make a mocktail worth drinking by an adult, it's best to keep it thirst-quenching with some citric sharpness or bitterness in the mix. Tonic water, bitters, fresh citrus juices, syrups infused with botanicals such as juniper, pomegranate juice, soda and mineral water, even products such as verjuice and good-quality chardonnay vinegar (such as Spain's Forum) can make drinks that are sophisticated rather than embarrassingly childish.

    Infused syrups are probably the mocktail makers' best friend. You make these by heating a simple sugar syrup (usually one part sugar to one part water) and infusing it with anything from herbs and flowers to citrus, ginger, chilli, vanilla or even tea.

    Best of all, these less flashy, more adult mocktails will all easily take a shot of alcohol if so required, something that Shirley Temple herself worked out after she reached drinking age. To the mocktail named for her, she would either substitute alcoholic ginger beer for the ginger ale or she would add a shot of dark rum, naming the drink the Shirley Temple Black. Here's to Shirley.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Georgia on winemaker’s mind

    John Wurdeman. Photo: SuppliedBlame the traditional winemakers of Georgia, the former USSR state. They're behind the trend towards fermenting white wine on its skins in clay amphorae, concrete eggs and other strange vessels. It's loosely known as ''orange'' wine, and it's part of the ''natural'' wine movement that's taking root in many wineries, across Australia and the world.
    Nanjing Night Net

    The Georgians call their clay vessels qvevri (pronounced kwevri) and they're hardly new. The Georgians have been fermenting in these 2000 to 4000-litre clay vessels for thousands of years. They never stopped doing it: the modern wine movement, with its stainless-steel tanks, crusher-destemmers and French oak barriques, had little impact on Georgia.

    According to a Georgian winemaker who attended the recent Rootstock Sydney wine festival, John Wurdeman of Pheasant's Tears winery, the qvevri is the only vessel used in Georgia. They've been used there for 8000 to 9000 years. "The qvevri is lined with acacia wax and buried in the earth," he explains. "It breathes like a barrel but imparts no flavour or tannin to the wine."

    Today, qvevri are so fashionable throughout the winemaking world that even the Georgians must join a long queue to buy new ones.

    Wurdeman, whose Pheasant's Tears wines have recently become available in Australia through importer Vinous Solutions, isn't a native Georgian: he's United States-born. An artist, he went to Moscow to study painting and, while there, learnt Russian. Then he discovered Georgia, fell in love with Georgian polyphony, a unique kind of choral part-singing, and went to live there, collecting musical recordings. He then learnt Georgian, as you do, which wasn't simple as it's a totally different language to Russian.

    The Georgians have a vibrant tradition of music, food and wine, and Wurdeman quickly realised that whenever they drank and ate, they also sang, and whenever they sang, they ate and drank. Then he fell in love with Georgian wine, and resolved to make his own. In 2007 he established a wine-producing business with eighth-generation Georgian winemaker, Gela Paliashvili.

    Pheasant's Tears has 12 hectares of vines in one province and seven hectares in another, and produces 38,000 bottles of wine a year. Its vines are managed according to biodynamic principles and have an organic certification.

    Orange wines are fashionable in a fringe kind of way, and you'll find them on many smart restaurant wine lists, including Bentley, Fix St James, Quay and Momofuku Seiobo.

    Wurdeman prefers the term amber wine, rather than orange.

    "They're not white and they're not red, but in between," he says.

    They're amber because they've been fermented with their skins: Pheasant's Tears' amber wines spend between one and six months on skins. This is most unusual, and much longer than the reds, which have a more normal 10 days to four weeks' skin maceration.

    Not surprisingly, the amber wines are quite tannic because, as Wurdeman says, they're meant to go with food. This was graphically demonstrated to me. I tasted all eight wines he had brought, firstly without food, and then with food. The most charming, aromatic and easy to comprehend (to a regular Aussie palate) was the rkatsiteli, which is widely planted and is the preferred wine of Georgians. It lends itself to long times on skins, up to six months. The '09 was high in aroma and freshness, and low in tannin - notwithstanding the long time on skins. I could happily drink this without food.

    The 2011 Kisi was formidably grippy and a little charmless. It was my least favourite white without food, but with food it suddenly became my favourite. It was transformed. And the rkatsiteli, which had been my favourite without food, did not satisfy at all with food. It lacked the structure to accompany food. My preferences were reversed. Without leading the witness, Wurdeman had made his point.

    Pheasant's Tears produces wine from six varieties, all vitis vinifera and all indigenous to Georgia.

    The wines are quite confronting, although not as difficult to taste as I had feared. There were no objectionable faults such as volatile acidity, sulphides, brettanomyces, mousiness or excessive oxidation - although I would have to say most drinkers accustomed to modern white wines may find the amber wines taste slightly oxidised, but not detrimentally. Wurdeman believes in giving his wines a little sulphur dioxide before bottling.Pheasant's Tears

    Dry Unfiltered Amber Wines

    Chinuri 2011 $56 - One month on skins. Full amber hue, gingerbread aroma, soft light tannins.

    Mtsvane 2011 - Three months on skins. Full orange-amber hue, vaguely citrusy, orange-peel and fruit compote aromas. Quite tannic.

    Kisi 2011 $56 - Dried apricot, cooked fruit and crushed-seashell aromas. Very grippy tannins. This makes a statement.

    Rkatsiteli 2009 $56 - Full orange-amber hue, spicy stone-fruit aromas, almost as spicy as traminer. Fruity, soft, round and balanced; low tannin.

    Unfiltered red wines

    Takveri 2012 $56 (due late April) - Ten days on skins. Clear, bright, deep red-purple; clean spicy and ironstone aromas. Light-bodied, soft and spicy taste, with gentle structure.

    Saperavi 2007 $56 (due late April) - Four weeks on skins; two years in qvevri. Deep, dark colour; intense black fruits, licorice and spice aromas; very savoury, with ample but smooth tannins and good length. Full bodied but nothing like the inky monsters saperavi makes in Australia.

    Retailers: Vintage Cellars Ultimo, Cremorne Cellars, The Oak Barrel.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • 25 wines for $25 or less

    Riesling is a good value grape. Photo: Jennifer SooWe demand so much of a value wine, don't we? It can't simply refresh, be nice to drink or be a good little quaffer. No, a value wine has to over-deliver for the price. It has to excite, lead the tastebuds on a bit of a journey around the mouth, give complete drinker satisfaction and still come in under the $25 mark. Here are 25 wines perfect for warm-weather drinking that also happen to tick the value box.
    Nanjing Night Net

    1. Glaetzer-Dixon 2012 Uberblanc Riesling($24)

    Nick Glaetzer pursues riesling with fineness, tight line and length, and a gentle reserve. A seminal riesling-making experience in 2001 in Germany influenced the Tasmanian winemaker's style, shown here so effectively with refined citrus-floral beauty.

    2. St John's Road Peace of Eden 2013 Eden Valley Riesling ($18)

    With its juicy, mouthwatering lemoniness, smooth glide and depth of flavour, this delicious and inexpensive drop punches way above its weight. You have Phil Lehmann as the winemaker and an excellent vintage working together - perfect match.

    3. Stonier 2012 Chardonnay ($24)

    Stonier makes five excellent chardonnays from Mornington Peninsula fruit. This is what some might call the ''standard'' wine, made with fewer bells and whistles. It's still far from standard. Deliciously restrained, fruit and acidity are nicely poised.

    4. Devil's Lair The Hidden Cave 2012 Margaret River Cabernet Shiraz ($22.99)

    Cabernet is the structure and shiraz is the pleasure in this trad Oz red blend, which works on being open and friendly right from the get-go with sweet fruit to the fore. Ripe black and red fruits, crushed cranberries for bite and mild tannins smooth the way.

    5. Pizzini 2013 King Valley Prosecco ($19.50)

    So clean, so lemony-fresh with striking acidity to cleanse the palate, prosecco is not a complex wine. It's not meant to be. The Italian grape loves life whether it's solo, in a cocktail, served over summer fruits or as granita or jelly.

    6. Sam Scott La Prova 2013 Rosato ($23)

    Last month, I named Sam Scott's Adelaide Hills cool rosé´ as best rosé´ of 2013. This month I'm going a step further, calling it best rosé´ of summer 2014. With its pretty tea rose colour, scent of raspberries and sweet strawberries, and moreish dry, dusty, lightly savoury, cherry flavour, it ticks all the boxes.

    7. Oakdene 2011 Blue Label Pinot Noir ($24)

    Bravely, Oakdene declassified its pinot from the 2011 vintage. It's a charming, drink-now wine, a zippy little Bellarine Peninsula pinot that goes down very easily indeed. A big mouthful of spice-dusted cherries.

    8. Jacob's Creek 2012 Riesling ($10)

    It's been said before but it's worth repeating: this is the best under-$20 Aussie white wine around. Nothing more to say.

    9. Red Claw 2012 Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir ($23.50)

    This is the wine to disarm those pinotphiles who reckon you have to pay big money to get something half-decent. You don't. Crunchy red-berry fruits abound. Don't be scared to chill a bottle when the sun scorches.

    10. Deviation Road 2013 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc ($24)

    Deviation Road deviates from the herbaceous screaming sav blanc. Nectarine, passionfruit, ruby grapefruit with a savoury herbal finish and appealing texture make this wine extremely food-friendly.

    11. De Bortoli Vinoque 2012 Yarra Valley Gamay Noir ($25, cellar door)

    A pretty name (apparently it means "which wine" in Latin) for a pretty wine sourced from the Roundstone Vineyard, which suffered in the '09 bushfires. The owners now sell their grapes to De Bortoli, who keep things deliciously simple, bringing black cherry flavours to the fore.

    12. Sutton Grange 2013 Fairbank Rosé´ ($22)

    Made by Burgundy-born Gilles Lapalus with - dare I suggest - a French-motivated sense of what a dry rosé´ should be, along with a touch of savouriness. It belongs on the list of Australia's best rosé´s.

    13. Tahbilk 2013 Marsanne ($17)

    The Aussie marsanne by which others are judged, this unwooded, bare-bones Rhone white grape gives the gentlest honeysuckle-jasmine touch. It's beautifully understated and is extremely drinkable now but built for age.

    14. Josef Chromy Pepik 2012 Pinot Noir ($23)

    If you're looking for a wine to serve alongside barbecued quail, antipasto, salt-and-pepper calamari, baked snapper - or indeed just about any summer dish - this versatile pinot noir fits the bill.

    15. Oliver's Taranga 2013 Fiano ($24)

    There's no oak and no added acid. Just plenty of solid fruit from nectarine to citrus, a little pear skin and even some of that preserved citrus-rind character that immediately lifts a wine into savouriness.

    16. Coriole 2012 Sangiovese ($25)

    Why do Italian red grapes make for such excellent summer drinking? They're medium-bodied, lower in alcohol than many trad Oz shirazes, less oak-reliant and savoury. Coriole defines the style to the letter.

    17. Scarborough 2013 Green Label Hunter Valley Semillon ($20)

    Scarborough's flagship White Label semillon is in the classic mould - built to last. Its Green Label offers the alternative - drink-now, succulent fruits, pleasing texture and acid for zing.

    18. YarraLoch 2011 Estate Arneis ($25)

    Another Italian white grape that likes it super-dry and almost neutral in flavour, save for a sheerest veneer of pears, stone fruits and an Italian-like almond character.

    19. Tar & Roses 2013 Strathbogie Ranges Pinot Grigio ($18)

    It's almost rose in colour, but that's because the winemakers haven't removed the pink blush as many do. A solid grigio with an arresting saline spiciness.

    20. Dal Zotto 2012 King Valley Barbera ($25)

    I'm thinking pulled lamb on a bun with spicy harissa slaw and a glass of this, a wine that takes spice in its stride and loves lamb so completely. Smooth and just a bit rustic.

    21. Voyager Estate Girt By Sea 2011 Cabernet Merlot ($24)

    Girt By Sea opens up easy and is so accessible right now. A soft, understated elegance here with fresh, pulpy red berries and just a whisper of oak. Lightly chill if desired.

    22. Mawson's Cape Denison 2013 Limestone Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95)

    The connection between the Wrattonbully wine region and Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson seems tenuous, but forget that and just enjoy this simple tropical fruit-accentuated savvy that is sufficiently dry enough to raise it above the average. .

    23. Wynn's 2013 Coonawarra Riesling ($24.99)

    Get this while it's young, punchy and full of tangy citrus fruit. As Coonawarra gives backbone to cabernet, so the region's fruit offers a rod of steel to riesling.

    24. Yalumba Eden Valley 2012 Roussanne ($24.95)

    Can't say I see the "pink flowers, blood orange and biscotti" referred to on the back label. To me it's more like fresh herbs, lantana, pear and gunflint.

    25. Taltarni T Series Chardonnay Pinot Noir Sparkling ($17)

    A generous, confected mouthful of stone fruits and honeyed nougat with quiet acidity, but acidity nonetheless. Cool on a hot day.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Malthouse not bothered by Carlton’s loss to Adelaide

    Carlton coach Mick Malthouse admitted it was a minor concern that he was unable to nominate a best player for his side, but said his primary objective against Adelaide on Monday night was for his players returning from injury to get through the game unscathed.
    Nanjing Night Net

    The Blues were overrun in the last quarter, with the Crows eventually winning by 38 points after what was a terribly sloppy and unattractive first half.

    Malthouse said with six senior players – Kade Simpson, Dale Thomas, Heath Scotland, Michael Jamison, Jeff Garlett and Matthew Kreuzer – all playing their first games of the year after injury-interrupted pre-seasons, it was always likely the team would flag in the last quarter.

    Bryce Gibbs and Chris Yarran sat out the final term after suffering minor soreness.

    "I said to the players before the game, if we win we will tick it, if we lose I will make an excuse to the media. But I don’t have to make an excuse … it was almost predictable that six of our players who had been out of action coming back were never going to impact the action in the last half," Malthouse said of the loss in which Adelaide kicked six goals (including one super goal) to the Blues’ single goal in the last quarter.

    "It was most important that they got running. In this case, most of them played approximately the minutes that we wanted them to play but knowing full well that under pressure they were always going to be head down cramped pretty much 'let’s get this game over’.

    "Dale, I thought he was good, I thought he gave us a bit, predictably like the other boys that played (he tired).

    "Garlett has had one possession in the last quarter predictably; Jamison has had four. I suppose the ball was down there a fair bit; Scotland has had two or three; Simpson had three or four; Thomas had two. It was predictable.

    "The most important thing was that they got through."

    Malthouse said he was pleased that – the final quarter blowout notwithstanding – defensively the team was better structured and organised than last year.

    "To try and pick our best player was a long way short of being our best player whoever it was. Because we didn’t have a best player and that is a bit of a concern, but it is the second game of the year and we are not into round one.

    "The most important thing today was whether we got a few defensive things right, and by and large we took some pretty significant steps there from last year. Can it hold up? We have to pick our best 22 players and see if it does hold up."

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.