Matt Skinner, an affable bloke from Australia who recently published Heard it Through the Grapevine, conducted an Australian wine tasting at City Winery on Varick Street. Part tutorial, part tasting, and part promotion, the event took place in the belly of City Winery, at tables with little room to elbow or aggressively swirl, beneath towering stainless steel tanks. Six wines were served, accompanied by a colored-by-region map of Australia, to which Skinner often referred, and a credit card sized fold-out of the country’s best marriages between regions and varietals.
While the crowd milled and sat, half-glasses of sparkling wine were passed–Clover Hill Tasmania Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004 ($34). Toasty and yeasty on the nose and palate (from its time on lees and French oak), the chardonnay fruit faded as minerality steped up to finish the act. With a full house, Matt began with an introduction and segued into glass holding techniques. Picking up a glass of Keith Tulloch Hunter Valley Semillion 2007, he instructed that we should hold our glasses “like a pencil” and not warm the bowl, before proceeding to explain glassware, and how to swirl without spilling wine. Initially quite vegetal on the nose, the Semillion quickly transformed, offering lemon and lime, a puckering acidity, and a talc like texture–the wine’s mineral backbone, that at times was slightly reminiscent of a burnt match.
Looking every bit the rocker with shoulder length wavy hair and twisted black rubber bracelets, Matt proceed to field questions gracefully, explaining that if a wine tastes of plum or gooseberry, this is no indication that the winemaker has added said fruits. Next up, Kilikanoon “Mort’s Block” Clare Valley Riesling 2008 ($20), which showed lemon and lime, baking spices, minerality, and a citrus-specific-acidity.
To another question from a predominantly Aussie audience, Skinner expressed that he favors celebrating diversity in Australia, welcoming a host of grapes, rather than relying on Parkerized varietals such as big-mouth Shiraz. Moving onto the lightest red of the night–De Bortoli “Gulf Station” Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2007 ($20), Matt discussed the benefits of drinking from a Pinot Noir specific glass. Pale ruby in color, this wine offered dark cherry, earth, a touch of smoke, and soft acidity with silky tannins–quite Old World and quaffable in comparison the fruit-bomb Shiraz up next.
St Hallett “Faith” Barossa Valley Shiraz 2007 ($16), a jammy black fruit wine with leather and spice, a touch of graphite (pencil shavings), and chewy in the mouth.
Lastly we sipped the fullest wine of the night, Leeuwin Estate “Art Series” Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($45), before being offered a chance to purchase Skinner’s most recent book. Full of black current, plum, and undergrowth forest earth, the “Art Series” Cabernet was soft on acidity and fruity, with French oak tannins. Cabernet needs “well hung” meat, suggested Skinner, drawing a glass full of laughter from each in the crowd. And when we were finished, I stepped up to pour through Matt’s most recent publication that “took fifteen years to conceive and eight weeks to write.” Heard it Through the Grapevine was scripted with a colloquial voice, using bold type and pictures that illustrate text. With chapters on Shopping and Opening Wine, it’s a good entry-level book for the young novice, who would like to learn the basics on how to taste and store wine. And if one needs even further instruction on how to enjoy, there are a number of images that capture Matt modeling his life and love of wine.
[Where: City Winery, 155 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013]