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Tasting Tasmanian and a coincidence

May 19, 2015

Veggie teen plotted my astrological ‘natal chart’ the other day. I am the most sceptical, unbelieving, non-Zodiac reading person on the planet. I wish in some way I could hold some vestige of faith in seeing into the future and play along – but my inner cynic rears its head every time there’s even a sniff of pulling out the Tarot cards.  So I was laughing out loud when the character traits she attributed to me were spot on, especially this one: ‘you dislike the dull, the routine and crave the unexpected, the new, as you have a very original way of thinking.’ (Source: Zodiac signs blog)

So the events of last Wednesday night were a delight for me (and appalled Mr Routine Planner KP when I told him what I’d done afterwards). I bumped into a friend at the launch of Jumeirah Restaurant Week and jumped into a cab across town on the spur of the moment to meet Martin Shaw of Shaw and Smith and to taste some of his excellent wines from the Adelaide Hills wine region, Australia.

We met at Qbara, joining a table halfway through their dinner and tasting (whoops). The name is Arabic backwards symbolising a modern Arabic fusion menu – which is a splendid round restaurant with a dramatic ‘moving’ wall, a huge bar, flaming torches and lots of candles. Very swanky. In contrast Martin appeared to be a down-to-earth and thoughtful man, but quietly related how the Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc is now so revered that he receives emails from people who check whether it’s on a restaurant wine list before making a reservation. If it isn’t, they go somewhere else.

I can still recall the first time I tasted this wine, I think it was the 2010 vintage. I remember a bone-dry wine, all gooseberries and fennel, but lean and intriguing, a super-crisp palate (without the searing acidity with a side order of cat’s pee that I am so over), and an elegance that made me want to return to it again and again.

We tasted the 2014 at Qbara. This vintage was different from the one I remember. Even more restrained, elusive and alluring on the nose, with a mineral finish leaning to salty. Elegant, balanced and fresh; a YSL white trouser suit after a Zandra Rhodes show.

Why has this wine done so well amid a sea of New World SB’s vying for attention? Martin compared Sauvignon Blancs to handbags, the very top (more expensive and exclusive) and very bottom (volume with low margins) have done OK, it’s the ones in the middle that are suffering. This makes sense. He hastened to add (being genuinely modest) that he wasn’t comparing his own Sauvignon Blanc to luxury brands. So I’ll do it for him – this is the Louis Vuitton of New World Sauvignon Blanc – or maybe the Chanel… it’s subtle not showy.

The Shaw and Smith 2013 Chardonnay was buttery but also in an elusive way, like a very meagre scraping of the best French unsalted on the thinnest bread. Ten months in French oak with only 30% new barrels gave such poise and balance. This was crème frâiche in a glass; citrus and cream – another Shaw and Smith wine with strength in its restraint.

My favourite wine of the night was a 2012 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir – a single vineyard Pinot from 25-year-old vines in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley – the harvest used to go into some of the premium ranges of other well-known names until Shaw and Smith bought it.

You know that feeling when you smell a slightly strange smell that’s a bit horrid but addictive at the same time? The first time I tasted a Burgundy of note, it had that character on the nose, herbs and cabbages – and when you sink your nose into a glass of Burgundy there is always a sense of not knowing quite what will be in there. The aromas of the grapes and the fields, the barrels and the damp part of cellar, the leather brogues of the wine maker, his wax jacket.  The stainless steel modern wine making of many New World Pinots seem to offer purity and cleanliness at the expense of the quirkiness. The Tolpuddle Pinot Noir was restrained and elegant, a unifying factor with all the wines I tasted that evening, but this one opened up beautifully in the glass with spice and fine tannins and possessed the savoury notes and seductive herbaceousness that make Old World Pinots so alluring.

The final wine we tasted was the Shaw and Smith 2012  Shiraz; beautifully balanced with soft mulberries and bayleaves but over-shadowed by the others for my tastes, although a fellow diner nominated it his favourite.

A happy accident

Then a strange thing happened. This is a bit round-the-houses so bear with me. I’d arrived back from Georgia just the day before, having traveled there for a wine fair.  At the fair I was chatting to Enek from Vino Underground (a wine bar run by natural wine makers) about how I thought there was potential for Georgian wine in Dubai. She mentioned that a Dubai-based sommelier had bought some natural wines from them to take back to his restaurant. Desperate to know which restaurant I gave her my card but had not yet received a reply.  In talking to the Head Sommelier Juan, my Georgian trip comes up in conversation and, lo and behold, the natural wine buyer was his Assistant Somm. Aziz. Bearing in mind that there must be at least a couple of thousand licensed restaurants in Dubai what are the chances? So I now have an enthusiastic tasting companion for the wines I brought back in my suitcase. And you never know, there may be qvevri wines from Georgia on a Dubai wine list sooner than you think. As a side note, Aziz  is also keen on Greek wines and they list the Sigalas Assyrtiko from the island of Santorina which is a real gem of a crisp, dry, mineral white.

There are so many pictures to download, memories to record and wines to document from my time in Georgia that I’m excited to share with you. But in the meantime I can’t stop thinking about these elegant wines from Shaw and Smith and will have a few bottles nestling next to the Georgian ones in the wine fridge as soon as I can.

En Primeur 2014

Wine tasting

Wines from previous vintages of Bordeaux

The Bordeaux campaign is well underway and while the prices are still preventing buyers from committing in droves as of old, there seems to be quiet optimism about this vintage. We will probably tuck away a case or two via Le Clos’ En Primeur service here in Dubai or through Lay and Wheeler in the UK. KP’s looking for any investment potential whereas I’m hoovering up tasting notes – hopefully we’ll find something that meets in the middle. I’ll let you know.

I loved this account on the Lay and Wheeler blog where they took two complete wine novice bloggers along for a week of tasting en primeur which is usually reserved solely for the trade. Very sensible move I say – not dropping any subtle or non-subtle hints of course.  I explain what buying en primeur is all about here if you want to know more.

This is the first of a series where I share what I’ve been tasting at home and elsewhere weekly, monthly, randomly.

  1. May 19, 2015 10:26 pm

    I love ‘spur of the moment’ events – sadly I don’t get to too many of those as a high level of planning is often required for the children. Love the zodiac description – it’s spot on! Excited to hear about Georgia x

    • May 20, 2015 1:11 pm

      It was a spur of the moment post too – I started writing when I got in that night.

  2. daver001 permalink
    May 19, 2015 11:04 pm

    Great piece, Sally.

    • May 20, 2015 1:11 pm

      Thanks Dave – that means a lot.

  3. May 19, 2015 11:16 pm

    “…purity and cleanliness at the expense of the quirkiness.” Well-stated!

    • May 20, 2015 1:12 pm

      I feel like I get a gold star when you leave comments like that Jameson. Made my day 🙂

  4. May 20, 2015 2:26 am

    Sadly most wine drinkers outside Australia only ever get to taste the cheap, factory made plonk produced for bulk export. We have excellent mid to premium wines produced from old vines and made by people who are truly passionate about their product, like Martin Shaw. I love his whites. Knowing the the quality of pinot grapes grown in Tasmania and Martins winemaking skills, I’m sure it’s beautiful too!

    • May 20, 2015 3:42 pm

      I think we all have our wine prejudices and I’d grab a Sancerre or a Burgundian Pinot Noir over a New World one by default. It’s good to be reminded to look outside our comfort zone and it’s rewarding when you meet such skilled winemakers.

    • May 23, 2015 10:10 pm

      We get the bulk plonk here too (mentioning no colour in brackets names!). I’ve met Chester Osbourne from D’Arrenburg too – his wines are fantastic even though they are exported in volume – he’s stark, raving mad too. Love him

  5. May 20, 2015 3:32 pm

    What a luxury to spend time tasting wine, especially as it wasn’t planned – fabulous!!!!!

    • May 23, 2015 10:08 pm

      Always keen to meet the winemaker when I taste their wine too.

  6. May 20, 2015 8:05 pm

    Ha ha! The best unplanned encounters involve wine! Lovely post Sally. Made me chuckle

  7. May 23, 2015 10:36 am

    Hi Sally, I was interested to see this lovely write-up of Shaw and Smith wines…I can relate to the comment about the Sauvignon Blanc – it’s a great wine!
    As an Aussie I love to hear what Northern Hemisphere people think of our wine.
    I visited to the Shaw and Smith winery in the Adelaide Hills a few years ago and was bowled over by the stunning contemporary architecture of the buildings set amidst rolling green hills, truly beautiful. Worth the visit if you are doing the wine thing in South Australia – Inga

    • May 23, 2015 10:06 pm

      How I’d love to visit Adelaide Hills….. sigh

  8. May 24, 2015 11:19 am

    I so love your descriptions of wine. I am so over SB but am intrigued with this one from Shaw and Smith. Is it sold in the UK? Ah, and love any impromptu adventure, espesh one involving wine. Good for you, Sally!

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