Apéro Hour | Weekly Highlights: Remembering Georgia; Remembering Bourdain; Retasting Aussie “Favourites”

Welcome to your weekly apéro hour! 

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.

-Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

 

DRINKING. Just over a year ago, I was invited on a trip to the Republic of Georgia. That trip changed my life, completely; it exposed me to a vibrant culture of wine and food, and I met some people who, even if I haven’t seen them since, I consider close friends. Eight days driving around on a bus, meeting winemaking families, is a great way to bond! I also met my partner on that trip, so that was one of the obvious highlights.

At the Zero Compromise tasting in Tbilisi, all of us were impressed by tasting wines made by Mariam Iosebidze, from a light red grape called Tavkveri that’s basically the Georgian equivalent of Poulsard. Mariam makes her wine in an uncle’s mariani (cellar) and there is very little of it, so I’m thrilled that it makes its way to Australia and I had a chance to drink the 2016 the other day, over a light lunch. The wine was made with only a brief skin contact — less than three days, which is not much for a red — and fermented for one month total in qvevri. The short maceration does it well, I think — it’s got plenty of flavor but is light and driven by acidity — it tastes like crushed roses and salted cherries, with hints of curry and salami. It’s got no sulfites added, nothing but grapes in here. And it’s definitely one of those “funky” natural wines, if you’re looking for that (it has some VA — which I don’t mind, at all!)

If you want to read more about Georgian wine, here’s the piece I wrote for MUNCHIES based on that trip!

MOURNING. When I read Kitchen Confidential, it was long after its publication in 2000. I’d come late in life to the world of food writing, and discovering Bourdain’s tell-all memoir was a revelation: it was brave and brash, hiding nothing about restaurant life and his own tumultuous experience as a cook. In this age of over-saccharine social media performativism, I am sure all of us appreciate the instances where someone is raw, unguarded, and truthful. Especially when it comes to restaurants, which so many of us experience as the end-user only.

Bourdain’s legacy is powerful, and wide-reaching. It was incredible to watch the outpouring of emotion on social media and in the news, from people whose lives he had touched deeply, whether they’d had a chance to meet him, or not. They shared stories of how he’d motivated them to go to cooking school, or validated their sense of pride in Filipino cooking. Bourdain showed appreciation for simple, humble dishes at mom-and-pop restaurants around the world, and shunned fancy establishments. He ate bún cha with President Obama in Hanoi. He made his career after halfheartedly sending an exposé of restaurants to the New Yorker, on the advice of his mother (watch the video where he tells that story here).

The California-based writer John Birdsall wrote on Twitter: “After a day of being able to get nothing done and a night trying to resist sinking into panic, I figured out Bourdain’s legacy: to use whatever influence you have to champion anyone with an authentic voice, even if it’s not fully formed.”

In the wake of Bourdain’s death, I was touched by brief and touching eulogies written by the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, and Kat Kinsman for Food and Wine. Bourdain’s suicide also triggered an eruptive discussion about mental health, particularly in the hospitality industry, and more broadly; people wrote on social media about their own struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies. As always, all one can hope with a tragic loss like this is that it sparks a profound debate, which could have lasting cultural or even legal changes and help others find their way. I hope this doesn’t sound inauthentic, because many people are saying this, but I’ll chime in: if any of you need a friend, even if you’ve never met me, please reach out. I do check my messages, probably more often than necessary, on all forms of social media and e-mail. I will make time for you if you’re hurting inside.

AUSSIE DRINKING. Back in Australia, it’s pine mushroom foraging season. They are everywhere! We’ve been sauteeing them and having them on toast, or in an omelette; I also pickled some, just because there are so many.

And it also means: back to drinking Aussie wine. And I’m very lucky to be doing so, because all over this country, natural winemakers are making some of the freshest, most gluggable juice out there. Australia’s natural wine scene is largely concentrated in the Adelaide Hills area, but that’s far from the only place it’s happening. Take, for example, Momento Mori, made by Dane Johns in Victoria; these are small-batch wines featuring mostly Italian varieties made with skin contact. I’ve enjoyed them a few times, had the pleasure of re-tasting them at a recent event in Melbourne called Handmade.

I also got to retaste some favorites from Travis Tausend, located in the Adelaide Hills. His winemaking is inspired by his time working with Sebastien Riffault and Daniel Sage in France. That should be enough motivation to try them! Tausend’s wines do make it over to Europe and the U.S. in small amounts, so keep an eye out.

(By the way: my spellcheck now autocorrects “favorites” as “favourites.” Is it only a matter of time before I make the switch??? Oh, and happy birthday to the Queen! That feels really weird to write.)

I also love this Savagnin from the Barossa-based duo Yetti and the Kokonut, which I drank recently with some friends here in the Basket Range. The story behind Savagnin in Australia is funny — it was brought over mistakenly labeled as Albariño. What a happy mistake for us Jura lovers! And re: the fireplace, yes, it is “winter” here. I am sorry, but I grew up on the East Coast — an average of 14 Celsius with sunny days does not make a very scary winter! But it does get cold inside the houses here. I’ve become very good at building a fire! Watch out Scandinavia, Basket Range hygge is totally a thing.

WRITING. I’ve been working on a short story lately — as in, fiction! Nothing to do with wine. As soon as I send this, I am going to return to that. Also, I have something else in the works completely unrelated to wine writing; I guess you could call it a travel book, or a guide to traveling? But it’s written by me, so it’s not exactly your average travel guide. Stay tuned for more on that in a month or so.

And, are YOU a writer? Are your friends writers? Please share with them the submissions guidelines for Pipette Magazine, my new indie mag venture (Terre, rebranded, essentially). The first issue is already shaping up to be pretty good! Follow along on the Pipette Instagram and via the newsletter.

Have a good start to your week! Long live the Queen! Cheers! RS

 

 

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The First Barrels

Never did I think, even when I first got into wine writing — first stepped into an expansive vineyard with a notebook and pen and wondered how the plants I saw, budding in late spring, would eventually translate to the lovely drink in my glass — even in moments as beautiful as those, never did I think: I’ll make wine one day.

How could I, a writer, possibly dream to make wine? Friends I knew who had made wine had worked three, five, eight vintages around the world. I’ve worked harvest for two weeks in France, and done some picking here-and-there in Burgundy and Napa Valley.

But here I am, at the end of vintage (Aussies say “vintage,” versus harvest, and my English is quickly becoming Aussie-fied, you know, mate?) in the Basket Range of South Australia, with several barrels of wine tucked away in a shed, and one sparkling wine already in bottle. We just opened one the other day, and when the bubbles rose up in foam, I was kind of in shock. I made the wine, but the wine made itself sparkling. Isn’t that incredible? I know, I know — it’s all fairly straightforward, fermentation creating carbon dioxide as the yeasts consume sugar. Winemaking 101. But I was terrible at chemistry and physics and all that in high school and university. And yet, I can still make them work to my favor. I made bubbles?!?!? It’s truly awesome.

It’s funny, when you visit winemakers as a journalist, you ask certain questions that you think might help you communicate something, to future readers, about the wine: When did you start picking? Did you de-stem? Tank or barrel? But it’s impossible to really understand the reasons behind the answers to these questions, I think, unless you’ve made wine.

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Making my own wines was a meditation on the meaning of individualism, and of the concept of work itself. Nearly all of what we did, we did as a vintage team — up at dawn to get to the vineyards, all day picking and sorting, then processing the grapes. In the vineyard, we worked alongside a picking crew mostly from Laos and Thailand. Weeks after vintage has ended, I still dream about the incredible food they brought — every day, different dishes — for “smoko,” the Aussie word for the mid-day break.

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But when it came to making my own wines, it was all up to me. Each of my red wines were macerated in open-top, wooden fermenters that I climbed into and jumped on once each day for about two or three days; then, I did punchdowns (“plunging” in Aus) by hand, morning and night, to keep the cap wet. That was the first choice: whole cluster, non-carbonic fermentation. I liked this approach because I could always see and taste the grapes and evaluate whether they were ready to press.

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Next decision: when to press? With the Gamay, I wanted a light and pretty lunch wine, so five days of maceration was plenty. Cabernet Franc was about the same. Right away, I saw how different it was to press Cab Franc than Gamay. The juicy Gamay berries had been a breeze, oozing juice nonstop, whereas Cab Franc’s thicker skins were tougher to crack.

The press itself was also a choice. I opted not to use the modern pneumatic press, and rather chose to use an old-fashioned, small basket press that a friend of ours bought new from Italy. With the basket press, I didn’t require any forklift, no electricity was used, and I could literally do everything all by myself . . . OK, I did need help getting the free run juice out of the barrels, sometimes — we don’t have pumps at the Lucy Margaux winery, instead using gravity and our lungs to transfer wine via hoses, which is super super hard, the most difficult part of winemaking for me. Gravity is something you have to learn to trust and befriend, I think. It’s the same way in yoga, which I’ve practiced for thirteen years — if you feel fear, you’re not working with gravity, you’re fighting against it. My goal is to become at one with gravity — that’s when I’ll feel like a real winemaker. And a yogi, I guess . . .

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I loved the basket press because it was, by nature, a slow process. With each press, I loaded the grapes in bucket by bucket or shovel by shovel, after siphoning the free run into a barrel. This gave me time to think. With the Cabernet Franc and the Sangiovese, it occurred to me that the juice already tasted quite stemmy, from the whole-cluster fermentation. So, I took a pause to hand-destem about 50 percent of the fruit, standing there, beside the press. Why not? There was no rush — the point was to make something delicious that honored the beautiful, organic fruit the local growers had spent much time caring for.

I found the basket press empowering because, now, when I say that I made these wines, it really means that I made them. Nothing was added or taken away, and nothing will be. There’s no need; nothing has the scent of volatile acidity, and the barrels were cleaned well with hot water before being filled.

I don’t claim to be one of the greats just because I’ve made wine one time, thanks to the space provided me by someone very generous. But it was a beautiful experience doing it truly on my own terms, and I’m excited to see how the barrels look in a few months, how they’ll become in bottle, and how they’ll taste when they hopefully make their way around Australia and perhaps the world — who knows! I made the wine to share and be drunk. My hope is they will bring pleasure and transmit the energy of this amazing vintage in Australia — a hot, fast, intense, but also, really peaceful one overall, and a season of abundance, of more grapes than anybody expected, tons of people around from all over the world, and plenty of good wine and food on our communal table.

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Also, editing Terre Issue 2 while doing all of this has been both impossible and amazing. There were days when I’d be up at 5am to go pick, and then find myself editing three articles in the afternoon before going into the winery to help process grapes or clean up. Obviously, I would have preferred to be getting more sleep! But at the same time, there were moments when I’d be reading someone’s work and it struck me as really powerful, more than any other time I’d read or written about wine, because I was literally elbow-deep in the stuff right then. 

For example, in California vigneronne Martha Stoumen‘s interview in Issue 2, she talks about joy and patience in winemaking. She tells Miguel de Leon, “I am a firm believer that you can experience more joy in what you’re consuming when the person making it was joyful in the act of making it. The first time I made wine, I was like a little kid; I got to feel things and feel textures. When I work outside, I’m noticing how the sun hits things, how the smells hit me.”

This quote. How much it speaks to me. I am so happy to have her interview in the coming issue (out next month!). I’ve only met Martha once and tasted a few of her wines and I can say that she is definitely singular and has a message worth hearing.

And then there’s the memoir about harvest at Arianna Occhipinti‘s, by Ashley Ragovin. After ten years of admiring Arianna’s wines, having first been transfixed by them while working as a somm in a fancy Italian restaurant, Ashley finally went to Sicily for harvest in Vittoria. The experience was far beyond what she’d anticipated, and confirmed that wine heroes, or just heroes in general, are a real thing worth having. The connections we imagine between winemakers and ourselves aren’t false.

So much more is in Issue 2. I hope you’ll pre-order a copy soon (or grab one at a nearby stockist, or subscribe). And one day, in the not-too-distant future, you may even be reading Issue 3 while sipping on a glass of wine made by yours truly.

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Learning To Be Less Skeptical About Life In 2018

WHAT A YEAR. Several times, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the sludgy, awful, maddening mess that was 2017, whether the angst I felt was related to the surreal, dystopian political situation; or to the increasingly impossible lifestyle of New York City; or horrific environmental catastrophies that affected people I knew in some cases; or personal quandaries that seemed to mount on top of each other, one after another. Something tells me you probably know what I mean? It was not an easy year.

At some point, I’d simply had enough of it all, and I made some drastic changes in my life: I left New York and lived out of a suitcase for six months, squatting in Paris at regular intervals–that was a good start! And, thanks to SO MANY of you, I started a beautiful print magazine, alongside two women who inspire me endlessly and teach me new ways of thinking. In recent months, I’ve been focusing more on health and wellness–eating less bread and pasta, and consuming wine thoughtfully rather than excessively; have rekindled my love for the outdoors; put aside the often-too-dreary New York Times in exchange for serious poetry, novels, and essays. It’s about self-care, people–making time for being a well-rounded, happy person! Anyone have must-read recommendations? I’m all ears, please share! This novelistic reflection on falling in love, written decades ago by Alain de Botton, was one of the best things I read all year–I can’t believe I never got my hands on it until now. As well, I’ve been really into poetry by Ross Gay and Rupi Kaur, and catching up on Zadie Smith’s recent work. If I get really motivated, I may return to the Karl Ove Knausgaard series where I left off, mid-book-three. We’ll see about that.

this book is life-changing — written decades ago, but timeless! (awesome Chenin Blanc, too…)

Thanks to everyone who made 2017 so special: all of you who supported Terre from its inception; the people who hosted us for events and pop-ups in New York, Oregon, and Sydney (more to come in 2018!); those of you who bared your souls on social media rather than pretend that life is perfect amidst this shit we all experience; friends in Paris who let me sleep on their couches while I edited Terre and shepherded it to print. All of these people give me reason to be optimistic about 2018: we can stay real, we can stay strong, we can support each other so that we don’t lose track of our passions, even when everything seems up against us, and when things like wine, food, art, and other beauties can seem irrelevant in such a troubled world.

There’s much to be excited about heading into the New Year. I’m writing from South Australia, specifically a wonderful nook called the Basket Range, where I’ve been living the reality of natural wine, spending time with growers who have devoted themselves to it over the years; it’s a stark and meaningful change from simply dropping into vineyards for an afternoon, or drinking in urban wine bars. I mean, check out the beauty of this Pinot Noir vineyard at Lucy Margaux–incredible! It’s an experimental vineyard that’s never been sprayed or pruned.

And there are some AWESOME wines made here in the Basket Range, a cool climate, hilly region located in the Adelaide Hills, just above the city of Adelaide. The natural wine scene is strong! I’m slowly getting to know the different growers and winemakers here, and will share more stories as I can. Right now really into some of these:

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Before coming here, I was lucky enough to have a glimpse into some of the other wine regions around Australia, and I look forward to sharing those stories with you all soon! Visiting Mac Forbes in the Yarra was definitely one highlight, and it was also great to visit Tom Shobbrook, whom I’d met in Europe several times, in his home base in the Barossa.

Let’s stay optimistic and positive moving into the new year, as much as we can. That’s what Terre was founded upon: we were motivated to celebrate small producers of wine and food, as well as emerging and talented artists, photographers, and writers around the world–to make our network feel more international, and to strengthen it. We believe very much in critique, but we also want to create a fresh platform for such discussion. In the wine world, it seems that, again and again, we are asking the same, tired questions, and getting already-heard answers, rather than developing a wider range of topics to investigate. There’s no need to recycle points that have previously been made; let’s push forward and work together to challenge old ideas, and see what emerges from that. If Terre can do that, and also provide some enjoyment for people who like to read thoughtful work about wine, food, design, and the world’s most interesting entrepreneurs in these spaces, then I can’t imagine being any happier.

Already, Issue 1 of Terre has been more successful than we could’ve dreamed–retailers in Paris, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, and more, far beyond our home base of New York!–and we are gearing up now to take it further. Stay tuned for details about subscriptions and contributor’s guidelines–sign up for our occasional e-newsletter to be in-the-know!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Hopefully with a bad-ass bottle of Champagne. On that note, I’ve got some words up on the Wine Access blog about how to throw a wine-soaked dinner party, if you or some friends need any good party-hosting tips.

Hugs from Down Under.