DRINKS REVIEW: WINE ISLAND

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Aloha from Wine Island! For four days in mid-November Clark Island in Sydney Harbour was transformed into a wine oasis. Hosted by a toucan named Suzanne, the event showcased 100 unique local and overseas wines in addition to food huts, bars and island beats. It was a hot, sunny day where funky hats, sundresses, Hawaiian shirts and leis were de jour and you could sit back, relax and drink wine that was no mere drop in the ocean.

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The festival had general admission and VIP sessions. The latter entitled you to unlimited tastings from the likes of Chaffey Bros., Thomas Wines, Fox Gordon, Clyde Park, Tintilla Estate and others, as well as complimentary masterclasses and a total of four hours on the island. Clark Island is a tranquil, national park that takes around ten minutes to walk around. What it lacks in stature it more than makes up for in beautiful aspect (there are views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Sydney Tower (Centrepoint)) as well as lush, bushland greenery.

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The journey to the island was by a ferry that was included in the ticket price. The boat departed from the Man o’War Steps outside of the Sydney Opera House and the journey was under 15 minutes. Patrons on board were treated to a complimentary glass of sparkling Rotari wine to get themselves in a festive mood.

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Wine Island featured a number of masterclasses that were hosted by Wine Selectors (a large, independent direct marketer of wine that supports over 400 producers.) The classes included a Bubbles Off! Prosecco tasting as well as a dessert pairing lesson and a silent disco. One of the most informative sessions of the day was the one dedicated to New Wave Wines. These varieties typically hail from hot climates like Portugal, Spain and Italy, and while they are relatively unknown in Australia, they are proving to be a robust grape that enjoys the conditions in our warm climate.

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There was a Vermentino heralding from McLaren Vale. This was a refreshing, white drop with a high acidity. It is a good match for seafood, especially sardines. The Oliver’s Taranga Fiano is another white variety that sits between a Semillon and a Viognier. The grapes originally herald from the Avellino Hills east of Napoli and this is best paired with rich and creamy dishes. The red, 2014 Touriga by De Iuliis (a good vintage for the Hunter Valley) had a supple profile that is a great match for richer, high fat foods. The Touriga grape is also the key variety used in the production of port.

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The cheese masterclass was a popular one throughout the festival with some punters missing out. The cheeses were provided by Australia On A Plate, a wholesale supplier of speciality cheese. A strong, washed rind cheese from the Timboon region was paired with a Pinot Gris from 6 Foot 6 Wine. The cheese was made from organic cow’s milk and it was so soft it melted in your mouth. The second cheese was a Montasio, Italian raw milk cheese that is produced using traditional techniques first employed in the 13th century by monks as well as newer methods. This had a nutty tone and a savoury finish and was paired with a GSM wine. This was a blend of Grenache (66%) as well as Shiraz and Merlot and had a silky and smoky texture.

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The Tarwin Blue by Berry’s Creek has been voted the Best International Blue Cheese. This had a straw-like flavour profile with a little spice. It also converted some individuals who weren’t normally fans of blue cheese. This was paired with a sweet, fresh fruit-driven tawny by Keeper’s Glove. The patrons that missed out on the cheese masterclass also had the chance to sample some cheeses from the Hunter Valley Cheese Company because they were selling tasty artisan cheese and charcuterie platters in individual and share plate size.

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There were a number of gourmet food options available from A.P.E (Artisan Pasta Espresso) of Potts Point selling cheese risottos while Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro had a number of different options including kingfish and salad; corn with pepperberry butter and parmesan; and a maple-glazed pork belly with bullhorn relish and red radish. The biggest hit on the island however, were the Chur burgers. The chicken with minted slaw and hot mayo sold out on Sunday. They also had a classic cheese burger with grilled beef, tomato jam, mustard mayonnaise and pickles. There was also a separate hut selling fresh oysters from the Clyde River that were shucked fresh before your very eyes.

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Wine Island was a fun day. You could grab a mate and play some Jenjo, dance along to an island soundtrack by DJ Charlie Villas, ask the wine producers some questions, or grab a deckchair, sip wine and watch the world go by. Wine Island was a great festival for adults because it was like being on a warm paradise. So to finish let’s all raise our glasses to Wine Island and look forward to its return in 2017!

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Originally published in December 2016 at the following website: https://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/412/#21

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

INTERVIEW: WINE ISLAND’S FOUNDER KRISTEN FRANCIS

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Wine Island is an annual boutique wine festival which is set on Clark Island, in the picturesque Sydney Harbour. The four-day event allows patrons to learn about and experience different wines and foods, in a luxurious island setting. It sounds like a wonderful holiday idea except you may not even need to leave “home” and you can participate and learn a lot thanks to some wonderful tastings and masterclasses. The Australia Times Gourmet sat down for a chat with Kristen Francis, the founder and director of Wine Island to learn more about this exciting event.

 

  1. Can you briefly introduce yourself and describe your involvement in Wine Island?

 

Aloha!  I’m Kristen Francis, the founder and director of Wine Island.

 

  1. How long have you been involved with Wine Island? How did you come to be involved?

 

I came up with the idea a few years ago when I noticed that we had some beautiful and relatively untouched islands on our back doorstep.  At the time I didn’t think of how difficult producing an event on an island would be!

 

  1. Italy has around 500 different grape varieties and it looks like Wine Island may have a focus on Italian varieties. What is your favourite variety and why?

 

My go-to wine is Riesling. It reminds me of my grandfather, however it tastes a lot more refined these days!

Lately though, I’ve been delving into a lot of prosecco, “researching” our King Valley winemakers who will be showcasing this variety on the island at King Valley Prosecco Road.

 

  1. What are you most looking forward to at Wine Island? Why?

 

I always like to know a bit more about the story behind the wine, so I’m really looking forward to chatting to the island winemakers and also taking part in some of the masterclasses.  We’re introducing a silent disco to educate people on music and wine matching along with a Dessert Island class where stickies will take centre stage, something I’m sure they’re not used to.

 

  1. Wine Island takes place at Clark Island. Why was this location chosen?

 

It’s such a beautiful little island and no one really knows it exists.  In fact, Sydney has a lot of islands that most of us are unaware of.  I just wanted to create a little holiday in our backyard and show off Sydney to both locals and tourists.

 

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  1. Wine Island looks set to feature a number of masterclasses. Can you tell us more about this? Do you have one in particular that you’re looking forward to?

 

We’ve expanded our masterclasses this year as they were a big hit in 2015.  Part ofWine Island’s philosophy is unique wines in a unique location so we will be featuring all the tongue-twisting grape varieties that are up and coming.  There’ll be a Bubbles Off! which will feature sparkling and prosecco.  We also like to match-make so there’ll be a cheese and wine masterclass along with our silent disco drops, which is all about music and wine matching, which I’m interested in exploring a lot further as they’re two of my favourite things.

 

  1. Why do you think people should attend Wine Island?

 

Wine Island is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves wine, relaxing, great company and something ‘oh so Sydney’ in equal measure. It’s about combining our love affair with this beautiful city with quirky yet laid-back experiences with wine, food and culture. This is the place where you can feel like you’re leaving the city while entering the very heart of it.

 

  1. In your opinion, what makes a good wine? What things make good pairings with wine?

 

Wine is very subjective. So for me, I really enjoy an old smoky style of cab sav.  Then for a perfect pairing it’d have to be a good tawny port with blue cheese.

 

  1. Can you tell us about what kinds of food will be available at Wine Island? Why were these particular foods chosen?

 

We have a high-end BBQ featuring kingfish, maple-glazed pork and pepperberry corn paired up with vermouth by Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro (opening in Oct at Barangaroo). This will also feature 4 -5 of Australia’s up-and-coming vermouth brands which is one of those old-school wines we like to re-introduce and educate visitors on.

 

Pairing up with the King Valley Prosecco Road winemakers, who will also be showcasing Italian varieties, will be Italian food hut Puntino / A.P.E. featuring bowls of mussels, pasta wheels, etc.

 

Then Chur Burger will be teaming up with GAGE Roads Brewing Co. from Fremantle to introduce a beer infused burger, and to finish off the complementary food offerings, we have Hunter Valley Cheese Factory platters and roaming oyster shuckers so you needn’t lift a finger.

 

  1. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The Australia Times Gourmet magazine about Wine Island Sydney or wine in general?

 

Not only are we unique by location, but we also like to show off unique wines for a further point of difference.  Winemakers are experimental at heart and wine drinkers like to try different grape varieties and learn more about the process, but in a fun and relaxing environment which is exactly what Wine Island offers.  There is nothing else like it in Sydney, or the world for that matter!

The other thing that makes Wine Island special, is it’s a small island so only limited capacity which give each guest a first class experience.  No crowds here, just you and a few hundred of your closest friends.

 

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Wine Island takes place at Clark Island, Sydney Harbour from: Thursday 10 November to Sunday 13 November 2016 inclusive. For more information and tickets please visit:http://www.wineisland.com.au/

 

Originally published in October at the following website:http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/410/#20

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

FOOD REVIEW & INTERVIEW: SYDNEY TEA FESTIVAL @ CARRIAGEWORKS

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On August 21st, Carriageworks in Sydney was transformed into a Mad Hatter’s tea party of sorts. The Sydney Tea Festival is now in its third year and it’s an event that continues to go from strength to strength. In 2016 over 80 different stallholders came together to celebrate their love of Camellia Sinensis and offered tea for two and three, and more!

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The festival consisted of several parts. There were workshops where people could learn about the origins and essentials of tea, about blending their own varieties and participate in a tea reading (or at one stall a “tongue” reading) to enhance their knowledge of themselves and how it relates back to tea. A chocolate pairing workshop allowed patrons to sample truffles from Koko Black along with different types of teas. There was also a cube where patrons could either participate or witness an ancient tea ceremony.

 

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The main part of the festival was dedicated to a large tea market. These stalls were a buzzing hive of activity where ceramics and china were for sale alongside tea cosies (including Pokémon ones!) and various tea pots and tea wares. There were hundreds of different teas that visitors could sample in the ceramic mugs that were included in the ticket price. They also had the chance to purchase boxes of tea on the day. These included things like oolongs and spicy chais to smooth green teas and robust English Breakfasts and even a purple leaf Kenyan tea that was rich in antioxidants. There were teas that promised to alleviate the symptoms of gout, arthritis or anxiety, and another that claimed to help you quit smoking.

 

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The Tea Cosy stall reminded us that cream and jam-topped scones and tea, are a match made in heaven. The amazing Black Star Pastry had lots of gorgeous sweet teats like a lychee cake, an orange cake with Persian figs and their famous strawberry watermelon cake. Other stallholders even added tea to their desserts like Rainbow Nourishments with their chai and blueberry cheesecake.

 

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The Sydney Tea Festival is an annual event that takes place in August, while the Melbourne instalment occurs in May. The Sydney one saw thousands of people descend upon Carriageworks to learn and experience tea, along with some passionate and knowledgeable tea and dessert artisans, in what proved to be one fun day. There was a little something for everyone at this event which meant thatThe Sydney Tea Festival proved it could be everyone’s cup of tea.

 

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Q&A with Corinne Smith co-founder of Sydney Tea Festival and The Rabbit Hole Tea Bar

1. Can you briefly introduce yourself and describe your involvement in the Sydney Tea Festival?
My name is Corinne Smith and I am one of the co-founders of the Festival. I also have a tea business called The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar.

 

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2. How long have you been involved with the Sydney Tea Festival? How did you come to be involved?
I’ve been involved since the very inception as my co-founder, Renee Creer (fromPerfect South) used to sit around drinking tea, lamenting the lack of celebration of tea in Australia – which is how the concept for the tea festival was first hatched.

 

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3. What is your favourite tea and why?
I’m an oolong fan. It’s my go-to, any time of the day or night tea and I love the variety. Within this one style of tea there are thousands of different variants and enormous breadth of flavour profiles. For someone who gets bored easily, I never tire of it!

 

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4. What are you most looking forward to at Sydney Tea Festival? Why?
I’m looking forward to seeing all the new tea companies exhibiting for the first time. The industry is growing so fast and it’s really exciting to see the innovation happening.

 

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5. Iced tea vs. hot tea and coffee vs. tea. What are your preferences and why?
Of course I have to say tea! I do drink coffee, but I max out on one cup a day before I start getting jittery. Tea, on the other hand I can drink almost intravenously and feel fantastic afterwards. I love hot tea in the cooler months but my go to in summer is one of our sparkling tea sodas.

 

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6. The Tea Festival looks set to feature workshops and an interactive tea ceremony. Can you tell us more about this?
Absolutely. The workshops are an opportunity to discover more about tea. For those starting their journey, Tea Essentials and the Origins of Tea are where it’s at, hosted by renowned expert, David Lyons. For others, perhaps a peek into the world of tea leaf reading might hit the spot or even dabbling in blending your own tea.
The interactive tea ceremony will be an opportunity for festival-goers to experience the ancient tea ceremony ritual with a contemporary slant.

 

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7. Why do you think people should attend the Sydney Tea Festival?
It’s a really great opportunity to discover a lot about tea in a very short space of time. There are so many knowledgeable people, passionate about great tea and ready to share that with you. For those who are already in love with the leaf, it’s an opportunity to get their hands on new blends and special Festival releases.

 

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8. What do you think are the essential ingredients for a good tea? What ingredients should never be used to make tea?
Essential “ingredients” for good tea are quality leaves and the right amount of them, using the correct temperature and steeping for the correct time. In terms of what you can use to make a tea, really it’s only limited by your imagination, there are very few rules.

 

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9. Is the temperature of the water important when making tea? I’ve heard that green tea requires one temperature while black requires another?
Absolutely. The lighter the tea (i.e. white, green or oolong tea), the cooler the water needs to be so as not to burn the leaves and to bring out excess astringency. Black teas and tisanes (herbal teas not actually containing the tea leaf, Camellia Sinensis) can tolerate boiling water with no trouble.

 

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10. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The Australia Times Gourmet magazine about the Sydney Tea Festival or tea in general?
This is tea but not as you know it. Come and discover specialty tea and explore what could be your new favourite drink.

 

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Originally published on 28 September 2016 at the following website:http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/409/#39

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

 

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DRINK REVIEW: AROMA FESTIVAL

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It may seem strange to have a coffee festival set amongst bars and hotels claiming to be the oldest ones in Sydney, but Aroma Festival is a popular one in our calendars. The festival is the largest of its kind in the Southern hemisphere and it has been held on the last Sunday in July for almost two decades. It’s an event that sees boutique coffee roasters, chocolatiers, tea-sellers and gourmet providores coming together to celebrate their love of coffee and the stuff that goes well with it.

 

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In 2016 over 60 stallholders were selling their wares in First Fleet Park, Circular Quay West, George St, Tallawoladah Place and the Overseas Passenger Terminal forecourt. Visitors could sample a variety of different coffees like single origin, organic and fair-trade kinds, by family-run and speciality roasters alike. There was a stall selling Ethiopian coffee claiming that this was where the humble bean began through to Southern Indians brewing special filtered coffee and a lot of Italian cafes selling your standard lattes and espressos. It was almost like a meeting of the United Nations!

 

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The Festival also played host to a number of food trucks and pop up bars (where the espresso martini was a must!) There were also roving performers, DJs in First Fleet Park and a special La Toosh stage set up on top of a small French creperie. Local indie artists- Microwave Jenny, All Our Exes Live in Texas and Lolo Lovina provided a perfect soundtrack to compliment the drinks and the beautiful view of Sydney harbour. There was also a special stage where latte art competitions between home and expert baristas took place. The aim was to design the best picture in chocolate, in just under 3 minutes.

 

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Melbourne is renowned for its café culture and it has recently played host to ideas like rainbow lattes and deconstructed coffees. At Aroma Festival in Sydney these new fripperies were not available. Instead it was all about good quality and great tasting coffee made by experts in the area. For those wanting to learn more, there were lots of different workshops available for home baristas and coffee aficionados to learn about cupping, brewing and the like. The Aroma Festival was all about enjoying a humble little bean in its perfect, liquid gold form so let us all stop and raise our mugs to toast coffee in all its finery…

Originally published on 26 August 2016 at the following website: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/408/#45

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

 

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DRINKS REVIEW: TRE BICCHIERI WORLD TOUR BY GAMBERO ROSSO @ LA ROSA, THE STRAND (21.03.2016)

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Mama mia- Italy boasts in excess of 500 different grape varieties. As Australians this can make ordering Italian wines a tad confusing, especially when most people’s knowledge only extends to Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the like. But thankfully the team from Gambero Rosso are here to the rescue.

Gambero Rosso publish Italian wine guides. It all started as a simple supplement of a few pages that was printed in a daily newspaper in Rome back in 1986. By 1988 the first compendium was published and in 1997 the first English edition was printed. The guide has gone from strength-to-strength and now employs some 60 expert blind tasters who visit 2402 Italian wineries to sample 22,000 wines for the volume.

 

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The team from Gambero Rosso also hold events and have recently embarked on a world tour named, “Tre Bicchieri” or “Three Glasses”, which will visit Japan, China, Germany, London and America. It is named after the highest rating offered in the guide. The wines are assigned scores of one glass for good, two for very good and three for exceptional or extraordinary.

 

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In addition to Gambero Rosso’s ratings, the Italian government also has its own unique classifications like DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for wines with controlled production methods and vineyards that grow grapes in protected geographical spots. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest grade and guarantees the quality of the DOC score. The system is modelled on the French food and wine system.

 

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The Sydney event saw representatives from industry and members of the press sampling wines from eight distinct Italian regions including: Veneto, Sicily, Lombardy, Tuscany, Trentino, Marche, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Puglia. There were over 40 different wines to sample including sparking and traditional whites, reds and rosés. It was interesting to talk to representatives from different vineyards and learn more about their different wines and grapes.

 

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This event also included a masterclass with more sampling which included four sparkling wines like the floral and refreshing Valdobbiadene Brut Prior 2015and the complex Franciacorta Extra Brut 2009 with its complex taste and aromatic herb notes. The Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Ris. 2008 was more acidic but the Franciacorta Brut Rosé had a longer-lasting finish.

The Pieropan family own one of the oldest wineries and they use very mature grapes that are aged in a barrel for 18 months. Their Soave Cl. La Rocca 2013. was a surprisingly light drop and the same could be said about the FCO Pinot Bianco Myò 2014 with its floral scent reminiscent of daisies and gooseberries. If the former was all sugar then the following Braide Alte 2013 was the spice and all things nice with its blend of different drops including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Primitivo di Manduria Talò is something you’d have difficulty finding in our local hotels but it had a rich taste and a sweet finish. This made the Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. 2011 seem quite earthy and structured in comparison.

 

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The Tre Bicchieri wine tasting and masterclass event was an educational and informative session about Italian wines for trade and industry. The guide is considered the bible of Italian wines and for good reason. The book – like the exhibitors – helped showcase the best elements of Italian wines and celebrate all of the unique grape varieties and drops in all of their finery.

For more information on Gambero Rosso’s Italian Wine Guide and the Tre Bicchieri world tour please visit: http://www.gamberorosso.it/it/eventi-internazionali

 

Originally published on 2 April 2016 at the following website: https://theplusones.com/sydney/2016/04/02/tre-bicchieri-by-gambero-rosso/

Visit The Plus Ones’s homepage for the city of Sydney at: https://theplusones.com/sydney/