For two years I lived and worked in Sydney, and I’d never seen hide nor hair or trace of any trendy little wine bars existing up alley’s, down side streets or beneath the underground. Those sort of places only existed in Melbourne – and they were a constant source of jealousy for the proud Sydney sider.
Having moved away, and lived in London for the last two years, I was skeptical of my return visit… but, I heard that Sydney Mayor, Clover Moore, has made it a lot simpler for starved Sydney oenophiles and gastronomist’s to open up and operate a cosy little establishment somewhere amongst the winding streets and alleyways of old Sydney town. So, being a positive individual; an idealist if you will, and with a nose for all things natural and delicious… well, I figured it was my duty to go and investigate… needs must.
Staying with a mate of mine – a non-wine drinker – in his central Surry Hills flat, I bet him that by the end of the evening he’d not only be a believer in natural wines, but that he would become a fully fledged, card carrying oenophile.
Love Tilly Devine‘s, Matt Swieboda, has been one of many spearheading the natural wine movement in Sydney and it is he who greets us and asks us to take a seat…
I explain my intent, and he immediately recommends a 2008 Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc blend from Austria, known as Opok. Hailing from a small wine estate, located in Styria, in the southern province of Austria, Opok’s winegrower’s Sepp and Maria Muster believe in “sidestep(ing) and distancing oneself from labroratory analysis in order to approach the ‘soul’ of wine”. So far, so good… except: It’s not Australian or New Zealand! Nevertheless I carried on…
Sweet floral, and citrus aroma’s wafted upwards as I swirled the excited molecules within the glass, bringing it up to my lips and tipping the light golden liquid past them. My tongue was a awash with that splendid sense that natural wines seem to effortlessly express – freshness, vibrancy, character and feeling. Orange and cumquat, flashed across the sense pads in my mouth until a hint of spice and talc quietly announced itself alongside the most subtlest, almost bashful, amount of oak. As I swallowed the first sip, my mouth was already salivating for more…
My friend, on the other hand was less impressed, telling me “it was nice, but like I told you, wine just isn’t really my thing”.
I thought I should clarify, that my aim was/is to explore the many and varied natural wines from Australia and New Zealand, and Matt happily obliged with a couple of glasses of 2012 Bobar, Syrah from the Yarra Valley.
In the glass, the Bobar appears to have a slightly fizzy edge to it, as if shaken violently before pouring, but Matt explains that this is due to the carbonic maceration, a style of winemaking where the grape juice begins fermentation while still inside the grape itself, resulting in the wine becoming more fruity, with lower tannins. Think Beaujolais nouveau.
Deep black cherries, mulberry and ripe raspberries greet you kindly at first sip, which is then deliciously balanced with a suggestion of cola, clove and spice. Sitting just under medium bodied, the dark liquid cowls around you mouth as if resentful of the fact that it could ever be compared to a Beaujolais!
I look to my friend and see a look of surprise and digression smiling across his face. The type of smile a two year old has when you successfully prove to them that what you are feeding them does taste nice. Result.
With opinions on the up, we thank Matt and his staff for their hospitality and head towards Paddington.
Arriving just before 7pm, 10 William St is short on space – but then again, isn’t that the point of a small bar?
We find a seat out on the balcony so as to get some fresh air on this balmy Sydney eve, and the waiter, Owen, brings us a couple of glasses of Cinsault, from Shobbrook Wines, Seppeltsfield South Australia.
The first thing you notice about this wine is the beautiful pink rose colouring it has, as if it had been photoshopped from my late Grandmother’s rose garden. I look to my friend and his nose is stuck deep into the narrowly bulbed glass, drawing in a long deep breath which causes that smile from before to return, etching it’s way, reluctantly, across his face.
“It smells like like strawberries!” he exclaims with wild ferment, as if he knows instinctively about the processes with which the wine maker chooses to create his wines. “Strawberries, and rose”, he continues,”and it tastes like light red cherries and a tiny amount of pepper… I like this one!” It’s happening… the conversion in happening.
Next up, Owen brings out to our idilic William St balcony a bottle of Lucy Margaux, ‘Wild Man’ Pinot Noir.
“I’m done man, I don’t want to get too drunk, I can’t handle wine hangovers…”, my friends announces as two more glasses of vino are poured. “It’s all good man”, I explain, “that’s the beauty of natural wine – a part from tasting like a firework, bursting with intense flavours, rich colours and dynamic character – natural wine is free of preservatives, additives and has only the tiniest amount of sulphur, which means for us… no hangover!”.
He relents, and we proceed to drink the last glass before moving on. At 13.5%, the Wild Man certainly lives up to his name. A dense murky colour exhibits itself within the glass, a result of a refusal to go through extensive clarification through fining and filtration, and as a consequence it not only takes on the colour of a dark purple blood plum, it looks like the flesh from one too!
Sweet spiced aromas and strawberries drift their way up towards my olfactory senses and dance their way across my nose. Lingering there for a moment or two, until the cloudy liquid is passed beyond my lips and left to swill upon and around my tongue. Soft fruit and cigar box cloves grip my mouth with strong tannins (a result of the whole bunch crush) that leave a lingering, salivating finish, as if purposefully designed to encourage you to quickly take another sip… yum!
“Now, this one, this one I think I love!” my friend, sitting next to me finally says after a long moment of reflection. “I didn’t think I could handle such a densely coloured red wine, but this is amazing… really, really nice”.
We sit and savour this one – soaking up the re-kindled friendship that’s gone on too long between drinks, and watch the people of Paddington below, heading in, or heading out…
D// – The Wine Idealist.