It was a Wednesday night in Sydney.
The Tuesday before, I’d been invited down, by Richard Harkham, to a tasting at Circular Quay, to explore and experience ‘What’s New’ from Andrew Guard‘s most fascinating and most delicious bottles from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Many of the bottles he had on show were fine examples of minimal interventionist booze.
Being the self professed Australian and New Zealand Wine Idealist, it was my duty, of course, to get to grips with the local contingent.
I started out with a tiny tasting of Jamsheed’s Madam Chard 2012.
The golden honeyed liquid spun in the glass like light shards piecing through the morning sky, announcing a new day. This thick viscous liquid punched the air with orange blossom and lemon zip, and weighed firmly in the mouth with a smooth, not over done, butteriness, which left a slightly creamy, longing residue for my tongue to savour.
Next in the Jamsheed collection was the Great Western Syrah 2011.
Brooding doesn’t even come close. This focused, intense almost to the point of relentless, bottle of red booze crashed around my palate with a bit of a point to prove. Black peppers and spice, unmistakable clove, bordering on aniseed, burned bright in my mouth like a supernova. And, just like a supernova, disappeared too soon… The crowd begged for an encore, but it never came.
Lastly, and my favourite of the day from Jamsheed’s Harem Series, Ma Petite Francine 2012 – Cabernet Franc.
Full disclosure: Cabernet Franc is my right hand man. The one I turn to in times of crisis, the one who turned me on and sent me plummeting face first into the equal parts deep, dark and dazzling hole that is wine. Since leaving London, I’ve not tasted a Franc that comes within a full kilometer of my beloved Touraine born, Le Clos Mabille aka the wine porn.
And, Ma Petite Francine came perilously close. This strong, deep, slinking red wine assured me of its inherent ‘Franc-ness’ with a brilliant dark red/purple robe, intense herb coated cherry, black current aroma, grippy tannins, and a disguised peaty earthiness all uniting to prowl about the mouth, evoking a long lost memory of the Loire Valley Wolf – Canis Lupis Lupis.
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I was still being haunted by the Petit Francine, when I arrived at Fix St James, in Sydney’s CBD the following night.
It was a Wenesday night.
Long before the introduction of a cheaper small bar license enabled many of Sydney’s relatively new wine bars to open their doors to a grateful public, Stuart Knox has been banging the drum for some of Australia’s, New Zealand’s, and the world’s most quirky, alternative and interesting wines. For seven years, Knox has been ‘that guy in red shoes‘, pulling out all the stops and screwcaps for the Sydney CBD’s monied suits and curious hipsters alike.
And, since neither my friend, nor myself were in suits, and were on our way to a DeWolff concert (some Dutch band you’ve probably never heard of) at The Oxford Art Factory… I guess that makes us the later.
Stuart and his staff were a burst of cool energy, which contrasted neatly with the humid Sydney eve, as we sat down underneath the low lights and handwritten menus spread about the walls of the place.
Stuart immediately laid out two glasses upon our rented table and began pouring from a bottle by Channing Daughters, a 2010, Tocai Friulano, from New York… yep. I immediately proclaimed my ignorance by telling Stuart that I’d never heard of wines being made in New York, to which he immediately, and thankfully vindicated me by saying “neither had I!”
The only producer growing and making Tocai Friulano on the East End of Long Island, New York, Channing Daughters make some damn good booze. Cracking aromas of marzipan and lemon cheescake, a hint of peach hidden amongst a lovely spicy, and almost salty tang, this Tocai sat above my tongue in a weightless show of shock and awe, guile and spark. It was a surprise of the utmost pleasantness.
We ordered a small portion of something lovely to eat – Baked Fig, Gorgonzola & Prosciutto – now, I’m not a food critic, but this was one of the best things my mouth has ever had the privilege, and pleasure to eat. Who knew fig and prosciutto were such good pals?!
To accompany this ridiculously delicious dish, Stuart strode over, red shows, matching belt, and all, and popped open a bottle capped container of Xabregas, Madman Riesling.
This 2012 ‘orange’ wine (orange wines are extended skin contact whites) from Western Australia, has nothing to do with the TV show, or the football player, and everything to do with Mount Barker’s Hogan family, a fifth generation legacy of sheep grazing and forestry in the Great Southern District since the 1860s. Big Riesling lovers, Paul Hogan is ‘mad about Riesling’ (not Fosters), and the Hogan family were one of the first Australian members of the International Riesling Foundation; a group of global Riesling producers that are dedicated to make Riesling more understood – not too dissimilar to the International Mustache Appreciation Society.
The Madman Riesling was everything an extended contact white should be. Confronting. Alarming. Arresting. Surprising. Not a crowd pleaser, but a driver of curiosity and adventure. This one zipped passed my lips and soaked onto my tongue, buzzing away with a slightly reckless enthusiasm. Honey and pineapple fizzed next to melon sorbet and a creeping aroma of frangipani, sugar – sweetness and light. It was exciting, and playful… but in the end a little too over zealous. We couldn’t finish the bottle.
We had to go see that ultra cool Dutch band…
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Fix St James is the place in Sydney to go and experience some truly weird and wonderful wines – Stuart Knox and his staff are welcoming, knowledgeable, and above all enthusiastic to share their passion for brilliant food and incredible wine.
D// – The Wine Idealist
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