Category Archives: NSW Wine

When to use the #spitbucket

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I attend a number of regular events; Alestars at the Local Taphouse, any tasting by Sommeliers Australia and one that I talk about the most – #spitbucket.

cloudy bucket

#spitbuckets are regular wine dinners with ever changing subjects, fantastic guest hosts, some great wine, great food and great people which are live shared across social media, especially Twitter. They are the brain-child of Poppy Gresson (@poppygresson,) starting in 2011 as a promotion for Darling Harbour’s Coast Restaurant where she was General Manager. Poppy left Coast last year and set up her own event management company, Pop Events and reinvented #spitbucket.

Themes over the last nine months have included New South Wales wines, biodynamic wines, natural wine, sparkling wines and the Hunter Valley Wine Show trophy winners along with an incredible #whiskybucket. Around ten wines are supplied by social media savvy wineries each night and are always high quality and interesting. Wines are served in brackets of two or three usually similar styles or different vintages of the same wine.

champagne bucket

A number of venues are used with MuMu Grill in Crows Nest the most regular. Craig Macindoe at MuMu is certainly generous when it comes to food and expertly matches the courses with each brackets of wine. Fix St James is another regular venue and it goes without saying that the matches are spot on (oddly enough Stuart Knox from Fix has hosted a few #spitbuckets but never at Fix itself.) Great wines and food make #spitbucket excellent value for around $70.

It’s never a room full of people staring at their phones, the nights become pretty rowdy with plenty of interaction. The guest hosts are always knowledgable but have a lot of fun with it. Patrick Haddock recently hosted for an entire night in his Beer Spills, Wine Survivalist character. Winemakers who are not in the room interact with the attendees across social media, which adds a great twist to the event, answering question and often pushing to find out how their wine fared against the others.   

christmas bucket

Spectacular wines at the #christmasbucket sparkling wine event hosted by @poppygresson and @beerspills.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bowell @jezzster

Poppy has a lot of events planned for 2014 including Summer of Riesling at Fix St James next week and #chardonnaybucket in early February. I’ve heard rumours of a #rumbucket which sounds a little dangerous. The dinners are limited to 24 guests and always sell out. Follow @pop_events on Twitter so that you don’t miss out.

#spitbuckets are a great example of how both drinking wine and social media are supposed to be fun. I’d heartily recommend them to anyone.

Where to Drink (Part 2)

Fix St James
111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, 2000 – (02) 9232 2767

I try not to drink in the city but seem to find myself in Fix St James more than the rest of Sydney’s wine bars combined.  There are some great sommeliers in Sydney and owner Stuart Knox with his signature red shoes is easily the most fun to be around.   Fix is a bar and restaurant with some great food and a reputation for “natural” wines.  Stu has become the go-to man for this style of minimal intervention wine, although I get the feeling that a large number of these wines hit his list simply because they taste interesting and exciting, rather than conforming to any particular philosophy.  Most of the front of house team have been with Stu for a long time and share his passion for great “juice.”  They ask what you are looking for and are able to recommend the perfect wine after just a couple of descriptors.  There are a lot of wine events held at Fix during the year, the wine dinners are always great value.  If you love interesting wines, great food and great service and are in the city, I’d recommend Fix St James.

417 Crown St, Surry Hills, 2010 – (02) 9319 6609

As small bars go, Yulli’s in Surry Hills is one of the most comfortable.  It’s quite a surprise that a vegetarian restaurant has such a great line up of independent NSW beers but it’s great to see. They recently added an upstairs area which makes it much easier if you just want to sit and have a beer. In an interesting green initiative none of the products upstairs are bottled – there are 8 local draft beers along with draft NSW wine and local post mix soft drinks. It’s a great idea though I’m not too sure about the draft wine. Watch out as upstairs isn’t open every night which means that only four draft beers (along with lots of bottles) are available most weeknights and the more exciting (lower selling) beers don’t turnover as quickly as you would like. I’m not a vegetarian by a long shot but the food is also well worth searching out.

The Union Hotel
576 King Street, Newtown, 2042 – (02) 9557 2989

The Union is a rare beast in Sydney, a pub that has given almost all of it’s taps over to independent beers. I’ve been heading there for years now, it’s not too far from home and I’ve always enjoyed the food. They have been constantly but slowly improving the pub, first with a full refurb of the back bar into a very comfortable bistro area with a small beer garden, then introducing more and more good beers and recently new carpet in the front bar. I’ll always remember the week when smoking was banned in Sydney’s pubs. I walked into the front bar of the Union and all I could small was stale beer in the carpet instead of having smoke hiding the stench. They also installed a couple of English style handpumps for beer to serve real ales, mainly from the very local Young Henrys brewery. The bistro offers great value meals and the specials are restaurant quality, all washed down with great beer. Well worth visiting

where to drink (part 1)

My decisions on where to drink are based on my constant search for new stuff. I have an understanding wife who enjoys a glass of good red who is happy to assist me on my adventures. These places in Sydney are well worth visiting

416 King Street, Newtown, NSW 2042 – (02) 9557 7699

Bloodwood has the first spot on my list because it offers the best of both worlds – extreme beers and exciting wines. Sommelier Gabrielle Webster has great taste and has something new every time you visit, Australian and International biodynamic / organic wines or bottled beers from the likes of Epic and Mikkeller. Service is great, the staff are all well informed and clearly enjoy learning about the great booze on offer. I know some beery people think that it’s expensive, I say the products and service represent great value. As a Scotsman I’m an expert on this kind of thing. The food is well worth staying for if you want dinner or a good long lunch

The Local Taphouse
122 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010 – (02) 9360 0088

Local TaphouseThe best list of draft beer in Sydney with 20 constantly rotating taps makes the Taphouse unmissable for good beer lovers. I’ve been introduced to countless new breweries at the Taphouse and met many of the brewers. The rooftop garden is perfect in summer. The wine list is brief but more interesting than most pubs and they’ve just introduced a wide range of whisky. The rooftop garden is perfect in summer. The monthly Ale Stars session is a must attend event, hosted by Darren ‘Doc’ Robinson from Doctors Orders Brewing

from pints to pinots

The following post has previously appeared on my friend Lyndey Milan’s site. I think it will give you an idea of how I got here…

My road to wine started with a beer, quite a few of them actually.

Guests constantly ask me how I became a sommelier.  Perhaps they are surprised that a Scotsman would be so passionate about New South Welsh wine.  I’m sure they expect me to talk about scotch and how to save money.  They are usually surprised when I tell them my story.

I started my career in hospitality in one of Edinburgh’s many specialist real ale pubs.  Eight beer engines pumped out a constantly changing line up of guest beers. I took my job seriously, sampling every new beer as they went on line.  The beers intrigued me, different styles and breweries from different regions with histories going back centuries.  Most of all I was excited by the different aromas and flavours.  I’d make tasting notes in order to explain the subtle differences between the beers to our customers.

The writer (left) as a young man

When I arrived in Australia the beer scene was bleak.  Bland, over carbonated beer was everywhere and premium beer tasted exactly the same as regular but had a gold label on the bottle.  Competitive advantage was gained by serving the same beer even colder than the hotel on the next corner.  If I was to stay in Australia, I would have to find a new passion.

My ‘Road to Damascus’ moment occured on the road to Broke, almost twenty years ago.

My new employer organised a trip to the Hunter Valley. I’d visited breweries all over the world but Tyrrell’s was my first winery. Being able to stand in the vineyard and see grapes being picked and walk 20 yards into the winery to watch the winemakers at work was a revelation, so different from brewing. It was the people that really made me understane wine. Murray Tyrrell stood in front of us and told us why he wouldn’t sell out to the big boys despite the huge amounts of money that he had just been offered for the winery. Perhaps Murray’s presence made the wines taste better that day; he did tell us that every wine we tasted was from the vintage of the century. I was hooked.

Murray Tyrrell, legend

Instead of choosing places to visit according to the number of breweries, wine regions were now top of my list. Friends questioned why I would go to Adelaide when they were heading to Bali. Visiting wineries and hearing stories from the people who made the wines became my education in wine. When winemakers talked of vintages spent in the Northern Hemisphere I would seek out those wines and see how they compared. Great Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and Tasmania were tasted beside whichever Burgundies I could afford.

A trip to the Barossa uncovered some incredible wines. Chateau Tanunda was certainly lot more salubrious than the ironbark slab hut at Tyrrell’s. I tasted some of Grant Burge’s wines at Tanunda Cellars and again left with more wine than I could carry. A bottle of 1994 Meshach is all that remains of my early wine trips.

More recently I’ve stuck to places closer to home. Winemakers from cooler climate regions of New South Wales are making some fantastic wines. In the Canberra District I discovered incredible Riesling at Lark Hill, great Shiraz all over the region and some of the best Pinot Noir that I have tasted at Lake George. I also discovered that Australia has lakes that don’t have any water in them.

Philip Shaw in Orange was another inspirational visit. The cellar door is really the front room of his house and you are treated like real guests. The bloke who brings the wines over to you was the International Winemaker of the Year twice. I was even lucky enough to taste some of his wines from the barrel. His No. 11 Chardonnay and No. 8 Pinot Noir were my picks and his Idiot Shiraz is a bargain.

Philip Shaw’s Koomooloo Vineyard – cold climate wines

When Fine Wine Partners brought over the Court of Master Sommeliers to test the skills and knowledge of Australia’s top wine staff, I really didn’t think I would know enough to pass. My wine list is very focussed on New South Wales and the Court exams are mainly about old world wines. Despite never really selling many wines from outside Australia, I managed to become one of the first Certified Sommeliers in the country, simply having listening to as many winemakers as possible over the last 20 years.

Of course things have a habit of turning full circle. Over the last few years the number of interesting beers in Australia has skyrocketed. Wine lists in Australia are beginning to list a wide range of beers, not just the same beer with a different label but all sorts of different styles and matched up with different menu items. Beer is no longer just as a pre dinner drink and the best sommeliers know this.

I always come across tiny craft breweries every time I visit a wine region these days. The craft brewing renaissance actually started in the Sonoma Valley in California. Perhaps the craft brewers know how much winemakers love a cleansing ale. Even winemakers like Lark Hill in Canberra and Moorilla in Tasmania are making beer. In fact they are making great beer.
The beauty of both wine and beer is that my education will never end. There will always be new people to meet and learn from and to share my own knowledge with. I’m glad I found my new passion and never lost the old one.