Alan Moore

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Had a few laughs today reading Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Cab Savvy at Toorak Winery

Leeton's Toorak Winery held a very successful workshop on wine blending last weekend as part of the Taste Riverina food festival.

The photograph shown comes from the Toorak Winery Facebook page.

The wine blending workshop succeeded in revealing a lot of the skill in winemaking. As we experimented with identifying tastes and then combining them, there was ample time to ask questions about the process.

I really enjoy wine and have learned a lot from drinking with wine science students while living in Wagga. One lesson was that you learn more from opening a few bottles than you do from opening one bottle because the compare and contrast approach assists in identifying tastes. This was the first time I'd been able to try contrasting approaches using the same grapes. It was a revelation in how combining these flavours can promote or disguise characteristics.

Drinking with wine scientists also taught me the importance of spitting out. It's good to remember when sampling around a dozen wines within a few hours around the middle of the day. Before we started comparing blends, Robert Bruno led a tour around his family winery, identifying the differences in producing white and red wines as well as the mechanical and chemical processes involved in producing 3.4 million litres of wine largely within a few months each year.

A vertical tasting of the premier brand Willandra Shiraz gave a sense how ageing changes wine, as well as the subtle berry bouquet of their double gold medal-winning 2006 release. It was so good I didn't want to spit it out, I wanted it to be part of me. Toorak Wines have won over international wine show judges and overseas suppliers with their European approach. The flavours are more integrated and less like your stereotypical Australian wine. It's not the brash and bold sorta thing I normally drink, so the whole event made me feel incredibly sophisticated.

Winemaker Martin Wozniak poured glasses of the shiraz currently maturing, different batches from the same harvest that illustrated some of the scope of his job.  My tasting notes for these four glasses could describe four different wines and, in a sense, they do. These different flavours have been exaggerated and shaped into a palatte from which they will find complementary and contrasting shades to colour releases for a vintage. The key constraint that wine must be made from grapes ensures no one gets too crazy with the contents of our bottles but it's this sense of working with what you've got that's really appealing about winemaking. The problem-solving required as well as the chemistry to produce a sensuous product like wine makes it an art.

After lunch we began the process of settling on our blends. Using two shiraz batches and a cabernet sauvignon that the winemakers thought they'd most likely be selling unblended, we once again found contrasting flavours.

My initial attempt was to combine the shiraz whose eucalyptus note I liked with the tree fruit-flavour of the cabernet and the result was underwhelming. My second attempt favoured the shiraz again while introducing smaller amounts of the cabernet and the second shiraz. It was another revelation. The flavours seemed to rearrange themselves on my palate. The coppery note that had left a bad taste in my mouth in the second, rougher shiraz now carried a tannin finish after the wine had departed.

Examples of different oak treatments illustrated the knockout vanilla taste of American wood versus the restrained French equivalent. A couple of Hungarian alternatives were subtler and different again. This demonstration lead to discussion of the oak treatment already employed on two of the three wines we were blending.The shiraz I called rough I learned hadn't had this process.

When Robert asked if anyone was ready to blend their bottle I raised my hand. To keep the measurements easy to scale he made more than what was required and I was stoked to hear people sampling my blend making appreciative comments. We each had different approaches and it was fascinating to taste and discuss how small increments in the ratios were noticeable in our mouths.

This wine blending class wasn't something I'd seen promoted before and in the local paper the winery are quoted as saying they're thinking of running it again next June. If you like wine there's a lot to learn about the science and artistry as well as a very satisfactory feeling to be gained blending your own bottle. Highly recommended.

Portrait by Daniel O'Brien

At the Grong Grong Creative House keeping an eye on my brood, when Daniel says "There's a cloud of smoke behind your head. I'm going to take a photo."