It's not often I'll lead with a wine story, but the last month has been such a sweet spot in this department I think we should open it up for discussion. Well, me discussing it, you listening, OK?
It started with a political fund-raiser where the cook, me, was allowed to drink the wine as we prepared the meal, and some terrific wines were knocked back with the abandonment that only a $500-a-head dinner can evoke. Memorable was a pair of Dom Perignons, the 2002 and 2003, which we had with a pile of raw tuna - magnificent wines, so pure, apples and toast.
A week later, we had the annual reunion of our 2010 Len Evans tutorial group - where we try to recreate the excitement and overwhelming feeling of that week. This year, the get-together was at my place - something I agreed to at the end of a very late at night at our inaugural dinner at Circa last year. But with members of the group - who work in wine production, sales, retail, hospitality and journalism - coming from around the country, Canberra seemed as good a place as any.
The wine theme this year was old Australian wines - after the solely European wines last year there was some support for the idea of opening up the cellars, the dark recesses, and finding something long forgotten and dusty and local. The main problem is the wines are all under cork. So you're going to have some misses. Which means you need back-up wines, which get drunk anyway. It was a long night.
Briefly, a 1990 Wynns Hermitage was quite classy for this entry level wine in the Wynns library. From the mid-1980s, a Tulloch dry red and Taltarni shiraz were looking youthful and in good shape. A stunning bottle of 1970 Hardy Nottage Hill Claret proved that these pretty cheap wines deliver big time when cellared properly. And a 1999 Tyrells Vat 1 Semillon was so pristine it'll outlive me. But some wines opened sadly under a crumbling cork, like a 1968 Seppelts Great Western Shiraz.
One of the group took the old Aussie theme to a pretty extreme level. Masked - the wines not us - we were asked to give a date on the two old ports served last, after eccles cakes and stilton. Gosh, they were old, yet had a zesty freshness to them. The colour was quite green, which is a sign of great age.
None of us came close - we were out by three decades on the 1921 Para Liqueur port. That was the younger of the two, so when Kevin Glastonberry, of Yalumba fame, told us the last wine was a 1890 Para, there was much applause. Wow, think of that - a wine made by people who would have been too old to fight in World War I. Not many of these wines exist, but funnily enough I have had this particular one before. They get released at 100 years old and I was lucky enough, as a much younger man, to be invited to a tasting. Sadly, the wine has changed far less than I have.
I made up a menu of different kinds of dishes to support the range of wines - a cassoulet, beef ssam, red salad, mussels steamed in miso and shallots, finishing with the eccles and stilton. One dish that worked really well with a flight of youthful Austrian riesling was cured ocean trout, gravlax-like, served with an emulsion with pickled mustard seeds and freshly baked rye bread.
The wines were beautiful. Austria is seen as a poor cousin to the great wines of Germany, but this trio had a lot of style and were each quite individual: Prager, Pichler and, in the most distinguished packaging - looks like a cross between the Pope and Cat Stevens - Loibner Riesling from Weingut Knoll, traditionally made in old oak.
My family deserted our drinking party and gave us the run of the house so there was no one around to dissuade us from opening a bottle of gin at 2am and watching little people lift weights far too big for them many miles away.
RYE AND MAPLE-CURED OCEAN TROUT WITH PICKLED MUSTARD SEED HOLLANDAISE AND RYE SOURDOUGH
1 side ocean trout, skin on, all bones removed
125g salt flakes
200ml maple syrup
100ml rye whiskey
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp cracked white pepper
10 juniperberries, crushed
herbs - thyme, rosemary, fresh bay leaf, enough to cover
Rub the prepared fish with the whiskey, place the fish skin side down in something that will hold it and quite a bit of liquid that's coming your way. Mix all the non-herb cure ingredients together and cover the top of the fish with the cure, rubbing it in well. Place the herbs on top so you can't really see much flesh, cover with clingfilm and then with some weights - nothing too drastic, about two kilograms worth, maybe bags of beans, something loose but dense. The weights should be mostly down the middle of the thickest part.
Leave for 48 hours, spooning the liquid over the fish whenever you think of it. You can tell the fish is ready by how firm the flesh is in the thickest sections. Wash off the cure and you're ready to go.
¼ cup brown mustard seeds
50ml white vinegar
1 tbsp salt
2 egg yolks
125g butter, cubed and cold
2 spring onions, chopped very fine, all of it
1 small cucumber, deseeded and grated
In a small pot, mix together the mustard seeds, vinegar, salt and water, bring to a simmer and gently reduce until the seeds are plump and juicy - this should take half an hour, so add more water if it needs it. The finished brew should be thick but still stirable.
Have a bowl set up over a pot of boiling water and whisk the egg yolks together with just a little water over the heat until it fluffs up aka sabayon. Add the butter cubes one at a time stirring vigorously. Once all the butter is added you'll have either a thick emulsion to which you can add the mustard seeds, spring onions and cucumber, or a horrible mess, in which case you should start again or try blitzing it with a hand blender, or just use mayonnaise as the base.
If you make your own bread, try this mix, which makes two 500g loaves.
300g white four
80g wholemeal flour
200g wheat beer
220g sourdough starter
Slice the trout thinly on a slight angle, serve on a platter with a bowl of sauce and rye sourdough, lightly toasted.
Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au.