An amphora dinner that will show why wines made with ancient techniques are so exciting

What: Amphora Wine Dinner at Virginia Plain
When: Tuesday 13 November 2012 7pm
Where: Virginia Plain, 31 Flinders Lane (next to Cumulus Inc)
How much: $110.00 (plus 30c booking fee)
How to book: Booking only through Trybooking here.

The other day I received two bottles of some of the most exciting wines I’ve bought. They were made by former Fosters head winemaker Glenn James not in bulk in stainless steel (like most Aussie wine) but in an amphora – that’s a large pot which he’d crawled inside and lined with beeswax.

It’s part of a movement where winemakers are turning their backs on the last half century’s tradition of using stainless steel for everything and the previous 500 hundred years of French and other European techniques usually involving oak barrels.

Instead James used the amphora pictured above by simply dumping in a blend of grapes. Typically, there is no intervention in terms of adding yeast, sugar, acid or oak to the wine. Although a little sulphur is sometimes used to aid preservation.

The grapes are left in the amphora for up to a month or two and nature is left to do its job.

We’ve pulled together a dinner with Ducks in a Row and Virginia Plain and Fringe Food to showcase and compared some locally made amphora wines with some internationally recognised cult wines including Gravner and Pheasant Tears.

For me Amphora (and natural) wines are textural and packed with umami – a bit like sherry – making them perfect match for food. I find that they stop me in my tracks and make me want to savour rather than sink several bottles.

Glenn James, former head winemaker at Fosters, from Ducks in a Row and other winemakers will be there on the night to talk about his story and amphora wines.

This is what wine writer Huon Hooksaid in the Sydney Morning Herald about James’ amphora wine:

“Now, readers of this column know I am a little sceptical about ‘natural’ wines, but here is one made by a seriously competent and experienced winemaker, and it is a quality wine – but also one made with the least manipulation imaginable. And it tastes terrific.
The colour is lightly cloudy mid-yellow, without any brown tints. Its bouquet is delightfully floral and spicy, with the muscaty fragrance of the moscato giallo dominant, although it is a small percentage of the blend. In the mouth, it’s full-bodied and flavoursome, and texture is a highlight, with a fleshiness and density that makes it satisfying but at the same time smooth and harmonious, without sharp edges. The acidity, while not deficient, is barely noticeable and it’s properly dry – no residual sugar. The most surprising feature is that skin tannins, while present, are in no way assertive. The texture is velvety, slightly viscous and very agreeable.”

On arrival
NV, Costadila Prosecco 450slm
Veneto, Italy

1st Course
2009 Pheasant Tears
Raksiteli, Kakheti, Georgia

2nd Course – 2011 Ducks in a Row Pandora’s Amphora
Vermentino, Fiano Moscato, Giallo (45,45,10)

Between courses
2011 Quealy Friulano ‘Amphora’
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

3rd Course
2005 Gravner Ribolla Gialla

4th Course
2010 Cos ‘Pithos’ Rosso, Sicily, Italy
(Nero d’Avola-Frappato)

Remember you can only book throughTrybooking here. Book early to not miss out on what will be a very special night.

If you tell us in advance we will also be able to cater for vegetarians and we’ll post a proposed menu soon.

Virginia Plain will be offering canapes followed by a four course degustation and petit fours. This is the provisional menu with either or choices:


Compressed Cucumber with Gin and a Kingfish Tartare

Wagyu Bresaola with Truffle Cream Cheese


1. Tomato Tart with Goats Cheese, Beets & Lambs Lettuce

2. Cep and Morel Risotto

3. Roasted King Fish Fillet with Three Cheese Crust, Baby Calamari with Vongole Sauce

4. Roast Pork with Braised Cheek, Crispy Ear Crackling, Fennel and Licorice with Red Currents

Petit Fours

Here are a couple of videos which tell a bit more about the whole amphora wine thing:

The new shape of food journalism and reviews

Some things creep up on you. Others arrive in clusters.

The evolution of food journalism and reviewing in Australia is a mixture of both with the dumping of two important restaurant critics in Sydney and Melbourne, the replacement of the editors of two major newspaper food sections at Fairfax and the elevation of Yelp! as the most likely winner in the food review stakes.

So what happened? First to the Yelp! news, which is really significant. The latest IOS update for the Apple iPhone swapped Google Maps for Apple maps. Not only are they better looking than the Google product but businesses featured are Yelp! listings.

That’s very big for Yelp!, which only launched in Australia earlier this year and is still overshadowed by Urbanspoon in Melbourne and a few other cities and Eatability (which was bought by telecoms company Optus this year) in Sydney.

Apparently the Apple iPhone accounted for about half of all visits to Google Maps. Now Yelp! has this kind of visibility making it likely that the numbers of reviews there will accelerate. This is actually a good thing as Yelp! has an algorythm that prevents one-off snarky reviews appearing in its listings.

One week earlier both Stephen Downes and Simon Thomsen were dumped as food critics by the Herald Sun in Melbourne and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney respectively. The last of their reviews are appearing in the Saturday lifestyle (as opposed to the Tuesday Taste section) liftout of the papers and as yet it is uncertain how they will continue.

The editors of Epicure in The Age took redundancy and the editor of Good Living and other members of staff were redeployed in advance of a relaunch next week with a fresh look and, hopefully, structural improvements. Good living will be renamed Good Food.

And it looks like the future of food writing at Fairfax will come under a single uber-editor – Janne Apelgren editor of The Age Good Food guide in Melbourne has been mooted but I’m told this may not be the case – just as a few years back the News Ltd taste section consolidated.

Meanwhile, I understand that the Sunday Herald Sun is dumping its food pages and editor Wendy Hargreaves is leaving.

Compared to the Yelp! news this is as dry as eating a packet of Carrs Table Water Crackers without any cheese. But what it means is a lot of talented but old school food writers out of a job and scavenging for crumbs among the digital publications out there or find something new to do.

Ten years ago when we had little choice in food reviews and news we probably would have cared. But do we now?

Personally, I think that food reviewers provide balance to the anarchy of online reviews. But food sections have become victims of the press release and persuasive PR. And that makes them a lot less interesting or entertaining than the wild west of online reviews.

Excuse the Magimixed metaphors.

What do you think?