wine

A Seven-Course Dinner with a Gang of Rogue Australian Winemakers

When London's Typing Room restaurant invited some New Wave Aussie wine producers to showcase their best plonk, the evening started with weird berries and ended with a ménage à trois.

by Daisy Meager
23 September 2016, 4:43pm
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Some of the wines for Typing Room's The Line Up. All photos by the author.

Walking into the grand Town Hall Hotel, the East London hotel in which modern European restaurant Typing Room is situated, I'm greeted immediately by Fred Marti, the restaurant's head sommelier.

"I'm so sorry, the winemakers aren't here just yet," he apologises. "I think they've got held up somewhere."

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Taras Ochota (left), Luis Gamiz, and Timo Mayer.

I'm here for the latest installment of the restaurant's The Line Up: a series of dinner events that sees each course paired with a different wine along a certain theme. English wines had their turn last month and tonight, it's the Aussies.

READ MORE: Taste Australia's Weirdest Produce in Attica's Mysterious Garden

"We're at an exciting time where there's a second wave of Australian wines. There are different climates like the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, which is cool-ish for Australia," explains Marti as we prop up the bar at the hotel's watering hole, Peg + Patriot.

Through a thick French accent, he admits: "Producers don't have the weight of the Old World like European winemakers. They can do anything they want."

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Fred Marti and Mayer.

I ask how the New World Aussie approach differs. Marti's eyes light up.

"It's more playful and funny," he says. "The wines are amazing in purity, elegance, in zestiness, in freshness, in balance. That's what they were lacking before this second wave. I love the funkiness and liveliness."

Just as Marti finishes speaking, the winemakers come bowling in. Amidst apologies about bad public transport (and mutterings of late nights and sore heads this morning), I can't help but think that Marti's description of Australian wine could apply just as easily to its producers, too.

While Gary Mills of Jamsheed Wines in Victoria's Yarra Valley couldn't make it over for tonight's dinner, Timo Mayer of Timo Mayer Wines (also in the Yarra Valley) and Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels in the Adelaide Hills, have hit London with full force.

"Why did I get into winemaking? I needed to work!" laughs Mayer. "I went backpacking all over the world and then came back to Australia. Being a farmer pays the bills, you know."

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The evening's menu.

Ochota's route into the business, however, was a little less straightforward.

"I studied hospitality management at school and took at the wine subjects. I loved them and hated customer service so I thought, maybe don't get into hospitality," he says.

Despite this inkling, Ochota's admits that it took his first job at a fancy casino to realise that wine was the way to go.

"About six weeks in, I told a customer to fuck off and I was sacked," he explains. "I thought then I'd better change careers."

As Marti pops some pre-dinner Champagne, I quiz him and Luis Gamiz from Indigo Wine, an artisan wine importer involved in the dinner, about the process of picking the booze for tonight.

"I came in and talked through which wines we had with Fred," explains Gamiz. "From there, it was just a matter of playing around and tasting."

According to Marti, the most important thing to do when pairing wines is to forget about your ego.

"It's always about the surge of emotion in the moment of tasting," he muses. "You have to forget a little bit about what you know."

So, were there any disagreements?

"Most of the time we'll come with an idea but most of the time, the idea is wrong and you're surprised by the flavour," Marti says with a smile. "But I like that fight when one dish is put on the table and then you decide which wine is the right one."

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Sampling the Red Okar.

He adds: "But the food always comes first. Yes, it's about the wine and winemakers but I think the wine should be there to highlight the product, to complement it, and go with it without shocking."

Slipping out of the bar and into the restaurant next door, it's time for dinner.

As each wine is poured and each course served, the producers swing by to introduce their offering. They make the work that went into making the blushing Garnacha rosés and creamy Chardonnays we sip sound incredibly easy.

"I just kind of mashed up the grapes, left them for a bit to get some skin contact, and then left them out in the sun for a while," shugs Ochota.

No big deal, right? It seems as if more thought and effort went into naming the wines.

"So this one is called 'Weird Berries in the Wood' after a Dead Kennedys song called 'Forest Fire,'" Ochota explains. "The lyrics go: 'No junk food, just earthly goods / I ate weird berries in the woods / Now I'm seeing colours, I'm getting higher / I think I'll start a forest fire.'"

Four glasses in already and four to go, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be anything particularly flammable around.

Mayer echoes Ochota's sentiments when he comes by to introduce his wine.

"I'm just a farmer, you know? That's all I do at the end of the day."

He's also the one responsible for that ménage à trois.

"I've got two wines going with this course, so that's where you get the ménage à trois," he laughs. "The Pinot Noir is quite easy going but the Syrah is more divisive. I stick everything in the barrel like the twigs from the vines so it's got a herby note. That's how it used to be done."

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Mayer signing menus.

As the last drink of the night is served, I remember Marti warning me earlier that it wouldn't be a sweet wine, as you might expect with dessert.

Instead, it's another cocktail, put together by Peg + Patriot, but still with a nod to Australia.

READ MORE: Australian Vineyards Are Using Sunscreen to Save Their Grapes

"I'm not a massive fan of pairings that are just a recreation of elements in a drink," Alan Sherwood, one of the bartenders explained to me earlier that evening. "I think it actually clashes a lot of the time."

"It was one of those beautifully coincidental moments when a bartender we know dropped off a bottle of Red Okar, a Campari-esque vermouth, a couple of weeks ago," continued Sherwood. "It's from southern Australia, delicately aromatic, and just adds a fresh herbaceousness to drinks."

Cocktail, dessert, and petits fours hoovered up, I bid goodbye to Marti and the Aussies. Heading out into the night, I get thinking. I mean, if it really is just a case of mashing up grapes and sticking them in a barrel, maybe I could give the whole winemaking thing a go?

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in September 2016.