The Rompel Report: To Oz with Qantas

Neil Pendock May 2, 2012 1

The Drinks Business reports that “Adolfo Hurtado, chief winemaker of Cono Sur, has revealed he thinks Peru has the potential to be the world’s next big wine region” and so Uncorked has transferred our roving wine guru, Dr. Andy Rompel, to that South American paradise to keep an eye on the Peruvian situation.  Before he went, we sent him Down Under to check out the Aussie game.  His report:

You are not looking forward to the long haul when you are booked on the evening flight from Johannesburg to Sydney.  The flight seems endless, especially when you cannot sleep on board.  The flight is code shared between SAA and Qantas, but most definitely operated by the latter.  The funny line “I vill only heer won click”, usually attributed to Luftwaffe (Lufthansa), holds much truer for the Australian carrier.  Even before you enter the plane you are given the extra security treatment at the gate, since Australian officials are paranoid about anything tasty being brought to their country like South African fruit or Biltong.  Once on board, the commandeering continues.  I hardly sat down when I was told that I had to order my breakfast for the next morning in finer detail with a pen marked on a menu that was handed to me.

You can already sense that things are very different when you are in Australia, a country with many rules as my Australian colleague Simon called it.  You may sympathise with Bill Bryson when he compared the country to “a parallel universe” in his book Down Under.  “Big brother is watching you” is another comparison that comes to mind.

Nonetheless, food and drinks were outstanding in business class, whereby the crew alternates between Billecart Salmon and Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve as the welcoming champagne on the ground, when other airlines still serve their local sparkling.  With the very fruity and fresh tomato soup came a Voyager Cabernet Sauvignon 2005.  Voyager is the estate in the Margaret River which resembles a Cape Dutch farm house, and is well worth a visit.  The owner, Michael Wright, unfortunately passed away last month and will be especially missed by his good friend and SA TV chef and internet wine magazine guru Michael Olivier.

Older Australian vintages are to be treated carefully, but this one was in outstanding condition, rich in fruit and full-bodied, not showing any signs of age.  The main course was complimented with a Woodlands Cab Merlot 2009.  Young, but already very approachable, one of the stars of Margaret River.  The steward new exactly what he was pouring me, briefly mentioning that all the others were drinking common Shiraz, but he had found a special bottle which I should try.  Having tasted Woodlands before, I happily agreed.  The chocolaty desert came with Martell VSOP Cognac, not to be sneezed at, and which rounded of a very positive experience of Qantas’ business class.

Once in Sydney and transferred to Brisbane, we went out for dinner to a place called Il Centro.  It is (obviously) an Italian eatery located along the beautiful banks of the Brisbane River which meanders through the city of Brisbane.  The food was highly recommendable. I had gnocchi with obligatory Moreton Bay bugs, a flathead lobster the size of a Tiger prawn.  My colleague and I decided that we should have a classic Aussie Shiraz, which we found in the Skillagolee Clare Valley Basket Press Shiraz 2008.  It wasn’t the perfect match for the bugs, but it did show the classic peppery style, the trademark of Australian Shiraz, and that’s what we were after.

The following evening we were a larger group and ventured further along the river banks to a restaurant called Stokehouse in Southbank Brisbane.  Again, we observed outstanding skill in the cuisine amongst the steaks, lambs and ducks which were served.  The wine to go with was the Woodhenge McLaren Vale 2010 Shiraz, a classic peppery style, powerful, traditional, followed by a Penley Estate Phoenix 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, an elegant wine with a dark-fruity mouth feel.

Another restaurant along the banks worth visiting is Cha-Cha-Char, but you may have to wait a bit in the queue as it is very popular.  As the name suggests, they specialize in excellent steaks, not at all charred.  Four of us started indulging into a Pikes Clare Valley 2005 Shiraz, which was good, but already a bit long in the teeth.  We followed up with a younger 2010 Pikes which was a lot better, fresher, the classic peppery Shiraz.

I ventured on to Perth and moved to Pinot Noir, as the local fraternity there consists of uncompromising Pinotphiles.  For dinner at The Bridge in Applecross we tasted a few with semi-Asian food on the menu.  The first one tasted was the Tamar Ridge 2009 Pinot Noir from Tasmania.  You can tell the cooler climate, which does render the fruit less jammy when compared to the subsequent Delta Pinot Noir 2009 from Marlborough, New Zealand, which was overall disappointing.  Next in line was the Henschke Giles Pinot Noir 2009, which was very smooth, with a subtle barnyard nose, but definitely overpriced at AUD 55.  Last of the range was the Yarra Valley 2010 Pinot Noir, with a prominent barnyard nose and elegance in the glass, classic Burgundian, definitely the winner of the evening.

Other outstanding wines included the Thompson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Margaret River which compares favourably with our local Cabernets here at home in South Africa and the MSV Shiraz 2006 Barossa Valley, slightly peppery but not too over-powering.

So next time you travel down-under you have a few pointers to start off with in a restaurant instead of choosing wine blindly.

One Comment »

  1. Gabi Williams May 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm -

    Lovely new profile photo Neil, looking a little naughty but lovely as always

Leave A Response »