A drop of Mudgee magic

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, samples a range of local wines, from bio-dynamic drops to obscure Italian varieties.

I’m a sucker for shopping and brunch – that’s perhaps the only way to wake me in the morning. After our peaceful sleep at Trelawney Farm, the next morning we awake and make our way back into town to have breakfast. Not at any ordinary place mind you, but at a converted butcher shop.

Owner James lived in the polar opposite location of Kings Cross in Sydney and 10 years ago moved to Mudgee to bring up his kids. Renovating the 1875 butcher shop was a challenge and "took some work…there was a smell in the tiles,” he says, shaking his head before adding that the solution to the pervasive smell of raw meat was the smell of coffee roasting.

The shop’s former life as a butchers is still evident and there is the original decorative ceiling and a decorative metal rail in an arc shape from times before refrigeration. The breakfast menu has a butcher friendly list of items including the Butcher’s Breakfast and the Butcher’s Benedict (with bacon and tomato instead of smoked salmon) as well as lighter offerings such as muesli and pancakes. All of the cakes and cookies are made for them but not on site. And it does a busy trade although according to James it’s quiet today – perhaps it is compared to Kings Cross!

…We go for a little walk around town and duck into some shops including Mainly Mudgee which stocks a wide range of local artist Rachael Flynn’s 'Red Tractor' designs and I buy a set of cards and envelopes. They also stock a range of Mudgee made foods.

I always like going to vintage stores in regional areas because they often have really cute things whereas a lot of vintage stores in the city are picked over and comparatively expensive.My haul from Vinnies included a vintage cookery book and glasswear, a cake holder and mother-of-pearl coasters – instant love. And psst! This whole haul was just $10 although we gave more because it was for charity.

Mongrel Wines

"We are the antithesis of everyone” Sue Fairlie-Cunningham says. You might know her name – Sue was formerly the executive editor of food and wine at the now defunct Vogue Entertaining and Travel, and she and her husband David now divide their time between Sydney and Mudgee. "We do everything ourselves, we even do the deliveries” she says. "We do it per amore (for love)” David adds.

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Up until a few months ago Sue and David grew grapes on their property but they have now dug them up and instead buy in grapes from various farmers. The oversupply means that there is no shortage of supply and their philosophy is diversity – this is reflected in their wines, which are different every year. They work with a wide range of winemakers pairing winemakers with the grape that suits them best. Food friendly wines at a $20 price-point are also a feature. All of the grapes are from Mudgee except for the tempranillo, which comes from Orange.

And why the name Mongrel? Sue tells us that this was controversial in Mudgee. The name was given to their wines for two reasons – their shiraz vineyard, which is the only wine that stays relatively the same, comprised of nine different shiraz clones. Secondly, their winery was planted on a hill which was a sheep camp and as a result of the sheep depositing their droppings, the ground was full of nitrogen and was quite "feral.” The vines needed a lot of pruning and bunch trimming and at times Sue could be heard to be calling out "you bloody mongrel of a thing!”

We try some of the wines and I particularly like the 2010 Mongrel Riesling, a dry, Germanic style Riesling, and the 2010 Mongrel barbera (and I’m not usually much of a red wine drinker). Sue encourages us to try the food laid out which is prosciutto, olives, goats curd and crackers to see what works with the food. The wines are particularly popular with 25-40 age group and she tells us that they’ve developed quite a following, perhaps initially lured by the name and the striking bottle. They also hold lunches here with a main, dessert, coffee and a glass of one of two wines for $20 a person.

The cellar door is open from Friday to Sunday or by appointment and there are no plans to expand the operation. "We’re rusty and we want to stay rusty” David says.

Botobolar

Back in town we do a bit more browsing and wine tasting. Botobular is Mudgee’s largest organic winery and they have relocated their cellar door to downtown Mudgee, where they conduct wine tastings of their bio-dynamic, low preservative and organic wines as well as sell organic products. Their best sellers are The King and KK’s choice – KK being Kevin Karston, owner of Botobular (which means black tree, of which there is one on the property).

Small Winemakers’ Centre

We also stop by at Mudgee Gourmet near the Small Winemakers’ Centre. It stocks Mudgee’s largest range of Mudgee products featuring over 30 producers. Items are all artificial preservative and additive free and the shop is divided into sweet or savoury and there is also a selection of oils and products like hazelnuts.

And almost everything can be sampled so that you can try before you buy. Our favourites from the samples that we tried were a Pride of Oak ginger marmalade and the "Precocious pear and liqueur muscat syrup” and "Passionate plum and port syrup” from The Grape Alternative.

Di Lusso

It’s lunch time next (all of this shopping and wine tasting is hard work!) and our next stop is Di Lusso winery. Owner and former banker Robert Fairall or "Roberto” as he calls himself is very friendly and welcoming. It’s incredibly busy – forget adding a posh restaurant to your winery if you want people to visit, just add a wood-fired pizza oven and that will do the trick! It’s a family friendly sort of place and there are large tables and lawns for kids to run around on as well as ptanque.

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Apart from wines there is also a fig salsa (fabulous!), fig vinaigrette and extra virgin olive oils – sadly it wasn’t quite fig season when we visited or you know I would have been all over those fresh figs. And why Italian if Robert isn’t Italian? His former life as a banker meant that he travelled in Italy extensively and he was taken with their idea that food goes with wine and is a support act to wine. He specialises in matching food to wine and people can choose their food and have a wine from their range to match it. He only makes Italian wines in hard to find varieties like aleatico, picolt, appasimento and arneis among others and we notice that there are a lot of Italian customers here. The wine "is only there to make the food taste better” he says.

They’re also known for their moscato, a very drinkable 6 per cent alcohol moscato which is sweet, bubbly and very drinkable. "But only blondes can order it,” he says, prompting mock outrage from a customer who nabs herself two bottles. His range of wines has low tannins and high acidity and most don’t see any oak. He makes a large range of wines but small in number and they’re all matched to food and he reels off a list of a meal matches to all of the wines.

Before lunch we try a range of their wines including the more obscure Italian varieties including Greco di Tufo 2011 which he describes as a "big textured, salty wine” which he tells us is polarising but we quite like it. It’s also a hard grape variety to grow as the grapes are bunched tightly together and are susceptible to things like botrytis. We also try the Vino Rosato 2011 which he tells us goes well with a vegetarian pizza and the Sangiovese 2010 with its distinct rosemary character which goes well with lamb. Di Lusso means indulgence.

We sit down with president of Fine Foods Mudgee and local caterer Rebecca Sutton. Pizzas are $20 across the board and they’re quite large and to add a glass of wine that is matched to your food is an extra $5. The waitress recommends sharing one and so we ask for half an Italian antipasto and half a pizza emilia. "Shhh don’t tell anyone I did this” Rob says and before long he is rolling the dough out and a few minutes later our pizza has arrived!

…The pizza emilia has grana padano, pancetta and a nice hit of garlic which I can smell as soon as it is set down in front of me. And even though I love the cured meats in the first pizza, the garlic hit means that I really enjoy this too.

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