You may not know this, but winemakers are some of the keenest beer drinkers in the country. Picking, pruning and plucking leaves in the vineyard is thirsty work. Tasting wine from fermenting tanks and barrels tends to leave the palate fatigued and there’s no better source of refreshment to tastebuds (and the soul) than a beer.
Pilsner Urquell and Peroni – the real stuff imported from Italy, not the second-rate froth that’s brewed under licence here – are winemakers’ beers of choice, but I reckon it might be a case of any port in a storm for a winemaker with a thirst on.
There are a few wineries that have taken things further, or indeed closer, than a drive to the local bottle shop to get their supplies. They’re brewing their own.
Recently, winemaking behemoth Casella, maker of one of the world’s biggest wine brands, Yellowtail, branched into beer with the release of two lagers under the label Arvo. It hasn’t merely dipped its toe in the water, kicking off with a huge 8000-litre brewery that has the ability to bottle 35,000 bottles an hour.
Overnight, Casella became a major local-brewing player, carrying the can alongside Coopers as an Australian-owned company in the mass-produced, locally brewed market. CUB, XXXX and Tooheys are owned by foreign conglomerates and in my book a new, locally owned major player is worth supporting.
Arvo’s a mainstream beer and it’s not packed with flavour, as opposed to some of the craft beers of the other wineries out there, but it is a pretty slurpable drink. I got sent a few samples recently and shared them with friends – they all approved.
Pikes Oakbank Brewery is far from a new kid on the brewing block, with roots that date to 1886 when H. Pike & Co made its first beers, stouts and cordials in the Adelaide Hills. The brand was resurrected by descendants Henry, Andrew and Neil Pike of Pikes Wines in 1996 and one of their best is Pike’s Oakbank pilsener ($21.99 per six pack and 4.5% a/v). It is
a crisp, sessionable beer with a good depth of flavour and complexity.
There’s a load of other wineries across the country that have their own stories about fermenting grapes, grains and fruit and I’ve enjoyed a few of their beers and ciders lately. Here are a few highlights.
Otway Estate, in the Otway ranges near Colac, started brewing beer five years ago under the label Prickly Moses and it is now one of the country’s leading craft brewers. Its Otway Ale ($19.20 per six-pack and
4.9% a/v) uses six different malts and a range of hops to produce a refreshing, medium-bodied beer that’s full of subtle malt, citrus and bitter hop characters.
Taminick Cellars in Glenrowan is also home to Black Dog Brewery. Its Leader of the Pack India Pale Ale ($25 per six-pack and 6.2% a/v) is a good example of the American IPA style, with vibrant aromatics, malty flavours and a strong, bitter hop finish.
The Yarra Valley’s Napoleone & Co uses winemaking techniques used at its sister winery, Punt Road, to produce outstanding cider and perry.
Its latest release, Napoleone & Co Pear Cider, is bottle fermented and was disgorged, just like a bottle of Champagne, in May this year.
This perry and its complex fresh-cut pear and yeast flavours, smooth texture and dry finish is worth seeking next time you find yourself in the Yarra Valley.
Prickly Moses Farmhouse Ale 2012
(Otways) $15 (750ml); 6.3%
This is one of three beers in the Prickly Moses range that are modelled on traditional French and Belgian farmhouse ales. Immediate aromas have a banana note to them that soon wafts away to reveal floral aromas of blossom, apricot, toast and spice. Silky smooth, it has a lovely light body that skips through the mouth – almost floating over the tongue. There’s a lovely intensity to the flavours of caramel, nutty malt, orchard fruits (apple and stone fruit) and the finish is long with a slightly herbal twist.
Food match \ Croque monsieur
Pikes Traditionale Riesling 2011
(Clare Valley) $25.95; 11.5%
Here’s a wine of immediate drinkability – and one with the ability to convert sav blanc drinkers over to the joys of riesling. From the pretty, perfumed aromas of blossom, cut apple, quince, apricot and slatey minerality to the intense citrus – think lemon and grapefruit – flavours, it’s a wine that’s hard to put down. On the palate there’s nice line of chalky mineral acidity that drives the lengthy, refreshing finish. This release marks the 27th consecutive bottling of Traditionale; I’m already looking forward to the 28th.
Food match \ Oysters
Arvo 34 & Arvo 51
(Riverina) $18 per six pack; 4.9%
Casella released two beers, Arvo 34 and Arvo 51, and is asking for feedback at www.arvobeer.com on which beer people prefer. They both seem built for easy drinking and as such aren’t packed with a load of flavour. Arvo 34 has gentle spice, citrus and malt flavours, with a smooth texture and a crisp refreshing finish. It’s a similar story with Arvo 51, my favourite of the two, with bolder flavours of citrus, caramel malt and dried herbs delivering the same refreshing finish.
Food match \ Home-made burgers
Punt Road Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV
(Yarra Valley) $29; 13%
A chardonnay-dominant sparkling, this is made up of base wines from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. It’s a traditional methode champenoise and after blending, the wine was aged for three years on yeast lees in the bottle before being disgorged and released. An elegant bouquet and intense flavours of apple, citrus, yeast, white flowers and biscuit are complex and highly enjoyable. Its bubbles aren’t too vigorous, which is a good thing in my book, and it has a creamy texture with a chalky grip and refreshing acidity.
Food match \ Prawn cocktail
Love a bargain
Taminick Cellars 1919 Series Shiraz 2010
(Glenrowan) $16; 14.2%
Here’s a wine to warm the cockles on a cold night. From vines planted in 1919, this is a bold, rich wine that’s nicely balanced and not big and boozy. There’s a lift to the aromas of blackberry, violet, stewed plum, spice (cinnamon and clove) and vanilla that leads on to the palate. Rich flavours of blackberry, plum, chocolate and liquorice have a vibrancy from orange-tinged acidity, while ripe, fine-grained tannins hold the wine together nicely. There’s length to the finish and good mid-term ageing potential, too.
Food match \ Minute steak and chips