April 18, 2024

Mixing it up at Tasting Australia

The much-loved food and drinks festival offers countless opportunities for discovery. Among them is a program of drinks Masterclasses – including champagne – that gets the blend of entertainment and education perfectly right.

Photo: Tasting Australia/Meaghan Coles

This will be Meira Harel and Banjo Harris Plane’s second year as drinks curators for Tasting Australia presented by RAA Travel.

“Our philosophy is that great food should always be served with great beverages,” Meira says.

She’s keen to let people know the program they have planned is for everyone, novices and aficionados alike.

“The process of pulling all the Masterclasses together was to offer balance and also to appreciate that so many people love to experiment but don’t necessarily know everything there is to know,” she says.

“So, how can we bridge that gap to make it educational and a really inviting space?

“This year, you’ll find a few classes like that – like Masterclass – How to Wine, which is not only at a great price point, but is also really dedicated for everyone that loves wine and wants to take the first step.”

There’ll also be Masterclasses that are deep dives and discussions into wine varietals and regions, no and low alcoholic drinks, craft beers and locally made spirits, including ones that are coming onto the public’s radar. Think agave spirit, for one.

“We’re here to share our knowledge and make it really enjoyable,” Meira says.

Masterclass – Tasting the Stars: Champagne is sure to be. It will be led by master winemaker Kate Laurie, wine buyer Sophie Carbonneau, The Point Group food and beverage director Alex Kirkwood and importer-distributor and master sommelier Sebastian Crowther.

Masterclass – Tasting the Stars is your introduction to a new style of champagne. Photo: Tasting Australia

Sebastian says it will be a great introduction to the French grower champagnes, those from the smaller producer-growers that have emerged from the shadow of the big champagne maisons.

“For a long time, the champagne industry has been dominated by these big companies – Moet Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, the list goes on – [with] huge marketing budgets and producing often millions of bottles of wine,” Sebastian explains.

The high volume requires the maisons to purchase the majority, if not all, of their fruit. However, in the last 10 to 15 years a group of smaller producers who also grow their own fruit has emerged. Much smaller production runs and an artisanal approach to champagne making mean their resulting products are different to the big maisons’ output.

“They’re more finessed and wine-like in a sense: they have more flavour, more texture, more dimension, more depth to them,” Sebastian says.

“That really comes down to the farming… small patches of land where they put their heart and soul into producing the best fruit to make these unique champagnes.”

In terms of quality, he believes they “stand next to and in many instances are better” than the globally-known brands.

“You can’t deny there’s some quality that comes out of those big houses – typically at the top end, where you have to pay many hundreds of dollars a bottle to achieve that quality,” he says.

“But, as quality goes, [grower champagnes] are not as simple as some of those larger house’s non-vintage champagnes can be.

“[Grower champagnes] have that added layer of dimension to them in their flavour and in their texture.”

Consequently, the style is rising in popularity in Australia and overseas. Locally, Sebastian points to Tasmania’s Arras, saying it’s “the sparkling producer that most consistently gets my attention”.

Masterclass – Tasting the Stars: Champagne will include tastings of nine French champagnes.

Meira says her and Banjo’s “goal” for Masterclass attendees is that they leave with at least one learning they can use later, whether finding a new favourite drink, matching beverages for a dinner party or planning a cellar.

“We just want it to be fun,” Meira says.

Sebastian is also leading the Masterclass – Flash Grenache alongside Amelia Nolan of the Barossa’s Alkina, Rob Mack from McLaren Vale label Aphelion and Seppeltsfield star Fiona Donald.

Shiraz, Sebastian says “took centre stage” for a long time, but now Grenache has risen in popularity and wine makers have been experimenting with its style.

“That’s been quite attractive to sommeliers, wine buyers, wine shops and the like,” he says.

Seppeltsfield chief winemaker Fiona Donald in their Centennial Cellar. Photo: Seppeltsfield

Seppeltsfield’s Fiona says Grenache is an important part of the winery’s story.

“Grenache has been historically integral to our Tawny production, but now we’re focused on producing contemporary still wine expressions – to capture the lift and aromatics, tannin structure, to enjoy now, but also with the potential for ageability,” she explains.

Seppeltsfield has significant vineyard holdings of Grenache and the variety’s versatility enables the winery to produce a number of different wines, each with its own expression of the grape.

Leading the Masterclass – Flash Grenache, Fiona says, is an enjoyable opportunity for her to “offer an interactive, yet educational experience on our collection of Barossa wines”.

“I think it is important for people to think of wine as a holistic experience,” she says.

“It does really depend on your level of interest in wine. Many want to simply enjoy delicious drops over dinner, but others are interested in learning about terroir and the complexity of the relationships between geography, geology, climate and history.

“This Masterclass will be a wonderful discussion of the versatile and popular variety that is Grenache, both local of course and international, across 4 brackets, 16 wines.”

Within those wines, Fiona will be proudly showing the “shining star” in Seppeltsfield still wine collection, the 2021 Great Terraced Vineyard Single Vineyard Barossa Grenache.

Purchase your tickets for the Masterclass – Flash Grenache

As a wine distributor, Sebastian is on the frontline introducing new Grenache wines to buyers in restaurants, while also talking with consumers. As a sommelier, he’s worked everywhere “from small suburban places to Rockpool Bar and Grill, big grandiose places”.

“My involvement in Grenache is not necessarily in the growing and making, but certainly it’s in introducing it to people and seeing it grow in the marketplace… and getting an understanding for how people are enjoying these new styles and and what they like about them,” Sebastian says.

Curating Tasting Australia presented by RAA Travel, Meira says the sharing of enjoyment and experiences underscores this year’s program.

“We’re here to bring everyone around the table together,” Meira says.

“Because we believe that this world of beverages can be and should be approachable for everyone.”

Tasting Australia presented by RAA Travel is on 3–12 May. See the full program of Masterclasses here.

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