A vine romance: Meet new Good Food drinks writer Katie Spain

'Wine is not just what's in the glass; it's about the moment we drink it and who we drink it with': Drinks writer Katie ...
'Wine is not just what's in the glass; it's about the moment we drink it and who we drink it with': Drinks writer Katie Spain. Photo: Ben MacMahon

This week, Good Food welcomes a new drinks writer to our team. Please meet Katie Spain as she tells us her favourite things to imbibe right now.

I never set out to be a drinks writer. As a dairy farmer's daughter growing up in rural South Australia, I saw more udders and bovine rear ends than vines and wine barrels. My parents indulged a little; Coolabah cask white for Mum, big Coonawarra reds for Dad.

On Friday nights after milking wrapped up, I'd drink VB with the workers, or (if we were feeling fancy) port and Coke out of a plastic cup. It was hardly a highbrow upbringing but it fostered a love of the land and the people who farm it thoughtfully.

Portrait of drinks writer Katie Spain. Photo by Ben Macmahon
GOOD FOOD

'It is a slippery, enthralling slope, this wine game': Katie Spain. Photo: Ben Macmahon

I was an inquisitive country kid with a love of storytelling. I still am. Wine came later, after a journalism career that spanned the globe. Upon my return to Adelaide (via Sydney), I wrote news and feature stories about interesting people working in food, wine, and good times.

Wine shouldn't be intimidating. It should unite us.

That's when it clicked. I was happiest when quizzing producers about the land they farmed and the bounty they produced. A gig penning long-form yarns for Australia's Wine Business Magazine (WBM) sealed the deal. I schooled up on "wine speak", studied through WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and AWAC (Advanced Wine Assessment Course), and began drinking widely.

It is a slippery, enthralling slope, this wine game. The Australian beverage landscape is an exciting place to be. There has never been so much choice. Great wine doesn't have to be expensive. Quite the opposite. Nor does it have to be perfect. It simply has to make you feel something.

Wine shouldn't be intimidating. It should unite us. I'm not one for point-scoring (unless I'm judging a wine show), and tech talk turns me batty. I believe the best wines tell a story. That is my challenge – to convey genuine, authentic stories.

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Based on a traditional haymaker's punch, Jukes 6

Based on a traditional haymaker's punch, Jukes 6 – The Deep Red is plush, spicy and has depth. Photo: Supplied

I've imbibed with some of the industry's greats but I'm happiest standing in a vineyard, talking to growers and winemakers about what they create and why. The most memorable wine I've ever consumed? I can't tell you. Because the man who poured it was coy.

It happened a couple of years ago, while walking the Camino de Santiago with a pal. The 800-kilometre-odd pilgrimage from France through Spain hurt but the wine consumed along the way helped. Cafe owners served carafes of tempranillo with a flippant, "You don't need to know who made it … it's all good in Espana. You like it? Drink it." Fair point.

In hindsight, it was a lesson. Wine is not just what's in the glass; it's about the moment we drink it and who we drink it with. With that in mind, these are some of the beverages that shaped my past, present, and future. Bottoms up.

Cabernet makes a comeback

I am a sucker for cabernet. The love affair started in my teens. My family had a farm near Mount Gambier and during the school holidays I'd earn a crust milking cows. On rare days off, my dad would take me cellar-door-hopping (I'd drive) in Coonawarra, with obligatory stops at Wynns, Zema Estate, Yalumba, Redman Wines and Majella (which remains a favourite – at $25 a bottle, Majella's 2019 The Composer Cabernet Sauvignon is a steal). The old man would stock up on cab and later I'd pilfer it.

Alternative varieties are all the rage but well-made cabernet deserves a spotlight. It is popular as a blend but I love it straight and full of expression. Recently, a Barossa cabernet stole my heart. The 2018 Otherness 440 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) is part of the range by new premium micro-producer Otherness, run by hospitality veteran Grant Dickson. Not only is Dickson one of the most knowledgeable blokes in the wine biz (he ran acclaimed Barossa restaurant fermentAsian and curated the mammoth wine list), he is also a professional orchestral musician.

Dickson rallied some of South Australia's top winemakers to craft these drops. Dan Standish and ninth-generation grower and winemaker Marco Cirillo tackled the reds. Cirillo's take on Barossa cabernet is gobsmacking. If you can find the 2017, snap it up. The 2018 also captures earthy, meaty characters. The wines are a triumph and an example of the ethereal, lighter style of reds of which the Barossa is capable. 

Take that, pet nat

Husband-and-wife duo Andries and Yoko Luscher-Mostert of Brave New World make me genuinely excited about the future of Australian wine. Based in Denmark, Western Australia, the pair make experimental small-batch petillant naturel (pet nat), using an ancient technique where fermentation is finished in the bottle, without the addition of secondary yeasts or sugars.

Much like natural wine, pet nat sparks animated discussion. There's good, bad and ugly in all forms of wine. As far as pet nat goes, their Brave New Wine 2021 Nat Daddy Petillant Naturel is one of the good 'uns. This fun, fruity fizz smacks of watermelon, peach and wild strawberry aromas, with a life-affirming grapefruit twang and dry finish.

Along with the 2021 Brave New Wine Glitter Us Petillant Naturel and 2021 Mates & Lovers Petillant Naturel (all $32/bottle, bravenewwine.com.au), the Nat Daddy makes up the menage a trois of mayhem. Yoko designs the labels – they're so funky I want them in head scarf form.

Recycling made tasty

Expect to see more piquette on bottleshop shelves soon. What is a piquette? Put simply, it is a second wine. Piquettes are generally made by adding water to the grape marc (skins) leftover after pressing. This allows a second fermentation to happen and the result is a naturally simple, lower-alcohol wine. But don't expect full colour or flavour – it's more like sour beer or a scrumpy cider. 

It is by no means a new concept; the French have been making piquette naturel for donkey's years. Traditionally, French vineyard workers were given piquettes as well as wages. 

Will Gilbert is based in Mudgee, NSW, and used gewurtztraminer (known for its aromatic va-va-voom) and sangiovese (an earthy Tuscan beast) in his pretty, orange/pink spritzy Gilbert 2021 Piquette ($24, gilbertwines.com.au), inspired by examples he encountered in North America.

"My method was the rehydration of fresh-pressed grape skins – to get the sugar, softer tannin and fresh aromatics. I then fermented that water/juice."

Expect to see piquettes pop up like daffodils all over Australia during spring.

NON Golden Mandarin and Thyme x Maison Balzac, a multi-sensory collaboration.

NON is a game-changer in the zero-alcohol space. Photo: Supplied

Absolute zero 

As someone who regularly shouts the praises of well-made booze, the importance of moderation weighs heavy on my mind.

NON is a game-changer in the zero-alcohol space. The Melbourne-based company makes non-alcoholic bevvies with top-notch ingredients and maximum flavour; textural, complex and a little bit challenging. The NON Golden Mandarin and Thyme x Maison Balzac collab ($50) comes with a candle and specially commissioned music mix by Melbourne producer Alex Albrecht, of Analogue Attic. The idea is to experience them simultaneously. Sensory immersion like this should be embraced and applauded. Bravo to the thoughtful combination of mandarin, rosemary, Tasmanian pepperberry, lemon thyme, earl grey, salt and verjus.

Expect future collabs to push boundaries. In the meantime, new concoction NON7 – Stewed Cherry & Coffee ($30, non.world) lands in mid-July.

Zero-alcohol options are extremely popular in Britain. Some bars and restaurants have drinks menus devoted to them.

Five years of trial and error went into the non-alcoholic drinks range released by London-based wine writer, author and delightfully dandy Matthew Jukes. During the research process, Jukes stumbled across the term "haymaker's punch".

"Commonplace in the 1800s, it was drunk by farmers to quench their thirst after a vigorous day's scything," Jukes says. "It was simply made from apple cider vinegar, water, assorted fruit and veg and a touch of sugar or honey."

This became the basis for Jukes' drinks. "Organic apple cider vinegar [from Italy] is the gentlest medium for drawing out the perfumes, flavours, colours I require," he says.

Produced in London, the little 30ml vessels arrive in packs of nine (two serves per bottle). The preparation is a bit like making cordial; add still water, chilled sparkling or tonic. Of the five available so far, the Jukes 6 – The Deep Red ($90) is plush, spicy and has depth, and the Jukes 1 – White ($90, jukescordialities.com) is a citrus-and-herb headbanger. They're launching at the Zero sans-booze showcase at Perth's State Buildings on July 7 and 8. National distribution is imminent. You'll see them pop up at bars and wine merchants all over the nation.

Okar Island Bitter.
For Katie Spain drinks trends story for Good Food, July 6, 2021

Okar Island Bitter is a fun, larrikin take on bitter liqueurs. Photo: Supplied

Bitter fruits

Once upon a time, I lived in Germany, where I studied journalism, ate lots of Kartoffel (potatoes) and developed an appreciation for Krauterlikor (herbal liqueurs) and their ability to ease a bulging, post-indulgence belly.

They're on the rise. Botanicals and native ingredients allow forward-thinking distillers and winemakers to play. If there's no German digestif handy, seek out Australian-made Maidenii Nocturne Vin Amer ($60, maidenii.com.au). Holy mother of vermouth alchemy … it is a revelation. Mature wines from central Victoria and botanicals fantail across the palate in a flurry of wormwood, quandong, desert lime, muntries, riberries and, wait for it … black truffle. It's bitter, sweet and earthy – thanks to the fantastic fungus. Shaun Byrne (bartender) and winemaker Gilles Lapalus, the boys behind Maidenii (pronounced maiden-eye), have nailed this intense winter winner. Chill it and pop it in a glass – any type will do.

Also try the Okar Island Bitter ($55, okar.com.au) – a fun, larrikin take on bitter liqueurs. The Davidson plum, riberries, strawberry gum, peppermint gum, finger limes, wattleseed and wild thyme flavours are so exuberant they hop – Skippy-style – out of the bottle.

Shelf-talkers

There is no shame in buying a beverage purely based on the label art. Social commentary on wine labels is an increasing trend. Emerging wine brands wear their politics on their sleeves at boutique bottle shops and wine merchants. Case in point: the L.A.S. Vino 'F--- Him' Chardonnay, which features Donald Trump's face (a silhouette of sorts) and is a bold commentary on equality. More accessible (and less likely to give Nan a coronary) is the equally scrumptious 2020 L.A.S. Vino Wildberry Springs Chardonnay ($75, lasvino.com).

Young Western Australian winemaker Nic Peterkin is one to watch. He also makes a cracking 2019 L.A.S. Traditional Farmhouse Cider ($35) and experiments with flower ferments – wine fermented with the yeast from Australian flowers.

The biodynamic, old-vine 2018 Cullen Wines Kevin John ($350/magnum, cullenwines.com.au) and 2020 Giant Steps Chardonnay ($37.50) also float my boat right now.

Delinquente 

Delinquente High Crimes 2021 Graciano is a win for cask wine. Photo: Ben MacMahon

Double win for the planet

South Australian winemaker Con-Greg Grigoriou usually leans toward organically grown Italian grape varieties but made an exception for his Delinquente High Crimes 2021 Graciano.

Graciano is typically planted in the Spanish wine region Rioja but it turns out it also thrives in South Australia's Riverland. Grigoriou's 2021 graciano ($45, delinquentewineco.com) is plush, herbaceous, savoury and very easy drinking. It is also packaged in a 1.5-litre cask. The young chap says casks (for Delinquente at least) are here to stay. Great. I own a vintage 1950s caravan and the format is ideal for camping due to its ease of use, space-saving qualities, and longevity – because the cask prevents oxygen from spoiling the wine. 

"From an environmental point of view, they are even better," Grigoriou says. "Glass is the most carbon-intensive component of wine packaging – it takes lots of carbon to make and recycle, is heavy, and space-inefficient." Available nationwide through good independent retailers.

Seppeltsfield 100-Year-Old Tawny.
For Katie Spain drinks trends story for Good Food, July 6, 2021

Seppeltsfield 100-year-old tawny is utterly sublime. Photo: Supplied

What's old is new again

Fortifieds are increasingly appearing on wine lists and in high-end cocktails. I like them straight. I'll never forget tasting Seppeltsfield 1921 Para Vintage Tawny ($700/100ml) for the first time. If only these bottles could talk. It is believed to be the longest unbroken line of century-old, single-vintage tawnys in the world and it is utterly sublime. Wine like this whispers tales of yore and this 100-year-old beauty should be savoured.

Meanwhile, my "last supper" wine would be the 2016 Henschke Hill of Grace ($890, henschke.com.au), or the 2015 if I had enough time before kicking the bucket to get my hands on a bottle.

As Australian wine goes, few are as revered as this Eden Valley shiraz. The hype is deserved. The sixth-generation winemaking family is based in South Australia's Barossa Valley and made the stunning drop using fruit hand-plucked from some of the world's most ancient vines. Plush ripe fruit, and beautiful, mature, fine tannin: it's a stunner. Only one bottle available for purchase per person. Treasure it.