That day I became an honorary Wine Wanker and talked #wine with James Halliday

With guest Wine Wanker, Grace Donald from Wine is a Verb.

I was finishing up a short week at work on Friday afternoon when I received the message that The Wine Wankers had chosen me to represent them at the James Halliday Top 100 wine tasting event in Melbourne.  I had to check my phone twice, then did a little (ok huge) dance at my desk.

Excited doesn’t even begin to cover it!

When gushing about the event to some of my non wineo friends, even they were thrilled for me because you would have to be living under a rock to not know who James Halliday is.

You know, the King of the Australian wine industry? He’s kind of a big deal.

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I can’t say I usually wish the weekend away and look forward to Monday’s, but this was definitely an exception! So when Monday night finally came around, with my sister by my side to make sure I didn’t pass out from excitement, we made our way to The Glasshouse in Melbourne.

We were greeted by the lovely Associate Editor/Content Producer/Absolute Stunner Casey, who gave us a bit of a rundown of the evening.

The first room was all about Champagne and Sparkling.

Being a Yarra Valley girl myself, we first tasted the Dominique Portet YV Brut Rose LD NV (94 points), a deliciously pale pink, dry sparkling Rose, while chatting to Ben Portet and secretly trying to figure out how I could inherit his family winery.

One sip and I knew we were in for a great night.

The room was buzzing with industry members, winemakers, distributors, those who were just passionate about wine tasting and maybe a few who just wanted to get drunk on really, really good wine.

There were some bottles of Champagne in this room that were more expensive than my weekly food budget, such as the $350 Billecart-Salmon Nicolas Francois Billecart Brut 2002 (98 points) or the $160 Champagne Taittinger Brut Millesime 2008 (97 points), a fresh and elegant wine that almost didn’t make it into the lineup as the wrong bottle of wine was sent in for tasting!

The next room housed the rest of the red and white wines available to taste, and we were wonderfully spoilt for choice!

As we made our way around the room, tasting and hearing the stories behind this fantastic spread of wines, my nerves started to slip away as my liquid courage levels rose!

We tasted two Houghton Cab Savs – a rich, dark fruit driven 2014 Crofters Frankland River (94 points) which was in the Reds Under $20 category, and then it’s Reds Over $20 counterpart, the incredibly smooth 2013 Gladstones Margaret River (97 points).

I just love tastings like this where you can compare two wines side by side, and enjoy the diversity of flavour. I love hearing about how the wines are made, what the winemaker’s intentions were, and the different factors that went into delivering the final product.

I once had someone try to tell me that because Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are actually the same grape, they will taste exactly the same. Don’t worry, I unfriended her straight away.

Of course they won’t taste the same! The grape’s origin, the winemaker’s style, the fermentation process, hell the freaking weather will all have an impact on the eventual taste of a wine!

Speaking of, one of the wines I was very keen to try was the 2013 Cullen Diana Madeline (98 points), a blend of 73% Cabernet, 20% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc – which has been called Cullen’s greatest Bordeaux blend.

Cullen Wines is one of the slowly (but surely) increasing number of Certified Biodynamic grape growers/winemakers in Australia.
It should be pointed out that there is a difference between organic and biodynamic, but that tangent is for a whole other post!!

Biodynamic winemakers follow very strict preparations to eliminate the use of chemical sprays and pesticides.  To qualify as a biodynamic grower, these preparations must also be completed at specific times of the day or night, even during specific seasons to ensure the highest, purest quality grapes are grown.

These grapes are then gently hand-picked and sorted before crushing, to help ensure that the wine that ends up in the bottle is the truest expression of the fruit it is made from.

This just sounds like poetry to a wine nerd like me, and the proof of the practice is in the score!

The 2013 Cullen Diana Madeline received 98 very well deserved points, as well as my vote for favourite wine of the evening! And obviously my vote would have meant more to them than James Halliday’s, because I’m pretty important guys. Check out Cullen Wines on Instagram for some seriously winespirational photos!!

As if attending this incredible event wasn’t enough, I was also given the opportunity to speak to the main man himself, (King) James Halliday!

[What did James say?  You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this story; to be published next week]

Be sure to follow Grace’s blog here, and add her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.




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