Lunch Down Under

September 8, 2015

IMG_4813I’m in Melbourne this week with the production, “The Intergalactic Nemesis” as it makes its Australian debut with 7 shows at the Playhouse Theatre in the Arts Centre Melbourne.

I have a long and satisfying relationship with this continent, securing presentations over the past several years here for some great American artists; Merce Cunningham Dance Company, The Actors’ Gang, Diavolo and bringing back to America a just-as-impressive list of touring artists; Circus OZ, Meryl Tankard, Ros Warby and others.

Of all the cities in the country, Melbourne speaks the most to me, with its wonderful mix of contemporary architecture growing comfortably out of the Queen Victoria sensibilities of the older, downtown, neighborhoods. The Yarra River cuts through it all, providing river walking paths, gardens and restaurants adjacent to the Arts Centre.

I always make it a point when I am in Melbourne to make at least one stop at The European, a well-patinaed English style brasserie with pretty good food and an always interesting wine list, that is stubbornly Old World. Not a single bottle of Shiraz to be found here.

I have invited my friend and colleague Emer Harrington from the Arts Center to join me as I know she has a fondness for champagne and the bubbly list at The European never disappoints.

So here we are now, after ordering the charcuterie plate awaiting the arrival of a bottle of one of my favorites; from the producer, Egly-Ouriet, “Les Vignes de Vrigny”(“The Vines of Vrigny”). This is an especially “geeky” wine with the requisite pedigree of not coming from one of the major champagne houses like Veuve or Moet along with the added distinction of being a rarely seen champagne made exclusively from the Pinot Meunier grape. The other two primary grapes that make the bulk of champagne, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are nowhere to be found in this bottle.

The wine is floral, and softer than I recall from past bottles. The fruit is not typical green apple for a young champagne, something with more rounded edges, like say, pear? Should I say its voluptuous in the mouth? Very creamy from the very fine mousse (bubbles). I have six of these in the cellar at home, and it will be interesting to follow the evolution of this champagne over the next few years to see how the wine holds up. For right now, I can say it’s a delicious drink with a nice balance of fruit and floral aromas with a bit of sherry and yeastiness for balance.

Damn it all, we have wolfed down the Champagne so quickly that we have nothing to get us through the end of the meal and a beautiful selection of desserty things the waiter has presented. Emer won’t drink red wine and has also advised that chardonnay is on her s**t list as well.

All is not lost though, when the waiter returns with a bottle of the 2013 Francois Chidaine, Montlouis “Clos du Breuil” Here is a Chenin Blanc from one of the great producers in the Loire Valley. I am thoroughly charmed by this wine as a closer to lunch. Emer and I have a lot of visiting to do and so the initially reticent qualities of this young wine keep developing over the next 90 minutes or so. What is clear from the first taste however, is the lush mouthfeel of the chilled wine (surprising for wine with only 12.5% alcohol) and the minerality in the nose. Over the next few glasses, as the wine interacts with the air and warms up a bit, really beautiful aromas of peaches with a hint of kaffir lime leaves present themselves. So beautiful and refreshing… I would love to try this wine in a year with a well-seared piece of halibut. I will definitely be looking to lay in a few bottles of this when I get back stateside. Wow!

Egly-Ouriet, “”Les Vignes de Vrigny”
On the list at The European, Melbourne, Australia $AU150
occasionally at various fine wine purveyors in the US, $50-60 retail

Francois Chidaine, Montlouis, “Clos du Breuil”
On the list at The European, Melbourne, Australia $AU80
Widely available at better wine shops in the US $25-30