canberra's human brochure - a day of food and wine
Great excitement swept over me earlier this month when I discovered that I had been selected to be part of Visit Canberra's innovative new tourism campaign, The Human Brochure. 101 Canberrans were chosen to be a part of this project, and have then been divided into 4 groups based on their interests. Come November, each of us will have the opportunity to bring two interstate guests to town for a VIP weekend, showcasing Australia's capital city through exclusive events and experiences. By getting locals excited and spreading stories, photos and posts via social media channels about the best this region has to offer, Visit Canberra hopes to reach and engage potential tourists on a much more personal level than a traditional media campaign.
I have been selected for the 'food & wine' group (see the Canberra Times feature here), and as part of an introduction to some of the region's best producers, growers and proprietors, our foodie ensemble had the opportunity to spend a day with some fantastic food, wine and friends.
We started the tour at Ona Coffee's The Cupping Room, where owner Sasa Sestic gave us a great rundown on his coffee philosophy, as well as the process of growing, sourcing and roasting their beans. We were introduced to the 'cupping' process, which is a standardised method of coffee tasting whereby the coarsely ground coffee is steeped in hot water for 2-3 minutes, rather than extracted under pressure like a conventional espresso machine. This creates a consistent environment to assess the coffee's aroma, flavour profile and mouth feel.
The Cupping Room presented us with two very special dishes: First came a delicate and finely balanced cured-salmon plate served with beetroot jelly, crème fraîche, picked fennel, crouton and micro-greens. Next was a knockout cocoa and banana mousse with a twist; instead of cream being used as the binding agent, avocado was substituted, making for a velvety (and much healthier) dish. It was served with balsamic macerated strawberries and an oat and wheat crumb, bringing a subtle tartness and some crunch respectively. Finally, we were treated to a specially created drink; a creaming-soda-infused, dry-ice-chilled coffee. Quite a spectacle!
We were then whisked off to Poacher's Pantry to sample some of their produce. Owner Sue Bruce and her son introduced us to their wines, sold under the label Wily Trout, as well as their range of cured meats. I was particularly fond of the melt-in-the-mouth peppered beef sirloin, and the smoked duck breast. On the wine front, Wily Trout's Chardonnay was quite delicious, with pleasing summer fruit flavours.
From Poacher's Pantry we ventured further afield, to the Four Winds Vinyard in Murrumbateman. We were introduced to their range by winemaker Bill Crowe and Sarah Collingwood. Bill took us through the winemaking process at Four Winds, and we were able to taste both filtered and unfiltered wines. It was my first time trying an unfiltered wine, and there was a surprisingly pleasant astringency and 'greenness' to the wine. Following a fun yet highly competitive game that challenged the gaggle of Humans to test their sense of smell by identifying unmarked scents, we were treated to delicious pizzas from Four Winds' own wood fired oven.
Just down the road is situated one of Australia's great wineries, internationally lauded for their Shiraz Viognier blend. I am of course talking about Clonakilla. Sales and Marketing Manager David Reist introduced us to their winemaking process, and walked us through their entire range of wines. While the tasting process of spitting seemed like sacrilege with these wines, unfortunately it was the only way if we were to drive home later! We learnt about the importance of terroir on the flavour profile of a wine, and also the surprisingly different environments in the Canberra Wine District. Saving the best until last, there was a hushed awe when the Shiraz Viognier was opened. Recently awarded 97/100 by wine aficionado James Halliday, the 2012 was a complex wine with a lovely floral bouquet, but a rich, dark spicy finish. David informed us that the Viognier grapes really help to build complexity in the blend, and add a textural component. It was truly the first time I considered the 'mouth feel' when drinking wine, and this blend had a pleasing viscosity that lingered briefly. The remaining wine in my glass certainly did not see the spittoon!
By this point in the afternoon, we'd possibly had enough epicurean delights to last many, many days, but we were whisked off to Polit Bar for a final treat. After ascending the long, dark staircase, we were greeted by a cosy and inviting space that wouldn't be out of place in Manhattan's East Village. Entertained by some talented burlesque dancers and singer Ms. Adie, we were spoilt with canapés from Flint in the Vines, absinthe fountains, and cocktails. Opting for a dry gin martini, I was served a drink using the sensational Botanic Australis gin from North Queensland, infused with a sprig of thyme. This was, quite simply, one of the best martinis I've ever had. Rich and intense with plenty of citrus and juniper flavours, there was also a pleasing subtlety from the added herb. The vermouth was sprayed using a perfume atomiser rather than the usual method of rinsing the glass, which was great for someone who likes their dry martinis, well, really dry.
Phew. What an unforgettable day of food, wine, coffee, entertainment and new friends.
All meals, drinks and transport courtesy of Visit Canberra