1-1Uncorked and Cultivated conduct annual bespoke wine and food tours for small groups in the Italian autumn (October) to drinkable destinations.

They are regular hosts to Italian tours; with two in 2013, Tuscany–Piemonte and afterwards Sicily. Guests get to know their coach drivers, see starred chefs serve their plates, have winery owners and guides make them welcome and discover quality views in their hotel suites.

Tuscany and Piemonte Tour

Guests meet inRome and leave for a mission to Tuscany, home of terracottedmedieval hill towns and gripping sangiovese wines. In the next ten days there are many bites to be had—just for a start,savour crumbly agedpecorino or sliced white truffle wafting across buttered pasta; orawild boar sauce coating monstrous pappadelle coils.

First evenings are informal. Just climb down a monster staircase into a 300 year-old trattoria to the welcoming face ofyour owner, Mauro. His solidly-built enclaveof a ristorante is the traditional rustic fortress which never changes over decades. The long white table cloth is stiff, as our dozen guests relax and engage in dry crusty bread and olive oil dipping. This flatTuscan pane, made into bouncy bread slices turns to mush when wiped with the residue of  pasta ragu. Crumbs on the starched cloth mean a successful meal, and some blue-black red Chianti stains too.

We are in the walled city of Siena, the Palio (the famous horse race) has just been won by a nearby rider. In the still night air a single young drummer belts his celebration of the  result while his equally agile companion swirls with a solitary streamer dance. The ribbon colours represent the victorious suburb as do the flags festooned down each narrow suburban street of the winner. Welcome to Tuscany—sniff this ancient environment gasping at its modern visage for the hip, the conservative and tourist-embracing folks.

This Sienese restaurant makeslocation specific pasta each morning. The shape tells us a lot, and each village’s time-respected staple carbohydrate-laden carefully-formed shape will differ. Often the owner’s mother (nonna) hand-kneads the durum flour to dough, pinching it as if it were a passport. Pasta occupies a labyrinth of Italian diets and our posseeats as the locals do. Funny enough, rarely do Italo-Australian restaurants hit the pasta peaks found on these tour lunches. A curious thought truthfully recorded.

Guests quickly connect with Uncorked’s tour patterns of slow mornings, cappuccino moments (never served very hot) before a brief escorted drive through forests and hillsides towards a patchwork of unruly sangiovese in staggered rows. Down the dusty white track lined with pencil shape cypress is the welcoming winery owner who waits. Vintage is under way but the pace of the harvest here provides windows of time to visit, taste, ogle over the view, or when lucky, sit at a hewn long table for a vineyard meal. It can be in Montalcino, Chianti Rufina, Maremma or Chianti Classico.

And there are many reasons to visit this former Etruscianland of prior Roman and Greek occupation. Past dynasties remain in the architecture. Just walk over the uneven cobbled streets, proudly repaired by the locals to respect the history, and often they pray amongst it. Florence hosts over 100 museums.

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Celebrity fishing for charity Alba

About fifty kilometres east of the Franco-Italian border near Torino is the continental cold climate vinescape of Piedmont: home to nebbiolo vines, Ferraro-Rocher’s hazel nut trees and the under-root delicacy, the white truffle. Uncorked tours coincide with Alba’s truffle festival and its season opening. Truffles at the time seem to be the most highly respected meal ingredient in this town. And I agree. Providores display rows of the small grey-white bulbous tubers, priced, waiting for potential lovers to engage in price haggling, aroma sniffing (heady stuff) and ultimately some satisfaction of eating. Here truffles are religion and the festival is of over 90 years standing. Uncorked tour guests participate: eatinga plainly-sauced pasta topped with precision-shaved white (gold) truffle. The pairing drink is a glass each of  well-decanted Barolo and Barbaresco, both smelling earthy, fungal, tarry and obscenely decadent as nebbiolos are. Though highly acidic, finely divided on tannin and texture, they flush out the last whiffs of truffle and grain.

Sicily Tour

The next wine and food tour starts in Catania airport, in Sicily. This large island is the natural home to a pair of remarkable red grapes now shaking palates in many international cities and restaurants. Uncorked is an Australian pioneer to revere Sicily’s dominant wines from the hot region loving nero d’avola. The wine savouriness makes it food relevant also. You see, Sicilian dishes are heavily influenced by the eleven diverse races which have occupied this wonderland of taste through twenty-seven centuries (such as Muslim, Spanish, German, Greek, Roman, French, and more).

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Mediterranean blue: coastal scene north of Trapani

Mount Etna holds the key to the second grape—nerellomascalese—as it is grown on elevated slopes to give a subtle, lithe, high-acid, superlatively shaped texture to enjoy. As a nation adorned with its fish cooking culture, Arab spice infusion, chilled bottles of Etna Rosso DOC (the local wine denomination) are the natural second ingredient to lunching under a Sicilian sun. But it can be hot there—Uncorked tours converge on this blue, green and brown island during the mild autumn.

Test your wine knowledge today, with a few wine myths shattered by Master of Wine Peter-Scudamore-Smith. See if you can guess what’s fact and fiction!

White wine goes with fish, red wine goes with meat

Well that’s nineteen fifties thinking. We are now in the new millennium!

The more expensive a wine is, the better it is

Not always! It may often be the case, is often the case, but the price of wine is determined by a whole lot of factors. Fruit quality, location, bottle aging, fashion, packaging and even wine marketing strategies can influence price. Wines from less familiar grapes, places, and producers—especially imported wines—can offer impressive quality without hurting your hip pocket. Famous wines such as Grange with high prices have this standing for several reasons—market respect, industry awards, critical review, demand, rarity, cellaring potential and consistency of vintages.

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Grange is arguably Australia’s most celebrated wine and is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia

An ice cube in warm wine is sacrilege

Not at a BBQ on a hot day! It’s wine, not holy water, and necessity is the mother of all invention. What would you rather, warm wine, cold wine or no wine at all?

Champagne should be drunk out of flutes

These days, I only use champagne glasses at home for serving dessert wines. I find they concentrate the bubbles too much and you end up with is a nostril full of fizz, you can’t smell the aromas. Better to use an ordinary wine glass—you get much more pleasure from the smell of the sparkling.

Queensland regional wines have hit great heights with alternative varieties

Most Australian regions have repetitively planted imported varieties originating in the cold and cool regions of Europeover the past 180 years. Take riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and others. As climate change is biting harder, it has become more difficult to ripen these, and very easy to ripen varieties from the Mediterranean rim. Queensland regions have struck a more even playing field with varieties such as verdelho, fiano, vermentino, viognier, nero d’avola, durif, barbera, tempranillo, graciano, tannat, sagrantino, saperavi and many more being established.

There are now a number of regions in Queensland delivering really good wine: South Burnett, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Scenic Rim, Somerset and theDarling Downs.

The Granite Belt has altitude and latitude and is nowadays making great wine to critical acclaim. James Halliday awarded Boireann Wines, Golden Grove Estate, Symphony Hill Wines and Sirromet Wines (Mt Cotton cellar door) the prestigious 5 star winery award. Not far behind with four stars were Ballandean Estate, Harrington Glen Estate, Ridgemill Estate, Tobin Wines and Twisted Gum Vineyards. Golden Grove Estate was also one of the Top 10 Dark Horses in James Halliday’s 2014 edition.

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View of Ballandean Station on the Granite Belt

Save the bubbles in your bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine by putting a spoon in it

Sadly once you crack that bottle of bubbles, the bead begins to flatten. A spoon in the neck of the bottle won’t plug the hole and keep the bubbles from escaping. Buy yourself a champagne stopper, for only a few dollars they are a stylish way to keep that bottle fresh. You place the stopper over the bottle top, push down to secure the rubber seal and pivot the two hinged arms underneath. Lily Bollinger once said: “I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.”

Red wine is best at room temperature

Depends what the room temperature is! Red wine is best at 15 to 18 degrees. Now “room temperature” in Australia can be anywhere from 1 degree to upwards of 40 degrees. Too often red wine is served warm so that it tastes soupy and indistinct. Pop it in the fridge for a while in summer and see the difference.

Blended wines are not as good as non-blended wines

Untrue. There’s an unfair chauvinistic stigma attached to blends, and it stems from the European DOCGhierarchicalestorie. Yet any single variety from DOC estatesmay contain up to 15% of another without declaration. Haughty thinking is still around, as most generically made wines are blends. But to dismiss blended wine is to dismiss history: so many old world vineyards have been planted with “field blends”; shiraz and viognier are very common in the Cote Rotie in the northern Rhone. very common. Why the award winning St Henri Claret, produced since 1911, is a perfect example of a great shiraz cabernet field blend. The Americans led the new world renaissance of planting fields with single varietals. Blending can make wines more complex: it’s is used to maximize the expression of a wine. It can enhance aromas, colour, texture, body and finish, making it a better-rounded and complex wine.

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M Chapoutier, Hermitage Hill blended planting. These syrah vines are over 60 years old, and contain in part marsanne vines as well.

Red wine oxygenates and spoils the day after it’s opened. Only leftover white wine should be refrigerated.

Cold acts as a preservative as much for red as it does for white. It’s still best to consume wine as soon as possible after opening.

Better wines are always sealed with a cork

Screwcapped wines can age just as well as wines finished with a cork. Quality control is much easier with screwcapped wines. Up to ten percent of wines are spoilt by faulty cork.

Old wines are better

Become a student of wine first before even attempting to make a judgement call on this. The definition of age is important.

“Legs” are evidence of a high-quality wine

Legs, the streaks that run down the glass are actually indications of viscosity. This relates to the wine’s alcohol content. The higher the alcohol, the fatter the legs. Nothing to do with quality!

Boutique wineries make wines that are more authentic

We often have idyllic dreams of boutique wineries, especially those that are family-run and steeped in history. But does that give us the right to assume the wine produced at boutique wineries is more “authentic”? Not necessarily. You see, boutique wineries make wines in small lots, often focused on particular vineyards or parcels of fruit. But are such wines really better, or just different? Fewer boutique producers win wine trophies. The bigger wine producers have access to large production resources, winemaker, and economies of scale. This is reflected in their trophy winning wines. As for marketing, Grange-Penfolds for example invests heavily to further the image and quality of its globally-respected wine. Yet there is something to be said for a sense of place and the memories triggered by cracking a bottle bought at a cellar door where you met the winemaker in the flesh and enjoyed a yarn. Depends on your palate, really!

In these days of screw top bottles and stainless steel tanks, many of us wonder if decanting is the province of wine-pomps only. Serving wine should be simple: just open and pour.

While there is a difference of opinion among wine experts, most agree it can be beneficial to decant your wine. Rumour has it that decanting can make a toughred reasonable and a great wine outstanding. In fact top reds need to be treated with the respect they deserve and routinely decanted. Not a difficult process either

Decanting lets the wines breathe, improving their aroma and taste. Young wine that hasn’t been aerated can taste bitter and have a strong taste of alcohol. Allowing air to get across the surface area breaks up tannins and frees up the flavour of the wine. Fresh young things respond well as it is their flavour vibrancy which imparts the obvious difference (poured from bottle or from decanter).

So which wines need it? When to do it? And how?

20Queensland Master of Wine Peter Scudamore-Smith says: “Yes! Decant your reds and even any full flavoured oak-aged white like chardonnay and white Rhone.”

“For whites, use a narrow base decanter to minimise air surface, and decant only for 1–2 hours.

“I pour my reds at the table from a decent receptacle instead of the bottle. If it’s a young wine, I add a little pizzazz–technique: I aerate the wine on pouring to stir it up; this freshens the wine as well. Young wines are best decanted into flat base decanters with lots of surface for the wine to absorb oxygen. Older reds and whites are more fragile so choose a narrow base decanter to slow down any potential oxidation from excess air exposure.

“If it’s an older wine, say over ten years, it will have spent most of its life maturing in bottles and have an excess of solid matter. While the sediment is harmless, it can ruin the colour and appeal. Separating the sediment before serving does result in a clearer and smoother wine. Have a steady hand and leave a small amount of wine and sediment in the punt or bottle base.

 

“But you must exercise caution when decanting older, more delicate wines. Don’t let these beauties aerate for too long, as oxygenation can turn the wine oxidised.

“If it’s a fifty year bottle just open, decant without the aerator and drink!”

Find yourself without a decanter? Swirl your glasses and open up the bouquet. Better yet, impress your guests with at your next dinner party with a beautifully decanted wine served at the table. All class!

You can read wine tasting reviews from Master of Wine Peter Scudamore-Smith here: http://www.uncorkedandcultivated.com.au/blog/

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Peugeot Grand Bouquet decanter.Excellent shape for aerating wine.