Of course, it wasn’t all skittles and tits in Mudgee. The country is beautiful. Many of the wines are excellent – and by my reckoning, the tight shot grouping of vineyards on the map around Mudgee fall more consistently on the happy side of the quality bell curve than their more numerous cousins down the road in Orange. After breakfast at Elton’s Saturday morning we kicked off with a visit to David Lowe’s shed north of town to taste his wares – especially his iconic zinfandel, all generous, velvety fruits held in check by some lovely dirt road terroir and tannins, the closest thing to a great California zin I’ve had out here. The shiraz was another winner, and the ’07 a far earthier beast than it’s ’09 (if I recall correctly) counterpart we’d had the night before at Roth’s. It came as no surprise that David, who hosted us generously for a good hour – quizzing our party about the Sydney market and what brought us to Mudgee all the while – had done some time in Sonoma.
Also a revelation was David’s riesling: I’d thought Mudgee was pretty much red country, but we’ve got several bottles now sitting hidden in a wine fridge, waiting for next summer and any opportunity to go for a sail on a bright summer’s day and wash down some oysters or freshly-sliced slabs of hamachi. Forget tasting notes about citrus or lychees, this is all you need to know about how this goes down.
We spent a bit of time at Bunnamagoo Estate – we had dropped in on their stall at the NSW wine show at Hyde Park a few months earlier, and before our trip had found a brochure from the day on which I’d scrawled “lush, sexy shiraz” – but the cellar door was a bit of a madhouse, and being served by a slattern with star tattoos up her arm was a big comedown from a big in-depth session with the owner. Likewise di Lusso, which is doing great things with Italian varietals, but releasing them far too young: they were pouring 2011 (!!!) Barberas, which need a good couple of years to sort themselves out.
But forget all that: Robert Stein got us back on the pace in their tiny tasting room managed with brisk yet friendly efficiency, and some awesome cab savs. My advice is don’t mess around with the cheap stuff, go straight to the reserves and back vintages. The current release – 2009, if memory serves, but buggered if I can be bothered going down to the cellar to check – reserve cab sav is already drinking brilliantly, all blackberry and black pepper and just screaming out for a hunk of good beef fillet, finished on grain and with just some simple starch and inky bordelaise to go with.
If there was to be a disappointment, it would be our lunch at Blue Wren: part winery, part restaurant, all just a big ol’ barn where they don’t know what to do with folk who come for either. I may be being uncharitable, but the senior citizens short-buses in the car park should have been a warning to us. Being hungry, we bypassed the tastings. Being really bad at his job, our waiter (a grumpy old sort with massive horn-rim glasses and the air of an art gallery owner who’d lost everything in some bad investments and was still really sore about his perceived dimunition in status) bypassed us as much as he could, and it was all we could do to get a few plates of pasta and a bowl of soup that would have been third runner-up on Come Dine With Me.
Nevermind. The day would soon be looking up. In the next instalment of Prick With A Fork’s Mudgee Madness, hanging with the rednecks at the Lue Hotel, and a hilarious misunderstanding at Sajo’s!