Tuesday, 30 July 2013

My First Month in Melbourne

Yep, it’s been almost a month since I arrived in Australia and, although it is still new to me, I like it here.  FYI, this post entry will jump around a bit, like an ad hoc summary of how things have been going since moving down under.  Think of it as grabbing a cup of java with me on break during a busy day at work :). 

That said, let's get started!

So, I live in a two-bedroom apartment with my housemate Lachie, who is an environmental engineer and grew up on a farm not far from the city.  Super nice guy, with a great sense of humor, infectious laugh and an equally contagious smile.  I wish I could say it’s been great getting to know him. I wish I could say that because I hardly see him!  We have completely different schedules – by the time I wake up in the morning, he is already out the door, and when I get home late at night from the wine/cheese bar, he’s fast asleep. Every now and then I shoot him a text to let him know I am still around and have not fled the country.  It’s a cool apartment, with a balcony overlooking the front garden full of various plants, trees and pink flowers.  I look forward to the weather warming up so I can go sit out there and take it all in.

Pics of my building:

I’m not  that far from work –  a tram gets me to Milk the Cow in about 15 minutes.  The tram system here is fairly efficient once you learn how it works.

I am happy to report my work is still pretty freakin’ amazing.  I am slowly learning about all the different kinds of cheese, and which type is suited for a particular wine, beer or spirit.  The staff at Milk the Cow could not be nicer – everyone is so pleasant, fun, and great at what they do.  They have been very patient with me as I learn the ropes. The fromagerie/wine bar is in a prime location: an amazing view of Albert Park right across the street with a super cool view of the city just behind it.  We are located on a trendy street in St. Kilda, and the beach is only minutes away! I think the place is busy now, but something tells me it will be a real hot spot when summer arrives!!!

The Cheese Counter

One of the wine and cheese flights.

A view from outside...

 One of the fondues...

And now, some odd things I have noticed since being here:

·      Virtually all restaurants are gluten-conscious, in some capacity or another.  So, either there are a lot of people who are avoiding wheat, or there is a serious celiac epidemic going on.  I don’t remember seeing this on menus in Montreal...

·      Locals are extremely friendly. I have yet to meet a person who has been rude, impatient or unpleasant.
  Everyone is smiling, sociable and happy. Even the free-range eggs have smiley faces on them!

·      And, speaking of eggs, I have never had better-tasting eggs and avocados as I have here.

·      The media are constantly talking about "boat people."  As it turns out, Australia is hit with massive waves of illegal immigrants hoping to get here on ships and other vessels. It’s a hot-button topic everywhere you go.

·      Raspberries cost $9.0 per pack. Forget it.

·      There is no central heating.

·      The toilet does not flush in any other direction except down.

·      Average daytime temperature is about 15 degrees – it’s their winter.

·      This city has some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen (sorry Canada).  I have heard that Montreal has some of the best looking people in Canada, but Melbourne has got nothing on them.  The women are gorgeous, always well-dressed, with immaculate hair and make-up!  As for the men...  Let's just say they aren’t hard to look at :). 

·      Locals love their coffee, and are very specific about how they want it.  I had no idea what a long black was, a short black, a chai latte, a skinny something or other.

·      Locals also love their Australian / NZ wine.  Very few people venture out of their usual Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Coonawara Cabernet.  Even so, I often try to get people out of their comfort zone and push the grüner vetliner, vouvray, or nebbiolo.

·       And I absolutely LOVE my job. 

Andrew at the cheese counter:


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Ten Minutes by Tractor

 Ten Minutes By Tractor

Less than a year ago, in class one night, my sommelier teacher raved about a cool little winery in the Mornington Peninsula ( Australia ) called Ten Minutes by Tractor.  She had visited the winery a few years prior and mentioned this as being one her favorites during her visit due to the lovely, refreshing quality of their chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and particularly their pinot noir.  With such a catchy name, I did some research on this winery after my class and was excited about their wine making approach and philosophy.  “One day…..” I thought. 

Well, dreams become reality and that day was last Wednesday when I had the opportunity to visit the winery myself to taste not only their wine, but also the outstanding degustation menu at their attached restaurant.

TMBT has three main plots of land which are about 10 minutes tractor drive apart.  They make wines that represent their sense of place – ‘terroir’; their slope, aspect, soil and climate.  I had the opportunity of tasting; their 10X Wines, which are sourced from several vineyards in the area, all certified organic; their Estate Wines, which are sourced exclusively from their 3 ‘home’ vineyards; and finally only one of their Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Wines.  The Single Vineyard is not usually offered as a tasting because they are only made in vintages that produce wines of appropriate quality – production is usually less than 200 dozen cases. People are welcome to purchase these bottles through their cellar door, but no more than three – pretty exclusive stuff!

Of the tastings, I will write about the wines which I purchased (otherwise this post will be long and boring to some – and likely could put you right to sleep.)

I loved their 2012 10x Chardonnay which was very Chablis like in style – fresh, cuts right through to citrus, clean as a whistle, and with a pleasant enough finish that begs you to taste more. Very elegant and balanced – with just a kiss of oak.

10X Rose 2012 was fresh and fun. I have been told, it is difficult to find a decent rose from Australia but this left quite an impression on me. I thought it really tasty and delightful – good drinkability with nice ripe fruit and acidity.  Sometimes rose can be too perfumed or two sweet, but this is truly refined.  From 100 % Pinot Noir, this wine had 26 hours skin contact giving it a perfect lighter shade of pink.  With notes of strawberry, rose, and light spice this was very easy and enjoyable to drink. 

The Estate Pinot Noir  2012 was my absolute favorite – it had some crunchy strawberry, red current fruit, spice, and a bit of forest floor which added depth and complexity, paired with a fresh acid driven finish that lingered on the palate.  Terroir in a bottle?  

As hard as it was to pull myself away from the wine tasting area, it wasn’t long before I was seduced into the dining room for my lunch which consisted of an 8 course degustation menu that was equally as elegant, delicious and complex.  I am no food critic so please just enjoy the pics and the short introduction to each.  Portions were small but the flavors were big.  Just magic. 

Amuse Bouche

Seared tuna with sesame and bean salad, spring onion yogurt.

Goat’s cheese, pickled mushrooms, toasted brioche, apple and walnut.

Seared scallop, ratatouille, and leek

Roasted Hapuka (a white fish from New Zealand which has a steak like texture. It was awesome!!!) , cauliflower, curried quinoa, crystal bay prawn, and romesco

Smoked Quail (one of my favorite’s), pumpkin, black rice, kaiserfleich, macadamias

Duck breast with five spice, parsnip, and pear puree

Flinders Island Wallaby ( Yes folks – a baby like kangaroo.  BUT – let me tell you this was succulent. It was grilled, full of flavor and so tender it nearly melted in my mouth. It was my favorite dish), du Puy lentils, confit parsnip, prune gel marinated potatoes, tarragon and minted peas.

Plum sorbet, lemon verbena espuma

Poached pears, hazelnut caramel, praline cake, praline ice cream, and honey jelly.

The entire team at Ten Minutes By Tractor were knowledgeable, warm, and inviting.  I have never had such quality of food and wine, along with the professional and friendly service.  The waiters/sommeliers were really keen to explain each and every dish, and answer my many questions.  For good reason, there is passion and pride in what they do.  This was a very important day for me, in more ways than one. A small town girl who somehow feel in love with wine has made her way half way across the world to visit the #1 winery on her bucket list.   A huge thank you to everyone who made that day special for me.  Cheers indeed.   


Thursday, 18 July 2013

CHEESUS CHRIST - I'm in Heaven.....


And the smell is wonderful. 

As you enter, ‘a picket fence’ of wine bottles surrounds you, and the ‘lush pasture’ of the green cushion seats with small tables line the right side of the room .  Towards the back is a big white swing – the kind you always dreamed of having on the front porch of your home.  The family size table in front it makes it an ideal spot for guests to gather around to eat and drink to their heart’s content.  To the left , the pièce de résistance -  a bar lined with 100 plus different types of cheese from all over the world.  The genius behind Milk the Cow Fromagerie and Wine Bar is run by Daniel Verheyen. and Laura Lown.  Still relatively new, this outstanding little eatery serves up any kind of cheese you can imagine with a funky little wine list to match.  The décor is done in just the right way to represent a farm – brilliant work Dan!

Anyone walking into a Fromagerie can easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice one has when ordering cheese.  Laura is the star cheese monger at Milk the Cow – with much experience under her belt, she is able to answer any questions you have, or steer you in the right direction towards the style of cheese you love or are curious about. Her passion shines on as she goes through the vast array of cheese on display.  You can take your cheese and wine to go, or sit and relax for a bit and try out their fabulous flight menus.  Guests can choose between a wine, beer or spirit flight matched perfectly with the monger’s choice..  Starting at $16 a head, it’s fantastic value for money and a great opportunity to try different things.  Or maybe an individual size fondue is more your thing when it’s chilly outside?

The fromagerie's focus is to have old country hospitality in the heart of Melbourne, while  serving top quality cheese and wine.  The whole team is extremely knowledgeable, professional, friendly and warm.  

Oh and did I mention I have just started working there?  Starting off as a trial, I hope to be working full time as their new waitress/sommelier.  I doubt it can get any better – the staff there are so amazing and patient with me as they explain how things work in their establishment. Lovely Ella goes through the different cheese boards they have on display; Andy, the fiery Scotsman from Edinburgh whips up delicious cocktails (most garnished with cheese); Vanessa, who is the media/events coordinator can present a dish with such elegance and suave she will have your mouth watering even before your plate hits the table ; Andrew  who is very passionate about his work gives me pointers no how to serve, and John (better known as Juan) has a contagious smile as he sweeps through the place with style and grace.

I have so much to learn, but at the moment I am simply loving it.  Who wouldn’t be – being surrounded by cheese and wine all day?  This is fantastic for my resume – not so great for my waistline.  At any rate, I intend to shine and do my best here.   Besides tasting and doing some research on their wine list, I also have to be familiar with the different cheese the fromagerie sells.  A Meredith Chevre with a refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc perhaps? A Fourme D’Ambert with a lovely glass of whiskey?  Or how about some mimolette with a tasty stout?  I will GLADLY learn about cheese, their tasting profiles and origins – thank you very much. 

The glowing team Milk the Cow has an original concept specializing in something unique, enjoyable, and equally delicious -  no doubt it will be the key to their success.  I am one lucky gal to have found this place and I hope I can continue to work hard, impress, and bring something to the table that will awaken everyone's wine and cheese-loving side.

Please take a look at their website to check out their menu, upcoming events, and the story behind Milk the Cow. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ambulance Please...

Yes, not even a week in Australia, and I needed an ambulance.

I think I had lost consciousness for about two minutes.  I had fallen into a dreamy state in which I envisioned my housemate trying to scoop me off the floor, while I was giving him directions on how to drive me back to Canada.

And no, I wasn't drinking. It was during my habitual morning shower when I slightly cracked my head open on the tap.  Needless to say, I went into a bit of a frenzy, and messaged my housemate on Facebook to say what happened (no phone at this point). 

I managed to type even though things were starting to blacken out.  During my brief mental absentia my housemate called an ambulance who showed up only minutes later.  As it turned out, my blackout was a result of my hyperventilating – a kinder way of saying I over reacted. 

Welcome to Australia Mandi!

I am sharing a flat with someone outside of the city core, in a neighborhood called Prahran.  My roommate's name is Lachie, an environmental engineer who grew up on a farm outside of Melbourne.  He is pretty easy going it seems, witty, intelligent.   More importantly though, he is very friendly and prompt to help out a damsel in distress. 

Prahran,  say it fast: Pruh – RAN.  I love the area. The population of Melbourne hovers around four million, while that of Prahran is about 12, 000.  It’s a town full of  thirty-something young professionals, who flock to the two main streets ( High and Chapel ), filled with funky cafes, trendy restaurants and wine bars I have yet to discover.  It reminds me of England a bit, with the cute accents and brick fences surrounding homes. People’s gardens are full of beautiful lush tropical trees and plants.  Very pretty. 

To say Melbourne has temperamental weather would be putting it mildly - it's bloody bipolar here.   It can be sunny by the time I leave the apartment, and raining five minutes later, so I have to be dressed for all four seasons simultaneously.  I can always count on it being cold though – it is their winter after all. 

Sorry to disappoint, but I have no reports of spotting kangaroos, koala bears, dingos or the like, for those who are wondering.  I did however, see a massive dead bat on the sidewalk today, if that brings any satisfaction! 

I have walked around downtown Melbourne for a bit, passing out resumes here and there to various restaurants and bistros - here's hoping some are looking for a waitress/sommelier.  The only place that took an interest was, bien sur, a French bistro that needed someone to run dishes – kind of a bus girl sort of thing.  I lasted about two hours before the manager kindly told me I could go home.  Made twenty bucks in two hours, and what did I do with my earnings? 

Bought a bottle of wine of course! I love wine, I love learning about wine, talking about wine, and making it come to life - but I am starting to wonder if I am I cut out for work in the service industry.  I don’t remember doing anything wrong during my bus girl gig, but maybe I just wasn’t efficient enough. (read: over-educated?)  Ah – who knows ?!  I need to keep plugging away at it, I suppose, until someone 

a) thinks my accent is cool
b) falls in love with my sparkling personality ( kidding )
c) sees my potential
d) spots a) b) and c) in me?

For now, I am happy to say I’m loving Prahran.  I am a walking distance to everything I need, including shops, restaurants, my gym, the market….  Public transportation is easy and accessible, and everyone I have met so far has been extremely friendly, warm and helpful. 

So, over the next few days I will keep hammering out the resumes, discovering the city and, hopefully, trying out a new wine or two. 



Monday, 1 July 2013

Melbourne Bound!

I have left my job.

Seven years teaching high school kids in Montreal have been stashed away in a chapter now known as my past life.  My car, furniture, and most of my belongings have been sold, replaced by a  ticket to Melbourne, Australia.  My family and friends think I’m brave, adventurous, bananas, you name it.  Some, like my friend Vera who labels everyone, say I am a novelty seeker (thanks Vera!) Well it’s likely I am all those things, considering I’ve never visited the country before, sans contacts and job.  

No worries though, as the Australians would say! I am certain only great things are in store for me once I arrive. My passion and love for wine have lured me to the land Down Under and, as a recent sommelier graduate, I hope to snatch a job at a restaurant or winery.   

For fun, I will be exploring the gastronomic culture that Melbourne is so famous for.  There will be posts on restaurants, cafés, wine bars and the like.  I don't pretend to pass off as a professional food critic (God knows I am not getting paid for it), but it will be harmless fun to comment and deconstruct new recipes and drinks, especially in a city that is not my own. 

So, Outback, here I come and bring on the kangaroo! I wonder, do the Aussies really eat these nimble, beautiful creatures?  I guess I’ll find out soon.  After all, they could ask the same question about Canadians eating moose.  Let’s be honest though – when was the last time you had moose steak on your plate?!

Oh and the wineries! I hope to visit as many as possible in South Australia and Victoria, so please feel free to share any hidden or not-so-hidden treasures. 

A Walk on the Wine Side is a blog meant to document my time spent in Melbourne over the next 6 months. Please feel free and share it with family, friends, or anyone else interested. 

Cheers! M.