I'm a water drinker. Water, in my life, is omnipresent. I find comfort in feeling hydrated. So, I'm drinking water at lunch, still water, from a tall green bottle, imported from Europe. I agreed to do this when we are seated. I am aware that over the course of lunch, we drink three bottles of imported, still, water. I am surely responsible for two of them. I feel great. Hydrated! And then the bill…each bottle costs $9.90, totalling $29.70 for our Hydrogen/Oxygen combo needs. I am not surprised , yet I am disappointed. I am disappointed in the markup applied, disappointed in myself for not rolling with the filtered option, but mainly disappointed in our collective, blind, acceptance of what is surely the great swindle of our eating and drinking culture: imported water.
I am an advocate for the concept of terroir, the term used to describe specific characteristics of an organic product based on it's geography and surrounding climate. I have bored you with my take on terroir before – but here I am challenged by it's existence in my overpriced bottle of water, sitting quietly in the middle of the table. I usually use terroir as a reference point in my consumption of all things delicious…I just love knowing where things come from! But can water from Italy really represent itself? Could my palate, in all of it's confused wanderings, pick a Slovenian Mountain Spring from a Victorian Alp? I think not. Could anyone? The great Hugh Johnson? Michael Jackson of the whisky world? Our own Halliday? I know of a restaurant in Melbourne that once had on it's books, wait for it, a water sommelier, in charge of an 80+ water list. Post GFC, the position does not exist. I am confused. Are we getting completely stitched?
I know for sure that a certain water brand from Northern Italy (rhymes with man-whowantsapinot) has a sparkling water, that is widely distributed here by a local coffee company (rhymes with neo) that tastes salty. Quite salty. Annoyingly salty. Sodium is a listed ingredient in a typical water analyisis, but, that doesn't make it a desirable trait. I want to know what is. And then I want to know if it worth paying $9.90 for. Premium Australian Water from a spring bottled in glass? Probably cheaper, I hope.
I am not naïve to the differences in hard and soft water and ph levels that have consequences in farming, brewing, coffee making, etc. But imported water? Surley we have enough. Or maybe we don't. I haven't researched or dared to think of the environmental impact of shipping/ flying the millions of (glass) bottles that arrive on our shores each week. I know of one, from New Zealand, that is in a bottle that is really heavy, like, nearly a kilogram. Empty. So, I'm shitty about imported water. I think it's quite ridiculous and want to know why we can't do our own water, exclusively. Have the consecutive droughts hurt the springs? Do we have a secret pact with the EU that allows a wool for water trade scam? Is the Australian water factory closed? Am I taking crazy pills?
In other news, nearly every 2009 vintage white wine that I have seen, across many varieties from all over Australia, is looking really smart. That is a very general comment on a huge thing, but from what I can see, quality is up. Really up. There is some very good quality see-through booze out there! Buy it! Drink it with friends! Or on your own, in the shower.
Two for review:
Clonakilla is a wondrous thing. It is a winery. It feels like a humble, exclusive, Celtic influenced club for people who want to worship at the altar of Australia's best Northern Rhone inspired, Shiraz Viognier specialist, Tim Kirk. It is consistently the benchmark producer for Shiraz Viognier and Viognier in Australia, given it's access to high quality fruit and truly masterful winemaking. Kirk also produces, amongst other things, a nervy, high toned Riesling and an excellent Shiraz from another underrated Region in NSW, Hilltops. Clonakilla 2008 O'Riada Shiraz (Canberra, ACT, 14% alc/vol, $46 per bottle) is another, entirely new, beast. Warm red berry fruit, some really smoky notes and a nice look at the clean new oak on the nose. Still young and tight, over 2 days and nights this showed some lovely meaty characters and a good depth of flavour with lively acidity. Medium bodied, elegant and really worth the coin. Small producer doing great things. Super.
Picking favourites is hard. But here I go. Little Creatures Pale Ale (Fremantle, Western Australia, 5.2% alc/vol, $21 per six pack) is, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, hop for hop, top for top, the best beer in Australia. It makes you stop and look at the glass, as if something is, well, really good. It has a super bright entry, lovely long malt mouthfeel and most of all, resounding bitterness. There is an underlying respect for this beer in brewing circles based on it's (over) use of the cascade hop and the aforementioned bitterness. Over the last 5 years, this beer has been made more, distributed widely, consumed by all manner of people and yet still retains a consistently high level of quality, a rarity in these global times. The brewery, a gorgeous old warehouse perched on a dock, does not excel at any of it's other styles. But here, they made a beer which pioneered the American Pale Ale style in Australia. It is a benchmark, often copied, rarely matched. The overt hop use gives an amazing and strong aroma, it is clean but also packed with tropical fruit flavour and it is so, so good with single malt whisky. There may be technically better and more unique beers made in Australia. But value for money, Little Creatures Pale Ale is the best. Brilliant.