My first taste of wine was some homemade grappa (OK, it was just a sip or two and my old man wasn’t happy about it …  “bloody wogs” or some such insult), but it was my first step towards the-then unheard of multiculturalism. I had it with some spag bol (also a first), cooked by Mrs DiMarco during dinner with her newly arrived Italian family across the road. It was circa 1958, a time when migrants were somewhat ungraciously referred to as, among other derogatory tags, “New Australians”. Little did we know at the time what a wine and culinary debt we would owe them.

For my first real taste of wine (OK, a drink), it took me quite a few more years. It was a Metropolitan Hotel house red, bought for me as a 17-year-old copy boy, by the late, great Truth reporter Jack “Ace” Ayling. I struggled to get the first one down (rough as guts still readily springs to mind), although the second and third glasses were easier. And they have been getting easier ever since.

It was the ’60s and it was all California Dreamin’ and California Girls. Well, it was musically at least, thanks to the The Mama’s and the Papa’s and Beach Boys although I was into Elvis then and still am. I’ve done a bit of California dreamin’ and the occasional Californian g… (OK some things are better left unsaid) during my four trips there over the years.

Right now though, Californian dreamin’ has become a reality, courtesy of some Dry Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008 out of Sonoma.

What a good wine. It is aged in French oak for nine months, weighs in at 13.5% alcohol and has a (recommended) ageing potential of 3-5 years.

That said, it is fruity (I would have said fruit salad rather than specific fruits) and apparently toasted almonds (buggered if I could get that to happen), nor could I get the hazelnuts (what the hell do they smell like?) after a while in the glass. No matter, it tastes good. The acid is well balanced, as is the oak, which isn’t too over the top. In the mouth it’s a smooth, mealy sensation that lasts. Oh, and it has a buttery finish, something I love in chardonnay.

I grabbed mine at my local Vintage Cellars for about $29. Not a cheapie, but worth the price of admission. I married it with a home-cooked cassoulet — find the recipe at the bottom my blog — courtesy of an early (for me) trip to the South Melbourne Market. I took the recipe from Leon: Ingredients and Recipes, by Allegra McEvedy, very kindly on loan from my friend, and fellow cassoulet lover, Sue.

I added chorizo to it, but other than that I almost followed it to recipe, although I added carrot and used chicken breast and thigh meat (half and half). Oh, and on the side I had some mafaldine pasta tossed in lots of butter, a couple of cloves of finely chopped raw garlic (it softened with the residual heat but still did its thing) and a handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

I left the cassoulet for two days in the fridge after cooking and the flavours grew an extra leg (I know that because I tasted it a thousand times along the way). And together with the wine, there was no need to repeat the marriage vows … this pair made sweet love together for the duration. Very Californian, eh?

*Follow @mickthesub1 on Twitter or at his blog, Single Person’s Survival Guide

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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