“Age had certainly taken what I bought years ago as a middle-order wine into something quite extraordinary, where smooth hung out like an old hipster,” says wine writer RICHARD CALVER
MY late father liked the 1953 song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. He would annoyingly hum it as background when I brought home a girlfriend as part of the tedious ritual of “meet the parents”.
I was reminded of this song recently as I sat with three female companions on the terrace of the Wamboin Contentious Character restaurant/winery.
There were two chords that were struck: I was with three women, albeit platonic companions, and this place used to be Lambert’s Vineyards and was recently bought and revitalised by new owners who have given it a new name. The words of the old song reverberated:
Every gal in Constantinople
Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul
Lamberts closed the venue in 2012 but continued to make wine, as they had done for the previous 24 years. And it is their vintages which Tony Mansfield and his three partners currently present at Contentious Character. The first vintage under their own steam will be produced this year.
You have the option of a wine tasting before or after lunch. My companions were pressing for a tasting before eating. But as I had lightly breakfasted, they demurred and we commenced with lunch, and wines that are available by the glass. I started with a glass of the 2003 riesling. Canberra and its surrounding districts is rightly known for its cold-climate rieslings. These late-developing wines can last for at least 10 years in the bottle and are able to develop complex and agreeable flavours. It is that complexity which I find brings me back to this varietal and which makes it a white wine of preference.
Well, having uttered a few words of that kind to my companions (pretentious character meets contentious character?) the first words from my lips were awaited:
“Well, it’s like the rose that you see on a trellis, fully open and still capable of catching the eye with its beauty but when you go to find its perfume, you realise that there is not going to be much left but it remains an admirable sight.”
Later, during the tasting, we had the opportunity to taste the 2016 riesling. It is an excellent part of the day’s outing that you are able to taste a range of vintages, riesling and pinot noir in particular. The 2016 riesling contrasted with the 2003 as does a rosebud to a fully blooming rose. There is a clean, acidic finish to the 2016 that will see it able to be cellared for many a year. The range and depth of the proffered wines at tasting didn’t disappoint but I doff my cap to the rieslings.
There was agreement between my companions and me: the Contentious Character wines are well made and well valued. Not a word of argument broke out during lunch or during the tastings.
Sitting in the late-autumn sun overlooking the leaf-depleted but orderly vines, there was nary a word of contention. The food was good, the wine complementary and the conversation amiable. I’m sure that the “ruffling of feathers” that comes with the name of contention was not in any of our minds. Rather, the names of things cannot affect actually what they are or how they make you feel. At the end of the day, this was one mellow character.
And the final pretentious remark: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”