Wine / Taken in a peaceful, vegan conquest

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UNTIL recently, I thought the term vegan feast an oxymoron. That is, of course, a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction, with some random favourites verging on dad jokes and therefore appealing to me: airline food; legally drunk; tight slacks and, sadly these days, honest banker.

Richard Calver.

The truth is that at Monster in New Acton there was a fine vegan feast that featured wines from Lark Hill. The combination was superb.

Chris Carpenter is the winemaker from Lark Hill and, following a speech from the presiding chefs from Alibi restaurant in Sydney and our own Monster, Chris did a bang-up job explaining the way that biodynamic wines match with plant-based cuisine.

“We don’t add chemicals in biodynamic wine making”, he said.

“We just use grapes and yeast and a lot of hard work.

“Soil and plant health are what counts, we have no chemical inputs in our winery. We let the ‘terroir’ – or the winery’s natural reflection of where the grapes are grown – do the talking.

“Wine should taste like the place it’s grown. It’s even more important that we pick the grapes at the right time as this affects acidity, sweetness, and flavour of the wine.”

When I spoke to Chris, I said: “It’s amazing isn’t it to think that some wines are not vegan per se because they use egg whites to fine the wine?”

“Exactly,” he said.

The first Lark Hill wine that went with the yummy but small dumplings was the 2017 Roxanne petillant naturel. This wine is cloudy, pink and fizzy with a very real presence of lees in a wine so young. That’s because the wine is naturally fermented in the bottle. This style of wine I find funky and unsettling, but that’s probably just an old-fart response to a new way of presenting wine au naturel.

Next up was the 2018 Canberra region rosé that was matched with smoked hummus and heirloom carrots. This was clearly a shiraz-derived rosé (and, of course, I patted myself on the back for picking this characteristic). It is young, fresh and was much more to my taste than the pet-nat, although anodyne.

We were then served an amazing mixture of kelp noodles with broccoli, black barley and goma (or sesame) dressing. The broccoli with the umami flavours from the dressing was stunning.

I turned to Chris and asked if he had children. “Yes, I’m a dad,” he said.

“Okay, then,” I said, “What’s the difference between snot and broccoli?” I asked.

With palpable discomfort and physically shifting away from me, he said: “What?”

“You can’t get children to eat broccoli,” I snorted.

Lark Hill’s Dial M for Murder, marsanne 2017.

Chris left the table on an urgent mission, hopefully, I thought at the time, to get some more of the 2018 sangiovese that was served with this savoury course. There were light tannins and a mellowing savoury flavour to this wine that I thought made it the stand out of the three thus far served.

But then with dessert, a wonderful hibiscus, strawberry cheesecake, we were presented with a 2017 Dial M for Marsanne.

This was a great way to finish the meal. Chris was back now taking his place next to me and explained that super-ripe marsanne grapes were grown in the Dark Horse Vineyard and fermented on skins. Reserved juice was added to give sweetness and that uplifting fresh flavour you get from the best dessert wines.

With the yuzu gel (strange Japanese citrus that blends orangey/lemon tastes together) and a mouthful of cheesecake, a swig of this dessert wine was a toasty palate cleanser. This bittersweet finale filled me with cool passion and I knew I was at the living end: the vegan food and biodynamic wines were overbearingly modest and had taken me in a peaceful conquest.

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