Feb 192020

The Wine Appreciation Groups

We have a number of wine appreciation groups. Wine Appreciation runs in some terms only. It is an introductory course about wine and is led by Karen Coulston. The other groups are monthly luncheon or dinner events which are only open to people who have previously done the Wine Appreciation course.

In August 2018, the Wine Appreciation group gathered at Karen Coulston’s house in Yarrambat to bottle some wine that they had previously made. Watch a 5 minute video of the day.

Jan 262022

10 members of our newly created All Things Wine & Food Group decided on have breakfast on the Yarra at 8am on 26th January. The sky was blue, the weather was comfortably warm and the three courses for breakfast were produced and despatched slowly by all as the sun rose over the Yarra. Karen Coulston chose the wine appropriate to each course. Our group was encouraged by the mostly under 30-year-old runners and walkers that passed by. Maybe it was the candelabra, maybe it was the place and the setting, or could it be the look on all the smiling faces.


Nov 282020

Remember that I am biased and tend to more savoury, medium weight wines in recent years (since chemotherapy).

White wines


  • My preference is for dry as most Australians are.
  • A perfect fish wine (think fish and chips on the beach, the acid cuts through the fat).
  • I love aged Rieslings evolving to kerosene.
    • Tasmania, a beautiful pair, medium sweet and dry, is from Frogmore Creek (sweet is labelled FGR for forty grams residual sugar).
    • Clare / Eden Valley.
    • Geelong / Henty.
    • Far south WA.
    • Alsace, France for all beautifully aromatic whites, dry → very sweet.


  • Only with some oak influence. I like a creamy but mineral Chard.
  • Cooler climates preferred but most places can grow good Chardonnay.
  • White Burgundy.

Pinot Grigio / Gris

  • Cool climates again, wherever Pinot Noir grows well.
  • I prefer the more acidic Italian style Grigio, fresh, lively, almost cutting.
  • Gris style is richer, sometimes with a touch of sweetness and old oak fermentation. This is the French / Alsace style suited to creamy seafood and chicken dishes (traditionally bottled in Riesling bottles).

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Not my favourite Australian white, where it is often overpowering in tropical fruit but lacks structure – too simple.
  • I like the New Zealand grassy, gooseberry style.
  • The French Loire style is different again, with bright fruit and structure.


  • Only old ones from the Hunter Valley where the lemon curd of youth (often pleasant) develops to buttered toast under the lemon spread.
  • I don’t like Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends – often cheap and nasty.


  • I’m not keen on Viognier, Verdelho or Chenin Blanc, although WA does make some exceptions.
  • Never serve me a moscato!
  • Alternative varieties from Italy and Spain can be very interesting:
    • Fiano, Arneis, Friulano, Gavi, Vermentino often blended as in Italy.
    • The Victorian King Valley experiments well with Italian varieties.
  • French alternatives, Marsanne and Rousanne, often in a Rhone blend:
    • Lovely aromatics that age to honeysuckle.
    • Central Victoria grows more than Rhone.
  • Stickies made from Riesling or Semillon (and Sauvignon Blanc in Sauterne):
    • Must be from Botrytis affected fruit for concentrated marmalade/ginger/apricot.
    • Ice wines are simply concentrated without the extra dimension of Botrytis and ridiculously expensive.
Sparkling wines


  • I prefer the classic Champagne blend but always from cold climates.
  • Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir:
    • Blanc de blanc is all Chardonnay, ultra fresh, touch of citrus.
    • Blanc de noir is all Pinot Noir – more meaty, masculine, deep.
    • Rosé has some Pinot Noir skin contact for colour.
  • Vintage means the grapes are from one year. The Champagne houses only produce a vintage Champagne in exceptional years.
  • Non Vintage (NV) means grapes are from several years and base wines from different vineyards can be blended (as can be the case for vintage as well).
  • Big houses tend to make more complex sparklings because they blend more base wines. Small producers make individual wines that vary from year to year.
  • Ideally have 3 years on lees before disgorgement to get good autolysis character (crusty bread, dough, Vegemite).
  • Tasmania vies with Champagne for the best. The UK performs well too.
  • Methode champenoise best but good safe wines from transfer (pressure tanks) too.

Prosecco (and other non Champagne varieties)

  • Prosecco (and other non Champagne varieties) make simple wines but non challenging and good value bubbles.

Sparkling reds

  • Particularly Australian, usually Shiraz, often with Durif in Victoria.
  • Often made from finished red wine that needs to be diluted before sparkling.
  • Not as complex as whites and doesn’t benefit from autolysis.
  • Great with Christmas dinner turkey.
Red wines

Pinot Noir

  • My love for elegance, savoury character and wonderful structure.
  • Must be cool climate:
    • Burgundy.
    • Tasmania.
    • Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Macedon.
    • Adelaide Hills.
    • Far south WA.
    • New Zealand (I prefer Martinborough to Central Otago).
    • Oregon, Canada.
  • Be prepared to pay >$40 for anything good. Be sceptical about second labels often sold to restaurants at <$20.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • The classic French variety, usually blended in Bordeaux but a straight varietal in Australia (sometimes middle palate softened by Merlot).
  • I like the cool climate wine with a touch of herbs/greenness and an austerity that promises longevity:
    • Coonawarra.
    • Margaret River.
    • Yarra Valley in warm years.
    • Bordeaux.
  • Big cassis, brambly flavours in Australia. Taut tannins worthy of ageing.


  • To me best as a blender, too soft except in Pomerol.


  • Australia’s own but the same variety as Syrah in the Rhone.
  • Cool climate style is spicy and peppery, round but big tannins:
    • Heathcote, Yarra Valley, Geelong.
    • Adelaide Hills, Clare.
    • Cote du Rhone.
  • Warmer climates produce big, bold almost jammy Shiraz:
    • McLaren Vale, Barossa.
    • Hunter, Orange, Mudgee.
    • Swan Valley.
  • Blends well with Cabernet for the iconic Australian red.

Alternative reds

  • Italian varieties:
    • Sangiovese Italian like from cool areas like King Valley.
    • Nebbiolo likewise (tar and roses in Italy and KV).
    • Primitivo (Zinfandel) bigger, broader red.
    • Nero D’Avola, Aglianico, big reds from Italy’s warmer south.
  • Spanish varieties:
    • Tempranillo, Rioja, does well in much of Australia.
    • Grenache (Garnacha) old stalwart of SA, pretty wine rather than iconic, good for rosés.
  • French minors, not usually stand alone, good blenders:
    • Malbec, Mataro (Mourvedre), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc.
    • Durif a very big red in Rutherglen region.
    • Gamay the grape of Beaujolais but a poor cousin to Pinot Noir.
Fortified wines

Sherry (Apera in Australia)

  • Best from Spain.
  • Flor (oxidative film yeast) produces flavours.
  • Solera system blends over years in pyramids of barrels (done in Australia too).
  • Fino dry and delicate, beautiful with a light soup.
  • Amontillado, richer, try with a creamy soup.
  • Oloroso coarser, sometimes sweet, it matches the hearty soup.

Port from Portugal

  • Rutherglen best in Oz.
  • Sweet red fortified mid ferment.
  • Vintage made from one year’s grapes, bottled early then bottle aged.
  • Traditionally, a bottle should be consumed in one sitting (to avoid oxidation or just the British?).
  • Tawny is aged in the barrel, a blend over many years, brown from oxidation/age.

Muscat and Tokay (Topaque in Oz)

  • Basically fortified grape juice.
  • Rutherglen’s own from super ripe Muscat and Muscadelle grapes.
  • Intensely luscious and aromatic.
  • Classified into Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare priced accordingly.
Feb 182020

In February 2020, the Wine and Food Lunch Group had a Queensland dinner at Debra Forbes’ house.

Wine notes

Our wines today were all Robert Channon wines, from the Granite Belt near Stanthorpe, Queensland – cool climate wines.

  1. Chardonnay/Verdelho 2019 – the area is renowned for its Verdelho. Bit sweet, not enough acid for Chardonnay/Verdelho.
  2. Verdelho 2019 – went very well with our fish dishes. Varietal character, rich and delicate at the same time.
  3. Rose 2019 – from Pinot Noir juice, quite nice.
  4. Pinot Noir 2015 – not as refined as Yarra Valley Pinots.
  5. Shiraz/Cabernet Merlot 2018 – easy drinking. Good even with cucumber sandwiches! Not aggressive – not too big in the mouth.
  6. Late harvest Verdelho 2014 – clean acid finish, good for dessert. ‘Late harvest’ says ‘harvested end March, for us that’s the beginning of our grape harvest in Victoria! The ginger in our fruit salad went well with this wine.
Crocodile Karen
Barramundi Vera
Prawn and avocado salad Jude
Fried coconut, crumbed prawns Deb F
Pumpkin scones Deb T
Crab sandwiches Jenny
Cucumber sandwiches Jenny
Chicken & mango Deb T
Tropical savoury salad Lizzie
Tropical dessert salad Pam


Jan 312020

In January 2020, the Wine and Food Lunch Group had a Tasmanian dinner.

Wine notes
  1. Clover Hill Sparkling – classic Tassie style. Set up in Tasmania by Taltarni, they wanted classic, Tassie style with the best fruit. Lovely marriage with our oysters.
  2. Milton Riesling 2017 – Swansea, Tasmania. Has a touch of sweetness, big enough and rich enough to enjoy with onion tart, scallop pie and potato salad.
  3. Stefan Lubiana Chardonnay 2018, Granton, Tasmania. (Makes good Pinot too). One of the best in Tasmania. Good with possum, scallops and also the pork and apple pies. Delicate oak, good Chardonnay characteristics.
  4. Riversdale Estate 2017 Pinot Noir. Coal River Region. Went well with wallaby and pork.
  5. Coldstream Hills, Tasmania, Pinot Noir 2018. Has harsher tannins, but will mature into a nice wine, still a bit rough. Went well with onion tart. Pinot is a very food friendly wine. Pinot Noir has a drying nature. The drying effect of tannins is not restricted to Pinot Noir, bigger reds are more drying but with age their tannins bind with other things in the wine not just the protein in saliva when they hit the mouth.
Tassie cheeses and nibbles Lizzie
Curried scallop pie Vera
Oysters Fidel & Jude
Smoked salmon Jenny
Possum stroganoff & potatoes Karen
Wallaby meatballs Karen
Port & Apple sausage rolls Deb T
Salads Pam
Apple Tarte Tartin Deb & Peter T
Onion Tart Jenny


Aug 012017

As a complete novice and an enjoyer of the occasional glass of wine, I and 11 others signed on the Wine Appreciation Class of 2017. What a blast it was. The fun, the friendship, the food and (of course) the wine, all with the gentle guiding hand of Karen Coulston to make the class an enlightening and enjoyable event.

At this point, it is probably important to say that each of the four glasses in front of us were for tasting. This was not meant to be a grog fest, but a serious class.

Some of our members enjoying the class around the pre-set table:

The class was based on the assumption that different wines are best paired with particular foods. Our job was to confirm or otherwise this assumption. Well, also to enjoy the experience, of course.

Karen, who is somewhat renowned in local winemaking, has degrees in Chemistry (BSc(hons) (Monash), MPhil (London)) and Wine Science (BAppSc (CSU)), started a boutique winery along with her since-departed husband, Laurie. With Laurie now enjoying the other side of wine-making heaven, Karen allowed us and others to be educated in the appreciation of wine. It also allowed us to enjoy her quite unique property in Yarrambat.

Apparently the first classes Karen ran, whilst successful, lacked an additional ingredient – and that turned out to be food: the perfect combination with any, if not all, wine.

Our class attendees, Deb T and Peter, Jude and Fidel, Pam, Robin, Simon, Greg, Ruby, Jenny, Liz, Vera and myself (Deb F), found ourselves at Karen’s mercy. Wines and food were pre-organised, in situ or via email.

We covered red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, and wine varieties within sub groups. We learnt of flavours and smells, what is grassy, what is musky, what is fruity, and what is downright horrid. But then there were the delights of some beautiful wines which surprised us because, whilst they may have been cheap, they improved with a particular food group. For instance, the cabernet with the duck, the sparkling with the oysters and vietnamese rolls, and the chocolate with the shiraz! All amazing and brilliant.

Many times, as we all got to know each other better, Karen needed to bring us back to attention by the tingling on a glass so that she could remind us of the attributes of a wine that we were tasting.

After learning that Karen had held a previous class to make their own wine, we insisted we had to as well. So, a rosé was chosen, and our group gathered grapes from anywhere that still had enough (we were late in the season for good grapes). We learned how to press the grapes and started the process to turn these little beauties into our magnificent wine. Karen has continued the process, adding as required until bottling day (still to come).

Each week added to the previous one and the experience was better every time. The inclusion of food with the wine appreciation was a master stroke and just made the occasions truly special. Each person contributed either a prescribed bottle of wine or pre-determined food.

We loved and laughed all the sessions long. Pam, so heavy into permaculture, was able to enlighten us on more sustainable food management production. Deb T sang us into a coffee shop with her magnificent two-octave voice at the end of a day tour. Fidel tolerated the white wines when we really knew that he exclusively preferred red. Jude was stunned when Fidel told the group she (Jude) would make carbonara – her face was priceless. Robin, so quietly spoken, would put in his bid for his contribution first in the auction only to be beaten by louder voices, week after week. Liz would look with amazing grace at others when they were over-jolly with a particular approving gaze in her eye. Vera regaled us with her excited eyes and Ruby gave us her comic look of entertainment when she picked up on conversation at the other end of the table. Greg’s car broke down on the way one time with a vital food ingredient of our meals and Simon refused to eat any oysters cooked or otherwise. And Jenny excited us by saying she would bring lobster to our sparkling wine day and got hailed down to yabbies, which turned into prawns. It was all so good no matter what. Peter nearly rolled over with laughter watching Deb F’s face when served with the vietnamese rolls that flopped in a most interesting manner.

Our class was introduced to particular varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Shiraz and Chardonnay. Then we looked at wine types and styles such as aromatic whites, Mediterranean reds and whites, new world reds, sparkling and (still to come) fortified wines. We had two all-day-long bus tours to introduce us to wineries of differing styles and the food that they paired with their wines. We saw sparkling wine being made and had tours to the vineyards cellars, including Dame Nellie Melba’s beautiful property, Coombe, in the Yarra Valley.

We are part of U3A for many reasons, learning, connection, community, many other personal reasons. This class with Karen embodies as close to all these elements as I and my fellow class mates have experienced. It was, and is, great, just great. As a group, we have decided to continue the friendship and meet regularly hereafter.

Thank you Karen. Most sincerely, thank you.