Filmfest is over for another year. For me, that’s 20 fests in 20 years. Alas, it finished with a 6 hour (2 parts with intermission) Indian gangster flick. Passable and would still have worked well at a third of the length. I’ll probably post a filmfest summary in a day or two; feeling a bit wiped at the moment.

When filmfest is on, everything else in my life stops. There’s still some washing up from a week and a half ago to do…I have at least rinsed it. I usually don’t buy groceries prior to filmfest as, from past experience, they don’t last til post fest. I barely see my home; last year I worked from home but this year I worked in the city. My daily routine was something like:

  • get up, shower, etc
  • day at work
  • filmfest
  • home and sleep

and over and over. Just prior to fest, I had a new TV delivered and the cardboard and packing foam etc are still in my lounge room needing to be broken down and tossed (recycled where appropriate). On the cusp of fest, I had 3 cases of wine delivered, one of which I’m finally sampling tonight. Thanks to a friend, I buy a chunk of wine regularly from a good discounter, though I’m also a member of a winery in the Hunter.

Dinner during filmfest is usually dominated by whatever is open near the State Theatre…and consumed quickly prior to the next film. Wine is drunk by the glass and bought from  the bar in the Theatre. I was drinking their Semillon for $8.50 a glass. It was at least a nice drop this year…thankfully, as they’ve had some shockers in years gone by. Not unlike when I travel, the last week or so I’ve only been able to get wine by the glass. Tonight, at home, I cracked open a bottle of red that cost slightly more than that glass of Semillon. At times like this, drinking a $10 bottle of red, it is sheer luxury to be able to keep topping up my glass. That’s a freedom I’ve missed.

a toast to thorpie

I was reminiscing yesterday by trawling through some of my old posts both from here and my earlier handcoded efforts, and came across this one from the days when the argument regarding small bars in Sydney was starting to hit fever pitch. Since then, the laws have changed and the small bar scene has exploded. Initially in a few laneways in the city, no doubt trying to capture some sort of Melbournian effect. In recent times they’ve been expanding out.

Newtown has always had a bar or two, particularly Kuletos, nestled among the pubs and regular fare. To be joined eventually by the now missed Soni’s, Madame Fling Flong’s and Corridor – that last used to be a regular haunt years ago when it was a cafe called Has Beans. A year or so back, The Green Room opened on Enmore Rd and things have been gaining pace ever since. The number of bars in Enmore Rd is rapidly approaching double figures with a few opening in recent months.

wine by the waterThe most recent opener is Hartsyard a few days ago, though it’s leaning toward good beers (via Harts Pub) and more of a restaurant sort of space. Also in recent days, Waterhorse, has opened, and has had a flash outfit. Bar Racuda opened up a few months ago, as did I think, Midnight Special. Not to mention Ra Bar (which I think used to be a wine bar/cafe called Monal), several months ago, as a tapas bar.

I should also mention that there’s The Wine Plate at the city end of King St, though it looks more like a restaurant space with a long series of tables parallel to the long bar. At the opposite end of King St, down past The Chocolate Dog, there’s bench (and opposite them is The Moose). They’ve taken over the old dining space from Pizza Picasso and have the same owners. It’s a tight, friendly space with some rather nice wine choices. I’ve been there a couple of times now, and on last visit, a mate and I, sat by the windows, spending an entire evening chilling out over several glasses of red, some nice tapas, and finishing off with a stunning muscat, All Saints Rare Rutherglen Muscat. As far as I can tell, bench were selling it close to retail too, as a quick google suggests that I can only get it for $10-15 cheaper at best. That’s the best muscat I’ve had. Ever.

a little port

A few months back, I started a port barrel. Said barrel was 8 litres and I filled it with a rich tawny from Draytons. I did very well and managed not to drink from it for most of summer. Alas, I couldn’t last and started drinking from it several weeks ago.

I love the tap thing. I put my glass under and turn the handle; shutting it off when the glass is sufficiently full.

It hasn’t really been in the barrel long enough to mature properly but it is tasting yum. I don’t know if it’s improved in the 4 months but it certainly hasn’t degenerated. I’ve topped it up regularly. Draytons originally sold me a 10.5 litre plastic flagon of tawny. It took more than 8 litres to fill the barrel as the wood soaks up quite a bit. I’ve probably drunk a litre or so from that.

port barrelAnyway, the other night, I forgot to put the lid back on the flagon when I was doing my top up. I noticed the following night and while it was still drinkable (from the flagon), the pleasantness had dropped substantially. There was probably around a half litre or so left. Thus yesterday, along with a few friends, I headed back up to the Hunter for a refill. If you wash out the flagon (don’t use soap! – I used warm water) they’ll fill it up and give you a discount. The standard price is $75 for the 10.5 litre and as a refill of the existing flagon that dropped to $63 or about 6 bucks a litre ie as cheap as cask wine though it’s a decent drop.

They also talked about adding a bit of rum to improve the flavour. I’ve not been keen on this as the rums I’ve sampled have been strong and overpowering. Turns out Draytons also sell a rum port and I had a taste of it. Much, much softer than I expected as the rum seemed to mellow out the port. So I bought a bottle. I’ve just decanted out some port from the barrel into a bottle and added about 700ml of the rum port. For the next few weeks at least, I’ll be back to pouring port from the bottle, which will give the barrel time to start blending in the rum.

ports open…

…well not quite, but I was trying to avoid other really obvious puns that will become apparent. I’ve got a few posts in my head that I never quite get round to, and while it would be convenient to blame my current Skyrim addiction, it must be said that really, I’ve always been a little slack :-)

The last year or two or so, I’ve been mulling over the idea of starting up a port barrel as port is probably one of my favourite tipples to relax with. I’m fond of a good whisky, that is true, but port is always the one to which I chill out. Of late, I’ve been drinking cask ports too, the quality while somewhat basic, has been fine. The thing I like about the cardboard box is the tap and being able to put my glass under and fill up. Plus it tends to keep well. However, the biggest plus of having your own port barrel is that you can use it to mature, or blend, a port to your liking…even a basic port can improve with a bit of time in the barrel. I’ve read quite a bit here and there on what to look for and how to manage it.

barrel and port

barrel and port

Mid last week, I got an SMS from a mate, asking if I fancied a trip to the Hunter on the weekend with a few friends. I try not to say no to Hunter trips :-) We always try to visit a mix of old and new wineries on each such trip and I specifically asked if we could visit Draytons as I’ve long loved their port, dating back to when they used to do ceramic jugs. I figured if anyone in the Hunter sold barrels it would be them, though there’s no mention on their website. Sure enough there was and I ended up buying an 8 litre barrel + a 10.5 litre plastic drum of rich tawny port with which to season it.

Now that I have said gear, this weekend I will fill the barrel with warm water…possibly a few times. This will allow the wood to expand and become watertight ie barrels initially will leak so you need to do the water stuff before you do the port stuff. Once the water phase is out of the way, that can take up to 24 hours, I’ll then fill the barrel with the tawny. Due to the ability of the wood to absorb the port, it will probably take more than 8 litres to fill. The bloke at Draytons suggested I keep some of the port in a separate jug so that I can compare it with the what’s maturing in the barrel.

The downside is that I wasn’t quite ready to buy a barrel and I now need to find a table/cabinet on which to stand said barrel. The barrel comes with a stand of its own so that it doesn’t roll. Ideally I’d want something either waist or shoulder high, alas the cabinet I have in the main room isn’t quite deep enough for the length of the barrel otherwise that would be almost perfect. I suppose at least this gives me a reason to visit the new Ikea that opened up nearby. Not to mention, that any excuse to go shopping is a good one ;-)

a day in the country

As I’m travelling a fair bit the next few weeks, I extended my weekend slightly and had Monday off. A mate and I went for a drive down the Hume to the township of Berrima. I’ve only been there once and that was a couple of years ago. For most of my life, I would hear tales of the delights of the Berrima Book Barn – a barn full of secondhand books, many treasures to be found. As a young bookworm, it sounded like Aladdin’s cave. Many years back, the folk that ran the barn, expanded into Sydney and now have a few shops under the name of Berkelouw, for indeed, it turns out that the barn in question was the wonderfully alliterative Berkelouw’s Berrima Book Barn.

Berrima - a view of the town

Berrima - a view of the town

We spent a lovely day meandering about, having got there for brekky around 10. I wandered through shops and even bought  a jar of Rhubarb & Ginger Jam from Mrs Oldbuck’s Pantry; they did a nice limoncello based jam too, with a nice kick in the aftertaste. Oh geez, I sound like an old fart. Anyways, in the afternoon, we finally made it to the barn. Much to my surprise, and no doubt to that of most folk who know me, I emerged with only 4 books, and kept it under $70 too. A valiant effort. Though there was a rather nice leatherbound edition of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet in the cabinet. It was a bit yum, though I think substantially overpriced at $300. There are much nicer books to be had for that sort of money. By nice, I’m referring to the container, as the content is good regardless. Then there was the lovely, leather bound set of Manning Clark’s “A History of Australia” – they were in really good nick, though an asking price of $1,850 put them firmly out of reach.

As to my purchases, they were an interesting bunch. I have, for some years, been collecting the Penguin wine guides. I like their style, the language used and the down to earth sense of engagement. I’m particularly fond of Huon Hooke’s contributions, not to mention Mark Shield; these days, the annual tome is authored by Nick Stock who seems well suited to continuing the tradition. On my first visit to the Barn, the first book I found was one of the few remaining omissions from my set. So too, this time and I now have the 1995-96 volume. I think this means I need only find one or two volumes to complete the set.The numbering has been rather erratic over the years, which does not help, but I now have these years:


It wasn’t published in 2008. The 1991 edition makes reference to a 1990 edition which I don’t have and there is a 1993-94 edition. The 2005|2006 edition was published in 2005 and the 2007 edition was published in 2006 so there’s no gap there.

My second find was also interesting and fits another area of my interests, and that is the history of language and dictionaries. Side by side on the shelf, were copies of the 1945 and 1966 editions of “The Australian Language” by Sidney J Baker. I was somewhat fortunate a year or two back, to pick up a reprint of “A Dictionary of Austral English” by Morris and as Baker builds on his work, this was a nice continuation. Moreso however, due to a minor controversy, or rather that a work was referred to as being minor, the 1945 edition had additional interest. Acoording to clipped newspaper articles, that someone had placed inside the front cover, a paragraph was to be censored as it referred to the Weekly Bulletin as a “minor weekly” – this upset a few folk though I think the context was clear. So it was decided, according to the clipping, that the reference would be deleted from all unsold copies of the book. This copy was one of the uncensored versions, and the 1966 edition had a differently worded version of the same paragraph. So I grabbed the 1945 edition and left behind the 1966 edition; though I wouldn’t mind tracking down a censored version of the 1945 edition so I could have them sit side by side.

update: As I was adding my new acquisitions to my bookcase, I discovered that I have a paperback reprint of the 1966 edition of The Australian Language. In other words, it was just as well I didn’t buy it today. Yet another reminder that I need to get all my books catalogued into a portable list, if only to avoid potential duplication further down the track.

The remaining two books covered yet another of my interests, that being the history of libraries. The first is entitled “Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain Before 1850” by Thomas Kelly. This looks intriguing and traces the history of public libraries in the UK and the blurb notes that the first public library in Great Britain was established in 1425. The reason this book covers the period prior to 1850, is that was the year that saw the passing of the first Public Libraries Act. The second book is “Australian Libraries” by John Balnaves. This book, published in 1966 purports to be a brief history (90 pages) of libraries in Australia and the author himself acknowledges such.

watering holes

At last, there’s a war heating up over the lack of casual drinking spots in Sydney. It’s long been the case that if you fancy a tipple, a glass of wine with mates, or a spot away from sportcasts and pokies, then Sydney is not the place to be. Wellington, NZ, has a host of little nooks and crannies with a thriving wine bar scene. I had local friends take me to places warm, bustling and full of life, places that have no hope of existence under the current regime in Sydney. The high cost of a liquor licence is often cited as a primary reason for the dearth of wine bars in Sydney. This discussion has come up many times over the years, only to peter out as other issues arise. This time round, it seems to be getting close to achieving critical mass, inspired at least in part, by the shit stirring comments of John Thorpe, NSW prez of the AHA:

“We aren’t barbarians, but we don’t want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book.”

While I don’t know whether John was serious or just taking the piss, I’d like to think the latter. It has the sense of a good ol’ aussie stir about it and it seems to have stirred up a whole heap of folk, all to the good so far. If, as a result of such comments, the laws are relaxed and we start to see the rise of wine bars and wanky drinking holes, then the wine lovers of Sydney will probably have to drink a toast to Mr Thorpe.