Talking tea and wine with The Wine Depository

Today we had a chat to our good friend Phil Smith of The Wine Depository. We love the concept of The Wine Depository because of it is all about bespoke beautiful wines, and a boutique personalised service. Today we talked about where Australian palates are and some of the developments in our wine drinking culture. We found out some of the similarities between wine and tea, and what might be the perfect tea for the wine drinker.

T&S: What do you do at the Wine Depository? Why wine?
The Wine Depository takes all the best parts of your wine buying experience and moves it online. TWD offers the lover of beautiful wines, the chance to browse through and buy some of the best wines from around the world. The notes are written as I would talk to you about them in person. And there are even photos of the back label because I know you like to turn the bottle over and see what they say! But ultimately service tailored to your needs is the key. I get to know your budget and palate to recommend wines that suit what you want, while occasionally testing you out to make sure you aren’t getting complacent.  I try to take TWD offline as much as possible with plenty of tastings, dinners and events for you to enjoy too.

  My second job was at Liquorland in Western Sydney. My mum got me the job in fact. Which was weird because she didn’t drink alcohol, she loved tea though! Liquorland fostered an interest in wine and beer. Then spending over 8 years at one of the great wine stores of Melbourne solidified my love of wine. I think the variety, complexity and the fact that wine can change on a daily basis is really exciting. There is also the bound up romance, stories, myths and hospitality that makes the job really engaging and exciting. Plus these days I am paid to talk about wine at dinners and tastings or while catching up with customers or suppliers in person or on the phone. I get to live what I love.

 T&S: What are the trends in bespoke wines in Australia at the moment? How do you describe the way our tastes and ‘wine culture’ have developed over the last 10 years and what do you think has driven these developments?
The Australian industry is really finding its feet in sub regional and single vineyard wines. Rather than just buying a Barossa Shiraz you will now start buying a Greenock (a sub region of the Barossa) Shiraz because you like the richer, riper wines they make there. It’s happening all over though, because in a place like the Yarra there can be a 3 degree difference in temperature depending on where you are standing. Not to mention altitude and soils and… well the French have a term called Terroir. It is a neat catch all word that lets you know that every patch of dirt is unique and therefore generalising about a region or country is really hard and a bit silly.

Australia is also seeking out varieties that suit our hot dry climate more than the traditional French varieties. Most of the regions that grow Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Riesling in Europe are cold and wet, we don’t do that so well in Australia. So wines from Southern Italy like Vermentino, Aglianico (which is stunning and almost drought proof!) and Primitivo are great for us. As are the wonderful grapes from Greece: Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro are so much more appropriate. Thankfully we have the laws that allow us to experiment and plant what we want rather than being dictated to like the Europeans are.

I think over the last 10 years has seen Australians drink more wines from around the world and at the same time access to these wines in Australia has improved enormously too. For example now you can buy about a dozen great producers from Greece (yes there is at least that many!) where before you’d be lucky to find four. And that is true for all the great and lesser known regions of the world. I have lovely wines from I think 15 different countries in my cellar, that is awesome!

T&S: As an online seller, how do you convey to your customers the nature of the range that you offer? What are the advantages of buying from an online seller?
In some ways I think I have the advantage of a traditional wine shop in that you can compare everything I have at once and inadvertently prompt you about all these regions and varieties etc that you might accidentally miss when browsing shelves. On my website everything is in easy to find lists. So want to see what countries/grape varieties/vintage/regions are available? Just have a look! Being able to write notes that describe the producer, the wines itself, region, variety, vintage and whatever else means all of this knowledge can be given and read if required. And at the same time you don’t have to take it in and if something doesn’t sound to your taste there is no need to politely hear the rest of a spiel from an enthusiastic wine merchant, or worse still cut them off and risk dealing with a sulky wine merchant!

 “In some ways I think I have the advantage of a traditional wine shop in that you can compare everything I have at once and inadvertently prompt you about all these regions and varieties etc that you might accidentally miss when browsing shelves.”

 I’m not sure I would say online sellers are better or worse than traditional retail, there is a lot of cross over for the best of each style so it comes down to your experience as a consumer. My biggest bit of advice is to find a wine retailer that gets your palate and recommends wines to you that you like. That can be done online or offline by any professional. I enjoy having the flexibility that means I can go to a tasting, deliver wine to a customer and have a cup of tea with them, visit my cellar and much more all I one day.

T&S: What are the similarities you see between tea and wine? Tea and wine really have such a wonderful range of styles and flavours.
There is massive bulk brands and tiny boutique growers, bold and subtle flavours. There is a perfect wine and tea for everyone, you just have to find it. And that journey is what I think makes both products so amazing. The romance and stories that mean people who love that can get lost in the worlds.  

Obviously the uses are different. But the making of an occasion and the rituals are really important to both drinks. The sharing of a special cup/glass with someone who will really enjoy and value it. The preparation, the vessels to be used and then the slow appreciation. If someone slugs a whole measure of this special drink in one go and says “that was nice” will never again be invited to share in such a special event. Except maybe family who you forgive those faux pas.

They are both farmed products that are quite exposed to variation at their most naked form

 “There is a perfect wine and tea for everyone, you just have to find it. And that journey is what I think makes both products so amazing. The romance and stories that mean people who love that can get lost in the worlds.”

T&S: In your opinion, what would be the perfect tea for the wine drinker and why?
That is a hard and fun question to answer. Like a lot of things in life, I started with preconceived notions that oolong tea was where I’d get the most enjoyment but yet black and white teas are actually proving more enjoyable for me to drink. Like wine, I’d encourage people to try different teas constantly and always be willing to try something new. The tasting and assessing and finding new flavours and textures is such a thrill. Having said that the oolongs do offer a lovely perfume and the ability to change in flavour, which really does appeal to my palate.

 

 

“Like wine, I’d encourage people to try different teas constantly and always be willing to try something new. The tasting and assessing and finding new flavours and textures is such a thrill.”