Friday, 31 August 2012

Five best wine meals ever - Part 1

I have had some great wines in my lifetime. Most have been memorable of their own accord. But the memories that last forever are when you have a line-up of great friends, great food and great wine, all which match perfectly. The memories of those times are enjoyed forever!

Over the next few weeks, I will be describing each meal, the event that warranted it, the friends involved and the wines, all which made the evening special. But the ranking to make my Top Five all-time wine drinking meals is judged on the wine itself and the wine line-up being truly great. While the friends and food added to the evening, they did not contribute to how that evening ranked - only the wine counted!

In this post, I will provide the event, and the list of wines. In subsequent posts, I will describe the friends and food that matched the wine that made those evenings special. My Top Five evenings (in reverse order) are the following:

#5 evening - My 59th birthday - November 26, 2011, at The Cut Bar & Grill
  • 2005 Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon
  • 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay
  • 2000 Houghton Museum Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2000 McWilliams Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 1975 Lindemans Porphry

#4 evening - BPAY Architecture and Support team reunion - August 29, 2012, at The Cut Bar & Grill
  • 2009 Bouchard Pere & Fils Puligny Montrachet
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Nuits St George
  • 1990 Lindemans Limestone Ridge (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz blend)
  • 2000 McWilliams Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2006 Chateau Reuissec Sauternes

#3 evening - My 58th birthday - December 2, 2010, at The Cut Bar & Grill
  • Pommeray Brut Champagne NV
  • 1998 Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz
  • 2001 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz
  • 1981 Penfolds Grange
  • 2005 Château Haut Bergeron Sauternes Dessert wine
  • 1997 Château D'Yquem Sauternes

#2 evening - Deanna's 41th birthday - March 17, 2012, at home with Jay Huxley Masterchef cooking
  • 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne
  • 2009 Hugel Alsace Riesling
  • 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Nuits St George
  • 2005 Chateau Brane-Cantenac (Margeaux)
  • 2005 Château Haut Bergeron Sauternes
  • 1997 Château D'Yquem Sauternes

#1 evening - Deanna's 40th birthday - March 19, 2011, at Lindemans Winery
  • 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne
  • 1987 Lindemans Padthaway Watervale Riesling
  • 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon
  • 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz)
  • 1996 Lindemans St George Cabernet Savignon
  • 1995 Yarra Yering Dry #1
  • 1971 Lindemans Limestone Ridge (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz)
  • 1971 Penfolds Grange
  • 1971 Château D'Yquem Sauternes
  • 1957 Lindemans Vintage Port

While we have had some evenings (such as our anniversaries) where the wines have been just as spectacular, they were limited to two bottles. What made the Top Five truly stand out was that we had more friends and more wines to sample, enjoy and compare.

I am actually not sure if I can write about the great time we had for Deanna's 40th birthday without passing out as just writing up the list has me quivering! I am uncertain if we will ever be able to top that evening, but my 60th birthday is coming up in a few months, so we do have a reason to try! Hopefully, I can use that night to knock off the current #5 and possibly reposition a few of the other four spots!

Friday, 24 August 2012

When to open that truly special bottle of wine

It is always difficult to determine when to share a truly special bottle of wine and who to share it with.  We recently gave our good friends a bottle of 1993 Penfolds Grange for their wedding and within four months, they wanted to open it and share it with us when we came over to their house for dinner last week.  While honored that they would love to share such a special bottle with us, we convinced them to save it for a more special purpose like their first anniversary, getting their Australian citizenship, having a child, or something like that.

I have had some truly great wines over the years where I have originally bought a couple dozen bottles, but as I have consumed them and gotten down to my last few bottles (and knowing this vintage of this wine can never be found again, except possibly at auction or in a private cellar), the responsibility grew as to when to serve this bottle and with who to share it.

When I was less mature as a wine drinker (and less mature as a person!), I would want to target a truly special occasion for that last bottle of a truly great wine.  It actually got to the point where it was a burden to decide instead of the joy it should have been.

Recently I have changed heart and instead of putting on the pressure to find the a special event to justify that special bottle, I am now looking at how I can consume that special bottle to make an 'ordinary' event much more special.  Let me give you two examples of that.

I have a group of guys that formed a great team on the last big project I worked on and they are respected and trusted colleagues and friends.  Six of us are getting together next Wednesday for a reunion and a great meal out.  While the place we are going is not a BYO (Bring Your Own), I know the owner and the sommelier and because I bring a lot of business to them, they are happy to allow me to bring my own wines for special occasions.  I have done that for my and my wife's birthdays for example.  And I am doing that again for our reunion.  Because of the respect I have for this team of guys, I am bringing some great wines to the meal.  It is not a matter of waiting for the right occasion to break out the great wine, but how to make every occasion much better by opening and sharing those special bottles.  That is what will make an 'ordinary' reunion that much more special.

If we keep waiting for a better occasion, we end up either dead or with a 'dead' bottle because we waited far too long.  This recently happened to someone with a 1962 Penfolds Grange which was no longer any good because they waited too long.

One of my wife's all-time favorite wines is the 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label (which is a blend of 30% Shiraz and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon similar in style to the Penfolds Bin 389).  These blends are iconically Australian and make for a tremendous drop.  We were fortunate to have bought three dozen bottles of this excellent wine in the late '90s and I think we paid about $16 per bottle for this wine, but I can't remember for sure.  Several years ago, we put this wine up against the Penfolds Bin 389 in a vertical tasting and compared the 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label to the 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2004 Penfolds Bin 389, and the consistent pick for the best wine that evening was the 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label!  That is how good this wine is!

Well, now a decade later, we have one bottle left and I have been thinking about the right time to have it, but I am waiting no more.  Instead of finding the right occasion for the wine, I am just going to have the wine tomorrow night as I wanted to make the night more special for my wife and myself instead of it just being an 'ordinary' Saturday night at home.  We are not sure if we are making spaghetti bolognese, wagyu beef burgers, lamb or whatever, but we know the night will become special because we will be sharing that last bottle of a great wine together.

Therefore, instead of waiting for that absolutely special occasion, my recommendation to you is to look at how you can make 'ordinary' occasions far more special by bringing that great bottle of wine to share!

Looking back, I now believe it was a mistake to pass on the 1993 Penfolds Grange at my friends house and we should have made the evening more special by enjoying it together.  And (hopefully!) the next time he offers, I will say 'yes!"

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A magnificent Montrachet for $75 per bottle

My taste in Chardonnay has certainly changed over the years.  I used to drink and enjoy a fresh, crisp Chardonnay, and moving to Australia, I initially almost exclusively favored the Chardonnays from Margaret River (such as the Leeuwinn Estate Art Series and Pierro).  However, after trying some of the Hunter Valley Chardonnays I was amazed at how good they were and right in my own backyard!  The Two Rivers Chardonnay from the Upper Hunter is one of the best valued Chardonnays you can find.  Tamburlaine makes a very nice organic Chardonnay, but it is really the aged Chardonnays from Tyrrells and Waverley Estate that I find the most amazing.  Among the very best are the Tyrrell's 2006 Vat 47 (and almost any other vintage of the Vat 47!) and the 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay.

But then about 3 years ago, I had my first Montrachet and have never looked (or snifted) back!  It was a bottle of the 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassagne Montrachet and I picked up 18 bottles at $140 per bottle.  It is quite easy to spend $1,000 for a bottle of Montrachet if you have both the money and the inclination.  I don't!  However with the 2007 La Belle Voisine as the standard, I have tried a few Puligny Montrachets for about $75 per bottle and have been disappointed.  Then while in the US last year, we bought a bottle of the 2008 Bouchard Peres & Fils Puligny Montrachet Grand Vin De Bourgogne.  It was tremendous!

When we returned to Australia, I checked to see if we could get some of this great wine here, but found out we needed to order it from France, and there was no more 2008 to be had.  However, since 2009 was. by all claims. a better vintage anyway in Puligny, we took a chance and bought a dozen for $75 per bottle.  This bet paid off and the 2009 was even better than the 2008.  And the other reason this bet paid off is that a year later, the bottle is selling for about $175!

This wine is rich and complexity with a bit of acid and sharpness to it balanced by the flavor of sweet honey.  This is a truly outstanding wine!  I expect this wine can cellar for another 3 - 5 years, but I will not find out as I do not have the discipline to let it sit that long!  I am on my second bottle and will drink my third bottle a week from now when we have a reunion of my great project team from a previous assignment.  But tonight we are finishing off the wine with some leftover beef strogonof.

And of course as you can see from the picture, this wine will be truly enjoyed in my Riedel Montrachet glass!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

"Goon" wine - heh?

It has been a long while since I have gone out walking early on a Sunday morning.  I left our apartment about 7:30 am, walked down to the Darling Park wharf area, and was deciding if I should turn right and check out the progress on Barangaroo, or turn left and walk back towards the center of the city.  I made the mistake of turning left and was surrounded by four teenage boys who apparently were still a bit drunk since last night.  And if they weren't drunk, then they were just being boisterous and obnoxious while acting drunk.

One kept trying to get ahead of me and read my vest (which is a Lindemans logo vest).  He asked what Lindemans was and I told him it was a winery.  He made mention he had never heard of them, but asked me what I thought of Goon wine.  I told him that I had never heard of Goon wine, but he assured me it was a type of wine and I should try it out if I liked wine.  I fortunately found a road to turn off onto, and was able to separate from the youngsters, as they shouted at me to make sure to try Goon wine!

In my recent post on "What authority do I have to write a wine blog - Part 1", I made mention of having some little parcels of expertize that the 'great's such as Jancis Robinson, James Halliday and Campbell Mattinson do not have, such as some of the minutia I have learned about the Hunter Valley and some of their wineries.

Well, this morning on my walk, I was put in my place by learning that others knew some things about wine that I was not aware of - for example, Goon wine!  So I did a little research and found the following:

The Invention of GOON was in 1965. An Australia mate called Thomas Angove from South Australia was the first person, who patented wine in a Carton Box. He put one Gallon, which is 4.5 liters of wine into a box and sold it. This was the moment GOON has been created. Later on the Box and the container has been optimized and in nowadays GOON is in a Plastic Space-bag and that Space-bag is in the Carton Box. One of the reasons why GOON is so cheap is because obviously the Carton Box is way more economic than bottles.

It appears to be the drink of choice for backpackers as it can be consumed in volume and is cheap and cold.  I now know all I want to know about Goon wine and you never need fear that I may blog on it again!

I have been truly humbled and realize there is a large wine world out there that I am just never going to be familiar with!  Don't tell Robinson, Halliday or Mattinson - it might depress them!

Who is the lucky b#st*rd who bought my 2005 Lindemans Limestone Ridge?

Who's the lucky bastard who bought ALL my 2005 Lindemans Limestone Ridge?!?

I just opened a bottle and it is brilliant!  I remember the tasting and the great deal I got on this wine.  We had a magnificent afternoon several years ago in the Lindemans Still House.  Things were different at Lindemans then.  Aaron was serving us that day and he is driving a truck now.  Damien the heart and soul of Lindemans for a dozen years was pushed out by the 'suits working the numbers' from Treasury Wine Estates. (I could go on and on about how this will cost TWE hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars but will save that for another post!)

We were sampling and bought some great, great 2005 Lindemans St George and Limestone Ridge that day.  However, I have greatly over-bought wine since returning from Qatar, and once I inventoried it, I was shocked to find out how much wine I had and how much I spent.  I had close to 3,800 bottles of wine!  Frankly, looking back I am astounded at my stupidity in terms of continuing to collect so much wine.  Each purchase on its own was a good deal, but I bought too much at a time and too much to drink over time.  My pleasure had become my burden!

Therefore, I felt I needed to sell off a lot and get it back down to a 'much more reasonable' inventory of about 1,500 - 2,000 bottles.  I have sold off about 1,000 bottles so far, but still have about 1,000 more to go.  Since I had so much I wanted to clear, I priced it at a good price point and I decided not to reserve any bottles as 'not available.'  I felt that I had so much great wine, that it was unlikely someone would buy all of one brand and vintage and even if they did, I had other comparable wines I could still really enjoy.  For example, if someone bought all of my 2004 Penfolds Bin 389 (a superb wine), then I still had my 2005 Lindemans Limestone Ridge.  But damn it!  Now I have neither! And seriously, I did not expect my 12 bottles of various vintages of Penfolds Grange from 1981 - 1996 to all sell since they were so expensive.  Boy, was I wrong and do I regret it now!.  I only have one bottle of the 1981 Grange left (which I have set in reserve for my later drinking pleasure) and one bottle of the 1996 Grange (a most magnificent year!) which is still for sale as it needs a number of years yet to mature, so I am not putting in my 'reserve.'

I no longer have any of the 2000 Houghton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which is one of the best Cab Savs of all time.  And I sold off my 2005 Limestone Ridge which I did not realize I would miss so much until I found an odd bottle in the apartment Vintec wine fridge and opened this evening.  Damn, is it good!  And I paid such a good price for it.  I feel like I have lost some close personal friends never to be spending time with them again, including the:
  • 1999 Penfolds St Henri
  • 1999 Lindemans Stevens Shiraz
  • 1981 and 1982 Penfolds Grange
  • 1987 Lindemans Pyrus
  • 2005 Houghton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (mentioned above)
  • 2005 Lindemans Limestone Ridge (mentioned above)
  • 2006 Gabbiano Chianti
  • 2006 Penfolds RWT
Therefore, I have now set aside a 'reserve' of about 100 bottles that I must have moving forward and are not for sale.  I have lost many good friends (bottles of wine!) through the process, but in most cases also feel good that while my wines have been 'cherry-picked,' they often have gone to friends with good palates.  However, I have parted with some outstanding wines which I have had in the cellar for up to ten years and cared for and looked forward to drinking in the future.  My wife cried when I told here about selling off all of her favorite 1999 Lindeman Stevens Shiraz, but I was fortunate to find one lone bottle in the Vintec and one more at our place in the Hunter Valley which we can enjoy as special treats in the months ahead.

But drinking my last bottle of the 2005 Lindemans Limestone Ridge tonight makes me ask me once again the question, "Who is that lucky bastard that bought ALL of my 2005 Limestone Ridge?"

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What to drink with Bangers and Mash?

We are making up a meal of bangers and mash for this evening.  This is the first time cooking this dish at home and I am really looking forward to it tonight!  And we are also looking forward to spring time, but still in the throes of winter and some warm mash in the tummy will suit me just fine this evening!

Several days ago, I wrote about a 'medicinal Pinot Noir' and described what a great Pinot Noir the Bannockburn is.  My first introduction to bangers and mash was while living in Melbourne in 1998, and interestingly enough that was also my first introduction to the Bannockburn Pinot Noir!  I can't remember the vintage, but it was that tasting that encouraged me to buy two dozen of the 1998 Bannockburn Pinot Noir several years later and for which I am forever grateful.

When having bangers and mash, the mashed potatoes feature prominently as do the sausages (we will also have a side of salad with caramelized balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing).  The mash is creamy in texture and when mixed with butter and truffle oil, it deserves to be matched with a slightly lighter red wine such as a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Many Shirazes could overwhelm the bangers and mash and we would not want that.  (However, the 1998 Tyrrell's Vat 9 is such an elegant and slightly thinner textured Shiraz and would go beautifully!)

Therefore, I selected the 1997 Lindemans St George.  I was tempted to open a bottle of the 1996 Lindemans St George which is even better than the 1997, but that seemed too elegant for a simple meal of bangers and mash.  The 1997 St George would be considered an off year compared to the brilliant 1996 and 1998 Lindemans St George.  One of the reason I choose the 1997 Lindemans St George is I thought it was more suitable than the 1996 or 1998 Lindemans St George when matched to the food, and the other is that it will not last as long and  I have about two dozen of the 1997 Lindemans St George and only four of the 1996 and six of the 1998 Lindemans St George which will last another six to ten years.  I am guessing I need to drink all of my 1997 Lindemans St George within the next several years.

When decanting the wine, I noticed that the tannins were well deposited on the side of the bottle and there was a lot of tannin.  The wine seemed a bit tight upon first opening it, but after 20 minutes, it opened up and became smoother.  This wine is still surprisingly robust, yet very mellow with little fruit flavours, maybe just a hint of blackberry.  It does have some light smokey and leathery smells.  The grapes come from the Coonawarra region in South Australia where a number of great Cabernet Sauvignons are grown.  Overall, this is a very nice wine, but not a great wine.

The wine should match up very well with both the mash and the sausages.  I would explain what flavoring is in the sausages, but frankly we forgot what type of sausages they were when we froze them, so will have to find out upon eating them!  But I know the wine on its own is great to drink and it is a great match for the buttery mash with truffle oil, so I expect the meal over all to be outstanding!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

What authority do I have to write a wine blog - Part 2

Two days ago, I wrote the first part of "What authority do I have to write a wine blog - Part 1" which certainly positioned me with less authority both as a writer and an expert on wine than many others, but did provide some (self-proclaimed!) authority nonetheless.

I now want to review the humility and authority of two 'real' writers and their question of if they had authority to write or not.  They are Professor Ian Harper, who has already written a great book on economics, called "Economics for Life", and Blake Stevens and his riveting and educational book on personal financial management entitled "Still Stupid at Sixty."  Both in their humility questioned if they had a story worth telling or not.

Professor Harper has been asked by his publisher Acorn Press, to write another book, looking at what Australia would be like for future generations.  I was privileged to be asked by Professor Harper to participate in a brain storming session with about a dozen other people over the weekend.  For those of you who know Professor Harper, you know that he is a great public speaker, a great writer, participated or chaired major commissions on behalf of the Australian government, including the Wallis Commission and the Australia Fair Pay Commission (AFPC).  He is a world renown economist.  His first book "Economics for Life" was an outstanding success.

Yet, even with the encouragement of others and the proven success he has had professionally, and through his debut book, he still was questioning if he was capable and qualified to write on a topic somewhat tangential to his main area of expertise!  If only more people would take that approach, challenge themselves as much and look as introspectfully as Professor Harper has, there would be a lot less 'garbage' in the printed and electronic domain.  We can only hope that Professor Harper came away from the weekend with the confidence and passion required to write his next book - I hope and expect he has, but have not communicated directly with him on that yet.

By contrast, Blake Stevens, a close personal friend of mine, is not a professional writer or much renown for anything.  He is a very qualified and successful business person though who has made some serious personal financial management mistakes which almost ruined him and from which he is just now recovering.  He also looked introspecfully at his decisions, his mistakes, and his need to deal with them.  He sat down one day in February and 15 days later had written 75,000 words on the mistakes he made, why he made them, what he learned from them and what he did and was doing about them.

He was greatly remorse, frankly pissed off at himself, and astounded by how easy it would have been to avoid the problems without really any sacrifice at all.  His writing was a cathartic experience for himself, but as he continued to organize and review his thoughts, he formed an outline which made his writing look very similar in structure to a book on personal financial management, even though it was not his intent to write a book in the first place.

I encouraged him that he had a great story to tell and that others would benefit from it.  Like Professor Harper, he was questioning what authority he had that would allow him to produce something of merit.  Frankly, he had a great set of lessons that others could and should learn from, openly, candidly, and passionately presented in a riveting manner that made for great reading, some (self deprecating) humor, and a real education for the potential reader.  As one of the Fairfax editors who initially reviewed "Still Stupid at Sixty" said, "This is riveting and well written - and everyone loves learning from someone else train wreck!"

It took some convincing Stevens that he should publish the book, but as of a week ago, "Still Stupid at Sixty" has been published in electronic format in the Amazon Kindle store and is doing very well and getting great reviews.

Both Harper and Stevens have powerful messages to convey and that provides them the authority to publish their stories.  I by comparison, enjoy a good glass of wine and enjoy talking about it, which for me, is authority enough!  Therefore, I will continue blogging!

Monday, 13 August 2012

A Medicinal Pinot Noir this evening!

I am still a bit unfit, from having been quite sick with a viral infection in my lungs (of which I still have some remnants) and now have a bit of a toothache, even though rubbing the tooth will alcohol really does seem to make the pain subside!  Therefore, I have opened a 'medicinal' Pinot Noir for the evening.  It is lighter in taste and more elegant than a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz - I can actually visualize drip-feeding a Pinot Noir directly into my blood stream!  I also know my bride is bringing home some beautiful leftover pasta from an amazing lunch she had with co-workers today.  The pasta is a spaghetti with blue swimmer crab and tomato, and could have gone nicely with an aged Riesling, but I really wanted my 'medicinal' Pinot Noir tonight and believe it will match extremely well with the pasta.

I have opened a bottle of the 2006 Bannockburn Pinot Noir from the Geelong area in Victoria.  Year-in, year-out, Bannockburn makes exceptional Pinot Noirs.  I was first introduced to the 1998 vintage of this wine which was an exceptional and unusual Pinot Noir.  I finished off my last bottle (thank God I had two dozen to last!) about a year ago and it was still magnificent.  Very few Pinot Noirs will last this distance, but the 1998 Bannockburn Pinot Noir just went on and on! 

This wine (the 1998 vintage) is very complex, full flavored and combines berry flavors with some musky, almost musty flavors but in a very positive manner.  This wine would go very well with a mushroom ragout, eggplant or any other dark vegetable.  I can see myself smoking a fine Cuban cigar while sipping this wine!  The 2006 is similar, but a touch lighter and not quite as complex.  However, it is still a truly wonderful wine.  I purchased two dozen of both the 2005 and 2006 vintages of the Bannockburn Pinot Noir, but enjoy the 2006 more.  It will also last longer.  However, taste is a matter of 'courses for horses' and I know several people who prefer the 2005 vintage.

The 2006 Bannockburn Pinot has a very light but tart chokeberry or elderberry taste combined with flavors from the dark, moist forest floor.  Yet, the different flavors are highly integrated, the texture smooth and perfectly balanced, making an excellent wine.  I am drinking it on its own as I write this and it fills the senses!  It also is serving its purpose as a medicinal wine to reduce the ache in my tooth and pick up my spirits overall!  I am excited to have this wine with dinner in about 30 minutes!

A lot of people rave about New Zealand Pinot Noirs, but I need to look no further than Geelong, Victoria for my favorite Pinot Noir in Australia and New Zealand.  (I have had slightly better Pinot Noirs from France, but at two to three times the price of the Bannockburn.)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What authority do I have to write a wine blog? - Part 1

With the Internet and social media, there now exists a global forum for distributing and sharing information.  Everyone can become a writer, a blogger, or an educator. Unfortunately, just providing the medium to communicate, does not make everyone a good communicator - in fact, far from it.  Too many people now can publish without the filter of an editor, a reviewer or a publisher.  While this has allowed for the success of a few great writers who would not have otherwise been found, it has mostly just added pages to the web of limited or no value.

There exists a lot of crap on the 'net, some of the material incorrect or worse, misleading, and some of it vitriol and hurtful, if not downright shameful.  The Internet provides a public forum, and recreates a town hall setting where issues can be raised and debated.  I find this exciting and a leap forward - not backward - in communications and relationships.  Yet, too many people hide behind an avatar, or feel they can be disrespectful in addressing others 12,000 miles away without recourse.  This sometimes turns the public forum into the 'pubic' forum unfortunately.

I thought about writing a wine blog for almost a year before actually writing my first entry.  My bride who writes DAZ in the Kitchen asked if I would consider being a guest blogger as she did not have time that week (almost 18 months ago) to write her post.  With trepidation, I agreed and 30 minutes later had an article which at least would help my wife avoid the need to write something herself that week.  What was exciting was that two people commented positively on the entry and provided me encouragement that maybe I did have something of value to share.

Yet, through having done a lot of wine topical reading, it was clear that (1) I was not a professional writer as many are who make it their career, and (2) I am not as knowledgeable on wine topics as many others are that I admired such as Jancis Robinson, Campbell Mattinson, or James Halliday.  These individuals are great writers and experts in their field.  I read a brilliant article yesterday entitled "Halliday's last O'Shea" by Mattinson in Voracious: The Best New Australian Food Writing edited by Paul McNally.  It was so powerful, I was shaking and delighted in every word Mattinson shared with us about the unique dinner and wine drinking experience that he, Halliday and others partook in.  (Halliday's generosity also comes through on wanting to share such a great bottle with friends which in my opinion makes Halliday a wine enthusiast instead of a wine snob as judged in my article "Wine Snob versus Wine Enthusiast - which one are you?" even though in either case, Halliday must certainly be considered a wine expert!  Expertise has nothing to do with being a snob or enthusiast - attitude does!

But these individuals - Robinson, Mattinson and Halliday - have written multiple books, write about wine as a full-time profession and are absolute experts in their field.

So the question remains, "What gives me the authority to write a wine blog?"

First of all, I actually do not need authority.  I am not requesting anyone to buy anything, or to even take the time to read my posts.  That is clearly and entirely up to them.  And the number of posts and comments continues to grow, so I feel good that it appears to be of value to a community of like-minded readers out there.

I write because I enjoy writing and it helps me organize and challenge my thoughts and views with regard to wine.  I also provide a "common man's voice" which strikes an accord with my audience (you don't need to worry about me providing non-essential information to the 99.999% of us who will never, ever be able to try the '27 LeTache!).  Therefore, there does seem to exist an audience who is interested and finds value with what I have to say, at least to the point of them investing several minutes to read what I write.

2009 Molines Chardonnay and SAZ in the Cellar messy desk

And I have some areas of expertise that even the experts mentioned above do not have that I can share.  I have a place in the Hunter Valley, and have made some great and intimate relationships there and have drank wines from the private cellars of the best Hunter Valley wineries and wine makers, and have learned much of the lore and unique aspects of the Hunter Valley and its characters.  The wine pictured above that I am drinking while I write this post is a 2009 Molines Chardonnay.  This wine is a beautiful medium bodied Chardonnay that is the product of Robert and Sally Molines (proprietors of one of the very few Hatted restaurants in rural Australia called Bistro Molines) chardonnay grapes from their property, crafted by wine make PJ Charteris who until recently was the chief wine maker at Brokenwood, and is annointed as one of the six famous "new generation Hunter Valley wine makers."  (Chateris nows has his own winery in New Zealand which produces great Pinot Noirs which is also taking more of his time and is worth checking out.)

The only way to get any of this great Molines Chardonnay is to either buy it through the restaurant or become friends of Robert and Sally and get some directly from them.  Robinson, Mattinson nor Halliday will be able to describe this wonderful wine to you, explain where and how to get it, etc., but SAZ in the Cellar can!  Therefore, while certainly limited, I can educate others in a few areas that world renown experts cannot!

In part two of this post, I will be reviewing discussions I have had with Dr. Ian Harper who has published "Economics for Life" and Blake Stevens  who published just last week "Still Stupid at Sixty" on their assessment of the authority they have to write.  Both questioned if it existed, both questioned if they had a story worth telling and the ability to tell it, yet both have created riveting and useful books that are of great benefit to many others.  Their authority rings through loud and clear.

I am taking my authority from the growing number of page views and good comments, plus the fact that I do this as much for myself as I do for others, and from the wines I drink and the stories they tell me.

[Note:  There was an error when trying to link to Halliday's Wine Companion, so once that is resolved, I will update this entry to provide that link.]

Friday, 10 August 2012

Should you decant wine?

In my opinion - "Yes, most of the time."  I am a believer that spending some time with air after opening a bottle helps to finish the wine and make it closer to its optimal drinking state.  This is not always the case, but should be considered most of the time.  Plus the ritual of decanting a wine can enhance the sensual pleasure of drinking wine.  I am not big on "form over function," but do get joy out of decanting a bottle, watching the wine spiral down the decanter and the smell rising up as the wine breathes.  Check out my recent blog post "Wine Foreplay and Sensual Pleasures" to find out more on how sensual, almost erotic decanting wine can be!

The visual and nasal aspects of decanting are both enjoyable, and it builds anticipation for the liquid to hit your palate!

Minimally, all wines should be opened and given several (5 - 10) minutes for any odors that may be still captured in the head space (the air at the top of a bottle of wine regardless if under cork or screw top) of the bottle should be given time to flow out.  This will improve the drinking experience by removing any intervening unpleasant smells.

It is difficult to determine the absolute optimal time to open a bottle of wine.  Fortunately, many good wines can be drunk over a several year period where they are truly outstanding.  However, it is often the case that when we open a bottle, the wine is still a little tight, and exposing it to air for 30 minutes up to several hours can really help the wine.  The transformation includes the wine becoming smoother in texture and more mellow in taste.  The little bit of remaining tightness is gone or significantly reduced.

In general, decanting a wine for 30 minutes up to two hours should do the trick.  However, some really complex and very well structured wines that demand to be in the bottle for 10 - 20 years, may require a decanting period of two to three hours or even longer.  The 1987 Lindemans Pyrus for example, should be decanted for 6 - 8 hours to provide optimal drinking pleasure.  This is because of the nature and role of the Cabernet Franc grape as part of the blend.  This is a complex grape which evolves over a very long period of time, making some of the 20 - 25 year old Pyrus a truly magnificent drink.  Yet, it needs long exposure to air to really complete the process.

I tasted this wine a while back at Lindeman's after it was open only two hours and while I liked the wine, I felt it had bit of an aftertaste, so had a difficult time committing to buying much of the wine.  My bride though who has a much better palate than me, loved the wine and insisted we go back the following day to get some more.  (This was a $90 bottle of wine, but because the bottle had been shortfilled at 747 ml instead of the full 750 ml, they were going for $30 per bottle).  The bottle had stayed open over night and when I tried it the following morning, it was absolutely brilliant!  We ended up buying the last four bottles and I am really glad we did as we only have three bottles left now.  This is a complex wine that is 25 years old, and it needs a lot of time to breathe!  But most bottles require far less decanting time to finish off nicely.

However, be very careful and I suggest not decanting very old and fragile wines for too long.  They lose flavor far too quickly and will become tepid or even flat.  While many wines can be drunk over several days, older, fragile wines should be drunk within an hour after being opened.

Most people only think of decanting red wines, but I have found great benefit in decanting really large, robust white wines also.  5 - 20 year old aged Chardonnay, Semillon and other whites deserve an hour of decanting to really bring out the flavor, as does truly great Montrachet wines.

And in case there is any doubt, do not decant a Champagne!  It will quickly lose its bubbles!  Drink Champagne right from the bottle!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Gewürztraminer with Thai Food

Last night we had five people around for Thai food.  We do this every couple of weeks and it provides a good opportunity to try a number of different wines matched to the food.  Of course, what is Thai food?  For four to six people, we would have about eight different selections of food, including noodles, seafood, beef curry, chicken, pork along with springs rolls, rice, etc.  Therefore, the most important thing to remember is that if we have multiple dishes and types of food, we need either (1) multiple wines, or (2) a wine that will match easily with many different dishes.

In my second ever wine blog written on 29 March, 2012, I wrote about what wine to have with Thai food.  That evening we had a Riesling which matches up well because Riesling usually has a bit of sharp edge to it and works well for a white wine with ethnic food, especially Thai food in my opinion where I like a bit of sharpness to start with and then followed by a smoother Shiraz with some of the other dishes.

If we have a few people over though and a few dishes, then I would like to have maybe two whites and one red wine to go with Thai.  That way you can vary what you want to achieve with the whites and I usually would choose a Hunter Valley Shiraz, which is not too heavy (like the big Barossa Valley Shirazes) and contain more peppery or spiced flavorings for the red.

However, a few of us were still recovering from having been sick recently and one was not drinking, so we only opened one bottle of a white wine.  It was the 2008 Gewürztraminer from The Little Wine Company.  This is a spectacular wine and has aged beautifully in the several years since I bought it and a perfect match for Thai food, especially tonight as we had several seafood dishes on the menu.

I would describe this wine as off-dry or semi-dry, with a beautiful sharpness to it that goes really well with Thai food.  It should really be classified as a dry wine, but a bit of sweetness from the citrus flavors and almost candy-like drops or chews comes through to make it appear semi-dry.

One of our friends is having us over for Malaysian and Indian food in a couple of weeks and I have set aside another few bottles of this great wine to share with them.

The Gewürztraminer is a secondary white grape and there is not a lot of it to be found in Australia.  Most of the Gewürztraminer I drink comes from the Alsace region (like the Hugel Gewürztraminer).  I have had a few Gewürztraminer's in Australia and the 2008 Gewürztraminer from The Little Wine Company really stands out!  This is a magnificent wine for the money.

As a side note, Suzanne and Ian Little are really nice people (as are most of the people in the wine industry in the Hunter Valley!), and I remember a most special night two years back where we had a 5-course degustation meal with matching wines at the Little Wine Company, with Suzanne and Ian Little, Andrew Thomas, Andrew Margan, and a few other great Hunter Valley wine makers where each wine maker rotated tables with each course.  The food, the wine, the company and the discussions that evening were special!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Wine Foreplay and Sensual Pleasures!

Yesterday afternoon I had my first wine in three weeks.  As mentioned in yesterday's post "My first wine in three weeks!" I drank the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautiful wine to drink on its own while blogging and also to go with dinner, an exceptional mince and cheese casserole that my lovely bride made.

While I was looking forward to the wine drinking with some enthusiasm, I was not prepared for the sensual experience that came from the 'foreplay' or preparation.  The excitement started to ebb by making the choice of what wine to drink, and increased as I proceeded to open the bottle.  Since the bottle had a screw top (instead of a cork), I did not have the sensual pleasure of removing a challenging cork which some of the 'more mature ladies' use in protest of one's advances! 

However, things quickly picked up again when I decanted the bottle through a filter and aerator.  What a joy to visualize the rich, almost purple color of the beautiful liquid spray out through the aerator and cascade down the side of the decanter.  The smell of wine drifting upward as the liquid trickles down providing a tingling to multiple senses.

As the wine continued to decant, I approached my selection of Riedel glasses, choosing to go with the Cabernet Sauvignon Vinum Extreme (a slightly more sensual stem over the Vinum!) and brought it back to the counter.  The excitement mounted as I poured the wine from decanter into glass to the perfect height (the widest part of the globe) and tenderly and slowly swirled the wine to further speed the aeration process and watch the magic liquid go around and around, like the CERN particle accelerator in (very!) slow motion (crikey, I am sounding like I should be writing "50 Shades of Red" or something!)

As I walked to my desk, anticipating my first sip in three weeks, I was trembling and had to be careful to not spill the wine onto my clothes or the floor.  I then placed the glass on my desk and stared at my prize, my possession that I was about to consume, being in total control of the situation.

My God, I am breathless again writing this as I remember the pursuit and the anticipation more than the act itself!  This is the closest I have been to comparing the wine drinking experience to an erotic sexual experience.  However, for now, let's just leave it that drinking wine can be something sensual!

On a final and true physiologic note, what makes wine drinking truly sensual is that it fills and satisfies all of the senses from sight to smell to taste to feeling (the texture of the wine on your palate) and even in some cases hearing (by listening to the decanting and swirling processes).  And you can't do many things that excite the senses more than that!

My first wine in three weeks!

Yesterday, I wrote about being ready to "come off the wagon" and have my first wine in three weeks after an extended period of illness and treatment of antibiotics.  I also mentioned the pressure associated with opening 'just the right bottle.'  I had pretty much selected the wine (for reasons mentioned in yesterday's post) as a Cabernet Sauvignon, and I was leaning towards the 2008 Stonefields Vineyard Arbitrage Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wrattonbully region of South Australia.  However, when I was over at my cellar retrieving some wine this morning, I decided to bring back and try either the 1999 Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and brought a bottle of each back to the apartment.

The 1999 Zema Estate, however, is one of the truly magnificent Cabernet Sauvignons I have had over the years and I only had three bottles left.  It is a wine to share with great food and great friends.  Having even fonder memories of the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon than the the 2008 Stonefields Aribtrage, I decided that would be by bottle to "come off the wagon with." 

The reason I decided to switch to the 2006 Colstream Hills Reserve Cabernet was various, including:
  • It was slightly lower in alcohol (14% versus 14.5%) than the Stonefields Arbitrage.
  • It reminded me of the gracious individual and the "heart and soul" of Lindeman's for 12 years, Damien Harrison, who sold it to me and is a legend in the wine industry and the great wine times we have had together.
  • I did review with my bride, Deanna Lang, who writes DAZ in the Kitchen, what we were having for dinner tonight which is a minced meat, cheese and elbow pasta casserole dish for which I thought the slightly more complex (but not overly complicated for the casserole) wine would go better with, considering the extra onions, garlic and other spices she tends to add into most recipes, and I am expected she will tonight also!
Therefore I made the switch to the Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and glad I did!  This wine cost about $50 per bottle (even though I was able to get it at a stock clearance for $30 per bottle).  Upon decanting, it appeared slightly flat and a bit tight, but within ten minutes had opened up nicely, became more flavorful, and had a strong taste of blackcurrant, slight taste of black olive tapenade, and a bit of leather which appears to be as much a matter of texture as taste.

I personally love the smell of leather and find a wine to be more enjoyable when it is a bit leathery on the tongue and palate.  (I have only met one person in my life who hated the smell of new leather, but that's a different story!)  I also surprisingly loved the ritual of decanting and serving the wine and was shocked at how much I missed the ritual and experience during the last three weeks, but that's the topic for another post.

Now that I have had a glass while writing this blog (and 'no', I did not make it to the library to read!), I am going to wait until dinner to have another glass with the mince casserole!  Back to the good times of enjoying great food and great wine!

Friday, 3 August 2012

What wine to come off the wagon with?

After three weeks of being sick, taking antibiotics and generally suffering, I am almost ready to have a bottle of wine again.  This puts some pressure on me!  Should I have one of the truly greatest wines in my cellar to celebrate?  Probably not, as I am not sure how well my taste buds are working yet and if my tasting palate is functioning at 100% or not.  I certainly do not want to waste a great wine if that is the case.

Should I have the wine with a meal and if so, should I be concerned about matching the wine to the food on offering?  That seems to be a bit restrictive .  And given I am coming off of illness, I should probably have a red instead of a white wine or sweet wine as there is documented evidence of the slightly further health benefits of red wine!  (Or at least I can use that as an excuse to drink a good red, not that I need any excuses!)  Should it be an organic wine to ensure I do not have any lingering reaction to sulphar dioxide or other additives in the wine?

I certainly do not want it to be one of my 'last' bottles of a particular vintage of limited stock as it is not that special an occasion.  I expect I will open the bottle before dinner, sometime in the afternoon and have my first sips while sitting in my reading chair, relaxing after a morning of errands.  Or if my bride is watching an afternoon movie, I may bring the glass of wine to our apartment unit library and read - that is always a special treat!

The common library in our apartment unit

Yes, I think that will be the venue - sitting in the common library with a good book on food writing "The Table Comes First" by Adam Gopnik.  And the wine will be an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.  While I love my big tannin wines - especially Shiraz - I believe a slightly simpler and lower alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon is the way to go.  One possibility is the 2008 Stonefields Vineyards Arbitrage Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wrattonbully region in South Australia.  Wrattonbully has some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the world!  I have had numerous great bottles of Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon for around $20 - $25 per bottle.  I have had a few bottles of this particular wine before, so I know it will be good.  (However, in reading the label on the bottle, I see the wine has a 14.5% alcohol content which is higher than I was expecting.)

I may also consider a bottle of the 1997 Lindeman's St George, or the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but I would need to go the cellar to retrieve a bottle of those wines, while the Stonefields Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon  is right in front of me!

While I may consider a few other choices tomorrow, I believe the path has been set and it may take a bit more effort than I want to put into it to change course!  I will let you know my final decision and how it tasted in a few days.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

My dry July!

It was not my intent to have a dry July.  We have plenty of other ways to help raise money for a good cause that we participate in without giving up drinking.  I do admire the people who have given up drinking though for a month to help raise funds, even though I know a number of them make at least one exception and are comfortable "in spirit" doing something for a good cause.

While I have not had a completely dry July, it has been three weeks now without drinking.  I was just so worn down and then got sick and on antibiotics for a while.  While I am feeling a lot better, I certainly am not back at full strength and not at the point where I know I would greatly enjoy opening and sharing a bottle.  I had a 5 minute workout on the treadmill today just to try to force back some fitness and it was clear I tried this a few days too early.  I am glad I had enough smarts to quit after five minutes even though I thought I was feeling pretty good; I was quite drained and light headed from the experience.  It will be another three days before I try to exercise further.

By not drinking, it has also lessened my desire to write about wine (and certainly removed the reason to write about what wine has been matched up with what food), so I have had a bit of a lull the last few weeks, even though I have got a few decent posts out.  I also thought it could be good opportunity to recycle some of my earlier posts as they only had about ten page views when I was getting started four months back.

I hope to be back into opening and sharing a bottle by this weekend as I really miss thinking about a meal as the complete package including the matching wine.  I read recently that it was only in the 19th century that wine and food matching came into vogue.  I find this hard to believe as cooking has been around forever blending many different ingredients into amazing recipes.  Matching up particular types of grapes and flavors of wine to enhance the eating experience seems like a natural extension to cooking and certainly seems like it should be something that has been around forever or at least as long as food has and wine has existed!  I guess there are "somethings new under the sun!"

Because we were sick, we had to cancel one dinner party with a Masterchef and some great wines and I am looking forward to rescheduling it soon.  But first I am anxious just to get a good glass with some meat or pasta!  Maybe by tomorrow or the next day!  I certainly want to be a "winner' (or winer) again soon!