Four-Part Series on Australia’s Wine Regions

An American friend with a love of wine wanted to know more about Australian wines.  I decided a quick introduction to the Australian wine regions would be a good overview.  Therefore, I created a very short four-part series on Australian wine regions which will be released over the two weeks, along with some other postings on wine / food matching and other topics.

The four-part review comprises:

Please understand that this is not a deeply researched review, but a more generalized review based on my slim knowledge of Australian wines and their history.  However, it should provide a overview for the uninitiated on Australian wines and their regions.

Once this series is complete, I will provide some more in-depth reviews of the various regions with recommendations on some great and great-valued wines from each region.

Worse than Penfolds or not?

Yesterday, I wrote with some angst against Penfolds for having on offer a dozen bottles of wine for $168,000 per bottle.  But his may be even more insane.  A vacuum cleaning company trying to sell 100 gold vacuum cleaners for $1 million dollars each!   What is happening in the world today?  I was under the impression things were a bit tough, but I guess not for everyone.

It is sure nice to know that if I am at the right people’s home and I spill some crumbs from my Ritz crackers while swilling their $168,000 bottle of Penfolds, they can quickly get out their $1 million dollar vacuum cleaner and get rid of the crumbs.  Seriously, if I could afford a $1 million vacuum cleaner, I would probably have a maid or cleaner, and in neither case, want to tempt them with stealing my $1 million vacuum (or my $168,000 bottle of wine)!

Penfolds, you disgust me!

A friend posted this Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) article and I went ballistic.  This really upset me, far more than selling Grange or their other select wines to the Chinese at $1,000 per bottle (and as I understand it, 90% of the total allocation was snapped up by the Chinese, making it close to impossible for long-term lovers of Penfolds premium wines to get any).  Who the hell would pay $168,000 for a bottle of any wine, except some dumb rich Chinese guy recently into buying up good wine to impress his friends?

Please be certain that I am not ridiculing the Chinese here, as I think their appreciation for fine wine, and their ability to grow fine wine has greatly improved in recent years, and I am excited about their growing presence in the ownership of wineries in the Hunter Valley.  The first Chinese female also recently received her International Masters of Wine (MW) certification.

But who other than a newly rich Chinese would actually buy this and for what purpose?

Penfolds is targeting a few ‘dupes’ here who want to look good with their very rich friends in return for $2 million more in revenue.  I am pissed at Penfolds for even releasing this, and am going to dump all of my Penfolds wine.  If you want an inventory of my Pendfolds wine and what I was currently selling it for anyway, let me know and I will knock and 25% off the price if you buy a half dozen or more.  Or if that is not enough, make me an offer as I am ready yo unload.

You can email me at ‘‘. 

Penfolds, you disgust me!

White wine with beef? You bet!

“Never” you say!  White wine with fish and red wine with beef is the convention.  Let’s turn the table!

Recently, I wrote a blog on how well a good Pinot Noir goes with a dense gamy fish life swordfish.  This is a perfect example of a red wine matching well with fish.  Another great example is matching a big, buttery Chardonnay with beef stroganoff.  For a great recipe for beef stroganoff, see DAZ in the Kitchen, a wonderful blog on food written by my wife, Deanna Lang.

My wife’s beef stroganoff is very rich and creamy.  The mushrooms are cooked in butter and the gravy is very rich.  The richness and creaminess of the gravy, mushrooms and fettuccine noodles almost demand a similar style white wine like a big, buttery Chardonnay.  There are several choices for this including a decent aged Montrachet, an aged big, rich Hunter Valley Chardonnay such as the Alexander Munro Chardonnay from Meerea Park, or the aged Chardonnay from Waverly Estate, or a Chardonnay from Margaret River such as the Leeuwin Estate Art Series or one from Pierro.

But one of the classics is the Penfolds Yattarna, otherwise known as “White Grange.”  We had the 2006 vintage with the beef stroganoff.  This is such an easy drinking wine, we often wonder where it went.  Sometimes we think it must have evaporated!  My wife claims that the sign of a good wine is that it goes down so easy that she can not believe having drunk all of it when it is gone!

The point is “rich and creamy” gravy and “rich and creamy” white wine go very well together.  The gravy and noodles contributed more to the overall taste of the meal than the beef (mildly seasoned) did.

Therefore, while it is generally a good and safe rule to match “white wine with fish” and “red wine with beef”, you are missing out on a great combination if you are not willing to try to match the more subtle flavors and textures involved.  Next time you have a heavy, rich, creamy gravy made from mushrooms cooked in butter, try a big, rich Chardonnay.

BTW, never drink a Montrachet before its time – it is absolutely sinful – but then again, don’t wait too long or you will be pouring good money down the drain – literally!  But then if you are buying Montrachet, I expect you are careful about this and know what time frame in which to drink the wine.

What an affogado!

Last night we made pizza and had the Gabbiano Classico Riserva to go with it.  What I failed to mention was that we made affogados for desert.  They were magnificent!  Using a scoop of vanilla ice cream and shot of espresso plus a shot of liqueur made for a most pleasant way to finish the meal.  Two of us had it with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, while two of us had the affogado with the RL Buller & Son Rare Liqueur Tokay.  While Frangelico is the standard liqueur to make a very fine affogado, the Buller Tokay was something special.

I had a sip of the Buller Tokay about six months ago, thought it was special, and bought three bottles to have on hand with the intent of making an affogado with it some day, and yesterday was that day.  It was incredible.  Previously, I have never found a Tokay I enjoyed as much as a very good Port or good Rutherglen Muscat.  But the Buller Tokay is something else.  Unfortunately, since Robert Parker reviewed it and scored it 100, the price has doubled.  I was able to get a decent deal on it from Nick’s Direct, who are my favorite online wine agent.  If you want to call them, ask for Alex – he has been serving us for over a decade now and provides great service.


I doubt I will ever have an affogado again with anything other than the Buller Tokay!  Which means I will probably only do so when eating at home.  And that’s not a bad thing – an affogado in a typcial Italian restaurant costs about $10 – $12 to have with the Frangelico.  But since I can make or buy a great vanilla gelato or ice cream, make a great shot of espresso and have a bottle of the Buller Tokay sitting around, I am set!  To do that for four of us, I will be saving $30 or so that I would otherwise be giving some restaurant.

If you want to step outside the normal boundaries to establish a truly sensual eating and drinking experience, make an affogado with the RL Buller & Son Rare Liqueur Tokay!

Chianti perfect with pizza

The Chianti, a 2006 Gabbiano Classico Riserva was a perfect match for the pizza.  It was soft, but with enough complexity to mix beautifully with the various pizza flavors.

We were thinking of also trying a 2001 Rosemount Traditional, but after tasting the Chianti, realized that the Chianti was perfect and decided to save the Rosemount to go with corn beef.  (A separate blog on that will follow.)

As with all Italian Chiantis, the Gabbiano was made from the Sangiovese grape.  While Sangiovese is considered a secondary grape, it has real stature in Italy and is popular globally. There are a number of Australian makers of Sangiovese now and one of the very best is Tintilla, in the Hunter Valley.  The do a great Sangiovese and a Sangiovese / Merlot blend and some of the older vintages are nicely smoky and a bit rustic in tasting.

If you really want to have a good time, check out the Tintilla website and write them about their annual Sangiovese tasting.  I believe it just passed for this year, but there is always next year.

The Gabbiano comes in a Classico and a Classico Riserva, which is a better wine, using a more select collection of premium grapes.  The Riserva has a DOCG appellation in the Tuscany region which means it is ‘top of the line’ Sangiovese. If you like Chianti, but you are not aware of the different brands and which one is best, you can usually be safe in picking up a very good quality Chianti by choosing one with the “Rooster” label (picture to right) which ensures it is of DOCG quality (unless of course, it is a counterfeit.)

I was originally debating between a Shiraz and the Chianti, but decided the Chianti was a better choice and I was right.  Pizza crust goes better with Chianti than a Shiraz for starters.  Additionally, we had a pizza with salami, green capsicum, Spanish onion, mushrooms, garlic, chili and cheese.  The salami on its own would have fought a bit with the Shiraz, whereas it worked beautifully with the Chianti.  And it worked great with our guests, Ric and Cris, as Ric is Italian (Cris is Venezuelan) and the maker of the fine salami we used on the pizza.  Since having started to use Ric’s salami as a topping, it has been impossible to use other salamis or pepperoni.  Ric’s family made another 140 kilograms of salami today and we will be joining them in two weeks to help with the next batch.

My friend Jeff, who lives in California, suggested that a Red Zinfandel would also be a great match for pizza and he is correct.  I tend to forget about what a great wine Zinfandel is for many occasions, and pizza would be one of them.  We do not see much Zinfandel in Australia, but Cape Mentelle makes a great one.  I had a  2008 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel at Bistro Molines in the Hunter Valley several months ago and it was the first Zinfandel I had had in 15 years (since moving to Australia).  I also had a 2009 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel at The Cut Bar & Grill a little while ago with their slow cooked prime rib.  Cape Mentelle is in the Margaret River region which makes truly outstanding wines.  And if you are looking for the finest steak house in Sydney, you need look no further than The Cut Bar & Grill.  And the sommelier at the Cut, Gustavo Kroneis, is the finest around and has been outstanding at recommending great wines to go with our steaks.

It is easy to just break open a few beers when you are having pizza, but if you want to wine to go with pizza, try a Chianti or Red Zindfandel.

And BTW, here is a picture of one of the pizzas we made tonight.  Deanna will be posting a blog entry in DAZ in the Kitchen with the recipe if you want to try it.

What wine with Pizza?

This is always a tough question since there are so many different ingredients that can go into pizza.  We have gone from buying pizza to making our own, which is quite easy and allows us to create exactly the taste we want.  It also means we have a healthier pizza.  Some times we make the base and other times we buy it, but that choice has no effect on our choice of wine.

We alway use a tomato sauce / paste to cover the base, and almost always a spicier sausage such as pepperoni or the spicy home-made Italian sausage our great friend, Ric and his family make annually (so glad to have a private stash of that sausage – it is magnificent for a pizza topping!).  We also tend to put a lot of garlic and chili on our pizza.  Therefore, a Hunter Valley (spicy, pepper flavored) Shiraz is always a good choice.  However, something a little lighter such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Italian Chianti (made from the Sangiovese grape) is always a safe choice to bring out the flavors of the pizza.

Interestingly enough, some white wines will also go well with pizza, since a number of white wines match well with the various cheeses used.  And if you are using chicken, pineapple, or something similar for toppings, a white becomes even a better choice.  I would recommend a crisp (2 or 3 years in the bottle, before it smooths in taste and texture) Semillon to match up well with cheese, but overall believe a Gewürztraminer, or Riesling would be best.  If it is plainer tasting pizza, a Pinot Grigio would be good.  A Gewürztraminer works well with a lot of different spices such as with Indian food or Thai food, so it will work well with a well seasoned pizza also!

It is rare that I would recommend seven different types of grapes as being a good match for a food, but that says a lot about the diversity of pizza!  Then there is always Merlot, but I rarely drink Merlot if given almost any other choice.

And if this is all too difficult, then grab a beer or two!  But overall, it is usually a Shiraz or a Chianti for me.  The only question is – “which one”?

BTW, I am making the pizza tonight and Deanna, who writes the blog, DAZ in the Kitchen, will be creating a post soon with the pizza recipe we use.

Educating your wine palate and taste buds using potato chips

I have a number of friends who will drink any wine with any food and the combination does not seem to matter to them, but then many of them are drinking for the alcohol effect, not the taste.  Any many other friends know and can appreciate the basic and simple rule of ‘white wine with fish, red wine with meat’.  However, there are a number of nuances the make a food eating and wine drinking experience even more pleasurable.  There are certainly wide variances between the taste of different white grapes such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and so on.  The same goes for various red grapes.

Wine tasters believe that the Sauvignon Blanc grape is the easiest to determine in a blind tasting and stands out as being the most different and distinguishable from other grapes.  And it is a classic to go with fish, making it a safe bet for most fish.  However, for a gamy, more solid fish such as swordfish, I find a good Pinot Noir is a perfect match, especially if the swordfish has a bit of light salsa or tomato sauce with it.  Therefore, people may look at what you are eating and drinking and believe you have made the ultimate wine / food matching mistake in pairing a red wine with fish, but I can assure you that this is a most pleasant pairing!

The sauce (and amount) and the method of cooking (broiled, roasted, BBQ, steamed, etc.) also has a big impact on what wine goes best with a particular food.  Even the difference between different styled wines from the same grape can make a huge difference.  And the aging of the wine changes the wine greatly over time, so it is important to select the wine close to the optimal time for drinking it.  You may find a white wine more acidic when young and more buttery and smooth when older.

While this may seem like a lot of effort to understand and rightly match food and wine, it really does make a great difference.  Even if you do not understand it, you will usually recognize it and notice the difference in how good the food and wine tasted (even if you cannot describe it).

However, what I really want to focus on today is much easier to appreciate.  A good first step to educating your palate is to just try different foods and taste them with your eyes closed and focus on what the flavor is telling you.  Try to pick out how dry or sweet the food is, is it acidic?, or bitter and so on.  This makes you more aware of the common taste characteristics of food.

Tonight I was a bit hungry, but it was a while until dinner, and my wife had an open bag of sour cream and chive potato chips.  I had just poured a glass of a Cabernet Sauvignon.  I grabbed a handful of the sour cream and chive potato chips, ate them and then took a sip of wine.  I thought the flavours would be competing against each other and it would be a horrible match, but it worked far better than I thought.

Then I poured a glass of a Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend (I had both bottles open from a day or two before) and tried it with the sour cream and chives potato chips also.  I would have expected this to be a better combination, but found out that was not the case as the Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend was a bit acidic, and did not work well with the sour cream taste.  Then I opened a few more bags of different potato chips and tried them with both wines.

Why do I suggest potato chips for this?  Because it is a lot cheaper to open a few bags of potato chips than it is to used real honey-glazed ham, chicken, etc.  Of course, you could always go the sliced meat route for another lesson.

By trying several different wines with several different flavors of potato chips, you can quickly educate your palate and zone in on grape and food flavor combinations you like and don’t like  I will not tell you my findings of the various combinations of grapes to potato chip flavors to let you focus better and really learn more by tasting than reading.  I would also suggest you do this in the company of friends and discuss your findings.  You will be amazed at how quickly you will learn to identify tastes and combinations that work or not.  And talking about it while doing the tasting is a great way to learn (and socialize!).

When doing this, I would suggest using Kettle or Red Rock brand potato chips as they tend to have more intense flavors than other brands, and also have a wide variety of flavors including sweet chili, peri peri chicken, caramelized onion, honey coated, etc.  These wide contrasts can help you quickly zone in on categories of combinations that work – or don’t!

Let me know what combinations of flavors and wine grapes work for you!  I am anxious to hear your feedback.

My first wine at HUX @ Nortons

We once again had a fabulous meal at HUX @ NortonsJay Huxley had recently returned from his trip to Las Vegas and was rearing to cook.  We had a special treat tonight of a blue-fin tuna belly starter and my wife and a friend had the Smooth Dory fish for mains while myself and the others had the Porterhouse Steak.  Usually it is just Deanna and me, and Deanna always gets a lemon, lime and bitters to drink and I always get a beer, either a Heineken or a James Boag’s Premium Lite.  However, since there were 5 of us tonight, we also got a bottle of wine – our first wine ever at HUX!

I was pleased to find they had a few decent bottles to choose from in addition to a decent selection by the glass.  For those of us having the steak, we narrowed the choice down to either a bottle of the 2006 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz or the 2008 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Either would have been ‘ok’ with the Porterhouse, but Jay applies some nice seasoning and also makes a tremendous side of Potato Salad to go with the steak, so we opted for the Shiraz.  Since Jay’s food is so good, it demands a very decent to great bottle of wine.

I should have brought a pocket Vinturi along to do an immediate decant.  The wine needed a few minutes to breathe, but opened up after a bit.  Pouring it through the Vinturi would have made the wine more immediately accessible, but it was certainly drinkable enough and an enjoyable drop to have with the Porterhouse.

What did surprise me though was that there were about a dozen different wines available by the glass and a few decent choices of both reds and whites.  Plus they had a few premium bottles of reds with some age on them.  This impressed me.  I had usually just bought beer while eating at HUX, but will now consider wine by the glass or a bottle if there are a few of us who want wine.

And in a future column, I will be matching a Norton’s Hotel wine selection with each main on the HUX menu.  Stay tuned for that coming soon.