Entering a wine writing competition

I am very excited to be entering ‘Next Big Thing,’ the annual amateur wine writing competition of Bauer ACP Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine.  This is the fourth year running for the competition.  I am entering as a way to better focus on more serious wine writing than just blogging through SAZ in the Cellar.  While I do not expect to win, I would not be entering if I did not think I had a chance to be competitive.

The entries must be in by 9 January, 2013 and the entry limited to 1,000 words.  All the details and guidance are provided in the links above and here.  You may wonder why I am alerting others to this as it will only increase the competition.  The reason is that I want to be supportive of everyone increasing their enjoyment in the wine and its related lifestyle and by being part of and more knowledgeable of wine and wine-related experiences.  I also want to be more encouraging to anyone who wants to write and share ideas and knowledge with others.

I do not consider my knowledge to be my own or sourced from within.  We all learn from each other and are better for it.  Plus it increases the community of people we can learn from and share with.  My friend Blake Stevens, author of Still Stupid at Sixty wrote a blog post about the larger value of exchanging ideas than money which really struck home with me.  I want to live and fulfill that idea which is why I encourage others to write, even if in direct competition to me.  I do value the way I might interpret and articulate material and am therefore very much behind copyright protection and respecting peoples ability to monetize their efforts.  But the main reason  I write is to share and engage with others.

I have five weeks to finish and submit my entry.  I am starting this weekend as I have an idea already and I want to see if it works.  But there is a lot more to do in terms of positioning a winning entry.  I need to ensure it is a fun topic in which the judges can engage and enjoy, I need to validate a lot of facts and make sure it is accurate (not something I always do with my blog posts, but I know them to be directionally correct and factual), and I need to really ensure the writing itself is of high quality, concise and well structured, and well edited and proofed.  (This is something I also do to some extent, but not thoroughly, with my blog posts – if I did, they would take several more hours each instead of the typical 30 – 60 minutes to write.)

So wish me luck on my submission, and if you know anyone who may be interested to submit also, please share this information with them!

Why does the screw top controversy rage on?

I have evolved my views on this over the last decade, and must say that I am in very strong favor of using screwtops.  Almost everyone else in the industry globally is also.  Yet, there are a few hold-outs, including the Chinese (who seem to value the cork tradition more at this point in time).  However, I believe that a few influential Chinese ‘wine thought leaders’ will come around quickly to the use of screw tops and then the rest of the nation will follow.

Fortunately the Australia wine industry is almost entirely converted to the use of screw top and recently awarded the 2012 McWilliams Maurice O’Shea Award to the ‘Australian Screwcap Initiative.’  (My use of ‘screw top’ and their use of ‘screwcap’ is interchangeable.)  Usually this prestigious award goes to a great wine, but occasionally it goes to a theme or initiative and awarding it to the use of screw tops was a very bold step by the Australian wine industry which clearly announces the use of screw tops is clearly the future.

Almost simultaneously, the Italian wine authorities have approved the use of screw tops and other synthetic sealers to be used for their higher quality DOC and DOCG wines for the first time.  Even the Europeans are starting to come around!

The science and evidence around the use of a slightly porous cork allowing a good to great wine to reach its full potential is just not there.  Quite conclusively, the marginal potential differences are extremely minor or likely non-existent.  Screw tops provide the same path to maturity and complexity that corks do as what has been bottled inside the seal is sufficient to create to most from the wine.  The quality of the grape, the wine maker and the little bit of air in the ullage is far more important than the minute amount of air that may seep in over the next 10 – 20 years.  And if that air amount is ‘more than a very little,’ the wine will oxidize and turn to vinegar.

Cork has some major issues which can make for a most unpleasant tasting experience:

  • Cork failure rates are between 3% and 15% according to a variety of studies, even with cork quality control and checking – it is just the nature of the beast
  • Sometimes an entire batch of bad corks makes it way to the market and can ruin an entire great vintage of great wine
  • The variability of the exact same wine bottle to bottle is often visible and indicates that at least one of the bottles will be an unpleasant drinking experience!
One of the two undrinkable bottles of 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label

The greatest disappointments I have had in wine drinking to open what you know is or should be a great bottle of wine, only to find it has been ‘corked.’  This has happened to me several times and pouring a $50 – $100 bottle of  wine down the drain feels like ‘wine euthanasia.’  I will try anything to save such as bottle from considering it for cooking to rationalizing that is is drinkable and I just need to reduce my finicky standards a bit!  But if I am going to share the wine others, I will not let it pass and have to move onto the next bottle – if I have a back-up bottle (which I usually do, but this is not always convenient or possible).

I hate to be disappointed, especially when it is beyond my control to have the right outcome.  It is my fault if I leave a vintage far too long and the wine has deadened, lost it fruit, or lost its structure.  I can control that and avoid that happening.  But there is nothing I can do about having received a bottle of wine with a bad cork in it.  And even with a good cork, it is difficult to get 20 years of solid performance without it becoming saturated and starting to seep.  This puts at risk most of your best bottles that require 20 years to age.  That is why every two years, Penfolds offers free re-corking of Grange and other iconic Penfolds wines as some of them require 30 years or more to be optimally drinkable.

My view is that avoiding this disappointment (a corked bottle) far outweighs what extremely small possibility that for a limited few bottles of wine, that aging under cork ‘may’ yield a slightly better result than the same bottle under screw top.  You are guaranteed that bottle after bottle will be at its best and consistent when under screw top.  The only chance of the bottle going bad is if you have scorched it from storing it in too hot a condition.

The other problem with the variability of cork, is that if you have several dozen bottles, they are likely to age differently and the chance you will be drinking each bottle at its best is diminished.  With screw top, you know they will age at the same pace and be consistently drinkable during an optimum period of time.  The need to provide a ‘back-up’ bottle is no longer necessary.

“Yes,” I certainly enjoy the experience of taking out an old cork and will miss that experience more and more over time, but enjoying that sensation does come close to masquerading the the disappointment of a ‘corked’ bottle.  Insist on buying under screw top from now on and don’t take the risk.

A little wine humor for the weekend

I have started using Pinterest more for several things and will be expanding that even more in the future.  I do enjoy collecting funny sayings and humorous cartoons regarding wine.  Since it is the weekend, crack open a bottle, have a good sip and enjoy some of the wine humor I have collected and posted on Pinterest.

I will be doing that myself while getting into a little of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port this evening and comparing it to the 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port.  I will let you know the results in a few days.

The generosity and great gift of friends

We had a small and very private event for my 60th birthday.  For a man who has everything (and many things twice!), I certainly did not need any presents.  But I have found it impossible to convince others of that, so through my lovely wife, Deanna, I was able to have her help guide people to buy some small things that I did need or at least desire!  The presents were great and I will cherish and use them with enthusiasm over many years.  The collection is in the picture below.

I got a nice wine bottle thermometer to help check the temperature of my wine and when to drink it, a dozen serviettes with funny wine servings on them, a couple of Riedel Vinum Montrachet glasses, 4 Riedel ‘O’ series portable red wine glasses, a nice Riedel decanter, and a couple of wine cork picture boards to create great memories from the corks of the fantastic wines I have drank over the years.  Additionally, I got a few good bottles of wine and a Nespresso coffee capsule holder which is very handy (my only non-wine gift).

I received great generosity from great friends, but most importantly, they all gave of their time to spend a wonderful evening with us. However, above and beyond these wonderful gifts, there were three gifts that emotionally moved me and which I will treasure forever:

Gift #1

One was from Nessa Doyle, who is not a long-term or close friend (but becoming much closer to Deanna and me with each passing week!).  I have worked with Nessa over the last several years and we have respected each other being able to get things done in difficult situations.  I had invited her to dinner about three weeks before my birthday with some other colleagues we have worked with previously.

It was another great meal cook by Jay Huxley, Masterchef and my regular go-to guy with anything to do with food.  Jay also cooked my magnificent birthday dinner which I just blogged about and which all attendees claimed was the best meal they ever had!

We were about three hours into the dinner of three weeks before my birthday and discussing the joy and learnings we get from charitable work, especially feeding the homeless.  Nessa is one of the most supportive people I know of great causes and and we mutually like giving of our time and funds to support these causes.  Nessa was planning to attend a wonderful dinner and fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the Sydney Opera House.  Nessa offered to take and pay for Deanna and me to attend with her as a 60th birthday present for me.  Nessa was not only being very generous to me with such a great gift, but also for one of her work mates who has a son with CF and hosting a table for the evening.  Nessa made a large donation to the cause that evening by picking up three seats.  Additionally, it is a gift that keeps on giving as it introduced Deanna and me to CF and the tragic impact it has on people’s lives, but also the wonderful miracles that are made possible through the funds raised.  Nessa’s generosity will remain with me forever.

Nessa, Steve, Deanna – not often I am surrounded by so much beauty!

Thank you so much, Nessa Doyle for day-in, day-out being such a wonderful, generous and caring person!  And for those of you who also want to support CF, you can do so by making a donation to Cystic Fibrosis in Australia, or to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead CF Department which was the fund-rasier we were at that evening.  And if you can share this around to others who may be able to help, please do so.

Gift #2

Rob and Jude Tudor came up from Melbourne to share the special day with us.  Rob is one of the few people I greatly enjoy sharing a good cigar with (Jim Covington being another, but he lives in New York state now).  As a special treat, Bob was bringing up the last of the two very special cigars he had been gifted from his son, who is a masseuse to a very wealthy Arab sheik.  The sheik gave Rob’s son (who then gave to Rob) two cigars made for Castro from the Cohiba factory in Cuba.  When I do occasionally smoke and greatly enjoy a cigar, it is almost always a Cohiba.  But this one was really special.  It used the very best tobacco leaves from selected years and were intended to be for Castro’s special collection.  These cigars cost a fortune but that is not what makes Rob’s gift so generous, it is the scarcity of being able to find or obtain these rare cigars.

Rob and I were going to share this cigar together and both enjoy it that evening.  We smelled the cigar earlier in the evening and we were planning on sharing the cigar later that night with some very fine aged vintage port.  Usually, we would each have our own cigar and avoid the “men exchanging spit thing.”  However, this was a cigar worth savoring and sharing.  I have had some very fine cigars in my life (seriously, as little as I smoke cigars, why go with a cheap one?), but I have never smelled a cigar as fine as the one Rob brought along for the evening.  I looked forward to smoking that great cigar with Rob later that night, but it was not to be.  After ten courses of the finest food anyone could want and 13 bottles of great wine, we had little left for enjoying a great cigar.  It was at that point that Rob presented me with the cigar to have on my own when the time is right.  What a friend and what a guy!

This cigar is a few millimeters longer and a little thicker than a Cohiba Robusto.  And the smell is beyond awesome.  A regular Cohiba (which many, if not most, consider the finest cigar you can buy) is tepid and flat compared to “Castro’s cigar.”  If there is a cigar to smoke in heaven, this is the cigar!  Unfortunately, after about 5 hours of eating and drinking, we were satiated.  My estimate is that Castro’s cigar was a two hour smoke and after all we had to eat and drink that evening, it would have incapacitated us!  Therefore, we did the smart thing and passed so we could wake up (late) once again on Sunday morning.

Castro’s Cigar

I will never smoke a better cigar in my life time.  Rob has smoked one and knows the pleasure, and to give me his other one to enjoy is a gift beyond belief.  I will find the right place and time to smoke this.  I do not want to wait too long as I am concerned about the risk of anything happening to compromise the pristine quality of this cigar.  While I have it stored in my humidor, it is always possible that it may pick up a fungus or dry out.  I am watching it almost every day and ensuring it retains its pristine quality, and do not want to do anything to increase the risk of it going off.  Therefore, it will be smoked soon and likely at our place in the Hunter Valley.  This could be as early as next weekend, but I am going to ask Rob if it is possible for him and Jude to join us for a few days over Christmas in the Hunter Valley and if they can, then I will save it to share with him then.

Rob, thank you so much for providing me with what will certainly be the best cigar I ever smoke. I will honor you first and foremost with attempting to share it back with you, or at least pick the perfect setting and time to enjoy it over several hours without distraction!

Gift #3

Many, many years ago while still in graduate school, I started to learn about and drink some better wine.  This mostly consisted of $3 – $5 bottles of Chilean reds.  However, someone at Surdyk’s, one of the premier wine stores close to the University of Minnesota campus where I attended graduate school, convinced me to pick up two bottles of the 1977 Dow Port.  I think I spent about $15 – $17 per bottle for it, but cannot really remember.  However, I held onto it for a long, long time.  When I arrived in Sydney, Australia in 2000, I gave a bottle to my (now) in-laws as a gift.  My wife (just girlfriend at the time) told me that it was easiest to get along with her parents if you provided them with nice material things!  So I gave them one of my two treasured bottles of the 1977 Dow Port about 14 years ago.  I was hoping they would share it with me over time, but that has not happened.  I am not sure what ever happened to that bottle and if they drank it or lost it in their cellar (I am at their house tomorrow so may look for it!) or gave it away.  But I have never seen it since.

The second bottle of 1977 Dow Port was consumed in a state of drunkenness which I greatly regret.  I lived next door to my wife’s cousins back in 2006 and they were having a BBQ.  We had a lot of food and quite a bit to drink when someone suggested that some Port might be nice..  I quickly ran back to my house and got a bottle for us to drink.  Instead of pulling out a bottle of some cheap tawny port, I decided to share my last bottle of the 1977 Dow Port.  Well, it was gone within 20 minutes, having been consumed by 20 year olds who could not tell the difference!  Yes, I had a glass and it was magnificent, but now realized of the two bottles of 1977 Dow Vintage Port that I had carried around for between 20 – 30 years, both were gone and I only had one damn small glass to make me realize how good it was and how it had gone to others who had not appreciated it.

Don’t get me wrong – I love sharing great wine and last bottles of special wine with others.  However, I feel my generosity was wasted here.  Giving up both bottles has been a great regret and both bottles went to my wife’s family.  While I never blamed her nor blamed her family, I did feel regret in having these two great bottles being given up to others who could nor did not appreciate them.

My wife is not good at keeping secrets, especially when she wants to tell someone about something ‘good’ she has done.  Therefore, it is amazing that she was able to keep this secret for over three years from me!  I knew she had gotten me a bottle of wine for my birthday, but I just could not figure out what she bought me.  I checked on if there was a bottle of 1952 Penfolds Grange and this was their first trial year.  One half-bottle of the 1952 Penfolds Grange signed by Max Schubert could be had for $12,500 (it originally was given away as samples and then sold for $4.50!).  I was pretty certain she would not spend that kind of money, nor take the risk on a 60 year old Grange.  A 1952 Chateau D’Yquem would still be a great drink, but they did not make a vintage that year.  I also did not figure she would risk a 60 year old Bordeaux.  The only thing I could come up with is that she got me a bottle of the 1952 Sepplets Vintage Port, or some other birth-year Port.  A Port would last a very long time and get better over time.

Never in a million years did I think about about her finding or replacing the two bottles of the 1977 Dow Port!  What a special gift and and great surprise.  This gift is like being given back life!  Or like someone coming in and correcting a really stupid mistake I made (which I had).  I love my wife greatly every day of the year, but never more than for the very special gift she gave me on my birthday.  I was totally blown away.

These three gifts will all be consumed in due course.  The fundraiser gift from Nessa was consumed a week ago, but will live forever in my memory.  The gift of the cigar will be consumed and greatly enjoyed before the end of the year.  And I am opening a bottle of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port this evening and will likely consume both bottles over the next year.  (I also have about 15 bottles of the 2004 Dow Vintage Port and two bottles of the 2007 Dow Vintage Port – a spectacular vintage!)

While these gifts will be consumed, they will last as great memories forever, and for that I want to thank Nessa, Rob and Deanna for the impact they have made on my life by being so generous and considered in their gift giving.

[BTW, this post has taken me four hours to write, edit and take the pictures for! Wow!]

The wines of my 60th birthday were fine indeed!

It was quite a birthday weekend overall, with guests flying in from the US and Melbourne to join those of us already based in Sydney.  We started with a Friday evening pre-birthday dinner celebration at Fish at the Rocks (with our out-of-town visitors) with some great wines, including:

  • 1992 Waverley Estate Semillon;
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassange Montrachet;
  • 1996 Lindemans St George; and
  • 2005 Chateau Haut Beregon Sauternes

This on its own was a great line-up!  Then on Saturday, I tasted three wines while being a guest on Food in Focus with Natascha Moy.  By the time I returned from the show, I had a bit of a buzz having consumed almost 750 ml by myself (one needs to make sure they are voicing the right opinions when one is serving the public like I was that day)!

By the time I arrived home, Jay Huxley, Masterchef, had arrived and was preparing dinner, and what a dinner it turned out to be.  A number of our guests (including most who had attended Deanna’s 40th birthday several years ago) thought it was the finest meal they had ever had!  They felt that the wine drinking for Deanna’s 40th was the best wine drinking experience they ever had and it came with a great meal, but my 60th was the reverse – the best meal they ever had with a great line-up of wine.

It was my intent to make my 60th birthday the second best wine tasting meal I ever had, but I admittedly fell short.  There were two main reasons for this.  The first that being my 60th birthday, it was really tough to get birth year wines (1952) that were truly outstanding compared to Deanna’s 40th which had a birth year of 1971 when we had:

  • 1971 Lindemans Limestone Ridge;
  • 1971 Penfolds Grange; and
  • 1971 Chateau D’Yquem

each bottle easily being in the Top 10 bottles I have ever drank!  But the most important reason was that Jay had developed such an awesome menu that it was actually difficult to match the very best wines with the food!  For Deanna’s 40th birthday dinner, I presented the nine wines I wanted to drink to the chef and he did a magnificent job matching the food to the wine.  But for my 60th birthday, I let Jay have total freedom and while he created a killer food line-up, it was difficult to match great wines to every course.

I had been working for a couple of months to pick a line-up of great wines for my 60th birthday, including thinking it was time to have our last bottle of the 1981 Penfolds Grange, and do that just after the 1991 Grant Burge Mesach (given to me for my 59th birthday BTW!) and the 1992 Henschke Hill of Grace.  My original line-up of wines for my 60th, included:

  • 1998 Pommeray Louis Champange
  • 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon
  • 2001 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassagne Montrachet
  • 2005 Chateau Brane-Cantenac
  • 1991 Grant Burge Mesach
  • 1992 Henschke Hill of Grace
  • 1981 Penfolds Grange
  • 1997 Chateau D’Yquem
  • 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port

However, once I saw Jay’s menu, I knew I needed to back off the big reds (especially the Shiraz) and I also ‘downgraded’ some of my choices, including moving from the 1990 Waverley Estates Semillon to the 1992 Waverley Estate Semillon (which we had the night before at Fish at the Rocks), and I also decided to drink the 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port instead of the 1967.  I only have two bottles of the 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon left and I needed a good bottle and a back-up bottle to share with my wife’s boss who I greatly admire and who is a Semillon fanatic, and I wanted to sip the 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port over several months instead of ‘gulping’ it down at the end of a boozy meal, which I have mistakenly done with some iconic Ports previously.

But the key thing about Jay’s menu is that it demanded more whites than reds and the reds had to be more refined than the big Shiraz’ that I had nominated for the evening.  Therefore, I eliminated the:

  • 2005 Chateau Brane-Cantenac
  • 1991 Grant Burge Mesach
  • 1992 Henschke Hill of Grace
  • 1981 Penfolds Grange

I also decided upon seeing the desserts and having some guests who would never have the experience again to go with the 1975 Lindemans Porphry instead of the 1997 Chateau D’Yquem.  I only ended up using two wines from my original list being the 1998 Pommeray Louise Champange and the 2008 Grosset Polish Hill.

So what was the menu and matching wines for the evening?  It was as follows:

  • Upon arrival – Bollinger NV Champagne
  • Tian of Alaskan King Crab, black caviar and radish – 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne
  • Sousvide Pork Fillet, red cabbage, cauliflower puree and lentil pear salad – 2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling and 2007 La Belle Voisine Nuits St George (Pinot Noir)
  • Tomato heart and gin shooter, in tomato tea and basil oil – finishing off the 1998 Pommeray Louise Champange and 2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling
  • Smoked eel, jamon croquette with beetroot and apple – Rose Vin de Pays du Vaucluse
  • Vichy Asparagus with citrus and olive crumb and sousvide duck egg yolk –  2009 Bouchard Perrin & Fils Puligny Montrachet
  • Charcoal octupus in romesco sauce and verde oil – 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • Confit duck in mushroom sauce, abalone and star anise consume – (we continued to drink whatever wines we had going at the time!)
  • Canon of saltbush lamb in minted pea soup and taro – 2000 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Spiced poached pear crispy wonton, salted caramel and double cream – 1975 Lindemans Porphry
  • Death by Chocolate – 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port and Bailey’s NV Rutherglen Muscat

As you can imagine, we were quite satiated by the end of the evening!

This post has become quite a bit longer than I had expected, so I will leave my review of the food and wine matching and descriptions to the next post.  I just wanted to let you know that this was a very special meal – the best meal I have ever eaten thanks to Jay Huxley and his team, and among one of the best wine drinking experiences I have ever had.  Not every meal is like this though.  Tonight I am having a Chinese pork bun and drinking a 1997 Rosemount Show Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  But it is still great as I am sharing the evening with my loved one over good food and good wine.  What could be better?

Seriously? A 1987 Lindemans Shiraz with pizza tonight?

I have so many topics queued up to blog about.  I love talking about (and drinking) wine.  Today I was discussing a very interesting new wine education concept with a friend and he called me wine-centric.  I kind of liked that!  And it fit in well with the wine educational concept he is promoting.  The guy I was talking with is Ben Hughes, who has a lifetime of experience in the wine industry as a seller, maker and educator.  Deanna and I have taken a wine tasting class from him previously which was great fun and very educational.  Ben is now starting his new and improved venture The Australian Wine and Beer School (AWBS).  It looks like a great way to teach a wide variety of people on Australian wine and beer.  Most importantly, it takes the mystique and intimidation out of learning about wine and makes it downright fun!

Perfect Cork

Because Ben was coming over and because I knew he would appreciate it, I opened my last bottle of the 1987 Lindemans Shiraz which I happened to come across when checking out the temperature in my Vintec.  Plus I knew I needed to drink it soon as with each passing year, it was at risk of becoming more past due.

I had taken a bottle of this to the Hunter Valley last year, but had about five winter months when it was not stored in optimal conditions.  That was a mistake for a 25 year old (and) fragile wine.  I was excited to have that bottle one day at Bistro Molines, but upon opening and decanting it, I found it was not in great condition and had to pour it down the drain – a real shame!  But the bottle I opened today to drink with Ben was much better.  The cork was perfect (except it was dry on the top and did crumble when trying to open it), and the wine much better preserved and drinkable than the bottle I took to the Hunter and was stored outside of proper cellaring conditions.

Since the cork crumbled into the bottle, I had to filter it to ensure no cork fragments made their way into the wine.  However, I was careful not to aerate it as it would have further harmed an already fragile (but still pretty good) structure. Opening any wine this old requires special care as I discussed in a previous post.  This wine was not brownish (brownish being a sure sign of too much oxidation in the bottle) and clearly lasted better than the bottle I opened last year.  While not having lively fruit flavors, it was still a remarkable wine, perfectly integrated and balanced, and your typical Hunter Shiraz.

Sharing a ‘last bottle’ bestows a great honor for all involved.  As I get down to my remaining few bottles of a particular wine and vintage, I think carefully about who I want to drink that wine with.  And knowing Ben would appreciate it and with a lifetime in the wine industry, he would enjoy this bottle of wine.  That makes it a delight to share with others.  When you have that special bottle and that last bottle, put some thought into who you want to share it with.

And notice the Temperature gauge on the bottle!  This was a birthday present from a friend after reading that I do not use a temperature gauge when checking the temperature of bottles before serving.  More on this in a future post!

And since Ben was driving, we have some wine left over to go with the pizza I am making tonight.  And I am able to share that tonight with the most important person in my life, my wife and soul mate, Deanna, writer of DAZ in the Kitchen.  This will be the most notable wine we have ever had with pizza.  Usually a Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon does the trick, but tonight it will be a 1987 Lindemans Shiraz!  The spicy, peppery flavors should match up well with the chili and garlic I load onto the pizza.  And if you want the recipe for the pizza, check out DAZ in the Kitchen blog post for our pizza recipe.

I hope the food and wine you have tonight will be as enjoyable as what we are doing!  Enjoy!

A great wine, but disappointing wine drinking experience

We spent Saturday the week past, traveling and visiting friends in the Blue Mountains and beyond.  It was a great time and we had some great meals, even though it did make for a very long day.  For once, I did not bring the wines and let it up to the hosts to provide the wine to accompany the meals.

During our Saturday lunch, we had some great food starting with three different soups samplers (tomato and carrot, pumpkin, and pea), followed by stir fired veggies and prawns, with a wonderful dessert of chocolate balls and berry ice cream.  Each course had a decent wine to go with it from a white to red to sweet dessert wine.  And as usual the best part of the meal and experience was sharing it with great friends.

We repeated the performance for dinner, but it was a heavier meal with more meat, including a marinated roast beef side, sausages, and stir fired veggies.  Therefore, more red wines were served and the two choices of red were very nice choices.  Unfortunately, the first problem was that the wines were drunk too early in their life.

The wine of the evening should have been a very nice 2007 Penfold’s St Henri.  This is an excellent wine and has a 96 (out of 100) rating.  Usually I would salivate over having a St Henri with dinner, but then we are currently drinking the 1999 vintage (I have about 6 bottle left and need to drink them in the next few years to get maximum enjoyment from them).

But I could tell from the first smell and the first sip of the 2007 that this wine was not ready for drinking!  I asked the host how many bottles he had left and he mentioned he had six left.  I told him to wait at least two more years if not up to five years before he drinks the next one.

This wine should be drunk between 2015 and 2024 for peak enjoyment and ideally in the 2019 – 2021 time frame.  While he decanted and even aerated the wine, it did not have much of an effect as the wine structure was just too tight.  And then, the wine was served in a white wine glass used for Riesling or Semillon.  This did not allow the wine to breath and forced an already tight wine into a small area to breathe and drink from making it even tighter.  There are reasons Riedel makes specific wine glasses for Shiraz and other grapes and drinking a Shiraz from a white wine glass is almost sinful!

This was a great wine, served too early and without giving it any advantage to shine.  This was a $75 – $100 bottle of wine wasted.  It still had (obviously) fresh fruit, but was too tight and the complexities of this great wine had not become fully integrated.  I hope the host takes my advice and does not serve up another bottle for several more years.  This will be a great wine over time, but certainly not at its best today when served up in a small glass.

What a weekend hoot discussing party wines on Food in Focus

We have had so much going on the last few weeks, both work-wise and personally, it seemed we did not get an evening together at home for several weeks.  This meant I was tired going into my 60th birthday party weekend.  Fortunately, surrounded by great friends, great food and great wine, I was able to pick myself up to make it through the weekend.  And even more fortunately, I had some leftover 2006 Penfolds Yatarnna and some 2005 Chateau Haut Bergeron which I am drinking now while blogging!

With friends from the US and Melbourne in town, we had five of us for a fabulous meal at Fish on the Rocks with great matching wines Friday evening. And then the bigger affair with 11 of us on Saturday evening with an outstanding wine and food line-up cooked by Jay Huxley, Masterchef finalist and his crew.  But first I want to discuss the fun I had participating in Food in Focus radio show Saturday afternoon.  This is a regular Saturday feature at 4 pm which Natascha Moy has been hosting for four and a half years now on FM 89.7 radio.

We had great fun.  Natascha always has three guests from various aspects of the food and wine industry.  I was privileged to be on the show with Lisa Margan, owner and proprietor of Margan Estates in Broke in the Hunter Valley, and with Nick Wills, owner and Brad Sloane, the chef of The Riverview Hotel at 29 Birchgrove Road in Balmain, NSW.

I have been to Margans several times and have some of their great 2003 White Label Shiraz and their 2006 Barbera in my cellar.  It is a beautiful setting for doing a tasting, having a meal, or even for getting married!  I have not been to the The Riverview Hotel, but will definitely try it now that I have sampled some of these guys food!  And if I remember correctly, they do a very nice pizza for $20 and on Tuesday, you can get two for $20!

I was the ‘wild card’ wine guy for the show.  I brought along three bottles of wines as representative party wines.  The wines I brought were the 2010 Vavasour Pinot Gris from New Zealand, the 2009 Tyrrell’s Verdelho, and the 2005 Kelman Shiraz, both from the Hunter Valley.  The winning wine among the guests was the first one we opened and tasted, which was the 2010 Vavasour Pinot Gris.  It had a very smooth texture, and mandarin and a bit of grapefruit flavorings.  And everyone really seemed to enjoy a New Zealand white wine which was not a Sauvignon Blanc!

So what did I have to say about party wine?  It can be summarized as follows:

  • You don’t need to spend more than $20 per bottle for party wines and you can still impress.  All three bottles I brought along were between $12 – $18.
  • Don’t bring Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc as everyone else is bringing those, so bring something else to provide some choice.
  • Parties can get warm if there are a lot of people or if outside, so if you are only bringing one bottle, make it a white wine.
  • Good white party wines can be Pinot Gris or Verdelho which are easy and enjoyable to drink on their own and go with canapes, dim sum, etc.  A Marsanne would not go as well or be appreciated by a wide variety of people.  A Semillon or Gewürztraminer would be ok, but not have the wide-spread appeal that a Pinot Gris or Verdelho would on its own.
  • If you are bringing a red wine, try a secondary grape to treat people to something different.  A Barbera, Tempranillo, or Sangiovese is different and easy to drink.
  • Or bring something unusual or a bit more personal.  That is the reason I brought along the Kelman Shiraz, as it can only be bought at the cellar door, and it is associated with the winery where I have a place to live.
  • Don’t bring a bottle of wine if you do not know how it will taste or are trying to recycle a bottle received from someone else!

I really enjoyed previously listening to Food in Focus and now have really enjoyed being part of the show.  Each week has different topics and guests and is a continual learning experience for anyone interested in food or wine!  Check it out

Talking party wines on Food In Focus on FM 89.7 with Natascha Moy this Saturday!

This Saturday (10 November, 2012), at 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, I will be joining Natascha Moy and two other guests on her very successful gourmet food and wine show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.  This show has been running successfully for four and a half years with a star’s line-up of great chefs, restaurant and specialty food owners, wine makers, winery owners and others who are passionate about good food and wine.

I am privileged that Natascha has asked me to join her party this weekend and excited to participate.  Without giving too much away, I will be talking about Party Wines and bringing along three good bottles which are excellent examples of what good party wine is all about.  This is live radio so it will be exciting to find out what Natascha is going to ask me and the other guests.  I just hope that I can contribute and continue to help her grow her following.  My only goal is to help you be able ‘to impress’ the next time you bring a bottle of wine to a party or other function.

I met Natascha through social media as we share a common interest around good food and wine.  We started following each other on Twitter, became friends and started to communicate and share ideas on Facebook, and now will finally have the opportunity to meet and share some good wine and good ideas and discussion together.  I love witnessing (and even better, be part of!) examples where social media really works!

Natascha is a real ‘pro’ in the radio and journalism game as evidenced by her long-running success with Food in Focus.  She has a background in magazine journalism with a Bachelor of Journalism degree and has participated in traditional and online media for years.  She has published her own food newspaper and now continues to share her insights through her radio talk show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.

Natascha and I also share a passion around gender diversity.  This year, she founded a networking movement called Girl Power which has been founded on the principle that women in business have brilliant brains but deserve something more. She runs bi-monthly networking events attended by approximately 60 women talking about everything from sales to sex, and fashion to nutrition.

Once the show is completed, I will write a blog to summarize what we discussed on Party Wines to share with you, but if you can join Natascha, me and her two other guests for Food in Focus this Saturday at 4 pm, we would welcome it.  Hope you are there with us!

Impact of temperature on wine taste is larger than you think! Part 2 – White Wine

In Part 1, we discussed the impact of temperature on red wines.  We will now do the same for white wines.  The effect of temperature is even more profound than it is for reds.

In general whites are stored in quite cool temperatures.  My long-term whites like my long-term reds are stored at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).  But then I have usually about 6 – 8 ‘ready-to-serve’ whites in my kitchen refrigerator which are stored at 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit).  This is too cold a temperature to serve most white wines.  In general, excellent white wines (Montrachets and other aged Chardonnays and Semillons) should be served at 10 – 14 degrees Celsius (50 – 57 degrees Fahrenheit) to really release their great flavors and bouquet.  Typically good white wines (Most other Chardonnays, Rieslings, Pinot Grigios, etc.) served at 7 – 10 degrees Celsius (45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and bad white wines as chilled as you like!

Boxed white wines and lower quality white wines are usually served very cold as they are lacking flavor anyway.  What most ‘bad’ white wine drinkers are looking for a a refreshing, cool drink and lots of alcohol!  But if you want to get the most flavor out of a white wine that it has to offer, then you should warm it up a few degrees.

In the past, I made the mistake of storing and serving my white wines too cold, especially if I took an excellent white wine directly from the fridge.  Now I tend to take the wine out of the fridge for about 15 minutes to let it rise in temperature a few degrees and become more flavorful.  This is often accomplished by putting the bottle in a carrying case to bring to a restaurant and the time it takes to get to the restaurant is perfect in terms of the wine being a few degrees warmer.  Or if I am going to serve it at home, I let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes before serving it.

For an excellent white wine, especially a great and aged Chardonnay, I now let the wine warm up to about 12 degrees or so.  (Note that I do not actually take the temperature of the wine, but rather just feel the bottle and compare the bottle to room temperature.)  A bottle such as a great Montrachet or the Penfolds Yatarnna deserve this type of treatment and you will definitely notice the improved bouquet of wine in your nose and taste of the wine on your palate.

I love taking a sip when it is still ‘too cold’ and swirling an excellent white wine around my mouth.  The body temperature of my mouth warms the wine almost immediately and over several minutes, you can pick up a variety of different tastes that keep changing over time.  It is an amazing experience and worth savoring!

Champagnes and sparkling wines are usually served even more chilled than while wines.  For low-end sparklings, you can serve them at 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, but good Champagnes should be served at a somewhat higher temperature.

While difficult to discern by other than expert tasters, Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy relates the different experiences he has had with the 1996 Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne:
  • at 8°C, mineral and a little closed, perfect with an oyster tartare
  • at 9°C, moderately open, to be matched with crayfish
  • at 10°, complements wild salmon magnificently
  • at 11°, chardonnay’s butter notes appear, volume amplifies
  • at 12°, delicate mushroom aromas appear
  • at 13°, pinot noir aromas, tannins! serve with a lamb tajine
  • at 14°, smoky flavours and yoghurt aromas are revealed
  • at 16°, aromas of meringue and walnuts, amazing intensity – magical with a tarte Tatin with candied violets

Most of us could not discern such differences in flavor, but some can.  However, we can all learn from this and be appreciative of the difference a few degrees makes!  BTW, if you want to do this experiment with a bottle at each degree between 8 and 16, it will cost you about $2,400 at $300 per bottle!

You deserve the enhanced flavor of letting a great white wine warm up a few degrees towards room temperature to enhance the taste.  A number of people will take a great white wine directly out of their long-term cellar at 14 degrees Celsius (by now you should know this is 57 degrees Fahrenheit!) and serving it.

Right way – no ice

If you have removed white wine from the fridge or a Vintec where it has been stored ‘cold,’ and once it has warmed up a couple of degrees to release the flavors, you should place the white wine in wine storage container without ice (like in the photo to the left).  This ensures the wine stays at the right temperature for a long time (hopefully long enough to finish the bottle!).  If you put it in an ice bucket, it will return the wine to close to freezing, choking off the flavor.  Therefore, I never use ice in any manner with good white wine.  (Or you may consider just using a few cubes to counterbalance the room temperature.) If you are drinking bad white wine, then use all the ice you want, as you want to hide the poor flavor!

Wrong! Do not use ice!

We may not all have the discerning palate of Richard Geoffroy, but we can still greatly enhance our white wine tasting experience by making sure we are storing and serving the wine at the right temperatures.I have learned that there is great benefit in warming an excellent white wine up a few degrees before tasting it.  Do some comparison testing and see if you do not agree!

And if this all seems just too hard, then for white wine, take it out of the fridge for 20 minutes before serving it and leave it at that.  That is as good a rule of thumb as any.