1977 Dow Vintage Port and 2004 Dow Vintage Port

I am sitting with a glass of each of these glorious Port wines in front of me as I write this.  These are some fine Ports!

1977 Dow Vintage Port (left) and 2004 Dow Vintage Port (right)

I would have to give the nod to the 1977 Dow Vintage Port being superior, both in terms of wine quality and also since it holds a special memory for me.  I had two bottles for a very long time that I purchased while in Graduate School a long, long time ago.  However, through misfortune, I was only able to drink only one glass of this brilliant Port wine.  As a very special treat for my 60th birthday, my wife found and surprised me with two bottles of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port.

The picture above shows the 1977 Dow to be slighter browner, but that is not the case.  This is still in its optimal drinking period.  Being high in alcohol, most Port wines will last a very long time.  When I opened the 1977 Dow Vintage Port, the cork crumbled (even when using the Ah So – that’s how saturated and weak the 35 year old cork was!)  The cork split and the bottom went into the bottle.  I had to filter the wine to remove the cork and the sediment.  Fortunately, being a high alcohol wine, it was still in good condition and improved after decanting.

The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is an excellent wine and I paid $30 per bottle for this.  But the wine is a child yet – so tight and with the grape fibers still interlocking (that is why is looks darker around the edges compared to the 1977 which is looser and therefore smoother)!  While drinkable today, it will last another ten years and soften over that period of time and even longer.  However, once I work my way through my two bottles of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port, my last 1967 Lindeman’s Vintage Port, and two bottles of the 1980 Lindeman’s Vintage Port, then I will seriously start work my way through the 14 bottles of the 2004 Dow Vintage Port I have.   I expect this will not occur for another 2 – 3 years.

The 2004 Dow Vintage Port tastes of blackberry and boysenberry.  It has a sharp smell when you nose it, but is smoother to the palate.  It is thick, a bit sweeter and and does not have the complexity of the 1977.  It starts full, but has a weak finish.  The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is still trying to figure out what type of wine it wants to be and is almost combative with your palate.  I expect this Port has a lot of potential though and will benefit from more years in the bottle. 

By comparison, the 1977 Dow Port is elegant.  The nose is softer and more subtle, but once the wine hits your palate, you can taste the intensity and concentrated plum and blackberry flavors.  This wine is sharp to the taste and lasts a very long time.  But then the 1977 Dow Vintage Port does benefit from 35 years of aging!  It is beautifully balanced and sits in perfect harmony on your tongue and against your cheeks.  And the 1977 is certainly a more expensive wine (than the 2004) today, even though it went at a reasonable price when first available. 

The very best vintage in a long, long time of Dow Vintage Port is the 2007.  This wine was so popular, it never made its way to Australia.  I was fortunate to pick up two bottles of this in the US about 18 months ago.  This wine is rated by many to be a rare 100/100.  However, I definitely need to let this wine mature in the cellar for a long, long time.  The trick is to determine when is the best time to drink them.  I want to make sure I still have a good enough palate to be able to discern the quality, yet not drink it before its time.  I just hope its time comes before my time!

Defining decadence – Castro cigar with 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus

As mentioned previously, my friend gave me a tremendous cigar for my 60th birthday.  You could tell by smelling it, that it would be the finest cigar I have ever smoked.  Having smoked it today only confirmed the point!  I enjoy a great cigar every now and then, usually smoking the Cohiba Siglo #1 or #2 or the Cohiba Robusto.  I may have a Montecristo every now and then.  Since I may only have three or four cigars a year, it does not make sense to smoke anything less than the best!

Being on vacation, I brought some cigars along to enjoy while sitting on the back deck in the Hunter Valley.  I was also looking for a cause for celebration (beyond just being on vacation!) and had it by having our best quarter ever for my group.  We are already over 200% of sales plan for the quarter and finished the year on a high note.  I also got a call Friday at 5:00 pm that we closed our biggest deal ever so far, so I knew I had plenty of justification (or just plenty of excuse!) for smoking “Castro’s Cigar.”  (I will explain more later on how this great cigar made for Fidel Castro found its way to me!)

I also like the idea of smoking a victory or celebration cigar to ‘relish the moment.’  Red Auerbach, as General Manager of the Boston Celtics, would sit in Boston Garden watching his beloved Celtics and when he knew the game was in hand, he would light up a cigar, further intimidating the other team.  This was a bit arrogant and I am not sure if he ever lit up, only to have the other team come back and win.  (Does anyone know?)

I was even more influenced though by Will Smith in the movie “Independence Day.”  After a victory in battle (and isn’t life an everyday battle?), Will would always savor the moment by smoking a cigar.  I have followed suit and also like to relish the big victories with a good cigar, and had every reason to do so today.

I know this blog is about wine and we will get to the wine soon!  However, my choice of wine cannot be adequately justified without explaining how a cigar intended for Castro made its way to me.  These cigars are made by Cohiba.  They consists of the very best tobacco leaves (similar to premium wines using only the very best grapes).  Cohiba then provides these top end cigars to Castro for his private stock.

(I am not certain if everything I mention here is exactly correct, but it makes for a good story, so I will continue!)  Every now and then, some cigars are gifted to special friends or used for diplomatic purposes and found their way into the hands of some of the sheiks from Qatar.  (I actually do not know if it is now possible to buy these cigars on the open or secondary market at all, but plan to find out!)  My friends son is a physiotherapist living in London and provides regular massage to one or several of these sheiks, who as a tip provided some of the cigars to my friend’s son, who then passed on two to his father.  His father smoked one and gave the other to me for my birthday.  Therefore, I have been waiting for the perfect setting and occasion to smoke this very special cigar and today was the day.

Many of my friends drink cognac or brandy with a good cigar, but I am not into harder liquors.  Therefore, I enjoy a good cigar with red wine or port and decided a good bottle of red wine was the answer today.  I originally was going to play it safe and go with a bottle of the 2007 McWillams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz.  This is an outstanding wine and was awarded the ‘best red wine’ several years ago by Campbell Mattinson.  I love this wine and knew it would be a great wine to drink while smoking the cigar.

However, I thought that smoking Castro’s cigar was a rare and unique experience and deserved a rare and unique wine.  Since we were up in the Hunter, I did not have full access to every wine in my cellar, but found a 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus.  I have had the 1987 Pyrus which was a magnificent wine and decided it was time to open a bottle of the 1992.  I was excited as I cut off the seal that the cork appeared in perfect condition – something you cannot guarantee for a twenty year old cork.  Still being careful, I used the Ah So cork remover as the best option to get the cork out in one piece and fortunately that is what happened.

I started to decant the wine and was glad to see it still had full crimson color that had not yet turned brownish (a sign that the wine had oxidized to some degree and would be less than optimal if not downright bad).  It took a while to work the wine through the filter, even though there was very little obvious tannin separate in the wine.  It was just so thick and luscious.  While I am sometimes hesitant to use an aerator on a 20 year old wine (since I do not want to break down further an already fragile wine structure), this wine still had a solid structure and I knew that decanting an older Pyrus would take some time and I wanted to help it along with aeration!

We left the wine to decant while out shopping and by the time I got home, it was ready (or maybe since I was just so anxious to get started, I made myself believe it was ready!).  Of course, I used the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux glass to drink the wine.

It had roasted nut, plum and full berry flavors.  The wine was perfectly balanced with well integrated tannins.  It matched a perfect Bordeaux blend using each grape in a well balanced proportion.  The grapes were Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  This was an easy wine to drink, so smooth in texture and at 12.5% alcohol.  I loved this wine and it beautifully matched the cigar in terms of rarity and elegance.  This wine also won three Gold Medals early in its career.

Wine, cigar and Sandalwood incense burning in the background!

I spent 50 of the most blissful minutes I have ever experienced smoking this cigar and sipping this wine!  I was expecting the cigar to go for about 2 hours, as I usually take about 1 hour, 20 minutes to smoke a Cohiba Robusto and this was bigger than the Robusto.  I think there were several reasons for the time being shorter than  I expected.  The first was that the tightness of the rolled tobacco leaves was not as tight as a typical Cohiba and therefore drew more freely and was quicker to burn.  Secondly, I was concerned with wasting any possible cigar flavor, so I was puffing harder and more frequently than I would with a so-called ‘normal’ cigar!  I just did not want to waste a puff!

I usually cannot smoke a cigar beyond the last 25 cm – 35 cm, as they become too harsh and also are hot on the fingers while holding them.  This one however, did not become harsh at all and I could have smoked it to the very end except it was too hot to hold.  However, I did get it down to about 18 cm before snuffing it out!

The total experience took 50 minutes and I also got through about 2/3rds the bottle of the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus during that time. 

While I have had some truly decadent experiences previously in life, I believe this 50 minutes now has reached #1 in terms of decadence and pure sensual pleasure in such a concentrated period of time.  I know I will never have a better cigar.  I will have comparable wines (heck, I still have two more bottles of the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus left!) but the combination of the wine, the cigar and the reason for celebration was a truly unique and pleasurable experience.

Falling in love with secondary red grapes

Most of my life, I have been primarily a Shiraz grape drinker, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir when it comes to red wine.  I rarely drink Merlot, and only as a comparison test or in a blend with other red grapes.

But recently, I have been falling in love with the secondary red wine grapes Grenache, Malbec and Tempranillo.  I also enjoy the occasional Zinfindal and Sangiovese.  Just what is it about Grenach, Malbec and Tempranillo I am finding attractive?  First, off, like a hearty Shiraz, they can have a chewy texture which lingers on the palate and usually provides a long finish.  Secondly, these grapes tend to be a bit sweeter and fruiter than the primary red wine grapes.

Additionally, they easily match a wide variety of food.  These wines work well with red sauce pastas, meats, nachos, pizzas, meat loaf, Sheperd’s Pie, and a number of other dishes.  With Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular, and a number of Shiraz, you need to be a little more careful in matching the wine to the specific sauces and seasoning you are using with your red meats.  Therefore, if I want to do something ‘easy’ in terms of a great meal and matching wine, I can whip up some nachos or pizza and just pull out a bottle made from one of these secondary red grapes and I have a heck of a good meal!

If you want to try a great bottle of each and not spend a lot of money doing so, there are a few great-valued and high quality Australian wines you can try.  My suggestions would include the 2006 Cirillo 1850 Grenach, which is absolutely magnificent!  If you want to spend more, there are a variety of wines from the region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape you can try.

And the 2009 Audrey Wilkinson Malbec is a great buy for the money when it comes to Australian Malbec.  Of course, if you want to try the very best, research and purchase some Malbec from Argentina.  And one of the two best-valued Australian Tempranillo I have had is the 2011 Running with the Bulls.  This is a very good-valued Tempranillo, and the 2011 vintage is even better than the outstanding 2010 or 2009 vintages.  This is because the grapes have been sourced from Wrattonbully instead of the Barossa Valley.  Another great Australian Tempranillo from the Hunter Valley is the Glandore TPR Tempranillo.  And if you want to try some other great Tempranillo, then research and purchase some from Spain.

These secondary red wine grapes are well textured, bursting in taste and match well with a variety of pedestrian food dishes, so make sure to try some and get some in your cellar!  You are then prepared when you need to put together a simple meal with wine that ‘needs to impress!’

Not feeling guilty drinking Montrachet after feeding the homeless today!

I had the privilege of spending time and feeding Sydney’s homeless today.  A few have recently been fortunate to get their own place, but all of them are doing it rough.  My local church, St Philip’s York Street Anglican, puts on a great event to invite those doing it rough onto the church grounds every three months.  The one today was amazing as a special Christmas lunch cooking steaks, salads, veggies and potatoes with ice cream sundaes, brownies, cookies for dessert.

St Philip’s and Senior Rector Justin Moffatt illustrating ‘Let There Be Light’

I originally thought the lunch was scheduled for Christmas day and we were going to be away, but I found out at church today that it was this afternoon.  I had already made some other plans, but when a notice came out over Facebook asking for some immediate help, I walked over to the church to help out.  Over 200 people had shown up!

I have regularly fed the homeless before and am comfortable and excited about the opportunity.  They help me more than I can possibly help them.  I leave the experience feeling blessed, and realizing except for the grace of God and the fortunate life I have had, I am not any different than they are.  This group today was amazing.  First off, there were a lot more woman who attended than in other gatherings I have helped with.  Secondly, they were so appreciative!  This was largely a group of kind spirited and warm hearted people.

I left the gathering to return home and discussed dinner plans with my wife.  She is making her amazing chicken pot pie recipe.  Tomorrow night we will finish off the amazing soup she made last night which is chicken, wild rice, bacon and creamy mushroom.

With two great meals of creamy chicken dishes coming up, it demanded I open a bottle of great Chardonnay and I thought the perfect drop would be the 2009 Bouchard Pere & Fils Puligny Montrachet.  I have blogged about this great wine before and how well it goes with meals like we are having tonight and tomorrow night.  But this bottle of wine cost me $75 and is now worth about $175.  It was such as stark contrast to what the homeless eat on a daily basis.  (Today being a real exception!  Many claimed they have never had a better meal in their life!)

But the guilt did not last long.  First of all, the homeless would not have liked this rich or good of wine (I don’t believe).  They prefer coffee with lots of sugar in it for the drink of choice.  Secondly, the money could be far better spent on other cheaper more nutritious drink and food and that was what today was all about.

I enjoy my wine and am not guilty about drinking good wine, and sharing it with others over good meals and discussion.  I also enjoy serving my Lord and serving those doing it rough.  After all, service is my love language!  And today I was privileged to be able to do both.  What a great day.

Those doing it rough at St Philip’s today felt blessed to be in the company of their peers and helpers from the church and be treated to such a great meal and some love and companionship.  I felt privileged to part of that.  And I feel privileged to now be sipping a most amazing Montrachet waiting for my wife’s great chicken pot pie to cook.  I am blessed with a great job, a great wife, great friends and great opportunities to serve.  Both spending time with those doing it rough, and drinking a great Montrachet make me appreciate that!

Given the tragedy in CT, USA and the grief and sorrow so many are going through coming into this holiday season, take some time to appreciate and enjoy the things that really means something to you!

And now, I just got the call for dinner and that great chicken pot pie!  Bye!

Love and mental health are bigger issues than gun control

[This has been co-written by Blake Stevens and Steve Shipley as both had similar views and rage when discussed over breakfast this morning and in an attempt to reach the largest group possible will be posted in each of our blogs.]

First off, we apologize for this being a long post, but it deserves the space.  Secondly, we apologize for writing this while consumed with anger, but expect that will make the article more poignant, if less coherent.  And third, we apologize to those who find it controversial and will disagree with it when in fact we are making the effort to be balanced and put the focus where the focus should be – more on love, relationships and mental health, and less on gun law.

We are by no means pro-gun.  In fact, we are anti-gun and believe in stronger gun control, tougher screening, more training, more testing and more enforcement, similar to what we do to get a driving license.  We need to be old enough, we need to take training, we need to pass a test and consistently be monitored for eye sight and other disabilities which could impair our driving and make it potentially dangerous for others.  We take away the license from those who are caught drunk-driving and we jail those who are repeat offenders.  We should have similar stronger mechanisms in place for purchasing and allowing people to use guns.

But those strong controls for obtaining and keeping a driver’s license certainly does not stop a still large number of people from driving under-age and driving under the influence.  Enforcement for repeat offenders has gone even further and requires they only drive cars that will not start before passing a breathalyzer test, but even then I have heard stories of drunks having friends or paying others to breathe for them.  Drunks drive without licenses all the time, and drunks will steal a different car or find a way to start their car while impaired.  And they will continue to go on killing people through their recklessness.

We think we should have similar mechanisms in place for gun control and can do a lot more, but it will not stop people from using guns to kill.  And if they did not have guns they would use other devices such as baseball bats, frying pans, kitchen knives, etc.  Trying to keep guns out of people’s hands will not work, and certainly the lame-ass petitions we now see going around to put more guns in classrooms and teachers hands will not either!  What insanity!

We do not want to take the focus away from gun control, but accept it certainly will not work to stop a majority of the potential killing and killers out there.  There has been a string a nasty, disgusting maniacal killings this year.  The people who killed had severe mental health problems, were victims of emotional or physical abuse, felt (rightly or wrongly) that grave injustices had been committed against them, or were just unloved, hormonally imbalanced, or down-right fucking crazy.

We believe we need to love more, pray for people more and help people to identify and deal with pressure and growing mental health issues more.  Damn it, we are not some pansy-ass liberals who believes everyone is troubled and should be pardoned or excused for their behavior.  Quite the opposite, we both would support the death penalty for certain people in certain situations.

But we see so many people daily, and have recognized in ourselves over the years, the amount of stress we have been under and how our jobs, our relationships and our situations have helped us to deal better with things or to the contrary, make them worse.  But as  guys in the corporate world, we have not been allowed and certainly not encouraged to admit to any weakness or stress and if we did, were often considered incapable to perform.  What a crock.

The world has become too fast paced and too highly leveraged and things are breaking around us which breaks all of us to some degree  Some of us can deal with it, and others cannot.  We see so many on the roads and trains in the morning going to work who are clearly not happy with life, are in need of a kind word or some stronger support.  We have found in life that relationships are everything (and why we needed to get together this morning to be with each other, discuss it and ultimately get it out by writing it down).  We are all broken, some of us terribly so, but with the right relationships can be so much better at dealing with things.  Our relationship and faith in God (regardless of your religion) or even a belief in a higher order of karma or morality provides a foundation to deal with things better.  The support of our friends and co-workers is critical to our mental well-being.  And our ability to admit brokenness and seek the help of others, informally or professionally also is critical to our well being.

Sorry to say it but these killers are fucking crazy.  Through their own delusions or helped along the way by others not being there for them, they have found the need to kill, the need for revenge and nothing about gun control is going to stop them.  They will build explosives or use chemical warfare from instructions found on the Internet, or find other ways to make their point.

Yes – continue to improve gun control, and really – it should be so fucking easy!  Better screening, certifiable training and testing, and some simple ongoing enforcement is all it takes.  If we can do it for driving (or restricting driving) a car, we should be able to do it with guns.  So we say to the governments around the world, and the politicians who we vote into office, “just fucking do it!”  Fuck the NRA and fuck other lobbies who support freedom of all to own weapons. Their power and support must be eroding quickly and be close to zero.

But let’s not forget to love, to be responsible and to be supportive of those we see falling off, going down a dark hole, or acting out of character in a world where maintaining good mental and emotional health continues to become harder and harder.  We all have a responsibility on a personal level to help and support others and to seek others help and support for ourselves (assuming we can see we need it and can admit to it).

I (Blake) used to say I was anti-gun and then I saw the below post:

I realized how true and rational this was and it was a double standard if I blamed guns for killing, but blamed cars for drunk drivers.  By that, I mean within the conditions we have outlined above for screening, training, and testing.  While bad spelling may not kill people, cars with drunk drivers certainly do, every bit so as much as guns do, and some of us have even eaten ourselves to death, but please do not take our spoons away!

We do not want our rights to own a frying pan and a chef’s knife to be taken away because in the wrong hands they could potentially be instruments of death.  We do want reasonably good screening, training and testing for things like gun control and driving though.  But most importantly, we need to focus on achieving faith, loving each other and being there for each other, and stepping up when we think others need our help and our support.

It is not about guns as much as it is about the state of the collective population’s mental health.  Crazy fucking people mass murder people and they will find multiple instruments of choice to do so.  We have already had one tragedy today, we don’t want another by having people focus only on gun control and not on the other even bigger factors involved.

Mentally and emotionally healthier and more stable people in the population reduce senseless killings far more than gun control on its own ever will.  Let’s deal with stress and mental health issues also.  We owe it to ourselves and our fellow members in the human race.

Blake Stevens, author of Still Stupid at Sixty
email:  blakestevensauthor@gmail.com
twitter: @stillstupidat60

Steve Shipley, author of SAZ in the Cellar
email:  shipleyaust@yahoo.com.au
twitter: @shipleyaust

Two very interesting bottles of wine

The majority of my cellar consist of wines that I have bought, usually by the dozen or more.  I enjoy the opportunity to have a repeatable experience of drinking an excellent wine (I only buy wines by the dozen or more when I have had the opportunity to taste the wine), and I love tasting how a wine develops over multiple years.

Yet, I am often gifted wine or have ended up with the ‘loose’ or odd bottle.  Sometimes these bottles represent excellent wines and I am aware of the wines characteristics and how it will taste.  Sometimes I have ended up with a crap bottle of wine, best used for cooking or to pass onto someone who is looking for the alcohol experience more than the wine tasting experience.  But the most interesting bottles are the ones I know nothing about, but have some indication they may be an interesting wine.

In the past several days, I have pulled out two bottles of wine that I knew nothing about.  The first one was a 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir from Marlborough, NZ and the second, a 1996 Carindale Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley.  Both fortunately proved to be excellent bottles of wine!

Not knowing anything about these wines, I was uncertain what to expect.  I also had the concern that both wines being past their best drinking periods as Pinot Noir does not last well to a decade or beyond and neither does Chardonnay for the most part.  However, you are often blessed to find a bottle that defies the normal structure of the grape and the aging process.  Both of these wines surpassed my expectations by a far mark.

I knew who had given me the Pinot Noir and I was concerned as I had some nice bottles from him previously that had not been cellared properly and had not stood up well.  But the 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir was great.  It was sweeter than most Pinot Noirs I have had and still retained a lot of fresh fruit with slight overtones of smoke.  My loved one had cooked up a tremendous pasta, chicken, cheese and broccoli casserole where she refused to follow the recipe and added some hot chile sauce and bacon among other things.  It was unbelievably good!  While I would usually match a younger Chardonnay to go with it, I had the Pinot Noir and it worked fine.  While not a perfect match, the wine and the food were both enjoyable.  I would not consider a Shiraz or even a decent Cabernet Sauvignon with a chicken, cheesy pasta dish, but the Pinot Noir was suitable enough.

The next night, I finished the 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir with a serve of FAT (Feta, Avocado, Tomato on Toast) and that worked well also even though it was not a perfect match.  I think a lot of white wines would have gone well with the FAT, including Pinot Gris and Semillon.  But again, while not a perfect match, the Pinot Noir worked well enough with FAT.  I then had a sip of the Pinot Noir with mango and that did not work!  (I will be writing a separate post a bit later on what wines to drink with veggies and fruits.)

But the strange thing was that I could not find any references to Courtney Post wines, either through Wine-Searcher Pro or through Google.  They may have gone out of business, but I was expecting to find something about them somewhere.  (I must admit that while I did not try exceptionally hard to find a reference to them, I certainly thought it would be easier than it was!)  This was an exceptional wine for which I can find no history.  This is the reason I do not buy single bottles – I would have liked to repeat this experience, but sadly, it has become a ‘one-nighter!’

Tonight, we are having leftover chicken pasta with cheese, broccoli, bacon and chile and I really wanted a Chardonnay to go with it tonight.  I had to scramble and only found two bottles of Chardonnay in my apartment.  Since one was a 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassagne Montrachet, I decided to go with the other one, that being the 1996 Carindale Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley.  When I checked Google this time, I did find a reference and found out it was a Hunter Valley winery that made aged Chardonnay among other wines.  And they are just down the road from Waverley Estate on Palmers Lane who also specialize in aged Chardonnay and Semillon.

I have no recollection of who gave me this bottle or how I came in contact with it.  But it is delicious! I cannot discern a specific fruit flavor to it – it tastes more like a finely blended fruit cocktail, but less sweet, in fact, a bit minerally.  Yet, the texture is somewhat viscous which I really enjoy in a well-aged white wine, and it has a very long finish.  This is a wine which fills and satisfies the senses!  And look at the color of the wine!  While not as golden and as complex as several of my ‘Top 5 whites ever,’ this is a great wine and still has some way to go.  I expect it will be drinking even more beautifully in 3 – 5 years, and hope I can find a bottle to test my theory out!

Fortunately, they are still in business and just around the corner from our place in the Hunter Valley!  I will be visitng them during my next visit to the Hunter Valley.  While they are sold out of the 1996 (and 1998) Chardonnay, they still appear to have some of the 2000 Chardonnay left and if it is anything like the 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay (or their own 1996 Chardonnay), it will be a great drink!

I don’t always strive for the best food and wine match, even though I think it is usually worth the effort.  Sometimes I just want to try a particular bottle of wine and will drink it with a meal.  And while I don’t usually like single bottles of undiscernable heritage, I must admit that I got very lucky with these two bottles and they have provided a great drinking experience over the last few days.  Some times it is worth taking a risk and going on a ‘blind date’ with a bottles.  Even though it may not last a life time, it can still be a great one-nighter!

Grenache was made for Sheperd’s Pie!

A number of red wines work with Sheperd’s Pie.  I have tried a few as my wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, makes a great Sheperd’s Pie!  I have had Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz with Sheperd’s Pie, and both worked fine.  More recently, I had the 2008 Glandore TPR Tempranillo with Sheperd’s Pie and thought it worked better than either a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Tempranillo is a secondary and less popular red wine grape, but a beautiful drink.

Grenache is another secondary wine grape growing in popularity.  I have been slow to coming to truly like Grenache as a grape, but really enjoying it more recently.  I have been tasting more decent wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and have been able to discern the more pleasurable characteristics of Grenache.  We also recently have a tremendous Australian Grenach (the 2006 Cirillo 1850 Grenache) which was wonderful with Korean BBQ.

The characteristics I love about Grenache (and Tempranillo) is that they make hearty, chewable wines that are still elegant and well-refined.  It almost seems to be a contradiction in terms, and that is why some of the cheaper, younger Grenache wines don’t work.  The compexities and balance are not there yet.

I had a single bottle of the 2006 Perrin & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards and remembering how good the 2006 Cirillo 1850 Grenache was from a few days before, I thought a Grenache would go very well with Sheperd’s Pie that evening.  It ended up being a perfect match!

The 2006 Cirillo 1850 Grenache was 100% Grenache.  But often the Grenache grape is blended with smaller quantities of other grapes.  The 2006 Perrin & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards is such a blend being 70% Grenache, 15% Shiraz, and 15% Mourvedre.  This blending is typical of a wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and why there can be such a wide variety of different tasting wines from that region.

Grenache (or a Grenache blend) works well with Sheperd’s Pie because both the texture of the wine and the taste compliment the food beautifully.  This wine is ‘meaty’ on its own and mixes with the juice from the pie in a splendid sensation of flavours.  Additionally, the leaner, elegant characteristics compliment the mash potato used in the pie.

I have not tried a Pinot Noir with Sheperd’s Pie and you may be asking why as it contains lamb mince.  I think most Pinot Noirs would be too light in texture to work with the heartiness of Sheperd’s Pie.

If you have not tried Grenache before, you owe it to yourself to do so.  And if you are going to cook up Sheperd’s Pie, then you definitely should be looking for a bottle of Grenache to go with it (or a bottle of a Tempranillo).  For my palate, a Grenache is a far better match for Sheperd’s Pie than Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.

Impressing or expressing? – a good night out with the guys!

The five of us were all looking forward to a good night out.  One in the group was returning to the US after two years living in Sydney, others reflecting on completing one of the greatest banking IT projects ever run anywhere in the world, which we all touched in one way or another over the last few years, but mostly we just wanted to get together to share some companionship and some great wine.  And what a wine line-up we had!

Owen, David, Mark, Daniel, Steve

We had been planning the evening for about a month, but except for agreeing on the date, no one did any real planning at all!  So we decided to meet at the Small Bar in Crows Nest and take it from there.  Mark and I arrived first, drinking some 2012 David Hook Pinot Grigio from the Hunter Valley.  After a glass each and some nibblies, we got another full bottle as the other guys were arriving.

After some good banter, we all started showing off the wine we had brought along for the evening.  It was suppose to be a ‘big red’ night and it certainly turned out that way!  As I mentioned, we all apparently wanted to impress, but not in that manly competitive way of “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine!”  It was more about being respectful of each being part of a friendship and wanting to share something special with each other.  The other four in the group had been especially tight over the previous few years and I had only circled in and out a few times, so it was great to be part of the group that evening.  We all knew and enjoyed our wines and made sure we each brought a very good bottle along!

I brought along a 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon to start us off with an iconic Australian white wine which I thought would go with whatever Asian food we decided to eat that evening.  Since the evening was about the friendship and the wine, we weren’t sure where we would eat (so we went to the closest place which was the Vietnamese restaurant Phuong immediately next door to the Small Bar!).  In fairness to my friend’s taste and Phuong, some of the guys had been there before and it was an outstanding choice.

I felt we should start with one bottle of white wine and I wanted to test and share what I knew would be a great Australian white in the 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon.  Once we got the food ordered (Banquet Menu B, showing again how much effort we would be putting into non-wine related topics!), we got into the red wines.  The line-up was a stunner:

  • 2008 Trinity Hill Homage Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend (from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
  • 1997 Penfolds 389 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon blend
  • 1994 Brokenwood Hermintage
  • 2002 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz
  • 2003 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec
  • Some bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought at the bottle shop because for some reason he did not think we had enough wine for five guys!

Except for the 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label which was gifted to Andrew (the guy returning to the US), the 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz (which we deemed too young to drink), and the bottle Pinot Noir that Mark bought, we did drink all the wine with dinner.  You can tell because of how careful we were with our plates and food (and this does not show the broken glass on the floor or the mess I made of Daniel’s shirt!).

Six of the reds we drank were Shiraz or Shiraz blends – that’s heavy lifting for one meal!  We opened with the Trinity Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend and finished with dessert and the Pinot Noir, but everything else in between was Shiraz!  I believe we all agreed that the wine of the evening was the 2002 Penfolds St Henri.  The 1997 Penfolds 389 was absolutely splendid and lasted better than I thought it would.  The 1994 Brokenwood Hermitage was a classic older Hunter Shiraz with great body and finish, but still maintaining  the elegant style of an old world Hermitage.  The 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz would have been a delight, but we passed on it as it will last another decade or more and improve with age.  And the 2003 Penfolds St Henri was another wonderful wine.  Each of these reds would usually be considered the featured wine to finish a meal with, but we had no problem over-indulging with all of them!

We then walked in the rain down to Bravo’s for some gelato and other desserts where we did finish off the bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought before finding our individual ways home.

Great friends, great food, great times and great wine all go together.  We were not trying to impress in a competitive way – just expressing gratitude for each others friendship and respect for each others palate!  It was a rare evening where everything worked – at least it seemed so with that much good wine!