Another great Riesling – the Grosset Springvale Riesling

My last post was discussed four excellent, yet very different Rieslings, being:

  • 2007 Annies Lane Copper Trail
  • 2000 Pokolbin Estate Hunter Riesling
  • 2009 Hugel Alsace
  • 2008 Grosset Polish Hill

Therefore, I was still thinking about Rieslings earlier in the week.  I almost brought along a bottle of the 2008 Grosset Springvale Riesling to compare with their Polish Hill style from the same vintage when I was on Food in Focus last week, but as it was, we already had four bottles to try!

So I opened the bottle of 2008 Grosset Springvale Riesling to drink while blogging earlier in the week and to go with a salmon and cream cheese bagel for dinner.  It was magnificent.  It was lighter and with less mineral taste than the Grosset Polish Hill and very drinkable today (even though it will cellar a long, long time).  It still had acid and strong minerals, but not like the Polish Hill which is over the top!  It tasted of lime, grapefruit and lychee.

I love how versatile Riesling is.  This one went well with salmon and cream cheese the first night and then we had the rest with Thai food the second evening and it matched up just as well.

I have been on a bit of a Riesling kick recently as it provides great variety in style and taste.  Clare Valley makes premium Rieslings and it is difficult to go wrong with any Riesling from the area.  Canberra is also known for their Rieslings.  Try a few different ones and see what you like best.  I love them all!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
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Fun, fun, fun on Food in Focus (discussing Riesling)

I once again had the privilege of being a guest on Natascha Moy’s great food and wine show Food in Focus.  Natascha, in her blog, has already described what a great show it was, so I will not cover that ground again.  I will focus on describing the wines in more detail.

Back Left, Host Natascha Moy, Left Front, Jennifer Evans, Back Right Steve Shipley, Mikey Robins and Richard Tenser

When Natascha asked me to participate, we had to select a topic and after a couple of rounds, both agreed that the topic should be Riesling.  We both love Riesling!  I brought four bottles along for the show:

  • 2007 Annies Lane Copper Trail
  • 2000 Pokolbin Estate Hunter Riesling
  • 2009 Hugel Alsace
  • 2008 Grosset Polish Hill

During most of my wine drinking days,I have favored red wine.  90% – 95% of the wine I used to drink was of the red grape.  But over the last five years, I have shifted preferences and now 30% of the wine I drink is white wine, with 70% still being red.  And it was Riesling that got me over to white!  I love my Montrachets and I love my Hunter Valley Semillons, but it was Riesling that first got me on that journey to liking white wine more.

The Riesling grape is more impacted (and therefore varies in taste more) than any other white wine grape.  The impact of soil and climate on the grape is significant.  This leads to great variety and difference in the styles and quality of Riesling and what makes it such a fascinating grape.  The four bottles we shared on Food in Focus certainly was testament to that.

The first one we sampled was the 2007 Annies Lane Copper Trail Riesling.  This is a very typical Riesling from the Clare Valley.  It had strong typical lemon and lime flavors and a bit of mineral taste.  This is a very reasonably priced Riesling with a bit of acid yet and is still improving with each passing year. 

The next wine is the only example of a Riesling I have ever bought from the Hunter Valley.  The 2000 Pokolbin Estate though has been well awarded with seven Gold Medals and voted in the Top 10 wines in 2006.  It is softer than the Annies Lane, more viscous and more honeyed.  And it really went well with Jennifer Evans (winner of last years My Kitchen Rules) fish with coconut, curry and lime.  It was almost like we planned how well the food and wine went together.  The wine made the flavors in the fish first explode in your mouth and then the wine cooled down the palate.  The food flavors, especially the lime, was really brought out by the wine.

The 2009 Hugel is representative of a European Riesling from Alsace.  Drinkable today with a bit of acid.  When tasted on its own, it had strong grapefruit flavor, but when taken with the magnificent, yet subtle Massaman beef curry that Jennifer made, it tasted more of mango and pear.  It was amazing how the wine tasted on its own and when paired up with food.  The food brought out completely different tastes in the wine.

We finished with an iconic Australian Riesling, the Grosset Polish Hill from 2008.  This is a superb wine made and typical of a Riesling from the Polish Hill vineyard, it was very minerally and chalky – very acidic.  This wine is built to last and the best recommended drinking range for this wine is between 2028 and 2038!  This wine has some structure to it!  But is was still very enjoyable today.  I am glad to have about 6 bottles left to try over the next few decades.

And Natascha in her blog post claims the 2006 Grosset Polish Hill is even better, but I want to put her to the challenge.  I am not sure what she is basing this on.  Jeremy Oliver, James Halliday, and most others rate the 2008 better than the 2006, and the 2008 goes for about 20% more in cost than the 2006 on the secondary markets.  Therefore, I want a seat at Food in Focus in 2023 or 2028 when we have a taste-off between the 2006 (brought by Natascha) Grosset Polish Hill and the 2008 (brought by me) Grosset Polish Hill.  And Jennifer Evans is invited back to bring the Thai food!

Before I go, I just wanted to make a mention to the Lunchalot guys.  This is a great business concept and a win, win, win for the consumer, the restaurants and the Lunchalot business.  I really like this concept and am now a member myself.  Check them out!  And log in to Food in Focus every Saturday at 4 pm for more fun with food and wine.

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My other blog (on business, tech, world issues):  Steve Shouts Out!

Tune in tomorrow to find out wine topic on Food in Focus!

I am privileged to once again participate in Natascha Moy’s great radio talk and music show tomorrow called Food in Focus.  It airs at 4 pm until 6 pm Saturday, Sydney time. Just follow the link for Food in Focus and you can log into the digital channel (or 89.7 FM in Sydney if listening over the air waves) to listen in from anywhere in the world (make sure to adjust time to 4 pm Sydney time though!)  I was a guest last November and look forward to being one again tomorrow.  In November we discussed ‘party wines’ and it was great fun.

Natascha airs this show every Saturday and has been doing it for a while, so it takes great creativity to constantly come up with new and exciting ideas.  There are food topics and wine / spirits topics every week.  When Natascha asked me again, we started to discuss what topic we should focus on.

I suggested 2007 Hunter Shiraz and what a great vintage it was, reviewing the very best from that vintage.  She said it was going to be too hot to drink Shiraz throughout the show in its entirety and I agreed (of course I need to bring wine and we need to taste it – otherwise, how could we discuss it ‘intelligently?’).  She counter suggested I pick out and discuss three wines to match to a menu of:

  • Fish say a lightly grilled Kingfish with a simple lemon butter sauce
  • Pork terrine
  • Lamb backstrap

I thought it a good idea, but if we did not have the food there, we would have to speculate a bit, so I countered and suggested comparing three Hunter Semillons – a young, medium, and vintage version to show how they mature over time.  Natascha mentioned she has done Hunter Semillons ‘to the death’ and did not want to repeat, and then she made a great suggestion that I thought was perfect!

Of course, I am not going to tell you before the show, so dial in to listen to us tomorrow at 4 – 6 pm Sydney time on Food in Focus with Natascha Moy and guests.  We will have a great time, you will be entertained and hopefully learn a little bit more about wine.  Hope you join us and are listening in tomorrow!

What wine with salad?

It is summer time here in Sydney and that requires cooler food.  We have been making a lot of salads recently to address that.  We have also been watching our weight and trying to eat better, so a good salad helps with that also.

But what type of wine to match with salads?  I have books and experience matching wines with different types of meats, cheeses, and chocolates, but not with salads.  With the number of salads we have had over the last few weeks, I have been considering this more and wanted to share some initial thoughts with you.  My single most important rule is that any good wine and any good salad will do!  Matching salads and vegetables with other foods is pretty easy and it is not often that you have a major conflict.  I think the same can be said for wine and salads.

However, to improve on the “any good salad, any good wine will do” approach, I would try to determine if there is a main or over-riding ingredient or dominant taste in the salad.  If a particular taste or flavor is going to be dominant in the food, that would be a good starting point for selecting the wine.

Another concept I go for is that salads are most often made with fresh produce and therefore I go for a wine with some freshness and crispness to it.  A wine that works well with meaty / gamey foods would not – as a general rule – be good with a salad unless the salad had large slices of grilled lamb or something similar meat.  In general and if you have no other guidance, then go with a white wine, preferably a crisp one.

For example, tonight we are are having a bean and feta salad.  The beans are slightly cooked, but still quite crisp.  The feta has a touch of sharpness to it.  It also contained tomatoes, Spanish onion, and some spices.  Therefore, I have pulled out a medium aged Riesling (a 2007 Annies Lane from Clare Valley) to go with it as I expect a bit of the remaining acid in the wine to stand up well with the crispness of many of the ingredients in the salad.  In general, I would consider three types of white wines which should go well with salads:

  • Riesling:  for a salad with crisp ingredients, sharper cheeses, apple chunks, spices
  • Pinot Gris: with walnuts or figs as part of the salad, or more citrus fruit bits
  • Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc (or blend): should work well with almost any salad, especially if it has chunks of smoked salmon, seared tuna, scallops, lobster, or other fish or crustaceans

Chardonnay: will not work as well as the other three whites mentioned above unless the salad contains large chunks of chicken and is fairly bland overall.  And if salad is the only thing I am going to eat as a meal, then I usually am going to have one with some stronger flavors and spices.

If you plan on putting some grilled or stir-fried red meat into the salad, you can start to think about a red wine.  In general, salads should be ‘light,’ so something like a Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel could work.  If the meat is heavier and spicier, then a Shiraz should work also.

If you plan on making the salad the main or only course like we have been doing this summer, then it is also a cause for more celebration and a Sparkling Shiraz or a Frizante could work well also.  Both the salad and the wine are full of crispness and freshness then!

This is still an area I am finding out more about and hope to have a more complete and rigorous set of salad / wine matchings in the future.  We just got a couple of great salad cookbooks and will be trying a number of new salads over the coming weeks, experimenting with different wines, and coming back with more suggestions for you in the near future!  And if you have any good ideas or experiences where you have had a good pairing of a wine with a salad, please let me know.

BTW, my friend Blake Stevens posted an article today on home-made fresh summer foods and the concept of a ‘fridge’ salad.  Read the post and let me know what wine, if any, you would consider matching with the ‘fridge’ salad!

Wine writing rightly or wrongly

I entered the Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine competition for 2013.  While excited to do so, I was also hesitant and did not completely decide to enter until three days ago when I made my submission.

I write about wine for myself as much as I do a broader audience.  I find it helps to organize and remember my thoughts about wine and I enjoy the writing experience anyway.  I am thrilled to have a good following for SAZ in the Cellar which continues to grow and am appreciative of the good feedback I get as a ‘great wine story teller.’

Each blog post takes about an hour to write with about half that time going into the initial draft content writing and the other half to establish links, find a suitable picture and to proof and edit.  Some blog posts take as much as two hours and I believe one even took four!  But in general, it is about an hour.  And I now have well over 100 posts in less than a year.  There is enough content there that I might even try to make a collection or book out of it.

However, to enter the competition, I needed to follow the competitions rules (which were not many nor onerous BTW), and I felt constrained in doing so for two main reasons.  The first is the upper limit of 1,000 words.  When I start writing, I do so without constraint to the number of words.  I focus on defining an article that I think will be educational and interesting.  It may end up at 500 words or it may end up at 3,000 words if I feel more detail is interesting and justifiable.  Had I written my competition entry as a blog post, I expect it would have been about 2,500 – 3,000 words and I probably would have actually turned it into a 3-part or 4-part blog series with about 750 words each.

The second constraint was that it need to be interesting to both wine buffs and also to people who are newly gaining an appreciation for wine.  Fortunately, I believe I have a entry that accomplished that, but I could only quickly come up with one topic where that worked, even though I thought about it for several weeks.  For blogging and not caring about the level of audience expertise, I don’t really target a topic to a particular  audience.  I figure that the audience will find me and read the post if they are interested.  But if you are writing commercially, you need to be conscious of the ‘real estate’ you are consuming in a magazine and make sure it is being used effectively to sell more magazines!  Therefore, both the number of words and audience reach are extremely important.

I had the interesting experience during writing for the competition that it seemed more like a job than a passion and I felt pressure to write my article ‘commercially correct’ (or ‘rightly’ as I say in the title!).  And that raised a concern or at least a caution for me. 

Many of us are often seduced by the idea of making a career out of our hobbies and passions.  We love to cook, so why not do it full-time and become a restauranteur?  Or if we love to fish, why not become a fishing guide so we can fish all the time?  Etc., etc., etc.!  But what happens when we treat our passion as a job or a career?  Well, for starters, we need to be focused and concerned about what our clients want to accomplish, not what we want to accomplish (and that is usually far less interesting to us!).  And secondly, we need to understand and manage it like a business.  And what I found happens in such situations is the passion drains away.

Dining room set I refinished in Graduate School and used for 30 years!

All my life, I have had a love and appreciation for timber and wood products.  Early on, I would refinish furniture and had the pleasure of enjoying using it day-in, day-out.  Then I got into wood turning and then making wood furniture.  I love the Australian and New Zealand hardwoods and have been working with them since 1988.  Then in 2000, when I tried to retire, I thought I could turn ‘working with wood’ from a hobby and a past-time into a profession.  In trying to do so, I found out several things:

  • What I could make financially  in 52 weeks of wood turning was the same amount I could make in 6 weeks of consulting.  Additionally, instead of turning what I wanted, I would need to turn what people wanted to buy, which would mean I was cranking out salad bowl sets and bed posts – not something I was really interested in!
  • A large capital investment was required to do the volume I would require and that combined with my skills disadvantage (to people who have been in the field all their life) meant I would be un-competitive

But what I learned the most was that when I treated it as a business, my passion drained away.  What I had enjoyed about the creative aspects and being an artisan were now replaced by managerial and administrative tasks.

Therefore, I am hesitant to turn my love of wine into a business, even just the business of writing about wine.  It may drain my passion for tasting and enjoying the wine lifestyle and I definitely do not want that to happen.  I will take it slowly, continue to blog, possibly write some short stories or a regular column if given the chance, and possibly do some teaching or being the Master of Ceremony for some corporate wine functions.  If that happens, that will be great.  But I am not going to push it because I know if I do, that I will lose my passion for wine the way I did for working with wood and I would not want that to occur!

2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz, featuring the Wyndham Estate Black Cluster Shiraz

2013 looks to be a spectacular year for Hunter Valley wine.  We have been visiting the region frequently during the growing season and the climate and precipitation have been close to perfect.  Last year was almost a total loss with far too much rain making the grapes moldy or bursting them before picking, causing most grapes to be lost.  And the ones that were saved were likely picked too early and lacked the full fruit flavor that most vintages should have.

Having returned from Qatar in middle of 2009, we were able to taste a number of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz’ as the premium brands were just being bottled and released.  I fell in love with the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz vintage and purchased at least a dozen of about 14 different brands (and four more different brands of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz vintage where I have a least a couple of bottles), so I would be able to enjoy and compare them for many years to come.  I thought it would be a fascinating journey to see how each wine developed over the next decade when compared against its peers.  With that in mind, and when tasting the 2007 vintage, I tried to think about how this wine would taste in ten years time.  While some wines were already mellow and very drinkable right away, I was looking for and trying to appreciate which ones were too tight currently, but had the big fruit and complexity to mature into a beautiful wine over the next 5 – 10 years.

I set all of them down in the cellar until 2010, but then would drink an occasional bottle.  Among my favorites were the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea, and the 2007 De Iuliis Reserve.  However, there are many excellent brands from the Hunter Valley in 2007, each outstanding in their own right.  The difference in quality between most of the wines listed below would not be more than several points out of 100.

The wines are now six years old and starting to drink extremely well.  Whenever I need a very good Shiraz and do not want to dip into my last bottles of pre-millenium Grange, St Henri, or Vat 9, I will now retrieve a bottle of a 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz.  I have a lot of them including:

  • McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea
  • De Iuliis Reserve
  • Tyrrell’s Vat 9
  • Tyrrell’s Stevens
  • Tulloch Hector
  • Glandore Hamish
  • Brokenwood Graveyard
  • Thomas Kiss
  • Thomas DJV
  • Meerea Park Alexander Munro
  • Meerea Park Hell Hole
  • Meerea Park Terracotta
  • Audrey Wilkinson Museum Reserve
  • Pokolbin Estate Reserve
  • Pooles Rock HV
  • Rothvale
  • Saddler’s Creek Best Barrique (blend of Hunter Valley and Langhorne Creek grapes)
  • Wyndham Estate Black Cluster

All of these wines are excellent wines, and will last at least another decade, but being six years in bottle already, they are a true delight to start drinking now, so that is what I plan to do.  (Some, however, like the 2007 Meerea Park Alexander Munro are so big though that they need at least another three years before even attempting them.)

Today, I am having a bottle of the 2007 Wyndham Estate Black Cluster.  This is their premier Shiraz and is an excellent wine.  I first had this wine when attending a wine and chocolate matching course at Wyndham Estates last year.  We had a chili flavor induced dark chocolate and this wine was an excellent match, being powerful and confident enough to stand up to chili chocolate!

Drinking it on its own now, you can tell this is a bold wine with many more years left to help it mature.  I may not drink my next bottle for another 5 – 10 years.  It has bold, powerful fruit flavors, strongly tasting of plum, cherry and blackberry with some spice.  It does not possess as strong a pepper taste as some Hunter Valley Shiraz, but you can still tell it is from the Hunter Valley  It also has full tannins, yet a smooth, elegant texture to match the great taste.  This wine has deservedly won four Gold Medals.

When drinking the 2007 Wyndham Estate Black Cluster, and recently having sampled the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea and the 2007 De Iuliis Reserve, I have been surprised to find out how similar these wines are.  These are definitely Hunter Valley Shiraz as compared to Victorian or Barossa Valley Shiraz.  These wines have slight nuances and their own unique characteristics, but they are more similar than different.  It would be very difficult to pick these wines out in a blind tasting.

What excites me about the similarity is that the wine makers let the quality of the grape from the 2007 vintage rule the day.  They did not get in the way and try to manufacture a unique outcome for their wine.  They let the natural flavor of the grape grown with Hunter Valley terroir do the job for them with this resulting in an  excellent batch of wines.

I bought so much 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz and a little 2009 Hunter Valley Shiraz.  2008 and 2012 were bust vintages.  2010 was ‘fine’ and 2011 was also considered quite exceptional, but I did not buy any of those vintages as I have so much of the 2007, but am starting to work through them more rapidly now.  As great as the 2013 Hunter Valley vintage looks, I may pick up some of those also to compare to the 2007 and also just because some of the best winemakers such as Michael De Iuliis, PJ Charteris, and Andrew Thomas are also working with some new sources of grapes (for example Michael now has access to the Stevens Vineyard, one of the best Shiraz vineyards in the Hunter Valley) and I am excited to find out what these wine makers can do with the very best grapes around!

Riedel Vinum Shiraz glassware

If you are looking for a good Shiraz and find a bottle of 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz, you can feel pretty confident that you will be picking up a very good to excellent bottle, no matter how much you pay for it.  These wines deserve to be served in the Riedel Vinum Shiraz glassware also.  They are so big and powerful, that frankly no other glass in my opinion will do.

Creating, retaining, and reliving wine memories

For me, drinking a great bottle of wine is like being at the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing an original painting.  It is an exquisite experience and even though I may never be able to experience it again, I want to retain and relive the memory.

That would seem quite easy to do in these times of social media with Instagram and Facebook.  We can take pictures of our drinking and eating experiences and immediately post them into a variety of public clouds to share with others and to retrieve whenever we want to.  But while those pictures provide great memories of the experiences we have had and the great friends and relationships we have, they do not focus on ‘the wine!’

I currently do four things currently to create and relive wine memories, and am about to add a fifth which I learned about from my good friend Dave who also has a place in the Hunter Valley.  The four I already do are:

Every time I look at an empty bottle, or a cork, I remember the experience and relive a bit of the wine drinking that went on that evening.  It also invokes memories of the friends and experiences we shared while drinking that wine.

The new thing I am going to do, is to create a wine map of the Hunter Valley and pin the wineries we have visited and plan to visit.  Dave has made one up, hanging in his hallway and we will be doing similar.  It’s a great idea.  Dave used a laminated map of the Hunter Valley, added some information regarding wineries and numbers to locate them, and pins with the coding for if they had visited them already or they were on the list to visit soon.  The back is cork board and he made the frame out of other wine corks cut in half.  This will provide more opportunity for me to use the good corks I have as my two Corkhaus boards will only hold about 110 corks and I certainly have more than that!

These activities are similar to keeping a photo album, but take a little more real estate, especially for the wine bottles.  However, it is not much of a difficulty and helps to reinforce and relive the great memories we have had. I am glad I do these things and recommend that some of them may enhance your wine drinking experiences and lifestyle.  I love having the constant reminders to prompt pleasant memories!

Seriously, who would drink a 2000 Lindeman’s Pyrus when its 40 Celsius outside?

I would, of course!  And by the way, that’s 104 Fahrenheit for my adoring (and adored) American followers!

Over time, we have brought more bottles of decent wine to our place in the Hunter Valley.  However, I wanted to be careful as I did not have proper wine storage and the temperature can vary greatly from several degrees below zero (Celsius) to 40 or so degrees based on the time of season, so I did not bring too many great wines that I knew I would have to lay down until a future trip.  This type of variation is not good for wine storage, especially when a cork is involved.  Yet, I always like to have some nice bottles around to go with dinner or to bring to a friends.

And that is how the 2000 Lindeman’s Pyrus found its way to our place in the Hunter Valley.  We now have a small Vintec which allows me to store with confidence about 30 bottles of good red and a few Montrachet.  I also have about 30 or so other bottles of medium quality whites and reds that I store in a cabinet or under the bed.  It was in reorganizing the other day that I found the 2000 Lindeman’s Pyrus which had been around for a while, but I missed transferring to the Vintec.  I wanted to make sure to drink it right away and today seemed like a good time for it.

First of all, we are BBQ’ing this evening some pork ribs, corn on the cob, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and some small tofu steaks.  I thought a very nice red wine would go with that.  Secondly, I am writing a few wine blog posts today and could not consider writing about wine without having a nice glass at my side to help me out!  After all, I am inside and the we are running the Air Conditioner.  But that being the case, the room temperature is still a few degrees higher than I would like for the wine, so I have made a rare exception and put two reusable ice cubes into the Pyrus to cool it down a few degrees

This is a extremely nice, but not a truly great wine (at least not yet!).  It is very smooth and balanced.  It tastes like a classic second or even possibly first growth Bordeaux, except that it lacks the complexity and robust flavors of a great Bordeaux.  But then, I have recently been drinking and raving about the 1987 Lindeman’s Pyrus and the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus, so it may be an unfair comparison to call the 2000 Pyrus lacking in complexity!  I expect with another 5 – 10 years in the bottle that the secondary characteristic of the maturing Cabernet Franc grape will add some real structure and an enhanced flavoring to the wine.  Unfortunately, this is my only bottle, so I will not be able to witness that unless someone shares a bottle with me in the next decade.

The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  The 1987 Lindeman’s Pyrus and the 1992 Lindemans’s Pyrus also contained Malbec in the blend which would have added to the nuances of these great old red wines.  The 2000 Lindemans’ Pyrus has a dark chocolate nose to it and tastes of plums, cherries and blackberry.  It is subtle and beautifully nuanced and should be a great match for dinner tonight.

I have been primarily a fan of the the other two members of the Lindeman’s Trio – the St George (Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Limestone Ridge (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz), but am really growing more fond of the Lindeman’s Pyrus, especially the older ones where the Cabernet Franc grape has had a chance to evolve and provide some real elegance to this great blend.

This wine is so easy to drink!  The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is prominent and so smooth.  My only problem with this wine is that I seem to only have about one-third of the bottle left for dinner!  Oh well, better get onto that!