1999 Penfolds St Henri – wow, what a red!

This is one of my all-time favorite red wines.  I started drinking it almost a decade ago and it was great then, and is even better now.  This wine has a few more years before it starts to fade, but I only have two more bottles left, so not a worry.  But if you have some of it in your cellar, you should drink it soon, at least in the next three years.

I had a funny introduction to this wine the first time.  I was in Dallas in 2004 on a business trip with some very senior banking executives and trying to a very large IT contract extension.  There were eight of us eating at a fancy steak house as you can only find in Dallas!  One of my team was a Frenchman, so the client asked him to order some fine wine.  Well this particular Frenchman did not do a very good job ordering the first bottle, and I looked at the one of the key client’s face when he took a sip and could tell he was not happy with the wine.  I took the wine list and while not familiar with the Penfolds St Henri of any vintage at the time, I figured a Penfolds red in this price range would be a pretty good wine without me spending several times as much for a Penfolds Magill Estate or RWT.  I ordered a bottle, could tell the client thought I had made a great choice (the smile and thumbs up were evidence enough!), and subtly pushed the bottle the Frenchman ordered down to the other end of the table to be consumed.  And six bottles of 1999 Penfolds St Henri later, we left the restaurant very happy!

I then introduced my wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, to this particular wine about a year later when I found it on the wine list at a restaurant in Sydney.  She loved it and it continued to be a favorite choice for a few years when eating out during the mid-2000s.  And upon returning from Qatar in 2009, we bought some to keep in the cellar as you could no longer find it in restaurants.  This weekend is our 12th wedding anniversary, so we are celebrating by opening one of our last bottles and enjoying tonight and tomorrow night (if there is any left!).

This is not the best vintage, but still an excellent vintage.  The 1996 vintage would have been slightly better and also will last another decade longer, so if you read this review and want to secure some St Henri, either buy the 1999 and drink it soon, or buy some of the 1996 or 1998 which you can drink now and lay some down for later.

The1999 Penfolds St Henri is a lively, fruity wine with blackberry, boysenberry and tart plum flavors.  It also has a lot of spice and goes extremely well with chili infused dark chocolate.  I know that from previous wine / chocolate matching events, but more importantly I know that as my mouth is currently filled with this wine after eating a square of the Lindt Chili dark chocolate!  Wow – what a combination!

The wine also has big tannins and is moderately heavy on the palate.  It is 14% alcohol, but certainly not over the top.  It is a complex wine with a lot of nuance.  It has the mouth feel and slight odor of wet leather.  The finish lasts a long, long time.

We will be making a rice with seared beef dish tonight to have with the wine, but frankly, we will probably finish off the bottle before dinner.  We are two-thirds the way through it already.  It just goes down so easily!

James Halliday has mentioned that compared to the Penfolds Grange, that the St Henri is certainly under-valued given what a great wine it is.  This is a perfect example of wine economics.  I would always take eight or nine bottles of the current vintage St Henri over one Penfolds Grange and that is the current exchange rate between the two wines.  Frankly, it’s a no-brainer to go with many bottles of St Henri over Grange.

I will finish this post the same way I started it:   wow, what a red!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Red wines from secondary grapes to be discussed on Food in Focus with Natascha Moy!

I once again have the privilege of being a guest on Natascha’s great food and wine show, Food in Focus.  It will be on Saturday, 18 May at 4 pm Sydney time.  If you are dialing (does anyone truly have a dial on their radio anymore?) in, it is 89.7 FM in Sydney, Australia or can be found and heard over the Internet as Food in Focus.

Natascha is always great fun and mixes it up well.  The first time I was on the show, we talked about party winesThe next time, we sampled and discussed Rieslings.  This time we are going to be discussing wines made from secondary red wine grapes.  The four primary red wine grapes are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Shiraz
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

A majority of red wine is made from these primary grape sources.  Yet, I have fallen in love with the different mouth feel, textures and variety of the so-called secondary grapes.  They are only secondary when referring to the volume of grapes sold as wine.  They make some great, great wines.  Examples of secondary wine grapes include:

  • Sangiovese
  • Zinfandel
  • Tempranillo
  • Durif
  • Barbero
  • Grenache (is considered by some to be a primary red wine grape)
  • … and many more!

There might be over 1,000 different wine grapes now.  What I love about the secondary grapes is that they have real character and sense of terroir.  They uniquely reflect the region where they are grown, more so than primary red grapes.  The primary grapes have been replanted so many times and so far around the world and have been groomed to reflect the strength of the varietal.  Secondary grapes have far more diversity and different characteristics based on where they are grown.  This is not to say that primary red wine grapes do not reflect their terrior – they certainly do.  And they make some great wines.  But the secondary red wine grapes make wines which are all over the place, picking up the local climatic and soil traits and the influence of various wine makers not yet familiar with the grape, and therefore, can sometimes take on unique characteristics which make then truly special.

I am not sure exactly what bottles I will be bringing tomorrow.  I am still figuring that out this evening and tomorrow morning.  But as always, it should be a great show.  Tune in if you can!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Vavasour Pinot Gris with Zucchini Soup

As we move into the winter months Down Under (yes, mate, Australia is where I am writing this from!), my wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, and I enjoy making more soups for dinner.  We try a variety of soup recipes and have had some spectacular soups from Sibel Hodge’s A Gluten Free Soup Opera which provides gluten-free soup recipes which are easy to make, flavorful and healthy.  Sibel’s soup recipes are powerful and flavorful with chick peas, lentils and a lot of different spices.

We also like to make creamy vegetable soups such as pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower and others.  Recently, we were the benefactors of a 2.5 Kg zucchini and had to figure out what to do with it!  We made a lot of zucchini bread muffins (see recipe in last DAZ in the Kitchen post) and a lot of zucchini soup (recipe has not yet, but will be, published soon in DAZ in the Kitchen).  In fact, we had so much zucchini soup, we ended up freezing several servings.  And tonight we are taking two servings out of the freezer for dinner.

I have tried Riesling with creamy vegetable soups and I have also tried Verdelho.  Both work.  However, many Verdelhos are too soft and tepid and many Rieslings are too acidic.  I have found for my taste, I like a Pinot Gris with a creamy vegetable soup (other than tomato).  A young Pinot Gris still has a bit of acid and slight metallic diesel and mild citrus edge to match up well with the vegetables, but also a soft mouth feel to go with the creaminess.  The 2010 Vavasour Pinot Gris is such a wine.

This is a great wine for the money.  We paid $15 per bottle for this.  It is a New Zealand Pinot Gris from the Marlborough region.  It has pear, apple and grapefruit flavors.  The wine is surprisingly well balanced and integrated for such a young wine.  I love the mouth feel and tannins that provide a puckering on the inside of my cheeks.  I would call it off-dry or juicy dry.

This wine is great value for the money and it goes beautifully with creamy vegetables soups.  It has consistently been rate 93/100 or 94/100.  This wine will not cellar for more than a couple of years.  It is drinkable immediately and drinking very well now.  The 2011 is also rated very high and much more available than the 2010.

Some of the Italian Pinot Gris I have tried are a bit more elegant, but also much more expensive.  They go well with a variety of food choices.  But if you are making a simple creamy vegetable soup and possibly having a bread roll to go with it, a New Zealand Pinot Gris like the 2010 Vavasour will do the trick nicely.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


Storing wine once the bottle has been opened

Opening a bottle of wine changes its taste dramatically over a few hours and accelerates in next day or two exponentially.  This is due to massively more air that the wine comes in contact with after opening as compared to the very little it has experienced while sealed and laid down in the cellar.

During the time in the bottle, only about 5 – 10 ml of air space exists in a 750 ml bottle of wine for the wine to mature by interacting with the air.  With cork, a few more ml seeps through each year (through evaporation of wine) to continue to help the wine mature.  If there is a cork problem, though, and a lot of air is leaking into the bottle, the wine will mature far too quickly and not be drinkable.  For this same reason, once opened and exposed to much more air, the bottle will become undrinkable after a few days.

Unless you are going to drink the entire bottle over several hours, you need to concern yourself with preventing as much air as possible from interacting with the wine to decelerate the ruin of the wine.  There are several ways of storing wine:

  • Stick the original cork back in to stopper the wine bottle (keeps wine good for about 1 – to 1.5 days)
  • Use a simple consumer manual rubber stopper and vacuum pump set to extract excess air from the bottle (keeps wine good for 2 – 3 days)
  • Use a commercial pump and storage 2-bottle set (keeps wine good for 4 – 6 days) 
  •  Use a carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon gas replacement system  that is completely closed sealed (keeps wine good for up to 2 – 3 weeks)

After decanting wine for the right period of time, it is important to get the wine back into a bottle and stopper it as soon as possible.  While several minutes to several hours (in most cases) of decanting will improve the wine, anything after that will only help the wine deteriorate and turn into vinegar.  To slow this process down to ensure you can finish the bottle of wine prior to it going off, you need to minimize its interaction with air to the least amount of time possible.

Every time you open the bottle again to pour another glass, you are letting new air into the bottle, and as the bottle of wine empties, the amount of new air introduced increases, which quickens the pace of deterioration.  Therefore, it is important to stopper the bottle immediately again once you have finished pouring to minimize any excess air in the bottle.  This is why vacuuming the air out and replacing it with a gaseous blend is the most effective way to keep wine fresh for several weeks.

If the cork is still intact or you still have the screw top after opening the bottle, you can use it to stopper the wine.  While there is no expense to this method, the wine will worsen overnight and not be as drinkable the following day, or at least certainly not drinkable by the second day following opening.  If the bottle has been left half empty overnight, you have introduced a lot of new air into the wine which will quickly deteriorate it.  This approach can be used successfully for keeping a bottle of wine fresh for several hours or maybe from afternoon until evening, but I never would use it to store a half-empty bottle overnight.  I use this approach when I have decanted a fine wine for several hours, then re-bottle it to bring to a restaurant within the next hour or so.

The most cost effective way to store wine and keep it drinkable for one or two more days is to use a vacuum pump and cork set.  These tend to cost around $20 – $25 for a pump and a few stoppers and you can buy more stoppers if required.  This uses a special artificial stopper with small holes and one-way openings.  The pump is used to extract as much air as possible and create a vacuum in the bottle.  This significantly reduces the amount of air in contact with the wine and slows the deterioration process, extending the life of the wine by another day or two.

I have a vacuum pump set and have found this to be great value.  For only $20 – $25, you will save many quarter- to half-bottles of wine for another day and over time this can mean keeping thousands of dollars of wine drinkable.  Since it is just my wife and I usually at home for dinner, we may not drink more than a half bottle or little more during any evening.  We will usually have two or three bottles opened at a time, as our mood changes or as we have a snack or meal.  Using the vacuum pump and stopper method keeps several bottles fresh and available to provide us with good choice.

Additionally, when we have larger dinner parties, we will have eight or ten bottles of wine we want to serve upon arrival, with each food course, and for after dinner.  But you are never sure how many people are going to be drinking (one night a friend who we did not know was pregnant was not drinking, for example), and we may have already decanted several of the finer wines, so we might have three or four partial bottles left over at the end of the night.  By using this vacuum pump, we can then keep and drink the partial bottles over the next few days.

The vacuum pump set is a great option for the money.  However, the technology is more limited than with the next higher up commercial model.  Sometimes the rubber stopper seal will be nudged (possibly even upon removal of the pump) and let air re-enter into the bottle.  (You can tell if this has occurred when you open the bottle and there is no popping of the vacuum.  If there is a definite vacuum breakage popping sound, then you know it was sealed properly.)  If this occurs, you should make sure to drink the rest of the wine right away, or you risk it going bad over another day.  If the seal has remained intact, you may be able to get another day of good drinking from the wine.  Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do to determine if the seal is intact or not until you open it again.  I just try to be very careful to remove the pump from the stopper after pumping by lifting it straight up.  But the seal also may break sometime during the night based on the opening of the bottle.  Based on bottle type, there may be some small differences in the diameter of the bottle opening, causing the seal to be more fragile for wider bottle openings than for narrower ones.  Additionally, if there is some residual wine liquid on the neck where the stopper has been inserted, then there may be some slippage and the seal could break.

The next day or day after, you will have noticed some changes in the taste of the wine.  It is usually smoother (which can be a pleasant improvement if it was tight when you opened it), but you have usually lost some of the grape fullness of flavor.  Therefore, the wine might taste slightly less robust.  After a couple of days, it may even taste ‘dead’ or totally flat using the vacuum pump method of storage.

The next higher up option for wine storage after opening the bottle comes in a small refrigerated unit that has two compartments to hold two different bottles.  Each bottle has a pumping and extraction capability and for most models, each bottle can be stored at a standard white wine or red wine temperature.  Each compartment is set separately you can either store two whites, or two reds, or one of each at the right temperature.
This more commercial option cost between $500 – $700 based on the features and technology provided, but they all work basically the same.  They also require being placed close to an electric outlet.  This technology provides a better seal and air extraction system than the manual vacuum pump which is why it provides several more days of storage without noticeable change in the quality of the wine.  I have considered buying such a system, but I have not yet, as I have very few bottles that would require five or six days of storage.  Additionally, I have not been entirely comfortable with the value point of the technology.  I expect more competition in this field, with improved quality and durability and a lower price in the near future.  I am open to buying such a system, but have not done so yet.  I keep monitoring this type of device though to see what is available and if it is coming to a value point where I am comfortable purchasing one.

The top of the line unit to store opened bottles costs several thousand dollars and can be configured to store as many bottles as you like.  They typically come in a configuration to store four bottles, but can be customized to store less or more.  Additionally, they can be provided as a counter top unit or designed to be built into the wall or cabinetry.  Wine features such as this type of storage unit plus Vintec or other manufacturer’s cellar units are now being featured as key aspects of kitchen renovations.  I love things that are very functional and very stylish and this type of system fits both characteristics!

These systems are manufactured as closed systems where a tight seal is provided for each bottle.  They typically have temperature control to be able to adjust the temperature to be suitable for a certain type of wine (sparkling versus white versus red).  They have much higher quality parts and are custom assembled to suit your needs.  I am hopeful to get such a unit someday when I have the money and also know that I will be living in that house for a long, long time.  They will allow a wine to be opened and drunk over several weeks. The reason they work so well is that they ensure air cannot creep into the space in the bottle as the air has been replaced with carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon.  By doing so, oxidation has been reduced drastically, preserving the quality of the wine longer.

There are a number of suitable options to keep your wine as fresh as you need it once you have opened the bottle.  They come at different value points and vary based on how long you would typically need to keep bottles opened before finishing them.  The important thing is to always stopper the bottle with one method or another as soon as you can and to extract as much air as you can from the bottle.  This will slow the rate of deterioration and preserve your wine at a level enjoyable for drinking for a longer period of time.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub