Is a blend better than a straight varietal?

Yes, in general and in my opinion!  Let’s find out why I believe that.

I dislike the idea of fusion concepts, especially when it comes to food.  Call me a traditionalist, but I find food that has stood the test of centuries, yet alone millenniums, to be among the very best food one can eat.  I love Italian food and I love Indian food, but I do not favor blending the two into a single meal.  Curry pastas just don’t work for me.  I love Japanese and I love Tex-Mex, but I could not bring myself to even try this fusion concept in one of the hotel restaurants in Sacramento, CA when visiting a while back.  The raw tuna quesadillas just did not work for me.  Globalization has done a lot to change the world, but when it comes to fusion food, it has only made it worse!

wine blend

But when it comes to wine blends, I am really starting to favor blends over 100% varietals.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my 100% varietals when it comes to my favorite grapes such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Riesling.  But year-in, year-out, it is impossible to get consistent sugar and alcohol levels,  with each vintage being affected by that year’s heat index and rainfall causing some vintages to be different in taste than others vintages.  That is when a good winemaker can use some of the characteristics of other grapes to provide a better overall taste, by adding a touch of sweetness, or subduing too much sweetness by adding a grape with more acidity or sourness.  Good winemakers know how to blend a little bit of another grape or several grapes together to make good to great wines.  Even Penfolds Grange over the years has had various amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to achieve its maximum potential for a particular vintage.  Based on what country the wine is from and the local laws, you may still label a bottle of wine by its main varietal as long as the amount of the other grape added is still small, usually less than 15%.

But other wines, especially old world wines have been crafted to be great wines by using various blending combinations.  Wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape are predominantly Grenache, but also are allowed to blend in wine from twelve other varietals.  Bordeaux blends are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, but contain a variety of other grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and possibly small amounts of Petit Verdot or Malbec.  A classic high-quality Bordeaux blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc.  Australia is well-known and respected for its Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blends such as you would find in a Penfolds Bin 389 or a Lindemans Limestone Ridge.  And more and more, I am loving a wine blend called GSM of Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre.  And for white wine, I find the blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling to be a very nice drink.

More and more, I am enjoying my blends and the craftmanship of the winemaker to get the blends to get the most of of the grapes.  The nuances that can develop and the integration of various characteristics provide for a most enjoyable drinking experience.  Maybe I am just become more old-world myself, but I find blends age better, are more complex and more balanced, and generally are a bit softer with a smoother mouth feel.

If you have not tried many blends, then I think it is about time you do!  And I would appreciate your views and feedback on if you are a single-grape purist or prefer the multidimensional characteristics of a blend.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Review of 2002 Finca El Puig from Spain

I have had this bottle of Finca El Puig lying around for a while now.  I am not sure who I got it from, when or why.  I was not sure of the quality of this wine, even though my first impressions is that it is quite nice.  For being a decade old, the fruit is extremely lively, tasting of blackberry, boysenberry, other berries and plum.  It is well structured with heavy tannins which cause a pucker with the first mouthful.  The tannins are truly integrated, but strong.  What really surprised me was how long it took to decant.  I have never spent more time decanting any wine in my life and I have decanted several thousand bottles!  Yet, there is no obvious ‘excess’ sediment.  There was some sediment towards the end of the bottle while decanting, but this wine was slow to decant from the very beginning.  I am guessing this wine was never filtered.  It is thick and heavy – the alcohol content is 14.5%.

Finca El PuigThis 2002 Finca El Puig is very drinkable now, but I am wondering if I opened it too early.  It certainly has a lot of life yet.  It is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon and the vines are from the Priorat region of Spain.  I was a bit worried that it may not line up well with the food we are having tonight which is leftover ravioli.  When we made the ravioli fresh over the weekend, we had a Chianti that suited ravioli perfectly.  I was a bit worried that the Grenache would be a bit gritty and overpowering for the food.  I think it will work and I will be certain of that within the hour.  But this is a big, big wine and would have gone really well with a Shepherds Pie, or a dense cut of beef.

I have never heard of the Carignan grape before.  In researching it (Wikipedia!), it appears to be a popular grape used in wines from the Rioja region and grown across the Mediterranean.  It is valued for its high yields (this has commercial benefits, but not sure it speaks well for quality).

Overall, it is a beautiful wine; heavy, but big and fruity.  I love the mouth feel sensation of a wine with heavy tannins, but this may be too much for some people.  I have not been able to find many tasting notes for this wine.  I did for the 2000 and the 2001 and for later vintages, but not the 2002.  Yet, the 2002 vintage seems to really stand out in terms of structure and longevity.  Very little seems to be known about this wine, at least this particular vintage.   Other vintages have sold for between $30 – $40, but the 2002 drinks better than that.  I am really enjoying this wine, even if I will need to sandblast my mouth out later this evening from the heavy tannins!  Just wish I knew who gave it to me so I can thank them!  Drinking this wine appears to be a single event not to be repeated.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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A perfect food and wine match

My wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, is making a magnificent slow cooked beef with mushrooms and barley for this evening!  I have been smelling it cook for the last two hours and getting ravenous!  We will have a serve of Quinoa and a light salad as sides. With such a combinations of flavors going on, we thought a nice Bordeaux style blend would go really well with this meal.  I have had one bottle left of the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus which I have been saving to enjoy with some friends, but we just have not been able to arrange a meal together (well, we did, but had a bottle of the 2001 Henscke Hill of Grace with that meal).  Fortunately for them, we still have two bottles of the 1992 Lindeman’s Limestone Ridge which I am sure we will drink together.

1992 Pyrus in Riedel Bordeaux Grand CruThe ’92 Pyrus is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  I love this blend as each flavor comes through.  I have written about this wine previously, when I pulled a bottle out and we had it with soup!  You can refer to that post to get a review of the wine.  As with that bottle, the cork was perfect on and the sample of wine I had while decanting indicates that this is a slightly fresher and fruitier bottle than the last one we tried.  It should be a perfect match for the dinner.  We once again will be serving this wine in the Riedel Vimun XL Grand Cru Bordeaux glass to get maximum enjoyment from the wine.  The only thing that beats a perfect food and wine match is the same thing, but serving the wine in a Riedel glass!  I discuss the benefits of using proper glassware and taste in my upcoming wine book at some length.  For a synopsis on why proper glassware is important, review my previous post on Riedel glassware.

This meal and wine will be special.  I am sorry we could no longer save our last bottle for dear friends, but we have more than enough ‘last’ bottles to share with them – more than we can find time to drink them all.  So it was with some regret, but more excitement that we opened our last bottle of the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus to match our wonderful beef dinner this evening.

Now that Daz in the Kitchen has rebuilt her computer and is catching up from helping me with a number of technical and publishing issues, she should be able to get a post with the recipe out soon.  In fact, she just wrote the post with the recipe, and I am sharing with you here.

While you are unlikely to find a bottle of the 1992 Lindeman’s Pyrus to go with this meal, any good Bordeaux blend or a blend such as the Rosemount Traditional should work just fine.  Just make sure it is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend and optionally either Malbec or Cabernet Franc.  A Shiraz blend or a GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre) is likely to be too heavy.

Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Magnificent Meal with McLeish Estate Wines

We are spending two weeks in the Hunter Valley and really enjoying it.  We have taken the opportunity to cook every meal so far and have plans to cook most of our meals while here.  However, we are excited to participate in two McLeish Estate wine tastings.  The first one was this evening at Two Naughty Chooks Restaurant and Wine Bar at 130 John Street, Singleton, NSW and the other will be tomorrow evening at Paymasters Cafe in Newcastle.  Both are hosted by McLeish Estate wines.

Brook and Wayne Dermody are the husband and wife team and co-chefs at Two Naughty Chooks Restaurant and Wine Bar.  The food truly caught us by surprise – it was magnificent!  And working together with Jessica McLeish of McLeish Wines, we had a perfect pairing of food and wine.  We also bought some real truffles and other truffle-related products.  (Tomorrow morning for breakfast we will be having scrambled eggs with truffles – yum!)

Bob and Maryanne McLeish have been working the vineyard since 1985, and all grapes are sourced from their own vineyards.  They have a premium parcel of land between Broke Road and De Beyers Road and the quality of their grapes shows in the quality of their wines.  Their daughter, Jessica, is part of the wine making team along with Andrew Thomas, one of Australia’s best known winemakers.  The McLeish family and Andrew Thomas make a formidable team and I am certainly interested in trying more of their wines year-in and year-out.

We started the evening drinking a Sparkling Chardonnay and a Sparkling Shiraz with an assortment of great canapes.  Then we sat down for a four-course degustation with perfectly matching wines.  The first course was a Jerusalem artichoke soup with scallop, bacon, Hazelnuts and crispy artichoke.  We drank a 2013 McLeish Estate Semillon (bottled only four weeks prior) and the 2009 McLeish Estate Semillon.  Both wines went extremely well with the soup.  The 2013 Semillon was fresh and very alive on the palate, with citrus and pineapple flavors, while the 2009 Semillon possessed a smoother mouth feel and was more integrated and balanced due to its maturity.

Jessica describing the Semillons

We then had the Confit chicken with mushroom and truffle.  Among so many other great foods during the evening, it is impossible to pick out a standout dish, but if one had to chose, this would be it.  And the matching wine was the 2009 McLeish Estate Reserve Chardonnay.  This was also the stand-out wine of the evening and we are swinging by McLeish Estate in the next several days to get a dozen or so bottles.  The 2009 McLeish Estate Reserve Chardonnay drank like a Montrachet.  It had a mineral, wet stone taste representative of Chassagne Montrachet and lemon flavors.  It also still had a good amount of acid and should cellar and improve with age over the next decade or so.

The main course was beef cheeks with celeriac, broad beans, pickled cabbage and Enoki mushrooms with a matching 2010 McLeish Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The bouquet was amazing. This wine was drinkable now, with big fruity, jammy flavors, tasting of blackberries.  It was alive on the palate.  This drink was surprisingly good for a Hunter Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

We also had the 2010 McLeish Estate Shiraz and the 2009 McLeish Estate Jessica Botytis Semillon with an assortment of desserts.    The Shiraz was big and both fruity and spicy, typical of a Hunter Valley Shiraz.  It possessed boysenberry and plum flavors.

While both red wines were very drinkable today, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz had decent tannins and I am certain each wine will improve significantly over time.  You should buy some now to sit down in the cellar for a few years!  And the 2009 Jessica was luscious, with a creamy, yet refined mouth feel.  It had both melon and honey flavors and was a bit sweet, but not too sweet.

The evening overall was magical with a great crowd, great chefs, food and service and of course, great wines.  Jessica McLeish is typical of someone in the Australian wine industry in that she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her wine, yet is one of the friendliest people around and willing to share her knowledge with anyone else who is interested (like me!).

And to think we get to repeat the experience (with a different line-up of McLeish Estate wines) tomorrow again at Paymasters Cafe.  Looking forward to it!  Then back to cooking on our own!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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A Cabernet Sauvignon without peer

I am just finishing off a bottle of one of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon wines I have ever had.  I was very fortunate to have bought 21 bottles of this wine and have about 18 left.  It was one of those deals where I tasted the wine, knew it was a winner, and the wine maker was willing to deal as he was ready to be stocking and selling more current vintages.  I paid $45 per bottle for it and it was a steal!  It compares with imported Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends which cost several hundred dollars per bottle.

It is truly an amazing wine.  I shared a bottle last year with one of my friends who is a wine judge and critic and likes his Cabernet Sauvignon wine.  He called it ‘ethereal.’  The wine I am referring to is the 2005 Saddler’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

This wine has large tannins for a Cabernet Sauvignon and coats the inside of your cheeks providing a very long finish.  It possesses strong blackberry and boysenberry flavors.  While more robust than elegant Grand Cru Bordeaux’s, it is still refined, beautifully balanced and ripe with giant, live fruit flavors.

I had this wine with a Waygu cheeseburger a few nights ago and it would go great with almost any cut of firm and slightly marbled steak.  This wine is also drinkable on its own as it is so ripe in fruit – it is almost a meal in itself!

I will be careful to allocate this wine over a long period of time as it has at least another ten years of optimum drinking pleasure.  It is a pure delight to drink.  I have had the bottle open for three days now and it is as fresh as when I opened it.

The grapes for this wine are from Langhorne Creek which is well known for some great Cabernet Sauvignon wines.  I drink more Shiraz than Cabernet Sauvignon, but this is a full-bodied red wine and truly enjoyable.  There are not many Cabernet Sauvignon wines or blends you can chew on, but this is one of them.

I have searched high and low and have not found this wine for sale anywhere and expect that most stock has been consumed.  There may be some in a private cellar or two similar to mine, but it will be a difficult wine to source, so I am almost reluctant to promote its praises.  But I wanted to in case you ever do come across a bottle, you will know to scoop it up without question.

Or if you want to try a bottle, then convince me to have a dinner with you, bring a great bottle yourself and I will bring a bottle of the 2005 Saddler’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to share!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
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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!

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!’

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.

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?