2013 Kelman Cate’s Paddock Chardonnay

The vineyard where we live is known for making decent, but not great wines.  However, over the years, they have won a few medals and produced some exceptional wines.  I was taken by surprise today tasting the 2013 Kelman Cate’s Paddock Chardonnay.  It is magnificent for such a young wine.  Tangerine and rock melon flavors, orange citrus flavoring, nutty and honey also.  But most impressively, this wine has body!  It has medium-plus body and structure and smooth, yet full texture which fills the mouth and finishes long.

The Cate’s Paddock line is meant to be the second tier of Kelman wines, but with some of the best 2013 Chardonnay grapes and the way it has been structured, this wine should be getting some top prizes.  It will not last long at the cellar door at the price.  If you are coming through the Hunter Valley, you need to stop by Kelman Estate and definitely buy some of this wine.  After tasting it today, I picked up a dozen on the spot and will be getting another dozen to cellar for a few years – it is an outstanding buy.

2013 Kelman ChardAs it is getting into winter, we are having our first winter soup for dinner this evening.  My wife is making one of my favorites, which is wild rice and mushroom soup.  As rich and creamy as the soup is, we usually have a Montrachet to go with it, or a Penfolds Yatarnna.  However, this evening we are drinking the 2013 Kelman Cate’s Paddock Chardonnay at a fraction of the cost of a Montrachet!  This is a fine, fine wine and will be sold out soon, so make sure to stop by and get some while supplies last.  And if you do, let me know so we can share a glass together!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, due out July 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley.  All rights reserved.
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


What Wine with Truffle?

We have been on a bit of a truffle kick the last few weeks, even posting a vlog on making scrambled eggs with truffle.  And last night, my loved one, DAZ in the Kitchen, made a great pasta dish with chicken, cream, and a mushroom and truffle paste.  It was delicious and will be posted in Daz in the Kitchen soon.


Both mushroom and truffle have strong umami mouth taste and feel.  Jeannie Choo Lee, Master of Wine (MW), and expert in Asian haute cuisine (and everyday Asian food fare!) in her book Asian Palate: Savoring Asian Cuisine and Wine, explains umami as follows:


“Umami is a Japanese term that is widely acknowledged to be the fifth taste, the others being salty, sour, bitter and sweet.  It was identified by Professor Kikunae Ikeda at Tokyo Imperial University over 100 years ago. as amino acid glutamate (aka glutamic acid) and later confirmed by research as a type of amino acid that is detectable by tongue receptors.  Rather than having its own recognizable flavor, umami is subtle and expands, creates depth and rounds out other flavors.  It occurs naturally in foods such as seaweed, mushrooms, soy sauce and aged cheese.”


She also recommends a full body, aged white wine such as Chardonnay or Semillon to compliment and enhance umami flavors.  We had a 2006 Penfolds Yatarnna in the fridge, pulled it out, matched it up against the pasta and it was a perfect combination!  I love a big, aged Chardonnay with cream sauce and mushrooms and the heightened and enhanced flavors derived from the truffle only added to the flavor (to the point of satiation!).  The meal was magic.

We have used truffle to enhance scrambled eggs as shown in the video and also in quiche.  (If using 100% real truffle, you only need a very small amount which is good because it is expensive!)  With the eggs and possibly some cheese in an omelet or quiche, I would recommend an aged Semillon instead of a Chardonnay.

If you have not tried real truffle, you should!  If you cannot bring yourself to pay the price for real truffle, you can use a truffle flavored oil instead, but there is a drop-off in taste.  With half a teaspoon of truffle added to our scrambled eggs, the finish on the truffle lasted hours on our palate.  It is an amazing ingredient to add to many meals.  And if you are looking for a wine to go with truffle, a big, aged white Chardonnay or Semillon is the way to go.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

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
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

French versus American Oak – is there a winner?

I have noticed recently a bit of wine competition going on.  Of course, living in Australia and having a place in The Hunter Valley, I have my favorites and will defend them to the death.  But I am a pretty open-minded guy who loves to continue to taste new experiences and continuously learn about new and different things.

Next Friday I am going to a ‘Best of USA versus Australia’ wine tasting and four-course meal in Melbourne.  What a great night that will be!  Its only $150 per head and the 13 wines and food look magnificent.  If you are interested, I would love to see you there.  Contact Top Australian Wines or just order tickets online.

And this weekend, I will be watching the movie Bottle Shock, which is the 1976 competition between French and Napa Valley wines, which is entitled as it is because of the shock that the Americans came out on top.

But the focus of this blog post is the comparison between wines stored in French Oak and wines stored in American Oak.  The difference is mostly two-fold in terms of the effect it has on wine.  French Oak is a tighter grain with the American Oak being courser.  And American Oak has twice to four times the amount of lactones, which provide sweeter and stronger, yet different vanilla overtones.  I had a rare opportunity to compare the exact same wine using the same grapes and from the same vintage stored in both French and American Oak, the wine being the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay.  Both wines were magnificent!  If I remember correctly, I spent about $22 per bottle for these wines and only bought four of each.  This is the first time I have tried either one as I had been waiting for the right moment to compare both.  My bride, DAZ in the Kitchen, felt the wines would go well with a cheese platter this afternoon and also go well with the mushroom soup we are making this evening.

We sampled and greatly enjoyed both wines.  They are truly spectacular and drink like $50 – $75 bottles of Chardonnay.  Both wines have some similar characteristics:

  • Exact same ingredients and stored in respective oak barrels for 9 months
  • Both have a smooth mouth feel, almost velvety
  • Both are bright yellow, turning golden in color
  • Both are very easy to drink and of extremely high quality

Yet, there are some noticeable differences.  The 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in French Oak was:

  • More elegant and beautifully balanced
  • Edgier, and slightly more acidic, more lemon citrus flavored
  • Purer, subtler vanilla taste
  • Taste like a typical Montrachet

Whereas the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in American Oak was:

  • More in-your-face vanilla flavoring but courser
  • Sweeter, honey-like taste plus smoked almond taste as secondary flavors
  • Richer, more robust flavor overall, but not as integrated or balanced as the French Oak

I would have to give a slight nod to the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in French Oak as the better drinking wine today, but I am pretty certain that the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in American Oak will drink better in several years time.  I just hope I have a few bottles of each left by then to prove the point!  I am definitely stopping by the winery tomorrow to see if there is any of the 2008 Chardonnays left or if there is an even better vintage since where the Rothvale Chardonnay has been stored in both the French and American Oak.

I have limited experience with great Montrachets, but have certainly been drinking more of them recently and truly enjoy a great Montrachet.  I was under the impression that the characteristics of the individual Montrachets had to do with the locale and soil conditions and I have noticed the differences between a Puligny-Montrachet and a Chassagne-Montrachet.  I thought the difference characters unfolding in the wine were mostly the results of the grapes being in different locations.  But after comparing the Hunter Valley Chardonnay in both French and American Oak, I can understand how impactful the French Oak is in making any Chardonnay (of very good grapes) taste like a Montrachet.

I greatly look forward to drinking both of these wines with the mushroom soup we are making this evening to see if either goes better than the other with the soup.  Hats off to Rothvale on making great wines using both French and American Oak!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

Puligny Montrachet versus NSW Chardonnay – too close to call

We enjoyed one of our favorite Montrachets yesterday with lunch, that being the 2009 Bouchard Peres & Fils Puligny Montrachet.  This is a beautiful rich, creamy Montrachet yet balanced with ample citrus flavors.  It cost us $75 per bottle in Australia.  Thinking it sinful to use 100 ml of this fine wine for the mushroom and wild rice soup (see my post on wine math!) we are making this evening, and since there was only enough for one glass left over since yesterday, we opened a 2008 Tamburlaine Reserve Chardonnay made with grapes from Orange, NSW.  This fine wine is $30 per bottle and was made organically.  I bought a dozen of this wine several years ago, and it is one of the best organic wines I have ever had.

While the Bouchard lost a very small touch of flavor since yesterday, it was still drinking well.  The smell of the Bouchard was more evident than for the Tamburlaine, but the color identical.  I had my wife do a blind tasting of each and she could not tell the difference, and with a bit of hesitation, pointed to the Tamburlaine and said it was the Bouchard.  While I had the knowledge of knowing which wine was which, I also had a tough time deciding which wine I liked better.  Except for the more aromatic nose of the Bouchard, I have to say, I enjoyed both of them equally!  And for the money, the 2008 Tamburlaine Reserve Chardonnay from Orange wins hands down with regard to value.

The Tamburlaine tastes of orange (how coincidental being the grapes came from Orange!), mandarin and lemon.  It starts strong, but does not have quite the finish that the 2009 Bouchard Peres & Fils Puligny Montrachet has.  But it still packs a mouthful of flavor!  I would highly recommend this wine and all the organic wines from Tamburlaine.  They make good use of their Hunter vineyards and their Orange cold-weather vineyards to produce some outstanding wines, and if you are looking for organic, this is my wine maker of choice.  I have sampled a lot of organic wines and frankly, have not been impressed.  However, I am open to trying more and also giving a number of the organic wine makers another chance.  But Tamburlaine is the only organic wine maker from which I have purchased any wine!

While the Hunter Valley is known for Shiraz and Semillon, they are also the fine producer of some great Chardonnays, and so are the colder climates in NSW of Orange and Mudgee.  I am becoming a big fan of NSW Chardonnays, whereas previously, I was only drinking Australian Chardonnays from Margaret River.  Now I am seeking out and enjoying NSW Chardonnays at a fraction of the cost of the better Margaret River Chardonnays.

It was spur of the moment that I decided to compare side-by-side these two Chardonnays as I thought there was no comparison, but I was wrong and glad for the comparative tasting I did.  Both are worth drinking, but for those of us in Australia, being able to buy Tamburlaine organic Chardonnays at a fraction of the cost of a good Montrachet is the way to go!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

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!

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!

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!

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?

Apologies in advance to Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc fans

I enjoy drinking wine and drink it regularly.  I try a variety of different grapes and styles from different regions around the world.  I love my wine and am willing to try a lot of different wines.  However, I also value knowing I will be drinking a good to great bottle almost every time I open one.  Therefore, over the years, I have settled on a number of different grapes (or blends) in different styles and from different regions.

Upon moving to Australia almost 15 years ago, I became fixated on the Australian wines.  There are a number of different wine regions, each well suited to various grapes and each region known for producing several great wines.  To get an overview of the different regions, review my 4-series post on the Australian wine regions.  Australia makes a lot of magnificent wines and at great price points.  It is only recently that I have been experimenting and coming to enjoy a broader range of wines globally.

There are four primary red wine grapes and four primary white wine grapes:

Red wine grapes:

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Shiraz
  • Pinot Noir

White wine grapes:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Semillon

A majority of the world’s wines are made with these grapes and that is why they are known as the ‘primary’ grapes.  In the ‘secondary’ grape category, among the reds, we have Zinfandel, Grenache, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, etc. and among the whites, Marsanne, Verdelho, Gewürztraminer, and so on.  Some of the world’s best wines are blends of several grapes to provide some unique characteristics and tastes.

Great wine always starts with great grapes, but the effects and magic of the wine maker can also make a large difference in the finished product, starting with the wine maker determining the best time to pick the grape to get the right characteristics (often sweetness or alcoholic content) from the grape.  Then there are many other techniques the wine maker uses to craft the best wine he/she can make from the grapes.

Probably 60% – 65% of what I drink comes from the the primary red and white grape families – excluding Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.  The remaining third comes from secondary grapes.  I drink very little Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc and simply do not enjoy the grapes or what the wine maker can possibly do with them as much as most of the other grapes.  Occasionally, I may have a wine with some Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillion, or some small percentage of Merlot in a red blend.  A Merlot can be used to soften a red wine blend, for example.

I believe the main reason that I do not drink Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc is that there is little the wine maker can do with these grapes compared to most of the others.  The impact of terroir and the influence of the wine maker is less influential on the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grape varietals.  Pinot Noir, by comparison, is very highly influenced by the terroir and the wine maker’s craftsmanship, which is why the very best Pinot Noirs are very high in demand and almost hallowed.  It is tough to make a bad Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc, but it is even tougher to make a very good, yet alone great one.  (I know some of the very best French Sauvignon Blancs may be argued to be exceptions to this general rule.)

Sauvignon Blanc is often described as tasting like “stewed green tomatoes” or “cat’s pee!”  When you start with a grape described like that, I don’t expect the wine maker can do much with it!  Both Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot are safe grapes to grow (resistant to changes in conditions) and are often used as an insurance policy for any given vintage to make sure some wine is available in the region.  But by definition, this is the reason the grapes cannot be influenced or crafted into truly great wines.  These two grapes are very common and middle of the road in my mind.

So what do I do for food matching when it obviously calls for a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc?  For Merlot, it is easy as there are so many different red wine grapes and styles to be able to pick a perfect match to any food, even when Merlot is not considered. 

And everyone knows that Sauvignon Blanc is a natural for fish and seafood, right?  Wrong!  If I am eating fish, and it is a gamier, thicker, or oilier fish, I will have a Pinot Noir, especially if it is served with a tomato sauce or topping.  And if it is a lighter, flakier white fish, then I will opt for a Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend.  The Semillon provides some structure and character to the Sauvignon Blanc and is a great match for this type of fish.

For crustaceans or lobster, I love a rich, aged Chardonnay, such as a Montrachet.  And Semillon goes really well with scallops, and a Riesling with crab or prawns.  Therefore, I feel I have it covered and do not need to ‘compromise’ by drinking a Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot.

This blog was inspired by a comment that Merlot would go really well with pizza, and it probably would, but given the choice, I am going to drink a Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon (like the 1996 Lindemans St George I had with pizza the other night).  I just cannot fancy desiring a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc when  I have so many other choices available.

If you are a regular Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc drinker, then I apologize if I have offended you, but I encourage you to try some other grapes instead.  We have a great friend with a very good palate and she started drinking Merlot for her first wines, but quickly grew out of that and to a broader and richer spectrum of good wines.

Therefore, if you think Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc are your main and easy choice for wine, then you should experiment a bit and I expect you will be happy with the results.