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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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!’

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.

How to prepare a 20 year old red wine for drinking

“Just open it and drink it,” many of you would say.  But a 20 year old iconic red wine certainly deserves more care and ceremony than that!  A number of seemingly small steps can make the difference between the wine being ‘passable’ and exceptional.  And it only takes a few more minutes to make it exceptional, so you would be foolhardy if you did not give it a chance!

Granted, the wine will be good or ‘not good’ mostly based on how it has been stored for the last 20 years and what has happened with the micro-oxidation that has gone on in the bottle during that time.  This will be heavily influenced by the cork quality and if it has been faithful or not.

While you are no longer in control of the previous storage or the cork quality, there are four things you have control over in preparing the wine for drinking, all which may influence if the wine is suitable or not:

  • Removing wine from cellar / storage, stand up-right and let rise to room temperature
  • Choosing to use an Ah So cork remover as the cork will be fragile (any cork after 12 – 15 years tends to become saturated and soggy (unless the cork grain is very tight) and is at risk of breaking apart.  See picture in my post ‘A disappointment, but one moves on!’) of a crumbled cork from a 17 year old bottle of wine.)
  • Decanting the wine, avoiding the use of a filter or aerator if possible.  If required, use a filter, but never an aerator for a 20 year old wine
  • Let decant for only 30 – 60 minutes.  Then re-bottle if not already consumed, and  consuming the wine within several hours

You should remove the wine 3 – 12 hours before you plan on opening it.  By allowing it to come to room temperature slowly before opening the bottle will put less stress on the wine as you decant it.  And standing it up allows any free sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle, potentially removing the need to filter the wine while decanting.

Perfectly preserved cord after 20 years!

The Ah So cork remover is far better for delicate corks than more traditional cork screws as it provides a grip on the outside of the cork (instead of drilling down through a soft cork center) and also ensures the cork has been ‘twisted’ to separate the cork from the bottle.  Over time, the sugar in wine can crystallize, attaching the cork to the bottle and make it difficult to separate and remove.

Now if you have no sediment and no cork floating in the wine, you can decant slowly without using a filter or aerator.  If you do have some indication of sediment or cork, then use a filter but not an aerator.  The structure of an older wine becomes very fragile and will start to separate in a short period of time, further losing fruit flavor and its integrated texture, and an aerator worsen this effect noticeably.  (While I am a big fan of aerating most wines, never aerate a ‘museum’ wine.

Let the wine decant for a short period of time, maybe 30 – 60 minutes.  This old a wine does not usually require much more air to make it ready to drink.  You usually just want to get any older smells entrapped in the bottle out and let the wine breath a little.  If you are not going to drink the wine immediately, then re-bottle it, but make sure to consume within several hours.  This old a bottle of wine will not last the day without some deterioration.

There are a few exceptions to this rule for very robust, built to last wines, but this is the general rule.  You can test a sip or two every 15 minutes to see if the wine continues to improve or not and once it shows no further sign of improvement, then re-bottle.  Some wines such as an older Penfold Grange and the 1987 Lindeman Pyrus require a long time to decant to reach maximum potential.

I used the above process to open a bottle of the 1992 Lindemans Pyrus.  This is a beautifully-aged wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  This type of blend has great potential to last a long time and beautifully mature in terms of the complexity and integration of flavors.  Thanks to the cork being in perfect condition, the wine is exquisite!  It would have been slightly better 3 – 5 years ago and has lost just a touch of its fruit flavors, but still very flavorful.  It has big plum flavors with a trace of tobacco which I really enjoy in an aged red wine.

The structure of the wine has held up well, but is fragile and will not last long.  Therefore, I need to drink this wine today.  I am craving a pizza to go with it, or some nice lamb, but we planned to have leftover black bean soup, some corn-on-the-cob, and a salad for dinner.  But it seems almost sinful to have this great wine with a spicy black bean soup!

Cheese/meat plate with 1992 Lindemans Pyrus and Rockmellon

Therefore, we decided to make a last moment change (as the soup, salad and corn-on-the-cob will last until tomorrow) and made up a cheese and salami / prosciutto plate instead which will suffice for dinner and be more enjoyable with the wine than black bean soup!

I am now 2/3rds the way through the bottle (and finished with this post!), so you do not need to be concerned if I finish the wine today or not!

[Post-writing update:  I stand corrected.  I saved the other 1/3 rd of the bottle for a day later, and it was still surprisingly good.  If a wine is very well crafted such as the 1992 Lindemans Pyrus was, then there is less of a concern about it deteriorating quickly.  This wine is still a star the day after opening!]

What wine with Pizza?

This is always a tough question since there are so many different ingredients that can go into pizza.  We have gone from buying pizza to making our own, which is quite easy and allows us to create exactly the taste we want.  It also means we have a healthier pizza.  Some times we make the base and other times we buy it, but that choice has no effect on our choice of wine.

We alway use a tomato sauce / paste to cover the base, and almost always a spicier sausage such as pepperoni or the spicy home-made Italian sausage our great friend, Ric and his family make annually (so glad to have a private stash of that sausage – it is magnificent for a pizza topping!).  We also tend to put a lot of garlic and chili on our pizza.  Therefore, a Hunter Valley (spicy, pepper flavored) Shiraz is always a good choice.  However, something a little lighter such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Italian Chianti (made from the Sangiovese grape) is always a safe choice to bring out the flavors of the pizza.

Interestingly enough, some white wines will also go well with pizza, since a number of white wines match well with the various cheeses used.  And if you are using chicken, pineapple, or something similar for toppings, a white becomes even a better choice.  I would recommend a crisp (2 or 3 years in the bottle, before it smooths in taste and texture) Semillon to match up well with cheese, but overall believe a Gewürztraminer, or Riesling would be best.  If it is plainer tasting pizza, a Pinot Grigio would be good.  A Gewürztraminer works well with a lot of different spices such as with Indian food or Thai food, so it will work well with a well seasoned pizza also!

It is rare that I would recommend seven different types of grapes as being a good match for a food, but that says a lot about the diversity of pizza!  Then there is always Merlot, but I rarely drink Merlot if given almost any other choice.

And if this is all too difficult, then grab a beer or two!  But overall, it is usually a Shiraz or a Chianti for me.  The only question is – “which one”?

BTW, I am making the pizza tonight and Deanna, who writes the blog, DAZ in the Kitchen, will be creating a post soon with the pizza recipe we use.