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.
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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
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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
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Wine financials – you do the math!

In my last blog post, I talk about the mark-ups that restaurants place on wine.  I do not begrudge a restaurant making a profit on wine or other alcohol as it is often the difference between a restaurant succeeding or being forced to close their doors.  But the restaurant needs to fair and competitive.  Most restauranteurs tell me a typical wine list price should be about 220% – 250% the price of what you can buy the bottle for retail.  And I am comfortable with this.  But as I mentioned, I will not frequent restaurants that charge over 350% of the typical retail price per bottle.

Wine Math

Here are a few other tips on wine financials and what to pay for wine and how to use wine with the right financial outcomes.

Buying very expensive wine

In general don’t!  During my life, I expect that I have purchased over 5,000 bottles of wine.  I have never paid more than $1,000 per bottle.  In fact, only twice have I paid between $500 – $1,000 per bottle and that was for (1) a 1971 Penfolds Grange, and (2) a full bottle of a 1971 Chateau D’Yquem – both birth year wines for my wife’s 40th birthday party.

I have spent over $200 per bottle about 40 times, including the two bottles mentioned above, another 8 or so Grange, a dozen 2005 Bordeaux’s, some excellent Montrachets, and a few special bottles of Napa Valley wines.  And every other bottle of wine I have purchased has been less than $100.  Therefore, I have spent more than $100 per bottle for less than 1% of the wine I have purchased.

There are excellent bottles of wine well under $50 per bottle.  I have had some truly outstanding wines for $10 – $20 per bottle.  And most people cannot tell the difference or in fact, actually like more the cheaper wines because they are more open and ready to drink, and the taste is something they are more used to.  Be hesitant to spend over $30 – $40 per bottle unless you really know your wines.

Doing BYO (Bring Your Own)

I love BYO and you save a fortune!  I have often brought great wine for a special occasion in a restaurant and saved thousands of dollars.  Plus I can pick out exactly what wines I want from my cellar.  For some of my birthday functions I have brought between $500 – $800 worth of wine and buying the equivalent wine in the restaurant would have cost me $2,500 – $3,500.  That is a great savings!

Expect to pay up to $25 per bottle or $25 per head for corkage.  While this may add $150 to the cost of the meal, it is still far cheaper than spending $3,000 for the wine!  The corkage fee is very reasonable and includes them decanting the wine, pouring it for you, replacing and using their best glassware, and clearing and cleaning the glassware.  I usually also bring a nice bottle along to gift the sommelier or owner also to let them know I appreciate being able to BYO.

Many restaurants, including Tetsuya’s allow you to do this.  Or just ask and many restaurants will be glad to provide this service for you even if it is not listed as a service.  BYO means a bill for a great night out that would be half of what it otherwise would be and most restaurants are glad to just have your food business.

Buy aged wine instead of current vintages

There is a glut of wine on the market – more people are selling than buying.  Therefore, aged (and ready to drink) wines can be had for about the same cost as current vintages.  Why spend $500 for a bottle of current vintage Grange when you can get the 1981 or the 1985 for the same price or just a little more.  You would need to cellar the 2007 Grange for at least 20 years, while you could drink the 1981 or 1985 immediately!

Cellaring a bottle of wine usually cost between $2 – $3 annually.  Therefore, if you need to cellar a bottle for ten years, it will cost you $20 – $30 per bottle in addition to what you paid for it!  There is so much aged wine available that it does not make sense to buy a current vintage when you can get an aged and ready to drink bottle for the same amount or even cheaper than the current vintage.  Someone else has paid for the storage and care and you do not have to!  Nor do you have to wait a decade or more to drink it!

If you can get a great bottle of vintage wine for less than 25% more than the current vintage, you are getting a steal.

Cooking with wine

My wife makes a great beef stroganoff.  She also makes great risotto and a few other dishes that require 100 ml of white wine.  With the beef stroganoff, we often have an aged Chadonnay like a Montrachet.  A year ago, we had the bottle open and were enjoying a glass of $150 Montrachet while cooking, and indiscriminately used 100 ml of the Montrachet as part of our beef stroganoff recipe.  It was decadent and delicious, but certainly did not materially make the beef stroganoff any better.  It also meant I had one less small glass of a great wine to drink!  It also added $20 to the cost of our tray of beef stroganoff!

When we made beef stroganoff last weekend, we drank the same bottle of wine, but I opened a bottle of 2005 Kelman Semillon to be used for cooking.  This is a nice wine which I got for free as a land-owner in their cooperative vineyard.  The bottle is worth $18 at the cellar door, and therefore only added about $2.40 to the cost of the beef stroganoff.

An open bottle of wine will only last a few days for drinking purposes, but will last several weeks if you are using it for cooking.  Therefore, we try to make several meals over a few weeks which require wine as part of the recipe and open a cheaper bottle of wine for the cooking.  And the 2005 Kelman Semillon is a very good wine for the money and I am now enjoying a glass while writing this blog!  Using an $18 bottle of wine for several meals and several glasses in between is a far better approach than using 100 ml of $150 bottle of wine for cooking!

We also keep about a dozen bottles of both white and red wine we know is no longer good for drinking but can still be used as a marinate or for cooking as need be.  The last few batches of Coq au vin we made used a 1989 Lindemans St George Cabernet Sauvignon for marinating!  While past due for drinking, it was still great as a marinate.

Hopefully this ‘wine math’ made sense and was useful and helps you get far better drinking mileage out of your wine buying and consumption.  Enjoy!


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

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?

Impact of temperature on wine taste is larger than you think! Part 2 – White Wine

In Part 1, we discussed the impact of temperature on red wines.  We will now do the same for white wines.  The effect of temperature is even more profound than it is for reds.

In general whites are stored in quite cool temperatures.  My long-term whites like my long-term reds are stored at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).  But then I have usually about 6 – 8 ‘ready-to-serve’ whites in my kitchen refrigerator which are stored at 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit).  This is too cold a temperature to serve most white wines.  In general, excellent white wines (Montrachets and other aged Chardonnays and Semillons) should be served at 10 – 14 degrees Celsius (50 – 57 degrees Fahrenheit) to really release their great flavors and bouquet.  Typically good white wines (Most other Chardonnays, Rieslings, Pinot Grigios, etc.) served at 7 – 10 degrees Celsius (45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and bad white wines as chilled as you like!

Boxed white wines and lower quality white wines are usually served very cold as they are lacking flavor anyway.  What most ‘bad’ white wine drinkers are looking for a a refreshing, cool drink and lots of alcohol!  But if you want to get the most flavor out of a white wine that it has to offer, then you should warm it up a few degrees.

In the past, I made the mistake of storing and serving my white wines too cold, especially if I took an excellent white wine directly from the fridge.  Now I tend to take the wine out of the fridge for about 15 minutes to let it rise in temperature a few degrees and become more flavorful.  This is often accomplished by putting the bottle in a carrying case to bring to a restaurant and the time it takes to get to the restaurant is perfect in terms of the wine being a few degrees warmer.  Or if I am going to serve it at home, I let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes before serving it.

For an excellent white wine, especially a great and aged Chardonnay, I now let the wine warm up to about 12 degrees or so.  (Note that I do not actually take the temperature of the wine, but rather just feel the bottle and compare the bottle to room temperature.)  A bottle such as a great Montrachet or the Penfolds Yatarnna deserve this type of treatment and you will definitely notice the improved bouquet of wine in your nose and taste of the wine on your palate.

I love taking a sip when it is still ‘too cold’ and swirling an excellent white wine around my mouth.  The body temperature of my mouth warms the wine almost immediately and over several minutes, you can pick up a variety of different tastes that keep changing over time.  It is an amazing experience and worth savoring!

Champagnes and sparkling wines are usually served even more chilled than while wines.  For low-end sparklings, you can serve them at 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, but good Champagnes should be served at a somewhat higher temperature.

While difficult to discern by other than expert tasters, Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy relates the different experiences he has had with the 1996 Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne:
  • at 8°C, mineral and a little closed, perfect with an oyster tartare
  • at 9°C, moderately open, to be matched with crayfish
  • at 10°, complements wild salmon magnificently
  • at 11°, chardonnay’s butter notes appear, volume amplifies
  • at 12°, delicate mushroom aromas appear
  • at 13°, pinot noir aromas, tannins! serve with a lamb tajine
  • at 14°, smoky flavours and yoghurt aromas are revealed
  • at 16°, aromas of meringue and walnuts, amazing intensity – magical with a tarte Tatin with candied violets

Most of us could not discern such differences in flavor, but some can.  However, we can all learn from this and be appreciative of the difference a few degrees makes!  BTW, if you want to do this experiment with a bottle at each degree between 8 and 16, it will cost you about $2,400 at $300 per bottle!

You deserve the enhanced flavor of letting a great white wine warm up a few degrees towards room temperature to enhance the taste.  A number of people will take a great white wine directly out of their long-term cellar at 14 degrees Celsius (by now you should know this is 57 degrees Fahrenheit!) and serving it.

Right way – no ice

If you have removed white wine from the fridge or a Vintec where it has been stored ‘cold,’ and once it has warmed up a couple of degrees to release the flavors, you should place the white wine in wine storage container without ice (like in the photo to the left).  This ensures the wine stays at the right temperature for a long time (hopefully long enough to finish the bottle!).  If you put it in an ice bucket, it will return the wine to close to freezing, choking off the flavor.  Therefore, I never use ice in any manner with good white wine.  (Or you may consider just using a few cubes to counterbalance the room temperature.) If you are drinking bad white wine, then use all the ice you want, as you want to hide the poor flavor!

Wrong! Do not use ice!

We may not all have the discerning palate of Richard Geoffroy, but we can still greatly enhance our white wine tasting experience by making sure we are storing and serving the wine at the right temperatures.I have learned that there is great benefit in warming an excellent white wine up a few degrees before tasting it.  Do some comparison testing and see if you do not agree!

And if this all seems just too hard, then for white wine, take it out of the fridge for 20 minutes before serving it and leave it at that.  That is as good a rule of thumb as any.

A magnificent Montrachet for $75 per bottle

My taste in Chardonnay has certainly changed over the years.  I used to drink and enjoy a fresh, crisp Chardonnay, and moving to Australia, I initially almost exclusively favored the Chardonnays from Margaret River (such as the Leeuwinn Estate Art Series and Pierro).  However, after trying some of the Hunter Valley Chardonnays I was amazed at how good they were and right in my own backyard!  The Two Rivers Chardonnay from the Upper Hunter is one of the best valued Chardonnays you can find.  Tamburlaine makes a very nice organic Chardonnay, but it is really the aged Chardonnays from Tyrrells and Waverley Estate that I find the most amazing.  Among the very best are the Tyrrell’s 2006 Vat 47 (and almost any other vintage of the Vat 47!) and the 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay.

But then about 3 years ago, I had my first Montrachet and have never looked (or snifted) back!  It was a bottle of the 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassagne Montrachet and I picked up 18 bottles at $140 per bottle.  It is quite easy to spend $1,000 for a bottle of Montrachet if you have both the money and the inclination.  I don’t!  However with the 2007 La Belle Voisine as the standard, I have tried a few Puligny Montrachets for about $75 per bottle and have been disappointed.  Then while in the US last year, we bought a bottle of the 2008 Bouchard Peres & Fils Puligny Montrachet Grand Vin De Bourgogne.  It was tremendous!

When we returned to Australia, I checked to see if we could get some of this great wine here, but found out we needed to order it from France, and there was no more 2008 to be had.  However, since 2009 was. by all claims. a better vintage anyway in Puligny, we took a chance and bought a dozen for $75 per bottle.  This bet paid off and the 2009 was even better than the 2008.  And the other reason this bet paid off is that a year later, the bottle is selling for about $175!

This wine is rich and complexity with a bit of acid and sharpness to it balanced by the flavor of sweet honey.  This is a truly outstanding wine!  I expect this wine can cellar for another 3 – 5 years, but I will not find out as I do not have the discipline to let it sit that long!  I am on my second bottle and will drink my third bottle a week from now when we have a reunion of my great project team from a previous assignment.  But tonight we are finishing off the wine with some leftover beef strogonof.

And of course as you can see from the picture, this wine will be truly enjoyed in my Riedel Montrachet glass!

Should you decant wine?

In my opinion – “Yes, most of the time.”  I am a believer that spending some time with air after opening a bottle helps to finish the wine and make it closer to its optimal drinking state.  This is not always the case, but should be considered most of the time.  Plus the ritual of decanting a wine can enhance the sensual pleasure of drinking wine.  I am not big on “form over function,” but do get joy out of decanting a bottle, watching the wine spiral down the decanter and the smell rising up as the wine breathes.  Check out my recent blog post “Wine Foreplay and Sensual Pleasures” to find out more on how sensual, almost erotic decanting wine can be!

The visual and nasal aspects of decanting are both enjoyable, and it builds anticipation for the liquid to hit your palate!

Minimally, all wines should be opened and given several (5 – 10) minutes for any odors that may be still captured in the head space (the air at the top of a bottle of wine regardless if under cork or screw top) of the bottle should be given time to flow out.  This will improve the drinking experience by removing any intervening unpleasant smells.

It is difficult to determine the absolute optimal time to open a bottle of wine.  Fortunately, many good wines can be drunk over a several year period where they are truly outstanding.  However, it is often the case that when we open a bottle, the wine is still a little tight, and exposing it to air for 30 minutes up to several hours can really help the wine.  The transformation includes the wine becoming smoother in texture and more mellow in taste.  The little bit of remaining tightness is gone or significantly reduced.

In general, decanting a wine for 30 minutes up to two hours should do the trick.  However, some really complex and very well structured wines that demand to be in the bottle for 10 – 20 years, may require a decanting period of two to three hours or even longer.  The 1987 Lindemans Pyrus for example, should be decanted for 6 – 8 hours to provide optimal drinking pleasure.  This is because of the nature and role of the Cabernet Franc grape as part of the blend.  This is a complex grape which evolves over a very long period of time, making some of the 20 – 25 year old Pyrus a truly magnificent drink.  Yet, it needs long exposure to air to really complete the process.

I tasted this wine a while back at Lindeman’s after it was open only two hours and while I liked the wine, I felt it had bit of an aftertaste, so had a difficult time committing to buying much of the wine.  My bride though who has a much better palate than me, loved the wine and insisted we go back the following day to get some more.  (This was a $90 bottle of wine, but because the bottle had been shortfilled at 747 ml instead of the full 750 ml, they were going for $30 per bottle).  The bottle had stayed open over night and when I tried it the following morning, it was absolutely brilliant!  We ended up buying the last four bottles and I am really glad we did as we only have three bottles left now.  This is a complex wine that is 25 years old, and it needs a lot of time to breathe!  But most bottles require far less decanting time to finish off nicely.

However, be very careful and I suggest not decanting very old and fragile wines for too long.  They lose flavor far too quickly and will become tepid or even flat.  While many wines can be drunk over several days, older, fragile wines should be drunk within an hour after being opened.

Most people only think of decanting red wines, but I have found great benefit in decanting really large, robust white wines also.  5 – 20 year old aged Chardonnay, Semillon and other whites deserve an hour of decanting to really bring out the flavor, as does truly great Montrachet wines.

And in case there is any doubt, do not decant a Champagne!  It will quickly lose its bubbles!  Drink Champagne right from the bottle!