Potpourri of Port wines review

I often get asked the question, “Do like like Shiraz,” or “Do you like Chardonnay,” or something similar.  Recently, I was asked if I like Port.  I do!  But what is Port?  True Port wine or Vinho do Porto comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal.  There are over 100 grape varietals sanctioned for making Port wine.  Additionally, many other countries make Port-styled wines.  With so many differences in the grapes, the regions grown and styles of Port, it is almost impossible to define what Port wine is.  It comes sweet, semi-sweet and dry.  It comes as single vintages (Vintage Port) or Tawney Port which is often multiple vintages aged for several years in wood and blended to provide some interesting characteristics.

2004 Dow Vintage Port croppedThe other evening my brother-in-law and his family were staying with us and we decided to drink some Port wine after dinner.  I started with my regular drinking Port which is currently the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.  I have one bottle of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port (for a special occasion and to drink with great pleasure over a short period of time in the not too distant future).  I also have two bottles of the 2007 Dow Vintage Port which is one of the highest rated vintages ever, but those two bottles will be lying in the cellar for another 20 years or so before I touch them.  The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is a very nice wine.  This wine matured early and is easily drinkable now.  It is fruity and has softened, especially when the bottle has been open for a while.  This wine is very inexpensive ($12 – $15 per bottle in the US and about $25 – $30 per bottle in Australia) and provides for a great-valued drink.  A truly wonderful drink for the money, but should be drunk over the next few years.

Penfolds Grandfather Port croppedWe then tried a bottle of Penfolds Grandfather Tawny Port.  This is a non-vintaged Port blended across eight years with the vintages all being 20 years old or so.  This wine was very, very smooth and had a completely different mouthfeel to the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.  The Penfolds Granfather Tawny Port had a luscious, smooth feeling with caramelized, nutty sugars.  The wine reminded me of the recent Christmas fruit cakes with brandy I had eaten – thick, juicy and sweet.  A completely different style of Port from the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.

Lindemans 1967 Vintage Port croppedWe then opened a bottle of the 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port.  This ismy last bottle and while not quite as good as the 1954 and the 1957 Lindemans Vintage Ports I have had, it is a magnificent wine.  I had some problems getting the cork out being soggy after 35 years in the bottle!  Even the Ah So corkscrew was not able to help and ultimately, I ended up with the cork in the bottle.  Yet, I was able to pour us a glass and we had just experienced our third very different Port that evening!  The 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port was very big with plummy fruit flavors, luscious to the feel on the tongue beautiful, but slightly medicinal smells.

Therefore, when asked if I like Port, the answer is a resounding YES!  I like the wide variety of Ports available from Vintage to Tawny, young and old, but particularly very old (30 years or more).  Ports take on so many different identities with various flavors and styles made from so many different varietals of grapes that it is impossible to classify Port as a single type of wine.  There are many different Ports, but any good Port is a great companion when sitting down in the evening and reading a good book.


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


Grange makes great mouthfeel

Is Penfolds Grange worth the money?  I certainly asked that question back in 1997 when I bought my first Grange, the newly released 1992 vintage at $200 per bottle.  I was drinking some fine Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Hunter Valley Shiraz for less than one-tenth that price.  Of a total of 4,000 bottles in my cellar at peak, I never had more than eight bottles of Penfolds Grange.  I only have one bottle of 1981 Grange left.

The question ‘is Grange worth it?,’ certainly depends on who you are and why you are drinking it.  As I have become more comfortable with drinking quality instead of drinking brand – a concept I explore in Wine Sense – I find a lot of alternatives to Grange which are far better value.  Another concept I discuss in Wine Sense is the first two things I really picked up on many years ago when starting to drink better wines: I could identify (1) good balance and (2) good mouthfeel.  Mouthfeel is what happens when wine is in your mouth and felt (not tasted via your taste buds) by your palate.  It is often most noticeable as tannins affix themselves to the inside of your cheeks.  It is also felt through the weight of the wine (due to alcohol level and how the wine has been processed) and if the wine sits comfortably in your mouth or not.

It has been two-and-a-half years since I drank my last Grange until last week.  It was the 1971 vintage which is the best Grange I have tasted.  It was a special treat as the birth-year wine for my wife’s 40th birthday.  This wine is featured in 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die by Neil Beckett. The 1971 Grange had great fruit and spice flavors, perfect balance, nuances of oak, fig and dates manifested with each swirl around your mouth, and it had great, great mouthfeel.  Given the quality of the wine and event, this Grange was well worth it!

1993 Penfolds GrangeA week ago, we had another Grange, this time the 1993.  While it was consumed as part of a standard weekend luncheon among friends, it is a bottle I gave to my friends when they were married several years ago and they insisted on waiting to drink it together with us.  We found that opportunity last week, celebrating the birth of their new son and also reuniting with some mutual friends we had not seen for a dozen years.

The 1993 Grange is not considered one of best Grange, yet it is still an outstanding wine as every Grange is regardless of vintage.  Penfolds always sources the very best grapes they can find, maintaining as much control over the quality of the grapes as they can in any given year, and year-in, year-out, Grange is made with a style that is identifiable.  I was a little worried that the 1993 Grange may be at the end or beyond its best drinking life, but the cork was in perfect condition and the wine excellent.  We decanted it for several hours to be served with a Persian beef fillet for the main course.  We had a nice Italian Chianti on arrival followed by a 2009 Hugel Alsace Riesling to go with eggplant and tomatoes and then a 2009 McLeish Reserve Chardonnay to go with chicken.  Then out came the beef and the Grange!

The wine opened beautifully and came to life during two hours in the decanter.  I had been sniffing the Grange to make sure it still had robust flavors and was ready to drink.  It had strong plum and blackcurrant flavors and that opulent Grange style.  On taking my first mouthful, it was the unique mouthfeel a Penfolds Grange provides that really struck me;  full and expansive, yet not over-the-top.  The wine and my mouth fused in perfect harmony.  The wine did not need to be paired with beef as it was paired with my tongue and cheeks perfectly!  My upcoming book Wine Sense discusses how our senses are used to appreciate and enjoy wine.  We use all of our senses from our sight to smell and taste, but also feeling and even hearing wine.  Our perception of taste is cross-modal and one of the wonderful things about tasting wine is how our senses of smell, taste and feeling come together to provide such a sensually fulfilling experience.  With Grange, you can really feel the wine.  By reputation and weight, Grange possesses strength and firmness when holding a glass of it.  But it is in your mouth that Grange shows it worth.  It may seem strange to talk about ‘feeling’ a wine, but you do feel Grange while drinking it.  It demands being held longer in your mouth than other wines to enjoy the feeling it provides.  It also demands being swallowed in several small swallows with each mouthful to make your mouth and throat muscles work, enhancing the feeling further.  If there is a wine that is enjoyed by being felt, it is Grange.

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

Is a blend better than a straight varietal?

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

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

wine blend

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

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

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

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


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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

1999 Penfolds St Henri – wow, what a red!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Impressing or expressing? – a good night out with the guys!

The five of us were all looking forward to a good night out.  One in the group was returning to the US after two years living in Sydney, others reflecting on completing one of the greatest banking IT projects ever run anywhere in the world, which we all touched in one way or another over the last few years, but mostly we just wanted to get together to share some companionship and some great wine.  And what a wine line-up we had!

Owen, David, Mark, Daniel, Steve

We had been planning the evening for about a month, but except for agreeing on the date, no one did any real planning at all!  So we decided to meet at the Small Bar in Crows Nest and take it from there.  Mark and I arrived first, drinking some 2012 David Hook Pinot Grigio from the Hunter Valley.  After a glass each and some nibblies, we got another full bottle as the other guys were arriving.

After some good banter, we all started showing off the wine we had brought along for the evening.  It was suppose to be a ‘big red’ night and it certainly turned out that way!  As I mentioned, we all apparently wanted to impress, but not in that manly competitive way of “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine!”  It was more about being respectful of each being part of a friendship and wanting to share something special with each other.  The other four in the group had been especially tight over the previous few years and I had only circled in and out a few times, so it was great to be part of the group that evening.  We all knew and enjoyed our wines and made sure we each brought a very good bottle along!

I brought along a 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon to start us off with an iconic Australian white wine which I thought would go with whatever Asian food we decided to eat that evening.  Since the evening was about the friendship and the wine, we weren’t sure where we would eat (so we went to the closest place which was the Vietnamese restaurant Phuong immediately next door to the Small Bar!).  In fairness to my friend’s taste and Phuong, some of the guys had been there before and it was an outstanding choice.

I felt we should start with one bottle of white wine and I wanted to test and share what I knew would be a great Australian white in the 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon.  Once we got the food ordered (Banquet Menu B, showing again how much effort we would be putting into non-wine related topics!), we got into the red wines.  The line-up was a stunner:

  • 2008 Trinity Hill Homage Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend (from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
  • 1997 Penfolds 389 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon blend
  • 1994 Brokenwood Hermintage
  • 2002 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz
  • 2003 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec
  • Some bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought at the bottle shop because for some reason he did not think we had enough wine for five guys!

Except for the 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label which was gifted to Andrew (the guy returning to the US), the 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz (which we deemed too young to drink), and the bottle Pinot Noir that Mark bought, we did drink all the wine with dinner.  You can tell because of how careful we were with our plates and food (and this does not show the broken glass on the floor or the mess I made of Daniel’s shirt!).

Six of the reds we drank were Shiraz or Shiraz blends – that’s heavy lifting for one meal!  We opened with the Trinity Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend and finished with dessert and the Pinot Noir, but everything else in between was Shiraz!  I believe we all agreed that the wine of the evening was the 2002 Penfolds St Henri.  The 1997 Penfolds 389 was absolutely splendid and lasted better than I thought it would.  The 1994 Brokenwood Hermitage was a classic older Hunter Shiraz with great body and finish, but still maintaining  the elegant style of an old world Hermitage.  The 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz would have been a delight, but we passed on it as it will last another decade or more and improve with age.  And the 2003 Penfolds St Henri was another wonderful wine.  Each of these reds would usually be considered the featured wine to finish a meal with, but we had no problem over-indulging with all of them!

We then walked in the rain down to Bravo’s for some gelato and other desserts where we did finish off the bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought before finding our individual ways home.

Great friends, great food, great times and great wine all go together.  We were not trying to impress in a competitive way – just expressing gratitude for each others friendship and respect for each others palate!  It was a rare evening where everything worked – at least it seemed so with that much good wine!

A great wine, but disappointing wine drinking experience

We spent Saturday the week past, traveling and visiting friends in the Blue Mountains and beyond.  It was a great time and we had some great meals, even though it did make for a very long day.  For once, I did not bring the wines and let it up to the hosts to provide the wine to accompany the meals.

During our Saturday lunch, we had some great food starting with three different soups samplers (tomato and carrot, pumpkin, and pea), followed by stir fired veggies and prawns, with a wonderful dessert of chocolate balls and berry ice cream.  Each course had a decent wine to go with it from a white to red to sweet dessert wine.  And as usual the best part of the meal and experience was sharing it with great friends.

We repeated the performance for dinner, but it was a heavier meal with more meat, including a marinated roast beef side, sausages, and stir fired veggies.  Therefore, more red wines were served and the two choices of red were very nice choices.  Unfortunately, the first problem was that the wines were drunk too early in their life.

The wine of the evening should have been a very nice 2007 Penfold’s St Henri.  This is an excellent wine and has a 96 (out of 100) rating.  Usually I would salivate over having a St Henri with dinner, but then we are currently drinking the 1999 vintage (I have about 6 bottle left and need to drink them in the next few years to get maximum enjoyment from them).

But I could tell from the first smell and the first sip of the 2007 that this wine was not ready for drinking!  I asked the host how many bottles he had left and he mentioned he had six left.  I told him to wait at least two more years if not up to five years before he drinks the next one.

This wine should be drunk between 2015 and 2024 for peak enjoyment and ideally in the 2019 – 2021 time frame.  While he decanted and even aerated the wine, it did not have much of an effect as the wine structure was just too tight.  And then, the wine was served in a white wine glass used for Riesling or Semillon.  This did not allow the wine to breath and forced an already tight wine into a small area to breathe and drink from making it even tighter.  There are reasons Riedel makes specific wine glasses for Shiraz and other grapes and drinking a Shiraz from a white wine glass is almost sinful!

This was a great wine, served too early and without giving it any advantage to shine.  This was a $75 – $100 bottle of wine wasted.  It still had (obviously) fresh fruit, but was too tight and the complexities of this great wine had not become fully integrated.  I hope the host takes my advice and does not serve up another bottle for several more years.  This will be a great wine over time, but certainly not at its best today when served up in a small glass.

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 disappointment, but one moves on!

Last night, my lovely bride and I drove to the Hunter Valley and arrived in time for dinner at the Blue Thai restaurant which we really enjoy.  The food is great and the crowd is certainly interesting and entertaining as the restaurant abuts a trailer and camping park.  It is a BYO restaurant, which is a concept I always like!  There were several cartons of box wine sitting on other tables (why come to the Hunter Valley and get box wine?!?!) and I expect there were not many other bottles over $10 in the restaurant that night.

Yet, Thai food has such tremendous flavors and deserves to be paired with good wine.  We usually bring a Gewurztraminer, Semillon or Riesling.  Tonight we brought along a bottle of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide Hills Semillon Trial Bin.  I have four bottles of this, but had not had much interest in trying one as it was an inexpensive wine I purchased back in 1997 in Melbourne.  It had not been cared for well either in that it made a trip across the ocean to the US in 1998 when I moved back there, and then a trip back home in 2000 when I moved here permanently.  Fortunately, most of the wines that made the journey over and back did not suffer much (the better ones were stored in Styrofoam cases) , but some of the cheaper ones were affected.

Recently, I have come to realize that the 1995 Adelaide Hills Trial Bin was one of the wines that was an experiment as a possibility for Penfolds White Grange (according the the public, not Penfolds) which ultimately resulted in the Yatarnna Bin 144 Chardonnay.  Plus some of the wine auction houses I was talking with expressed interest in selling this wine at auction and that peaked my curiosity.  I decided it was worth trying a bottle to see if it was still good.  After all, it was selling for between $25 – $30 per bottle on the secondary market.

Crumbled cork

Halliday reviewed this wine a long time ago and said it was drinkable until about 2003 and here I am thinking about trying it almost a decade after that.  Yet, I have had many aged Semillons that have really stood the test of time.  However the bottle I opened last night, had not!  It was unfortunately corked.  I used the standard cork screw from the restaurant, but the cork just crumbled.  I then drove home to get my Ah So cork screw.  The Ah So cork screw is about the only way to get old cork out of an old bottle.  It is designed to be able to get old and soggy corks out of the bottle, and I may have had some luck had I started with this, but the cork was so soggy and cushy that I could not get a good grip on it.  It was the first time ever that I was not able to remove a cork with the Ah So, and had to push it into the bottle.

I was still hopeful because the wine had a beautiful golden color to it, and their was no obvious fault when visualizing the wine.  However, it had lost much of its flavor and had a metallic taste to it.  It tasted like someone had squeezed a melon onto a piece of sheet metal and licked it.  (I am imagining this is what it would have tasted like – I have not actually done this!)  You could tell this was a fine wine in its time, but had oxidized too much.  I still managed a few sips with dinner to try to figure out what it would have been like without the fault, but we left 2/3rds of the bottle and mostly had water with dinner.

I am hopeful that the remaining three bottles of this wine may have traveled better than this one did.  Cork variability can be quite large.  Recently about two weeks apart, I had two bottles of the 2003 Blueberry Hills Pinot Noir and the second one was significantly better than the first one (as described in post).  Since both Pinot Noirs had been stored properly and in exactly the same manner, the difference could only be attributable to the difference in cork structure.  Therefore, I will try each bottle of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide hills Semillon Trial Bin and hopefully one or two of the remaining three bottles will be real gems!

Bin 144 Yatarnna – Penfolds White Grange

With the great success of Grange over many years, Penfolds has always been interested in the concept of the creating a ‘White’ Grange.  The Penfolds Bin 144 Yatarnna is as close as they have come and it is commonly referred to as White Grange.  It is made from reserved Chardonnay grapes and usually cost around $130 per bottle.  I was very fortunate to pick up several dozen of the 2006 Yatarnna for a good price when some were found and treated as excess stock by the dealer.

During the 1990’s, Penfolds tried a number of ‘trial bins’ in an attempt to create a White Grange before settling on Yatarnna.  And to be honest, Penfolds was looking for an iconic white wine to match Grange, but never really had to the intent of marketing any wine as White Grange.  This was a moniker of wine writers around Australia.

In 1992, Penfolds started creating a number of trial bins to create an iconic white wine.  I actually have four bottles of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide Hills Trial Bin Semillon, which I bought in 1997 in a Melbourne bottle shop.  I have not tried one yet, but am now excited to find out if this wine was a mistake or not!  I was only spending between $12 – $18 per bottle then for wines I did not know anything about, but wanted to try.  (In 1997, I did pay $200 per bottle for several bottles of the 1992 Penfolds Grange which were released that year.)  Therefore, I am certain I did not pay more than $18 for the Trial Bin Semillon I picked up.

One of the characteristics of Grange is that is was built to last a very long time, and I expect they wanted to have the same characteristic for an iconic white.  Therefore, Semillon certainly would have been a good choice of grape to experiment with.  In selling off wine recently and thinning my stock, I had the four bottles of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide Hills Trial Bin Semillon on sale for $10 per bottle!  Fortunately, nobody bought any.  I will be trying a bottle soon to decide if I have an unknown gem here or not.  If so, then I will gladly share the remaining bottles with some great friends, and if not, we will use the remaining bottles for cooking wine!

But back to the Penfolds Bin 144 Yatarnna.  This is one of the finest Chardonnays you will find in Australia.  I still like my Montrachets a bit better, but the Yatarnna is a great Chardonnay.  I am currently sipping a 2006 Yatarnna which is stunning and one of the better vintages.  (The first vintage of Yatarnna was in 1995.)  It has powerful lemon flavors and some peach and grass flavor.  It is mellow but with a slight edge and crispness.  This wine should drink well for another five years or so.

I selected this wine to go with my wife’s homemade chicken pot pie which is in the oven now!  I am looking forward to that combination and am sure she will have an upcoming recipe in her blog “DAZ in the Kitchen.”  This mellow, yet robust wine will match beautifully win the chicken pot pie.

I have been upset at some of the commercial finanglings of TWE with the Penfolds brand, and have sold off most of my Penfolds inventory, but I have a dozen of this great wine left.  My wife has an easy way to tell if a wine is outstanding or not, and that is to ‘not notice’ that the bottle has been emptied so quickly when it it just the two of us drinking it, and that always happens with the 2006 Penfolds Bin 144 Yatarnna!  In fact, my wife just took a sip and stated, “You see, this wine does all the right things.  You sip it, it hits my palate perfectly and goes right down without thinking about it.”

While I find fault in some of TWE’s commerical approaches (TWE owns Penfolds), I cannot fault Penfolds for the passion they have always exhibited in making great wines and the 2006 Bin 144 Yatarnna is one of them!