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.

A super red – the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea

I got quite excited this evening picking out the wines for tomorrow’s Master Chef dinner being prepared by Jay Huxley and attended to by a great group of work colleagues.  I am so excited about the friendship, wine and food!  All the ‘work’ selecting the wine line-up (in a post soon to come!) got me excited to have a nice drop of red while blogging tonight.

That nice red ended up being the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz.  WOW!  What a wine!  Having had glasses of the 2005 and 2006 Maurice O’Shea in the restaurant associated with McWilliams Mount Pleasant winery in the Hunter Valley, I had the impression that the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz was not worth the bottle price and was another over-priced red wine living on its previous reputation.

But one Sunday morning about 11 am having just finished breakfast in their restaurant (and complaining about how the Maurice O’Shea was overpriced!), Nick (who was the restaurant manager at the time) brought me a glass of red to try.  It was magnificent!  He then told me that it was the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea and was about to be released in the next few days.  I bought four dozen on the spot.  I then found out a few days later that Campbell Mattinson rated it as the best Shiraz that year (2010/11) in his great book, The Big Red Wine Book.

I have been laying it down in the cellar to develop over the last two years, but decided it was time to try one of the bottles.  This wine is spectacular now, but will probably be even slightly better in a couple of years.  Within minutes of decanting, it really opened up.  It is smooth, perfectly balanced, with good tannins.  It has very big, fresh fruit tasting of blackberries and chocolate liqueur.  The hue is a vibrant, deep red, almost purple color.

The only problem now is figuring out the best time to drink this wine!  I expect it will last a long, long time, but is so approachable now.  I will probably have a bottle every three months until I can’t stand it any more and then make this my every day drinking wine until it is entirely consumed.

I bought a lot of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz’, including the Tyrrell’s Vat 9, Tyrrell’s Stevens, the De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz, the Meerea Park Alexander Munro, the Thomas Kiss, the Pokolbon Estate (made by Andrew Thomas), the Brokenwood Graveyard, the Tulloch Hector, the Glandore Hamish, the Tintilla Estate Patriarch, and about five more to be able to do a side-by-side comparison.  They are all excellent, but the only one I think can compare to the Maurice O’Shea is the De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz.  I just need to do a comparison of those two wines, and do it soon!

I was hoping to save some of this great wine for one of my American friends who is coming to dinner tomorrow night, but I am afraid, I might just drink the entire bottle tonight.  WOW! What a wine!

Spectacular Shirazes with fish!

Once again, we broke the conventional rule of “white wine with fish!”

In my recent posting “1998 Lindeman’s Verdelhao – one of the best white wines I have ever drunk”, I make mention that this wine was one of several to start a brilliant dinner party.  This brilliant example of Verdelho was enjoyed with an opening cheese platter and great conversation, while the two reds where decanting.

Owen and Lucie had prepared the menu for the evening, with two fish courses to follow the cheese platter and an apple strudel for dessert.  The entree was a lightly seared tuna steak with a side of guacamole (with chili on the side which we could mix into the guacamole for taste – which we all did!), with the main dish being lightly battered and fried flathead, which is a denser and meatier type of fish.

Owen wanted to impress with a bottle of 15 year-old Pinot Noir, which would have been a nice match for the tuna and gaucamole, but most Pinot Noirs, no matter how well structured they are, are unlikely to last past a decade or so.  Unfortunately, this bottle was off and had to be disposed of.  While we were fortunate the 1998 Lindeman’s Verdelhao was still a stunner, we were not as lucky with the Pinot Noir.

Not to be deterred, Owen had replaced the Pinot Noir with a 1997 Hungerford Hills Hilltop Shiraz and that was followed by a bottle of the 1991 Grant Burge Mesach Shiraz, which is considered one of the best Shiraz in Australia, if not the world.

The wines went brilliantly with the food because both the wines and the foods were brilliant on their own!  But what really made the Shirazes go well with the fish was the following:

  • Both the tuna and the flathead were denser, meatier fishes instead of a lighter style and texture to the fish
  • The tuna flavor was enhanced by the guacamole and chili, and the seasoning in the flathead batter had some nice, bold spices
  • Additionally, lightly battering and frying the flathead was a push into a Shiraz instead of a more traditional choice of white – had this fish been grilled, a more traditional white wine selection may have been more appropriate

These are importance nuances of flavor and texture that allow you to “turn the tables” on what type of wine matches well with the food you are having.  The slight differences in terms of the seasoning and sauces you use, the sides provided, or the texture of the main ingredient (in this case the tuna and the flathead), and the style of cooking provide you with a much wider selection of wines that match up brilliantly.  Therefore, don’t be shy in terms of experimenting with a more diverse set of options for the wine.  With a little practice, you will stumble upon some great combinations that will truly surprise and excite.

The wines themselves were superb and given the iconic stature of the Mesach, we started with the 1997 Hungerford Hill Hilltop Shiraz with the tuna, followed by the 1991 Grant Burge Mesach Shiraz to go with the flathead.  Either Shiraz would have worked beautifully with either fish, but given the complexities of the wines, it was important to drink them in this order.

I have sampled Hungerford Hill wines over the last several years, and while I believe them to be decent wines, I must admit to not having tried their better wines or better vintages.  I was amazed at the quality and beauty of the 1997 Hungerford Hill Hilltop Shiraz!  It far exceeded my expectations, and has made me excited to go back to the winery and find out more.  This wine is a perfect example of how you can buy an inexpensive, yet good bottle of wine and how it can turn into a great bottle of wine if cellared properly for a decade.  (Beware, that is not possible with all inexpensive bottles of wine – you need to have the right grapes and structure to start with!)

The 1991 Grant Burge Mesach was superb.  Frankly, by this point, I was just enjoying the wine and the flathead, and the co-mingled tastes were starting to border on being “over-satiated!”  This is a truly superb wine and if you are a fan of the Henschke Hill of Grace, you will enjoy the Mesach at 20% of the price of the Hill of Grace!  The Mesach is smooth, flavorful and balanced with medium to large tannins.  Having had the 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 vintages of the Mesach, I would go with the 1991 and 1994.  They are superior vintages and still have some cellaring on them, whereas the 1992 and 1993 vintages do not.

To finish off the evening, we had a 2005 Château Haut Bergeron dessert wine to go with the apple strudel.  This is another great example of where the a $35 bottle of wine improves with each year in the cellar.  This is a great, great wine at 1/10th the price of Château D’Yquem, and most people in a side-by-side tasting cannot tell the difference!

Another darn risotto and wine post?

Yes!  (But I promise this will be the last one for a while!)

My wife made a very pedestrian, yet delicious bean and bacon risotto the other evening (if you follow the link to her post, you can get the recipe).  We were a bit skeptical about how it would work, but it turned out divine.  Yet, when you pick up a little fat and extra juice from the bacon, you wonder “is there any wine that will go with that?”

The wine needed to be nice, but not overpowering, and this was a situation where many of the wines I would otherwise choose, would fit in that category – they would have dominating and minimized the risotto.  I needed to open a red wine to be used in the cooking process, and figured that the wine I choose would have to work for that (pretty much most wines – even ones well past there peak do!) and for serving with the risotto.

The 2006 Gabbiano Riserva was a great match and the blending of the food and wine were perfectly balanced.   

Wine Texture is a big part of of how I perceive how good a wine is, especially when served with food. 

A wine can range from tepid (usually a very old wine or a poorly made wine in the first place with poor grape selection) to smooth (like some beautifully aged Pinot Noirs or Cabernet Savignons) to having a bit of friction on your cheeks (usually from the tannins in a wine built to last a long time, but where the tannins are not completely integrated yet), to gritty (where the tannins are big and far from integrated).  A good example of a superb, yet ‘gritty’ wine was the 2006 Seppelts we had with lasagna.  Both the food and wine were gritty and matched beautifully.  I needed to accomplish the same with matching a wine to the bean and bacon risotto.

I needed a wine for the bean and bacon risotto which was smooth, yet still possessed some character and fruitiness, and would still compliment the bit of fat and extra juice.  The 2006 Gabbiano Riserva was a perfect match.  Like Goldilock’s, “not too big and not two small, but just right!”