Best Hunter Valley wineries to visit

This is the first part of a four-part series on visiting the Hunter Valley.  The other three blog posts which will be introduced over the next month, include:

  • Places to stay in Hunter Valley
  • Places to eat in Hunter Valley
  • Hunter Valley events and activities

But visiting The Hunter Valley is first and foremost about wine, so we will start there.  With over 150 wineries in The Hunter Valley, there is bound to be some differences of opinion, so let me start off by saying that my recommendations do not mean I am recommending the very best wines in The Hunter Valley, even though that is a large component of my ratings.  I often get asked what are the best wineries to visit, often with the qualification of wanting to find a secret or lesser known one off the beaten path, and not just be directed to the ‘big boys.’  But it would be a discredit to some of the big boys to leave them off the list.  I am offering my opinions based on (1) wine quality, (2) landscape and ambiance, and (3) any other unique or interesting features to consider.

#1 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  Tyrrell’s Wines

From my point of view, the clear winner as the best winery in The Hunter Valley is Tyrrell’s Wines.  They are located on Broke Road in Pokolbin.  This is the safest stop of any winery as they have the best wines from whites to reds and in every price range.  Everyone can find a wine here they enjoy.  The prices are very reasonable.  Tyrrell’s is also an Australian First Families of Wine and is one of the oldest multi-generational winemaking families in Australia.  They have beautiful views, are host to the annual Jazz in the Vines jazz day and concerts and provide interesting tours of the vineyards and winery.

Tyrrell’s is known for their iconic and numerously awarded Vat 1 Semillon and Vat 9 Shiraz among many great wines.  The 1999 Tyrrels’ Vat 1 is listed as one of the 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die.  The 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 received so many Gold medals they have to overlap them to fit them all on the bottle!  They also offer a very nice loyalty program.  If I do not know who the audience is who asking where to visit, I will state Tyrrell’s is a must stop.  Many of the very best Australian winemakers got their start at Tyrrell’s.

#2 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  Meerea Park

Similar to Tyrrell’s, Meerea Park has excellent wines, both white and red in all price ranges.  The winemaker, Rhys Eather, is one of the annointed six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley.  He makes truly outstanding wines.  Their top-end Alexander Munro series museum wines will last a quarter century or longer.  The biggest, best Shiraz I have ever had is the 1998 Meerea Park Alexander Munro and it is still tight at 15 years of age!  On the other end is their XYZ series of wines, which are outstanding wines and great value for the money.  Meerea Park just moved into the Tempus Two complex at the corner of MacDonalds and Broke Roads in Pokolbin.  They also are a small family-owned business with Rhys making the wine and Garth selling it.  I have learned a lot about wine just chatting with Garth who is open and friendly.

#3 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  McWilliams Mount Pleasant

McWilliams Mount Pleasant is another winery with great selection of whites and reds in all price brackets.  They have excellent Semillons and Shiraz and a very nice Muscato from Evans & Tate.  They have magnificent facilities in terms of cellar door, tasting rooms, a nice restaurant, and also have some of the most beautiful vistas in The Hunter Valley.  McWilliams is often a starting point of breakfast followed by a mid- or late-morning tasting before heading off elsewhere.  If you are into the facilities and scenery, you would place McWilliams as #1 or #2 winery in your list of Hunter Valley wineries.  One of my very favorite wines is the 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz which Campbell Mattinson awarded as the best Australian Shiraz for that year.  McWilliams is also in the elite Australian First Families of Wine group.

Best red winemaker in The Hunter Valley:  De Iuliis Wines

In my book, De Iuliis Wines under the ownership of Mike De Iuliis makes the best reds available.  De Iuliis, year-in, year-out makes some of the best Shiraz in The Hunter Valley.  He also now controls arguably the best Shiraz vineyard (Steven vineyard) in The Hunter Valley.  Michael is also one of the six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley.  Visiting the cellar door at De Iuliis is a great experience.  The produce great white wines also, but I focus on buying my reds from DeIuliis.  They also have a nice restaurant and craft shop.  De Iuliis is located on Broke Road just down past Tyrrell’s.  The thing I love about De Iuliis is that you often find Michael behind the counter or just around the corner and their cellar door manager is among the most knowledgeable around.  You always get great service and tastings at De Iuliis.

Best white winemaker in The Hunter Valley:  Scarborough Wines

There is a lot of great Semillon and Chadonnay wine produced in the Hunter Valley and based on vintage, a number of wineries could qualify for this award.  But overall, year-in, year-out, one of the best tasting experiences of white wines comes at Scarborough.  They have two locations in the Hunter Valley and I still like the original location on Gillards Road as the best in terms of scenery and ambiance.   Their newer location is on Hermitage Road.  They make three quite different style Chardonnays and I personally like the White Label the best.  Their tastings are one of the best run I have been involved in and it is always a privilege to bring people to Scarborough for a tasting.


View from Audrey Wilkinson winery

Best all-around visit, landscape and architecture:  Audrey Wilkinson

Audrey Wilkinson’s is perched up DeBeyers Road in Pokolbin.  It has beautiful vistas and the architecture and buildings are among the most beautiful of any winery in The Hunter Valley.  But they would not make the list unless they had great wines also.  They have some excellent whites and reds in all price ranges.  Their Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon is among the best I have had.  This is a great place to visit, taste and take pictures.

Best new-found winery (by me anyway!):  McLeish Estates

I had heard of McLeish Estate for some time, but with so many other great Hunter Valley wineries I was already familiar with, I never made it by to try their wines.  But when I read that their 2007 Reserve Semillon took global honors, I knew I had to stop by and try them out.  And so glad that I did!  They have an excellent lineup of wines, with the Reserve Chardonnay and Semillon really being outstanding.  They also have an excellent Rose which got me drinking Rose again after 30 years and I am glad I did!

McLeish Estates is on the other  side of DeBeyers Road (from Audrey Wilkinson) and behind Lake Folly’s so you know they have some excellent parcels of land for growing grapes.  What I love about McLeish is that it is a true family run business.  If daughter Jessica is not behind the counter, then parents Bob and Maryanne are.  Bob tends the vines when not serving and Maryanne the accounts when not serving.  This is a great place to visit and show your visitors you know The Hunter Valley and all of its special spots!  And Andrew Thomas is the Chief winemaker, another one of the six Next Generation Hunter Valley Winemakers.

Other wineries of note and worth a visit

I have picked out 7 of the 150 or so wineries in The Hunter Valley and each deserves a visit.  The other great thing about these wineries is that they are within kilometers of each other and it is possible to do all 7 in one day or over a weekend.  But there are so many other good wineries to try including Lindemans, Brokenwood (both in the heart of Pokolbin), Margans (past Tyrrell’s and De Iuliis) for tasting and food, Two Rivers in the Upper Hunter Valley (about 75 minutes away), Waverley Estates for some of the best aged white wines you can find, De Bertoli for stickies, Tamburlaine for organic wines, Tintilla Estate for Sangiovese and Shiraz, and so on.

Another one I am going to try is 201 in Rothbury.  They make wines out of secondary grapes such as Durif, Chambourcin, and Barbera in addition to Semillon.  I have heard good things about this winery and it being another family-run labor of love.  I am going to check it out next time I am in The Hunter Valley.

These are the wineries I take my visitors to first and make for a great day or weekend out.  But, of course, one has to eat when drinking wine all day, so my next post on The Hunter Valley will focus on where to eat.  Until them happy drinking!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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New Series on Hunter Valley Hide-aways

I am constantly asked for opinions concerning the Hunter Valley.  I feel comfortable offering advice as we have a place up there, frequent it a lot, and will retire there; 60 percent of the wine I drink is from the Hunter Valley.  I get asked often to recommend off-beaten wineries from local friends and any advice on how to spend a few enjoyable days for those visiting the area.  These requests are occurring more frequently, so I thought I would take the time to record and share the information with, regardless if you ask or not!

This will be a four-part series as follows:

  1. Hunter Valley wineries
  2. Places to stay in Hunter Valley
  3. Places to eat in Hunter Valley
  4. Hunter Valley events and activities

Recognize that these recommendations represent my opinion and may not be suitable for everyone.  Also know that I do not have any commercial relationship with these places nor have I asked their input or permission prior to writing these posts.  This series represents the opinions I have been sharing privately with friends, and I am now making them public.  I am certain there are great wineries, restaurants and places to stay that I will not be mentioning.  But in the end, I can only write what I know.

View from Bistro Molines

Overview of Hunter Valley wine region:

The Hunter Valley is two hours north of Sydney, Australia by car.  It was one of the first areas in which vines were planted in Australia.  James Busby, acclaimed father of the Australian wines industry, brought vine stock from France and Spain and planted them in the 1820s in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter Valley produces only about 2% of Australian wines, but is internationally known for their excellent Shiraz and Semillon wines.  Few regions around the world grow these grapes better than they do in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter also produce many excellent Chardonnay wines.  The Hunter Valley houses three (McWilliams, Tyrrell’s, and DeBertoli) of the twelve First Families of Wine, which are multi-generational privately held wineries.  This is testament to how seriously the Hunter Valley takes its wine and ensuring they continue to focus on quality.

You can find out more and keep up to date with upcoming events by following the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association.

Since a trip to the Hunter Valley features wine above all, the next post will be on some of my favorite Hunter Valley wineries.  Stay tuned!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

How cooking improves your wine tasting abilities

Through tasting more and learning more about tasting wine, I have continued to improve my wine tasting abilities and experiences.  Yet, I was always surprised how many of my chef friends seemed to have a better palate than mine.  I assumed it was because they were super tasters (people with significantly more taste buds and lower sensitivity to certain tastes) than me.  I attributed their skills to their in-born capabilities.  My wife was taking cooking lessons several years ago and I was highly supportive because I was benefiting from eating better at home.  We ate better, more healthily and far less expensively now at home than when eating out (except for a few known restaurants that are among our favorites).

I decided to follow my wife’s lead and took about 10 cooking lessons myself, including a 6-part beginners course for ‘blokes,’ a knife skills lesson, a pasta making lesson, and a Christmas dinner banquet lesson (including ham and turkey).  But it was really practicing making meals from beginning to end at home that opened my nose and palate to being able to smell and taste many more flavors and with greater sensitivity.  What became apparent to me was importance of sauces, spices, and all the ingredients necessary to alter or enhance the flavors of the primary ingredients be they meat, fish or vegetables.  Noticing what a teaspoon of paprika (or smoked paprika), saffron, chili flakes (or freshly cut chilies) or nutmeg could do to enhance flavors became noticeable.  Understanding why chopped basil worked better than mint or parsley (or Spanish onions better than spring onions) in certain circumstances also became apparent.

Cooking spices 2

By learning to understand and appreciate various flavors, I was able to more immediately determine when to drink a softer, more versatile wine such as a Verdelho over a Pinot Gris (or vice versus) with the meal, or a sharper, edgier wine such as a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc worked better.  What I really noticed though was that instead of being able to match up broad categories of wines with food, I was now able to much more easily ‘micro-match’ a wine style with a particular meal.  I was able to determine which  sub-category (young or aged Semillon, for example) and sub-style (Hunter Valley versus Barossa Valley Shiraz) and determine which wine more uniquely was a better match with food, even to the level of individual wine makers (a young Andrew Thomas Semillon versus a Tyrrell’s Johnno Semillon) and vintages.

Most people believe they are limited in their ability to taste and appreciate good wine (and often as a result, buy wine based on price, thinking a higher price is better quality), but this is simply not true.  There are rare exceptions of people who were born or through a severe illness, have lost the ability to smell.   However, for the most part and within usable tolerances, almost every one of us is able to with a high degree of accuracy be able to smell and taste wine.  Through practice and learning, any one of us can influence our abilities to taste and enjoy wine more so than through our natural abilities.  And by learning some basics of cooking and what ingredients are used to make meals, you can learn much more quickly.

“Learning to cook has improved my ability to taste wine more than any other activity over the last several years!”

My book Wine Sense helps you understand how to train and use all of your senses to improve your wine tasting experiences.  But on its own, learning to cook (even a little as in my case) has greatly improved my ability to smell and taste.  I am able to much more quickly identify flavors and nuances and determine why I like one wine over another with a particular meal, whereas before I would have thought they tasted pretty much the same.  Do not limit your ability to enjoy wine far more than you currently do, and make learning to cook an important part of that training.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Tasting, not Drinking – Intoxication, not Drunkenness

Many people drink for the sheer ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk.  I don’t understand that, or why becoming drunk would even be an objective for anyone, but I have seen it occur many times.  I gave up hard alcohol by the time I was 30 because I could not handle it, nor did I enjoy it.  I still drink the occasional beer, especially on a hot summer day, but beer bloats me if I have more than a few.

Wine is my drink of choice for many reasons, and I almost exclusively drink wine now.  I have never been drunk from wine, nor would I want to be.  I enjoy drinking wine for the taste and flavor and for its diversity of grapes and styles.  I can drink multiple wines in an evening, and sharing time and food along with the wine with friends for a great experience.

But I ‘taste’ my wine, not indiscriminately drink it.  I take the time to swirl it to open the bouquet and increase the pleasure of nosing it, fulfilling my sense of smell.  I then pour it onto my palate and experience the taste as it impacts my taste buds – but I do not swallow immediately!  I enjoy the wine as it warms up further in my mouth, releasing more new flavors and sensory (if not sensual!) perceptions.  I let my tongue and taste buds pick up on the sweetness, bitterness, or whatever flavors it finds.  I might keep the wine in my mouth for 1 – 3 minutes before actually swallowing it!

I also love to match up wine with foods, or just chocolates or cheeses, and having some food nourishment along the way helps to reduce the impact of alcohol also.

This process and experience intoxicates me, and it constrains me from getting drunk.  I drink less because I get more flavor and satisfaction out of each sip of wine and I slow down the amount I drink over any period.  This is similar to the advice of chewing your food 25 times before swallowing.  You pick out much more flavor and nourishment from your food, become more satisfied and ultimately, eat less.

Drunkenness is not a state I enjoy during or after drinking, and I avoid it.  Avoiding drunkenness comes easily for me since I taste my wine while drinking and before swallowing, combine it with food which further absorbs and disperses the alcohol content, and enjoy it and let it satiate me along the way.

I recommend you do the same.  You will enjoy your wine far more and treat your body far better along the journey!  Remember to taste, not drink (or guzzle) your wine to become intoxicated, not drunk!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


Two very interesting bottles of wine

The majority of my cellar consist of wines that I have bought, usually by the dozen or more.  I enjoy the opportunity to have a repeatable experience of drinking an excellent wine (I only buy wines by the dozen or more when I have had the opportunity to taste the wine), and I love tasting how a wine develops over multiple years.

Yet, I am often gifted wine or have ended up with the ‘loose’ or odd bottle.  Sometimes these bottles represent excellent wines and I am aware of the wines characteristics and how it will taste.  Sometimes I have ended up with a crap bottle of wine, best used for cooking or to pass onto someone who is looking for the alcohol experience more than the wine tasting experience.  But the most interesting bottles are the ones I know nothing about, but have some indication they may be an interesting wine.

In the past several days, I have pulled out two bottles of wine that I knew nothing about.  The first one was a 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir from Marlborough, NZ and the second, a 1996 Carindale Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley.  Both fortunately proved to be excellent bottles of wine!

Not knowing anything about these wines, I was uncertain what to expect.  I also had the concern that both wines being past their best drinking periods as Pinot Noir does not last well to a decade or beyond and neither does Chardonnay for the most part.  However, you are often blessed to find a bottle that defies the normal structure of the grape and the aging process.  Both of these wines surpassed my expectations by a far mark.

I knew who had given me the Pinot Noir and I was concerned as I had some nice bottles from him previously that had not been cellared properly and had not stood up well.  But the 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir was great.  It was sweeter than most Pinot Noirs I have had and still retained a lot of fresh fruit with slight overtones of smoke.  My loved one had cooked up a tremendous pasta, chicken, cheese and broccoli casserole where she refused to follow the recipe and added some hot chile sauce and bacon among other things.  It was unbelievably good!  While I would usually match a younger Chardonnay to go with it, I had the Pinot Noir and it worked fine.  While not a perfect match, the wine and the food were both enjoyable.  I would not consider a Shiraz or even a decent Cabernet Sauvignon with a chicken, cheesy pasta dish, but the Pinot Noir was suitable enough.

The next night, I finished the 2001 Courtney’s Post Pinot Noir with a serve of FAT (Feta, Avocado, Tomato on Toast) and that worked well also even though it was not a perfect match.  I think a lot of white wines would have gone well with the FAT, including Pinot Gris and Semillon.  But again, while not a perfect match, the Pinot Noir worked well enough with FAT.  I then had a sip of the Pinot Noir with mango and that did not work!  (I will be writing a separate post a bit later on what wines to drink with veggies and fruits.)

But the strange thing was that I could not find any references to Courtney Post wines, either through Wine-Searcher Pro or through Google.  They may have gone out of business, but I was expecting to find something about them somewhere.  (I must admit that while I did not try exceptionally hard to find a reference to them, I certainly thought it would be easier than it was!)  This was an exceptional wine for which I can find no history.  This is the reason I do not buy single bottles – I would have liked to repeat this experience, but sadly, it has become a ‘one-nighter!’

Tonight, we are having leftover chicken pasta with cheese, broccoli, bacon and chile and I really wanted a Chardonnay to go with it tonight.  I had to scramble and only found two bottles of Chardonnay in my apartment.  Since one was a 2007 La Belle Voisine Chassagne Montrachet, I decided to go with the other one, that being the 1996 Carindale Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley.  When I checked Google this time, I did find a reference and found out it was a Hunter Valley winery that made aged Chardonnay among other wines.  And they are just down the road from Waverley Estate on Palmers Lane who also specialize in aged Chardonnay and Semillon.

I have no recollection of who gave me this bottle or how I came in contact with it.  But it is delicious! I cannot discern a specific fruit flavor to it – it tastes more like a finely blended fruit cocktail, but less sweet, in fact, a bit minerally.  Yet, the texture is somewhat viscous which I really enjoy in a well-aged white wine, and it has a very long finish.  This is a wine which fills and satisfies the senses!  And look at the color of the wine!  While not as golden and as complex as several of my ‘Top 5 whites ever,’ this is a great wine and still has some way to go.  I expect it will be drinking even more beautifully in 3 – 5 years, and hope I can find a bottle to test my theory out!

Fortunately, they are still in business and just around the corner from our place in the Hunter Valley!  I will be visitng them during my next visit to the Hunter Valley.  While they are sold out of the 1996 (and 1998) Chardonnay, they still appear to have some of the 2000 Chardonnay left and if it is anything like the 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay (or their own 1996 Chardonnay), it will be a great drink!

I don’t always strive for the best food and wine match, even though I think it is usually worth the effort.  Sometimes I just want to try a particular bottle of wine and will drink it with a meal.  And while I don’t usually like single bottles of undiscernable heritage, I must admit that I got very lucky with these two bottles and they have provided a great drinking experience over the last few days.  Some times it is worth taking a risk and going on a ‘blind date’ with a bottles.  Even though it may not last a life time, it can still be a great one-nighter!

A little wine humor for the weekend

I have started using Pinterest more for several things and will be expanding that even more in the future.  I do enjoy collecting funny sayings and humorous cartoons regarding wine.  Since it is the weekend, crack open a bottle, have a good sip and enjoy some of the wine humor I have collected and posted on Pinterest.

I will be doing that myself while getting into a little of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port this evening and comparing it to the 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port.  I will let you know the results in a few days.

Talking party wines on Food In Focus on FM 89.7 with Natascha Moy this Saturday!

This Saturday (10 November, 2012), at 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, I will be joining Natascha Moy and two other guests on her very successful gourmet food and wine show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.  This show has been running successfully for four and a half years with a star’s line-up of great chefs, restaurant and specialty food owners, wine makers, winery owners and others who are passionate about good food and wine.

I am privileged that Natascha has asked me to join her party this weekend and excited to participate.  Without giving too much away, I will be talking about Party Wines and bringing along three good bottles which are excellent examples of what good party wine is all about.  This is live radio so it will be exciting to find out what Natascha is going to ask me and the other guests.  I just hope that I can contribute and continue to help her grow her following.  My only goal is to help you be able ‘to impress’ the next time you bring a bottle of wine to a party or other function.

I met Natascha through social media as we share a common interest around good food and wine.  We started following each other on Twitter, became friends and started to communicate and share ideas on Facebook, and now will finally have the opportunity to meet and share some good wine and good ideas and discussion together.  I love witnessing (and even better, be part of!) examples where social media really works!

Natascha is a real ‘pro’ in the radio and journalism game as evidenced by her long-running success with Food in Focus.  She has a background in magazine journalism with a Bachelor of Journalism degree and has participated in traditional and online media for years.  She has published her own food newspaper and now continues to share her insights through her radio talk show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.

Natascha and I also share a passion around gender diversity.  This year, she founded a networking movement called Girl Power which has been founded on the principle that women in business have brilliant brains but deserve something more. She runs bi-monthly networking events attended by approximately 60 women talking about everything from sales to sex, and fashion to nutrition.

Once the show is completed, I will write a blog to summarize what we discussed on Party Wines to share with you, but if you can join Natascha, me and her two other guests for Food in Focus this Saturday at 4 pm, we would welcome it.  Hope you are there with us!

Impact of temperature on wine taste is larger than you think! Part 1 – Red Wine

Some simple knowledge of wine storage and drinking can greatly enhance most people’s wine drinking experience.  One such area that is easy to understand and can significantly increase pleasure is the temperature at which to serve various wines.  The general rule is to serve red wine at room temperature and white wine chilled.  And sparkling wine, even more chilled!  But what is chilled?  And in fact, what actually is a suitable room temperature?

This will be a two-part blog on the impact of temperature on wine.  The first and simplest post is for red wine.  This will be followed by the impact of temperature on white wine, which is even more profound and important (but no more complicated to understand).

Hopefully, your red wines have been stored suitably at a consistent temperature that is somewhat cooler than room temperature.  I store my reds long-term at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) and in my apartment Vintec wine fridge at 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit).  My room temperature is usually between 20 – 22 degrees Celsius (68 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit).  Therefore, if I am planning ahead, I take my bottles of red wine out of the Vintec at least several hours up to a day before serving them.  This (1) allows the wine to reach room temperature and (2) to by standing it straight up, draw any loose sediment to the bottom of the bottle.

By raising the temperature 4 – 5 degrees (Celsius), you really release the flavor.  The wine goes from being a dormant, tight, flat wine to a more open and interactive one.  The flavors become fuller and more robust.  It is always a good idea to drink red at room temperature if the room temperature is between 18 – 25 degrees Celsius (65 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit).  But what do you do if room temperature is above that or you are outside on a hot day?  If the temperature is only a few degrees higher, then you can still drink the wine well enough.  However, as the temperature starts to approach or go beyond 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), drinking red wine at room temperature becomes less enjoyable.  This is because it becomes a bit stickier and may even taste a bit cooked.  Additionally, at those temperatures, you are probably looking for something cooler and more refreshing to drink, like a cold beer or a chilled white wine.

Reusable ice cubes – store in freezer

Therefore, if you are outside and it is 30 degrees Celsius or higher, you may want to chill your red wine slightly.  To do this, I would not recommend putting ice cubes into your wine!  This will water down and flatten the flavors. You may however want to put in one or two reusable ice cubes which are plastic encased ice cubes.  Therefore, you can reduce the temperature of the red wine a few degrees without watering it down.

I am currently drinking a very nice 2005 Bannockburn Pinot Noir at room temperature of 23.5 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) and this temperature is working well.  However, if it was a few degrees warmer, I may consider putting a reusable ice cube into my wine!

My next blog will focus on the right temperatures to serve white wine.  The temperature setting has a far more important impact on white wine than it does for red, and this is true to get the most out of both bad and good white wine!

1996 St George makes great pizza even better

I love making a good pizza and drinking a great wine to go with it.  My lovely bride asks me if we aren’t over-doing the wine we sometimes have with pizza and I tell her simply, “no!”  We often drink a Chianti or a Cabernet Sauvignon with pizza.  And tonight, the Cabernet Sauvignon was the 1996 Lindeman’s St George, one of my all-time favorites!

I remember tasting a bottle of this in 2000 and then securing four dozen bottles.  This was one of my all-time great buys and the wine has improved and served me well over its lifetime.  I was running down to my last few bottles several years ago and topped off my holdings by buying four more and six of the 1998 St George (an even slightly better vintage).  We also have a couple dozen of the 1997 St George which is a great wine, if not quite as complex as the 1996 or 1998.

This wine has large berry flavors, most closely to raspberry or sweet (over-ripe) blackberry.  It is beautifully balanced.  However, this wine is starting to show its age and should be drank in the next year or two.  I think I have about three or four bottles left, so this should not be a problem.  The fruit is not as lively as it was three or four years ago.

I have always liked the St George Cabernet Sauvignon as one of my go-to Cab Savs.  An even better one (but with more variability vintage to vintage) is the Wynn’s John Riddoch.  The Wynn’s John Riddoch also tends to cost about 50% more per bottle, but for great vintages, can be worth it.  But my love affair with the Lindeman’s St George has served me well year-to-year and I have bought so much volume that I am always able to get quite good prices for it.  In totality, I have had the 1989, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003 (only available as a clean skin), 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009 vintages.

Is this too good a wine to drink with pizza?  I don’t think so.  “Yes,” I could have a decent and much cheaper Chianto to go with pizza, or a cheaper Cab Sav, but why should I when I have a bottle of the 1996 St George staring me in the face when I open the Vintec?  If it needs to be drunk in the next several years, there is no time like the present!  And I can guarantee that it makes a great pizza even better!

Masterchef, with master friends and wine!

We had a great dinner party last evening.  As usual, the most important ingredient was great people full of life, fellowship and great conversation ranging from food to work, charity work, working out, finding a partner and much, much more.  But there were also some other great ingredients including having Masterchef and cook extraordinaire, Jay Huxley, cooking for us and some very nice wines to match.

But let’s start with the people.  We had all worked together before, doing amazing things together and with great respect for each other.  While we all had some overlap with each other, there were also a few new relationships formed last evening which is always nice to see.  I love being around really nice, fun and funny people who are all so charitable.  And while we told everyone not to bring anything, they brought magnificent chocolates, a bottle of Bollinger champagne, and ordered flowers (which I need to check with concierge on as we did not get any today).

Jay cooked up a magnificent meal, starting with a Alaskan king crab and prawn bisque which was to die for, followed by osso bucco for some of us and ‘fish and chips’ (Balina Mulloway with taro chips!) for others with caramelized pineapple with lychee sorbet for dessert.  Simply fantastic.

And why is Jay’s food so good?  Bisque from scratch, lychee sorbet from scratch, 15 kilogram Mulloway caught and cleaned by Jay himself – well, you get the point!  And he is an amazing chef who connects with his audience through his food and his personality.

And the wine line-up to match was something also.  We started with the 2006 Annie’s Hill Riesling upon arrival, followed by the 2008 Little’s Gewürztraminer to go with the bisque, the 2004 Thompson Estate (Margaret River) Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Stags Leap (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the osso bucco, and then the 2007 De Iuliis Late Harvest Semillon to match off against dessert..

And if that was not enough, we then cracked into some 1980 Lindeman Vintage Port and had great affogados using the Rutherglen Buller Tokay.  For the late stragglers who still had not had enough, we finished off the magnificent 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz from the night before, and then opened yet another bottle, this time the 2006 Coldstream Hills Cabernet Savignon.

But the amazing thing is that I was so relaxed and comfortably just drinking and enjoying the fellowship, food and wine, that I really did not take the time to think about how the wine tasted in any particular detail.  It was all just really great!

I do remember the 2006 Stags Leap being more complex and like a traditional Bordeaux than the 2004 Thompson Estate, which was lighter, and both being very well balanced and with big fruits.  But that was from a tasting of both wines when I decanted them before the guests arrived.

Therefore, there is no detailed analysis of the wine in this post.  Just a remembrance that with the right people, right food and right wines, you too can have a perfect evening even if you cannot remember much of it!