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Restaurant Files: Flinders Lane – Visiting Australia in Stamford

August 5, 2018 7 comments

Flinders lane Stamford DecorFor those of us who like to travel, why do we like it so much? More often than not, the travel itself is not fun – the stress of the airport, cramped planes with the seats getting narrower by the minute, airline food – it leaves lots to be desired. But once we arrive, it is the experience that makes all those travel troubles worth it – the culture, the people, food, wine – this is what we are looking for.

Visiting Australia is squarely on my “bucket list” – I’m sure one day I will be able to experience the culture. I had been drinking Australian wines for a long time – this doesn’t replace visiting the winery, but it is as close as it can get. When it comes to food, the only place in the USA which can be associated with Australia is a chain of Outback Steakhouse restaurants – they constantly run the ads on the TV, with supposedly an Australian-accented narration – this is as much of the Australian experience as you can get there (the voice in the ad might be the most authentic part of experience).

And then Flinders Lane Australian restaurant opened in Stamford. Of course, when I was invited to visit, I was excited – not as much as if it would be an actual country, but still. I would guess the name of the restaurant takes its roots from one of the oldest streets in Melbourne, Flinders Lane, which now hosts a variety of little shops and the restaurants.

What authentic Australian food should you expect to find at the Flinders Lane? I actually know very little about authentic Australian food, so let’s see: Kangaroo? Check. Vegemite (have you heard of it?  I will explain later)? Check. That’s about all I know, so let’s just talk about our experience.

You have to start the evening with a cocktail, right? Well, even if you disagree, it is still right – and this is what we did. Fresh Grapefruit Mule (Absolut Elyx Vodka, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Lime, Bundaberg Ginger Beer) was very refreshing. Floral Cucumber Margarita (Blanco Tequila, Elderflower, Cucumber, Thai Chili Tincture, Lime, Agave) was different but equally refreshing. Limoncello Collins (Villa Massa Limoncello, Vodka, Lemon, Club Soda) – just look at that presentation, isn’t it too pretty to drink? Nicely lemony and very tasty overall.

If we are talking cocktails, we have to talk about the wines. The wine list is not very large, but diverse and versatile, with reasonable prices and a good selection of wines by the glass. I also was happy to see the Australian wines on the list (which is not common for the most of the restaurants, but hey – if not at Flinders Lane, the Australian restaurant, where else?). I had prior experience with Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre, and this 2014 was outstanding – soft, round, supple, perfectly balanced – it was an excellent accompaniment to our dinner.

The dinner was divided into the courses, so here is what transpired:

Course 1

We started with Arancini (black garlic mayo, pecorino cheese), which were outstanding, very good texture and flavor. Pork Sausage Rolls (sambal mayo) was more of a traditional Australian style (at least this was my understanding), and a very tasty bite. And Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Truffle Soy dressing was perfectly presented just for the single bite – and there are very, very few things which are more delicious than a combination of fresh burrata and heirloom tomato. Yum!

Course 2

Next, we had Tuna Tartare (soy mirin dressing, cucumber, plantain chip) – I’m extremely particular about my tuna tartare, and I have to honestly say that this was not bad, but not my favorite. Something was not matching in the flavor profile – for my palate, of course. Pork and Veal Meatballs (ricotta salata, grilled baguette) were delicious, crispy on the outside, but airy enough inside.

Flinders Lane Diver Scalops

Flinders Lane Kangaroo Salad

Course 3

Truth be told, scallops are probably my most favorite choice of protein. If there is a scallop dish on the menu, there is a very, very good chance that that would be the dish I would pick. Diver Scallops (cashew chili relish, hijiki) didn’t disappoint – perfectly cooked, perfectly spicy – very tasty. And then the Kangaroo salad (chili lime dressing, cilantro, crispy garlic) – my first taste of the kangaroo, lean and gamey taste profile, rather as expected, overall quite tasty.

Course 4

Branzino is another one of my favorites, and this Pan-seared Branzino (sesame ginger broth, bok choy) was excellent – delicious, great flavor combination, might be the tastiest dish of the whole dinner. Of course, you have to have the Australian lamb if you are visiting the Australian restaurant – Braised Lamb Gnocchi (tomato, pecorino) had a nice flavor, but very lamb-y in your face, which is generally not my thing, but overall this was not a bad dish.

Vegemite

Okay, now let’s talk Vegemite. First, the disclaimer – Vegemite was not a part of our dinner – this was something I knew as quite famous in Australia (not always in a good sense) and was very much interested in experiencing, so I asked Chef Brad Stewart if we will be able to try it, and he gladly obliged. If you are wondering what the heck is Vegemite, you can read about it here. It is a paste made from yeast, and it has an extremely (my opinion) pungent flavor. It plays somewhat of a role of peanut butter in the Australian school lunches, typically used a spread on a piece of bread or a toast. I made a mistake of not trying it with butter as it was offered to us, and I can tell you – it is not my thing. But – I tried it, that what matters! 🙂

Flinders lane Sticky date Pudding

Flinders Lane Pavlova

Course 5 – Chef’s selection desserts

Do you think Australians eat dessert? Of course they do – and here what had an opportunity to try

We had Lamington (traditional Australian dessert), Sticky Date Pudding (another traditional Australian dessert and Chef Brad’s grandma’s recipe), Carrot Cake (Chef Brad mom’s recipe) and Pavlova – don’t ask me for individual notes, please – they were all one better than the other, absolutely delightful, and a great finish to our dinner.

 

Here you are, my friends, I hope I didn’t make you too hungry – while you are contemplating your trip to Australia, you can come to Flinders Lane here in Stamford to get a little taste of it now. No boarding pass required. Cheers!

Guest Post: Why You Need to Drink Wines From Victoria, Australia, and Where to Try Them

August 3, 2018 4 comments

Today I want to offer you a guest post by Lucia Guadagnuolo who is a tour host and blogger for Wine Compass. When she’s not traveling or indulging in the fried delights of Southern Italian cooking, Lucia enjoys discovering the ever-changing food and wine scene in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. She’s also recently completed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines.

Becoming well regarded in the wine world for its cool climate expressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise of an Australian wine region. Warm sunny beaches and rugged Australian outback is what we’re used to seeing, and big bold Shiraz is probably what you’re used to drinking. While this might be true for the majority of Australia’s wine producing regions, Victoria, which is located in the South-East of the continent, experiences quite a cool to moderate climate. This, of course, is due to its latitudinal position, but also the cooling breeze from the Southern Ocean. So what does all this mean for those of us interested in exploring more of the wines from Australia? It means subtle, but varied expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The two most planted varieties in the region, in both Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, where most plantings of these varieties are found.

Australia has somewhat of a more relaxed approach to winemaking than some of the more traditional, old world countries. This means winemakers have the freedom to experiment and create wines from many different varieties that rival those of France, Italy and Spain combined. This same creative nature and desire for something different extends to the cellar door experience. Smaller boutique wineries, producing premium wines, are offering an intimate experience for visitors. You’ll often find the winemakers themselves pouring you a tasting, and giving you first-hand knowledge about the wine in your glass. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

So now you know why you should be drinking wines from Victoria, let’s find out the best places to try them…

Yileena Park – Yarra Valley

Carved into a hillside at the base of the Christmas Hills in the Yarra Valley, Yileena Park offers a unique and homely cellar door experience. They make premium wines that really highlight the great quality fruit being grown in the region today. Most of the wines at Yileena Park are aged for a minimum of four years before release, the reserve range is aged for 6 years, and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 8 years before it’s available at the cellar door for purchase and tasting.

While you enjoy your wine, you get to experience endless views of the Steels Creek mountain range and devour a platter of smoked olives, cheeses, nuts and olive oil – all produced using the very barrels that their wines are matured in. Owners Bob and Diane are also always on hand to chat about the current vintage, and those gone by.

Pimpernel Vineyards – Yarra Valley

This quiet little cellar door in the heart of the Yarra Valley, is making a lot of noise in the wine industry, undoubtedly producing some of the best premium wines in Victoria. If you love your Pinot Noir, then you’ll be spoiled for choice with a significant range available and open for tasting. You can even compare different Pinot clones and the different winemaking techniques used to produce wines from each one. They also produce some outstanding Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Shiraz, as well as some amazing blends.

Quealy Winemakers – Mornington Peninsula

A true testament to the Australian spirit of doing things a little bit differently, Quealy Winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula have set the standards in the region for growing unique varieties. The first to plant Pinot Grigio in the region and sell Friulano commercially, they have a range not often seen on the Peninsula. Pioneer winemaker Kathleen Quealy is often on hand at the cellar door to give you an insight into their winemaking techniques, and is always willing to give guests a private tour of the winery. Also, one of the few producers using terracotta amphora to mature their wines, which you’ll be lucky enough to sneak a peak at when you stop by for a tasting.

Ocean Eight – Mornington Peninsula

Set on a beautifully manicured garden landscape, this winery and cellar door really is picture perfect. In fact, the only thing better than the surrounds, are the wines. Not for sale anywhere else in the world outside of this very cellar door, you absolutely must visit Ocean Eight when on the Mornington Peninsula. Their premium range includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Not a huge offering, but what they do, they do extremely well. Enjoy a tasting in their underground cellar, you won’t regret it.

Wine Compass are the Victorian wine country specialists and offer private guided tours of both the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, with bespoke itineraries specifically tailored to you.

 

Samples Galore: Few Wines For The Fall

November 8, 2017 5 comments

Are there different wines for the different seasons? In general, the answer is no. And for sure, in theory, the answer is no. The wines should be paired with food, with mood, with the company, and the actual season should have no effect on your desire to drink Champagne, or Rosé, or ice cold, acidic white or a full-bodied, massive red. Nevertheless, as the temperatures are sliding down, our desire to drink bigger wines proportionally increases. Thus, instead of fighting the trend let’s talk about few wines which would perfectly embellish any cooler autumn night.

So you think we will be only talking about red wines? Nope, we are going to start with the white. Cune Rioja Monopole requires no introduction to the wine lovers – one of the pioneering white Riojas, produced in 1914 for the first time. If you tasted Cune Monopole recently, I’m sure you found it fresh and crips. Turns out, this was not always the style. The traditional, “old school” Monopole was produced as a blend of white grapes (not just 100% Viura), with the addition of a dollop of Sherry (yep, you read it right), and was aged in the oak (read more here). To commemorate 100 years since the inaugural release, Cune produced 2014 Cune Monopole Clásico Blanco Seco (13.2% ABV, $20 ) which is a blend of Viura and other white grapes. After fermentation, a small amount of Manzanilla Sherry from the Hidalgo Sanlúcar de Barrameda was added, and the wine aged in the used Sherry casks for about 8 months. This wine had a great added complexity while remaining fresh and vibrant. Drinkability: 8. You should definitely try it for yourself – if you can find it.

Let’s stay in Spain now for the red. What do you think of the wines from Castilla y León? Castilla y León region is home to some of best of the best in Spain, such as Vega Sicilia and Pingus, both located in Ribera del Duero sub-region. But there are plenty of outstanding wines which are simply designated as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León. Vino de la Tierra is considered a lower quality tier than DO or DOC – but some of the winemakers prefer VdT designation as it gives them a lot more freedom to experiment with the wines.

Case in point – Abadia Retuerta winery. Historical roots of Abadia Retuerta go back almost thousand years when Santa María de Retuerta monastery was built on the banks of Duero River, and the first vines were planted. Today, Abadia Retuerta exercises modern approach to winemaking, which they call “plot by plot” – the winery identifies 54 unique parcels of land, each one with its own terroir – no wonder they find DO rules too limiting for the wines they are creating. Here are my [more formal] notes for 2013 Abadia Retuerta Sardon De Duero Selección Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León – Sardon De Duero (13.5% ABV, $30, 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and other red varieties such as Merlot and Petit Verdot):
C: dark garnet
N: inviting, bright, ripe cherries, mint, roasted meat, very promising, cedar box
P: wow, smooth, layered, luscious, fresh fruit, ripe, cherries, sweet oak, excellent balance
V: 8, lots of pleasure

Now, let’s quickly jump to the other side of the Earth – to Australia, it is. If we are talking about Australia, you probably expect the subject of the discussion will be Shiraz – and this is a perfect guess. The story of Two Hands winery started in 1999 when two friends decided to start making world-class wines showcasing capabilities of different Australian regions, starting with Barossa. Gnarly Dude is one of the wines made by Two Hands, and the name here comes from the way the old Shiraz vines look like. Here are my notes for the 2016 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.8% ABV, $35, 100% Shiraz)
C: dark ruby
N: fresh blackberries, baking spice, tobacco
P: more blackberries, pepper, save, savory notes, medium to full body, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+, very nice overall

Let’s go back to Europe – to Italy to be more precise. Italy is home to lots and lots of world-famous producers, but there are still a few which have more of a “legend” status. One of such producers is Gaja – anyone who is into the wine would immediately jump off the chair at the slightest opportunity to drink Gaja wines.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino (1)Gaja is most famous for their Piedmont reds – Barolo and Barbaresco. It appears that in addition to the first two Bs (Barolo and Barbaresco), the third “B” group of wines is not foreign to Gaja – if you thought “Brunello”, you were right. Gaja acquired Pieve Santa Restituta estate in Montalcino in 1994, its first venture outside of Piedmont. A “Pieve” is a parish church, and the estate was named after the church which is still present on site – the winemaking history of the estate can be traced all the way back to the 12th century.

In 2005, Gaja produced the first vintage of non-vineyard designated Brunello di Montalcino wine from Pieve Santa Restituta estate – the wine is a blend of Sangiovese Grosso grapes from 4 different vineyards. I had an opportunity to taste 2012 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (15% ABV, $75, 100% Sangiovese Grosso, 12 months in barrel, 12 months in Botti). I have one single word which would be enough to describe the experience – and the word is “Superb”. The wine had an intense welcoming nose which was unmistakably Italian – ripe cherries and leather. The palate? Where do I start… velvety, perfectly extracted, dense, firmly structured, ripe cherries, lavender, sweet oak, impeccable balance. And dangerous, very dangerous – once you start, you can’t stop (nevermind the 15% ABV). Drinkability: 9

What are your favorite wines to enjoy in the Fall? Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: An Australian Score

October 29, 2017 3 comments

I pride myself with very wide wine horizon. I scout wines from literally everywhere in the world – China, Japan, Croatia, Bulgaria or Hawaii – bring it on, the more obscure, the better, I will be happy to try them all.

Nevertheless, a majority of my daily drinking evolves around Italy, Spain, and California, with a little injection of France. The rest of the wine regions make a very sporadic appearance at our house – without any prejudice or malicious intent – just stating the fact.

Nevermind China and Japan, which are still going through an adolescence as wine producing countries – let’s talk about Australia instead. About 20 years ago Australia was leading wine imports in the USA. As you would enter a wine store, you were greeted with countless Australian wine selections.

Today, Australian wines are relegated to the back shelves, and they are definitely not on top of the wine consumer’s mind (in the USA for sure). Ups and downs are hard to analyze in the wine world (think of the devastating effect of the movie Sideways on Merlot consumption), and such an analysis is definitely not the point of this post, no matter how interesting such a discussion could’ve been.

As I stated before, Australian wines are rare guests at our table, and this is not deliberate – I enjoyed lots and lots of excellent Australian wines, and have an utmost respect to what this country can deliver. I’m always ready to seize an opportunity to try an Australian wine, especially if it comes with a recommendation.

Such recommendation can present itself in lots of different ways – a friend, a magazine, an Instagram post, a tweet – or an offer from the Last Bottle Wines, especially during the Last Bottle’s infamous Marathon events. During the Last Bottle Marathon, you can buy the wines in single bottle quantities, which I like the most as you can create your own tasting collection quickly and easily.

If the wine is offered for sale by the Last Bottle, it definitely serves as an endorsement for me. The folks at Last Bottle know the wines – if they offer something, it means the wine really worth trying. During the last Marathon, the 2015 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) attracted my attention. I don’t know what made me click the “buy” button –  the name “Gemtree” (sounds interesting, isn’t it?), or the word ‘Uncut” (again, this somehow sounds cool to me as well), but I did click that button quickly.  You see, you only have a split second to get the wine – you blink, you lose – and I scored the bottle of this Australian Shiraz.

I pulled the bottle from the wine fridge, twisted the top and poured into the glass. Dark ruby color, a whiff of the blackberries. The palate had a tremendous amount of salinity over the crunchy blackberries – I guess this was an effect of drinking this wine at a cellar temperature. But it was still attractive. While admiring the simple label I saw the word which made me very curious – “Biodynamic”, and then the back label provided lots more information about how this wine was made. To me, “sustainable” is a very important wine keyword, and whatever extras “biodynamic” entails, the biodynamic wine is always a sustainable wine – and it is definitely important for me.

After warming up, the wine became generous, layered, showed soft tannins and perfect crunchy backbone of dark fruit with some dark chocolate notes and touch of a spicy bite – all perfectly balanced and delicious (Drinkability: 8+). The name “Gemtree” kept me intrigued, and the picture on the label was very attractive in its simplicity, so I went to the Gemtree Wines website to learn a bit more. I rarely quote from the winery websites, but I think in this case this is quite appropriate (here is the link to the source):

This is our Gemtree story…

There was once a tree. Not the tallest tree, nor the oldest tree, but a tree that had put its roots in just the right part of the paddock. Here the soil was deep and layered – sometimes hard and rocky, elsewhere soft and sandy – and the wind had just enough room to move, and even the rain – when it was kind enough to visit – would fall evenly and gently.

Because of its favoured position, the grasses grew tall against its trunk, and the wild flowers were easily encouraged to grow closely around it, and the insects and birds that looked to trees for shelter and for vantage, eagerly moved in.

One day a farmer approached the tree and wondered: “You do not grow the strongest, nor the fastest, so why is it that you grow the best fruit?”

The tree let the answer whisper through the wind in its branches: “If I am shown a patient mind and a gentle hand, if I am left to follow the rhythms of my seasons – to rest in Winter; to revive in Spring; to make busy in Summer; and to provide in Fall – then I can offer fruit that tastes not just of the ground upwards, but also of the sky downwards, and of everything around me.”

The farmer thought to himself: “This is truly a Gemtree – it takes only what it can give back to the land, it contributes to its surroundings, and it provides for those that live around it.”

This is the heart of the Gemtree story: growing better wine ~ naturally.

Here you are, my friends. I don’t know how often you drink Australian wines, but Gemtree is definitely the name to keep in mind for your next round of wines from down under – I think you will be happy with your score. Cheers!

Samples Galore – Holiday Edition

December 28, 2016 3 comments

Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de BlancsOver the last few months, I had an opportunity to try a number of wines. What I didn’t do in timely fashion, however, is to share the tasting notes with you – and this needs to be corrected, which I’m doing with this post.

While I call this post a “holiday edition”, this is strictly due to the fact that this post is coming out during the most festive time of the year. It might be too late to use any of these wines for the gift giving, but you know what – these wines will be perfect for any day, whether it is cold or warm outside, and whether you need a gift or just want to reward yourself (yep, you always deserve an award for just being you).

Let’s start with the sparkling wine – I have one to bring to your attention today. This wine comes from the master of “affordable luxury” Paul Mas (I wrote about his wines a few times in the past – you can find those posts here). This Blanc de Blancs from Languedoc is made out of Chardonnay using the traditional method, and it perfectly on par with Paul Mas sparklers I tasted before:

NV Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle Vin de France (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Chardonnay)
N: Pleasant nose with touch of yeast and fresh apples
P: Restrained palate, good acidity, clean, touch Of yeast, hint of Granny Smith apples.
V: 7+

Let’s continue with a few of the white wines. First, one of my perennial favorites – Hanna Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted prior vintages of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, and this is one of my most favorite styles of California Sauvignon Blanc – grassy, fresh and clean:

2015 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County (13.2% ABV, $20)
C: straw pale
N: intense, fresh-cut grass, touch of lemon, fresh meadows, you can smell this wine forever.
P: nicely restrained, same grassy notes, touch of black currant (distant hint), perfect balance, refreshing
V: 8+

The next white wine comes from the very creative producer in Oregon – Left Coast Cellars, which also not a stranger to this blog – I had a pleasure of speaking (virtually) with Luke McCollom, winemaker for Left Coast Cellars and taste some of the previous vintages of their wines (here are the links to the two-part interview  – Part 1 and Part 2). You can’t go wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris – today this is literally a “classic”:

2015 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (13.7% ABV, $18)
C: Straw pale color
Touch of honeysuckle on the nose once warmed up, White stone fruit initially
Closed up while cold, white ripe fruit once warmed up, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+

Last but not least is Les Dauphins Côté du Rhône. Rhone whites are fun wines, often very dry in the early years, and “ripening up” as they age. This was unquestionably a young wine which most likely would improve with age:

2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc (12.5% ABV, $11, 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Viognier)
C: Light golden
N: touch of honey, white stone fruit
P: white stone fruit, herbs, good acidity, quite astringent
V: 7+, will hold well with and without food

Now, time for the reds. The reds today represent a diverse group, from Australia to Italy to the USA. At the beginning of November, I participated in the #winechat with Michael Twelftree, winemaker for Tow Hands Wines out of Australia. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss three wines from Two Hands – two classic Shiraz wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale regions, and a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Two Hands Wines2014 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: espresso, roasted meat, licorice, blackberries
P: spice, plums, big concentration, touch of salinity, smooth texture, velvety and dusty
V: 8-, good rendition of Shiraz. The wine completely reversed on the Day 2, closed up.

2014 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale ($14.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, powdery, eucalyptus, mocca, licorice, tobacco
P: peppery finish, round, restrained, excellent acidity, bright and crispy red fruit
V: 7+, probably needs time

2015 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of cassis, closed
P: smooth, round, nice cassis backbone, mint, restrained
V: 7/7+, too young, needs time to rest and evolve

Two Italian wines were probably my favorite in this group – Cecchi Chianti and Alta Mora from Sicily:

2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG (13% ABV, $22, 90% Sangiovese, 10% other grapes)
C: Garnet
N: dark red fruit, dark chocolate, touch of smoke, roasted notes
P: fresh, vibrant, good acidity, touch of pepper, hint of tobacco, crashed raspberries, firm structure
V 8-/8, very enjoyable from get go, will evolve

2014 Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Rosso DOC (14% ABV, $24, 100% Nerello Mascalese)
C: dark garnet
N: playful, open, cherries, mocca,
P: bright, mouthwatering acidity, tart cherries without too much astringency, pronounced minerality, medium body, dry finish
V: 8-

And to finish off, here are two classic grapes – Merlot and Pinot Noir:

2014 Markham Merlot Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $26, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah)
C: garnet
N: touch of cassis, mint, alcohol presence is noticeable, dark chocolate
P: round, soft, clean acidity, touch of cassis, underripe raspberries, alcohol and tannins show a bit on their own, peppery finish
V: 7/7+, needs more time? second day definitely showed to wine as more coherent (7+), but it would benefit from more time

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: Dark garnet
N: Mocca, sage, roasted notes, touch of mushrooms, savory undertones
P: Fresh raspberries, mint, herbs, touch of roasted meat, fresh acidity, mouthwatering finish, medium body, easy to drink
V: 8-, easy to drink, pleasant

We are done here. Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Daily Glass: 17 Years Old Beauty

December 22, 2015 5 comments

Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa ValleyAbsolute majority of the 17 years old are beautiful. Well, at least when it comes to the people. With the wines, this can be a different story. 17 years old in the wine terms is quite an age – some of those 17 years old are slender and muscular, and some are flabby, tired, and barely stand on their feet. And the beauty of the wine is that you can’t know how the wine will be – until you get the bottle opened.

I have to admit that I had no expectations before opening this bottle of 1998 Shiraz from Australia. Aged Australian wines are hard to come by in US, thus I have very little experience with that class of wines. And having no expectations around the wines is generally good, as it often saves you from disappointment. However, I’m sure that you deduced from the title of this post that there was nothing disappointing about my experience.

Dutschke family owned the parcel of land with a few vineyards on it in Barossa valley in Australia since the end of the 19th century. In the late 1900 the grape plantings increased, with most of the grapes been sold to the other wineries. The first wines under the Dutschke name were produced only starting in 1990. Which makes the wine which I opened today one of the early wines produced at the winery.

As I opened the bottle of the 1998 Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa Valley (15% ABV, $25?), the first nice observation was perfect condition of the cork – not a sign of age. The color was very dark garnet – again, not a sign of age. And the smell – wow – concentrated fresh berries, lavender, sandalwood – bright and uplifting. Then the best part – the wine needed no breathing time. Pour, sip and enjoy the exuberance of the fresh berries, savory herbs, dark power, perfect structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. If I wouldn’t check the label, I would’ve never known the wine was 15% ABV – overall, it was perfectly integrated and perfectly enjoyable (Drinkability: 8+/9-). And then the wine just was.

Wish you lots of small pleasures this holiday season. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Humbled By The Wine (Again)

March 14, 2015 11 comments

The inner snob (unsilenceable). The charade of expectation. All together in a conundrum. Yeah, I know I’m not making sense. Please allow me to explain myself.

Just came back after a small party at a friend, who doesn’t drink much, but always makes sure he has an ample wine supply for the guests. He stores wines in the dark, cold room in the basement, so the conditions are good. But the wines sometimes get lost there. Not in any bad sense – they simply might stay there for years.

When he brought up a magnum of 2004 (!) Rosemount Shiraz/Cabernet Sauivignon South Eastern Australia (53% Shiraz, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% ABV), the inner snob made a quick assessment  – “oh, sh!t”, he said. I just recently had bad experience with 2005 Shiraz, which was supposed to be magnificent, but was not, and with 2012 Shiraz of a [supposedly] high pedigree, so you have to excuse that little snob guy. Rosemount is a well known producer from Australia, but it is a mass-producer, and this Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon from a current vintage can be acquired today for a whooping $7 on average, according to the wine-searcher. So $7 wine, aged for 11 years – what would you expect? I would assume you see the conundrum now.

Well, there is only way to find out – the truth is in the glass, right? The wine is poured, and it is … delicious. Inviting nose of the dark fruit, nothing extra. On the palate – plums, blackberries, touch of spices, sweet oak, soft tannins, very present acidity and overall, very balanced wine. The wine was delivering lots of pleasure, and as one glass was finished, the next one was desired almost immediately. Drinkability: 8-

So here is the story, of the humbled snob and exceeded expectations (greatly exceeded). Is there a moral here? I think there is, and it is rather simple: give the wine a chance. You never know what is in the bottle – whether it is $7 or $107 bottle of wine, you still don’t know it. Yes, you have expectations, but the ultimate truth is inside of your glass. Stay humble, my friends, but expect the best. Cheers!

What To Drink During #ShirazWeek

February 21, 2015 10 comments

ShirazWeekYep, another wine holiday is upon us. This time, it is a week-long holiday, so you will surely get your opportunity to celebrate. What holiday, you ask? #ShirazWeek. Yep, the whole week dedicated to the Shiraz wines.

As we know, Shiraz is just a different name for the grape called Syrah, one of the most popular red grapes in the world. Today Syrah is literally growing everywhere – France, Spain, Italy, even Portugal, United States, Chile, Israel, South Africa, Australia and many others. But – what is the first country which comes to mind when you hear the word Shiraz? For me, the answer is simple – Australia.

Australia is one and only wine making country where you will not find wines called Syrah (well, may be you can, but with extreme difficulties). South Africa is probably next – most of South African Syrah wines are called “Shiraz”. For the rest of the world, Chile is often uses the name Shiraz, and you can find some of US wines called Shiraz as well (quite rare – Syrah prevails by a huge margin), and then it is Syrah all the way.

Shiraz is most popular red grape in Australia, with the plantings been second largest in the world after France. A quick question for you – do you know where the oldest, continuously producing Shiraz vines are located? Well, yeah, I’m sure it was easy to figure out in the context – yes, in Australia, in Barossa Valley, planted in 1847, now reaching a tender age of almost 170 years. Over the years Shiraz had its ups and downs, with the vineyards ripped out, including the old vines, with overproduction and quality problems – but it still remains Australia’s darling, and a world-class wine on its own, well worthy of a celebration. Shiraz is produced everywhere in Australia, but Barossa, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale are probably the most famous regions for that wine.

Now, let’s talk about what to drink in honor of the #ShirazWeek. Of course I don’t think you should be drinking Shiraz for the whole week – but then you should do whatever you think is right – I’m merely here to provide some suggestions. As a self-made oenophile, I went through lots of Australian wines the bargain aisle has to offer – I had my fair share of Yellow Tail, Rosemount, Wolf Blass and Lindeman’s – the wines that comprise the glory and the curse of the Australian wine industry. But – I’m sure you don’t need my advice with that group. Let me instead suggest some names which I think would be worthy of your attention. The list below has no particular order – but these are all the producers I can related to, one way or the other. While some of these wines will be more expensive than the others, I don’t expect you to need to break the bank to taste any of them, so don’t be concerned.

d’Arenberg – very well known producer in McLaren Vale, with many family generations involved in the winemaking. Footbolt Shiraz (under $20) and Dead Arm Shiraz (around $70) both worth your attention.

Jim Barry – Jim Barry is a well known producer in the Clare Valley. While they make a number of wines, the one I particularly recommend is Jim Barry McRae Wood ($50), a single vineyard Shiraz – very focused and delicious.

Two Hands Wines – their wines are exuberant, over the top, and never shy in alcohol – but they also manage to achieve an impeccable balance. Try whatever you can get your hands on. The wines are generally priced in the $30 – $100 range.

Mollydooker Wines – a wonderful producer in McLaren Vale. I love the way their wines are named – Carnival of Love, Blue Eyed Boy or Two Left Feet, for instance. Again, try anything you can get. Similarly to the Two Hands, their wines are priced in the $25 – $100 range.

Henry’s Drive – a producer in Padthaway in South Australia. I came across their Dead Letter Office Shiraz as a recommendation from Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column, where 2005 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was rated as Delicious!, a highest honors in the Tastings column. I had an opportunity to taste and concur – and according to the Wine-Searcher, the 2005 is still available online at $26.

Pirramimma – a producer in McLaren Vale. I have to be honest – I never tried their wines, but – the 2005 Shiraz was listed in that exact same Tastings column with exact same Delicious! rating, hence my recommendation. I have a bottle of this wine, and will probably follow my recommendation soon.

Elderton Wines – another great producer from Barossa. I had an opportunity to try 2002 Elderton Command Shiraz, and this wine was simply stunning. It will set you back about $90 or so – but in that price category, it is well worth every penny.

M. Chapoutier – best known for their French Syrah wines, M. Chapoutier started producing Shiraz in Victoria, Australia in 2002. Tasting 2011 Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz was literally a mind-blowing experience and it was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the last year (here is my post). At less than $15, this might be the best Shiraz you can ever taste at a price.

There are lots and lots more Shiraz producers in Australia – as I said before, the list above only includes wines I can relate to, so feel free to suggest your favorites.

And just in case money are no object, I would like to suggest two Shiraz wines I didn’t have the opportunity to taste, but they should be able to provide a holistic experience, at least based on the price ($600+) and according to the people who tasted them. I’m talking about Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill Of Grace Shiraz Eden Valley – both wines should be absolutely magnificent – but I will let you confirm or deny it in case you had the firsthand experience.

Now you are ready to celebrate the #ShirazWeek – and don’t forget to share your experiences on the AussieWine web site. Drop me a note too – I want to know what is in your glass and how do you like it. Cheers!

 

Syrah – Nice and Spectacular, Plus a Case Buy Recommendation

April 20, 2014 13 comments

Syrah wines have a special status in our house – this is my wife’s most favorite type of wine, so I’m always trying to keep some on hand. With the status of “favorite”, it is customary for us to open a bottle of Syrah for different celebratory occasions. Sometimes, Friday feels like a special occasion (I’m sure you can easily relate to that), so yes, Syrah it was.

I was thinking about opening this wine for a while. As I don’t employ any cellar organization systems, neither software nor paper, I simply have a general idea of the wines I have, and then I get more opportunities to touch many bottles in the search of one to be opened. I noticed that particular Syrah bottle during few of the recent searches, so I was mentally getting ready to part with it (most of the bottles I have are in the single bottle quantities, so yes, I need some mental prep to deal with that). Thus when the Friday came, it was an easy decision – it will will be a Syrah Friday (well, to be entirely honest, Syrah Friday decision was made on Thursday, but I don’t think it matters here all that much).

Saint Joseph Offerus

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV), a 100% Syrah from Northern Rhone appellation. Just to give a you a bit of the reference, J.L Chave (Jean-Louis Chave) represents the latest generation of the winemaking family from Northern Rhone. Their first Hemitage wine was produced in 1481. Try to remember J.L. Chave name next time you are looking for the Rhone wines, you can’t go wrong with their wines.

Talking about this 2003 Syrah – no sign of age on the color – dark, concentrated garnet ruby. On the nose, the wine had a whiff of the barnyard, which I personally find very attractive, and some dark fruit. The palate was showing more of the dark fruit, plums and blackberries, with a touch of minerality and clean acidity. Elegant, round, perfectly structured, full bodied, with spicy kick in the back and long finish. The bottle disappeared without a trace. I think “restrained elegance” would be the best descriptor for this wine. Drinkability: 8

And then there was another Syrah. About a week ago, I got an e-mail from PJ Wine,  one of the best wine stores in New York, describing “secret” Shiraz. That wine was made by an excellent French producer, Michel Chapoutier (a seventh generation winemaker himself), in Australia, and it had 94 rating by Robert Parker, while priced under $12. I generally don’t buy the wines based on ratings, and I also consider that we have a “palate misalignment” with Mr. Parker, but 94 points and $12 is definitely something to think about. When I saw the wine in my local Cost Less Wines, I simply had to get it (it was $14.99 here in CT).

Tournon Shiraz

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV) – screw top is off, wine is poured. Bright ruby color in the glass. First smell and the very first reaction – what is it? Really? Pepper? Wow! Yes, peppery notes are the signature of the Syrah grape – but I’m used to finding it after the sip, not in-you-face once you smell the wine. Here it was – bright, fresh black pepper, as I was smelling the pepper mill instead of a glass. The first sip extends the “wow” moment even further – it is a rare luck in my experience, when there is a full match between the smell and the taste. Here is was – freshly ground black pepper, perfectly present without overpowering the taste. The black pepper was elegantly weaved into a core of red plums and tart cherries – delicious, sip after sip. This was definitely an exciting wine – clean, elegant, alive, sexy and vibrant. The grapes for this wine were macerated for 2-3 weeks in stainless steel and cement tanks for the better tannins extraction, and then aged for 12 month in stainless steel and cement tanks (no oak!). A pure expression of a beautiful Syrah. This is the wine to be experienced – and to buy by the case. It is gone at PJ Wine, unfortunately, but according to the wine-searcher, it is still available in the number of other stores find this wine. I don’t say it too often, but I feel this is very appropriate now – this is the wine to buy by the case! Drinkability: 9

That concludes the tale of two Syrah wines. While Offerus was very classic old world version, the Tournon Mathilda was definitely an eye-opener for me – if you can find this wine, you should experience it just to get acquainted with Syrah in its pure expression – it was a very delicious encounter for me. And I guess I need to look for more Robert Parker recommended wines – either his palate is changing, or may be its mine… Cheers!

 

Weekly Wine Quiz #73: Grape Trivia – Sémillon

September 14, 2013 11 comments
Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, as shown in Wikipedia

Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, as shown in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is Sémillon.

Sémillon is a white grape, once considered the most planted grape in the world. One interesting fact is that the origin of Sémillon is not easy to pinpoint – while working on this quiz, I went through quite a few articles on Internet and even books, and it is hard to find any historical data outside of the fact that Sémillon was very popular in the early 19th century throughout the world. In the early 19th century, over the 90% of all grape plantings in South Africa was Sémillon – considering its popularity, it was simply called Wyndruif, the “wine grape”. Today, Sémillon occupies roughly 1% of the grape plantings in South Africa. It is still the most planted white grape in Bordeaux, where it is used in the production of most of the white wines, from dry wines of Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Entre-deux-mers, to the spectacular dessert jewels of Sauternes and Barsac. Sémillon plantings exist in many other winemaking countries – Australia, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, California and Washington in US – but you rarely hear about Sémillon, as it is mostly used as a blending grape. Well, this might be changing – but we will not be talking about it in the quiz.

The issue with Sémillon is that under normal growing conditions, it tends to produce plump and dull wines, the wines which are not showing much of the aromatics and have very low acidity. When the grape is forced to work hard, it can produce amazing wines. In Sauternes, Sémillon is typically affected by Botrytis cinerea, the noble rot, which leads to the shriveling of the grapes which concentrates the sugar – dessert wines produced from such shriveled grapes are some of the best in the world (Châteaud’Yquem, anyone?) – they also make some of the longest living wines in the world, being capable of ageing for 100 years and beyond. In Australia’s Hunter Valley region, the grapes are exposed to the harsh climate with the high level of humidity, which leads to the grapes accumulating high level of acidity. Hunter Valley Sémillon is known to age very well, and the wines also improve with age quite significantly.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Name a grape, primary blending partner of Sémillon

Q2: Below is the list of years. There is something common between all of them (and of course it has a relationship with Sémillon) – do you know what is common among those years?

1930, 1952, 1964, 1974, 2012

Q3: Ture or False: Sauternes produces only sweet wines

Q4: Name a key factor for the great tasting dry Sémillon wines

Q5: What is Semageddon?

There is nothing wrong with answering even only one question from the quiz – your participation is always appreciated! Also, without any regard to the questions, please share your personal experiences with Sémillon wines.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!