Tag Archives: Australia

RECIPE – Hake and scallops with a red pepper and fennel purée and grilled aubergines

 

Last night, herself brought home glistening fresh hake and “some scallops, for a treat”. Four whacking great kings, as it happened. Treat indeed.

Foraging in the fridge for potential accompaniments I came across a bulb of fennel, complete with fronds that looked like it could do with eating up. From the fruit bowl, a pristine red pepper winked at me. Improvisation, something I do a lot of, became the buzzword. I chopped both into small pieces, added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to get more oomph – a good tip, this – and boiled them in a light stock. Then, out with the stick blender, whizz them into a purée and back on a low heat. Taste. Add a little salt, must have been a very light stock. More blending, needs to be smoother. Taste again. Hmmm… not quite there. “Cooking on my feet”, I added a tiny splash of Cognac and a slight swirl of cream. Oh yes, joy.

While this was going on I was fettling aubergines on the ridged griddle. I always cut them on the bias into slices, looks pretty and, after experimenting, I’m convinced it gives a nicer texture and better flavour. Got the griddle raging hot. Put the slices on and sprinkled some cumin and some truffle salt on the topside, gave them a minute or so then drizzled a little olive oil over. When the underneath showed dark brown char-lines (3-4 mins) I turned them over and anointed the slices with more cumin, salt and oil. Turn them back and forth a couple of times, you can get a nice lattice effect with the charring if you want. As soon as they were cooked through I put the slices into a low oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile the matchstick chips were pirouetting nicely in the Actifry (see review http://forkncork.com/on-test-tefal-actifry/ here), aided and abetted by a tablespoon of goose fat.

The hake was lightly floured and then pan-fried 2-3 mins per side. The griddle sorted the scallops a treat, lovely caramelisation, two minutes tops. Re-heated the purée, brought it altogether and plated up.

What’s that? Oh yes, there are peas in the piccy. Yes, petit pois (frozen) with a heap of chopped garden mint, a little butter and a grind of black pepper. Because I thought the palette would be improved by a touch of green and surprise, surprise, I didn’t have any ‘samfer’ to hand.

 

This repast was accompanied a treat by Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling 2008, a Clare Valley superstar and one of my favourite wines.

 

4 hake fillets

4 king scallops

flour, pepper and salt to dust hake

oil for frying (olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed to choice)

 

1 large aubergine cut on the bias into 20mm slices

truffle or sea salt

powdered cumin

extra virgin olive oil for the purée (which can be made in advance)

 

1 large bulb fennel, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds

dash of cognac

1 tbsp single cream

2 cupfuls water or light stock

 

Something green!

Serves 4. Instructions in the text above.

WHAT THIS PLACE REALLY NEEDS IS A NICE COALMINE

One of my normal occupations at this time of year is to draw up a list of wine heroes – The ‘Grape Expectations’ Awards for those individuals or companies who’ve gone the extra mile to bring us decent drinking. It’s very much a virtual award, no plaques or tacky glassware, no framed certificates, just a nod in the direction of the good guys. This year, however, it’s the bad guys who are occupying my thoughts. Like the villains of this piece.

An Aussie friend, Ian Parmenter, public face of Tasting Australia, Adelaide’s prestigious biennial food and wine festival, lives in Margaret River, Western Australia. It’s a significant wine area, making its mark in particular with top notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay majoring on subtlety and charm, without the full-throttle intensity of those from hotter regions. Margaret River is home to esteemed producers like Cullen, Mosswood, Vasse Felix, Xanadu, Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle, Howard Park and more. Many of the wineries boast highly-rated restaurants.

A coastal area, it enjoys a warm, maritime climate. The core of the region is the attractive town of Margaret River itself. Throughout the area, scenic delights are manifold – beaches for walking or surfing, rivers for the fisherman, rolling hills, Karri Forest, everywhere abundant wildlife. The locals have encouraged tourism and developed it while maintaining the region’s beauty – there are no theme parks here. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is, I’ve visited four times and Margaret River has never lost its attraction. Alas, Ian tells me there are signs that the idyll could be about to end.

King Coal is the reason. The black dictator that scarred the face of a once rural England, Scotland and Wales has raised his ugly head again. A company called Vasse Coal has submitted proposals for a coal mine at Osmington, a mere 15k away from the town of Margaret River, with seams under the region. Two further proposals are on file. As old Bob Dylan wrote “Money doesn’t talk, it swears” – Ian informs me there’s every likelihood that the Western Australian authorities might give this nebulous scheme the go-ahead.

Barmy, criminal, suicidal or what? We complain daily and with justification about our own politicians but I don’t think even Cowen, Lenihan and Co would sanction mining for coal under the Ring of Kerry.

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2010 – ADELAIDE DIARY

Day 8

Kicks off very quietly, like one of those old blacky-white colonial-themed movies. “I can’t stand it, Carruthers. The drums have stopped; it’s too demmed quiet out there.” The media room is deserted as I saunter down for my crossants and multiple espressi. Oh, Jesus, it’s only 5.30.

The inner insomniac strikes again! Hard to sleep when it’s so hot. For a person who is pretty conversant with emerging technology how come I can never figure how to work an hotel air-conditioning system? Why is it I always end up with the heating stuck on the ‘American Tourist GTi’ setting? Why do I never seem able to summon up the temerity to seek help from hotel staff? I draft a curt note and leave it meekly on the reception counter. It reads “Please set room air conditioning to minimum. Thank you. 912.”

I go walkabout in a deserted Adelaide, which would be a very pretty town if they knocked down all the utilitarian modern architecture and just left the huge and sympatico parks and fab churches, returning an hour or two later to find my colleagues have eaten all the croissants and taken up all the space at the computer stations. Clearly they have been as tardy about sending copy home as I have and are now breaking their fingers to recover lost time and meet once far-away but now imminent deadlines.

Outside, along the Torrens, the public are flocking to the fair. The ‘boating lake’ is busy once more and the local sailing club has organized racing for Cadet dinghies. The young crews seem much more sporting than the precocious little bastards at Bolton SC. No, well, not much, illegal pumping of sails; no NSPs (non-sailing parents) on the bank doing their F1 Team Manager thing – binoculars draped around neck and screaming “Nigel! For godsakes bloody tack now!” Here, it’s all very civilized.

I mosey back to the hotel and do an interview with a local radio man and another with Evan Kleiman whose weekly ‘Good Food’ programme, produced by Harriet Ells is a great reason for tuning into Los Angeles radio station KCRW. The interview is here http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/# It’s the third one on the programme called ‘Compostable/disposable’, no sniggers please

For lunch I go to Mongkok on Gouger Street, a northern Chinese restaurant recommended by the nice student serving in the coffee shop I breakfasted in on day one. Despite her recommendation it’s not that cheap – doubtless there’s a special tariff for attractive Chinese students – but it is very good. I had a searing hot beef dish. I also came across – in Pitt Street, I think – a Korean butcher with sit down barbecue tables in the adjacent room. How good is that for saving on shoe leather, if not air miles. Truly Adelaide is full of sendipitious culinary surprises. After lunch I track down the Chinese herbalist and buy shedloads of ginseng; also a patent catarrh cure I’d recommend to anyone, consisting of little black balls, like large beads of caviar – you take 8 at a go, three times a day. Farewell, Dublin’s winter at last.

In the afternoon the Barossa boys turn out in force. Big Bob Mclean, legend in anyone’s lunchtime tells me he enjoys a bottle of ‘stickie’ for breakfast. “Surely you mean with breakfast, Bob?” “No, for” he emphasizes, with a guffaw of a laugh. Louisa Rose from Yalumba struggles in with an Imperial (that’s six bottles in one) sized monster of the impressive Signature Shiraz. She doesn’t trust any of us to pour.

At some point I have to go up and put on what Rankin calls “your dining t-shirt” for the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards Dinner. I decide to confound him by wearing a jacket and tie. After some deliberation I ditch the tie. It is Australia, dammit. At the do I am pleasant and polite to all but of course inwardly seething because the purple prose of my restaurant reviewing didn’t make the podium. Still, one of my NZ chums, Margaret Brooker picked up a Silver Ladle for her children’s cookbook so I was slightly mollified. Rankin makes a fine speech, name-checking me as the man who led him astray in 2005. Fame of a sort, I suppose.

Good to rendezvous with WA’s noted wine writer and old buddy Peter Forrestal again. Forrie was in good form. The après nosh seemed a much lower key event than last time. Didn’t get to cavort in my customary energetic dance sequence with the delightful Maggie Beer, shame that.

Not too late a night. We are leaving for the amazing Kangaroo Island at first light. And the air conditioning has been turned down to 18. Bliss.

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2010 – ADELAIDE DIARY

DAY 3

Up early – can’t seem to sleep beyond 5.15 at the minute, in whatever time zone. Walkabout for massive glass of squeezed fruit juice – orange, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, that will do nicely. Then weakened and nipped into Arcade for 2 x double shot flat whites and a bacon butty. Nice Chinese girl directed me to a restaurant called ‘Mongok’ – “spicy and cheap, I’m a student, need cheap”. Nothing changes.

Nipped into a couple of wine merchants. Prices in Oz have crept up to approaching ours (or maybe ours have come down). The revelation was NZ Oyster Bay Sauv B for which they charge around Aus$20 and make your feel they are doing you a favour for letting it go so cheap. Currently you can buy it in Dublin for the equivalent of Aus$14-15 are the Kiwis dumping here?

On a whim grabbed the guitar and caught tram to Glenelg, the Adelaiders’ nearest seaside scene. A strange, quiet, pleasant-though-faded resort – redolent maybe of the ones on the Bristol Channel, Weston SM, Portishead that I remember from trips on ‘the diesel’ from Temple Meads in my teens. Sat on beach and learned new song – played it to the seagulls because the locals don’t do that beaches and autumn thing.

Then went for oysters – rocks from Coffin Bay, much saltier/spicier than normal gigas and altogether a good eat.

Back to Adelaide, stowed the box and hiked up to Gouger for a late lunch. I love the Star of Siam – some of the freshest Thai food you’d get anywhere, enhanced by sensitive cooking. Always a buzz too. As is usual in SA, eating alone does not mean ‘eating alone’. A couple of nice solicitors (oxymoron, I know) invited me to join their table and I learned an expression new to me – “a cleansing ale”; a bon mot and habit I will henceforth adopt. Characteristically this led on to more cleansing ales and a few glasses of uncleansing Sauvignon Blanc. Oops, it’s half past five!

Back to the Hyacon, where my cronies are rocking up. Met Bisham, unbowed despite his amazing experiences in the Taj Mahal Mumbai and enthuisiastic as ever. Paul Rankin came in and greeted me like a long lost bro, or maybe in view of the horseplay that ensued the following week, ‘father’ would be more appropriate (more anon). Press room now up and running. In the longe I found Tom and Kaylene Murray, Rick Allen, Brenda Christian and David Bowden. Also greeted by that very nice guy/great chef Shannon Bennet from Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Cue for more oysters – Coffin Bays and Tassies (sweeter) – waved down with good Eden Valley Riesling.

In evening to house of Michael Angelis. Found Maggie Beer in the kitchen, flashing that 1000 watt and dead genuine smile. Treated to seafood festival – oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, clams, various white fish, smoked salmon and thg best taramasalata I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful wines too and some Talisker 10 to top off the evening. Most generous hospitality – it will live long in the memory. Met 80-something going on 16 Manchester Manmwho’s a TV gardening expert legend on Oz.

Later to a quiescent Apothecary with AWT and Rankin. Last time I was there the place was pure people – ebullient chefs, mostly. But then it was 11.45 at night. Bish found us as we knew he would. Managed to avoid going to Crazy Horse on way home (phew!!!).

DAY 4

The serious stuff begins, I have an 11am tasting, a Coonawarra Vignerons Masterclass.

Long before 9am the media centre is kicking in. Should perhaps mention that the Media Centre at Tasting Australia is an object lesson for the world’s event organizers. Take a bow, Monjava coffee who, IMO, provided a nicer product than the correct but rather bland Illy of the years before – boosted by a barista who really knows what a ‘double shot flat white’ is and, furthermore, can really do latte art. Throw in fresh crossants, yoghurt, a selection of fresh fruit and you have a good healthy start to the day, the more so if you could manage the somewhat penitential muesli bars – truly an edible hair shirt. Well, semi edible!

Then, in the afternoon, when you come back hot and tired from a trip there’s a fridge full of ‘cleansing’ James Squire ale – the IPA was my fave, followed by the ‘Golden’ (which they’ve snuck on to Quantas, I’m pleased to say). Had to sample the minerals, though (to my shame) I can’t remember the maker’s name – good old fashioned ginger beer and sarsaparilla among them. Barossa vignerons were taking it in turn to showcase their wines. Great to see big Bob McLean.

The inner journo was also kept topped up by decent salamis and cheeses – one day Australia’s Grand Fromage Will Studd drops by and unloads a big wheel of Montgomery Cheddar (bliss in the round).  Oysters, too, made an appearance along with other gourmet goodies throughout the week.

We didn’t have to go far for the Masterclass – up two flights of stairs. It was headed up by Pete Bissell, Sandrine Gimon and Paul Gordon, respected winemakers all. The aim was to explore vintage variation within the region and to this end they showed us examples of 2004 (cool) and 2005 (hot) vintages, also 2007 and 2008, falling into a similar pattern. I guess early ripening during the early 2000s has made the winemakers conscious of climate change and they are looking to adapt the wines accordingly. Had an interesting cross-discussion with American wine writer Kelly Hayes who preferred the more generous 2005s whereas me, having a more typically European palate plumped for the leaner, maybe more complex 2004s. Anyhow, a worthwhile and interesting exercise. Lunch followed in the hotel.

A bit of a doss afternoon as more denizens of grub and grape arrived. In the evening we were split into groups and taken to dinner. We went to the Lion Hotel, a historic building in North Adelaide  turned into a thoroughly modern gastropub – unlike some of the limp Dublin efforts, a true gastropub. Tim proved a most generous ‘Mine Jovial Hoste’ and I had one of the best steaks I’ve had in years, a large ‘scotch fillet’ which, as far as I could tell, is a T-bone with the bone removed, from the Coorong. It was cooked rarer than rare then given a quick turn around the rotisserie. Coupled admirably with Langmeil’s wonderful Freedom shiraz. No space for anything afterwards but squeezed in a brace of excellent homemade ice creams. Much to my disgust we didn’t stay for the Thursday night shindig afterwards. Bloody wimps!

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2010: ADELAIDE DIARY

DAY ONE

Arrived 6 am amidst a magnificent red, blue and gold sunrise. Worn out from travelling ‘steerage’ across the globe but otherwise I was holding up, only slightly fractured. David Evans, in an Audi courtesy car, collected me and drove me to the Hyatt, now renamed the Intercontinental after a takeover. Hence my confusion over the ‘change of venue’. Brought up to the Club floor for breakfast and the Tasting Australia core team came in to greet me. Annette, Karen, Marina etc and, finally Ian Parmenter from whom I got a big bear-hug embrace and a “Glad you could come, mate.” Glad indeed, for at this stage attending Tasting Australia is like being back in the bosom of a big, warm family. “Did you bring the guitar,” he asked. Clearly, we are destined to jam again. Fresh fruit, yoghurt, cereal, a generous snaffling of macadamia nuts and (the usual indifferent) coffee helped put gastro-Humpty-Dumpty together again. I noted with approval the many old friends and colleagues among the list of journalists and friends attending. It’s difficult to describe the feeling you get from being here, among your peer group. Is the equivalent mass of culinary and food/wine writing talent and expertise ever assembled elsewhere? Hard to imagine. Later, went for a walk. Adelaide was closed for business. Pleased to see the hat shop is still extant, will call tomorrow and purchase a new Panama. Gouger and Grote, the Chinese/Thai/Korean quarter was buzzy and I stopped for a bowl of duck and rice. I couldn’t find the Chinese pharmacy where they sold me the excellent root ginseng last trip. Will have to discover another source. I marked for future attention a Korean butchers with an attached BBQ cafe where they were offering Wagu steak for Aus$ 30, looked like a decent portion too. Almost got made the subject of a citizens arrest for crossing the road ‘on the little Red Man’ as I used to say to my kids. I blame it on Manchester where, growing up, I learned to jay-walk good style. I think in those days you could get an Arts Council grant for it. Really, from the minute you arrive at the airport you start to see how (a) law abiding and (b) absurdly over-regulated Australia is – amazing for a country started by law breakers! Back to hotel for crash, later met Ian for glass of wine (Skilogalee Riesling – totally bracing, what I needed) in bar. The bar food is bad as ever, despite the hotel’s change of owenership. Ian and I had a veteran’s whinge about the new breed of journalists and PR people. South Australia doesn’t know how lucky it is to have this festival/symposium. He gave me an update on the South Australian restaurant scene – good to see Chianti Classico is still in there punching. Afterwards, I met Rosemary Shrager. She evinced the same ‘lucky to be here’ feeling that I recognised from my first trip, back in my days as a Tasting Australia virgin. And so, as Mr.Pepys would have said, to bed. But not before a last scan of the guest list to see if I’d missed anyone.

DAY TWO

Up and about early. Eschewed hotel breakfast in favour of eat-on-the go walkabout.  Massive fruit juice (orange/pineapple/melon/mango) from stall on Rundle Mall. Thence to essential shopping. Flat white coffee and egg and bacon muffin in Billy Baxters. Nice Chinese waitress gave me heads-up on a cheap’n’cheerful North China style restaurant.

Thence to haircut and dissertation on South Australian family economics from Tino the Barber. Into Adelaide Hatters for a snazzy new Panama – last time was in there was with Rachel Allen who looked only fab in copper’s helmet and feather boa.

Then off to Central market, marvelling at the variety and quality of the produce. Like the English Market in Cork only 4 times the size. Found an organic place where I consumed a bowl of Greek yoghurt laced with Hymettus honey, fresh bananas and a generous sprinkling of pistachio nuts – Aegina in a bowl. Bought a couple of bottles of Clare and Eden Riesling – strong Aussie dollar and ‘notions’ has forced up prices of wine. Aus$21 for Oyster Bay sauv B, currently being ‘dumped’ on Irish market for around a tenner.

Into footie shop for a squint at the knock-offs, unfortunately not to be had in Size Fat Bastard. One place that does is Brown’s – up to size 8XB in nice fashionable smatter. Came out with a brace of long t-shirts and a pair of jeans, feeling positively anorexic.

Back ‘home’ to type up Winding Stair review to send back.

In afternoon returned to Central Market with Rosemary Shrager whose TV progs are big here. Felt a bit like walking round Calcutta with Mother Teresa in tow. A women actually came up and told her “You’ve changed my life”. Never taken so many photographs on other peoples’ cameras! More good coffee from 2nd generation ‘Lucia’s’.

In evening bumped into Anthony Worrall-Thompson in foyer. In good form despite having wallet nicked by ‘Robin Hood’ burglars just before he left England. Apparently they came round and bunged the (empty) wallet and passport through his letter box, amazing.

Diner, solus, at Chianti Classico. What a good restaurant this is. A proper restaurant. Drank 01 Shiraz, pristine. Good Aussie Shiraz has real ageing capacity. Wonderful fritto misto mare, no trace of verbena bitterness on fried oysters, ethereal batter that would do credit to a tempura specialist. Had issues with lamb sweetbreads (animelle on menu – were these perhaps ‘bollocks’?) – too rubbery and all delicacy lost through overpowering sauce. Restaurant manager was sweetness itself – took the comment on the chin, offered me something else and, when I wouldn’t, struck the dish from the bill. Anyone remember the ‘swordfish/sucking pig incident in Santa Margherita Ligure (it’s on forkncork somewhere)? Fantastic asparagus under layer of sweet pecorino, but slightly overwhelmed by balsamic dressing and crying out for a dab of hollandaise. I suppose we must expect chefs to be ‘creative’? Really good coffee panna cotta, fresh pineapple and orange went some way towards redeeming situation, great staff did the rest. Sometimes it’s more important to respond correctly than get things right from the off. Struck me afterwards that the dish in question would have been absolutely brilliant with kidneys substituted for the sweetbreads.

Later had drinks with Anthony Worrall Thompson, his son who is cheffing in Oz, Karen, Lucia and Annette from the TA mob. Some discussion on the ethics/niceties of killing and eating something. AWT doesn’t come over anything like as stand-offish as I imagined from a previous occasion. I think he’s a shy guy.

So it Goes…. this week's decent drinking

I am indebted to fellow wine writer Paul Kiernan who, via his Twitter monicker @grapesofsloth, gave me the heads up on a letter to Decanter magazine in which a reader asked “What planet are your tasters on when they describe wines as ‘high wired’ and ‘coiled with purpose’?” What indeed. “Uranus, as in ‘talking through…” would have been my response.
Once more the vexed subject of descriptive and pseudo-scientific language in a wine context raises its head. In order to justify our meagre stipend we wine scribes have to do a bit better than “You should buy the Quinta de Pancas Touriga Nacional Reserve 2007, it’s really good” (it is though – try Corkscrew, Chatham St or The Wine Boutique, Ringsend). And, to keep ahead or at least abreast of those who’ve been processed through the WSET exam system we have to come up with something more original than “aromas of bergamot, mandarins, figs and forest floor”.
Following a bit of banter with Paul I decided it was time for action. With the aid of a willing accomplice, a two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and an A4 notepad I devised the initial (analogue) version of WRADEC – Whalley’s Random Adjective and Descriptor Compiler. First I wrote down a list of a wine’s components – nose, palate, body, aftertaste, finish etc. Then I got my acolyte to select a page of the SOED at random. Next I eeny-meeny-miney-moed up and down the page, settling on a descriptor, which I wrote down. After a few passes of this kind , I sorted out the jumble into something approaching a coherent and hopefully, plausible sentence.
The random inclusion of ‘swinging’ in my first effort gained me a clatter of undesirable followers on Twitter. But eventually I had a whole heap of new things to say, I mean, “A shog of a wine, almost fescenine on the nose; brusquely effulgent of palate with a longiloquent finish”, how good is that? I have someone working on the software as I write.
Meanwhile, the stream of bargains coming out of the supermarkets continues. A couple of years ago we couldn’t get anything drinkable for €8. I hope you all took Martin Moran at his word (Evening Herald HQ) and bought shedloads of the gorgeous Jacobs Creek Reserve Riesling while it was €6.50 at Tesco. Staying in the cut-price category the same outlet also has another couple of cracking whites. There’s a glut of NZ sauvignon around at the minute and Fern Bay 2009 is drinking well for the money. And I particularly liked the Macon Villages Blanc 2008, well-structured chardonnay. Marks & Spencer also have a decent Macon Villages of the same vintage, as well as a 2008 single estate Orvieto with a snappy herb-and-spice nose and apple and pear fruit on the palate. Unless you are really into that tropical fruit vibe (and many people are) I’d take either of the Macons before the SQ Classic Collection chardonnay but SQ’s Semillon-sauvignon blanc is simply in a different league. Tipping the scales at a reasonable 12 per cent ABV it would be great for casual drinking in the garden; it’s incredibly food-friendly; and could be regarded as a bit of a keeper if you wish – ‘Mr.Versatility’, for daft money. All these wines retail for less than €8.

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

Sibella is out to dinner with her golfing chums. Which is why I’m tucking into bacon ribs, cannellini beans (no butter beans down the local deli) and Savoy cabbage, the sort of fare I always find for myself when milady is absent as she’s far too ‘refeened’ to partake of that good ole peasanty grub. That or it reminds her of school!

Anyhow, to accompany same I hauled up a bottle of D’Arenberg ‘The Custodian’ Grenache, 2002. This was one I mislaid from a limited edition trio produced by Chester – same grapes,  different soils – I reviewed them in F&W some years ago. This particular wine was fettled from grapes grown on ‘sand on clay’ soil – I remember at the time that it was by far the most tannic of the three. Now the tannins had resolved nicely, pointing up the dark sweet fruit that came through in abundance. The influence of oak was not particularly overt (2nd and 3rd fill American and French barrels were used) though some vanilla and spice came through.

All in all, pretty impressive and aging gracefully.

Otherwise than that it was Dom Perignon week, starting with a tasting at the Abbey of  Hautvillers where the good monk perfected the techniques that turned Champagne into a world beater. I liked the 2000 very much, totally different in character to the rich, rumbustious 1995 that gave up its charms to the accompaniment of a fanfare of trumpets. The 2000 was fragrant, delicate, almost an ‘I can’t believe it’s…’ sort of wine with less of a family resemblance than the others in the tasting. In Proustian terms this was the beautiful sister, home for the holidays, sat quiet but serene amid the big, noisy huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ siblings.

The event culminated with a night on the 1976 in Louis XIV’s dining room at Versailles (about which, more anon). This wine impressed with its freshness – still light in colour and spicy and zesty on the nose. A more substantial body than I remembered from that vintage too. What a good food wine  – although I would have killed for a Cornas or a Cote Rotie with the pheasant and hare dishes half way through the 20-courser. Where’s Simon Tyrell when you need him?

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

These bottles are one legacy of a boozy dinner party. The other is the happy memory!

Domaine Langlois Chateau Saumur Vielles Vignes 2004

David Whelehan introduced me to this darling; hand-picked, carefully selected Chenin Blanc from 35 year old vines. Matured in oak casks. Sumptuous and supple, it’s a huge favourite of mine. O’Briens €17.99

d’Arenberg The Lucky Lizard 2007

Takes me back to great friendly days in Adelaide Hills. Another tour de force from Chester Osborn, a perfect reminder that Australian Chardonnay doesn’t have to be all pineapples, guavas and mangoes. Joyful but quite delicately structured. Oddbins €17.99

Chassagne-Montrachet 1998 Bader-Mimeur

Found this down the cellar, god knows where it came from. Nice example, I’m really coming back on to aged white Burgundy though younger friends, though up on Kiwi Sauv B seem unconvinced.

Chateau Redortier Gigondas 2006

Bags of soft, showy fruit, drinking beautifully now and will doubtless keep. Better than a lot of C du P at twice the price. Fallon & Byrne €19.50

Barolo 2001, G.D.Vajra.

Everyone rated this for the warm dark plum, morello and redcurrant fruit in abundance. Unlike many Barolos from this vintage it had already lost that steely edge. I’d love another bottle to see how it keeps but, again, can’t remember where this one came from.

Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Muscotaly 2000

Classic dessert wine with substantial weight, a dark honeyed edge and a long, long finish. Carted a few of these back from Budapest, this is the last one, alas.

So it goes….

This week’s decent drinking

mime1Ask any wine buff what the name Henschke means to them and it’s odds on that they’ll come up with the words “Hill of Grace”. This top dollar shiraz is truly an Australian icon, one of the few that gets mentioned in the same breath as Penfold’s Grange. ‘Hill of Grace’ is a fabulous Barossa shiraz made from vines nearly a hundred years old; complex, powerful, elegant and fully deserving of the hype. Another Henschke notable is ‘Mount Edelstone’ shiraz, named for a hill in the Barossa originally christened ‘Edelstein’ – precious stone – by the German immigrants, including Stephen Henschke’s ancestors, who populated the valley five generations ago. It’s long been a particular favourite of mine.

We tasted these classics, along with other Henschke wines at L’Ecrivain in the company of the amiable Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue, winemaker and viticulturist. Though Henschke is best known for it reds, initially it was the whites that dazzled. The 2007 ‘Coralinga’ sauvignon blanc from Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills was as complex as this essentially workaday grape can get, kept fresh with brisk though not overwhelming acidity. Better still was the 2006 ‘Julius’ riesling with all the bracing minerality and lime refreshment you find in Eden Valley wines. There was also a pinot grigio that contained an unusual element – flavour.

Of the reds in the tasting I particularly liked the vibrant, powerful Johann’s Garden grenache and the smart Henry’s Seven shiraz/viognier which, for around €30 gives a massive hint as to the sheer class of Henschke when you go upscale.

We drank the 2001 Hill of Grace over lunch. It was everything I expected. In 2002 Stephen put the flagship wine under screwcap. Yet, unlike most Australian winemakers, he’s not entirely convinced that the screwcap is the best closure around. Latterly he’s been trialling the German glass-to-glass Vinolok closure about which I wrote in my Sunday Independent column last year. It’s both effective and beautifully aesthetic. Alas it’s expensive as the bottle neck has to be tailored to fit the stopper and because not many producers are using the system, economies of scale do not apply compared to conventional closures. The cost of bottle and closure is currently about 2 Australian dollars (about the cost of a top notch cork) which effectively prohibits its use on all but premium wines.

Prue and Stephen are working towards their organic certification, which they should receive next year. They are also farming biodynamically. Pru believes that the essence of biodynamics is about improving the organic matter of the soil. She makes her own compost using cow manure, grape skins and green waste. She also uses the specified biodynamic preparations and plants, in the accredited manner, according to the lunar phases. Many sceptics dismiss these aspects as of the lunatic fringe of winemaking but, as long as class acts like Oliver Humbrecht, Michel Chapoutier, Vanya Cullen and the Henschkes are burying the cow horns, you won’t find me numbered among the knockers of ‘bio’.

The Henschke ‘Julius’ riesling is available from The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and On The Grapevine, Dalkey, price €29.99 and worth every last cent.

"Goodbye… and thanks for all the booze" …Wine writers' ethics

L'Ermita, Priorat June 2009
L'Ermita, Priorat June 2009

I’m having a glass in the garden with a friend of mine who, only having lately come to wine, is now making up for lost time. He picks my scrambled brains every opportunity he gets. Today, he wants the inside track on wine criticism. Over a drop of Laurent Miquel’s rich and quite elegant Nord Sud viognier (widely available in Ireland, around a tenner), Sean asks me “How come you guys never tell us about the crap wines?”.

The question caught me at a loss. My initial reaction was to stammer “Well… we don’t really come across too many.” Which is untrue for there are many unsound wines around ranging from bland to boring to downright crap.

Thinking about it, I suppose the main reason is we want to leave our readers with a message of hope. For my own part, with only 500 or so words to expend on a weekly column (Sunday Independent), I don’t want to write a shopping list (or, worse, a non-shopping list); I think it’s better to use the column to impart some inside track, maybe dish out a few odd wrinkles that will make the reader, hopefully, more aware of wine’s complexity and charm.

Sean was anxious to get me to expound on the ethics of wine writing on which British writers Jamie Goode (www.wineanorak.com) and Tim Atkin (www.timatkin.com) have written in interesting fashion recently. “Should wine writers accept free wine and undertake paid-for trips?”, he demanded.

Aagh, that’s a knotty one. The first generation of wine writers didn’t have this problem, being, largely, well-off young men whose fathers and Oxbridge colleges were blessed with well-stocked cellars. In those days wine meant ‘European wine’ so it was no big deal to make a couple of trips a year to France and Germany. Italy, Barolo and Brunello apart was under-regarded. Chianti was an object of mild derision. Even Rioja was little known until the mid-1970s. Today, with the likes of Uruguay, Georgia, India and more pushing for recognition as serious players, a ‘go it alone’ wine writer would need very deep pockets indeed.

Thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that fraternisation with the trade is a necessary evil. Most present day wine writers, me included, simply wouldn’t be able to do a professional job without tasting samples and visiting wine regions. To travel to, say, the Hunter Valley, the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Margaret River, as I did the other year, would cost zillions and, even if I could afford it, would be impossibly time-consuming to organise. Good to have those nice people from Tasting Australia and The Australian Wine Board to do all the hard work for me.

The ‘trick’ if that’s the word, is to keep your integrity (remember, as Tim Atkin says, the abiding duty is to the consumer) and not produce work tainted by conflict of interest. They say everyone has their price though and my message to other wine scribes is “keep that price high”. Maybe, if we do, one day we’ll all have a Château on the Loire, a Lambo, and a posh yacht. Till then don’t sell your soul for a case of Chilean merlot, a night in the Gatwick TravelLodge and a squint at another feckin’ bottling plant.

Meanwhile, here’s an equation for you. Ace Winemaker + Unfashionable Region = Big Bargain. I’m adding my voice to the chorus of Irish wine writers singing the praises of Protocolo 2006 (O’Brien’s,* €8.99). To say this is Ireland’s best BBQ red would be true but insulting, it’s worth far more serious consideration. Decant and savour.

*Thanks for the Havanas, Kevin (only joking, dear readers)

This is an extended version of an article written for the Sunday Independent ‘Life’ magazine