Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top of the Pop's in the Naughties - the best of wine for me 2000-2009

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? Yesterday when I ended my Top 10 wines of 2009 saying that I would be posting my top 10 wine moments of the naughties (or noughties I have since been informed), the thought that it would be as big as it is was not as obvious as it is now.

The last 10 years has really been about me finding my place within the wine industry; from sommelier to retail wine sales to studying wine and viticulture at university to working vintage and finally finishing the decade working for a Champagne house in Brand development. Since arriving back from Europe in February 2000, I have immersed myself in all things wine, so coming up with a list of wine moments for the naughties has been tougher than first expected, but after much thought I have come up with the ten moments and events that have defined the past ten years with wine. So in no particular order, here they are.

1. Four amazing Champagnes; Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1959, Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1990, Krug 1998 and Krug NV.
2. Penfolds Grange robbery at Como Wine & Spirits, 2002.
3. Domaine de la Romanée Conti 2005 vertical tasting, 2008.
4. Vintage at Oakridge Wines, Yarra Valley 2008.
5. Working at Bindi Wine Growers, Macedon Ranges 2005-2009.
6. Sommelier work.
7. Viticulture/Wine Science degree 2003-2008.
8. Re-discovering Chardonnay.
9. Working for Vranken Pommery Monopole.
10. The rise of cool climate Shiraz.

Now it’s a big list with each one being a lengthy story, so like many other posts, this one will be a series over the next few weeks, with the first instalment on my Champagne moments with Dom Perignon and Krug.

Four amazing Champagnes – I have always loved champagne, with it all starting in Champagne while doing vintage with Jean-Marie Etienne in 1997. During my time there I was able to taste some amazing wine, and not just from Jean-Marie Etienne but from other producers in the Valle de Marne, yet it wasn’t until 2002 that Champagne really meant something to me.

The first was back in 2002 when the three assailants responsible for the Grange Robbery at Como Wine & Spirits were charged and sentenced to lengthy gaol time (I will get to the Grange incident in another post). It was a pretty big moment for me filled with relief, anger and pity for the three idiots who did it to pay off a heroin debt. With the help of a good mate, we polished off a bottle of Krug NV in quick time and were left with the common thought that we could never go back to boring old sparkling wine – a bit like flying first class the first time and knowing how tough it’s going to be in coach the next time!

My next Champagne moment came in 2005 with the birth of Imogen. Having the kind of taste for wine that I do, Erin and me were never going to toast the arrival of Imogen with a mere bottle of Aussie sparkling, or even something like a Bollinger or Veuve Clicquot NV; we needed something grand, and that was the Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1990 – an amazing moment celebrated with an amazing wine.

I did not have to wait too long for my next Champagne moment, with this one still being the most amazing wine I have ever tasted – the Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1959. This happened when I was a sommelier at Vue de monde in 2005 when David, the head sommelier, and I enjoyed a half a glass each of this wine that was left by a customer who BYO’d it. I can fair dinkum still smell the truffle and earthy notes of this wine.

Finally, there is the Krug 1998, another wine that Erin and I had to welcome our second child, Henry, in to the world. Having only had it 11 months ago, this wine displayed everything good about a young vintage Champagne with mouth watering citrus and brioche, and also the lament of finishing the bottle just knowing how good this wine will taste in 20 years. Still, the wine lived up to the occasion.

There you have it, four wines that meant, and still do, quite a bit to me; relief, amazement and wonderment.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Wines for 2009

Yes, it is the end of yet another year with 2009 over in a little over 48 hours; I think there is a definite correlation between how fast a year travels and how old you are. Anyway, with the end of my first year as a wine blogger, I thought it apt that I compile my ‘Top 10’ wines for this year. The judging of this is based on the ‘Decanter Top 100’ wines where it is not always the highest ranked wines that make No. 1 but the wines that have had the greatest impact. So without anymore dilly-dallying, here we have my Top 10 for 2009.

10. Pierro Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ltCF 2005 – never been a big fan of this blend from Australia but this wine really stood up and slapped me bang on the nose; am now a convert and a fan. 96

9. M. Chapoutier ‘Deschants’ 1997 Saint-Joseph Marsanne – this was a wine that sort of got forgotten about in my cellar but turned out to be an absolute cracker. 95
8. Punt Road Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006 – a surprise winner at The Bledisloe of Wine at The Point Albert Park this year during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. And to think, the Kiwi winemakers thought it was one of theirs - silly buggers. 93
7. Oakridge Yarra Valley 864 Chardonney 2006 – probably one of the best Chardonnays I have had from the Valley and I got it for $30 a bottle when I did vintage there in 2008. 98

6. Merricks Creek Mornington Close Planted Pinot Noir 2006 - the best Pinot Noir ever from the Peninsula and proof that when you believe in something, you give it plenty of time to become something special. 95
5. Ngeringa Adelaide Hills Syrah 2006 – a relative new comer to me but by no means a wall flower wine; the only wine that I have not blogged on so here are my concise findings. Heavy and dense colour with a little touch of leather coming through early but definitely not hiding the licorice all-sorts. More licorice in the palate with mouth smacking tannins that would be lovingly soaked up by a juicy rare rum steak purchased from North Carlton Butchers on Nicholson St Carlton; I scored this 97.

4. By Farr Geelong Shiraz 2007 – I still standby my comment that this is the best Shiraz in Australia, simple! 98
3. Pio Cesare Piedmonte Barolo 1997 – The reason I fell in love with Nebbiolo and the reason why wines like this need plenty of time in the bottle. 99
2. Felton Road Central Otago Block 3 Pinot Noir 2006 – one of the most perfect New World Pinot Noirs I have ever had. If you see one out there, grab it! 99

1. M. Sorrel ‘La Grael’ Hermitage 2001 – an absolute pleasure to drink this one with real elegance and how a wine made with shiraz grapes should taste like. 96

So there you have it, my 2009 retrospective. Tomorrow night I will compile my Top 10 Naughty wines, or more general, Top 10 wine moments for the past 10 years.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas - a very long lunch in Brunswick

Well, another Christmas Day is done with! I was sheepishly greeted by my daughter Imogen this morning with, ‘...only 364 sleeps till Christmas dad’. I certainly hope that this countdown does not have legs; she already has one for when she starts prep and her birthday is in March so three countdowns before New Year would not bode well here in Brunswickistan.

Yes, yesterday here in Brunswickistan was a massive effort; presents, more presents, mud crabs, prawns, smoked salmon, Champagne and then Grandma and Papa arrived with Aunty Meaghan with even more presents for a sugar hyped 4 year old and more wrapping paper for Henry’s first Christmas Day

As usual, when there is a get together at my place, I do the cooking, so yesterday, bar the Christmas pudding and one massive ham was all up to me. The menu sort of read like this:

BBQ Tiger prawns with a fennel and Chinese salad like coleslaw (inspired by Andrew McConnell)
Grilled zucchini and asparagus with truss tomatoes and chevre goats cheese
Singapore chilli mud crab
6 kg Bertocchi ham!
Tasmanian Smoked Salmon
Home made ginger bread men - Henry's favourite as you can see below with Grandma
Christmas pudding with brandy jelly

The eating started at about 2.30pm and wound down by about 7pm I’d say (the obligatory picking ensued of course). Now for me, you cannot not have a Christmas Pud on Christmas day; it is by far my favourite plate. Yet yesterday my fancies were certainly with the smoked salmon and mud crab (that’s if you could get some from Mum’s plate!) The chilli was just right without offending more sensitive tummies.

There was no real thought to the wine yesterday, with some favourites and crowd-pleasers making up the numbers:

Heidsieck & Co Monopole NV Champagne from Epernay
Pommery Brut Royal NV Champagne from Reims
Swings and Roundabouts Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Margaret River
Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2008 from Adelaide Hills
Majella Sparkling Shiraz 2001 from Coonawarra – Wine of the day!
Willow Creek Tulum Pinot Noir 2008 from Mornington Peninsula
Buckleys dark Bock ale from Healesville in the Yarra Valley

As I said, the Majella Sparkling Shiraz was the wine of the day, but it was the Buckleys dark Bock ale that was the obvious Susan for the day with an abundance of rich malt, coffee and raisin chocolate.

I am not going to bang on about the wines from yesterday cos’ I did not sit there with pen and paper jotting down notes on colour, nose and palate. Instead I sat back with my family and enjoyed the smiling faces of my two kids – that’s what Christmas day is all about. Now it’s time for leftovers for lunch and the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gluttony or Gourmand delight - a very busy week eating in Melbourne

In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires.” Benjamin Franklin.

It is, I think, the last day of a very long and large week of eating out across Melbourne; by Monday I will presume that I will be linking my belt one hole back! And it is on this day that I sit here in my study sipping a glass of sparkling wine (I was supposed to go to the gym!) while thousands of service professionals snake their way through tightly set tables serving the corporate professionals lunch on the busiest service of the year. Please do not think I am making light of their endeavour, but I do not miss it one bit!

For far too long now I have been the one who has been doing the serving of wine and food to the endless conga line of Christmas lunch and dinners. Now that I am on the other side of the bookings book, it has been my great pleasure this week to find myself pondering over wine lists and menus, and apologising to the wait staff for taking my sweet precious time.

For me it started on Monday with a lunch that turns into an all nighter. It was the annual Australian Sommeliers Association Christmas lunch at Mahjong in St. Kilda. On arrival I was greeted with a crisp and cold flute of Pommery Brut Royal (a little donation of six bottles for the thirsty sommeliers) and a catch up with thirty or so wine professionals from some of Melbourne’s best restaurants. David and Quentin from Vue de Monde, Sally from Cutler & Co, Lincoln and Penny from Taxi and a smattering of wine reps from JHL Wines, Yabby Lake and Russel Gehring Wines there for the usual trade talk – me included now. It was a set course of plates being dropped off at the tables with dumplings, spring rolls and sticky rice making up some of the delicacies. The highlight for me however was the Peking duck pancakes; melt in the mouth perfection!

After many more bottles of Champagne and other wine blow ins, we headed off down Fitzroy Street and over The Esplanade to The Stoke House bar downstairs. Here we drank more Champagne, wine and beer (and yes, a little bit of water too) and continued on our general stream of bullshit for the day. It was getting a little busy and crowded so the decision was made to head up to Circa, The Prince bar – so off we headed again. More beers and wine and also a good catch up with Travis from Coda, who I never got too play pool with downstairs even though I said I was going to, and Virginia from Cumulus Inc. After far too many beverages it was time to close my account and head home – at 11.30pm!!

With a sore head the next morning (very sore!) I headed in to work to regale Cameron with all the witty anecdotes and try and remember who I spoke with; it took a while let me just say that. With not much on the horizon but a few calls and emails, Cameron and I headed up Burke Road in Camberwell and settled at The Tea House on Burke, a little Chinese place that needs a bit of work on the interior but definitely not in t he kitchen. Another serve of Peking duck and even better selection of dumplings was washed down by some Pinot Noir from Geelong and Mornington Peninsula. Can you believe I had to go back to the office and do some work after the bill – sheesh!!

Wednesday saw the arrival of Jon from Sydney who is the NSW Sales Manager for Vranken-Pommery, and it was at Rockpool Bar & Grill where I joined up with Jon and Cameron. Along the way I had a little catch up with David and also bumped in to Michael Dhillon of Bindi Wine Growers. After a couple of beers at the bar we headed to our table in the wine bar where there is only one thing to order – the Wagyu Burger and onion rings; three all round of course. This burger has got to be one of the best in Melbourne I tell ya! Another glass of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir – The Oceans 8, and we were back to the office to discuss strategy over some more Champagne.

We were now in a taxi and headed for Matteo’s on Brunswick Street Fitzroy (the clean end) where we sat down with three bottles of Champagne – The Cuvée Louise Rosé 1999, Pommery Blanc de Blanc and Pommery Blanc de Noir. There was a little more wagyu beef as an appetiser - bresola air dried; I know it is supposed to be oysters with Champagne, but it is summer and you should never order an oyster if the month has an ‘r’ in it! All wines were fantastic, but the Louise 1999 dropped away pretty fast unfortunately – we picked the wrong bottle with that one, I guess.

These guys get two hats for a reason. The food was absolutely fantastic. It was just the two courses for me – I’m not really a dessert person I must say – with the Japanese plate of smoked eel, confit salmon and sashimi King Fish. BRILLIANT!! This was hard to match, but the suckling pig was just as good if not better!!! I rolled out of my chair (full, not drunk) at about 11pm and headed home to a very jealous Erin who wanted to know all about it; I just wanted to know all about my pillow.

The next morning I picked up Jon from his Hotel in Carlton and headed in to the CBD to give him a walking tour of some of our better restaurants. We started at Vue de monde where we had a coffee at the cafe and headed down over to Syracuse, Gills Diner and through to the coffee precinct around Degraves Lane. After another stop we headed up Flinders Lane past Mo Vida, Coda and yet another coffee, this time at Cumulus Inc before walking past Verge, Becco, Gingerboy, Bottega and Grossi Florentino and hopping in to the car for the short ride to Cutler & Co for a hello with Adam Cash and a super glass of Felton Road Central Otago Dry Riesling 2008.

We were again in the car out to Camberwell and in the office just before the heavens opened up. Some more strategising and it was time for lunch – again. With our walk cleverly timed between two rain periods, we headed up to Gohan-Ya Japanese Bento Cafe on Camberwell Road. With about 12 seats, this place is always full and if it had a few more seats and maybe a liquor license would be jamming every day. I once again gave in to my smoked eel addiction and the obligatory serve of gyoza dumplings; I was once again truly full!

The week duly finished today with a lovely impromptu lunch with my lovely Erin and the boy Henry as well at Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy. A serve of pork and duck terrine for me and a goat’s cheese and sorrel tart for Erin and all was well - they even struck a deal in Copenhagen I over-heard someone say there.

With all this done all I could do was to go and pick Imogen up from her very last day ever of daycare and whip down to get her favourite dinner – Fish and Chips! It’s always good.

With the children now asleep and Erin and me down here relaxing in the kitchen area, it was time to open something nice up to celebrate not only Imogen’s last ever day of daycare before she starts prep next month but also the fact that Erin secured some more consultancy work. So to wind up a massive week we sit here sipping the Pommery Cuvée Louise 1998 Grand Marque Champagne – absolutely gorgeous. Have I told you that I don’t miss the restaurant floor?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dalwhinnie Pyrenees Eagle Shiraz 2001

It was a big week. The Pommery and Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagnes are once again getting noticed, the back garden is green again and the cold I have dragged through the week is almost gone. Yet as the saying goes, 'There is no rest for the wicked', and even though I am (sort of) not wicked, it all starts again on Monday with the annual Australian Sommeliers Association XMAS Lunch at Mahjong in St. Kilda.

This will be a day when 50 or so sommeliers from mainly Victoria, with a few coming down from Sydney and Brisbane, get to sit around a big table and chew the fat over a busy 2009 with a cheeky glass of Pommery Brut Royal Champagne - an unashamedly promotion - and essentially sit back and let someone else serve really.

But it will not just be Pommery Brut Royal sipped over lunch. It is a lunch where all the diners are invited, nay encouraged, to bring something delish along for others to have a glass of. Decisions, decisions - what shall I take?

Yes, 2009 has been a big year for memorable wines. Pio Cesare Barolo, Lamy Pillot Montrachet, Etienne Sauzet Montrachet, Merricks Estate Close Planted Pinot Noir, Punch Close Planted Pinot Noir, Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, Krug Grand Cru Champagne and on and on and on.........

I am not saying that my cellar is of slim pickings at the moment, but my choice of wine has been limited with plenty of corks being released this year. I will probably take a Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998 or 1999, but it is the wine that I would really love to take that got away earlier this year - The Dalwhinnie Pyrenees Eagle Shiraz 2001.

This was a wine that I had the pleasure of drinking at The Point Albert Park over a very impressive Chateaubriand. An almost ink tone to the wine, I found it near impossible to drag my nose away with plenty of cedar and mocha screaming up my nose. After about 45 minutes, a heavy spice layer of cinnamon and black pepper became the secondary wave on the nose. Plenty of ripe morello cherry on the initial palate, the wine once again changes in the decanter to a very earthy and savoury beast - an almost blend of Cote Rotie and Burgundy I would suggest. Throughout the life of this bottle, taught silky firm tannins were always present which were absolutely perfect with the Chateaubriand; a Susan this one!

Quite simply stunning!

Drink with Chateaubriand medium rare
Drink till 2020
Quality cork 13.5%v/v $310 wine list at The Point Albert Park

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

T’Gallant Mornington Peninsula ‘Juliet’ Pinot Grigio 2008

Looking out at the Brunswick skyline this morning, all I can see is an endless grey horizon with rain, rain and more rain. It is fair to say that today’s events are going to be in closed quarters, which is not pleasing a certain big four year old called Imogen I tell ya! It is rainy days like this in December that I turn my thoughts to those hot nights of October and November and remember the gorgeous and bright white wines that were going to be the toast of the 2009 summer – still a sceptic on climate change Abbott and Minchin?

Anyhoo, I was rambling on about crisp summer wines for this season before rambling on about dinosaur politicians, with one of those being the fantastic T’Gallant Mornington Peninsula ‘Juliet’ Pinot Grigio 2008. This is a wine that has probably been surpassed by the 2009 vintage by now, but a wine that should not be overlooked never the less. Bone straw in the glass with a positively water like hue to it. A faint nose of wax is evident up front with a very appealing palate of crisp acid and soft tropical fruit such as passionfruit and melon.

Side note to parents; could you imagine the school holidays being drowned out by six weeks of rain!

Great summer wine with a real easy drinkability about it.

Drink with asparagus and egg salad
Drink now
Screwcap 12%v/v $12 Psarakos Markets, Thornbury

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday BBQ - Sichuan salt and pepper squid - part 2

... and yes, I did pick that shirt myself and still wear it, thankyou for asking!

Sunday BBQ - Sichuan salt and pepper squid part 1

Last week, our good friends Tracey and Pete came over for a little BBQ, and Tracey, who is a little media whiz, brought her video to do some playing around. Long story short, here is the outcome; my Sichuan salt and pepper squid - part 1.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Red Hill Estate Mornington Peninsula Botrytis 2000

When I was a wee lad growing up in the old port town of Fremantle, there was nothing better – I thought, anyway – than heading off to the Esplanade after a feed of Fish and Chips and rummaging through the flea market stalls. To me the two highlights were Lawson’s Castle (jumping castle) and the lucky dips. For 20 cents I got to stick my arm in to a box and pull out a magical delight; spinning top, paddle bat with ball, miniature Godzilla and numerous other titbits that would usually not see the day out.

Fast forward 30 odd years and the excitement of the lucky dip has somewhat faded with this joy now passed on to my daughter Imogen. Yet it was a dinner party Erin and I hosted a few weeks ago that the lucky dip concept was re-visited with the Red Hill Estate Mornington Peninsula Botrytis 2000. This is where it gets funky; Botrytis what I hear you ask, with the short answer being dunno (we will not bother with the long answer seeing that it would in fact be quite long indeed).

The colour was very orange with a very obvious brown sneaking in. This wine drew varying tasting notes so I will list them from who said what.

Pete – smells like cheddar cheese.
Tracey – far too sweet even for me!
Erin – what’s with all the toffee?
Tim – who wants to open up something else?

For the record this wine gave off quite a bit of marmalade and subtle saffron yet it all seemed to finish quite quickly with the nose becoming dull after about 10 minutes. Tracey and Erin were right; there was toffee and way too sweet! In my notes, I must add, is a comment about a blow up doll. This I think was the fifth bottle of wine opened that night so this remark could mean absolutely anything really.

Drink with crème brulee
Drink now
Cork 10.5%v/v $15 from Red Hill Estate Cellar door in 2002

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pommery Reims Brut Royal NV Champagne

Today I re-entered the workplace, leaving behind my poor gazumped son Henry in the care of his mother and taking on the role as Brand Development Manager for Vranken-Pommery Australia – that’s Champagne, people. Yes, it is my task to show-case Vranken-Pommery’s Champagne portfolio to all of the sommeliers out there in restaurant land with such Champagne as Pommery Brut Royal, Cuvee Louise 1998 – super drop that, and Heidsieck & Co. Monopole which has had zero presence in Australia for quite some time.

So it is with great pleasure that I give you the Pommery Reims Brut Royal NV. Now I am not going to tell you it is the greatest Champagne ever made and that you would be a dead-set nimrod if you don’t buy one now, tomorrow will be fine. The Pommery Brut Royal has a presence in over 85% of Michelin Star restaurants in France right now, so you don’t need me telling you how good it is.

A traditional aperitif style Champagne with a third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, this wine presents a very lean and crisp palate with a very tight bead. Green apples and slight lead pencil aromas are evident with seamless acid holding everything in place.

So next time you head out to a restaurant, ask for Pommery, and if they don’t have it on the list tell them to get in contact with me at

Drink with freshly shucked Tassie oysters - a fair dinkum Susan these two!
Drink till 2011
No rating
Quality cork 12.5%v/v from Vintage Cellar stores nationwide.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Remy Martin XO Champagne Cognac AOC

I don’t need to say anymore really; smells yum, tastes yum and is yum. Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum!!
Drink with big fat Cuban cigar
Drink till you are at least 75
No rating, just gorgeous!!!
Cork seal 40%v/v $AUD210 Hong Kong duty free