This wine has become a real favourite of my wife and mine.  And we’ve been lucky enough to come across it on a few restaurant wine lists at very reasonable prices – at about the retail price, rather than marked up double or triple as is often the case.  Now I’m not going to use the word bargain here, because it is still a pricy wine, but when navigating the minefield that most restaurant winelists are, it’s welcome relief to stumble upon and old friend.

Sassicaia is one of Italy’s finest Bordeaux-inspired wines, made in Tuscany from predominantly cabernet sauvignon with some cabernet franc.  It is an historically important wine for Tuscany and Italy, being one of the frontrunners in the modernisation of Italian winemaking.  I certainly love some of the traditional Italian winemaking, but I’m very grateful that they started making more wines like this too.

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I don’t know. But for birthdays, anniversaries, etc, it seems like a great excuse to celebrate. Certainly in one of my wine groups we have a tradition of celebrating round number birthdays (ie 30, 40, 50, etc). This time it was Dave’s turn for a round number birthday, and to celebrate it by opening some wonderful wines. The bottle of Grange pictured here should give a clue as to how old Dave is.

While the Grange was my wife’s favourite on the night, a few other wines peaked my interest more. And so we come to this beauty – the Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva 2004 (pictured alongside the also excellent Gaja Sperss 2001).

This wine was thrilling.  The harmony of flavours and structure, the captivating complexity, and the delightful prettiness of the aromas all added up to it being the most enjoyable wine I’ve drunk in a long time and perhaps ever.  Enjoyable both in the sense of it tasting delicious and in the sense of providing interest to us wine nerds.

Posted in Australian Wine, Barolo, Barossa, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Shiraz | Comments Off

This dish was introduced to me by a German friend-of-a-friend. There are many different recipes for this soup, but the soup he showed me was quite straightforward and I have taken a similar approach here (and after reviewing lots of recipes online).

I started by sweating down some onion and leek, along with thyme, in a small amount of olive oil. Then I added the Riesling (about 375mL) and cooked that out a little, and then an equal amount of cream. This was simmered for a few minutes, before seasoning to taste.

I then poured this, straining the liquid, over some raw scallops, with the heat of the soup sufficient to cook the scallops. I added basil to garnish.

That’s it. Simple and very delicious. Served with a good Rielsing of course (German, Aussie, or whatever takes your fancy). We used a dry Australian Riesling in the soup and drank the rest of the bottle with it, which was a nice way for the food and wine to complement.

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Just taking a photo to send to my friend…a bit of a tease for later tonight.

Catching up regularly with friends is important to me, as it is to most people.  And with good reason.  Good friendships have been found to be associated with good mental health and even physical health and longevity.  Shared interests, such as wine and food, can facilitate friendship and provide the context for those friendships to flourish.  And I love the spirit of generosity found in such contexts; there aren’t many wine-lovers who’d rather drink a great bottle of wine alone at home than share it with friends.  So I’m hoping my friends will enjoy this Elio Altare Brunate Barolo 2004.  I’m known for my passion for Barolo and so I try not to disappoint them.

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I am a lucky man. Blessed in many ways.  This is a something I cannot help but feel when surrounded by family and/or good friends, while drinking great wines together over a nice meal.  And luckily for me, many of my friends share a love for Barolo.  Here we had an outstanding set of three (on a night when we drank may other excellent wines too of course).

The wines were:  Conterno Barolo Francia 2011, Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2010, and Gaja Sperss 1997.

All three from heralded vintages, top shelf producers, and great vineyards.  The younger wines were so pretty, floral, and quite feminine, while the Gaja was such a complete wine, with density in the mouth, but not heavy, and amazing aromatic complexity – at 19 years of age it was at a really good point of development, with still many good years ahead of it.

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Amarone della Valpolicella is a most unique wine style.  Valpolicella is in Northern Italy, in the Veneto region near Venice.  The key grape varieties used in Amarone are Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, with grapes being air-died after picking (traditionally on straw mats, but modern drying rooms are often used now), which helps concentrate the sugars and flavours prior to fermentation.  This method is know as appassimento, and results in very rich wines of quite high alcohol.

The style of wine is very interesting as the concentration of the grapes gives it an impression of extreme ripeness, but because the region is distinctly cooler climate some of the aromas and characters tend towards an impression of lower ripeness simultaneously.  If a wine like this was made in some other regions, it may (almost certainly would) be criticised as presenting both under-ripe and over-ripe fruit and be considered poor winemaking.  But what might seem to clash for some seems to be interesting and complex to others, and now the best Amarones are considered truly world class.

And when it comes to the best, there are two names in Valpolicella that rise head and shoulders about the pack – they are Guiseppi Quintarelli and Romano Dal Forno.  I’ve been fortunate enough to try a few wines from each of these producers, but never the same vintage and side-by-side.  Until now when a couple of my friends coordinated to each bring a bottle to dinner, the Quintarelli 2006 vs Dal Forno 2006.

What an interesting comparison.  Even though the Amarone style in itself is so unique, so too was each of these wines.  The Quintarelli was no doubt a robust and full bodied wine, but also a wine of delicate aromatics, as well as balance and poise on the palate.  By contrast, the Dal Forno was high octane – a tsunami of flavour and body as it passed through your mouth.  The alcohol was high, the fruit intense, the palate thick, and some oak noticeable.

The Dal Forno was a vinous slap in the face; in a good way of course.  But the Quintarelli delivered a balance and interest that made it more compelling.  You kept wanting to drink it as it revealed more and more of itself.  But they were both excellent wines and really interesting, and no doubt many people would find their preference to be the reverse of mine.

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I may have made this suggestion before, but it merits repeating.  When it comes to using truffles, keep it simple.  I find truffles come to life shaved over fairly plain pasta (eg with just a butter sauce and cheese), braised meats, grilled meats, pan-fried scallops, and seem to have a special affinity with eggs.

Truffles work well with fried or poached eggs, 63 degree eggs, all manner of baked eggs, and as I’ve found now, they work wonderfully well with scrambled eggs.  But not just any scrambled eggs; I strongly recommend using a bain marie cooking method.

I’m not sure whether he was the first person to do this, but Heston Blumenthal perfected the bain marie method for scrambling eggs and since the first time I tried it I was convinced.  The following recipe is not exactly Heston’s, but it’s reasonably close.

Recipe – 6 eggs, 50g butter, 50mL milk, salt to taste and a drop of sherry vinegar.

Method – combine/whisk the eggs, butter, and milk in a metal bowl and place on top of a pot of water (the bowl not touching the water), with the water temperature just under (or at) a simmer.  Now gently stir for the next 15 to 20 minutes.  That’s about it.  The eggs are ready when they reach a consistency you like.  They should be velvety smooth and not at all lumpy, like a really thick custard.  Season with salt, pepper if you like, and a drop of sherry vinegar to cut the richness a little.

It’s a very simple method and the results are outstanding.  You do have to spend the time stirring, but it’s minimal effort for the best scrambled eggs possible.  This recipe will provide 6 small serves, as per the picture below.  Adjust the recipe to suit the number of people and desired serving size.

Served here: bain marie scrambled eggs on tasted sourdough with shaved truffle.

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Our wine group recently enjoyed a private and very enjoyable tasting of back-vintages at Lakes Folly in the Hunter Valley.  Our group provided most of the wines, while Lakes Folly provided the venue (their fermentation room), a few more recent vintages, and the expertise of assistant winemaker Peter Payard, who has been making wine at Lakes Folly for decades, as well as cellarhand Roger Paterson, who has also been with Lakes Folly for many years. It was great to taste these wines, see how the wines have evolved over time, and to discuss them with Peter and Roger who have so much experience and insight.

We started with the two current Chardonnays, the 2015 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay and 2015 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay Hill Block. The regular estate chardonnay was true to style, a nice but not too subtle chardonnay showing plenty of fruit and oak. The Hill Block for my tastes was a real step up in class and elegance, but also had greater length on the palate and interest. It had lovely acidity and minerality, and will undoubtedly blossom and shine over the coming years.

We then tasted the first set of red wines, all cabernet based blends starting with the older vintages 1972, 1988, 1989, 1993 Reserve. The ’88 and ’89 were the real highlights here. Beautifully aged cabernets with resolved palates, so easy to drink but serious wines too, and lots of aged maturity to the aromas and flavours.

The next flight - 1994 Reserve, 1996, 1997, 2005 – was a little mixed for my tastes, with the ’94 and ’96 both showing some excessive brettanomyces characters, but the ’05 was outstanding. Still young but so delicious and complex and dense, but with lovely acidity and freshness too. It was my favourite of the whole tasting and a great wine.

We moved onto more recent vintages – 2009, 2010, 2011 – and at this stage the youthfulness of these wines made them a little harder to enjoy, but you could see the clear potential in each of them, especially the ’11. At 5-to-7 years of age these were still very young.

Next up we tasted two wines, served side-by-side but without revealing which was which. It was the 2014 under cork and the 2014 under screwcap. If there was a difference between them it was miniscule, with the cork sealed wine being a touch softer; time will tell whether they develop differently. We also tasted the 2015, which was a remarkably light and floral wine compared to the other vintages. 2015 was a difficult vintage but this wine, although very different in style, was nonetheless very enjoyable.

We finished with an interesting and enjoyable 1963 Lake’s Folly Madeira; a bit of a curio but in good shape and very drinkable.

These sorts of tasting, especially with winemakers discussing the wines throughout, offer such a unique opportunity to understand a particular wine through its history, both the oral history and the liquid history.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Hunter Valley | Comments Off

My wife and I shared a beautiful lunch at Margan in the Hunter Valley. Beautiful in a number of ways – my company of course, plus the food and the scenery.

We enjoyed an outdoor table – right out on the grass and with such a lovely view.

And then the five course lunch rolled in – beetroot and goat’s cheese, cured salmon, pork belly, wagyu beef, and dessert.  Pictured below and everything tasted as good as it looks.  I’m not going to write detailed descriptions of each dish, but I will highly recommend the restaurant for anyone visiting the region.  It was one of the best restaurant meals I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

This is their vegetable/herb garden.  It was large and close by, and kitchen staff were regularly going back and forth to fetch these incredibly fresh ingredients.

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I love the wines of Soldera.  For me they are exceptional*.  While most Brunello is dense and tannic and brooding, the wines of Soldera are beautiful and pretty.  But they are also dense and tannic and brooding.

* Exceptional is perhaps an overused word.  And arguably somewhat misused.  What does the word mean?  Some people seem to use the word to mean something like “really good”, whereas I’d suggest it should be reserved for those times when something is “unusual or atypical”.  It perhaps has its strongest meaning when it is both unusual and really good.  And that’s what I mean when I describe the wines of Soldera as exceptional.

Soldera make Brunello di Montalcino, which is 100% sangiovese from the Montalcino region of Tuscany.  The wines from this region are considered by many to be among the finest red wines in Italy, and are in general far more structured, dense, and tannic than the sangioveses from Chianti and elsewhere.  They are often “impressive” wines.  But how often are they also pretty, and floral, and captivating, and complex even in their youth?  Not very often in my experiences.

Are there other Brunello producers making good wines?  Yes, of course.  But none seems to be close to Soldera both in style of winemaking and execution; Soldera retains the inherent structure of the grape and region but coaxes out of the fruit the most compelling aromas and flavours (eg florals, red fruits, tea leaves, spices, and more).  While many Brunellos are impressive, Soldera wines are beautiful.

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