As you may know, I love Barolo.  It’s a wine style that’s not to everyone’s liking, with firm tannins that challenge many wine drinkers – casual or enthusiastic alike.  Many people who enjoy Barolo think that you simply can’t (well, shouldn’t) drink them young, and depending on the producer, subregion, and vintage, they suggest that nothing short of a decade in the cellar ought to be the norm before you start drinking them.

Well, I say have at them.  With a few exceptions, I tend to believe that great wine is usually great at many stages of its evolution in bottle, including from the very start.  The problem of tannin, which yes can be confronting, is not insurmountable when young Barolo is enjoyed with appropriate food.  And appropriate food for calming tannin is just about anything that has a high protein content (red meat and cheese being the most typical choices).

So here were are, drinking a Sandrone Le Vigne 2010, alongside a Vietti Rocche 1997.  And what did I think?  The Sandrone was stunning.  And generally the table (about 12 of us) agreed.  The Vietti, on the other hand, seemed a bit awkward, even being from a great vintage and a great producer.  It should be singing, but just fell flat.  So, to those of you who shy away from drinking Barolo while it’s young, again I say have at them.

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As posted recently, I received a sous vide cooker for Christmas and have been playing with it like any excited child does with their new toy.  Here is a quite basic recipe for teriyaki salmon.

Firstly, the sauce.  I wanted to keep this very simple, so it was just one cup of soy sauce, half a cup of mirin, half a cup of sugar, and a tablespoon of sesame oil.

Then the salmon, pin-boned but skin on, was placed in the sous vide bag with some teriyaki sauce; not much is needed per piece of salmon.  The bag was sealed, and then place in the water bath at 50 degrees for 2 hours.

After removing from the bag, the skin peeled off easily and I put it in a hot saucepan to crisp up, which it did nicely.  The sauce from the pouch was used to dress some lettuce.  And that’s it.  Simple cooking, but delicious.

And one of the great advantages here is that once you know the temperature you prefer to cook your salmon – or whatever – at, then it’s essentially an idiot-proof process.

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So this is my wine and food blog.  Maybe I need to change it to my wine, food, and whisky blog, because I’ve recently rediscovered my love for fine whisky.

I’ve always enjoyed whisky, but haven’t been drinking much of it for a long time now.  For over a decade I have barely drunk more than a nip here or there, as my wine passion has run rampant in the realm of beverage choice.  But a friend’s brother, who I now call a friend also, has a strong interest in whisky and has rekindled my own interest recently.  And I’ve reminded myself of two compelling facts in favour of drinking more whisky.  Firstly, I love good whisky.  Secondly, even quite expensive whisky is relatively good value on a per-standard-drink basis compared to wine.  And that’s important, because as much as I love fine wine, I can’t afford to drink great wine all the time.  The cost of those great bottles of wine needs to be offset with less expensive wines, or as I’m exploring, drinking the odd glass of whisky helps too.

I was recently in Hobart for a quick visit and stumbled upon the Lark Distillery.  I had visited lark before, but some 14 years ago, and thankfully my wife was kind enough to indulge me in buying a sampler of four lark products to taste, comprising their Classic Single Malt Whisky (43%abv), Distiller’s Selection (46%abv), Cask Strength (58%abv), and a proprietary liqueur.

This was great fun and the three whiskies were excellent.  Interestingly, my wife and I both enjoyed the classic more than the other two, but all three were lovely.  The liqueur didn’t hit the spot for me.

Australia clearly makes world class whisky now, with this and Sullivans Cove leading the way, but the pricing has become world class too.  A 700mL bottle of the Lark Classic Single malt will cost ~$150.  I’m not saying it’s not worth it.  That’s for people to decide for themselves.  But I do think the product sits comfortably alongside the great Scotch, Irish, American, and Japanese Whiskies.

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I received a new toy for Christmas – a sous vide cooker (which is a fancy name for a water bath).

Yes, it’s a water bath.  Essentially, you heat water in it, and hold that water at a constant temperature.  You can then cook food in it, and the key point is that the internal temperature of the food will reach the temperature of the water and never rise above that temperature, thus ensuring even cooking and a level of cooking that is controlled.

The term sous vide means “under vacuum”.  This refers to the preparation of foods to put into the water bath.  Most commonly, you put the food (meat, fish, vegetables, whatever) into fit-for-purpose plastic bags, which are food and temperature safe, and then seal them under vacuum (there’s another machine needed for this function).  This ensures that whatever goes into the bag stays in the bag, so you can flavour the food however you like, with herbs, sauces, etc.

I’ve driven my family nuts for the last week, with just about every meal prepared sous vide.  Naturally I need to experiment a lot more on certain recipes, but it’s been fun so far and I’ll post a couple of meals up over the next few weeks.

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My friend – well, many of them actually – stores his wine in professional climate controlled storage.  He occasionally asks some friends to join him while he is stocktaking and sorting out his wines, to keep him company and share a drink or two.  Apparently the storage company doesn’t mind us doing this.  We pull up a few chairs, turn some boxes into a makeshift table, and shoot the breeze for a while.  Some cheese, prosciutto, and other antipasti makes for an acceptable meal.  It’s a bit chilly (~16°C), but that’s an excellent temperature for drinking most red wines, and some whites.

We drank several nice wines this night, but my eyes lit up when my friend pulled out a bottle of Gaja Costa Russi Barbaresco 1990.  Wow, what a generous offering on this humble occasion.  And the wine lived up to and exceeded my expectations of it.  It was superb.  I could not have enjoyed it more had we drank it at a three-hatted restaurant in lavish surroundings.  A great wine shared with good friends is always a sufficient occasion in itself.

Our makeshift table (boxes) and dinner (cheese and antipasti) seen in the dimly lit background here.

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Continuing the celebration of my friend’s 50th birthday, our Sunday lunch was at The Argus Dining Room in Hepburn Springs.  This was a wonderful lunch, with inventive and well rounded cooking.  One dish in particular was sublime.

Here is the dish (below) that really excited me.  One of the best restaurant dishes I’ve eaten in a long time; or let’s just say one of the best ever.

It’s leek and potato foam over egg yolk, smoked eel, and braised vegetables.

It’s often hard to put your finger on why you like something.  Words seem to fall short.  But I think at this level of cooking, a great restaurant dish is often both rich and refreshing.  There are some exceptions, but this balance usually seems important.  This dish was wonderfully flavoursome, and indulgently creamy, but was not so heavy on the palate as to fatigue, with the vegetables playing a subtle but important role.  Many years of ubiquitous cooking shows on TV have emphasised to us the importance of balance of tastes/flavours in any given dish, and when a chef (or even a home cook) gets this right, the result is a thing of beauty.

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My good friend Neville recently turned 50 and invited people to join him in celebrating this milestone.  He lives in Keyneton VIC and so I dedicated the weekend to this important task.  Neville is a wine importer and enthusiastic collector, especially of any decent wines from the 1964 vintage.  He was kind enough to share some of these rare gems with us, as well as many other excellent wines over a relaxed, jovial, and somewhat decadent weekend.

Below are a few of the highlights in terms of wine:

Dom Perignon 1964.  Yes, still in great condition.

Petrus 1964.  What a thrill.  Petrus is one of the most expensive wines in the world, and to drink one at the age of 50 was a real treat.  And it was in great condition.

DRC Richebourg 2001.  While not 50 years old, it was certainly a worthy inclusion in this epic birthday celebration.  This wine reminded us all of why DRC is so revered.

Many thanks Neville for your amazing generosity in sharing these wonderful, rare, expensive, and diligently collected wines with us.

Posted in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne | Comments Off

During the weekend celebrations of my friend’s 50th birthday, we enjoyed a visit with Michael Dhillon at Bindi winery, located in only a short drive from Kyneton where we were staying.

It’s a relatively small operation.  Certainly, its excellent reputation seems out of proportion with its miniscule production of only ~2500 cases per vintage.  But running on a smaller scale allows Dhillon to focus keenly on operating as a true vigneron, rather than merely a winemaker.  His focus is on vineyard management and making wines that express each of the unique vineyards and plots on the family property, planted to ~5 hectares of pinot noir and chardonnay.

We got to try a range of wines and several different vintages, some from barrel, some from bottle, and including a number of wines from a vineyard that has not yet been released.  This opportunity allowed for a clear understanding of how the different vineyards differ in their expression of the grapes, while a clear Bindi style was also apparent – a style of purity and precision.

Dhillon is a captivating and warm character.  He seems simultaneously charismatic and down-to-earth.  And once you’ve met a winemaker like that, it’s almost impossible not to like their wines all the more when you drink them.

Posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir | Comments Off

I sometimes think that ordering Chateaubriand at a restaurant is a slightly lazy option.  It seems to me that a good restaurant ought to prepare this dish well, and ought to be offering good quality beef fillet, and thus the dish ought to be very enjoyable.  It seems to me that by ordering this dish (typically shared among two) I have robbed the chef of any real scope to impress me with their own unique skills, flavour combinations, and inventiveness.  Then again, when a restaurant gets this right, I wonder why I don’t order it more often.

I enjoyed a recent dinner with friends at Bistrode CBD in Sydney, and lazily ordered the Chateaubriand.  Fortunately, it was superb.  The beef was wonderfully tender and creamy, the bone marrow provided a lovely touch of richness, and served with crunchy chips and a fresh little watercress salad.  This was Chateaubriand prepared to the highest standards.

I plan to try to perfect this dish at home.  This above sets something of a standard to aim for.  I will report back on my progress, presuming (hoping) I have some progress on which to report.

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The Woodley’s Treasure Chest series of wines are now (nearly) impossibly rare and of great interest to Australian wine drinkers and collectors.  I have long been keen to try one, and fortunately my friend Shannon procured a bottle and put it into one of his Rare Wine Dinners (his website here).  The dinner comprised many other old Australian treasures, but the Woodley’s was definitely the main feature for me.

The particular Woodley’s we drank was the 1955 Woodley’s “The Galatea” Claret.  This wine was a blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, all from Coonawarra, and made by Coonawarra winemaking legend Bill Redman.  There was a series of eight vintages, 1949-1956, that constituted the “treasure chest series”, each packaged with an Australian historical print on the label, such as seen on the bottle pictured below.  While the Woodley’s winery has long since closed its doors, this series of wines was arguably the birth of Coonawarra as a premium wine region, with the preceding five decades of winemaking largely considered uninspiring (others, including Bill Redman, were less polite).

The wine itself was in excellent condition.  It’s always a bit of a lottery opening older wines, but we could not have hoped for better.  It was in great shape.  Initial aromas were of old leather and coffee, with hints of smoke and even some dark berries.  A bit of fruit flavour in an old wine like this is nice to find.  The palate was medium bodied and smooth, yet with some dry tannin hanging in, and overall it was very classy.

What a great treat to drink this wine.

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