Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tuesday 3rd May 2006
On to London, we land at Heathrow and take a train to Paddington. Fortunately, JB has the good sense to get us taxi to hotel from Paddington rather than enduring the underground with our entire luggage.

The jetlag seems to be minimal for both of us as the afternoon becomes evening and we step out for something to eat. The football is on, I have spaghetti and meatballs and a glass of nice and dry, but rather neutral Pinot Grigio. We are both speaking gibberish by dark and make way back to the hotel to collapse.

Wednesday 4th May
Today is a day I have been very much looking forward to. We are lunching with Neil Beckett and Sara Basra, the editor and assistant editor respectively, of The World of Fine Wine. We walk from our hotel near Earls Court to Belgravia past some fantastic shopping. We have a few minutes to kill so we have a (bad) cup of coffee at a great little provedore in this bougie area, called Baker & Spice, it reminded me so much of Phillippa’s in Melbourne I had to write her and Andrew a card as I got all sentimental imagining her discovering this place too. There was an enormous block of the palest unsalted, cultured butter on the big oak table and a big jug of unpasturised pouring cream and several cut glass bowls of the jewel-like jams, glistening and we were surrounded by cakes, slices, meringues, tarts, biscuits, gateau on a sideboard. I couldn’t indulge of course because we were on our way to lunch but it got me going that’s for sure.
What a great day we had; Neil and Sara were terrific company, we quickly relaxed into easy and warm conversation and lunch went well into the afternoon. Neil is quietly spoken and has that heart-warming self effacing nature typical of some Englishmen. He is as smart as whip and, as our friend Linden says of him, even in larger groups everyone will hush to carefully listen to what he has to say. Sara is open and candid; I warmed to her immediately and we chatted about many things. We were in an Italian restaurant on Sloane Square, Neil’s choice Il Convivio I think.

Before we arrived in Europe emails were exchanged between JB and Neil on the topic of what wine to bring to lunch. We asked about Marcel Deiss wines and Neil obliged by bringing along a 2001 Mambourg, it is a co-fermented blend of the three white Pinot varietals they being Gris, Blanc and I think, Auxerois. It was luscious looking already, golden straw. The notes I took were as follows: - N: Waxy, paraffin, lanolin. Wide fruits, ripe peaches. A touch of that Hessian I often see in Alsace. Candied lemon, marmalade. Heady honey and heather, dewy nectar. Extremely complex.
M: This wine changes every five minutes. Quince, butter, marmalade, ginger and a gorgeous generous flow of fruit and character all tidied up with gentle but decisive acid. The balance that I seek in the best of Alsace.
It is the first Deiss wine I have seen, after hearing about him from Michael McKenzie of Champagne Jacquesson when we were having dinner at The Fat Duck back in 2003. I have read about it since and longed to see one but it hasn’t been available Australia until ironically, a week before I left for this trip Brian Croser’s daughter called me at the restaurant wishing to show me a new producer from Alsace she and her husband are bringing in.

Neil expressed an interest in seeing an Australian Semillon. JB had a 1986 Tyrell’s Vat 1 in the cellar so we brought it over. Back then they were still labelling it Riesling which Neil found amusing. The wine was looking fantastic today, like a bronzed sunbaker on Bondi beach, a very fine specimen and very Aussie. E: Golden straw to yellow but still bright. N: Ripe stone fruits, orange blossom, crème brulee, curdled cream, lime marmalade, honey, syrup. Lemon sherbet. M: Structured with great acidity offering a frame for the wine to hang off. The fruit and secondary characters were able to express themselves freely and flow while this fine thread of acidity ran from the front to the very back of the palate. Like a very fine needle Neil said.
It for me was such a pure expression of wine, not a lot of winemaking goes into it, no wood, no MLF, no tricks, it’s just picked and fermented in stainless steel and quickly bottled. Both Sara and Neil seemed absolutely delighted with our offering, but you know how polite the cut English are, having said that the wine was looking good.

With dessert, we all had rhubarb nougat; Neil had opened for us 2001 A. Christmann Trockenbeerenausleses, Konigsbach. Notes: E: Golden with ever so slight green tinge. N: Nutmeg, cinnamon, custard, nuts, Brazil nuts. Musky exotics, honey, orange peel, vanilla, delicate white florals, apricot kernels, coconut husks. So a lot going on in there. M: Delicate palate, a dancing wine, it’s sweetness is a paradox to its litheness and testament to its tingling acidity.

We took some photos and made moves to finish up, JB and I had a 2001 Brunello tasting to get to. On leaving Neil surprised us with a magnum of 2003 Deiss L’Altenberg de Bergheim, so very spoilt indeed, naughty Neil.

We took a cab around to the Aldwych Hilton and leapt out to get started. While checking our bags and our new baby, Deiss magnum, we ran into JB’s friend Linden Wilkie. We had arranged from Australia over the wire to have dinner with him tomorrow night, such a small world our charmed little wine world. I asked him about his overall impression of the wines inside, he reserved comment and said he would like to hear our thoughts tomorrow evening. So, into the tasting. There were about 50 producers inside and JB and I were familiar with very few of them. I started with Banfi because I have listed the wines before and ‘B’ was close to the beginning. The wine was big, dark, ripe and tannic. The Alle Mure, a special cuvee of clonal selection showed a little more aromatic lift and on the palate was a little sweeter; my notes suggest this may due to more alcohol.
Rather than go into great detail producer by producer, the Banfi wines pretty much set the scene for what was in the room that day. With just a couple of exceptions, the wines were extracted and over-hung. When I think of Brunello I think of sweet and sour cherries, astringent, rustic and with some awkward tannins when young but never course. There were was a lot of new oak, spicy and sweet being used too. Now I am no expert on Brunello di Montalcino and really can’t comment on the calibre of the line up, but the wines were definitely being made in a modern ‘international’ style. Later I read that the region was being planted up all over the place, even on the most unsuitable sites. My heart sinks to think that another ancient region has fallen into the realm of commodity wine for quick consumption. I am sure it will return one day when we all come to our senses. Imagine what the 03’s look like, mama mia.

The best part of the tasting for me was the pecorino, olive oil and fatty cured and dried meat and bread. We walked back home and made ourselves stay up until 9.30pm then went to bed without dinner.

Happy birthday to my darling brother PETER xxx

Thursday 5th May
Today we just ambled; the weather was warm and sunny. We checked out a few small, independent wine stores, Handford and Lea and Sandeman. They were good with enthusiastic and informed service, but I certainly didn’t feel we were missing out on too much in Australia, I had come across a lot of it before, perhaps vintage depth in Bordeaux , Burgundy and Champagne is something we live with out. At Lea and Samdeman I saw all of Sandro’s Pinot Noir cuvees and the standard release Chardonnay, our assistant from Toulouse said the wines did very well and that he personally loved them. Linden had asked to see a Birk’s Wendouree if we were able to find one, once again good old JB happened to have a single sneaky 1990 in his cellar, but we were in here looking for a white to begin dinner. Try as I might I just can’t get JB enthused about Champagne. So I left the selection with him, we came out with a 2004 Marcel Deiss Riesling, when it rains Deiss it pours! Sadly I did not take note of the cuvee or even note the wine as I was late to dinner and blustering about a bit.

Linden had made us bookings at Riccardos in South Kensington. We shared lots of plates fro dinner, the food was just terrific, exceptional mushroom risotto, lamb cutlets and bistecca, yum yum. A little background on Linden for my devoted readers, both of you. He is a Kiwi and runs The Fine Wine Experience, a business where he conducts some of the worlds most amazing tastings and dinners i.e.: the 1959 Graves tasting I will be attending later in may or for instance a vertical of Petrus going back to 1945, incredible. I don’t know how he got it all started yet, but I intend to find out. He was also born as was I in the bereft vintage of 1972, he tells me Hungarian Tokay was good and Port was pretty good, with all due respect to both regions but I won’t exactly be endowed with good drinks at my 50th will I?

We kicked off with the Deiss Riesling, which from memory was an expressive wine but not necessarily with typical Riesling character, more individual than that, quite broad again as we had experienced at lunch yesterday but still tight. JB really enjoys tingling precise acidity in his Riesling and think he may be a little disappointed with Diess wines so far. He enjoys the absolute power and drive of Clos St Hune, which is amazing, and while I see his point I quite enjoy the relaxed and natural expression of the wines. Due to lack of notes I will move on.
1975 Latour Haut-Brion it was dark and opaque but very hard to see in the restaurant light.
N: Ripe and runny like cheese more than ready. M: Sweet, not really fruit sweet but secondary porty sweet. Long lasting firm tannins still holding this wine together. Whilst this wine was quite wrinkly it still had life and savoured well with some food, we finished the bottle which is always a good sign, although with Linden at the table I suspect it was always going to get drunk.
1989 Mas de Daumas Gassac Languedoc (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Cab franc, Pinot and Tannat…wow) touted as a the grand cru of the Languedoc! To the eye it was dark and dense. N: Very ripe, just a tick over I think. It is quite a low acid wine, not like new world though perhaps a little like Spain.
M: The wine had lots of warm spicy fruit but lacked some definition, tannins evident but not framing. So glad to have seen this wine though, would love to see a younger one.
Onto the 1990 Birks Wendouree Shiraz Clare Valley, South Australia. E: Dark plum giving way to a paler brickish edge. N: Brambly fruits, something slightly rustic and little euco. M: Still plenty of good Aussie fruit, a little rugged rather than rustic, so very Australian, with tannic grip, a savoury-ness and spiciness and plenty of alcohol.

The wine made Linden a little nostalgic I think, I am flat out trying to get every old world experience under my belt and he’s pining for an honest and straight forward from home. It was great dinner, I loved getting to know Linden, a great chap as they say and I think he enjoyed hearing the dulcet tones of our broad, laconic chat.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Saturday March 25th 2006

Dinner: The Melting Pot, Adelaide

After losing on a sure bet at the gee gees I was very much looking forward to a soothing recovery in a world so much more familiar to me than the track - a fine diner.

Mother and I had little gallop of our own up and down King William Rd (typically, we both "knew exactly where the restaurant is"), eventually we were seated, Mother on the banquette with me to her left, at right angles. The table behind was the only left unoccupied...... later it was taken up by the owner of my losing nag! That's Adelaide for you.

Offered are a 5 or 8 course tasting menu (a vegetarian option is also available).
We chose the 8 course menu, no problem for a girl known to have a good tooth on her.

The warm bread and salty butter was delicious, just how I like it. The Taittinger by the glass was so yummy and elegant, it has lots of pinot in the blend (not as much as many NV Champagnes though) but still looks so feminine. I drank it at supper at Ling Nam at 1am one evening about a fortnight ago, on that night the pinot really carried the food well , yet tonight it looks like so floral and delicate, an apperitif style. I have always liked this Champagne, it was nice to reminded of why.

The food was really good for the first 4 courses, my Mother who can be quite suspicious when it comes to hauty food was enjoying herself immensley. At this point though a turn for the worse in my humble opinoin, when the plate of sausage was dressed with popcorn. Mum was ammused, but I had seen this before; sure enough the sous chef is a protegee of Shannon Bennett's. It completely fell into a clumsy heap for me when a de-constructed paella followed. Dishes like this can be a whimsical delight when handle deftly, but can sadly look immature and a little silly when it is not. Oh well, it was a very good try all the same.

The wine list was rollicking fun. 2001 Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er (vineyard to come), the first of 01 red premier crus I have seen starting to relax and unwind. To the eye it was ruby garnet and bright but good and dark. On the nose it had all the hallmarks of French pinot; fruity and rosey and quite generous, very enticing. In the mouth it was beautifully structured with a good core of dense fruit and lovely fresh acidity, succulent. Being a good Adelaide girl, I asked for a glass to be poured for the horse-people behind me, only out of manners.

I am critical I know, and this really is a great restaurant in Adelaide and it is good fun, but I have been eating degustation aound the world, we just have a little ways to go 'tis all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Alsatian Lunch at the Bails Sunday 26th February 06

Thankfully, after much anguish overnight, my course, the panna cotta had set and as it turned out, was a triumph. The whole day was hit in fact with an amazing line up wines (see below) and a terrific mob to enjoy them with. Perhaps too may wines to completely focus and give each the time and attention they deserved, but with this being the only blight, who's complaining?

The highlight for me and many others was the 1989 Trimbach Clos St Hune Vendage Tardive. My note reminds me of how great it was. "What a privlege; this wine is in perfect balance, lusciuos yet dry, generous yet so precise and defined. This is the tension for which great riesling is renowned."

Our freind Linden Wilkie from the 'Fine Wine Experience' in London says of the wine:
"The Clos St Hune '89 VT is one of the greatest rieslings I've ever had the privilege to pass through my spoilt lips. Is yours the regular VT or the VT "Hors Choix"? People make a fuss over the event rarer Hors Choix, but when I tasted them side by side I much preferred the regular VT - one of those wines whose extra sweetness isn't really noticed, the VT contributing more of an amplified richness and definition, purity. I want a glass of that right now!"

The Bails, Kangaloon
26th February 2006

2005 McVitty Grove Pinot Gris
Fresh and balanced, not a hint of the hot, oily style that I don't enjoy

Tarte a l’oignon

2004 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling

A terrific riesling from Australia. Lovely fruit weight with some phenolic texture and good bracing acidity without being harsh like a whip as seems to be the fashion with Australian riesling currently. On the nose; good effusive characters of lime, steel, minerals, white blosssom and chalk.

2003 Wolfberger Grand Cru Steingrubler
This had a wonderful exotic and very promising nose and the palate quite lively to begin with and then in no time at all with air the nose became pungent and the palate quite flat.

2002 Orlando Steingarten Riesling
Nice and lively typically Oz with assertive lime, mandarin, sherbet. A refreshing and tangy palate, a little clumsy in it's European company though.

2000 Paul Blanck Schlossburg Riesling Grand Cru

1993 Trimbach Clos St Hune
Most of us were quite critical of this wine, perhaps unjustifyably so. It really did have terrific presence and alarming fruit weight for a wine of its age, the only thing it was possibly missing was the drive we were so keen to see; it's acidity was fine but not carrying that claen fruit to the end.

Sanglier d’Alsace (wild boar)

1989 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune Vendage Tardive
I think enough has been said on this wine.

1989 Hugel Riesling Vendage Tardive
A more effusive nose than the Clos Ste Hune VT, very feminine, honeyed and jube-y flowing fruit. Rich palate with a dry finish another amazing wine for the day.

Mystery wine – 1993 Chateau Laville Haut-Brion
I knew this wine was in the line up and was very curoius to see how it would be picked up by the mob. Most were indeed baffled (probably because we were at an Alsatian inspired lunch), so it was optioned. One experienced player picked it very quickly. I recall Ian McLean's remark on this wine when he and I saw it for the first time, blind, sometime last year. "It has a lightness and litheness which says it is something other than chardonnay, but complexity and oak that says it could be chardonnay."

It is an exotic and beatifully scented wine, with creamy honeyed notes and lavander and heather. The palate is like some of the rieslings experienced today rich, yet dry.

2001 Albert Mann 'Cuvee H' Pinot Noir
A spicey, savoury and lean without being mean, pinot. Of course I see a lot of acidity, perhaps a little rasping.

1997 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve Personelle
Corked and shot to pieces.

1985 Vega-Sicilia Unico
We all moved outside and stood for this wine, it was served blind also. I was struck immediately by its exotic, heady nose almost a little like an old vintage port. Warm and flowing with spice and fruit cakey fruit and roses. Impressively juicy and rich for its age and soft but present tannins carrying it through.

1990 Chateau Haut-Brion
Served blind, we all knew this would be a Bordeaux given today's host and the entrant of this wine imports the stuff. So no points for guessing this much. it of course was optioned. It did not take long for the two guys sitting next to me to pick Haut-Brion.

MUNSTER (not too pongy)

1995 Albert Mann Furstentum Tokay Pinot Gris

2003 Vinoptima Gewurztraminer, Ormond NZ

Panna cotta a la vanile avec peche

2003 JJ Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese.

1996 Egon Muller Scharzofberger Auslese Riesling

2004 Clos Henri Pinot Noir, Marlborough NZ

2003 Tarrington Cuvee Emile Pinot Noir

2003 Domaine Laurent gevrey-Chambertin Les Combottes