Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Attica Chef’s Table Tasting Menu

A long overdue return to Attica last night for the Chef’s Table Tasting Menu, when Ben Shewry tries dishes cooked for a capacity audience. Ben gives the background thus:

Three years ago Chef’s Table was born out of a desire to progress faster with the development of our cuisine, throw caution to the wind and to offer guests more variety at a reasonable price. The menu is a living, breathing thing that evolves week to week. I work on it during the weekend and let the seasons dictate what they may in terms of ingredients; many of the dishes are inspired by memories of my childhood in rural New Zealand and by sights of nature and life that I discover on my drive to work from my home on the Bellarine Peninsula. Some dishes are just inspired by common sense and beautiful produce.

My team and I arrive each morning to begin the day’s preparations, we gather around a bench and discuss how we will go about forming these new ideas and thoughts into something cohesive as a menu. The evening’s food will take about 50 hours to produce.
None of these dishes have been prepared before...
The menu (with matching wines) was:

Button mushroom, nashi, goat’s milk curd
Crittenden Pinocchio Arneis 2009 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)

Sticky rice, Chinese sausage, poached chicken
Rimauresq Rose 2008 (Cotes de Provence, France)

Crystal Bay prawn, tofu, shitake broth
Monredon Cotes du Rhône Blanc 2009 (Rhône Valley, France)

Lamb neck, garlic, silverbeet, quinoa
Finca Flichman Gestos Malbec 2007 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Mandarin, lemon myrtle, tamarillo
Plantagenet Ring Bark Riesling 2008 (Mount Barker, WA)

The sommelier Ainsley (ex The Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld) has a fabulous wine list at Attica, and came up with very imaginative wine matches. For me the Lamb neck was the outstanding dish, closely followed by the Crystal Bay prawn and Sticky rice/poached chicken dishes.

Time will tell whether any or all appear on the ‘normal’ menu available through the rest of the week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Truffle Hunt a success... no finders keepers

The truffle hunt at Tibooburra Vineyard took place, and was a success, although I left after one and a half hours, with Greg Kerr (Tibooburra owner and vigneron) and dog owner/handler Georgie Patterson continuing the day’s work in an endeavour to meet backorders for 1kg.

The photographs tell 90% of the story, but, incredibly stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of Greg Kerr with his nose to the ground after the dog had suggested the presence of a truffle. In the six years he has been harvesting truffles, he has been able to develop his sense of smell to the point where he can have a fair idea whether the truffle is ready to harvest (or is ripe), and can also have a fair idea about false nose-outs by the dog. This happens with other fungi, but also things such as ants nests – we had one this morning, and apparently it is the formic acid that misleads the dog. However, it should be forgiven. It works at a frenetic pace, and – having discovered a truffle – gives one lightning-fast scratch that barely marks the surface. Since the truffles are less than 10cm below the surface, its natural instinct to dig has been curbed by training.

There are good vintages for truffles, and not so good. This is partly determined by the amount of rain, heat and other factors between December and March when the embryonic truffles start to gain mass. In another decade he thinks he may be able to be more able to accurately predict what will happen in a given year. July is the start of the peak period of 12 weeks for the harvest. Once exhumed, the truffles stay alive for 10 to 12 days, and during this period are far more aromatic than later. So it’s a split second timing issue for Greg Kerr and his small stable of chosen restaurants which buy the truffles.

The largest truffle harvested in our presence was around 35gm (43gm with the dirt still adhering) and that truffle had a particularly favourable scent.

The inoculated hazelnut and blue oak trees are sold in pots from the supplier in Tasmania, and in Tibooburra’s case, produced their first truffles after only two and a half years, which Greg Kerr believes to be the least period recorded. Sometimes the wait is five or more years.

Aussie Truffle Dogs:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Riesling in Australia

A new book published by Winetitles came across my desk yesterday. Riesling in Australia, by Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, looks at the history, the regions, the legends and the producers of riesling, and is billed as the first in 222 years. (Obviously, no one has got around to writing a book on riesling previously.)

I am (accurately) quoted as saying ‘Rhine Riesling – most versatile grape of them all’. It comes from an article I wrote for the National Times on October 5, 1980, when ‘Rhine’ was used to denote the variety, ‘Riesling’ simply an amorphous style. I have to admit I was slightly curious about the precise context of my statement, but the immaculate footnotes throughout the book took me back to the article in question. The quote comes from the header to the article, and I expanded it slightly with the following observations, ‘It’s an extremely versatile grape. Wines made from it cover the range from bone-dry through to the slightly sweet moselle style, thence to spatlese and finally the fully sweet auslese.’ Here I was referring to the thoroughly incorrect use of those terms in Australia, albeit rare, even if Thomas Hardy subsequently sold and marketed a beerenauslese.

In between 1980 and the mid-1990s rieslings with modest levels of residual sugar (akin to the kabinett wines of the Mosel Valley) largely disappeared, leaving the extremes of dry on the one hand, and extremely rich and sweet on the other (an obvious example being Brown Brother Patricia Noble Riesling). But with the move of riesling to seriously cool parts of Australia, wines made in the Mosel style have gained real traction. Here the wheel has turned full circle.

More recently still, another dimension has been added with rieslings given skin contact and/or fermentation of cloudy juice with subsequent extended lees contact. Two examples I have tasted recently that are quite outstanding are the O’Leary Walker 2008 Drs’ Cut Riesling and the 2009 Delatite Riesling, the former with skin and lees contact, the latter simply wild yeast fermentation of cloudy juice and eight months lees contact. An even more extreme example has been Mac Forbes Tradition Riesling, an example of natural winemaking with its roots in bygone centuries.

Riesling in Australia has been handsomely produced in full colour and can be purchased through; or email

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best vintage ever?

Industry observers with a cynical view or a long-term memory (and especially both, which disqualifies me) will remember countless ‘best vintages ever’ from around the country, in Bordeaux or wherever. Sandro Mosele, president of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association, has joined the queue. He says ‘For me 2010 is the best vintage ever. We have produced the style of wines that we hope to make every year.’ Martin Spedding, general manager of 10 Minutes by Tractor, also got in on the act saying ‘2010 is a great year and caps off a wonderful run of vintages since 2003, it really has been a golden era for the Peninsula that augurs well for the next decade.’

Monday, July 12, 2010

Burgundy sales in France and abroad

It’s not only a fast-moving world, but a very strange one. Each month the Burgundy wine office sends out a newsletter for journalists, and over the years I have read some strange pieces in the journal, but none has caused me to scratch my head as hard as the celebration of the Burgundy Wine Board’s efforts to increase the amount of burgundy purchased by supermarkets. The increase in supermarket listings and sales for 12 months to the end of February is 2.2% by volume, and 2.9% by value. The newsletter goes on to say ‘the increased number of varieties on the shelves of hypermarkets and supermarkets (on average 13.4 varieties of Burgundy white wines, compared to 12.8 one year earlier) shows the faith of stores and the real consumer demand for these products.’ I’m not quite sure what ‘varieties’ means, but it’s either brands or appellations. Either way, it’s not a trend that fine wine producers in Australia would celebrate.

There are also figures on exports which make a great deal more sense. Overall, exports grew 5.7% by volume for the fourth quarter of 2009 (compared withy ‘08), and while the recovery varies from market to market, the United Kingdom is up 24% by volume and 40% by value, even if these remain 30% below 2008 levels. Then, just to remind Australians that we won’t be the only fish in the Chinese pool, recovery in the Hong Kong and the Singapore markets, important platforms for re-exportation across Asia (particularly to China), is also reported.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bad news in Australian and NZ wine

There is plenty of bad news coming out of New Zealand at the moment, not that it does its Australian counterpart much good. One Kiwi retailer says the industry still faces a flood of wine that is having a huge effect on the market, with little chance of any change for the next 18 months. There is a corresponding flood of receiverships, with the Cape Campbell Wines Group, based in Marlborough, going into voluntary receivership, owing creditors millions of dollars. Cape Campbell has about 100 hectares of sauvignon blanc in the Awatere Valley and seven or eight employees. The unrelated Awatere Vineyard Estates, a large contract grower, went into receivership a month ago, and more recently Marlborough wine company Gravitas was also put into receivership.

More ominous is the receivership of the Australian ventures of Dan Phillips, owner of the Grateful Palate, who played a key role in the ‘discovery’ of the big Australian red wines that so entranced Robert Parker. Growers and other creditors of the group that produces wines under the alluring labels such as Bitch Grenache, Evil Cabernet Sauvignon and Marquis Philips have been told the group is in receivership, and the outlook is grim. This can only mean that sales of the wines have ground to a halt in the United States.

China: Here we come

In an upcoming article in the Weekend Australian I write about the Japanese market, but point to the dilemma confronting the Australian wine industry as a whole if it has to take marketing dollars out of other countries (notably Japan) to fund a push into China. Well, Wine Australia has announced a multi-million-dollar assault on the Chinese market with the launch of brand ‘A+’ at Australia’s Shanghai Expo pavilion. Wine Australia will set up offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, with the expectation that the Chinese market will become its biggest customer by 2015.

I have to say that for the better part of 10 years I have been talking about China and the near-certainty that it would become Australia’s major wine market, but said it was extremely difficult to tell when this would come about – in 10, 15 or 20 years (or more) time. Well, now 2015 has been nominated, and it would not surprise me if we do achieve that success by that time. The hidden question is where the supply will come from. More specifically, will we come to regret the strong moves to reduce production. It’s a fast-moving world.

Finally, I should perhaps explain that I missed the original press release A+ Australian Wine while I was in France.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I know it’s been out there for a few days, but it is extremely interesting that Foster’s has withdrawn Baileys from the market, along with two vineyards in Wrattonbully, and one in California’s Central Coast. It may appear like the deckchairs on the Titanic, for while Foster’s has sold 20 of the original 32 vineyards put up for sale last year, an additional eight vineyards have been added to the list. I have no more information than any other commentator, but I suspect wine division chief David Dearie has been central to these changes.

Chateau Yering Truffle Degustation Luncheon

The Truffle Degustation Luncheon (sponsored by Yarra Valley Dairy, Domaine Chandon and Sher Wagyu) held last Sunday at Chateau Yering lived up to expectations. Proceedings got underway with a canapé followed by an amuse bouche, the latter parmesan pannacotta with truffle jelly served with Chandon Vintage Brut 2006. Rather than repeat the observation, the matching of wine and food throughout the lunch was exemplary, made possible by Chandon’s move into table wines, at first surreptitiously under the Green Point label, for well under five years under the main brand label.

The degustation courses then started with Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Feta Cigar, with shaved heirloom beetroot and truffle, white chocolate clove crumb, the match Chandon Vintage Brut Rose 2006. For me the least convincing of the courses, highlighting the fact that even though the truffles had been harvested only a matter of days before the lunch, when shaved thin and competing against strong background flavours, you can wonder where the truffle went (with apologies to pepsident).

The Potato and Truffle Ravioli, accompanied by sautéed salsify and wild mushrooms, nasturtium coulis, and potato and mushroom soil, was not only my favourite dish, but left you in now doubt that truffle was present. The single ravioli, looking as if it was cooked in a small cake mould, was filled with what chef Mathew Macartney described as ‘potato foam’, although its texture was closer to partially thickened cream, the truffle infusion powerful. The sautéed salsify and nasturtium coulis also excited much favourable comment by the foodies on my table.

Then came Squab Roasted in Liquorice Spice, with chestnut puree, truffle bread and butter pudding, and violet emulsion. Here the violet emulsion (of all things) caused excited chatter, and it was indeed quite potent. The squab was roasted to perfection, the thick-sliced breast deep red yet not bleeding, obviously having been allowed to stand and set for some time after the squab was taken from the oven.

Charcoal Grilled Sher Wagyu fillet came next with Chandon Barrel Selection Yarra Valley Shiraz 2006, the grade nine wagyu coming from the Sher’s property at Ballan, initially grass fed, then grain fed for four months. Here the accompaniments were white onion puree, heirloom carrots, bone marrow jus, and Jerusalem artichoke truffle gallette. The wagyu fillet is one of Macartney’s specials, cooked sous-vide, and then thickly coated with squid ink to give the impression it was charcoal grilled, a sprig of burning rosemary adding a touch of smoke to the aroma of the dish, heightening the charcoal illusion.

Chandon’s Cuvee Riche (its distinctly off-dry sparkling wine) introduced the final course of Banana and Truffle Semifreddo, with maple jelly, macadamia mousse and lemon fizz. Perhaps a case of the dog preaching, the truffle coming in the form of two cold slices, but also in the surprisingly pleasing semifreddo. I suppose you have to have truffle in a dessert course in a lunch billed such as this, but I can think of far better ways to use truffles.

On the mantelpiece above the (unlit) fire at the end of the long, elegant Chateau Yering dining room (60 guests were at the lunch) was a 420-gram truffle that had been harvested at Tibooburra Wines, Yellingbo, last Thursday. The lucky door prize was also a truffle, packed in a small cryovac bag with uncooked rice, its modest weight not disclosed, but happily accepted by the winner.

The all-inclusive cost was $195 per person; having recently returned from a month in France with a strong Australian dollar against the euro, I can say with confidence borne of experience that you would not escape for less than $350 for food and wine of this quality, and a whole lot more if it were presented in a Michelin-starred restaurant (which Chateau Yering’s main dining room, Eleonore’s, would contend for).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Too much or too little wine?

My article in this weekend’s Australian turns on Dr Richard Smart’s interesting – if not downright quixotic – look at the level of Australia’s wine production, suggesting the surplus problem is not due to surplus vineyards/grape harvests, but underselling. He argues that if Australia had retained its 2008/2009 market share we would need 2.6 billion litres to satisfy demand.

In Tony Keys’ KROW Report No. 28 (22 June) he makes the interesting observation that the 2010 production of 1.56 million tonnes, equivalent to 1.07 billion litres is slightly under annual sales of 1.1 to 1.2 billion litres. All well and good, he says, but how much overhand is there from 2009, and possibly before? That is indeed a question, but (given Keys’ eagle eyes and propensity for cold showers) there is another question: how much of the 1.1 to 1.2 billion litres has been sold with a profit margin, no matter how slender?