Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Visit of the Grandi Marchi

The Grandi Marchi, or, to give the organisation its full name, the ‘Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands’, is a group of 19 of Italy’s most famous family-owned winemakers, the organisation very similar to that of Australia’s First Families of Wine.  Recently, 13 of the biggest names came to Australia for events in Sydney and Melbourne, including a dinner at Florentino Upstairs in the latter city which I was privileged to attend.  Those who came were from Antinori, Argiolas, Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo, Ca’ del Bosco, Carpenè Malvolti, Donnafugata, Masi, Mastroberardino, Michel Chiarlo, Pio Cesare, Rivera, Tasca d’Almerita and Umamni Ronchi.
Carpenè Malvolti 1868 Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore DOCG NV

Toothfish Crudo
Blood Orange, Pickled Cauliflower, Radishes, Capers Isole Eolie
Ca’ del Bosco Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta DOCG NV

Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout
Tapioca, Apple, Celery, Yarra Valley Caviar, Yuzu
Umani Ronchi Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2008

Roasted Partridge
Beetroot, Buckwheat, Broccoli
Michele Chiarlo La Court ‘Nizza’ Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOC 2007
Mastroberardino Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC 2011
Pio Cesara Barbaresco DOCG 2009

Braised Ox Tail, Red Wine, Spice
Rivera Il Falcone Castel del Monte Riserva DOC 2007
Tasca d’Almerito Tenuta Regaleali ‘Cygnus’ Sicilia IGT 2010

Veal Cheek
Peroni Gran Riserva Beer, Slow Cooked, Rosemary, Shallots, Sweetbreads
Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Sassoalloro Rosso Toscano IGT 2009
Antinori Tignanello Rosso Toscana IGT 2010
Argiolas Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2007

Ubriaco Di Amarone
Masi Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2007

Il Mandarino Di Murano
Sugar Ball, Mandarin Sorbet, Shortbread, Pearl Tapioca, Mandarin Mousse, Green Tea Cake
Donnafugato Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2010

Caffe Lavazza

A magical combination of wine and food.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Barossa Shiraz by Dr Thomas Girgensohn

Barossa Shiraz: Building Regional Identity (Wakefield Press, 2013), by Dr Thomas Girgensohn, is an interesting book.  Its nuts and bolts are 164 pages in full colour throughout, with an RRP of $39.95.  Thomas Girgensohn is a former managing partner of the Boston Consulting Group and an Australian company director with experience in a range of industries. He was educated in Germany, with an MBA from Saabruecken and a PhD in business from the University of Munich. He has been collecting Australian wine for nearly 30 years, closely observing and following developments in the wine industry over this period. He currently publishes a wine blog, in which he shares his tasting experiences: ‘Alontin’s Australian wine review – and beyond.’

I say interesting, because this whole subject of Hand of God/Hand of Man is never far from the headlines these days and is the raison d’être of Girgensohn’s book. My problem is that there is an assumption one can ascribe particular flavour profiles to particular soils, making the case so strongly that whether the shiraz (for example) has 13% or 15% alcohol, has been matured in old French or new American oak, or comes from the 2011 or 2012 vintage, the site-flavour link remains inviolate.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The best of winery newsletters

I get many newsletters coming across my desk.  Some still using that ancient postal distribution system, and increasing number through the e-world.  Most are utilitarian at best, but I recently received two which I greatly enjoyed.  The longest, and funniest, is that of Bloodwood (click here to view); the most interesting (and with its own black humour) that of Mount Terrible.  Those newsletters are only sent to people John Eason knows, however there are a dozen or so posts found via the News section of the website (www.mountterriblewines.com.au), some of which appear in a modified form in the newsletters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Plantagenet - Part 2 of 2: Tasting Notes ex the 40th Birthday Celebration

Plantagenet had to make a tough decision about the choice of wines to present with the Celebration. Given the extremely compressed timeframe, the absolute number of wines presented during the Masterclass session had to be limited. Should the tasting cover all of the five principle varieties (riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon), and, if so, what vintages should be featured? For each of the shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, four decades were covered, the wines standing proud.

I may well have been in the minority, and, in any event, am hard to please when it comes to pinot noir made in marginally warm regions. So much so it serves little purpose to comment further on the pinot noirs.

The chardonnays simply serve to show that screwcaps are essential once the chardonnay is more than five years old, and absolutely so when it is 10 or more years old; thus the ’93 and ’00 Chardonnays were proof positive that cork is an unfriendly closure.

Which leaves the rieslings, the shirazs and the cabernets, the three best varieties of Plantagenet, and which, in the wisdom of hindsight, should have been the only three presented in the Masterclass, the compensation being an additional eight vintages to be split between the big three.

Here follow my tasting notes using a 5-star system, and if you think the allocation overly generous, let me simply say that the chardonnays and pinot noirs racked up everything from 1, 2 and 3 stars.


Full gold colour, with a faint touch of copper; there is a distinct honeyed edge to the bouquet, with a hint of toast in the background; still lively thanks in part to crisp acidity, but is fractionally past its best, and no two bottles will be even remotely similar to each other. Cork
4+ stars

Bright, full gold; some oxidation/cork issues on the bouquet of the first bottle, led to a second, and then a third, and it was with the last that we saw the wine as it should be, with honey and lemon zest flavours on a quite firm palate, which grew and grew in the glass. Cork
4.5 stars

Gleaming gold-green; the fragrant, citrus-driven bouquet has great varietal expression, and appears at its peak; the palate lives up the promise of the bouquet, having entered into what will be a long plateau of perfection. A tasting note in March ’07 (94 points) suggested the wine would live to 2016, and that now seems conservative. Screwcap
5 stars

Served at a great dinner at the end of the day, and I have nothing to add to the tasting note ex the 2014 Wine Companion. Simply, a great wine. Bright straw-green; one whiff and one sip will tell you why this wine should have won trophies, including that for Best Wine of Show in the Qantas Wine Show of WA ’12. The colour and bouquet promise much, but the sheer quality of the lime-filled palate, with bursts of crunch acidity and green apple takes it out of the ordinary. The drink to date will prove to be conservative, but reflects the pleasure the wine gives right now. Screwcap
5 stars

The wine is predominantly sourced from the Wyjup Vineyard, and its 43-year-old vines, fleshed out with lesser amounts from two local vineyards which add complexity to the profile. The wine is a little bit behind the all-conquering '12 Riesling, but is seriously good, with a fragrant, flowery, lime blossom-filled bouquet, a long palate gaining strength and energy on the finish, with touches of slate and talc forming part of the impact of acidity. Screwcap
5 stars

Here the decision was to go back even further in time, and struck a rich seam of gold.

Deep, healthy colour; rich black fruits, pepper, spice and licorice on the bouquet, then a layered, rich palate. A great Australian dry red, and, if the corks are sound (or the wine is given a new cork with a prayer for no TCA), has years left in front of it. Cork
5 stars

Lighter colour than the ’77, but the hue is vibrant; a fragrant bouquet of red and black fruits is an entrancing introduction, followed by a supple, medium-bodied palate, and there are savoury/spicy nuances to give complexity to the red fruit core. Cork; the same comments apply as for the ’77.
5 stars

A re-release from the cellar, marking the start of a policy of holding back wines for later release exclusively from cellar door and restaurants. When first tasted in March '08, I gave the wine 96 points, and it has fulfilled all of the promise it then held. It has a super-complex black cherry, blackberry, licorice and spice bouquet, the palate with more of the same, augmented by tannins of the quality rare in shiraz; all-in-all, strongly reminiscent of the wines from Hermitage in the northern end of the Rhone Valley. Screwcap
5 stars

Not bottled at the time of the tasting, but already blended for bottling. Vivid colour; the fragrance is similar to that of the ’90, with red and black fruits; the beautiful, medium-bodied palate is supple and long, oak merely a bystander. Screwcap.
5 stars

Cabernet Sauvignon
Here the master plan of one wine from each of four decades came to fruition.

Still has good colour; the bouquet has a vibrant display of varietal aromas, the palate fleshing these out with flavours of cassis, redcurrant, and touches of mint/leaf; fine tannins underwrite a gently savoury finish. When tasted in October 1994, the wine was awarded four stars and rated as somewhat past its best. The only reconciliation is the dreaded cork. Cork
5 stars

Good hue; a very fragrant, elegant and almost perfumed bouquet, which, together with the palate, had an astonishing amount in common with the ’89; finished with silky, fine-grained tannins. When first tasted (October 1997) damned by faint praise. Cork
5 stars

Outstanding colour for an eight-year-old wine, still purple-crimson; the palate currently presents something of a tug-of-war between the fruit, oak and tannins, but is balanced, and has years left in front of it. Screwcap
4.5 stars

Not yet bottled but, like the Shiraz, fully blended for bottling. Vivid colour; has exceptional texture, structure and balance to an intense, layered palate. Screwcap

5 stars

Monday, November 11, 2013

Plantagenet - Part 1 of 2

This week’s column – even in its extended form posted today, and covering more ground than the article printed in the Weekend Australian Magazine – is as notable for what it does not say as it is for the words in the article.

For while Tony Smith’s pioneering work in Mount Barker was on the other side of Australia, and the early years did not entirely match my endeavours, we were – and remain – driven by near-identical aspirations, and are both left with bitter-sweet legacies.

At the celebration dinner he recounted how ‘The first vineyard I had ever had anything to do with was my own, the first winery likewise.’ When I and two lawyer friends paid the princely sum of $10,000 for a four-hectare block of acidic clay and straggly ironbarks and spotted gums in the Hunter Valley in 1970, we knew what vineyards were supposed to look like, and had seen inside a few wineries.

When we crushed our first vintage of one tonne of shiraz and (two weeks later) half a tonne of cabernet sauvignon in 1973, we had a hazy idea about the theory, but no practical experience of winemaking. Tony Smith’s crop of half a tonne of each of shiraz and cabernet from the Bouverie Vineyard had been packed in wooden banana boxes and delivered to Dorham Mann in the Swann Valley for fermentation in the bottom of a concrete tank.

It was the next year that he learnt of the existence of a disused apple packing shed, and two-and-a-half acres of weed-infested surrounding land in the middle of the Mount Barker township. Elders Stock & Station had the property for sale at $12,000, and Tony Smith’s response was ‘Done.’ The purchase completed, the local Apex Club removed the weeds, helped clean up and repair bits and pieces of the shed, and Plantagenet was open for business.

Our paths crossed many times over the ensuing years, mainly, but not always, in Mount Barker. In 1984 he convened the inaugural meeting of The Australian Winemakers Forum in the Melbourne offices of my law firm, Clayton Utz. The Forum was formed to represent and protect the interests of small family-owned wineries. It was ultimately absorbed into the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, having succeeded in its aim.

In early 1988 Coldstream Hills, which had been founded by my wife Suzanne and myself, became a small listed company on the Stock Exchange, taking our ownership down from 100% to 51%, but providing the capital to double the size of the vineyard (with an existing second house) and complete the building of the winery. At the back of my mind I envisaged a management buy-out when the business was fully established, but when wine market prices collapsed in 1991/1992, we were forced to raise additional capital for Coldstream Winemakers Limited, but weren’t able to participate in the rights issue. Consequently, our share fell to less than 30% of the issued capital.

In 1992 part of the privately owned Plantagenet Wines share capital was acquired by Lionel Samson and Son, Western Australia’s oldest family owned business, leading to further sales of the next seven years until, in 1999, Tony Smith was the only remaining minority shareholder. This left him without a viable position, so in that year he sold his shares to Samson, but became Chairman of the Board of Plantagenet Wines. Two years ago Samson took sole management control, leading to Smith’s resignation as Chairman.

In 1996 Southcorp Wines launched a takeover offer for Coldstream Hills; after much discussions and negotiations, my wife Suzanne and I decide we should accept the offer, thus leaving me without any proprietary interest. For some years I was a group winemaker within Southcorp, with responsibilities for Coldstream Hills, Devil’s Lair and the Hunter Valley trio of Lindemans, Tulloch and Hungerford Hill, but in 2000 fell back into a formal (by exchange of letters) consultancy agreement for Coldstream Hills.

Tony Smith and I respectively have strong emotional bonds for ‘our babies’. My feelings about Coldstream Hills, and pride in its achievements, are exactly the same today as they were when Suzanne and I were the 100% owners of the business, then 51%, then under 30%. I am privileged to conduct all my general wine tastings for the Wine Companion in the winery, and Suzanne and I own the house high on the hill above House Block Chardonnay (planted 1985) and G Block Pinot Noir (planted 1988).

I believe Tony Smith’s attitude to Plantagenet is much the same, contract or no contract.

Part 2 of this post will be published on Tuesday 12 November

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Climate Change – True or False?

• When will Adam Bandt and his acolytes in the ABC get to read the Approved Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the IPCC’s Fifth Report issued last month? (I assume none will read the full report, for it is far too long for the ADHD nature of their sound and print bytes.)  
• The SPM says (and I quote) ‘The rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998 to 2012) is 0.05˚C [-0.05 to +0.15˚C] per decade.’ • If that rate of warming were to continue through to the end of this century, the global temperature would increase by less than 0.5˚C. 

• The SPM says the miniscule pause in warming for 1998 to 2012 (not contemplated by earlier IPCC reports) is due to natural variability, and does not in fact allow extrapolation through to the end of the century. If so, natural variability will surely occur again.

• Even if one accepts the IPCC caveat, the figures through to the end 2012 cannot possibly support the assertion that the appalling bushfires in NSW (the worst since 1939) are a consequence of climate change/global warming (the terms seem to be bandied around as if they are interchangeable). 

• To then take the giant leap and suggest that the Abbott-led coalition has any responsibility for the fires is utterly ludicrous. 

• If Australia was to turn off every heating or cooling appliance, turn off the lights, destroy all motor vehicles, walk or cycle to work in rabbit skins, etc, it would do nothing to stop climate change/global warming. Australia produces 1.5% of atmospheric CO2; if we were to shut up shop, global emissions would fall from 400 ppm to 398 ppm. 

• Even if we were, as of today, to stop all mining, stop all exports of iron and coal, and descend to third world status, it would still not have any lasting impact, other than to decimate the population. 

• Using IPCC projections through to 2050, global warming would increase global net GDP.

• Far more deaths occur due to cold than to heat.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ocean Room Restaurant Sydney

A small group had a late dinner at the Ocean Room Restaurant (Overseas Passenger Terminal Circular Quay West), and we were all hugely impressed with the dishes, an added layer of amazement with the Canned Ocean Room dish, which was presented in an unopened ringpull can. Houdini-esque. 

The presentation throughout was innovative, and of a high order, the taste of the dishes complex, but not hidden behind artifice. 

Yellow fin tuna, Sicilian green olive & buffalo mozzarella drops, soy pearls, tomato chips 

Canned Ocean Room
Tasmanian sea urchin, Alaskan king crab, cuttlefish, salmon pearl 

Winter vegetable collection, yaki-onigiri, black schichimi, house made anchovy & garlic bath Kassen Daily recommendation, seasonal sashimi selection 

Deconstructed Burrito 
Wagyu flat iron steak, chilli con carne, tornado potato