Around Tokyo

Posted by Martin Field on 9 October 2013 in Restaurant Reviews

On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji

But not, as it turned out, during our four days in Tokyo. This mega-city, Japan’s capital, was our first stop prior to a nine-day cruise around Hokkaido, the country’s northern island.

As we had a couple of hours to spare before we could check in to our Shinjuku hotel, we headed off for a quick look at the views from the 45th floor of the TMG Building – a popular city viewing site. Unfortunately, a haze of pollution obscured the horizon and Mt Fuji was nowhere to be seen.

Language problems

As we soon discovered, there are not a lot of English or other language translations visible – in restaurants, on ATMs or on train maps. A bit like Australia’s mono-linguistic signage really.

Outside most restaurants though are photos and plastic models of the foods on offer, but it is difficult for non-Japanese speakers to know what the dishes contain. In our experience with restaurant staff there was little English spoken so it was a matter of point, shoot, and hope for the best. Trick or treat was the general rule, especially for us vegetarians. Read the rest of this entry

Online auction wines

Posted by Martin Field on 9 October 2013 in Wine Tasting

Lest anyone should think that wine writers drink only top shelf samples, it should be pointed out that we also buy liquor to review and to drink. And not all of us are wine snobs. A few wine scribes have even been known to drink beer (gasp!) and dare I say it, vin ordinaire. However, I once met a well-known columnist who drew the line at cask wine.

Which brings me to everyday drinking. My good friend Prof Kim from Melbourne told me a while back that he had bought some very good wine from Grays Online Auctions, at bargain prices.

I love a bargain, so it was straight on to the site and the live bidding began. I won some and lost some but ended up buying a few dozen bottles: Hunter Valley reds, Canberra rieslings, Margaret River viogniers, to name but a few.

All the wine was delivered in good condition. On tasting, the reds were good quality quaffers. An aged riesling was in tip-top condition, a young viognier excellent drinking. I checked a couple of the prices on winery websites and found one of the wines retailed at $18 per bottle and another for $22.

Why are they sold at auction? I suspect a number of reasons. A glut of stock. Cash flow problems, taxation bills – but who knows?

Now here’s the good part. Using the trusty calculator, I averaged out the cost of all the auction wine I had bought and it came to approximately $4.75 per bottle. This price included the buyers’ premium of fifteen percent and the courier delivery cost of $12 per dozen. A bargain deal if ever I had one. Highly recommended.

Cheatin’ in the kitchen

Posted by Martin Field on 9 October 2013 in Food and Wine

Winey Tawny Cheese

Over the years, I’ve tasted a number of boozy cheeses: port-soaked Stilton, Red Windsor, Italian wine-washed cheese and the like. They are not commonly available and when they are, they tend to be very expensive, so I thought, how hard would it be to make my own?

For the first experiment, I cut a one-kilogram block of cheddar into 2.5mm slices. These I pierced with a stainless steel skewer, put into a glass container and just covered with a decent shiraz. On went the lid and the container went into the fridge. After 10 days, I drained the cheese, patted it dry and tried a slice. Not bad, not great. The cheese taste came through with an edge of shiraz fruit but the dry wine made the aftertaste somewhat hard.

I tried the same technique with a tawny port and also with an oloroso sherry. The oloroso was good – a distinct smooth, nutty sherry component complementing the cheddar flavour, but with alcohol too dominant.

The tawny cheese was a great success. Porty aromatics interwove with and offset sharpish cheddar flavours. Somehow, the result was both sweet and savoury at the same time, with just a hint of alcohol hovering in the background. A friend who tried it asked where he could buy some.

Good drinking

Posted by Martin Field on 9 October 2013 in Wine Tasting

Mud House Pinot Gris 2012 – $22 – 89/100. South Island, New Zealand. The bouquet displays generous ripe fruit characters and notes of lime zest. On the palate it tends to the medium-dry, softer end of the spectrum showing dried pears supported by mild and balanced citric acidity.

Lowe Tinja Chardonnay Verdelho 2013 – $22 – 90/100. Mudgee, New South Wales; no added preservatives. This one is nicely aromatic with hints of lemon and new season apricots. The palate is light and fresh and crisply acidic in a Granny Smith apple kind of way. A lovely style for a picnic lunch.

Fox Gordon Sassy Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $17 – 89/100. Adelaide Hills, South Australia. The nose displays aspects of kiwi fruit with a sherbert-like edge. In the mouth it shows some grassiness along with suggestion of fruit salad. The finish is medium-dry with mild acidity.

Ferryman Chardonnay 2011 – $26 – 90/100. Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. This starts with a pleasing nose of apricot conserve, along with almost caramelised toasted oak. Ripe stone fruits dominate the palate and blend well with undertones of French oak maturation. A fine match for savoury entrées.

Forester Estate Shiraz 2010 – $24 – 89/100. Margaret River, Western Australia. The wine leads off with a juicy summer berry nose. Blackberry fruit continues in a palate that is smooth, medium-weighted, and just on the soft side in texture. The fruit is ably supported by restrained tannins.

The Barry Brothers Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – $20 – 90/100. Clare Valley, South Australia. A solid offering of the classic Australian blend of shiraz (70%) and cabernet sauvignon (30%). The blend offers generous and ripe blackberry fruit throughout with an oaky vanillin edge and a finish of lip-smacking tannic astringency.

Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2011 – $70 – 93/100. McLaren Vale, South Australia. The nose of this wine opens with complex dark berries, mocha notes and elements of smoky oak. Ripe and rich in the mouth, its sweet berry fruit is balanced by drying tannins and attractive but restrained oak integration.

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – $106 to $150 – 96/100. Coonawarra, South Australia. Deep crimson with purple/violet hues in the glass. The bouquet presents notes of blueberries and blackcurrants and a dusty hint of French oak. On the palate it is assertive with loads of concentrated blackcurrants, chewy tannins and upfront oak treatment. Its finish is long, firm and intense. A shame to drink this wine so young as it will come together beautifully over the next 5 to 10 years. As I savoured a glass I hummed to myself the last phrases of The Divinyls’ Boys in Town: “Too much too young”.

Too much, too young.


95-100 – Gold

90-94 – Silver

85-89 – Bronze

80–84 – Good drinking

Farewell Keith Dunstan

Posted by Martin Field on 12 September 2013 in Wine

Keith Dunstan, well-known Australian author, journalist, columnist and sometime vigneron has died in Melbourne at the age of 88.

I was privileged to meet and enjoy a glass or two of wine with him over the years at wine functions. One of his great tales was about the early days of home bottling of wine.

As well as I can remember it, back in the 1960s he and a good friend would rail or truck big red wines in bulk from Brown Brothers of Milawa to Melbourne. However, they always had a shortage of used bottles.

Keith recalled that his sister lived at the time in swanky St Georges Road Toorak. So, whenever he visited her he would scavenge bottles that neighbours had put out with the garbage.

His prize finds were empty bottles bearing the labels of top Bordeaux brands such as Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and premier cru Burgundy such as Clos de Vougeot.

His friend on the other hand, took a different and down market approach. He bottled his wine in brand new, unused methylated spirits bottles. (Those distinctive triangular-shaped brown glass bottles sometimes seen in brown paper bags being consumed by drunks down on their luck.)

So one evening Keith and his friend went to Florentino Restaurant – where BYO was unheard of.

They sat down and presented their two bottles – one apparently “metho”  and the other French – to the Maitre d’.

He, without raising an eyebrow, opened them, gave the diners a taste to see if the wines were sound and proceeded to arrange their dinner.

A bottle of memories

Posted by Martin Field on 9 September 2013 in Wine Tasting

This piece was submitted by an old friend with whom I shared many of the experiences of a long gone Melbourne that he relates below. MF.  

By Bryan Walters

A late night visit to the father-in-law OBE (Over Bloody Eighty in his own words) recently was reason enough for him to demonstrate his renowned generosity. One attribute in short supply is his ability to differentiate a good wine from a bad one. None-the-less, he always has a couple of bottles in his portmanteau on any visit.

My arrival at his house was quickly followed by ‘Can I get you something?’ Being midwinter in Melbourne, I suggested a whiskey. ‘I might have something,’ he rejoined. ‘Would a port do?’

There quickly appeared a Chateau Yaldara 1969 Rich Old Port. [Barossa Valley, shiraz and mataro blend. Back then Australian law permitted the term port on Australian fortified wine].

Bottle full of memories

‘Where did you get this’, I asked. Read the rest of this entry

Aldi Sells Grange

Posted by Martin Field on 29 August 2013 in Wine

Aldi Liquor is now selling Australia’s most famous and iconic wine, Penfolds Grange on line.

A bottle of the 2008 vintage, rated by Parker at 100/100, will set you back a lazy $649, or $7788 the dozen.

The Aldi tasting notes read:

“An immediate and powerful lift of cola/soy/hoisin/red licorice, propelled by tea-smoke and ferric influences. A muscular push of dark licorice and malt, with a self-saucing chocolate pudding richness and blackberry.”

With those characters it sounds like a bottle might go well with dinner at a Chinese restaurant.


Buying Grange – Little Change

Posted by Martin Field on 13 May 2013 in Wine

Scene: Two politicians are dining in a flash restaurant.

Waiter: “And a red with main course sir?”

Host: “Yes. We’d like two glasses of the new Penfolds Grange 2008 please.”

Waiter: “I should warn sir that this is a very expensive wine.”

Host: “Like how much?”

Waiter: “Well, lemme see. A bottle would cost you one thousand five hundred and seventy dollars.”

Host: “Two teaspoons then.”

Waiter: “Umm. Take away one, carry the two. Yes that’ll cost you twenty two dollars.”

Host smiles and winks: “Don’t worry about the cost! Government credit card doncha know. In fact, make that two tablespoons.”

Waiter thinks: “Mmm, eighty four bucks!” Thinks again, “Hope they tip generously.” Exits via kitchen door, stage left.

Preposterous? No. The recently released Grange has a recommended retail price of $784.99*. Very few restaurants add less than a 100% mark-up to the retail price of wines so our pollies’ bottle will cost at least $1570, i.e. close enough to $2.10 per millilitre. (*Why do they use used car pricing techniques for prestige wine? Would it really deter any buyers if the price were rounded up to $785?) Read the rest of this entry

Good drinking

Posted by Martin Field on 12 May 2013 in Wine Tasting

Rosalina Vinho Verde – under $6 – 86/100 – Portugal. A non-vintage white in a traditional rounded Mateus Rose shaped bottle. The “verde” means young rather than green – so you can have a red vinho verde. This white is a fresh, crisp and fruity style, medium dry with refreshing spritzig and mild acid. Lowish alcohol of 9% makes it ideal for light lunches or as an aperitif. A steal at the price. I bought a dozen.

Yarrabank Cuvée 2009 – $38 – 92/100 – Chardonnay and pinot noir, four years on lees. Light golden tints; persistent tiny bubbles. The bouquet shows notes of green apple and brioche. A full-bodied bubbly on the palate with generous fruit and a finely balanced dryish finish.

Delatite Deadman’s Hill Gewürtztraminer 2012 – $25 – 90/100 – Mansfield, Victoria. Pale straw hues. On the nose there is that typical Gewürtz rose petal spiciness and in the background the faintest hint of oak. The palate is rich with a pleasant illusion of sweetness which adds a liqueurish mouth feel that gradually transforms into a medium dry finish. Try with a platter of sharpish cheeses.

The Lane Block 1A Chardonnay 2012 – $20 – 89/100 – Hahndorf, South Australia. Pale straw in colour. Ripe and fruity nose. Stone fruits and melon continue through the palate with just enough oak to balance. The finish is medium dry and flavours linger agreeably. Read the rest of this entry

Eking in

Posted by Martin Field on 12 May 2013 in Food and Wine

I love Blue Stilton. It’s so expensive though that I rarely buy it – like $70-ish a kilo at the local supermarket. Then I found some at Aldi for approximately $26 the kilo so I bought a few wedges.

But how to make it last? Ever thrifty, I hit on the technique of cutting it with butter. Here’s how.

Take a piece of room temperature Stilton (rind and all) and mash it gently with half its weight in room temperature unsalted butter. Gently now, try to preserve a few blue crumbs of identifiable cheese in the mix, you don’t want a paste. (Keeps well in fridge.) Read the rest of this entry

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