Archive for category ‘Wine’

A real fisherman’s Bouillabaisse with Loire wines

Posted by Mike Tommasi on 9 October 2011 in Food and Wine

The best Bouillabaisse is served at the house of a fisherman here in coastal Provence, Jean Canale, who lives near the old salt marshes of Hyères. I met Jean through Elisabeth Tempier, a friend who writes on artisan fishing issues.



We got together with 20 friends and had a great bouillabaisse in Jean’s garden, while enjoying the heat of this late Indian summer (the real summer seemed to miss us altogether…). Jean Canale prepares his bouillabaisse in a huge iron pot over a wood fire.

The fish that go into Bouillabaisse vary in species and size, and usually include all kinds of rock fish, plus some larger firm fish like conger eel, angler fish, gurnard, weever, john dory, scorpion fish, etc.. Some of the fish are decidedly weird, like the Uranoscope or white rascasse, with eyes on the top of its head looking upward, and horns.

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How we drank in the ’70s

Posted by Martin Field on 25 September 2011 in Food and Wine

Back in the 1970s, my good friends Geoff and Dot Parker were great diners and entertainers and I dined frequently with them, at home and in many Melbourne restaurants.

Geoff was (and is) an enthusiastic wine collector and, unusually for the times, didn’t only drink fine wine but also kept extensive notes on those he tasted and the various meals they accompanied.

Earlier this year he compiled a selection of these notes (14 November 1974 to 19 July 1977) and was kind enough to send me a copy. I have since told him that he could have had another career as a wine writer.

This excerpt, one of many, is from a meal we shared at Restaurant Chez Bebert on Tuesday 13 January 1976.

With garlic scallops, the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Anne Riesling, 1966. Rich honey-gold colour. The aroma was heavy and musty…good regional character with considerable acidity providing a pleasant balanced feel. Past its peak, but will continue to build great character.

And, Leo Buring Reserve Bin DWC II Barossa Valley Rhine Riesling, 1973. Exceptional quality dry white…delicate varietal expression, balanced, fresh and soft.

With steak, the Leo Buring Claret DR 163, 1964. Soft, broad, slightly earthy nose redolent of Hunter reds. Medium bodied satisfying palate sitting between the lush and the austere. Well balanced with a sharp tannic lift to the finish. Very good wine.

And, the Seppelt Cabernet Sauvignon TTI 47, 1971, Barossa Valley. This won the 1972 Jimmy Watson Trophy for best 1971 dry red. Big cabernet with a great deal of fruit flavor and rather prominent oak on the finish. A low tannin very good, lush wine, but maybe a little soft and fat.

Notes Copyright © 2011 Geoff Parker. 


Travels in France Part II – Avignon

Posted by Martin Field on 21 September 2011 in Wine Travel

Sous le pont d’Avignon

The train from Dijon to Avignon takes us through vineyard country. Signs for M.Chapoutieradorn the hillsides. As you enjoy the scenic vignettes, you pass an ominous brooding nuclear reactor, no doubt waiting for the Rhone to flood and irradiate the already powerful reds.

Rhone reactor

A first impression of Avignon is that it is noticeably more touristy than Dijon and more English language friendly. For example, unlike Dijon, many of the restaurant menus here feature English translations.

Half a bridge too far

A must-see here is the Pont d’Avignon, originating from the 12thcentury and the basis of the famous song. It’s actually less than half a bridge as only four of the original 22 arches remain, so it stops disappointingly half way across the river. They have had many centuries to fix this but so far no action.

Incomplete bridge

And I have it on good authority that the song we learned in execrable French at school is wrong – they didn’t dance “sur la pont”, they actually danced under it, that is, “sous le pont”, in a long gone café. Should I be called upon to sing this song in future it is the correct “sous” version I shall offer.

We have a good look round at the Palais des Papes in the heart of the city. A bunch of popes who battled with Rome for control of the Catholic empire lived here and ruled in the 14th century. Read the rest of this entry


Posted by Martin Field on 15 September 2011 in Food and Wine

Duet for jackhammers, with Cream, 6 pots, steak, eggs and chips ( Warning: no wine mentioned below)

Way, way back, I worked on the soi-disant Kew Navvy Gang (KNG), for the now extinct PMG. The gang was a wild bunch of hippies, musos and dope freaks; labouring was the only work available then for long-haired guys in a very conservative Melbourne.

Mick Elliott (guitarist) and I (both smartly outfitted in blue PMG bib and brace overalls) were using a couple of jackhammers to rip up the footpath in Kew Junction for the laying of telephone cables. Nearby, smartly dressed office workers read their morning papers as they waited for the eight o’clock tram to the city.

KNG, left to right: Plod, Noddy, and Mick (lead Jackhammer)

“Mick,” I said, during a quiet interlude. “Why don’t we play a duet?” (We were sort of avant-garde labourers.) Read the rest of this entry

Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino: of vintages and varietals

Posted by Mike Tommasi on 11 September 2011 in Wine
Brunello DOCG

Brunello DOCG

Following up on my recent noteabout Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, I would like to add a couple of comments on the two appelations.

Brunello is, with Barolo, the top wine area in Italy. Strangely, despite climate differences, as mentioned in my last post, both wines are defined as single varietal wines, while logically only cooler Barolo should be. This is, arguably, because while Barolo has a very long history, Brunello, though created over a century ago, is a very recent phenomenon – it was almost unknown or unobtainable before the 1970s, when the vines covered barely 50 hectares (today at over 2000 hectares it has surpassed Barolo!). Brunello was recognized as a DOC in 1996 without restrictions to a single grape variety, and subsequently, when it became a DOCG, it became a Sangiovese only wine, probably a whim of the then dominant Biondi-Santi.

The incompatibility of the single varietal restriction at this viticultural latitude is demonstrated by the fact, documented by Jeremy Parzen, that according to the president of the Brunello consortium Ezio Rivella 80% of Brunello is not pure Sangiovese, but nobody says anything and the practice is “tolerated”.

Unfortunately Rivella has been demonized by italian and english journalists as well as blogging taliban meta-journalists as a bad influence on Montalcino, yet they ignore that he has been instrumental in improving Brunello in other much more important aspects. Take the vine yields, these were insanely high until a few months ago (8000 kg per hectare is not conducive to good wine), and Rivella has reduced that limit now to 6000 kg/ha, which should yield about 41 hectolitres per hectare, a respectable figure. Why did this take so long and why had no journalist latched onto this before? Because they were busy with that non-issue, the vote on Rosso di Montalcino, a minor appellation for Brunello makers to fall back on when they need ready cash as opposed to having their wine stuck in the cellar for 5 years (6 for the riserva).

The unreliability of Brunello as a single grape wine might be explained by looking at the rating of recent vintages by the consortium; note that for the last 20 years (1991-2010) only 6 vintages were exceptional and 10 were very good. The language is very interesting, instead of “eccellente” the term used is “eccezionale”, a relatively new word in Italian (one can call it a “francesismo”) that, strictly speaking, means unusual, an exception to the rule; yes, the rule is mediocre Brunello!

That leaves 4 vintages that ranged from so-so to bad – note that no vintage is rated as “insufficient”, but you would not expect a consortium to be that frank… Anyhow 2002 was definitely a very bad year, but this did not significantly reduce the quantity of Brunello or increase the quantity of Rosso; I suppose the thinking is: “the suckers, pardon, the customers are buying a label, so they don’t need to know about bad vintages, they’ll shell out the same high price even for a 2002″. A search on Winesearcher shows 2002 (a disaster vintage) and 2004 (an exceptional one) Col d’Orcia at more or less the same price, even the famed Case Basse is available at well over 150 Euro for a 2002! And please note that each of these wines goes through committee tastings before it gets awarded the DOCG label, and 2002s passed with no problems!

Logically the question should be: is it reasonable to impose 2-5 years aging in barrels, given that not every producer and not every vintage yields wines that have enough “matière”, enough quality to benefit from such aging. It is a pity because many normal vintages, neither exceptionally good nor particularly bad, would be much better with a shorter aging period. The Rosso di Montalcino would allow one to make a better wine in those less than ideal years. But few people do that, because they can get a higher price for a bottle of bad wine marked Brunello!

Since nothing can be done about the greedy nature of most winemakers, the logical thing to do in order to safeguard the quality of Brunello, in order to avoid the current situation where the bottle you buy is statistically more likely to be disappointing than rewarding, is to have the Consorzio declare the Brunello vintages (like in Champagne) and oblige winemakers to make Rosso in the other years.

Despite the unfavourable view of some respected bloggers, regarding the single grape issue, I would prefer to see at least Rosso be given the freedom to use up to 30% of traditional complementary Tuscan grapes in addition to Sangiovese. As for Brunello, instead of tolerating systematic cheating with Cabernet, it would be better to allow up to 10% of other Tuscan grapes.

For further reading I suggest the thoughtful articles by Juancho Asenjo and Eckhard Supp.

Top Shelf Drinking

Posted by Martin Field on 7 September 2011 in Wine Tasting

Yering Station Cold Pressed Pinot Gris 2010 (375 ml) – $33 – AAA

Yarra Valley, Victoria. Cold Pressed means grapes were frozen and cold pressed at -18C. Light straw. Sweet nose of ripe apricots, pears and Seville marmalade. Palate is light and elegant with sweet fruitiness balanced by lemon zest acidity. Excellent dessert wine. NB I read the back label after tasting this wine and was surprised to find similar comments.

Reillys Riesling 2010 – $18 – AA+

Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia. Near water pale, light green hue. Fresh sherbert and lime blossom nose. Dry, full, lip smacking, lemon / lime juiciness. Beautifully integrated acidity at the finish.

Thistle Hill Preservative Free Chardonnay 2011 – $22 – AA

Mudgee, New South Wales. No sulphur dioxide added. Very pale in the glass. Nose of white peaches with a hint of lemon zest. Soft rich palate shows dried pears with a hint of tropical fruits. Read the rest of this entry

Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino: pure sangiovese or with cab?

Posted by Mike Tommasi on 6 September 2011 in Wine


The typically Italian controversy currently raging over Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino is a battle between extremists. On one hand, conservatives want to keep the dogmatic principle of the single grape variety, which I hope to show is inconsistent with Tuscan tradition and penalizes those who want to make good wine in these areas. At the other end shameless opportunists are ready to perform a viticultural sacrifice by drowning Sangiovese with Bordeaux grape varieties that will leave no organoleptic trace of the Tuscan variety par excellence, to the point that it could safely be removed from the mixture altogether.

In addition, everyone feigns that the problem is limited to Rosso di Montalcino, which was created as a catch-all repository for wines unworthy of the Brunello label, while everyone knows that the real issue is Brunello, and a vote on cheapening Rosso is a test before moving on to attack the prestigious cousin Brunello… Meanwhile, a recent scandal revealed that producers in Brunello were adding cabernet, syrah and merlot, and at least one prestigious producer got caught.

I think it is self-evident that Bordeaux grape varieties will irreversibly pollute traditional Tuscan wine: it makes no sense to add them to Sangiovese, and I would be tempted to call such wines “Bordello di Montalcino” or “Cabernello”.

But to insist on 100% varietal is no less absurd, and is certainly not coherent with Tuscan tradition, rather it is an accident in the recent history of Brunello.

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Star Drinking

Posted by Martin Field on 18 July 2011 in Wine Tasting

Bardinet Rhum Negrita – $30

A French blend of dark rum from the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Réunion. Light tea hues. Aromatic nose, molasses predominant. A smooth, medium-weighted style; not as medicinal as some dark rums. Well suited to mixin’ rather than sippin’ straight.

d’Arenberg The Noble Botrytotinia F*ckeliana 2010 – $20 – ˜˜˜˜****

Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, South Australia; Semillon / sauvignon blanc blend; 8% alcohol. Sounds more like something itchy you’d go to the clinic for than a sweet white wine. Bright gold. Nose of passionfruit and zest of Seville oranges. Palate is smooth and viscous, laden with flavours of marmalade and rich apricot sauce. At first it tastes indulgently sweet but any hint of cloying is offset by upfront citric acidity. (Re net censors – insert *U above.) Read the rest of this entry

Random notes in Dijon

Posted by Martin Field on 18 July 2011 in Wine Travel

Recommended dining

On another Dijon evening we dine at Restaurant Le Verdi, Place Emile Zola. We share a Salade Chevre Chaud – squares of grilled chevre topped with pine nuts, set on crusty bread over a dressed green salad. Also, a perfectly al dente tortellini filled with ricotta and fresh asparagus sitting on a bed of creamy sauce dotted with petit pois. All washed down with a 500 ml pichet of Pays du Gard Rouge.

Salade Chevre Chaud

Food Observations Nowadays in France you can’t help but notice a significant amount of “biologique” (organic) food and wine in the shops. Organic wine apparently accounts for 10% of the French market, with consumption growing rapidly.

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Gevrey Chambertin

Posted by Martin Field on 18 July 2011 in Wine Tasting

We visit the Cote de Nuits village of Gevrey Chambertin. Leaving Dijon, the bus sign for the Route des Grands Crus reads like labels on the top shelf of your fine wine store: Gevrey Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee, Nuits-St-Georges, etc.

Gevrey Chambertin

After wandering around the quiet and ancient village we finally find the establishment of Domaine Pierre Naigeon, where it’s time for a glass or two of pinot noir with winemaker Pierre Naigeon himself. Read the rest of this entry