In Praise of Older Wine

Posted by Martin Field on 14 April 2013 in Wine Tasting

Long-time wine drinking friend Prof K writes from Melbourne.

I was doing a re boxing of some of the oldies in the cellar earlier this afternoon and found a slight leak in one of the old Chateau Tahbilk boxes. This lead me to a 1965 Chateau Tahbilk* commercial [as distinct from their Reserve Bin labels] Shiraz. I figured that with an inch of ullage I couldn’t sell it, so off to find the muslin, funnel and carafe and corkscrew.

Well. Hugh Johnson’s comments in his pocket wine guide in the mid 1960s echoed true. ”Chateau Tahbilk has some of the finest commercial reds, and the reserve bins are outstanding and great value….”

Was this ‘once upon a time’, quote still valid? Well for the humble ’65 Shiraz (deserving of a reserve status) Hugh’s words were an understatement.

The wine threw little crust and surprisingly passed the 100 watt globe test. (Viz, you couldn’t see through the wine to see the 100W globe). The nose was a little dumb, perhaps allowing for the ullage, but still with some perfume.

The colour was a balance between red and chocolate, with the red just winning out, but the fruit was unexpectedly MASSIVE. Not at all a limp, tannic dull wine, but potentially pickable as a declining 12 or 15 year old heavy fruited  commercial red. This wine is now 48 years of age. (1965 was my last year of primary school). The palate saw the fruit very much overpower the tannins, producing a full, across the palate dry finish of big fruit and solid underlying tannins.

An unbelievable red for its mere commercial nature. But again, the range of 1962, 64, 65, 66.68 and 69 Tahbilks are a legend to the Aussie cognoscenti but not to the world at large. Tsk Tsk, a shame!!!

For the unquestioning believers of the trite wine authors that suggest few wines can peak past 20 years I would suggest that several icons can certainly last the 40 year mark, this being one of them.

*The brand name Chateau Tahbilk later changed to Tahbilk.


BYO Wedding Wine?

Posted by Martin Field on 6 April 2013 in Food and Wine

Wine Etiquette.

Frangi from Melbourne writes, “My circle of friends are of an age where we are often asked to attend weddings and engagements. We don’t expect these functions to provide top class restaurant food and wine but the wine we’re served is usually awful. We call it “reception wine” and it is often of a quality that would strip the enamel off a hippo’s tusks. As a result, a friend has taken to sneaking in his own wine and surreptitiously drinks it instead of the provided stuff. Do you think this is proper behaviour for invited guests?”

Hi Frangi, yes of course! I know that weddings etc. are not fine wine tasting events but the food and wine should be of a certain standard whatever the budget. And as the Bible tells us, did not Jesus, in his first miracle as a guest at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, turn the contents of six pots, each holding two or three firkins of water, into wine?

In my younger days the wines were also dodgy and the food was probably worse. Believe it or not, for years (still?) there was a hideous convention where men were served beef and the women fish or chicken – while the bridal party sneered from a dais helping themselves to top shelf tucker and booze.

Your friend has the right idea, though he might draw the line at taking a picnic hamper to some of the more infamous reception houses. And I can recommend a hip flask of Cognac and an emergency stash of Tabasco when you are entering unknown territory (including some restaurants, which shall remain nameless). It has worked for me.

I have only one thing to say to wedding planners: even if the bride has to wear a second-hand frock and the groom a pair of old Levis, make sure you look after the guests.

El Celler de Can Roca, a marvel of understated food perfection.

Posted by Mike Tommasi on 25 March 2013 in Restaurant Reviews

Six of us decided to take off for the weekend and have lunch on Friday Nov. 23rd 2012 at this most exquisite place, certainly the best restaurant in my experience. The room is airy and calm, built around a central triangular glass atrium of birch trees, with the tables set far apart from each other, and additional privacy being provided by the movable furniture used to store things like menus, plates and glasses but acting like discrete room dividers, without cutting up the space. One feels comfortable at El Celler, there is no rush and everyone who works there is tuned into making your stay pleasant. The service is perfect, available when you want it to be and always ready to explain in detail what you are eating. Davide was our waiter, as he had been for our last visit in 2008, when El Celler strangely had only two stars. We all opted for the 165 Euro Menu Festival.

Unlike eating at El Bulli, with all the basic flaws that I listed in a blog review back then (basically: monotonous mushiness of all dishes, complete lack of consideration for wine, fundamental errors in the balance of tastes, manifest desire to mask out any taste associated with the ingredients), eating at El Celler is a precision affair. The techniques pioneered by Adrià are used here not to make the ingredient’s taste disappear, on the contrary, tastes are exalted and therefore Joan Roca uses prime local seasonal produce. Instead of making mushy or explosive or simply acrid morsels to shock a jaded decadent bourgeoisie like the master of Cala Montjoi, Roca keeps everything under control and always perfectly delicious and varied. In addition he develops a kind of narrative about an imaginary world tour, exploring the intricate relations between the local Mediterranean traditions and the many exchanges that happened throughout history between the Mare Nostrum and many faraway places. He is aided by his brothers, Josep, a brilliant sommelier with an interest in all wine (and not just Spanish), and Jordi, a pastry chef of incredible talent.

Read the rest of this entry

Top shelf drinking

Posted by Martin Field on 19 December 2012 in Wine Tasting

Champagne Duperrey Brut Rosé NV – up to $45 – 89/100. Pinkish onion skin hues and fine bubbles in the glass. Berries and yeasty baked bread aromas are evident in the bouquet. The palate exhibits hints of strawberries and stone fruits and is unexpectedly off-dry. Though not a sweet style, this will appeal to those who dislike bone dry bubbly.

Knappstein Clare Valley Hand Picked Riesling 2012 – $20 – 92/100. A nose of citrus blossoms and lime zest. Light and elegant in the mouth, well structured with citrus fruitiness which at first seems sweet but then progresses into a lingering dry finish.

Forester Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $25 – 89/100. Margaret River, Western Australia. Ripe kiwi fruit scented nose with subtle notes of barrel fermentation. A fuller flavoured style of SB with underlying oak toastiness and good length. Would go well as an entrée wine.

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2008 – $33 – 95/100. Perfumey nose reminiscent of cumquat marmalade. The palate expands with essence of nobly rotted semillon and if this were a dessert you would have to liken it to a superior lemon meringue pie. A superb after dinner drink. Read the rest of this entry

Review – Bold Palates

Posted by Martin Field on 19 December 2012 in Food and Wine

Bold Palates – Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage

By Barbara Santich. Illustrated hardback. Wakefield Press 2012. $50.

This excellent book traces the post European settlement history of Australian food and cuisine. Bush tucker, pumpkin scones, picnic races, the Aussie BBQ, mutton chops, pies ‘n’sauce – it’s all there, and more. The test is peppered with excerpts from old books and newspapers and larded with photographs and retro illustrations.

Most fascinating to me is the chapter on our national cuisine. Way back then and to this day it seems no-one can agree on whether we have one or not. Judging by local Queensland menus “Modern Australian” is a cross between Surf ‘n’Turf or possibly Mooloolaba prawns followed by slow-cooked pork belly.

If you’re looking for a gift for a foodie you can’t go past this. In fact it is just the book that I would unwrap with delight.

No more Australian cheap wine?

Posted by Martin Field on 19 December 2012 in Wine

Cask wine drinkers be afraid – it seems that the era of cheap wine could be at an end in Australia. Ongoing media reports suggest that the federal government remains under pressure from lobbyists to raise taxes on wine. If this happens it could mean that a four-litre cask (bag in a box) of wine that currently costs around $14 could cost over $50, and the cheapest bottle of wine, $8 to $10.

There seem to be two main arguments for the rise in taxes. The first assumes that cheap wine is the main cause of alcohol abuse and that a price increase would reduce this. The second is that wine is taxed at a lower rate than beer and spirits and that for reasons of uniformity it should be taxed at the same rate as other beverages.

Politicians, who probably never drink cask or cheap wine, will be attracted by both arguments, especially the financial one. As cask wine accounts for some 50 percent of wine sold in Australia, a new wine tax could raise over a billion dollars in extra revenue. Read the rest of this entry

Cosmic Green Wine

Posted by Martin Field on 14 September 2012 in Wine

Noosa attracts more than its fair share of visiting winemakers and most recently Margaret River winemaker, Vanya Cullen presented her wines to the locals. The occasion was a degustation dinner at Sails Restaurant, where I was able to chat to Vanya before guests arrived.

Vanya Cullen in Noosa

Cullen Wines not only has a reputation for superb, long-lived wines but also for its “green” credentials. Since its establishment over 40 years ago the company’s winery and vineyards have achieved certification as being organic, biodynamic and carbon neutral. A trifecta perhaps unique in Australian winemaking. Read the rest of this entry

A hazy geography of blended vs single-varietal wine terroir

Posted by Mike Tommasi on 12 September 2012 in Wine

The great wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Loire, Northern Rhone, Barolo, Mosel, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia use only one grape variety, while those of Bordeaux, Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Portugal are blended from many grape varieties. One can easily draw a line separating the blenders from the purists… but the line is not straight: neither geographic latitude nor Winkler index (GDD) correlate to this distinction. What if it all came down to how hazy the sky is?

blend or single varietal wine areas

Looking at a map of the great European wine areas – those with a not too recent history of superb winemaking – one could easily draw a curved line separating the generally more northern areas, emphasizing the purity and completeness of single varietal wines, from the southern areas, whose wines achieve comparable complexity by blending several grape varieties. The line is curved, because climate is influenced not only by latitude but also by winds, seas, microclimates, etc.. This paper results from a speculative but reasoned inquiry to see if I could identify a climate parameter that correlated well with the distinction between blending areas and single varietal areas.

Read the rest of this entry

Christmas Indulgence

Posted by Martin Field on 5 September 2012 in Food and Wine

Recently I bought a delightful little book by Oscar Wilde’s son, Vyvyan HollandDrink And Be Merry is the title and Holland was vice president of the Circle of Wine Writers at the time. Accordingly, his book is a very readable guide to wines of the world, peppered with anecdotes and other useful and entertaining wine lore.

Very Merry

What caught my eye was his suggestion for wines to be used at Christmas. For a Christmas dinner for eight people he suggests:

  • 2 bottles of champagne
  • 1 bottle of Fino sherry
  • 1 bottle of Sercial Madeira
  • 3 bottles of claret
  • 2 bottles of port
  • 1 bottle of brandy, which will be needed anyway, for the mince pies, the plum pudding and the brandy butter

This equates to one and a quarter bottles of beverage for each guest, noting that five of the bottles are table wine, four are fortified and one a spirit.

If we assume that the guests also enjoy a glass or two at other times of the day and that all or most of the dinner list is consumed, we can imagine they would sleep very soundly and need a drop of the hair of the dog on Boxing Day.

Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd. London, 1967.



First wine column – 1978

Posted by Martin Field on 27 August 2012 in Wine

In 1978 I thought I’d write a wine column. So I rang the editor of a Melbourne weekly paper and to my surprise he went for it.

Recently I found a yellowing clipping of that column – here it is – from the The Melbourne Times of 19 July 1978

Local red gets Double Gold

At the ninth International Wine and Spirit Competition held this year, the Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon of 1972 won the Double Gold award as the best Cabernet exhibited. There were only thirteen Double Golds awarded in a competition comprising 428 entries from 19 countries.

Old news, views

The award will be presented to Wynn Winegrowers at the opening ceremony of the World Wine Fair in Bristol U.K. this month, and will make Wynns the recipients of the highest prize granted to an Australian wine in recent years, if not this century.

I tasted this wine soon after it was released and vaguely remembered it as being a pleasant but unremarkable Coonawarra of a great year.

Acknowledging however that wines of this particular region — Redmans especially — can develop tremendously with a few years bottle age, 1 felt that in light of this accolade another tasting was in order.

Accordingly, I invited a few friends around and last week we tasted the ’72 and ’73 vintage Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

The ’72 had an immediately promising light bouquet, an agreeable blend of good berry fruit with slight oak overtones. It was of fine colour, a delicate transparent red with just a tinge of Cabernet purple, and one looked forward to rolling it around the tongue.

As is too often the case when tasting wine, the palate did not match the colour and bouquet. There was little acid or astringency considering its relative lack of age, and it seemed to be all middle palate with a trace of sugar sweetness detracting from any subtlety. The finish was smooth but did not linger and therefore disappointed.

It tends in style towards the lighter European clarets but in my opinion lacks the complexity apparent in the classier French Bordeaux. The wine is very drinkable now but I doubt its long term prospects. As it is virtually unobtainable at present, this should not worry too many wine drinkers.

In comparison, the ’73 vintage is a much bigger wine, except perhaps in bouquet. Clear to brilliant in appearance, it had more wood and tannin astringency, balanced well with plenty of fruit and a very firm finish.

Definitely a wine to cellar and enjoy in five to ten years’ time. It retails for around $5.70 and can be obtained at one of the better-known wine merchants for $3.70 on discount. I can recommend it at either price as good value for money.

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