IFAQS – Infrequently asked questions

Astrid of Alphington writes, “Dear Martin, My dear old dad in his day had a great fondness for excellent shiraz and blends from the Coonawarra and pinots from the Yarra Valley. He has a huge collection of what was once beautiful wine from some top notch winemakers, including some limited edition magnums.

“The problem is, it has been badly stored in a hot, uninsulated sunroom for 10-20 years, and the time is coming when we are going to have to clear out his house.

“I am pessimistic about the state of the wine and am thinking we will have to give it a decent Christian burial in a skip. What do you think? Is it likely to be drinkable?”

Astrid, I have never thrown out an unopened bottle of wine in my life and nearly had a heart attack at the thought of your dad’s collection ending up in a skip.

Sure, some of the wine may be in poor condition but my bet is that most of it will be eminently drinkable and that a few of the bottles will be absolute gems.

So my advice is, first move the wine to a friendlier environment. Second, sample a bottle whenever the mood takes you and see what each wine has to say to you.

If you really want to bury or dump the wine let me know and I’ll fly down to Melbourne and “dump” it where it will do most good. My atheistic throat comes to mind.


Bubbles with ‘Pies

Mid-1970s, Geoff Parker and I were in the outer at Victoria Park, watching Collingwood (The ‘Pies) play an inferior team. (That is, most of them.) Footballing legend, Fabulous Phil Carman was, as usual, starring.

In those days, you could bring booze to the games and we did, lots.

This particular Saturday arvo, instead of 6-packs of Coopers Sparkling Ale and sick of the usual footy fare of cold meat pies, we took along an Esky full of goodies.

My memory is that among other delicacies we ate sandwiches of smoked salmon on wholemeal bread whilst sipping Lindemans Imperator Brut 1965, from flutes.

The hardened, beer-swilling denizens of the terraces looked on with amazement, but no blood was shed.

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi – Part I

Early February 2012, we arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, a place we visited briefly in 2008.

Only 36 years have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, and, while we are not there as war tourists, we can’t ignore the evidence of that recent past.

For example, in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City; in the nearby Cu Chi tunnels; in shops selling reproduction propaganda posters; in reafforestation projects still revegetating land recovering from Agent Orange defoliation.

Against that sombre background, we set out on a 10 day tour from hot and steamy Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon), heading north to Hanoi.

8/2/12 – 9/2/12. Saigon is a mad house of traffic as usual.

At the Cu Chi Tunnels, some 40 km from Saigon, our Intrepid Travel guide, Son Le, (“Call me Sunny.”) tells us that a few of the passageways were widened – so that fat tourists can see where the Viet Cong lived and fought during the war.

Cu Chi tunnel entrance

I venture underground. The tunnel is narrow and as black as night. I have to stoop doubled over to proceed. Not normally claustrophobic, after about 10 metres I’m glad to get out. Continue reading

Wine in Vietnam

On a visit to Vietnam in February 2012, a superficial look at wine lists shows wines from Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, France, Italy and the US fairly well represented. Of the Australian labels, De Bortoli and Jacobs Creek are ubiquitous.

Prices I thought were uppish, which for a relatively poor country means that sales would mainly be to ex-pats and tourists.

I wonder about cellaring and the consequent condition of wine in a country of extreme temperature and tropical monsoons.

One young Argentinean cabernet we try is oxidised. A cheap Vietnamese white – Dalat – made from the cardinal grape is average to quaffable. I didn’t try the Dalat red, made from the same grape, with strawberries added.


Star Drinking

Clover Hill Methode Traditionelle 2007 – up to $47 – 89/100. Tasmania. Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier blend; three years on lees. Pale lemon hues, tiny bead. Nose of croissants and dried pears. Light dry palate shows limes and biscuity yeast, leading to a firm crisp finish.

Hickinbotham Pinot Gris 2011 – $18 – 86/100. Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Generously fruity nose with white blossoms and Nashi pears. Initially soft in the mouth but with a backbone of sherbert-like acid and layers of autumnal apples.

Bleasdale Potts’ Catch Verdelho 2011 – $18 – 85/100. Langhorne Creek, South Australia. Lychees and fruit compote bouquet. Fruit salad verging on the tropical in the mouth with mild acidity at the finish.

Moss Wood Semillon 2011 – $30-ish – 90/100. Margaret River, Western Australia. Where Hunter Valley semillon can be steely and acid, this style is straight luscious. Rich and mouth-filling, it has a complexity of flavours ranging from lime pie to fresh picked dates – over a subtly integrated acid infrastructure.

De Bortoli Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 – $22 – 88/100. Yarra Valley, Victoria. Very pale russet hues. Pleasant nose of cranberries and cherries. Fresh and lively in the mouth with tangy strawberry notes and a light tannin texture. Excellent with a picnic lunch.

Whiz Bang Barossa Shiraz 2010 – $16 – 86/100. Ripe, warm (14.5% alcohol) summer berry nose. Plentiful sweet fruit in the mouth with softish tannins. A definite main course style.

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2008 – $30 – 92/100. Grampians, Victoria. Upfront aromatics of mulberries and blackberries. Palate offers concentrated varietal fruit with a hint of eucalypt and clove-like spice. Finishes long and moreish.

Henry Weston’s Vintage Cider 2009 – 500ml – $7. Alcohol 8.2%. Golden hued, hint of onion-skin, slow persistent bubbles. Dry style with chewy texture and robust flavours of ripe Winesap apples. Great main course cider.

Brisbane Bitter – 375ml can – $2.50 and up. Retro (circa 1979 labelling) CUB release in bright red and yellow can. Alcohol 4.9%. A likeable and easily quaffable commercial beer with a nice hint of bitterness at the finish.


95-100 – Trophy

90+ – Outstanding

85+ – Fine drinking

80+ – Good stuff

75+ – Commercial drop

Prices in Australian dollars

Biodinamica statistica

Dopo lunga frequentazione di manifestazioni di Vini Naturali, l’ultima delle quali pochi giorni fa ad Agazzano con “Sorgente del Vino Live”, si impara a conoscere i produttori e a ricordarsi annata dopo annata le caratteristiche dei loro vini. Questo fatto si lega all’annosa questione dei difetti/puzze/deviazioni sempre aperta quando si parla di vini naturali. Secondo me si tratta di un problema meno rilevante quantitativamente rispetto al passato, direi quasi marginale se non ché non colpisce un produttore in particolare più approssimativo degli altri, che potrebbe essere facilmente emarginato nella selezione dei meritevoli di partecipare a queste kermesse. Continue reading

Ottimi acquisti

Ultimamente per alcune aziende protagoniste assolute fino a poco tempo fa dell’enopanorama italiano tira una brutta aria. Colpevoli di non essere salite per tempo sul carro del naturalismo luddista e di produrre vini tecnicamente ineccepibili usando “anche” gli strumenti che agronomia ed enologia mettono a disposizione del mercato, dopo avere re-inventato e lanciato agli onori dell’enomondo intere regioni italiane fino a quel momento snobbate come province minori, sono oggi additate da alcuni settori ideologizzati quando va bene come aziende “moderniste”, quando va male e si perde il lume della ragione addirittura come produttrici di vini tossici. Continue reading

USA Holiday Report

Peter Howard reports on his recent trip to the USA

Hi Martin. We are back from the land of oversized portions of mostly confused flavour combinations in dishes. God, have they put a whole new spin on traditional Italian dishes.

Oh well, we got back home and fell on a lamb and shiraz dinner, boy was that good, oh, and a cup of tea, a little luxury that they simply do not get.

I loved your vivid description of working in a restaurant, boy, did you nail it, and what a shame more people in our position don’t do it. I once heard a well known person who was of influence during the ‘80s and ‘90s describing to a novice how a restaurant kitchen worked.

She said that the chefs all stopped to work on one table. When I explained to her how wrong she was, she got herself into a real bind. I do not miss people like her at all.

As one person we met in America said – when talking about food writers, “What gives them the right to talk to us like we know nothing when they evidently know less, and talk down to us?”

I watched Rachael Ray (hottest food TV person in the USA) and co-host show us how to make a proper peanut butter, tomato and bacon sandwich – no wonder it doesn’t get any better.

We had two memorable meals in the five week holiday. One of them being the home cooked Christmas lunch by an old school mate of mine (we went to school together 53 years ago). Roasted whole organic turkey and the trimmings…wonderful.

PS What was startling in America was the diminished amount of Australian wines on shelves and wine lists – brand loyalty? And Californian wines…so expensive, but must say very good, by and large.

Star Drinking

Angullong Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – $17 ˜˜- **.  Orange, New South Wales. Pungent lychee and kiwifruit nose. A fuller-flavoured style on the palate showing juicy fruitiness, a hint of fruit salad and dried pears with light citric acidity at the finish.

Scarborough Semillon 2011 – $20 ˜˜˜- ***. Pokolbin, New South Wales. Aromatic nose of hay and young melon along with a hint of lemon oil. Dry, tangy, citric palate with a lip-smacking finish. Fine aperitif. .

Frogmore Creek Fumé Blanc 2011 – $28 ˜˜˜- ***. Tasmanian sauvignon blanc. Herbal-edged nose with a hint of tomato leaf and passionfruit, underscored by biscuity notes from new and aged French oak. The palate is fresh and very dry with a good length of flavour leading to a tangy, sherbert-like finish.

Hugh Hamilton The Floozie Sangiovese Rosé 2011 – $22.50 ˜˜- **. McLaren Vale, South Australia. Pale rosy pink. Sweet fruit nose hinting at new season cherries. Lively palate shows summer berries and finishes just off-dry. Try with a picnic lunch by the river.

Campbells Sparkling Shiraz – $30 ˜˜˜- ***. Rutherglen, Victoria. Foamy purple to black in the glass. Lovely blackberry nose. Full on palate of dark berries and dark chocolate that finishes firm enough to accompany a Christmas roast.

Cooks Lot Pinot Noir 2009 – $20 ˜˜˜- ***. Mudgee and Orange, New South Wales. Hues of cherry skin in the glass. Strawberries and light smoky notes on the nose. The strawberry character continues on the palate above a sub-structure of integrated tannins – these lead to a dry and persistent finish.

Raidis Estate Billy Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon $23 ˜˜˜- ***. Dense crimson hues. True varietal notes of black currant on the nose along with a hint of smoky oak. The palate reminds me of those black currant pastilles you used to get, the intensity not the sweetness that is. Tannins are nicely incorporated and the wine leaves an overall impression of smoothness.

Turners Crossing Shiraz Viognier 2008 – $25 ˜˜˜˜- ****. Bendigo, Victoria. Black with a purple edge in the glass. Dusty nose with notes of Black Forest cake and a suggestion of liquorice allsorts. A complex and substantial wine in the mouth with an attack of assertive yet integrated tannins supporting flavours of blackberry conserve, cocoa powder, allspice and leather.

Yanjing Beer – about $3 per stubbie. From Beijing, China. Made from malted barley, hops, spring water and rice. Full strength – 4.5% alcohol. A light refreshing style with nice hoppy aromatics. The palate has sweet edges with a background of malt and finishes with mild hops bitterness.

Two Elk Apple Cider – 330ml 4-pack $16. Sweden, 4.5% alcohol. For some reason this made me think of elks acting out the old two dogs joke. A delicate light style. Pleasant autumnal apple aromatics with a palate that will suit drinkers who like cider at the sweeter end of the spectrum.


*****˜˜˜˜˜ – outstanding

****˜˜˜˜ – classy

***˜˜˜ – first-rate

**˜˜ – fine drinking

– commercial


Swiss Army Waiters’ Friend – upgrade

At long last, and in time for the Christmas market, I can announce, exclusively, an upgrade to that popular and essential multifunctional tool, the Swiss Army Waiters’ Friend, (SAWF – AKA Waiters’ Knife).

This is a major step forward in the evolution of the simple corkscrew and blade we know so well. Previously famous only for chocolate, cuckoo clocks, yodelling, holey cheese and secret bank accounts, the ingenious Swiss have come up with a new twist on the historic gadget that is sure to rival the Swatch in sales volume.

Designed by a committee comprising one Swiss watchmaker, two Masters of Wine, and a drunk chosen at random from a local wine bar, the Swiss Army Waiters’ Friend provides a number of traditional functions along with a wealth of breathtaking innovations. All made possible by recent advances in the fields of nano-technology and artificial intelligence.


I will list just a few of this indispensable tool’s major features.

New: a round grippy thing for loosening screwcaps on wine bottles, also serves as a tourniquet. A blade that doubles as an Android/iPad compatible micro SD card for handy data storage. A toothpick that also serves as a GPS. Continue reading