Sunday, 31 July 2011

Vinifera Graciano 2008 Mudgee, NSW

I do actually drink and sample wines from all over, but here's another wine of interest from Mudgee!  In my defense, it is a little bit exotic...

Graciano hails from Spain calling the Rioja region home, therefore perhaps this wine is a little Latin flavoured. This example is interesting as the variety is still a relative rarity in Australia, and this is the only example from Mudgee.

The wine, probably quite enjoyable with a few
pages of The Adventures of Augie March...

The wine is light Garnet with good clarity. Nose is of floral notes, citrus and spice flowing through to a shellac, leather and a wood dust note. Although the wine is light to medium on the palate, this is deceptive as there is considerable depth. Initial sweet fruit gives way to sour cherry, cumquat and a hint of anise/musk. There's a good savoury character coming through to back the fruit in a leathery wood note. Good acidity keeps thing nice and tight, without being overbearing. Tannins were quite fine. Overall it probably finishes a little short, but there seems to be a lot of potential here, and I think it could age gracefully, if you are into a number score I'd say about 89+.

This wine is exciting for a few reasons, not least of which is the relative rarity here of the variety. Intriguingly, the grape is noted for somewhat harsh tannins, but in this case as a varietal wine the producer seems to have tamed this. I'm unsure of the vinification process used in this instance, but it has successfully overcome any issue in this regard.   (The grape is often blended with Tempranillo and Grenache, giving tannic backbone and color to the wine.)  The flavour profile is also a welcome change from many of the usual suspects; I certainly enjoyed the duality of this wine with it's seeming opposites of sweet fruit and floral citrus notes set against the savoury leather, sour cherry and firm acidity. Tempranillo (another Spaniard) is enjoying a wave of popularity at the moment, I think this grape in Australian conditions could be as good, if not better.

If you want to check out this producer:

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Bun Or Two In the Oven

The title may be in jest, but I thought it was time for a post regarding an area of cookery many shy away from, often out of apprehension and fear or previous misadventure.  Some of this seems to be based on the fact that baking is often heard in company with words like chemistry and science.  This is all true, I won't try and deny it; consider for a moment though that these terms can all be applied to getting those potatoes crisp, the roast browned or the vegetables steamed nicely.  Familiarity is the key in that if you can get a feel for what is happening, success will ensue.  The reality is probably that we all have more experience (good and bad!) at roasting a chicken, than we do at baking a loaf of bread, yet which one do we consume most often?

So I've been playing around with some bread recipes for both amusement and nutrition.  As to the science, without going into painful details there are a few things to note, but not stress over:

Salt is crucial to the structure of the loaf in baking, it strengthens the dough and helps preserve  this in the cooking process, it also moderates the activity of the yeast, so remember too much and you will inhibit the yeasts action excessively.  Salt also enhances the flavour, which is pretty important I think.

The type and quality of flour has the biggest impact on the resulting product more than anything else, particularly in breads, it's important to use a quality strong flour.  Basically the higher the protein (gluten) content, the more suitable as a bread flour for a traditional, light, elastic white loaf, of course, there are infinite variations.

Be precise in your measurements, but don't sacrifice a sense of feel when making a dough.  Measuring is important, but you have to remember, particularly with the addition of liquids that everything is hugely variable depending on humidity, type of flour and altitude.  These all influence the final mix, So get your hands dirty and use your eyes, if it looks and feels right, or the opposite then don't be put off making an adjustment.

I've been trying some bread recipes with the basic flour, water, salt mix, to this I added a little brown sugar and olive oil.  The yeast was stock standard dried.  From this I could produce a quite reasonable loaf.  With experimentation I found the volume of oil defined the richness and softness of the loaf.

A sour dough starter has also been embarked upon and at the moment this is a work in progress, I'll certainly update this as it progresses.  I did want to note that there is something beautifully seductive about the process, as it requires only flour, water and salt to make perhaps the most beautiful bread.  Patience should also be added to this list in fairness, as time is needed to get the culture going and also produce and bake the loaves.  The result is well worth it however! 

To be ellaborated on...


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What does it all mean; Some ideas, rather than just another boring tasting note.

I appreciate and have various opinions about wine, so do a lot of people. I don't think my palate is too bad on a good day, but then realistically, thousands of others are in possession of the same if not better instruments of taste and judgement. In the same way I can write a note about all the wines I ever come across, taste, drink, even tip down the sink, in the end it will be similar and a repetition of most all the other commentary on a wine. All these notes have a place to help guide and categorise in what is such a bottomless murky vat of vino, but it sort of misses the point. We drink wine because it is evocative, with a glass of wine we can travel to different places, we can voyage through time, ideas and emotion, good wines are an art form, provoking and seducing us in the same way that film, writing or music can.

When we talk about taste and flavour, really we are mainly referring to aroma, our noses for the complex parts, our tongues provide us with the more basic, but no less important foundations we think of as sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Smell is the key, it's a fascinating sense in many ways, perhaps the point that captivates me the most here is the association between our sense of smell, primitive brain, and memory. Research now indicates odour and aroma can act as powerful triggers for memory, often ones which are deep in the unconscious. Intriguingly the resulting recollection can be incredibly vivid and amazing in it's clarity despite the passage of time, think about this as it obviously differs for all individuals, but everyone can recall examples of this occurring I'm sure. I for example, find the subtle odour of cooking gas (in a good way!) reminds me of childhood visits to my grandparents. This may not seem the most obvious of associations, but that's the point, sometimes it is the most obscure, even bizarre odours that trigger some memory and often you have no prior concious recollection of either the aroma or the memory, until your nose has a chance encounter. Returning to drinks, wine has this tremendous ability of associative power, with the millions of aromas and tastes possible from the differing varieties, styles, regions and production techniques. Sometimes the association may be the context in which a particular wine is consumed, such as a birthday, or other milestone being connected henceforth with a particular wine. In other situations we may be reminded by the power of the olfactory association, of thoughts, memories and emotion. All this engenders discussion of the wine and ideas, of life. This makes it absolutely no surprise then that wine is and should be a shared experience with others, and from here we gain inestimable pleasure and enjoyment. Take this idea further and perhaps wine can help us to experience or envisage something of places and time we have not yet been to, tantalising indeed.

Assuming a wine is not a complete mass production job, we are hearing something from the winemaker as well, reflective of their experience and self. Making the wine the producer obviously has a goal in mind regarding the end product, using technique, knowledge and intuition to bring us the eventual alcoholic beverage in a bottle. There is much talk of the variety or clone used, of the terroir, or even the barrels used to age the wine; it is hardly a surprise though that alongside all these factors, wines are shaped and change, dependent on the individual/s behind them. It's nice to think of wine making as something akin to writing or playing music, in that an individual can create something, but it becomes more alive and changes again as others sip upon it, pondering and talking about it, enjoying the experience.

I love the idea not just of consuming wine, but that along with wine making, it is something that connects us with a collective past and future. Wine has been produced and consumed (and written about!) for thousands of years. The process, the pursuit of perfection in it's production and drinking of wine is something we share with others through the ages. We can see the importance and thought that surrounded wine, for example in the writings of Ancient Romans such as Pliny the elder or Culumella, but evidence of wine consumption is apparent throughout the ancient world and over time to the present day. Into the future I am sure wine will be something produced, savoured and contemplated so long as grapes are grown.

So it seems what we need to consider is that the scoring of wine and looking at it in technical terms of quality and standard, as the main aspect of consideration very much misses the point. If we assume that the quality of a wine (from a technical point of view) is good, mere comparisons between wines are somewhat superfluous, even useless. To appreciate them we need to be more in the moment, then the wines should mean and reflect something, suggesting to us there place of birth but also interacting with there location and time of consumption. Thus there is something magical and special about going to the vineyard and trying the wine looking out over the vines, or savouring a wine with fine food and friends. Clumsily put as something like: wine is place and place is wine. Think about your own experiences and I'm sure this will ring true. Looking at it in this way it seems ridiculous to suddenly talk in terms of a 90+ wine exhibiting dark fruit, spice and hints of chocolate! It is so much more and these sorts of descriptors take away from it. Ratings and technical talk have their place, but let us celebrate the diversity and individuality of wines for all their differences, savouring them. If we merely score them like it were some sort of school exam, or raw comparison to declare a winner we should probably give up.

Tomato Marinade Roast Pork Belly

For the baste I used a basic pasta sauce I often make, well it was actually the remainder of one I had made earlier, but I wanted to try this with the belly.

1 tin whole tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp mixed herbs
chilli flakes
2 tsp soy sauce
olive oil
75ml red wine
S & P to season

Pork Belly (Size depends on servings, 700g will feed 4 or 5)
Vegetables to roast
white wine

Heat oil and toss the finely chopped garlic and onion in. When this is golden throw all the herbs, soy, tomatoes and wine in. Give it a stir and bring to a simmer. Season and allow to reduce by ½ or more, quite thick is good. Really, cook as you would any rich tomato based pasta sauce, the more time you have, the better to reduce the liquid and intensify the flavours.

This part of the recipe can be prepared in advance and put in the fridge or freezer for later use.


It is desirable to get the Pork fat to crackle, how far you want the process to go is up to the cook. For a softer crunch you can reduce the length of high temperature cooking at the start of the roasting, keep an eye on it.

Reserve about a third of the marinade.  Use the rest on the meat.

You can scald the fat side with boiling water to assist the crackling process. Personally, I don't know that this is an absolute must, try it both ways! If you do scald it, dry well before continuing.  Rub down the heavily scored fat side with salt and olive oil, you can be fairly liberal with the salt. Work the marinade into the meaty side and rub a little into the fat side, though the salt is the main bit here. The whole piece can be placed in the fridge for several hours, overnight would be ideal. Before roasting a little more salt can be rubbed into the fat to ensure the crackling has crackle!

Roast in an oven at 220 C for 1/2hr (this depends on the oven and how crunchy you like the crackling) then turn the heat down to 165 for a further 1 ½ hours. 

At the point where the oven is turned down add Potatoes, carrots, sweet potato or your other favourite vegetables to roast in the pan.  (If you like these a little more crispy and crunchy, they can be put in at the very start of the roasting, but don't add the wine until you turn the oven down.) These should be cut into hearty, rustic slabs. I added white wine to the pan as well to keep it moist and form a sauce, with the wine put the rest of the marinade over the vegetables. The volumes depends on the pan, you want a good covering, but you don't want to swamp the meat. Cover* Take the lid off for the last 10-15min.

*I'd suggest using a roasting pan with a lid to make this easy, and it also has steaming effect, retaining moisture and delicacy.

Slice the belly and serve with the vegetables and some of the delicious sauce. I'd also suggest a green/garden salad on the side to counter the richness of the dish.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

d'Arenberg “The Stump Jump” GSM 2009

d'Arenberg are one of Australia's finest producers, Still, it's reassuring and pleasing to find nice wines like this at $10 or less. It's not a complicated, but that's a good thing, rather it's honest and tasty stuff. The most surprising thing I have to say prompted by this wine? Go buy a decanter if you don't possess one already! I say this because it all really opened out nicely after I got stuck on the phone, leaving the bottle open for a good hour or so.

Drinkability indicated by the amount already gone...


Medium weight with red fruit and spice, this deepens to some darker notes, a flick of strawberry jam and cherry, backed with a nice savouriness and acidity. Good tannins. The purity of fruit is lovely and this is so drinkable without being boring. Really a good example of a GSM that puts many other pricier options in the shade, 88.

As I mentioned, a decant would do wonders. The wine is great with something to eat, and to this end I suspect very versatile, equally at home with lighter fare or something more hearty and protein based. Try it with the Sweet spiced chicken perhaps?

Sweet Spice Roast Chicken

Roasting a chicken isn't a hard task, but it's always good to have a few tasty variations up the sleeve to give variety.  I cooked this up for a Sunday evening.  It's easy enough for an ordinary meal while your pursuing weekend activities, tasty enough for entertaining with a casual dinner; a recipe for when you have plenty of cooking time but are short on preparation time, let's face it, that can be any time.

1 Chicken (Obviously)

Olive oil
1 ½ tbs Balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tbs Soy sauce
30ml sweet vermouth
Generous dash of chilli flakes
1 tsp mixed herbs
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp 5 spice
1 apple, finely sliced
6-8 Kalamata olives, pitted whole
2 cloves garlic, diced finely
1 slice raisin toast, roughly chopped
½ handful parsley, finely chopped
6-8 fine slices of butter
black pepper

*The quantities listed here are for a small chicken, you could adjust these as needed for a bigger, or multiple birds.

Preheat oven to 190 C.

Begin with a generous slug of oil in a mixing bowl, to this add all the stuffing ingredients, apart from the butter and mix well. Toss the butter through last as this is intended to melt through in the cooking process. The mix should be moist to slightly wet, If it is too dry add a little water or wine.

Stuff the chicken and then rub the outside with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking dish and cover with foil.  The foil will hold the moisture in and maximise flavour infusion.

Cooking time is some 2+ hrs, give the bird 15min at 190 then turn the oven back to 155 C. After 1¾ hrs approx remove the foil and allow the chicken to colour for ½hr. Remove from the oven when golden. Keep an eye on things at this stage, as browning time may vary.

Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a warm spot, reduce the juices to make a lovely jus.  The beauty of the relatively slow oven is that the meat stays tender and doesn't dry out, so this really is a low stress recipe allowing you to cook another dish, do the housework or entertain friends. I'd suggest serving with with your favourite roast vegetables and light greens. The versatility is such that a salad would equally suit as an accompaniment.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Friday Nights...

Though a little soft focus, here are the lovely pups
at the picturesque Botobolar cellar door...
I have a few wine thoughts and reviews to publish, but I am wary that I don't want to bore anyone, least of all the none wine lover or drinker.  Despite this I put the previous review up as I was indirectly inspired by the enjoyment of a lovely Graciano, also from Mudgee, this evening.  A review will surely follow for this wine, in the mean time I urge anyone and all to check out mudgee wine.  This region appears to be somewhat overlooked in critical circles and by fashion at this time; many other fine wine regions are also, the point here is that this is a great loss to everyone.  Mudgee is a region that can provide good things at different levels, value (and quality) quaffers, fine wines and intriguing possibilities.  The area also boasts fine foods and scenery that, whilst being uniquely Australian, is reminiscent of the best Tuscany et al, can offer.

Mudgee deserves and will have a full post all it's own.  In the meantime the review below gives a taste. 

Botobolar “The King” 2006/07 Cabernet Shiraz

This is an interesting wine for a couple of reasons, not least that it represents a relatively uncommon example of a non vintage red wine, and a high quality one at that. Somewhat unfairly it seems that when NV is indicated (in a still wine) assumptions are made of an inferior kind, but, surely we should look at this sort of blending as just another tool or option at the winemakers disposal. It is also made from 100% organic fruit. Botobolar have been pioneers and long standing exponents in this regard, being the first certified organic vineyard in Australia, estblished back in 1971. Having made the wine for a while now this edition is as good an example as any of “The King”.

The wine has a lovely vibrant, deep ruby red colour. The nose is fragrant with red fruit, spice and earth, it invites you to drink. In the mouth the wine is a mouth filling chunk of red and black berry flavours, with a satisfying but not overpowering jamminess. This is all infused with lovely notes of spice, star anise and pepper. Further Complexity is given with straw and barnyard characteristics, even a hint of smoke. Firm tannins and judicious oak provide line and grip to balance the gutsy fruit honesty of this big but balanced wine.

I'd say if you gave it another couple of years the wine will integrate more and only get better. To 2016. 89+

As a side note the fruit for the wine is sourced from two vineyards, Shiraz coming from Rosnay 07 and Cabernet from Brombee 06. It is a 50/50 blend.