Showing posts with label Wine Dinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wine Dinner. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Dinner: Isole e Olena at Balla

Dinner: Isole e Olena at Balla

Sometimes this wine writing gig has its upsides. Sure the money is almost mythical, the prospects limited, the hours long. Yet at least you get to eat and drink well.

Or at least that's how I justify it...

A recent dinner with Paolo de Marchi at Sydney's Balla happily fell into the last category, providing the sort of food/wine/company combo that makes it all worthwhile. Now if only I can work out how to use wine to pay rent...

The venue: Balla, Steve Manfredi's 'osteria' located within The Star precinct.

Who: Isole e Olena proprietor Paolo De Marchi, with the event arranged by Ian Cook from Five Way Cellars, in conjunction with The Star and Negociants (Australian importers of Isole e Olena). Steve Manfredi was on hand to talk through the food (and confess his love for Paolo's wines).

Crowd: Mainly consumers, who had all paid to attend the dinner. I was a glad freeloader.

Food: The ravioli and bistecca, in particular, were big highlights - seriously good. Lovely 'Tuscan inspired' flavours on offer, which just made me want to go even more (Chianti is on the cards for August, Bring it).

Story: This is Paolo's 38th year of winemaking. he 'hopes to be able to relax a little bit soon'.

He really doesn't seem to be slowing down though. Rather, he's very keen to push the wines of his son, sourced from the original family farm in northern Piedmont.

Said vineyard is located in the foothills of the alps 'between Val d'Osta and the big lakes' and is actually a forgotten gem, as Paolo explained:

'This was an extremely important region and then it changed. 98% of vineyards lost to phylloxera and never replanted. Small properties and a textile industry that was flourishing meant pragmatic vignerons forgot about vineyards and didn't replant. Now less than 1000 hectares across 12 appellations.'

There has also been considerable change in Chianti, where the main estate winery is located, with a huge shift in the nature of land use.

Much of it happened very quickly too, as Paolo described:.

'From the 50s to the 60s Chianti moved from a medieval economy to a modern one, with and average of 120 people working per farm in the 50s, and by the 60s it was 14 people'

The change came on the back of a cultural evolution too, with wine evolving from 'food for the peasant' to a legitimate business focus.

While Paolo loves to talk about Piedmont, his lifelong focus ultimately remains rooted in Tuscany:

'My story is understanding Chianti'

The wines:

My expectations were high (and I have some Cepparello in the cellar) and the wines delivered. These are charismatic and genuine wines reflective of their maker and region. I didn't quite love the Nebbiolo pair but I can fully appreciate the style and mode. A personal preference thing perhaps.

These wines were all drunk over dinner (ie with food and at a leisurely pace). Background notes in italics...

Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Chardonnay Toscana IGT 2011 (Tuscany, Italy) $65
Chardonnay was introduced as a blending grape, intended to help lift up the basic Tuscan white blend - what Paolo called 'an ordinary wine style' (largely Trebbiano based). The Chardonnay was eventually kept separate.

Quite a heavy oak nose. Lotsa oak. Full barrel flavours and a sulphide funk. Maybe a bit obvious, replate with firm oak tannins (which is not much fun in a wine like this) but has length and a fine acid backbone.  17.5/20, 91/100

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (Chianti Classico, Italy) $38
This includes a little Syrah, planted to help give something to the blend. 

What a delicious wine this is. An ad for Chianti if ever there was one. It doesn't have the complexity of Cepparello or even the power of similar Brunellos. But gee this is pure and beautiful - all red fruit, minimal oak and sandy tannins. Energy and juiciness in a savoury form. I came back to this at the end of the tasting and no doubting it's a simpler beast in this company, but a beautiful one all the same. Buy buy. 17.8/20, 92/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2009 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
100% Sangiovese, sourced from the estate vineyards in the northern part of Chianti Classico. Aged in French oak barrels.

According to Paolo 'Sangiovese is not forgiving when you make mistakes'. The secret to the success of this wine is all about the best Sangiovese fruit. 

Oak swathed all over the nose. Initially I thought this was too oaky, the oak obfuscating the palate. Thankfully I left my glass and came back to a point where the oak seems to meld into the quite black fruit. It's still a flashy wine - maybe not flashy for Tuscan reds, but flashy for 100% Sangiovese - though clearly the sandy tannins are all Sangio.

Ultimately I loved this wine. It feels so ageless and intense and lively - a wine that will continue to be seductive for decades. The only question remains whether some wildness has been lost at the expense of such oaky polish? I still can't mark it down, regardless. Superstar Sangio. 18.7/20, 95/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
Already open and ready to drink, the extra evolution of this warm year wine really helping the drinkability. There is all sorts of welcome meaty, blackened chilly and pulled pork smoky wildness here that perhaps makes it a better wine than the 2009. Very Italianate regardless. Meat and meat. Slow cooked ragu. Expressive. I love the open and grandiose Italianate wildness, though clearly it just seems a little uneven compared to the 09 - the acid and tannins a little less fine (though this seems much less oak framed). Ultimately this is another top Sangiovese and a very fine drink now. 18.5/20, 94/100

Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio Coste Della Sesia Lessona DOC 2008 (Piedmont, Italy) $45
Sourced from Paolo's son Luca's vineyard in Lessona. A blend of Nebbiolo with the earlier ripening Vespolina and Croatina. 

Licoricey. Highly toned. Slightly vegetal. All front palate and sucks up through the finish. Misses the grandiose of Barolo. Lots of acid. Quite wild. Has fennel and pepper intrigue, but as a drink this isn't quite long enough. Warm finish. Not quite even enough and needs ripeness to fill the holes. Still rather pretty and full of intrigue. 16.8/20, 89/100

Proprietà Sperino Lessona DOC 2005 (Piedmont, Italy) $100
Straight Nebbiolo and treated more like a traditional Barolo, with a long natural ferment and extensive barrel ageing in a variety of barrels and big oak.

Syrupy at first - pushing the ripeness. Ferns and undergrowth as well as blackness sounds like real marginal fruit. The brackish palate plays the black spice card and teeters on the brink of ovrer-ripeness. Long lived and furry palate starts full but tightens up into slighly astringent tannins. It feels like two wines really - a really rich soft red attempting to be a dry and dusty Nebbiolo. You just want for more phenolic ripeness here ultimately. Still, there is some refreshment and it will live forever. 17/20, 90/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
From a very warm vintage in Tuscany.
Choc mocha oak. Milky and leafy with a warm hearted core. Feels a little forward and stunted in this company. Coffee. Malt. Cocoa pops. Flat and open and warm. Length not quite of this class.

Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Syrah Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany, Italy) $90
Leaf and mulch and black pepper. A little horsey, overlaid with cocoa powder. Flirts with underripeness before the oak kicks forward and scores this a big dry dark choc goal. Has intensity but a little bound in itself and oak. Probably worth an each way bet here as it has genuine character and will likely only get better. 17.7/20, 92/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2005 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
In cork. 'We tasted two bottles and people understand why we use Screwcap'. 

A bit of VA and menthol but rather meaty and firm. All bacony secondary. Smoky and little fruit compared to wines around it. Quite bitter and gruff. Is it a wonderful drink? Rather hard and smoky. The ordinary bottle? I see flashes of goodness, but otherwise it looks off key. 16/20, 87/100

Isole e Olena Vin Santo Chianti Classico 2004 (Tusany, Italy) $90
'The lazy winemakers wine'. The quite neutral fruit (Malvesia and Trebbino) for this is air dried, put in small barrels on used lees then sealed for 7 years. VA can be a big problems with this style as Paolo wryly notes 'Sometimes Vin Santo likes to be a sibling of balsamic vinegar'. Apparently this was a very warm year and a simple wine initially, made complex with some of the wildest barrels (hence the volatility). 

Honey, golden syrup and spirit. Ditto on the palate which has Muscat like levels of sweetness rounded off with caramel oak. Bold but beautiful. How can you not love this ? Perhaps it is too simple? Hard to knock otherwise. 18/20, 93/100

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

'The World's Greatest Wines that aren't...'

'The World's Greatest Wines that aren't...'

When I first started this blog, almost four years ago now, I did so with purpose - I wanted somewhere accessible (online) where I could store all my tasting notes to easily reference them. It seemed like the perfect idea at the time actually, the ideal way to stop me filling notebooks with my illegible scribblings and then forgetting the finer details about why I particularly liked one wine or another in the process. By having a centralised platform I thus had easy access as well as a place spout my opinions of course, even if no-one cared (blogs are good like that).

Fast forward four years and the nature of this site has changed from the original scope somewhat, broadening and evolving along the way. Yet I'm reminded that I still need to keep on top of the main purpose - to write down, largely for my own reference, which wines I liked and why. Just for me. Stuff you guys...

Anyway today I'm channeling my inner Halliday and documenting one of 'those dinners'. The sort of dinners where you silently swear under your breath and remark 'how do I get an invite to something like that'. The sort of dinners that anyone who has read Halliday's columns in Gourmet Traveller WINE knows the score...

The theme of this dinner though was simple - 'The World’s Greatest Wines that aren’t Grand Crus, First Growths, Grand Marques or RP 100 pointers' - a concept which ultimately encouraged a wonderful proliferation of 5th growths, unknown estates and odd vintages. The results, however, were anything but odd...

In this piece I'm just going to run through a few highlights then, a few wines from this astonishing lineup that are worth highlighting, discussing or at least mentioning (and reminding myself). Once again a big thanks to David Fesq and family for organising this dinner. Good times indeed).

Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Riesling 1993 (Alsace, France)

1993 Trimbach Clos Ste Hune
From double magnum
Everything tastes better from a big bottle. Maybe. This tasted surprisingly good though, a tight, rich, yet contained wine showing orange rind, more than a hint of botrytis and a solid hit of acidity through the finish. If anything it was a bit too blocky, the acidity too firm and the fruit not rich enough to carry it all together, or in another way it is a wine of power but not quite congruency. Still that shape and that length suggest that - given another five years in the bottle - this should be singing. Still enjoyed a glass or two of this.

Chateau Gruaud Larose 1964 (St Julien, Bordeaux, France)
2 big bottles.

Another 3 litre bottle and another wine that looks better than expected. A 'good' year in Bordeaxu apparently and this bottle was in reasonable condition (though the label did fall off at the end of the night).

What made this particular wine enjoyable by just how much it still carried it's terroir stamp - recognisably Left Bank, delightfully medium bodied and carries that stern cedar character of Bordeaux. It's falling away a smidgen and probably past it's best yet still that lightness and sappy refreshment of old Bordeaux remains. Really enjoyed this.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle 2000 (Northern Rhone, France)

From a 3 litre bottle too. Fair to say that this wine was a disappointment. Actually, given the general disappointment of the La Chapelle wines of that era it was probably an expected disappointment.

The problem with this is simple - it's just lacking in definition. There's that wonderful high toned black peppercorn meatiness of Hermitage yet it's just full of holes, the nose really quite forward and chunky, the palate lacking persistance and length. Soft and pretty simple really.

Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Blanc de Blancs Fleur de Passion 2004 (Champagne, France)

Diebolt-Vallais Fleur de Passion 2004
Stunning Champagne

From magnum. Wow. Double wow. Sexy Champagne this one, built in a mould of opulence, richness and Krug like stylings (but lighter and prettier. More white flowers here). Think 65 year old vines, small oak maturation, the works. The full Champagne monty. I can't express enough how much I enjoyed this wine and it was perhaps the single I could drink the most of from this lineup. That push-pull between richness/power and acidity! That length and vitality! Buy some..

Mosse Les Bonnes Blanches 2009 (Anjou, Loire)

Mosse + Ovarius. Suitable

From magnum. The Ovarius decanter came out for this one, although we were all waiting to see if it could take the wine into the fourth dimension. Still waiting, but it certainly improved this white...

From the outset this carried some intrigue too, the Mosse name being synonymous with some intriguing natural Loire Chenin of serious depth and power. That intrigue was evident from the first whiff too, an oxidative nose of citrus Chenin fruit and dry honeysuckle extract.

The palate too was powerful and minerally and firm, if still super tight and closed. With air I was hoping this would become more expansive and rounded, but the oxidation just got more evident without the flesh of the palate to catch up, the alcohol also becoming even more evident with time in the glass (like many 09 Loire whites). Still smart but the more I looked the less I liked.

J.F. Coche-Dury Mersault 'Les Rougeots' Blanc 1987 (Mersault, Côte de Beaune, France)

1987 Coche Mersault Les Rougeots
Tasted much better than it looked
I really didn't expect much. Very little at all actually, especially given the bronzed colour, the only fair levels and the glad-wrapped label. Yet digging underneath all that age you find a classy wine, an obviously old and slightly madeirised wine yet one that still carries that finely whipped butter minerality of proper Mersault. It's that caramel bottle age meets cream fruit which is ultimately really very addictive, although tempered by decay on the finish. Enjoyable and drinkable (in small doses) surprise.

Chateau De Pommard 1964 (Pommard, Côte de Beaune, France)

1964 Chateau Pommard
Note the alcohol on the label (11-14%!)

Another 64! This looked like Rosé in fact, with a serious orange/bronze colour to it. It tasted like lovely earthen and ferrous old Pinot though, still holding on to the vestiges of some serious firm fruit (it would have been quite a structural beast in it's youth), complete with a hint of strawberries. Again it's a well aged wine, again it's not for everyone with no shortage of earthen dirt and a fully resolved palate, but there was a certain beauty about this. Another highlight.

Clape Cornas 2000 (Cornas, Northern Rhone, France)

Clape Cornas and meat = yes

A mixed vintage for the Northern Rhone and a lesser wine in the Clape context. Fitting that this was served at about meat o'clock during the night as Clape Cornas  always looks better with red meat. It still carries much of that richness and oak sweetness of a younger wine too, the first pooey edges of Cornas bottle age yet to really take hold. Again, like the same vintage La Chapelle, the flow wasn't ideal here, the tannins hard and the fruit looking just a tad awkward and less than pure. I enjoyed a glass but couldn't really drink much more of this - a lesser Clape (speaking of, here is a look at a few recent vintages of this wine).

Best's Bin O Great Western Shiraz 1990 (Great Western, Vic)

Bests Bin 0 1990
22 years young!

Sourced directly from the Best's cellars and in absolutely tip-top shape because of it, there was no hiding the glory of this mature Australian red. It's very much in the Grampians mould too, an unashamedly richer, sweeter, oakier wine than many of the more Euro/less polished wines of this drinkfest, but also enjoyable because of it. There is a sweetened plum essence Grampians character at this wines core too that is so wonderfully attractive. Nicely resolved, but still really quite youthful, win this wine with  at least another 5-10 years pleasure left (based on this great bottle). Very nice.

Maison Leroy Mersault 1er Cru 'Les Perrieres' Blanc 2006
(Mersault, Côte de Beaune, France)

Leroy Les Perrieres

What a point of contention this wine was. A late-night argument starter if ever there was one. The bone of contention about this wine was whether it was unbalanced or just going through a bad phase.
What was particularly discussed was the ripe and slightly overbearing pineapple fruit which appeared to get weightier, heavier and more broad by the second, the oak a second intrusive layer over the top of the fat. Personally I just found this bulky and awkward, lacking the real structure to give long term love. But I can also see that it might come good in a few years, that oak might integrate more and the line may well improve. Definitely a disappointment given the wines around it though. if purely for the moment.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Highlights from the launch of the Summer of Riesling

Highlights from the launch of the Summer of Riesling

Tuesday (11/01/11) marked the launch of the 2011 Australian Summer of Riesling, a celebration of all things Riesling that has made it's way to Australia for the first time in 2011, having been first established by the Riesling fanatics at New York wine bar Terroir & Hearth a little while back and now coming here thanks to the work of wine distributor Jason Hoy and restaurateur Stu Knox of Fix St James.

The premise behind the concept is simple - an excuse to coax as many establishments as humanly possible to give their wine lists (and wine range) over to all things Riesling, which thus should get more people drinking wines produced from the worlds greatest white grape.

Given that I am a devout worshipper of this king of grapes (seriously, Riesling is amazing), there was no way I was going to miss out on an excuse to try shedloads of fine examples at the Summer of Riesling launch party held here in Sydney at Fix St James (whom have devoted all their by the glass white wine list to Riesling), joining a lively crowd of similar followers in a boozy celebration of Riesling goodness.

As you can imagine the night was a large one, with 32 wines poured for dinner alone (with half as many again also open at the tasting beforehand) so my notes are, erm, shady to say the best. But there was some absolute standouts that are worth a mention.

KT Melva Riesling 2010 (Clare, SA)
From the hand of winemaking talent Kerri Thompson this was an absolute standout in a bracket featuring the Petaluma, Monsters Attack and Vinteloper 2010 Clare Rieslings. The secret (well, not that secret actually) is just the limey, intense, perfectly poised Clare Valley purity, the acidity looked particularly natural, the flavours looking absolutely spot on. What sets this one apart though is that it is Clare Rizza on steroids, the wine fermented with wild yeasts, given some skin contact and extra residual sugar, the balance an entirely welcome surprise and the extra phenolic grip entirely appropriate. The only better Clare Riesling I have had out of 2010 is the Grosset Polish Hill...18.5/94

Did I mention that it was a large night?
Even my photos are blurry:
This is Jason Hoy talking Riesling
Bests Home Block Riesling 2010 (Great Western, Vic)
I've had this a few times now, although this is the first time I've seen it as a finished labelled product. In a lineup that included 2 Mt Langi Rieslings and the super tight new De Bortoli Reserve Riesling (which is just too tight to be enjoyable right now) and another Bests, this looked the most balanced of the lot. Interestingly it was probably the sweetest wine of the bracket too, carrying more residual than most (and carrying it very well indeed), with an excellent interplay between citrussy fruit and blinding limey acidity, rounded off with the fruit and sugar sweetness. It's still settling into it's skin, but this is a very impressive Riesling indeed. 17.8/92

Van Voxelm ‘Schiefer’ Riesling 2007 (Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany)
This was slipped into a lineup of similar styled Austrian/French/German Riesling and was one of my more favoured wines of the bracket. It carries some creamy leesy funk overtones, underpinned by slatey (schiefer translates as slate after all) acidity, the whole package looking particularly complex and interesting for something that sells for circa $30. Nice wine. 17.5/91

Dönnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett 2008 (Nahe, Germany)
I love Dönnhoff. Well, I love his wines at least, and this is nothing if not a perfect place to start (actually the perfect place to start is the 07 which I drank over Christmas). From first whiff this is obviously a leaner, firmer wine than the 07, the cooler season giving an extra edge of minerally, sparkling acidity that may well not be to everyone's tastes, but for me it just tastes like glory. It doesn't stick out though, further reinforcing how carefully balanced this is. Jancis describes this as 'racy' and I think she is spot on with this. Like it very much. 18.5/94

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Wellington Diaries: Day 1 - Wellingtonian life

The Wellington Diaries: Day 1 - Wellingtonian life

Yes that is a table and chairs on the verandah there...

I recently had the pleasure of an entertaining (or I was entertained at least) long weekend in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and the fourth best city in the world.

Now, what brought me to Wellington was not actually the city itself (no, what brought me there was actually an Air New Zealand Airbus. Thankyou, Air New Zealand, and thankyou also for putting Goodfellas on the inflight entertainment schedule. One of my favourite gangster movies.). What I was really doing in Wellington though was passing through, en route to the Pinot and promise that is/was Toast Martinborough.

In hindsight (however), by just viewing Wellington as a place to 'pass through', I realise I was ultimately just copying what many other Australian visitors do - view Wellington as a stepping off point to other places in NZ.

This trip though was different. The aim here was to attempt to understand why Wellington is a prime holiday destination for kiwis (and other tourists), yet it is still under-appreciated - passed over even - by Australians.

In other words, what are we missing out on?

The answer to that is easy. Good coffee shops. And restaurants. And bars. And vintage clothing shops. And Ukeleles. get the drift.

What Wellington lacks, perhaps, is a big ticket drawcard. A real reason to go. An obvious USP - to use marketing parlance - that they can shout from the rooftops. But it doesn't. Instead, Wellington is just a great place to live. Which is obviously hard to pitch to visitors....

One thing that isn't hard to understand is damn good eateries. Which brings me to where I ate on day 1 of my Wellington trip - Logan Brown:

Logan Brown. Even cooler on the inside...

As you can see in the photo above, the actual building that houses Logan Brown is cool. Old cool. Old bank cool, to be precise, with the building itself a 1920's bank chamber that has been taken over by messrs Logan and Brown. The food (and the wine list) are considered to be one of NZ's finest (Cuisine's finest in 2009) as you can see here. To put into Australian terms, it's probably the equivalent of a two hatted restaurant quality (with pricing ambitions to match).

What is more welcome about this place though is that whilst the A La Carte menu is fully priced, they offer a 'bistro menu' for anyone who can squeeze in before 730pm and can cope with some fixed choices. That is definitely me, and the asking price of $49.95 for 3 courses makes this one particularly welcome option indeed, allowing a taste of the experience for less. Big win there.

Intuitive restaurateurs are a common theme in Wellington, with the bars and coffee shops also carrying a charm and a swagger that belies what is a city of just 200,000 people. In truth, I'm still trying to nail down exactly why that is, exactly why the place is so cool.

One reason, perhaps, is that the city format is generally quite compact, with the CBD a reasonably dense one given the size of the place, making getting around the good bits quite easy. Given too that Wellington is the capital, the confluence of nationalities from the embassies and government businesses located within the city limits also tends to add some multicultural diversity to both the visitors and the residents, further driving the more eclectic nature of the city.

But that doesn't quite explain it. There is more to it than just night life and the (constantly) windswept harbour. However, as a few Wellingtonians said over the weekend 'well, you just have to live here...'

Wellington also has a serious Ukulele fetish.... 

The wines

Wine wasn't quite the focal point on my first night, but the Logan Brown list is a goodun' and the sommelier is switched on, taking up the challenge of matching 'local' (Martinborough, Nelson and Marlborough) wines to the food.

Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blanc 2002 (Marlborough, NZ)
It's interesting that there exists something of a Marlborough style in sparkling whites now, with many favouring the bigger, winemaking driven style of bubbles, in what is a somewhat divergent mould to the more lean and elegant 'Tasmanian' style increasingly favoured in Australia. That's a broad generalisation of course, but I think that it carries some merit. Personally, I actually prefer the 'bigger' style of bubbles (I'm a Bollinger/Krug man) so the aforementioned form resonates with me, though if the acid is not up to scratch then I'm no fan at all...

Anyway, this is very much built in the 'Marlborough' vein (though it is a Blanc de Blanc, so more generosity is not terribly surprising) with quite bold flavours and some yeasty richness to it. In this context, with food, it worked a treat, looking every bit as rich and powerful as you (or, more specifically, I) would want, with the structure entirely up to the task. Really nice wine.

Tuatara Pilsner (Wellington, NZ)
A local craft brew and looking as fresh and crisp as you would want. I'm not a massive Pilsner fan, but this is smart stuff. Enjoyed it.

Neudorf Chardonnay 2008 (Nelson, NZ)
I'd argue that Neudorf trails only Kumeu River on the Kiwi Chardonnay scales, though that is very much a personal preference. Neudorf didn't let me down here either, with that bold, nutty and quite mouthfilling style that works all too well. Yes. Double yes. Really quite enjoyed this.

Escarpment 'Hinemoa' Late Picked Riesling 2009 (Martinborough, NZ)
I had this twice over the weekend and each time I was just left wanting a little bit more. A little more flavour, a little more intensity. It's going to built with bottle age, but it just looks a little too linear to be really impressive.

Clearview 'Sea Red' Merlot 2009 (Hawkes Bay, NZ)
Whilst this worked fairly well with a rich chocolate dessert, as a wine it's just all over the place, with some raw tannins smashing into heavy residual sweetness, to make for something plainly schizophrenic. No.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Dinner at Tetsuya's

Tetsuya's is arguably one of Sydney's, if not Australia's, finest dining experiences. Based around the vision of Tetsuya Wakuda, the style is contemporary Japenese fusion (that's my attempt at classification) with an international flavour.

This was my first visit to this famous Sydney restaurant and hopefully not my last, for although the pricetag is high ($195 per person, fixed cost degustation) the experience redefines your fine food, service & wine list benchmarks.

I chose to take the optional matched wine 'progression' ($90) mainly as I was intrigued to see how the wine and food would be matched up. I'm happy to report the pairings where great, even if I wasn't always moved by the wines themselves. Function over form in some ways then.

I am no restaurant expert, so I'll let Caryn's brilliant (reduced for the web, which doesn't them no justice) photos do the talking.

Firstly the wines:

Heidler Thal Gruner Veltliner 2006
A quite simple, yet classic Gruner that served to highlight how interesting this variety is. A light golden straw in colour, it had a decidedly cool climate honeysuckle & spice nose that was quite direct and light. The palate is where this wine came alive with a spicy, textural viscosity of warm, slightly herbaceous, honey fruit. There is back palate weight and some heat on the finish, in the vein of a Viognier without the heaviness. Throughout the night I came back to this and it proved to be a very versatile food wine, if still somewhat simple. Very enjoyable stuff. 17.3

Clover Hill Blanc De Blancs 2003
Accompanied the Smoked Ocean Trout & Avruga Caviar, with the richness in this working well with the quite rich & creamy dish. Quite a bronze colour considering its relative youth, this had quite a developed, Brie & butter nose with some maturing Chardonnay toast. The palate is similarly cheesy & richly developed with a big robust mouthfeel that lacked a little subtlety. Maturing quickly & a little fat but still enjoyable. 17.2

Sake (It was probably good stuff)
Served with the Custard. Did absolutely nothing for me and felt almost like a novelty. How are you meant to sip Sake anyway? It has always been for drunkenly skulling at local Japanese restaurants before getting up for some Karaoke/taking pants off and swinging around head.

Paradigm Hill Riesling 2007
A Mornington Riesling? Hmm. This wine was served at around the time of the Scampi and served as an excellent foil for the quite delicate Seafood. Kudos to the Sommelier. As for the wine itself, it was quite pretty and floral on the nose, but also quite dumb & green appley, with some light toast creeping in on the nose. The palate was muddled, stuck between primary fruit & secondary development, saved only by some limey fruit sweetness and crisp acidity. A good food wine, but otherwise bland & a little boring. Time may improve the rating, but not by much. 16

Henschke Gewurtztraminer 2008
Served with the Confit of Trout and again a great match. The crisp acidity and subdued flavours working well with the delicate complexity and freshness. Again however, this wine was quite average. The nose showed some lychee Gewurtz varietal characters, but they where only fleeting before being replaced with Eden Valley slate. The palate was lean, slightly peachy & one dimensional, showing no varietal character & feeling like a pale Eden Riesling imitator. Nicely balanced back end, but really quite an average Gewurtz. 15.8

Pierro Chardonnay For Tetsuya's 2007
Made by Pierro for Tetsuya's. I can't tell you how close it is to the normal Pierro Chard in composition, but judging on the wine alone it was classic Pierro Chard. Hallmark Toasty, worked, malo & integrated vanilla oak character on the nose with power and regional grapefruit flavour. The palate is similarly quite bulky with slightly overt oak and perfect nutty richness, all in need of a few more years to come together. Yum. 18.0

Felton Road Pinot Noir for Tetsuya's 2006
Another smart 'house wine'. Every inch a Felton Pinot, with that trademark bright red colour and beautiful stalky red fruit nose. I was slightly disappointed with the palate on this though, as it seemed quite closed and oaky, especially through the middle. This really needs more time to integrate. 17+

Parker Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Served with the Wagyu where it just cut right through the hedonistic fatty rich meat. Food match points again. On its own however this is hard work. Leafy, herbaceous & slightly unripe nose tomato leaf nose, with a dry, cocoa & slightly bitter Cassis fruit driven palate. Its all a bit hard and oak driven, but with a future that should see it blossom if your patient to leave it alone for another 5+ years. 16.6++ (18 with the Wagyu however)

Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2007
This didn't need food, it was lovely on its own. Big, tropical pineapple nose with a long caramel meets pineapple juice palate with carefully judged limey acidity. Natural acidity, length & balance. Lovely stuff & my WOTN 18.5


Pea Soup with Mint Cream & Chocolate Salt

Oysters with Miso & Ginger

Smoked Ocean Trout & Avruga Caviar, Hens yolk & Goats Cheese

Leek & Spanner Crab Custard

Grilled Scampi wrapped in Pancetta
Scampi in Sea Water & Lemon Scented Olive Oil
Marinated Scampi with White Miso & Passionfruit

Confit of Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Roe, Konbu, Apple, Daikon & Wasabi

Terrine of Spanner Crab with an Avocado Soup

(Baby!) Fillet of Barramundi with Baby Fennel

Breast of Duck with Braised Witlof with Sansho & Walnut Jus

Wagyu Beef with Lime & Wasabi

Comte with Lentils

Beetroot & Blood Orange Sorbet

Summer Pudding

Lemon Scented Floating Island with Creme Anglaise

Chocolate Ganache with Sweet Red Beans

Petit Four

Friday, 5 December 2008

Farewelling a friend in style

These where all drunk to commiserate over the loss/celebrate the life of one of Sydney's endangered, independent fine wine merchants. (North Shore Liquor in Cammeray, now a BWS).
It reminds me to renew the call to support the little guy - small wineries, small independent stores, small restaurants, the lot. Small business breeds innovation, feeds passions and offers much needed diversity. They deserve your patronage.

Anyway, onto the wines:

Penfolds Bin 04a Chardonnay 2004
I believe this was crafted by the talented Oliver Crawford (now at Devils Lair in WA) and its all class. Clever oak and malo in a subdued white peach style - its worked, mealy but definitely not an overt style of Chardonnay - savoury Adelaide Hills style here. Integrated and seamless palate. Will evolve well in the cellar. Very good+. 18

Coldstream Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2006
A multi award and trophy winner, though I thoughT it struggled in this company. The oak is just toO overt, sitting on top of the fruit like a shadow, blocking the purity below it. There is some genuine top class fruit in there, it may need some time to come out. At the moment I am not excited. 16.0+

Domaine A Lady A Sauvignon Blanc 2005
When they get it right, the Domaine A's are truly brilliant wines - here is a perfect example. A fume style of oaked Savvy, apparently inspired by White Bordeaux (though its much more of a Loire style in the flesh). The nose has a touch of formic over some very fine vanilla oak, this is intertwined with herbal aromatic Savvy in a pristine, super fresh frameset - its all quite subtle, herbal & hugely fresh. The palate is a textural masterpiece, with oak infused into the lemony fruit in a perfect fashion, finishing with lemony acidity. Quite brilliant and such a beautiful, feminine wine. I had it written down as 'pristine oaked raindrops' 18.6

Guigal Condrieu 2005
I just couldnt muster up any excitement for this. The nose is evocative and classically Viognerish. You know the sort, apricots, peaches, really ripe fruits and spice. The palate IS interesting, layered and richly fruited, whilst also retaining some complexity. No - the problem was the heat on the back end. It burnt. The alcohol and sheer ripeness here just leaves you feeling slightly battered after finishing a glass. I really struggled to finish more than a couple of mouthfuls as I felt I was being orally assaulted. Yet I can't deny the appeal. My score here then is fence sitting as i was quite torn. 16.8

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2005
Now this is more like it. It smells like melon and honey in the classic fashion of Margaret River Chardonnay, the fine grained French oak and quite powerful rich fruit fitting together like hand & glove. The palate is ripe and bountiful, with quite a deal of oak in with the rich fruit, yet without letting any component get out of hand. Indeed balance is a strong point. It tastes distinctly regional, well made and great. Heat on the tail is the only real drawback. Good stuff. 18.5

Kaesler Old Vine Shiraz 1999
Others found this quite bretty and short, personally I loved it. Earthen & meaty, slighty bretty nose, but the dead perfect intensity was where this shined. Perfectly ripe and powerful with this classic everlong fruit richness. Fantastic Barossa Shiraz. 18.7

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2004
This suffered due to the wines around it - 12.5% alcohol, leathery, spicy and savoury. I felt it was quite disjointed on the palate too with jarring acidity. Stuck between primary fruit and secondary development, this really needs many years to sort itself out. Even then, this is not a great Graveyard. 16+

Leasingham Classic Clare Shiraz 2001
This was my contribution (from Magnum) and it was pleasing that it came up so well. I think it was voted red WOTN mainly on its suitable drinkability, though I preferred the Kaesler. It opened up minty, oaky and a little hard, with some background low level brett, but sinewy in that Clare Valley way. As it opened up the tannins and oak integrated together and everything just felt right, the palate still tight and very dry, with power and force. No Barossan softness here instead its typically Clare, with the sort of powerful, convincing flavours that bring you back time after time. A very blokey red. Good stuff. 17.7

Bests Bin 0 Shiraz 2004
Immediately alluring, oaky and very bright this felt primary, tight and fresh with a long future ahead of it. I only had a passing taste and felt it needed many years yet.

Port Phillip Rimage Syrah 2004
Shiraz that smells like Pinot. Meaty, hammy, peppery and fragrant with spicy, slightly green fruit. The palate is somewhat stewed and trying its best to be Pinot with a real softness and feminity that is alluring but also slightly disappointing all at once. Not bad, but not great either. 16.9

Stefano Lubiana Prestige Cuvee 1995
Steve Lubiana take your hat off. This is the finest Australian Sparkling that I have ever tasted. Never before in Australia have I seen such a complete wine. Fitting the winery intentions this tastes like Tasmanian Sparkling at its finest and not Champagne. Important definition that.

This underwent no malo and spent an astounding 10 years on lees. The colour could be a 1 yr old Sparkling - its green/straw yellow (on a 13 yr old Aussie bubbly) with an ultra fine, ultra persistant bead. The nose is subtle, subdued, with yeasty autolysis sublimely infused into the lemony nose. Lemons are everywhere in this wine, with just the most perfectly defined palate of citrus fruit and lemony, full acidity. The finish is long and perfectly delineated, though there is a lack of subtly on the finish that marks this as Tasmanian, not French. Its a very impressive wine and absolutely Tasmanian, but I think if you served this with a group of top French cuvee's it would rank dead last - it doesn't come from Chalk soils, it comes from gravel. It comes from a distinctly maritime climate as opposed to a Continental one. Terroir at its finest. The only let down? The price. $160 for this is frightening. 19.0