Monthly Archives: July 2009

Bush Vine Grenache With a Chocolate Cupcake

5.18am Pinecrest Diner, Geary & Mason, San Francisco, California, USA
I’m still on London time, so waking bolt upright this morning I thought I’d go around the corner to the Pinecrest Diner (est 1969) for some scrambled eggs, seeing as they’re open 24 hours. I had a top day in San Francisco yesterday with Chirs, the bloke from our distributor, Henry Wine Group. He looks after the team of reps who cover the whole city area.

Hang on – two eggs scrambled with cheese that gets me sour dough toast and a shredded potato hash brown the size of your average newspaper as well – just arrived. My first hot brekky in the US and the eggs are fluffy and just great, and I know they’re real eggs because I saw them being scrambled at the open grill next to my elbow! Now I’ll be set up for the day.

Back to yesterday. Sometimes you’ll get an omen for a good day and you know the force is with you – as happened at our first call with Steven at William Cross Wine Merchants and wine bar. I had the 2004 Signature on board for the day, and he had just opened a bottle of the 1999 Signature at dinner a week ago. We had opened a bottle of the same around the same time for the press and trade in London as part of that 1966, 1977, 1988, 1999, 2002 & 2004 Signature vertical. It’s good to know that the 1999 Signature is travelling nicely as a 10 year old – on both sides of the Atlantic. Nice folks with an excellent tasting bar!

We had a whistlestop day really, and seeing as I give long answers to short questions as a rule, it forced Chris – my babysitter for the day – to revert into the native New Yorker that he is , and he had to drive like a Manhattan cab driver to get us from A to B almost on time. There was only that one “thread the needle’ moment of concern involving us, the two cars and a cablecar …

That's not an egg ...

That's not an egg ...

We grabbed lunch at Kokkari – magic Greek inspired food – that has had our wines on the list for at least the five years that I’ve been coming to town. Right now they have the 2006 Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier because it goes so well with the majority of their menu. Four of us (our hotel specialist wondergal Allison chimed in for the update on what is happening Yalumba wise around the traps) had that plus our tasting wines with a share combination of grilled lamb chops, traditional moussaka and the fresh peach, fetta and arugula salad – and the Arborio rice pudding with roasted peach – you need those fruit groups!

Then across to Noe Valley to see Erick at Urban Cellars – nice boy, nice part of town, I’m going back to finish that conversation on Shiraz. Over to South, the Southern Hemisphere wine specialists between Market Street and the ball park. This Saturday Clive Jones, the winemaker for Nautilus in New Zealand, is doing a lunch there with Chuck and Paige from the Jug Shop.

Then we headed down to Bin 38. Now talking of nice boys in nice locations, you cannot go past the big fella at Bin 38, a great restaurant/wine bar with a fire pit combination, and directly across the street from Kara’s Cupcakes! Oh perfect! Seeing as one of my ongoing investigations is “Ferrari’s Great Cupckae Challenge”, I had to stick my head in the door … and then of course I was a lost cause. Up to now I’d say the title holder of best cupcake would be Billy’s Bakery in the Chelsea part of Manhattan with their Red Velvet Cupcake. But now I think Kara’s takes it with their Banana Caramel Cream number. I think their secret weapon is the element of surprise as you bite in and get the melt in your mouth vanilla sponge and banana, then there’s this unexpected burst of caramel cream. They core the cupcake, insert the caramel thing and camouflage it with banana cream butter icing. Memorable! I bought their most popular Chocolate cupcake for the boys – because it’s good to share – and I think they liked it with the 2007 Bush Vine Grenache.

Great day – talked our faces off, and showed Australia, the Barossa, and Yalumba in a good wine way. I was lucky to have Chris as a babysitter as I got the tourist trip down the famous windiest road in the world – Lombard Street – and enough local knowledge to keep me well out of trouble on my days off this Sunday and Monday – especially the taco suggestion for the Mission district. Thanks!

Another reason to love San Fran

Another reason to love San Fran

I finished off with dinner around the corner at Lefty O’Doul’s (est 1958) – a piano bar diner chock a block full of baseball memorabilia from the old San Francisco Seals era. They do a great carved meat roast dinner – turkey, glazed ham, pastrami or corned beef if you’re hungry – for all of $12 including tip and tax! After a day like this it’s easy to see why I like this town so much.

Well, off to get set for today – we’re off to Sacramento – my first visit.

Foggy by the Bay

6.25am Powell Street, San Francisco, California, USA

St K at the Golden Gate

St K at the Golden Gate

Fog City, folks. There’s a reason why San Francisco deserves this tag. Yesterday I caught the ferry across to Larkspur – across the bay and up to the northeast – and we worked in an area called Marin County. Across the bay, fog everywhere. Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist. Once you get to Larkspur and the towns of Marin County – sunny with shortsleeves and warm! Then back into San Francisco at 6pm across the bay – like travelling into another cold mist dimension. Crazy.

I saw parts of the region I haven’t seen before, and we showed some nice things around the traps. I put one of the Single Site shirazes – the 2005 Swingbridge – into the bag for the day, as I think it’s always good to open the super special things that we do even if there are only tiny volumes made – 246 dozen bottles for the world!

We had a great day. I worked with long-time supporter and region manager Darryl Miller from our Californian distributor, the Henry Wine Group. We talked everything from cricket with Emir, the owner of Jolly King Liquors next to the Marin Theatre Company (seeing as I’ve just come through from England) to which super yachts were in the Sausalito bay with the boys at Golden Gate Market.

Scott at Smal Shed

Scott at Smal Shed

One spot that you must go see is Small Shed Flatbreads on Madrona Street in Mill Valley. We have the Y Sangiovese Rosé on there by the glass, and it goes with every menu item, I kid you not. They serve it in latte glasses. We tried the special curried lentil soup and the “most favourite” flatbread on the list. (They define flatbread as “pizza style, generally enough for one, organic old world, stone ground/hard red crust” and they can do organic spelt/cornmeal crust.) Anyway, we had the Mad River: Shed-made sweet maple fennel sausage, baked with oven dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, crimini mushrooms, mozzarella and grana cheese, herbs and tomato sauce. It was also a treat to have someone like Scott look after us who knew the menu backwards and just loved what he was doing. And the menu is so great that it’s not a matter of deciding by process of elimination – there’s so much good stuff – you actually have to choose! Next time, I’m lining up for the Bolinas Beat Salad: fire-roasted baby beets, Star Route mixed greens, Humboldt Fog cheese, honey balsamic reduction and pistachios.

St K and the Cable Car

St K and the Cable Car

PS Hey sportsfans, I forgot to put up the latest numbers for the Saints after they had a 45 point win over the Western Bulldogs last saturday. I’d like to use as my match report an email I got that same evening of the game from a mate of mine that supports the Bulldogs, and actually lives within spitting distance of their home ground in Footscray – the Kennel! The email read “Hello there. Bloody St Kilda.They gave the doggies a shellacking! Nothing the Dogs did was right and the ball didn’t bounce in their favour once I don’t think. That Nick R (our St Kilda captain Nick Reiwoldt ) is a thoroughbred! He can run like one that’s for sure. catherine and I are barracking for the sainters if it’s them and Geelong in the Grand Final”  There you go folks – I don’t really need to add anything at all. My boys! Yesterday I took the opportunity to get a photo of my scarf with yet another icon – it was taken with the brakeman on the first cablecar of the day up Powell Street to Fisherman’s Wharf. Hopefully this will bring us some luck this week. Stay tuned.

Off to find some coffee and get set up for today around the San Francisco trade. See ya.

Bounty of Beauty Around Napa

11.20pm Powell Street, San Francisco, California, USA
The fog is swirling outside, and it’s a bit like walking through the mist spray that you have at the end of a car wash – but colder! If this is summer, I’m glad I brought my jersey with me! Today we showed wines to the folks up at  Bounty Hunter restaurant in the town of Napa, gateway to the Napa Valley wine region. You can smell the good times as you’re about 50 yards away – they specialise in “beer can chicken” and BBQ – not the hotplate cooking we do at home in Australia – this is a whole different thing. We’re talking marinating and then slow smoke and bake cooking up to 20 hours at a time. The beer can chicken is a bit of a house legend and involves baking the bird literally on top of a can of beer – but sorry, I can’t report on the dish itself, as we didn’t actually have lunch here. We’ve made a date to go back, so watch this space for when we do.

Clive Jones

Clive Jones

I’ll be working out of San Francisco for the next few days, so it will be interesting to see how we go, being literally on the doorstep of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. We’ve always had some staunch supporters in town, and it will be good to catch up. Tonight we caught up with Clive Jones, the winemaker at Nautilus in Marlborough – on New Zealand’s south island. He’s in town to show their new Sauvignon Blanc and the all conquering 2007 Pinot Noir around the traps, as well as doing a presentation at the 33rd Conference of the American Society of Wine Educators, which is running up in Sacramento from Wednesday to Friday this week. Nice bloke, and they’re doing really good things over there. I’ll be up in Sacramento myself on Thursday doing a panel with Mark Davidson from Wine Australia called “Aged Australians” where amongst other things we’ll be comparing and contrasting the 1998 and 2008 vintages of Pewsey Vale Riesling – both under stelvin closure.

So, hopefully the fog will lift, and I’ll get a look at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz tomorrow as I head off to work in the trade on the other side of the bay. Pretty nice backdrop really, all things considered!

A Glance Back at England

5.41am, Departure gate B14, O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Great couple of days catching up with mates in Chicago – all the glamorous stuff really, like doing the washing, reading the email backup that you never get to when you’re hammering about on the road, and re-organising the power cords for a new country.

But see now, this is when the fun starts. I’ve got a stack of internal flights over the next 3 months, and this to San Francisco being my first one – is delayed for at least an hour as the plane is late coming in from Cleveland. Hopefully I won’t miss the bus out of San Francisco airport up to the office at Napa. Any rate, I’ll take this opportunity to catch you up on the last jobs from England: the Cinnamon Club dinner and the Taurus Wines BBQ.

You’ll find the Cinnamon Club in the old Westminster Library in Great Smith Street, just around the corner from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. A terribly London location for a seriously interesting Indian “fusion” kitchen – actually you’ll find the kitchen (complete with 3 tandoors roasting at 800 degrees) underneath the restaurant. We’ve done a food and wine “clash or match?” dinner here four times now, and for the new diners it is very much a question of “will it clash or will it match?” Feel safe, as we’re in very good hands here with both the chefs and the sommeliers. The head chef is Hari Nagaraj and he is a bit of a wizard – the evidence is in the three following combinations from our dinner (Friday 17th July) that he pulled aff with the assistance of head sommelier Laurent.

  • Grilled asparagus with kadhai spices & tamarind glazed vegetables with the 2007 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier – the exotic apricot driven top aromas drift over the spice and quite pungent asparagus, and the palate viscosity slides around the tart tamarind. Not a bad opening.
  • Tandoori king prawn with dried mango & tomato chutney with the 2008 Pewsey Vale Prima Riesling – sounds harmless enough. Get ready – the smoky slightly dried spiced skin of the prawn (shrimp now that I’m in the USA) as a result of the tandoor – around the succulent interior with the mango fruit and sweet tomato onion chutney flood into the explosive citrus and just sweetness and snappy acid of the Prima Riesling; and it all just meshs together and works. Shaking our heads at this stage.
  • Pineapple and pink peppercorn pudding with grilled chilli pineapple crisp with the 2006 Heggies Botrytis Riesling. Now this shouldn’t work – but it does. The small steamed pudding sits on a pineapple peppercorn syrup next to a stack of fresh pineapple rings cut thin and crisped up in the oven with chilli dust kind of caramelised to them, then topped with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream laced with cardamom. The luscious honey apricot lemon lime citrus aromas and flavours love the pineapple sweet and peppercorn hot syrups and sting. Wild.

Laurent and Hari have made a rod for their own backs though, as I can’t see how on earth they can top this next year – but I for one definitely won’t miss the attempt! Be there if you think your tastebuds have an open mind!

(Just for the record, when we started doing our dinners with the Cinnamon Club, the head chef was Atul Kochhar. He has now opened his own place – Banaras – in Berkely Square, which is the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star.)

Rain cannot dampen the barbie

Rain cannot dampen the barbie

And then there was the Taurus Wines BBQ. We came up from Devon and were going to do a Summer Wine Tasting & BBQ with Rupert at their shop, which is based at the Whipley Manor farming property, near Bramley, near Guildford, and they look after their Surrey & Sussex customers from there. Well it was 24 degrees during the day and lovely, so they set up 40 individual places each with 8 glasses in the courtyard with the BBQs and servery nearby, and it all looked perfect. We poured all the wines, folks had been relaxing with a cold glass of Jansz bubbles, everyone sat down, we started on the first white wine – and the first big fat raindrops started to fall. We raced into Plan B – the boys lifted the tables – glass settings and all – and carried them into the combine shed, and the girls grabbed the chairs and bottles. Then the heavens truly opened – torrential rain and even lightning bolts threatening to jag into the shed. We actually had to lower the big roller door it was that scary, and from the groans and screams (of the roller door) that hadn’t happened for years! Rupert, Johnny and the lads got soaked putting the BBQs around into the back of the shed and cooked up – in the storm – pork sausages, steaks, and vegetable kebabs. The hospitality at Taurus is legendary stuff, and a memorable evening for all was salvaged from a situation that looked at times like we were going to need The Ark to get away. Thanks to Rupert and the lads for looking after us so well ongoing , and lets plan next year’s Summer Wine BBQ to be in the shed from the start. That way it’s bound to be sunny and clear!

At last we’re loading, and in another 4 flying hours I’ll be landing in San Francisco – home of one of the best ever Tiki bar – The Tonga Room.Then up to the town of Napa for a BBQ with our team on the ground at our USA HQ, then into the new week working Northern California from tomorrow.

Tasting 1966 Signature on Two Sides of the World

10.45am Chicago, Illinois, USA
Morning folks, it’s amazing what a decent night’s sleep can do! Before I get into things here, I just want to write up a couple of stellar jobs that we did last week as we crisscrossed the North of England and finished up in London. I call it the Grim North, but that’s only because I love it up that way. I have done a bit of research – being an ardent Mr Darcy/Pride & Prejudice fan (probably got a lot more to do with that Colin Firth as Darcy diving into the lake scene than anything else). I’ve found out that his stately home of Pemberley up in the Peak District is actually Chatsworth House near Bakewell (home of the famous puddings not tarts!) in Derbyshire’s Peak District. A side trip will be definitely happening next time.

The Magnall Family

The Magnall Family

Firstly to Ramsbottom and the incomparable Fisherman’s Retreat, stronghold of the unforgettable Magnall familyand led from the front by Hervey senior, who seems determined to champion fantastic regional organic produce, as well as visit every inhospitable stretch of sand, rock and ice in the world. In this lovely corner of Lancashire, the family has developed their property from an organic meat producing farm to incorporating fishing ponds and a lovely dining lodge that has not only a wonderful range of wines from around the world, but one of the most extensive sets of single malt whiskeys that I’ve seen anywhere. They bake their own bread, organise whole suckling pig dinners, and bottle off a barrel of their own selected whiskey aged in Haut Brion barriques at regular intervals.

They organised a wine and cheese tasting with us, and filled their place with 65 interested locals – on a school night! Because we had the space to work with, we introduced seven wines to the group, then put just about everything we do on for tasting and discussion in the second dining room with a sensational assortment of cheeses, including this thing called Blackjacks Blue, a cow’s milk blue that was sweet and creamy. If you are ever in the Manchester area, it’s a worthwhile half-hour diversion to track over to Fisherman’s – there’s always someone from the family around abouts – and the food, wine, whiskey and hospitality are well worth the miles. And don’t forget to read the walls inside the entrance – all the news on the source of the produce, meat and drinks that you’ll find on the lists. A very happy little part of the UK indeed, lovely family keeping the faith, working hard and doing OK.

The Signature 1966

The Signature 1966

Back in London we were able to open some older vintages of The Signature and The Octavius for the press and trade, and as luck would have it, I’d just received an email from our red winemaker Kev Glastonbury responsible for both those icon wines, as there was an event the night before at the winery where several of the same vintages had been opened at a dinner with several of the Signatories themselves: Colin Gerhardy (1988), Graham McDonough(1989), Peter Wall (1990), Peter Graue (1994), James Wark (1996), Vic DiBiase (1997), Peter Lehmann (2000), Geoff Linton (2001), Alan Hoey (2003) and Sam Hayes sitting in for his grandfather Colin hayes (1978). I thought it might be interesting to compare the notes from the two tastings of the 1966 Alf Wark Signature – opened twice on opposite side of the world in the same 24 hours.

From Kev Glastonbury, tasted at the winery the night before: “full depth colour, richness, toasty leather, big structure – to drink now”.

From me, tasted at Angelus restaurant in London the next day (with all attendees reminding me that 1966 was the year that England won the World Cup): “still alive showing fruit on the nose although baked jam coming through at the end. Granuley tannins in the mid palate and length still fine”.

In an English arena where most folks haven’t seen an Australian dry red 10 years of age let alone 20, 30 or 40 – it’s a treat to bring these things out of our museum to show what Australia, the Barossa region specifically, and our house – is capable of.

I’ll put this up now, as I’m off to watch the All Blacks play the Springboks on a mate’s cable telly. Then I’ll post the last two English jobs – the Cinnamon Club, and the Taurus Wines Tasting BBQ.

Sweet Home (Away from Home) Chicago

8.40pm, Highland Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Made it to the States with all my luggage from London – yay! It will be good to have a couple of quiet days to catch up on everything before getting into the US section of the tour. We’ll be putting all the US & Canada dates and jobs up on the tour page in the next couple of days, plus I’ll catch you up on all the stuff I want to tidy up from England. Bear with me, as I feel a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been shaken up in the box.

A Star Turn in Ravensden

2.52pm, London Bridge, London, England
We dragged ourselves back into the city early this morning – St Paul’s Cathedral looks really nice at 1am – tired but thrilled to bits with our second-to-last event, which was out in the village of Ravensden at the Horse & Jockey. If you haven’t been – go. It’s just off the main track around Bedford, but it’s like driving through an invisible wall that separates this scattering of tiny hamlets from the not-that-far-away bigger metropolis – but you wouldn’t know.

Darryl & Sarah at the Horse & Jockey

Darryl & Sarah at the Horse & Jockey

The pub backs on to the church, so maybe it gets a bit of nod from the gods as well, but if you want to see how old-fashioned good service, good food and good folks make a pub a place that you want to kill a lot of time at – drop in and see Sarah & Darryl at the Horse & Jockey. Tell them we sent you – again they’ll laugh but they’ll look after you.

Just a quick note on a couple of star turns (in Australian that translates to stellar performances) from last night’s menu. Darryl did a “Pan Seared King Scallops (roe on) accompanied with orange & honey carrot julienne, pea puree, baby pea shoots and an orange & saffron reduction” that was sent out with our Pewsey Vale Prima Riesling – just 10 tons of fruit taken early in vintage 2008 as a sample for winemaker Louisa Rose to determine which order to pick the various parcels of Riesling in that one vineyard. It’s only 10% alcohol, has a bit of residual sugar, but this explosive citrus burst thing which looked great last night poured from frosty cold bottles.

Darryl outdid himself with the “Middle White Pork Loin stuffed with wild mushroom and truffle, served with a light prune and cognac sauce and a creamy spinach mashed potato”. We poured the 2006 Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz with this, and I am pleased to report that glasses were wrung out for the last drop, and if there had been patterns on the plates, the folks at the dinner would have cleaned those up as well.

Caddy & Tom

Caddy & Tom

End result for the “Yalumba visits the Horse & Jockey for the second time” dinner: Winner! Can’t thank the folks from the Ravensden area enough for coming out in force on a school night and filling the place – especially the two boys from the local constabulary Caddy & Tom. Girls – we were in the very safe long arms of these two particularly attractive representatives of the law last night. Bring on dinner number three. Thank you Ravensden!

One more job to go and I’ll be out of London tomorrow, but before that happens I’ll be putting up the War & Peace length entry as I need to let you know about some stuff that’s going on in Dartmouth, Bramley (near Guildford) and Ramsbottom. Stay tuned.