Monthly Archives: September 2009

Texas Two Stepping Through Wine and Food

7.53am Brookhollow, Houston, Texas, USA

Mirabelle's Michael Vilim

Mirabelle's Michael Vilim

Sunday, 27th September: Austin Rewind
This was my third visit to Austin and our first consumer wine dinner. Boy did we get set up well! Mirabelle restaurant, charismatic chef/owner Michael Vilim, and their crew have the reputation of putting together the best wine dinner in town. And “let’s get right to it” (as they say around here in Texas), that reputation is well deserved. These blokes at Mirabelle are a machine! Everything just happens, and as the wine speaker you just have to duck and weave around them and let it happen! It was a genuine pleasure to work with these folks, and we have already made the decision that this will now be an annual event ongoing.

Now for the details. It was a stinking hot Sunday afternoon, and we had 60 people hiding out with us inside the Mirabelle, starting off with just the right refresher, and then it just rolled on – as you can see:

  • The snap crackle & pop citrusy (I have no reference for the appearance – Captain Colourscheme, the young winemaker from home, usually does the colour references) 2008 Y Riesling with Thai Pickled Shrimp Fresh Rolls with Jalapeno glaze was the early warning for folks that they were in for a bit of a different experience this dinner
  • The baby exotic 2008 Y Viognier with Spicy Fish Cakes & Nuoc Cham Sauce (fish sauce with cilantro, or fresh coriander as we know it)
  • The smooth as silk 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay with Casoulette of Clams with Lemon Basil Chive Puree

Then the main events! I have pictures of these, and I wish I could do scratch & sniff panels with a camera as well, as this style of cooking that incorporates the Southern or Tex-Mex method and ingredients is every bit as aromatic and exciting as the Asian influences we have at home.

Mirabelle Wild Boar

Mirabelle Wild Boar

The 2007 Bush Vine Grenache slid in and around Navajo Crusted Boar with Guajillo Butter, Green Chile Polenta, and Poblano Corn Salsa. Now some explanation for the folks not in the Tex-Mex know. Navajo crusted means using a combination of sesame seeds, pine nuts, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and a secret ingredient toasted and put through a coffee grinder to lightly crust the boar fillets – which I will tell you literally melted in your mouth! Guajillo butter is the red sauce looking base in the photo, and it is made from a larger chilli that’s used for its flavour and not much heat. The green chile polenta is the soft mash that holds the whole thing together, with the roasted corn sitting on top. Special!

Mirabelle Beef Tenderloin

Mirabelle Beef Tenderloin

Then the two Cabernet Shiraz blend goodies, little brother 2007 Scribbler and big brother 2004 Signature were like bookends for the Beef Tenderloin with Ancho Fennel and Aged Gouda Butter, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Braised Swiss Chard and Sweet Onion Viniagrette.

I have to be honest, I was pretty much talking non-stop on the night for each wine and then around the tables, so I never even saw the dessert – as it was vacuumed off the plates so quickly! It was Vanilla Gelato with Cajeta Cake, Almond Croquant and Mission Fig Coulis. It was served with a frosty cold glass of our Museum Muscat – which converted a lot of folks to old Australian fortifieds in a heartbeat!

All told, a lovely introduction for Yalumba to a nice big chunk of Austin’s wine drinking folk, and we couldn’t have asked for a better partner in this particular Texas culinary two step! And gals – check the picture of Michael Vilim – master chef – see what I mean! That’s one date on our dance card that’s set like jelly in next year’s calendar. Wine dinner at Mirabelle, Austin. Check!

Special Treat at an Austin Honky Tonk

10.31pm, North Loop West Hwy 610, Houston, Texas, USA
Just drove into Houston from Austin – another good day in the state capital, which will keep ’til tomorrow. The morning’s job will be to catch up the Austin and San Antonio legs of the tour, and then we’ll be back to blogging the same day … on the day. Yay!

Saturday, 26/9/09: Toronto to Austin : Rewind
5.30am pickup to go to the airport for an 8am flight from Toronto to Austin via a 4 hour wait in Chicago. No fun working my way through the USA customs arrangements at the Toronto airport – which is why it pays to go early. But got into Austin around 4pm, picked up a rental car, checked in to the hotel, and later on went for a drive for a look around Austin. I had a chat with the lovely concierge bloke at the hotel, and he put me in the picture. They’ve had a horror summer this year – triple digit (ie over 100 degrees Farenheit) heat almost the entire summer – and I’d come from 17 degrees C in Toronto to 38 degrees C in Austin – body shock stuff.

Dale Watson, Texas Troubadour

Dale Watson, Texas Troubadour

But luck was with me, as this being my one night off in Texas , my favourite country singer – local bloke Dale Austin (some call him the Texas Troubadour) – was appearing in his natural habitat. He was at the legendary and still-standing-in-much-of-its-original-glory honky tonk out on South Lamar  … The Broken Spoke. (Yep, that’s the place with the old Pioneer Clipper bus collapsed outside that used to be the tour bus for the Texas Tophands – amongst others.) I went out for the first really long set and just soaked up the atmosphere – Dale Watson and his Lone Stars playing originals and Merle Haggard covers, and a hundred people doing that Texas two-step shuffle and twirl thing around the dance floor.(You know,where they dance and actually hang on to each other, which I think has a serious amount of merit!)

On British TV!

On British TV!

You have to see this place to believe it. It’s living history, from the dance hall out back to the dining room out front to the “Tourist Trap” two rooms jam packed with country music memorabilia on the side. It’s the genuine article! Some of my favourite stuff are the photos of the Spoke’s owner – James P White – with just about every country music star I’ve ever listened to from George Strait to Randy Travis. And again, as luck would have it, James was in the house that night. He got up on stage to do a couple numbers with the Lone Stars and announce that the UK TV Channel ITV 4 was filming a documentary this Wednesday night (Tomorrow! See the photo of the poster!) on Dale Watson at the Spoke – and that Asleep At The Wheel were the special guests coming in as the support act! What a treat.

Jane and James P White

Jane and James P White

Also a treat was for me to meet James, owner of the honky tonk that’s launched a thousand careers in country music – and to finally see Dale Watson live on stage – “keeping country real on the south side of Austin”. There are definitely fringe benefits to the job, and Saturday night at the Broken Spoke was one of them.

See ya tomorrow from Houston, home of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre and one of our best consumer tastings in the USA.

Selling Out the Shop in Toronto

11.22am, South Congress St, Austin, Texas, USA

Toronto, Friday 25/9/09: Final!
Capping off Toronto, I spent two days working with Mark Moffat, the lovely young bloke from distributor Mark Anthony. He used to run a smart restaurant in Toronto and now has jumped the fence and is talking wine every waking moment for a living. Nice thing is that a lot of the wine he talks about is ours!

We finished off Friday night with a consumer tasting at the Summerhill LCBO store, where they set us up with a tasting bench. We had an opportunity to speak with the good people of Toronto, and they had a chance to try the 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay and the 2007 Y Shiraz Viognier. We nearly sold the shop out, so we did really well!

We were inside a dozen left of each when 8 o clock ticked over, and we called it a day. Thanks Mark, Kath and Colin for setting that up. These are the “hard yards” jobs at the coalface that really make a difference to having a presence in a town or not. You can never open too many bottles of wine to show to “the consumer” – that’s the person who buys your wine and tells your story – and we love ’em!

Then folks, it was off to the sports bar to watch the 2009 AFL Grand Final hosted by the local team, the Toronto Downtown Dingos. Lots of St Kilda and Geelong scarves and jerseys attached to lots of Australian accents in the packed bar, and to be honest, the first half went OK. I was absolutely shattered, and had an early flight to the US on Saturday morning, so I did actually leave the bar at half time when we were just ahead. But I wasn’t happy. In the second quarter, we kicked 1 goal 5 and Geelong kicked 4 goals 1. Therein I think lies the tale! I was woken up by a text from a mate saying, “so close!” And I felt a bit hollow all day Saturday, and I still have just that “shaking my head, I think that was one that got away” feeling. So it’s still one premiership in 137 years for the Saints, but by heavens – we had a hell of a ride this year! Thanks Roowey, Kozzy, Milney, Lenny, young Zac, the Sams, Nicky D, Big Mick, Scneids, Faron Ray – all the lads in the red, white & black – you were magic. And we’ll see you at Frankston in February for Family Day – I have a strong feeling that 2010 is going to be our year!

Goodbye Toronto and see ya next year!

I’m off to work now, but will catch up the last couple of days in Texas tonight, as we’ve done good things in Austin and San Antonio already.

Shiraz, Salami, Salted Chocolate – It Works

7.09am, Cesar Chavez Avenue, Austin, Texas, USA
I’ve been off the air for a bit – due firstly to being in mourning with all the rest of the St Kilda supporters as we came oh so close but fell short by 12 points – losing the AFL Grand Final to Geelong. So I need to do a bit of a rewind to catch everything up.

Rewind (1) Toronto, Thursday 24/9/09: Reds
I just want to thank the folks at Reds Bistro & Wine Bar for the ongoing support, and they set us up with a long table last Thursday lunchtime so we could show wines to the local press corps. All went well, as we took advantage of the house-produced charcuterie tasting board to show the food pairing strengths of our wines. You hear the term “food wine” a lot really, sometimes justified, sometimes not. We try hard across the board –  from Y series to Octavius & Signature – to make sure that it’s all about balance. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, hence the value of tasting with something like the Reds charcuterie and their amazing cheese list.

Reds charcuterie

Reds charcuterie

Just for the record, here’s what I’m talking about, left to right (everything produced in house at Reds): copatta; cured pork loin; wild leek salami; mortadella; ham hock terrine; squab gallantine; chicken liver foie gras pate; chorizo (Spanish style); smoked ham; sopressata; and pate de campagne.

Reds cheese plate

Reds cheese plate

I’ve also included the three magic Canadian cheeses that I selected for the wines, left to right: – from the goat, Chevre Noir solid and mild; from the cow, Thunder Oak Gouda, sharp in a good way with huge, long flavours; and from the sheep – continuing my love affair with Quebec – Blue L’etoile (organic) sweet salty granuley and creamy.

So we were really able to illustrate the food combo strengths of the wines – thanks very much to the seriously good stuff that the Reds chefs are turning out – Michael Steh, Matthew Swift andAmira Becarevic take a big bow. And don’t forget Pastry Chef Rebecca Rouen. Her peanut butter mousse with cocoa nib coulis, banana gelato and caramelised bananas is worth travelling miles for. And it’s mostly fruit!

Rewind (2) Toronto, Friday 25/9/09: Crush
After the success showing the wines against charcuterie the previous day at Reds, we did the same thing on Friday when we went to see Eric at Crush Wine Bar. We caught up with a journo who, it turns out, used to work with our PR outfit in London many years before I started working the market over there: Carolyn Hammond.

Crush salami and cheese plate

Crush salami and cheese plate

So it was a bit of old home week as we caught up with who was doing what and worked our way through the wines with another stunning salami and cheese plate that the chef put together for us. There’s some real talent at work on these salamis, as the boys at Crush made the capicolla (beef not pork) and the sopressata (spiced salami with peppercorn) on the board, which runs from the top to the bottom in the photo: tallegio; sheeps milk cheese cured with lavender and mint (pungent and weird in a good way); 4-year-old cows milk; capicolla; bresaola; pancetta; and sopressata.

Crush salted chocolate tart

Crush salted chocolate tart

It just sets the wine off beautifully to work with them alongside such great textures and flavours, and just for fun, we tried some of the reds with one of the desserts – salted chocolate and caramel tart with lemon creme fraiche – seeing as chocolate is always a bit touch-and-go with wine pairing. Now this is the wild thing. It shouldn’t work really, but it was the 2007 Y Series Shiraz Viognier that just slid beautifully into the dessert and locked in! An interesting session with a journo, reconnecting on the other side of the Atlantic, and doing something different with red wine and chocolate – mission accomplished!

O Delicious Canada!

Supporting the Ottawa Economy!

9.26am, Cosmopolitan Hotel, Toronto downtown, Ontario, Canada
Wow, I must be tired this morning. Logging on, I stared at the “user name” box for a while before punching my name in. Bring on the Sunday morning sleep in!

So – rewind to Ottawa – the nation’s capital, home of Chris Phillips and the Ottawa Senators ice hockey team. (PS I was given a Chris Phillips Senators jersey to wear whilst doing an in store tasting last year, and they were so happy with the results, they let me keep it! Nice!) I got in from Montreal and went straight to visit one of the top restaurants in town – tasted through some wines with Eric over at Juniper – and you know when you’re in the right place at the right time when you walk in to a restaurant and a thick cloud of “something really good is being cooked up out there” wraps you up from out toward the kitchen. Great start to the day. And it looks like our Wild Ferment Chardonnay might get the opportunity to chime in with some of the lovely dishes on the menu at Juniper, such as “curry glazed fillet of halibut in a curry reduction with tomato ginger chutney, steamed basmati rice, and ginger yoghurt cheese”. And that’s just for starters!

Christy and the sandwich

Christy and the sandwich

Then we drove over to the other side of town, to catch up with Rod Phillips – New Zealander transplanted to Ottawa – and wine writer. On the day, we ended up in the eye of a storm of very happy lunchtime diners who had packed out the just recently relocated Fraser Cafe, now at 7 Springfield Rd (corner of Beechwood), but still with the brothers Fraser – Simon and Ross – at the stoves. Darrel runs the floor, and you would have been flat out fitting one more person in the place for a couple of hours over lunch – great to see. The cafe is laid out like an old fashioned diner – open kitchen surrounded by a high dining bar, with tables in the front and tables out the back – but with a lovely new look. The whole place is set up with a really personal tone, from the Fraser family crest over the door, to the homemade coat rack using bent forks as hooks.

Fraser's doughnuts!

Fraser's doughnuts!

The lunch menu is one of the good ones, where you could go back several times and choose something different each time – without having to choose by process of elimination! Folks were checking out the plates flying left, right and centre, as everything just looked so good. We were straight to the burger and chicken melt sandwich, and couldn’t help ourselves – we shared the homemade ice cream sandwiches (layer of vanilla between two frozen homemade choc chip cookie) and the homemade doughnuts with caramel apple sauce – but they were only really little and they did come with the holes as well! Yes we did actually spend a serious amount of time going through the wines, and we did choose to meet there, as we’ve been lucky enough to have just had the Barossa Shiraz Viognier listed at Fraser. If you live in Ottawa and have been, you are already converted. If you haven’t been, definitely drop in, and at their prices, you can afford to share a couple of desserts! Think of it as supporting the Ottawan economy – that’s what we did!

OOOH! I’ve lost track of the time, and have to fly – we’re off to do a podcast thingy with Jamie Drummond (from the Jamie Kennedy restaurant). Promise to finish this off tonight

See ya!

Better Know Your Stuff in Toronto

10.12pm, Yonge & Colborne streets, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I’ve just returned from a day talking to a heap of journalists, as well as some really switched on Toronto wine folk. I tell you what, you wouldn’t want to come to town not knowing your stuff! I’m going to catch it up tomorrow, as I’m headed straight to bed now. Yesterday in Ottawa was a blast. I spent the day with a couple of red hot operators from our distributor, Mark Anthony, and checked out one of the hottest kitchens in town, a bustling cafe that’s just been relocated.

Tomorrow I’m out and about during the day with – amongst other things – a podcast for Jamie Drummond (my second one!) and an in-store tasting from 4 – 8pm to finish my stint in Canada – the work that is. Then … ta da … it’s footy final time with Toronto’s Downtown Dingos, pride of the Ontario Australian Football League. Big day coming up – that’s why it’s a good idea to grab some sleep!

See ya in the morning.

Speaking with Hands, Wine and Bread

6.22pm, Old Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Francois, Kath and the Saints

Francois, Kath and the Saints

Bonjour folks! Comment ca va? I’m fine thanks, but working overtime to make sure that I get our story across when everyone else is working in their second language. The weirdest thing happens when I’m working in Montreal. Because I don’t have any French at all, I concentrate on using the precise and classic terms for things, instead of branching off into colourful and colloquial language that the folks with French as a first language would have trouble following. (Sometimes folks with English as a first language have trouble following Aussie-isms!) Also, my hands take on a life of their own. They turn into descriptive units, as if waving them about can create “pictures in the air” to help illustrate my point! As I said – weird! However, I think we’ve done really well.

Quebec is out a bit on its own in Canada, as apparently the powers that be basically said “No, we’re not having a recession in this province”. And they already enjoy a European lifestyle where wine is an integral part of their world. It seems that to, a large extent, things have just kept on keeping on here in Montreal.

So we have been out and about to the SAQ stores to see the wine consultants, we’ve had several consultants attend a master class at Le Gourmand restaurant out at Pointe Claire in the West Island part of town last night, and today we hosted media people for lunch at Da Emma – the best kept secret restaurant in Montreal. Proper Italian food – old school stuff that I really like – that even the superstars chase down when they’re in town. I can’t believe that two of my absolute favourites – Richard Gere and George Clooney, a couple of lovely, lovely blokes – have both come by to taste Emma’s excellent home cooking.

I have taken photos to show you some of the dishes that really rang bells with the wines we had on show, but honestly in this town you’d have to make a big effort to find ordinary food!

Out at Le Gourmand, they’ve set up the restaurant in a beautiful old stone building. Would you believe it was built between 1847 and 1849, and we opened our doors at the winery in 1849? Spooky! We were lucky enough that the chef/owner Michael Oliphant came out to join us for dessert and Muscat at the end of the evening. But then, it’s never really difficult to talk a chef into having a drink after work, is it!

Le Gourmand Linguine

Le Gourmand Linguine

The pick of the dishes here was a linguine loaded with three local mushrooms and topped with duck confit. I couldn’t decide between the bright and lush fruit of the 2006 Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier, or the star anise, blackcurrant lift and sweeping Shiraz undercarriage of the 2004 Signature with this one. Oh, and I have copped a bit of teasing today, as last night I was talking about our Jansz sparkling to the wine consultants, and spied a triangular piece of crusty bread in the basket, used that as Tasmania, the Jansz cork to be the winery and I popped that on the bread where the vineyard is located, then stood another spiky piece of bread behind the cork to show how the vineyard is modified by the maritime and mountain climates – making it unique for sparkling wine production, and Francois (who owns Elixirs – our Quebec distributor) and Kath (our gal who runs the Canadian market for us) laughed at me! I thought I did a really creative job in getting the message home!

Then just when you think things can’t get any better, today at Da Emma over lunch with the media folk – I had Emma’s agnelotti – homemade oval ravioli stuffed with veal, in a fresh tomato, garlic laced bolognaise sauce to die for. Same question! Shiraz Viognier or Signature? Actually, it doesn’t matter. They both fly because they’ve both got magic fruit, and no aggression in the oak crossover and support of the fruit. (Thank’s Broady – head cooper, Yalumba – for seasoning that timber well, and giving us some barrels to work with that make sure everything is pretty jolly smooooth in those reds!)

The tomato at Da Emma

The tomato at Da Emma

I’ve also put in a photo of Johnny and Bill (both journos with us for the morning ) and Emma’s famous whole tomato and bufalo mozzarella.Yes girls, it’s a tough job having lunch with such nice blokes on a regular basis! And Bill even likes country music. And bone dry Riesling. Doesn’t get much better than this.

Alors! I will now go and get ready to meet up with Francois as we’re off to a Greek restaurant this evening that has just put some of our wines on the list. Then I’d better get packed, as it’s off to Ottawa for the day tomorrow for me. As they say in the song folks “the road goes on forever …”

Touched Down in Montreal

7.57pm, rue Saint-Jaques Ouest, Vieux Montreal (Old Town), Quebec, Canada
We’ve just come in from the airport and grabbed a bowl of minestrone, and I’m going to be hitting the sack early tonight. This is only my second time in Montreal, and it’s a bit like jumping continents and ending up in Europe, with French being the first language locally. Here in old Montreal, there are cobbled streets, lanterns everywhere, and the buildings are stone with arches and shutters – as I said – all very European.

We’re represented by some folks called Elixir in this part of the world, and we have two days of events with them across the press and trade so I’m looking forward to catching up. Also, the weather is really mild right now, compared to being in the height of winter the other time I was here – which I kind of liked, because it was like working inside a Xmas snow globe! Any rate, we’re here in one piece, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Still in Vancouver for a Bit

7.37am, still in Vancouver for a bit
Hi folks, just before I head for the airport, some updates from home. I was talking to Freddy up in Oxford Landing, and they’ve been busy! Sauvignon Blanc has burst, and Chardonnay has got 15 cm green shoots, so the season officially starts again. Also, they’ve just finished planting 10 hectares of Vermentino up there, so in three years time – guaranteed we’ll have some crisp spicy cold OL V to go with our bagful of yabbies/prawns/garfish.

Also, there’s a whole series of wine shows across Australia, but it’s always a bit special to win some gongs in your own back yard, so the Barossa Wine Show always has big classes. I’m pleased to report that four of the winemakers and all of the cellar and vineyard folk get big gold stars for turning out some stellar results at last week’s Barossa Wine Show Presentation Dinner. Here are the big winners:

Kev Glastonbury pulled off Most Outstanding Barossa Table Wine (Premium) with the 2006 The Reserve Cabernet Shiraz (several barrels of the Cabernet and Shiraz barrels destined for Signature that show up as red hot in a great vintage year, and are held back longer in oak in reserve, then bottled and released as a 7 or 8 year old wine).

The comment from the show was that the Cabernet Shiraz blend certainly turned heads, triumphing over the straight shiraz wines of the Barossa that normally take best red of the show – a sentiment shared by the judges who noted praise for the Barossa’s commitment to this great Australian blend which has produced some of the most outstanding wines seen in the show. Looks like we just might be in the right place at the right time with these Signature, Scribbler and Reserve wines. Good O!

Louisa Rose took out Best Dry White Wine (other variety or blend) with the 2008 Virgilius

David Zimmerman waved the flag for liquid history by winning Best Museum White Fortified wine with the Old Show Amontillado.

Pete Gambetta – king of the individual vineyards – took out Best Dry White Chardonnay with the Heggies 2007, took Most Outstanding Single Vineyard Table wine with the Heggies 2009 Riesling, and the Best Sweet Table Wine with the Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2007.

OK – back to packing now.