Archives for March, 2010

Masterclass Weekend-come to Brisbane in July

Yesterday Hilton Brisbane general manager Martin Kendall announced the programme for the 2010 Hilton Brisbane Masterclass weekend held July 24-25.

This is one of Australia’s longest running chef and winemaker featured events (since 1995) centred in one hotel where participants eat and drink exactly what the presenters demonstrate.

The hands-on weekend has previously invited many stars – Gordon Ramsey, Charlie Trotter, Michel Roux, Michel Richard, Antonio Carluccio and at the last event, Newcastle-born Brett Graham who has added his third UK Michelin star since visiting Brisbane.

Stars for 2010 amongst 41 presenters are Californian baker Peter Reinhart, Swiss Lindt Master Chocolatier Thomas Schnetzler, Susur Lee from Toronto, and for the first time ever a sliver of Hilton greatness with chefs from Beijing Wangfujing (Yu Xiang Gu), Kuala Lumpur (Latchumanan Supramanian), Auckland (Cristiano de Martin), Cairns (Jimmy Shu) and Sydney (mixologist Grant Collins).

Despite many past Masterclasses the Hilton chefs have supported the back of house plating the thousands of recipe morsels concurrently demonstrated by the glamour chefs. This is the first time ever to see some Pacific Rim Hilton stars on parade at a weekend a little Asian focussed.

So come to Brisbane for this, but book early if you wish to climb the lift to stay in the hotel, rooms sell quickly.

The headline wine event will be Brokenwood’s vertical of Graveyard Shiraz (AUD 100) celebrating 40 years of production in the Hunter Valley.

I will focus on more chefs and winemakers in further blogs. meanwhile I must finish reading Jeannie Cho Lee MW’s definitive and award winning wine and Asian food matching tome Asian Palate to be prepared for the Weekend.

Double Headline dinner-Clovely and Barambah Wines

Queensland’s Burnett Valley Vineyards, the holding company for Clovely Estate Wines gave a spotless display of its drinks last Saturday at its Red Hill City Cellar door.

Billed as a Winemaker’s dinner because company CEO and Chief Winemaker Luke Fitzpatrick was a big contributor to the wine discourse, the event ran as a degustation-six courses.

Paired with the Clovely brands were similar or contrasting wines from the nearby vineyard of Barambah Wines on Goschnick’s Road, Moffatdale.

Starter wines were Clovely Estate Left Field Semillon 2006 (AUD 20) and Barambah First Grid Unwooded Chardonnay 2008 (AUD 19); showing an unwooded semillon with some bottle maturity although it didn’t show it, and a funky-style chardonnay with creamy texture and palate attitude.

Verdelho is the patron wine of the South Burnett, now a very successful general drink; Clovely White Label 2009 (AUD 13) and Barambah First Grid 2007 (AUD 19) were paired with a micro-ocean trout salad doused very gently with buffalo mascarpone (Vannella in Cairns); using the unwooded nature of verdelho to maximum effect with its steely bright acidity.

A pair of hefty white chardonnays were put up to complement a sliver of roasted duck breast in a tart. The Clovely Reserve 2007 (AUD 28) and Barambah First Grid 2008 (AUD 27) were poured; terribly contrasting as the Clovely was fruit-preserved and punchy, no oak showing, pale colour and mouth-filling. Barambah was more forward, funky-nosed from indigenous yeast, giving tastes of secondary flavours and substantial oak dryness to integrate.

Both wine producers are very committed towards making top chardonnay; a variety they believe is the primary white grape in this world, capable of enormous complexity, style and above all drinking interest for those who open or share a bottle. South Burnett has a natural fine underlining acidity and line to which both brand hold much respect; they preserve this fineness in their chardonnays.

The melting moment with this course was the fungal aromas from the Blue Opal soft ripened cheese permeating the butternut pumpkin in its wafer-soft tart.

Shiraz was served with a tiny ball of shaved/ minced/ ground wagyu fillet (cleverly reformed), pink with mushroom worked though the fat flavours. These were Clovely Reserve 2007 (AUD 28) and Barambah First Grid 2007 (AUD 32).

Being from the same area both shiraz had the same underlying fruit aromas; plum, licorice and red fruits; while maturing the Clovely in American barrels had softened off the wine with total integration, while newer French Allier in the Barambah produced a more tannic wine with quite complex nose/oak overtones. Both wines seven to 10 years to go.

A double lamb cutlet under Mediterranean-influenced ratatouille (Clovely also have a 37,000-tree olive grove) came with a pair of cabernets. Clovely Reserve 2007 (AUD 28) and Barambah First Grid 2005 (AUD 29) both showed fuller bodied cabernet characteristics from the warm climate environment of the South Burnett coupled with good leafy and herbal aromatics, both modest in drying tannin levels pointing to shelf lives around three to five years.

The finale came with two dessert wines; Clovely Estate Left Field Botrytis Semillon 2009 (AUD 20 for 375 ml) and Barambah Rack Dried Semillon 2009 (AUD 24 for 375 ml) with vanilla bean ice-cream contained in a petit apricot frangipane tart.

Clovely’s wine is conventional botrytis infection, stainless steel aging and early bottling giving the unctuous style. Barambah’s wine is dried on racks to semi-wither, then re-combined with dry semillon to ferment a second time (Italian passito method) followed by aging in barrique for eight months to make a dry/savoury/textured style of sticky.

Clovely Wellington-born chef at Red Hill Jason Winter excelled with his portion management, flavour matching and food polish. Visit

Bordeaux primeur frenzy-all for Asia?

The Bordeaux wine marketing machine so often seems to be down for the count but unseemingly it bounces back.

Well when I say that, it’s the Grand Cru Classe levels of Bordeaux which continue to sell well despite the bumpy ride from the GFC and a highly charged market.

That’s in some countries, particularly China and Hong Kong whereas in the US Bordeaux has been dumped on the local market at half cost due to lack of demand. It got so bad that one major wholesaler chose to vacate the Bordeaux category after two decades of participation.

And to save the day some Chateaux held their prices by buying back a raft of recent vintages from their US distributors, and re-directing the stock to East Asia.

The real issue is that enthusiastic buyers paid too much for the 2007 Bordeaux in general, for mediocre wines with too many market intermediaries adding to the “spin”.

And so when the better 2008 came along, in a saturated market the spin merchants ran short of higher prices, though many Chateaux owners had this in mind, though never revealed.

Now there is more hype that 2009 is fantastic with parallels drawn to other great years of decades gone by. Most probably the promoters of the hype are the beneficiaries of such sales because my considered opinion is not to get too carried away.

With a new vintage the real assessments only come out 5 and 10 years on to confirm or deny of holding up or simply being a disappointment.

Despite such levelling debate the Hong Kong auction scene has gone into the stratosphere with pricing for gems such as 1982 Petrus and 1990 Lafite of late, virtually raising the interest in all classed (meaning highly priced Bordeaux wine) into the bargain.

The 2009 primeur campaign (meaning pay for it now and receive the wine in 2012) is hotting up with most of the noise coming from Asia.

Yesterday UK’s Decanter magazine launched its Chinese version of the coverage which will be emailed from its Taiwan-base.

And my colleague Jeannie Cho Lee MW has been hot on this one, with special treatment visiting Chateaux in advance for 2009 tastings with advice that visitor numbers will run from 600-1200 people per day per property for the primeur week (early April).

Jeannie further advises that Thibault Pontallier, son of Margaux’s winemaker Paul will live in Hong Kong to manage the East Asian sales. Now that’s an endorsement of the drinking future for cabernet in the East.

Oxidising corks-a Portuguese headache

A March 7 article in the UK Sunday Times tells us what we already know but cannot change while the French winemakers know also and remain sitting on their conservative hands.

As the newspaper reports -”It is not yet understood why, but premature oxidation is making many white burgundy vintages almost undrinkable just when they should be coming into their own.”

“Everywhere else in the world this worrying problem is the subject of internet websites dedicated entirely to it,” said Bernard Burtschy, a highly respected French wine critic. “But there is a real ‘omerta’, or code of honour, on the subject in France.”

Producers are under attack for refusing to replace highly expensive “grand cru” bottles of white burgundy that should have been at their best a decade after being bottled but which instead tasted like sherry.

With the big rise in red burgundy sales in East Asia I’d be very concerned about Burgundian reputations because one bottle in ten is cork tainted and probably another two letting in sufficient air to sherrify or be partly there depending on bottle age.

And once the auctioneer’s hammer falls on DRC Romanee Conti there is no recourse if the wine is foul from cork failure. Top end burgundy is really hot in Hong Kong auctions at present.

I am reminded by the writings of a fellow MW writing about his Greek brands as follows “a recent tasting of Skouras chardonnays and viogniers prove that screw caps rule-keep freshness and direct development down great pathways”.

Meanwhile Jancis Robinson MW reports “Gaia Gaja tells me Italians are very anti screw cap-but our tasting of young German rieslings shows their preservative qualities clearly”.

The terribly affable Ernst Loosen would be keen to hear that now that he totes his rieslings around the world under screw.

And what is more entertaining many Italian wines imported into Australia come under screw. The importers don’t want the problems with cork and re-sellers don’t want the problem with returned bottles complaining about taint. Others from this part of the world come with synthetic closures which do look cheap while the wine is often quite good, but the buyer does not know of the closure until extraction time!

Writer Robert Joseph made light of the fact that the French were now discussing a problem which emerged over twenty years ago and has been serially destroying their prized products since then despite the wholesale inaction.

He wrote to me further saying that it was easier to sell a cork-closed Super Tuscan than a screw capped super South Australian shiraz in the US just by virtue of the closure.

I can suggest that the Australians will not back off, but there is only so long that the Europeans can so arrogantly sell their wine wares with an in-built fault.

Australian and New Zealand drinkers have been educated towards the egalitarian use of screw so it has not become a sales impediment.

And to explain the extent of the problem more from the Sunday Times “The wines worst affected include some of the most prestigious in Burgundy, including Meursault and Montrachet. The problem was noticed in the 1995 wines but Steven Tanzer, an American critic, was the first to raise the alarm in public when the 1996 vintage turned out to be similarly blighted. The problem seems to have intensified since. Although producers appear to be in denial, foreign experts have set up a website called “oxidised burgs”.

“It has affected between 9% and 23% of the very top wines of each of the top vintages from 1996 to 2001,” says the website, “and those percentages seem likely to rise with time.”

And if you are not sure about these cork/screw effects go to a good wine course to find out about this situation. This will put you in better possession of your buying power.


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