Gold medal Hunter tasting 27 October 2015

HUNTER GOLD

In what has become an annual event, Bruce Tyrrell showed a lineup of gold-medal wines from this year's Hunter Wine Show, with 5 semillons and 6 shiraz, traditionally the grapes for which this areais famous. And as a bonus, Don Francois from the eponymous Chateau gave us as aperitifs a look at his 2013 Mallee Semillon and 2014 Pokolbin shiraz. Of the Francois wines, the Semillon was in the tried and true Hunter style, with good fruit and clean acid, whilst the red showed soft fruit and good flavour, aided by a bit of fruit from Heathcote in Victoria.

The 1st bracket of whites featured (all from 2015, a less than perfect year): Two Rivers Stones Throw from Denman; First Creek Premium from the HVD and Trevenna vineyards; Briar Ridge Dairy Hill from Mount View; Tyrrells Vat 1; and McGuigan Bin 9000. It was an interesting spread of styles, with the Vat 1 the pick and The First Creek also popular, but all worthy of their gong.

The reds had no vintage problems, 2014 being a top year, and it showed. They were: De Iulius; Audrey Wilkinson Winemaker's; Tyrrells Vat 9; Mount Pleasant 1848 Rosehill Old Vines; Brokenwood Kats & Dogs Block (a new line from a vineyard next to Graveyard); and Bimbadgen Signature. Again, a mix of old and new styles, the Vat 9 the Mount Pleasant and the Brokenwood (not available for purchase) being the standouts. Bruce remarked that the wines made themselves, so good was the year; but we suspect vineyard husbandry and winemaking ability played a part.

Wines this interesting needed simple food, and that's what we got from Peter Kelso in the kitchen and Ross MacDonald on cheese. With Don's aperitifs, an olive tapenade on bagel crisps topped by a piece of roasted red capsicum went down well, followed by a sit-down entree of fish consommé with a fiery garlic aeoli courtesy of Catherine Kelso to accompany the whites. Traditional reds required, and got, (slightly)upmarket bangers of pork from AC Butchery and garlic mash, with mushy peas and brown onion gravy, and a home- made lemon and date chutney on the side. What more need be said than that most plates returned to the kitchen empty. As for cheese, Ross provided a Fort aged comte cooked cows' milk number from the Franche-Comte region of France. Hard, with a lovely nutty flavour and a hint of caramel, it was ideal with the reds and well matched by a mixed leaf salad with a vinaigrette dressing and a "blast from the past" dusting of toasted pine nuts and bacon (guaranteed non-carcinogenic).. The coffee from Spencer Ferrier was a blend based on Yurgachef beans from Ethiopia, well balanced and showing distinct citrus notes on the finish.

We are all indebted to Bruce for pulling these top wines together and presenting them, and to Don for giving us a look at 2 of his babies.

Lunch 20 October 2015

You've got to hand it to Steve Liebeskind; not only did he devise his main dish without cookbook input, but, with a little help from Paul Irwin on the day, he put it on the plate (or in the bowl) and presented a wonderful amalgam of taste and texture which had 'em in the aisles. That's real chutzpah, in the nicest sense of the word.

Before hand, we saw a diverse set of canapes: some beaut chicken liver pate on thin toasts; a flavoursome pate made on smoked eel, served on pumpernickel; and a mushroom duxelle, which turned out to be made from the solid ingredients for the main course broth, on toasts with a St Andrews Cross of julienned fennel (the black colour a tasteful obituary for Scotland). Washing it down was a very good 2008 Stoney Rise from the Tamar Valley in Tasmania, showing an uplifted nose and intense, if slightly broad, fruit with enough acid to balance.

Then came the piece de resistance: atlantic salmon cutlets with skin on were steeped in a brine solution before being lightly smoked, the skin given a last-minute crisp on the hotplate, and served in a broth made only from mushrooms and a bit of garlic and ginger, dark tan in colour and with a few swiss brown and enoki mushrooms floating about, and a cap of crossed steamed asparagus spears. Simple in concept and near perfect in execution, the fish was done just so and added complexity to the already intensely flavoured broth (spoons were thoughtfully provided). It was a definite candidate for a COTY or Chris Alexiou award and was well matched with at least the first of the accompanying wines, a 2010 Bramito chardonnay from the Umbria region of Italy showing restrained fruit with a good acid length balanced by a lick of sweetness. The other wine was a 2009 Palliser Estate pinot noir from Marlborough NZ, with definite pinot characters, at this stage a bit strong for the delicacy of the food, although it will improve with more age.

The quality continued with the cheese, a surface-ripened soft cows' milk production from the Rhone-Alpes region of France called Le Dauphin. Mousse-like softness and delicious mild creaminess made it an instant favourite, coupled with a green salad featuring strips of roasted red capsicum and a rather sweet dressing made on caramellised balsamic vinegar. The wines were again a mix of white and red: a 2003 Wolf Blass mature release chardonnay from Adelaide Hills showed wonderful tropical fruit balanced by evident wood and a long finish; while a 2005 Taylors Jaraman cabernet from Clare was a knockout hot climate cabernet with tonnes of fruit and good acid/tannins to restrain it – again maybe a bit overwhelming for the cheese. A clear win on the day for the whites – perhaps we could see them more often.

Even the coffee kept up the pace: a rich chocolatey medium roast bean from the cool-climate Cauca region of Colombia which was a bit heavy-handed with quantities in the plunger, but still pleased and concluded a meal of distinction

Lunch 12 October 2015

Gareth Evans, current chef of the year, bounced back remarkably well from Wales' defeat by the Wallabies on Saturday to present a Turkish feast, ably inspired and assisted in the kitchen by the perennial Ted Davis. Several trips were made to Auburn to source authentic ingredients, and it showed in the complexity yet freshness of the dishes on offer. Mercifully, the wines and the cheese were from other regions.

We started with a choice of two koftas, or soft pastes, one based on minced lamb and the other on lentils, but both containing burghul or cracked wheat and a bewildering array of spices including isot (a Turkish black pepper) and a hot pepper paste which was not quite that hot. Both were handmade (evidenced by the finger indentations) and served in iceberg lettuce cups. Mild and soft, they were well matched by a well-made, nutty, soft and mature2010 Philip Shaw chardonnay from Orange. Also on offer were the 2010 Den Mar chardonnay from the Hunter, good but simpler than the 1st, and the ever-reliable Lustau amontillado sherry.

A table of mixed delights summarises the main course. On the plate, a testi, or braise, made on lamb shanks and necks in a rich sauce of tomatoes with a miscellany of ME spices; a lamb mince kebab coated ditto on a piece of round Turkish bread; and a salad of tomato, parsley, red onion and pomegranate molasses. But also on the table to add were little pale local olives, a pumpkin & walnut dip and a richly flavoured esme, or Turkish salsa, with ingredients including marash pepper, pepper paste, and pomegranate molasses (again) on a base of tomatoes, red onion, parsley and mint. Pieces of flat bread were there too to mop up the dip and juices. The accompanying wines were a 2010 St Nicolas de Bourgueil cabernet franc from an area on the Loire near Tours, surprisingly good with lovely brambly fruit and acid and 12.5% alcohol, but slightly overwhelmed by the heat in the food; and a 2007 Devil's Lair cabernet/merlot from Margaret River, not the best example of what this area can do with cabernet, but big & bold with lots of tannin, still probably better with the food.

The cheese was a classy Holy Goat organic chevre from Victoria, with a surface mould just starting to move into the typically sour but creamy paste and a joy to eat with some simple sliced apple and fresh walnuts, and with a terrific 2008 Craggy Range shiraz from NZ (Hawkes Bay), a fine balance of fruit and acid/tannins, rich but elegant. The other accompaniment was a 2006 The Bishop Barossa shiraz from John Glaetzer, a great example of ripe high alcohol Barossa if you like that kind of thing.

We wound up with a good rich and long finishing coffee of unspecified origin, fittingly served with some lady fingers, sweet and syrupy, from Auburn. We're sure that after this, many members will follow Gareth and go west, young man.

Mixed lunch 6 October 2015

It was Paul Ferman's turn to star: producing the meal singlehandedly, choosing the wines which were distributed by James Tinslay, even providing a semi-sticky and a terrific vintage port to wind proceedings up. The 32 members and guests were suitably appreciative.

We started with a choice of canapes: intense anchovies atop a pimento jam on toasts, horseradish cream with yoghurt under salmon roe and grated botarga (smoked mullet roe) on toasts and cups of a thick cool vegetable soup made on lettuce leeks and artichoke enriched with a last-minute injection of yoghurt and grated parmesan. All this was washed down with a mix of sparkling (a Mt Majura chardonnay/pinot blend gassy but astringent and helped by a dash of cassis), dry white (an acceptable 2010 Den Mar chardonnay from the Hunter) and the always popular Lustau fino sherry. Also available was a non-alcoholic fruit "tea" made from rhubarb, apple, strawberry and mint supplied by Spencer Ferrier

The main course brought another look at coq au vin, this time featuring drumsticks, skin on, and made on red wine (pinot) which was well integrated, with carrot, onion and zucchini evident, served on a bed of mash and topped by a duxelles of mushroom and bacon pieces. Good soft flavours which went particularly well with a 2012 Chiroubles, one of the "crus" of Beaujolais, with pleasant sappiness and enough acid to cut the food. The other wine, a 2010 Acacia "The Yard" shiraz from Frankland River in WA, was bigger, but also elegant with 13.5% alcohol, deft wood treatment an d drying tannins which will improve with more time.

The cheese course saw a move offshore to France in the form of a soft and creamy Dauphinois Bleu with subtle blue mould notes, served with almond and pecan nuts and a mixed green salad with sliced pear and bacon crumbs. The accompanying wines started with a 2002 Old Kent River pinot from Frankland River which showed lots of wood and a lack of any discernible pinot character with just 11.5 % alcohol, and a 2003 Coldstream Hills pinot from the Yarra Valley which had plenty of varietal funk and 14% alcohol which was unobtrusive. Also going around was a 2015 Mt Majura "Molli" dessert wine from the recent Canberra trip, made on pinot gris and interesting but no more.

Coffee was a Devon Estate medium roast bean from India, well flavoured but mild. It was backed up with a superb 1966 McWilliams vintage port in the classic Oz style from the chef/ wine master and with a little French chocolate, 70% cacao, provided by the coffee man Spencer Ferrier.

Wine tasting 29 September 2015

This month the Wine Master took pity on us, with a simple theme which even the slowest could follow:2 pinots, 2 shiraz and 2 cabernets, each bracket containing 1local and 1 French wine, and served in that order. The main challenge was to identify which was local and which foreign in each bracket and, more importantly, why. There was a high degree of success among those who spoke, and consensus that all the wines were of high quality, with 1 possible exception. Unmasked, the wines were, in order: 2010 Yabby Lake pinot from Mornington Peninsula; 2009 Vougeot from Remoissenet; 2011 Giles Robin Crozes-Hermitage from N Rhone; 2007 Tyrrells Vat 9 shiraz; 2002 Ch Haut-Bages-Liberal from Pauillac; and 1999 Yeringburg cabernet from the Yarra Valley. All typical of their styles, with structure in the French and fruit in the Oz, the Yerinburg being singled out for special mention as a top wine at its peak. The only disappointment was the Bordeaux, sound but dull and probably past its best.

The accompanying food was a team effort, with Spencer Ferrier and Peter Kelso in the kitchen serving up a white wine coq au vin (made on riesling, if you must know) prepared by Nick Reynolds. Canapes were a perennial favourite of smoked salmon with a cream of mascarpone and chopped dill and a caper or two on lavosh; and the even more popular fresh Sydney rock oysters with lemon juice and a hit of tabasco. They went well with a 2004 Alkoomi Riesling, mature but still sound, and a 2005 Huntington Bin W1 semillon, soft and quite sweet fruit balanced by a lick of acid.

The aforesaid coq au vin came to the plate (in rather small helpings) set off by well- made mash and a bit of broccolini to satisfy the nutritionists. Straightforward food which offset the wines well.

Cheese had most fooled, going to France or Italy for a wonderful washed rind which was actually a Tarago River Jensens Red from Victoria with a lovely crunchy orange rind and a smooth sticky paste showing sweet mild nutty characters. Some sliced corella pears and a bowl of toasted almonds, cranberries and dates provided a sweet and refreshing accompaniment, as did the remainder of the tasting wines; and, for those lucky enough to have kept some, the aperitif semillon. A rich, chocolate mouthful of Mexican organic coffee, very good, was matched in quality by a birthday muscat from Frank Liebeskind, an unreleased product by Tim Kirk of Clonakilla which ticked all the boxes. Somebody's arm was twisted, apparently, and all for the best.

Lunch 15 September 2015

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Numbers were predictably down at  this lunch following the society's Canberra region tour. Steve Liebeskind provided the canapes of Smoked Trout   with onions and capers and Roasted sweet potato with cashews both on baguette  

The aperitif wine was 20004 Alkoomi reisling ready to drink now, good style, soft and elegant  a good match for the canapes.

In view of the number of members on our tour we had asked our resident Chef Peter  to provide a main course. It was a crisp skinned snapper served on a celeriac puree  accompanied by baby beetroot and shaved fennel and orange segments.  

 It was flavoursome, well cooked, and members  responded with very favourable comments on the dish. Main course wines 2009 Ocean 8 Chardonnay and 2003 Tyrrells HVD Vat 4 Semillon the chardonnay was light and fresh with some development well made.The semillon ready to drink now soft typical Hunter character fresh spritzy acid.Members were divided on best match agreed both went well with the fish.

Acting cheesemaster Gary Linnane presented  a "Delice de Bourgogne"

It was perfecl on the day served at room temperature.It is pasteurised cow's milk incredibly rich,full flavoured and melt in the mouth texture.Flavour was buttery sweet with some acid on the rind but not enough to overwhelm the favour. We needed some robust wines to match this cheese and our wine master Paul Ferman provided a 2007 Cliff Edge Shiraz, firm, slightly tough with a sweet edge to fruit and Ok structure. Our second wine 2005 Bowen Cabernet (under cork) firm, tigh,t long on palate still some years to go. Both wines met the the cheese challenge. 

 

Lunch 22 September 2015

It was another great Greek performance from Bill Alexiou-Hucker, helped in the plating up department by Peters Squires and Manners. The aperitifs, or mezes, were a tempting chicken liver pate topped by a dollop of sweet green pistachio paste on toasts, a fetta and spinach frittata served in little squares, some very moreish taramasalata with a black olive topping on toasts and warm handmade dolmades, moist and tasty. To wash them all down, we saw a Thalassitis white from Santorini, made on assyrtiko grapes and finely dry and aromatic, with definite dried herb notes. As backup, there was the 2005 Huntington semillon from Mudgee, good drinking although the fruit is starting to drop out. The main course was a lovely moussaka made on beef and grilled eggplant with potatoes, topped with a béchamel sauce and accompanied by diced zucchini. The advertised Moroccan twist turned out to be pureed dried fruit, which lent a pronounced, slightly heavy, fruit sweetness to the dish; but despite hearty helpings, not too much found its way back to the kitchen. Accompanying the food was a 2012 Agiorgitiko by Gaia, quite tannic and European in style; and a 2009 Dom de Gerovassiliou shiraz/merlot blend, also from Greece, but showing pronounced fruit in a more Oz style. The Greek theme continued into the cheese, Acting Master Gary Linnane supplying an Odysseus barrel-aged fetta from Northern Greece. Made from sheep and goat’s milk, it is aged in wooden barrels and was much less salty and more peppery than the usual tinned variety. It was served drizzled with olive oil and scattered with dried oregano, and with diced and pickled vegetables as an interesting side dish. For wines, it was back to Oz, with a 2006 Epsilon Barossa shiraz, typical of the region with tonnes of sweet fruit and 14.5% alcohol; and a Macquariedale Thomas shiraz from the same year, again typical of a Hunter in the modern style and great drinking, at its best. The coffee came from El Salvador and showed rich chocolate characters in the mouth, with a slightly short finish. But the Armagnac from birthday boy Roger Prior showed no such defect: a rich lingering and penetrating blend containing material back to 1931.

Lunch 8 September 2015

Recently returned from a trek in South America, Leigh Hall returned to the kitchen to produce pork – but strictly of the domesticated variety.

But first, some pleasing canapes in the shape of, first, a lively mix of eggplant and miso on pickled ginger with Japanese seasoning and a flaky biscuit underneath; and, second, a mild but moreish tapenade on the same biscuits, topped with ½ a Kalamata olive for colour and extra flavour. These were washed down by a disappointing 2011 Tim Smith Eden Valley Riesling, with fruit dropping out since its last appearance. No problems with the omnipresent Lustau amontillado sherry.

So, back to that pork, with tenderloins rolled in a stuffing of dried figs, prunes, walnuts, bacon and heaps of garlic, then roasted, sliced and served on a smooth as silk kumera and potato mash with green beans; not to mention a superior jus made from a veal reduction with plenty of red wine and a dark, pleasantly bitter note from the crackling on the pork, which had burnt a bit in the roasting. The pork was done perfectly, and the whole came together well, although matched, at the chef's request, with a couple of big gutsy reds: a 2011 Seghesio zinfandel from Sonoma in California (14.8% alcohol), and a NcLaren Vale blockbuster , the 2009 Olivers Tarango shiraz (14.5%). Both full and fruit-driven, the Sonoma perhaps a little more elegant, but both a bit hot for the food, where something with a bit of acid would have helped to cut the richness of the meat.

The cheese, presented by Gary Linnane in the absence of Ross MacDonald, had most heading overseas, but it was in fact a Berry's Bay Mossvale blue from Gippsland in Victoria; a rich cows' milk cheese in the gorgonzola style, deliciously soft and sticky with a lovely ivory paste and a wonderful lactic blue mould flavour which ended quite sweet. Some simple fresh pear and assorted salted nuts went well with it, as did (some of) the accompanying wines: a2007 Protero merlot which attempted a Pomerol style and failed; a mystery wine which was unveiled as the 2007 Balmoral shiraz from Rosemount in McLaren Vale and drinking beautifully; and a surprise white sticky, a 2011 Ch La Rame from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont near Sauternes, a terrific wine in its own right although maybe a bit young to balance the richness of the cheese. Still, the matching of blue cheese with a sticky was brave, and successful.

Spencer Ferrier's tour of commercial coffees continued with a high end Vittoria blend. High roast in the Italian fashion, it was a tad bitter and finished very short. Back to the real stuff soon, we hope.

Lunch 1 September 2015

'Twas the first day of Spring: what better time to enjoy pre-Spring lamb with the trimmings+ canapes, cheese and coffee + an eclectic selection of wines, all enriched by good company. And so it was, with singleton Bruce Thomas in the kitchen delivering the goods, starting with his trademark lightly cured salmon, with reduced salt, and cream cheese on toasts, together with a sweet and tangy caramellised onion paste, also by Bruce, in baby pastry cases topped by a dab of fresh chevre. The aperitif wine was chiefly an impressively fresh 1999 Tyrrells HVD Semillon, kept for a few years in stainless steel before bottling, and nicely balanced for current drinking; also seen was the familiar Lustau amontillado sherry, nutty and rich as always.

The aforesaid lamb came in the form of racks, pink and juicy, with a coating of chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme and garlic, lifted by the salt 'n'spice of anchovies. Simply presented with a boiled coliban potato, some crunchy beans and a spear or two of early asparagus, it was all about the meat, and accordingly a triumph. Given a wish for cabernet by the chef, Paul Ferman turned on a couple of unlikely wines in the shape of a LA 50/50 S Rhone blend (mainly carignane) from Languedoc and from 2012; and a 2007 blaufrankisch, made in Austria by Oz maker Mac Forbes. Opinions varied, but the consensus was that the chef's choice would have been better: the French showing a dumb nose and good fruit but straightforward in style; the Austrian spicier and more elegant but a bit briary and finishing short.

The quality of the main course continued with a classic 12-month old cloth-wrapped Pyengana cheddar from Tasmania: medium hard with lovely mushroom notes and enough salt to provide length on the palate. With it, another familiar Thomas treat of handmade quince paste, sticky and luscious, plus some fresh walnuts for contrast. The wines rose to the occasion this time: a lightish but scented and chewy 2009 La Zona barbera from King Valley in Victoria; and a mature but statuesque 2001 Chalambar shiraz chiefly from the Grampian region in Victoria and reflecting the quality of the fruit in a supple blend of wood and tannins. It even went well with a full, high roast Illy coffee showing skilful blending with burnt but not bitter notes on the palate.

Wine tasting 25 August 2015

Wine Master Paul Ferman continues his crusade to wean members away from competitive identification of wines towards an evaluation of their style, structure and match with food. To this end, he presented a lineup of 6 masked wines at the monthly tasting: 2 whites (1 French, 1 local), 2 reds of the same grape (1 foreign, 1 local) and another 2 reds of the same grape, again 1 foreign, 1 local. Most had little difficulty with the whites, identified as a 2008 Montmain Chablis and a 2007 Tyrrells Vat 47, both identifiably chardonnay, but the French softer and a bit subdued, whilst the Vat 47 was forward on the nose and palate with lots of fruit and perhaps a bit heavy on the wood. Likewise, the 1st bracket of reds spoke pinot to most and indeed they were: an excellent 2011 Roche de Bellene Volnay showing good fruit in elegant balance with savoury tannins and acid; and a 2011 Freycinet pinot from Tasmania, with a slightly stronger fruit line but made in the cooler climate mould and a pretty smart wine. The 2nd bracket of reds was more enigmatic, but the mention of Italian gave it away: they were a 2008 Nebbiolo d'Alba from Piedmont and a 2007 SC Pannell nebbiolo from the Adelaide Hills: both light in colour and style but with strong tannins indicating a long life and both crying out for food. In fact, all of the wines were at the lighter more savoury end of the style spectrum and supported the accompanying food well

Speaking of which, Denis Redfern in the kitchen, assisted by son Christopher, came up with a deceptively simple chicken fricassee from a recipe by Jacques Pepin, thigh fillets cooked in an aromatic vegetable stock which was thickened to a veloute sauce and served with a piece of homemade short crust pastry (replacing the pie of the original) and beans. Warm and satisfying, it matched the wines to a tee.

Before the main event, Dennis Cooper sent out some welcome canapes: a salt cod mousse in pastry cases topped with salmon roe, and a particularly spicy chorizo chunk on a toothpick with cornichon. The main aperitif was the 1999 Henschke Julius Riesling, bottled under cork and showing it, with a few bottles brown and oxidised, and the best drinking well, but past their peak. There was also a Cape Mentelle sem/sav blend to provide a bit of tang, and the Lustau amontillado sherry (especially good with the heat of the chorizo).

Ross MacDonald produced the reliably well- tended cheese, this time a d'Affinois Campagnier from France, with a deep amber washed rind and the popular buttery and slightly nutty paste. With it were a mix of red and green table grapes, and a bonus bottle of red which differed from table to table.

Spencer Ferrier spoke to the coffee, a commercial Lavazza blend, pointing out the pioneering work of Lavazza in espresso coffee, and the heavier, full flavoured blends favoured in Europe, at the cost of the fresh acid notes often found in single origin beans.