Mixed lunch 2 December 2014

It was the last mixed lunch, and the penultimate lunch, of the year, and it was a triumph, with a gratifying 65 members and guests on hand to enjoy the meal from Roger Straiton and Ian Witter, with the feminine influence of Annie Straiton and Chris Witter much in evidence.

We started with some inventive canapes from the Witter team: white anchovies over a tangy capsicum sauce on crostinis, and a magic mix of tart egg tomatoes, a bit of basil leaf and rich buffalo burrata (mozzarella around a mix of the same with cream) on a toothpick. They were well matched by an opening round of Salinger, a superior local sparkler, with various other bottles including a very dry Warramate rose made on malbec grapes.

Then Team Straiton came to the fore, with deboned lamb legs crusted with Moroccan spices and roasted, then carved pink and served with a tabouleh of couscous and chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint, shaped into a mini-Xmas pudding and coated with a "sauce" of yoghurt with mint. There was extra colour, and flavour, on the plate with a scattering of ruby-red pomegranate seeds, plus green in the form of baby peas and once-peeled broad beans. The colour on the plate was wonderful (and festive), but not at the cost of great flavour especially in the meat, although there were unavoidable differences in texture and doneness. The accompanying wines were from Spain and Italy: a 2008 Trapis monastrell (mourvedre/mataro) and a 2011 Allegrini valpolicella. The former was dark and intense but a bit hard and extracted; the second softer with good balance of fruit and tannins and better with the food.

We stayed overseas with the cheese, a slightly crumbly and quite salty semi-hard cheese which most placed in France or England, but which turned out to be a Cabot's cheddar from Vermont USA. A pretty good example of cheddar, matched with simple dates and walnuts, and with a 2002 Saltrams Mamre Brook shiraz from Barossa, and a 2008 Chardonnay from Den Mar in the Hunter. They were both interesting, the shiraz showing ripe fruit underlying an alcohol of 15%, but developing a slight volatility with age; the white still young but with some Hunter toast characters, more regional than varietal, and a better match for the cheese.

The coffee, supplied as usual by Forsyths through Spencer Ferrier, was a medium roast bean from Colombia, full and flavoursome, as was a Pedro Ximenes rich sherry, green/ brown and lingeringly sweet.

Wine tasting 25 November 2014

For the last wine tasting for 2014, Wine master Paul Ferman took us north with a mix of French and Italian, red and white. But first, it was back home for aperitifs, starting with a 2006 Delatite riesling from Victoria, sound and fresh but uninspiring against a 2001 Richmond Grove riesling from Watervale. There were also a few mixed bottles, including a terrific Lindemans HR Semillon which most didn't see, and the usual Lustau sherry, this time a manzanilla. All in keeping with some great seafood canapes from James Hill: Sydney rock oysters minimally treated with lemon juice and pepper, and an intriguing tartare of cubed raw ocean trout, avocado, sushi rice and grapes with salmon roe, served on porcelain spoons.

The tasting comprised 3 whites, all from France, and 3 reds, 2 Italian and 1 French. In order of presentation, the whites were: a 2010 Dom Ferde 1er cru Chablis, quite forward and slightly sweet; a 2010 Sancerre (sauvignon blanc) showing varietal grassy notes but intense flavour and acid to hold it; and a 2008 dry iesling from Alsace, still piercingly acidic with fine underlying fruit and a lingering finish. They, and the 2nd two in particular, were a better match with the food (but not the cheese) than the red group, which were in order: 2011 Cos Pippas, a lightish and slightly brambly wine from Sicily; a 2010 cabernet franc from Anjou, big nose and palate lacking complexity; and a 2009 Antonori chianti classic, big, soft tannins and the best of the 3. To accompany, an Indonesian/ Malayan style coconut chicken: organic thighs marinated overnight in ginger, lemongrass, coconut cream and a masala paste, then baked and served with jasmine rice cooked with ginger, and a cool salad of smashed cucumber with red onion, a hit of garlic and pickled ginger. Despite the Asian origins, the dish was only delicately spiced and was a good match for the wines, especially the whites.

The cheese had everyone floundering, with a semi-soft smooth texture, a light ivory colour and a strong caramel nutty taste. It was in fact a Midnight Moon goats' milk number from Holland, matured for at least 6 months and surprisingly well paired with simple ripe nectarine halves and with the tasting wines, where the reds came good.

The coffee came to us from Indonesia, organically grown Arabica beans from a commune in the Aceh region of Sumatra. Sometimes superb in quality and presentation, this particular batch showed some but not all of that quality, with a strong, slightly caramel palate followed by a persistent finish.

Lunch 18 November 2014

Nigel Burton was in the kitchen, ably assisted by son Oliver and Hilton Chapman on canapes, but Brent Savage wasn't. Advertised as an "assistant", Mr Savage's assistance turned out to be more inspirational than actual, but the large crowd of around 50 members and guests got their money's worth anyway.

Hilton produced some well-received starters: quality smoked salmon wrapped around equally smoky baba ganoush and secured with toothpicks; intriguing caramellised anchovies on the same baba ganoush, on crackers; and crunchy marinated raw skate with vegetables in a spicy Korean sauce on porcelain spoons. All well matched with a Tyrrells late bottled HVD Semillon, vintaged in 1999 but only bottled a couple of years ago. It showed some developed fruit with some sweetness, but remarkably fresh and attractive for its age. An ever-reliable Lustau manzanilla sherry also went the rounds.

The main course featured some long and lovingly cooked beef cheeks, prepared and poached in a broth of many stocks and flavours, with star anise coming through on the plate. A wonderfully unctuous onion marmalade lifted it well, although an attempt at smoked mashed potatoes was less successful, being over-worked and a bit pasty. No problems, though, with finely sliced and slightly pickled zucchini which completed the plate. Coming across all this were a couple of big McLaren Vale shiraz, a 2009 Olivers Tarango and a 2001 Burton kindly provided by the maker. The former showed plenty of fruit and flavour on both nose and palate but a bit unsubtle compared to the Burton, which had more elegance and depth on the palate, albeit a slight volatility on the finish.

The standard continued with the cheese course, featuring a red and stinky-rinded Jensen's Red from Tarago River in Gippsland Victoria. This was a washed rind cheese of the old school, with the intense colour and flavour of the rind opening to a soft sticky and nutty paste. It was beaut with a simple green salad with very little dressing but sweet fresh orange segments to provide a touch of acid, and two quite different reds: a great 2008 Vasse Felix Margaret River cabernet showing typical mint , elegance and youthful development with years ahead of it; and a 2001 Tatachilla Partners cabernet shiraz from various regions of SA, solid and straightforward but starting to show its age.

The coffee was from El Salvador in Central America, quite light in the US style but a good mouthfeel and some subdued citrus characters on the back palate to give it length.

And to conclude proceedings, all participated in the now traditional tot of birthday rum from Wal Edwards, 98 years young this year.

Lunch 11 November 2014

On Remembrance Day, it was fitting that Peter Manners, with a massive supporting cast of Bob Swinney, Peter Squires and Neil Galbraith, should give us something nostalgic for both canapé and main courses, the latter in the form of canard a l'orange. All this plus a superior duck soup preceding it to allow for the last attenders at the funeral of member Richard Davis to make the lunch.

The canapes were an obviously duck liver-based pate, sumptuously moist and flavoursome, on crackers, little squares of interleaved cream cheese and cured ham slices and an earthy duxelles of mushrooms, enlivened with offcuts of the ham, in mini- pastry cases. The accompanying wine was a 2013 Ata Rangi pinot gris from Marlborough NZ which, although quite sweet in the NZ style, had good crisp acid and a moderate pear drop influence , making it refreshing and a good aperitif.

After the soup came the duck, good tender breasts cooked well (if a little past rose pink), cut in two and served under a great burnt orange sauce with duck fat baked potato, crunchy green beans, a slice of lightly baked red capsicum and, topping it all, a peeled half valencia orange served cold. Full marks for colour on the plate, though opinion was divided on the contribution of the orange acidity to the balance of the meal and the wine match. Speaking of which, we saw a 2010 Seresin Leah pinot noir, again from Marlborough NZ, and from out of left field a 2012 Musar Jeune, the second label of Ch Musar from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The NZ wine showed identifiable "ducks guts" characters on the nose, but on the palate was soft and simple. The Lebanese wine, made from cinsault, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, was a more complex and satisfying drop with a good fruit/acid/tannin balance and a longish finish.

The cheese maintained the standard: a double cream Tarago Shadows of Blue from Gippsland Victoria which was soft in the brie style but with a light but full flavour from the Roquefort mould blue marbling. It still showed youthful lactic acidity, but will undoubtedly improve with age. With it were seedless green grapes and a selection of dried figs and apricots with cashews and, vinously, a 2009 blaufrankisch from Hahndorf Hill SA, soft and round with some dried herbs evident on the finish but not exciting; and a 1998 Piramimma Stocks Hill Shiraz from McLaren Vale, a good wine which has passed its best and showed volatile oxidative notes on the nose and palate.

With the coffee (unidentified), a tribute to late member Richard Davis with the traditional toast in green chartreuse concluded a lunch to remember

Melbourne Cup lunch 4 November 2014

Let it be recorded that around 50 once-a- year turf experts, members and guests, assembled at Rocket Restaurant at Chatswood to appraise, analyse, and dissect, but mainly to browse, sluice and enjoy themselves. An introductory fizz of St Auger champagne was served with some amuse bouche canapes, followed by a sit-down meal with an entrée of fresh rock oysters and charcuterie, a main course featuring a wonderfully done piece of rib-eye and a brie de Meaux cheese with fresh and dried fruits, finishing with coffee. It was BYO in keeping with tradition, and weird and wonderful bottles were seen. In between it all, sweeps were organised, hat competitions were conducted, the Thorne trumpet was heard and a race was run, won by a horse. The conviviality flowed with the wine, both continuing well after the race was run. A triumph for organiser Nigel Burton and for the good folks at Rocket, to all of whom thanks are extended.

Wine tasting 28 October 2014

It wasn't quite around the world in eighty days, but wines from three countries in one hour isn't bad. Our indefatigable Wine Master presented 3 Oz and 3 foreign wines, which turned out to be from France and Italy. For the palate-challenged, it was enough to look at them to tell the two groups apart, the European numbers 2, 4 and 5 being significantly paler in colour than the locals. And of course, the tastes told the same tale, with the Aussies big and fruity, the imports finer and more acidic. In order on the table, they were: 2006 Mountain Blue cabernet/shiraz from Mudgee; a 2009 Gigonda from the Rhone in France; 2006 Seppelts St Peters shiraz from Grampians in Victoria; a 2009 Chianti Classico from Italy; 2009 Ch Lanessan, a cru bourgeois form Bordeaux; and 2006 Orlando St Hugo cabernet from Coonawarra. The three locals won most plaudits, the 1st two in particular showing elegance with heft and all were close to each other in style than to any of the imports, despite differences in grape and area. The overseas wines will benefit from a bit more age, the Rhone and the Chianti proving the best of the bunch.

They were preceded by the usual mix of aperitifs, a 2011 Red Robin Riesling from Clare being no match for a 2005 Wilson Riesling from Polish Hill; whilst a brace of fino sherries in half bottles, including an Oz, were reliable. From the kitchen, Greg Sproule sent forth some tasty canapes, a soft tapenade sans anchovies on crispbread pieces and a zippy crab mayo and coriander mix on the same. He followed up with a good unobtrusive beef bourguignon made on chuck and topside steak with plenty of aromatic vegetables and herbs and a rich comforting sauce slightly thickened with flour. Fresh green asparagus and mashed potato were traditional, and welcome, accompaniments.

Cheese saw a St Agur, a blue mould cows' milk from the Auvergne in France. Served from a whole round, it was soft, luscious and showing a slightly bitter palate from the mould which cut the richness well. Crunchy almonds and fruit were a suitable match.

An unidentified Indian coffee was rich and not too bitter. It was lifted by a second helping of James Healey's birthday cognac from a few weeks earlier.

Gold medal lunch 21 October 2014

In

What has become an annual event, member and winemaker Bruce Tyrrell gave a record crowd of 65 a look at 5 reds and 5 whites from the Hunter, all gold medal winners at the last Hunter Wine Show. So we'll start by thanking Bruce very much for his generosity, and for the experience he gave us.

Actually, the generosity extended to a brace of 3 Tyrrell wines as aperitifs: 2012 Belford chardonnay, 2013 Brookdale semillon and 2013 HVD & The Hill pinot noir. All young and fresh in the lighter style, and well matched with some tasty entrees from Denis Redfern and Dennis Cooper in the kitchen: taramasalata topped with salmon roe on cucumber slices, pesto with a piece of sun-dried tomato on crackers and a chopped chicken and dried porcini mushroom mix in little tartlet cases.

The flight of 5 reds followed with a traditional main course of roast ribeye beef, Yorkshire pudding and a dark onion sauce with potato wedges roasted in duck fat and well done green beans to accompany. A few doneness difficulties with the individual puddings, but undoubtedly a meal fit for the wines, and a terrific feat from first time chef Denis Redfern to get 65 plates out in good condition and on time. The wines, all 2013, were: Briar Ridge Signature Release Stockhausen shiraz; Brokenwood Verona Vineyard shiraz; Tyrrells Vat 9 shiraz; First Creek shiraz; and De Iuliis LDR Vineyard shiraz touriga (the last with 15% touriga, a Portuguese grape which gave the wine a touch of sweetness). As you would expect, the quality was high and uniform, but popular preferences were for the Brokenwood and the Vat 9, both full wines with upfront fruit but enough tannins to give them balance and a long life ahead.

In a bold move from the Wine Master, the 5 medal-winning whites were served with cheese, a young, firm but mild and sweet Wensleydale cows' milk from North Yorkshire, whose characteristics were ideal for the delicate grassy acid of the Hunter semillons, all from 2014. They were: Audrey Wilkinson The Ridge; Briar Ridge Single Vineyard Dairy Hill; First Creek Reserve; Thomas Braemore; and Tyrrells Vat 1. The year produced in the main softer more forward wines, the Vat 1 in particular more approachable in infancy than usual. But it was difficult to pick an order, with each wine having its supporters. A plate of mixed red and green grapes went well with both cheese and wines.

The coffee was Harrar from Ethiopia and showed typical full mouth flavour with lingering acidity, a fitting conclusion to a memorable lunch.

Bruce spoke briefly to the wines, all of which were available for order on the day except for the Brokenwood. Everyone, including Bruce, hopes that this showcase of the Society's closest wine area will be with us next year, and thereafter.

Lunch 14 October 2014

It was a warm welcome to the kitchen for Bill Alexiou-Hucker, nephew of the late Chris Alexiou who is well known to most members and the inspiration for the annual Chris Alexiou Trophy for Best Seafood dish. Bill, assisted by Neil Galbraith, produced a terrific Greek-influenced meal featuring seafood, starting with a series of wonderful canapes: freshly made taramasalata with a shaving of smoked mullet roe (botarga) on cucumber rounds; home- made tapenade on toasts with crumbled boiled egg; keftedes, or balls, made on rice, dill and fetta; and warm dolmades with a rich yoghurt, garlic and mint dipping sauce. All were pretty well matched with a 2005 Wine Society Tasmanian Riesling, broad but still fresh and nervy, and of course a Lustau manzanilla sherry.

Seafood came to the fore again with the main course, medium sized octopus cleaned and dressed before being slow braised in white wine with herbs and served on Greek pilaf rice, or pilafi, sprinkled with lemon juice and with burnt butter added at the end, together with nicely crunchy beans enlivened with a chorizo crumble. The octopus was soft and moist with subtle flavours allowed to come through by the simple braise: a worthy contender for the Chris Alexiou trophy.

With the food, the Wine Master managed to pull out a 2012 Thalassites white from Santorini, made on assyrtiko grapes and showing high acid but interesting floral/herbal notes which actually went better with the food than the 2000 Tyrrells Vat 1 semillon served with it, also still freshly acid, with typical semillon grass and lemon still developing but inclined to be overpowered.

We were spared a Greek cheese, enjoying instead an aged Gouda from Holland, well developed with good texture and rich nutty sweet flavours on the palate . A green leaf salad with rocket and toasted walnut pieces in a mild vinaigrette was a good accompaniment, as were a couple of reds, the first a 2012 Gaia wine from Nemea in Greece, made from Agiorgitiko grapes and showing cabernet-like berry characters, although still too young and a bit hard (though it improved in the glass). No such problems with a 2002 Chapel Hill cabernet from McLaren Vale and Coonawarra: a rich forward nose with plenty of Oz fruit character and a good balance of tannins.

The feast concluded with a medium roast Honduran coffee, quite fruity in the mouth with refreshing acidity which gave it length.

Mixed lunch 7 October 2014

It was welcome to Garry Linnane as first time chef of the day at the mixed lunch on 7 October following the Labour Day long weekend. He kicked off with some quality canapes, chief among them tasty Ortiz white anchovies over devilled eggs on toast rounds, together with a duck rillettes, and a rabbit terrine, both with fruit relish and on the same rounds, which were good if a bit chewy. The usual panoply of aperitifs accompanied these, especially a 2009 Bloodwood chardonnay from Orange with nice developed fruit balanced by gentle acidity. Also seen were the Brut des Flandres Belgian beer and a Manzanilla sherry, bone dry and salty, from Lustau. A novel touch was a presentation by Spencer Ferrier of cold-drip coffee, free of caffeine we were told but not of soft but clear coffee flavour.

For his main course, Garry went to Northern Italy, with a hearty peasant dish of pan-fried cotechino sausage on a bed of well-cooked lentils and a cold pesto of parsley and rocket. There were some real down-to-earth flavours in each of the components, although the refreshing bitterness of the pesto would have been improved by serving it warmed. Our obliging wine master helped the authenticity by providing a couple of thematic wines: a 2010 LaZona Barbera from King Valley in Victoria, and a 2010 Ceretto Nebbiolo d'Alba from Piedmont. Opinion favoured the Aussie number, with good strong fruit and a modest 13% alcohol; but the Italian showed the typical dry herbal character of the area, with some sour cherry notes starting to emerge and its best ahead of it: 14% alcohol was in balance.

We stayed in Italy for the archetypal cheese, a terrific aged (18-24 month) Parmigiano-Reggiano from Cavero in Parma. We all know what a good parmesan should taste like, and this delivered the goods. Some almonds and dried fruit were a simple but effective accompaniment. As for wines, Coonawarra was the venue, with a 2008 Bowen cabernet and a Zema cabernet from 1998. The age of the latter showed in a more developed elegant palate with fine tannins; but the Bowen, a whopping 15% alcohol, was a wonderful Oz blockbuster, with big ripe fruit and warm tannins perfectly integrated to support a palate which handled the alcohol superbly.

The coffee round was misnamed, comprising a succession of hot chocolate, rich but sweet and painstakingly made by Spencer from Lindt buds; tea from Assam, austere but smooth and refreshing; and, finally, a Colombian coffee showing typically smooth, US-approved, palate and a quite short finish. A taste of 2008 Ch Filhot from Sauternes, still young and with refreshing acid under the sweet fruit, was overwhelmed by the company; not so a great Courvoisier cognac from birthday boy James Healey, beautifully golden and with never-ending spirit length.

It was another successful demonstration to our guests of the Society's strength in both wine and food.

Wine tasting 30 September 2014

This was Paul Irwin's first time in the kitchen, and the pity is that it wasn't sooner, with some great food to match a lineup of local and foreign pinots. We were kept in suspense by the wine master until the death knell, but the wines on display were finally unveiled as:

2010 Tapanappa from the Fleurieu Peninsula in SA

2010 Port Phillip from the Mornington Peninsula in Vic

2009 Craggy Range from Bannockburn in the North Island of NZ

2009 Remoissenet Gevrey-Chambertin Villages

2006 Holyman from the Tamar Valley in Tas

2005 Lupe-Cholet Beaune 1er cru Les Brassades

Not a bad wine among them (if you disregard the corked Lupe-Cholet on some tables). The preference was for the younger French, with the NZ and the 1er cru also popular, although the latter, even the good glasses, was starting to fade a little. The Mornington showed future promise, while the Tas had good fruit and the SA was a little forward and simple. But clear evidence that the New World is catching up to the Old with this contrary grape.

We started with a few aperitifs, chiefly the 2001 Richmond Grove Riesling with good developed toast characters but still fresh. Also a 2006 Gartelman Benjamin semillon from the Hunter, sweet and soft, and a few bottles of a Brut de Flandres sparkler, as well as the reliable Lustau amontillado.

The canapes produced by Paul's partner Rachel worked well, a minced salmon, mayo and dill paste on bread rounds and cute tasty little cakes of crab with chopped prawns and polenta deep fried. But these were just a foretaste of the terrific main, rare and tender rounds of mystery meat under a great jus with simple carrots and small corn ears, sliced vertically and crunchy, to accompany. It was, as one would expect with pinot, duck breast, but not as we know it. Skinned breasts were "glued" together with a protein coagulant then rolled into wrapped rounds before being cooked sous vide, sliced and served with a jus made from the rest of the bird, enlivened with pierces of crisp fried and salted skin from the breasts. The presentation on the plate was excellent, but the flavour was there as well, and as for the match with the wine..........

Cheese was a Fourme D'Ambert, a blue mould Cows' milk cheese from the Rhone Alpes Auvergne district of France. Lovely to look at, but this edition lacked the texture and blue mould richness usually evident in this cheese, whilst still being pleasant eating. A good green salad featuring baby spinach and rocket with a mild vinaigrette was a nicely tart accompaniment.

Coffee took us back to Ethiopia, with a Yurgachef medium roast bean which produced a strong, rich brew with evident citrus acidity giving it a lingering finish. Ideally drunk with a fine port, such as the Para and a Chambers 2003 vintage (depending on table) turned on by birthday boy Frank Liebeskind.