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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Wine and Friends

There is something rather warming in being able to share a bottle of something with friends. It doesn't necessarily have to be something special; some cheap sparkles to celebrate a birthday, a chilled Rose at a BBQ, a bottle of that great Shiraz from your holiday to the Hunter - each has a place, a moment and an opportunity to introduce friends to a part of you.

So it was that I invited some friends over on Saturday night to partake in the consumption of a few choice drops. Dinner was included too and a starter of some chilli and garlic olives, mettwurst, a ovely fresh ciabatta placed in the centre of the table and offered with some prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella and pesto was a great way to kick start appetites and introduce the first wine.

Australia's Gift to the World of Wine?
Sparkling red wine, to me, is something uniquely Australian. It was first introduced to me in the UK and quickly became a staple at Christmas with roast Turkey. There is something so wrong, et also so right with it. Served in a champagne flute, the mousse is there, yet it has a ribena like hue to it, a deep garnet colour. The wine in question a Majella Sparkling Shiraz disgorged in 2005.

Many bag the sparkling red, some even finding it a little cringeworthy. Not here. It often has a place in my glass/ fridge/ cellar. This particular example in question had the right colour attributes for me, the flavour profile was balanced too - a little sweetness to get the evening underway. It did not last long and was soon followed by a Meadowbank Henry James Pinot Noir from Tasmania's Coal River. Excellent fine tannins, delicate fruit profile without the 'elevated' profile of some Pinot Noir. An excellent follow on from the sparkles!

Main Course
Two delightful individuals of the Brisbane food and wine scene, Ryn and Cordie, who I have had the privilege of sharing a glass or three with (see BYO Favs & Pizza), have self-published a book that demystifies the pairing of food and wine. Not just a 'dry' volume on the subject, it is also a beautifully presented cookbook. From it, I opted to prepare the slow cooked Moroccan beef checks.

My own version wasn't entirely faithful to the recipe. For no reason other than I failed to read the recipe beforehand and realise that it recommended cooking for eight hours in a slow cooking. I had neither eight hours or a slow cooker, so a four hour hob braise it was. I managed to quell the minor panic at around the 2.5 hour mark when the cheeks were not that soft, a small temperature adjustment, and an hour and a half later they were falling apart. The other adjustment made was to serve the beef cheeks with Quinoa rather than the recommended Cous Cous - an adjustment necessary due to one of the guest's being wheat intolerant.

The cheeks just melted, the presence of the orange zest was a pleasant addition - giving the savoury flavours and juice a welcome sweet boost.

The beef cheeks were paired with initially with a Hunter Valley Ivanhoe Parker Reg 2007 Shiraz. Now, if memory serves me correctly, 2007 was not a stellar vintage for Hunter reds. That said, this particular wine did nothing to offend. it didn't stand out either. Subdued is probably my best descriptor. No bad thing, it didn't have the sweetness the beef cheeks possibly called for, but there was a pleasant fruit profile and a pleasant balance.

The Ivanhoe, however, was slightly overshadowed by what followed: Cirillo 2007 1850 Grenache. This one is made from the oldest Grenache vines currently in production. There are apparently some older vines in Spain but I believe they are not in a good state. A colleague of mine is in a great position as an online stockist of the Cirillo portfolio. A relationship I one day hope to exploit, either with a future visit to the Barossa or some other point in the future.

Having tasted a previous vintage, my main memory of this wine was a real 'earthiness'. It was this that I was expecting again, however it wasn't present. There were some fine tannins present and a pleasant lingering finish. But none of that earthiness. I'll have to revisit this and pay more attention (this evening was about friends and the sharing of wine, not necessarily for over analysis).

The meal, but not the evening, was finished with a selection of cheeses from the Rosalie Deli. I tried to balance the selection: a French Brie, Maleny Camembert, English Stilton and a young Victorian Chevre.

The presence of the cheese at the table causes me some trouble. I had taken the time to decant a Castagna Genesis 2005 Syrah and wanted my guests to experience this wonderful wine. I was scared that the cheese - in particular the Stilton - would kill the experience of the Genesis. Alas it was a battle I lost, the guests tucking in to the cheese with abandon.

I managed to refrain from doing so until I had a good pour of the Castagna. A beautiful crafted wine: incredible structure, length, a delicacy and my over-riding memory of the wine is delicate violets. I particularly wanted to share this wine as it one that has really turned my head in the Australian wine stakes. I happily hold my hand up and say that my origins in wine consumption are in the sunshine in a bottle club and that sweet, oaked profile is one I still enjoy. The Castagna to me is the total opposite of that and it has really opened my mind to what else is out there. I digress.

To Close
There was still some life left in the crowd. A bottle of Peter Lehmann The King Port was retrieved. The cork was the first challenge, crumbling, disintegrating and some of it appearing in the bottle. We overcame this, and the sediment through the use of a fine mesh tea strainer and pouring funnel. Possibly not the best approach, but let's just say it was pragmatic and delivered a fine structured port that closed the evening off perfectly.

I love evenings like this and am fortunate to be able to share them with friends. The only downside is the fuzzy head the next morning, the eager 7 month old daughter, but even then her infectious smile can see me through.


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