Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Cooking Types

Saturday, 2 October, 2010

I’ve started reading the copy of Cooking for Geeks I ordered from Amazon. It includes a bunch of interviews with various foodies and food-oriented geeks. The first is with one Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University who studies people’s interactions with food.

He says at least 80% of cooks can be described in one of these five categories:

  • Giving cooks: See food as an extension of love. They tend to make great bakers, stick to trusted traditional recipes, and everyone loves their home-style cooking.
  • Healthy cooks: Cook because eating pre-prepared food isn’t as healthy. Tend to use lots of fresh produce and seafood, may have their own vegetable garden.
  • Methodical cooks: Can cook anything, but will do so with a recipe in front of them the whole time. And when they’re finished, the result will look exactly like it does in the cookbook.
  • Innovative cooks: Cook by intuition. If they use a cookbook at all, it’s merely to glance at the picture, say, “I can do that,” and then go try doing it. It may not turn out right, but that’s okay, they just go, “No biggie, I’ll do it differently next time.”
  • Competitive cooks: Cook to impress. Try weird stuff in an effort to make people go, “Wow! I’ve never had anything like that before.”

As much as I dislike pigeonholing, this breakdown (and the fact that Wansink says only about 80% of cooks fall neatly into one of the categories) sounds pretty close to my experience with the cooking of myself and other people. My wife is the methodical sort. I’m always exhorting her not to bother measuring stuff – just chuck in as much as looks right – but she insists on carefully using the measuring cups and scales that I never bother with.

Interestingly, I pegged myself as an innovative type, but when I read the categories out to her she immediately said the competitive category fit me perfectly. Hmmm.

Vasse Felix Semillon Sauvignon Blanc & Ventisquero Queulat Carménère

Tuesday, 28 September, 2010

Ventisquero Queulat 2007 Maipo Valley CarménèreVasse Felix 2009 Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon BlancAnother double wine post. The first is a “Classic Dry White” blend from Vasse Felix in Margaret River, one of the major Western Australian vineyards. It’s a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon blanc, and tastes pretty much like it. There’s some grassy and herby tanginess from the Sauvignon blanc, tempered by the mild smoothness of the Semillon. I had it with some seafood chowder and grilled salmon. The acidity cut through the creamy chowder nicely. It wasn’t a particularly exciting wine, but not bad.

Next we have a Carménère from the Maipo Valley in Chile. This is the first time I’ve tried this grape variety and also my first Chilean wine. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; I’d read that Carménère is similar to Merlot. But this had a character all its own. The aroma is strong and heady with the alcohol, and touches of dark fruits like plums and black cherries. In the glass it swirls thickly, coating the inside and running down in great viscous drips of deep red. It almost has a blood-like aura to it – I can easily imagine this is the sort of red wine that vampires drink.

The taste is more dark fruit, thick and rich and strong. There’s a touch of spiciness and a body that the wife identified as chocolatey. And there’s a bitterness there too, but it’s not harsh like raw tannin, it’s more the bitterness of a really dark chocolate. By itself, this is overpowering, but with a spicy meat dish it worked rather well I thought. I think this could do with some time to mature, but then I don’t really know what that would do to this. It was too much for my wife, but I thought it was pretty good with some food.

Tim Adams 2006 Clare Valley Tempranillo

Thursday, 16 September, 2010

Tim Adams 2006 Clare Valley TempranilloThis is the first time I’ve tried a straight Tempranillo. I’ve had it blended, in the Bodegas Faustino from Rioja, and reading that review again, I can recall the common strands of flavour compared with this one.

We took this bottle to an Indian restaurant and had some mild curries and rice with it. It wasn’t a calculated match to the food, but turned out to go together well, in my opinion. The aroma of this wine, from the Clare Valley in South Australia, is intriguing. It smells quite obviously of strawberries, with a sweetness that approaches spun sugar, almost fairy floss (or “cotton candy” for the Americans).

But the taste is not sweet – this is quite a dry wine on the palate. There remains a taste of strawberries, and also cherries. And with them, a spiciness of sweet spices. Cinnamon was the most obvious one, and perhaps a hint of nutmeg. The label on the back of the bottle confirms the red berries and cinnamon, but mentions cloves, which I didn’t really pick up myself. And comparing it to the Rioja, in which I also noticed strawberry and spiciness, I’m now starting to get a picture of the character of Tempranillo. I will have to try another one to cement this into place in my tastebuds and mind. And also because I very much liked it.

Leconfield Coonawarra 2009 Merlot

Thursday, 9 September, 2010

Leconfield Coonawarra 2009 MerlotI read a review of this wine somewhere – I forget where. It was glowing. And with the wife having Merlot as her favourite varietal, I knew I had to find some bottles of it. Our local wine shop had Leconfield’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but no Merlot. I found a shelf label for it at another bottle shop, but they’d sold out. However, they managed to order some in and I grabbed them.

I must say, despite my wife’s opinion, I’ve never really been enamoured with any of the Merlots I’ve had before. But…

This was something else. Let’s start with the colour. It’s a deep, rich purple garnet colour, thick and opaque. This is the colour of wine a vampire would drink. It felt heavy in the glass. I know I’m probably imagining it, but this wine exuded a gravity and presence just by looking at it. The aroma was pretty much what I’ve come to expect from a Merlot by now. A berry-heavy fruitiness with a whiff of alcohol. Honestly I didn’t get much out of the smell beyond that, but I still need practice on the reds.

The flavour. Wow. The first thing you notice is the richness and roundness – it fills the mouth. It makes you want to talk in plummy English tones like Professor Henry Higgins. It has a real solidity to it, but velvety in softness. The taste was blackcurranty, maybe some dark cherry, a bit of plum, and a distinct hint of mint. There was some tannin there at the end, but soft and smooth, not harsh, creating a nice dryness in the mouth. Even in my limited experience, I could tell this was something a step above any other Merlot I’ve had before. Really good.

I might try to grab a few more bottles, and hang on to some for a few years – the label recommends cellaring for 5 to 10 years. I imagine it will be brilliant then.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc & Leeuwin Estate Riesling

Sunday, 29 August, 2010

Leeuwin Estate 2008 Art Series Margaret River RieslingCloudy Bay 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon BlancNo posts for a while since I’ve been away on holiday to Western Australia. We spent three days in the Margaret River wine region and came back with 8 bottles of wine – which will no doubt be featured here eventually. Today we have one of them, plus a wine from New Zealand.

First up, it’s the 2009 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough in NZ. Everything I’ve read about Sauvignon Blanc says that the best examples come from New Zealand, and everything I’ve read about NZ Sauvignon Blanc says that the best examples come from Cloudy Bay. So logically, this must be the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Thankfully, unlike other examples of absolute top quality wines, this one doesn’t cost a fortune. Sauvignon Blanc, as I’ve learnt, is at its best when very young – it simply doesn’t improve with age. So the best SB you can get is the most recently marketed one, and you should drink it as soon as possible. Which means there’s none of that mucking about with cellaring and letting the bottles get old and musty until you end up with 30 year old wine that costs a fortune. Nope. You can buy a bottle of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world for about $40.

And given that chance, why not try it? I’ve had a SB before – the Mystery Creek bottle I reviewed. That was nice, but this was considerably nicer. We took it to a Thai restaurant, and ordered fish dishes. The tanginess complemented the Asian chili spices and the fish very nicely. Even M, who hadn’t liked the Mystery Creek SB, enjoyed the Cloudy Bay. The aroma was very similar to me, with tropical and citrusy fruit, dominated by a limey tang and that indefinable “sauvignon blanc” smell that I’ve begun to recognise. In the mouth it was simply delicious. Tangy, zesty, acidic, with lime and gooseberry flavours. It was obviously more refined and smoother than the Mystery Creek, but without losing any of that wallop of flavour. It really was gorgeous.

Our second offering is one of the wines brought back from Margaret River. We visited the Leeuwin Estate and did a guided tour of the winery, followed by a full tasting of their entire range of wines (9 in total). I ended up buying three bottles, with the Riesling being one of them. The “Art Series” is Leeuwin’s premium series of wines and they commission original artwork by well-known Australian artists to adorn the labels. The originals hang in a small gallery in the winery, and we saw those too. The label of this one is by John Olsen, whose best known work is Salute to Five Bells, a large mural adorning the north foyer wall of the Sydney Opera House concert hall.

We had this wine again with spicy Asian food – this time Malaysian – and it suited it again. It has the typical “riesling” aroma, of industrial chemicals with a single piercing high note of citrus. It’s a well-balanced flavour, dry and fruity, with that stony, minerally quality that is hard to describe otherwise. It was not as good as the Cloudy Bay SB, but still lovely with the spicy food.

Cloudy Bay 2004 Late Harvest Riesling

Friday, 13 August, 2010

Cloudy Bay 2004 Late Harvest RieslingWe wanted a sweet wine for dessert last weekend and spotted this in a shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I was keen to try it. Cloudy Bay is a famous New Zealand winery, in the Marlborough region, best known for its world-famous Sauvignon blanc.

I’ve tried some Riesling before and it has, in my mind, a very distinct aroma. I noticed it as soon as I sniffed a glass of this one. It was citrusy, with lime the dominant fruit. And that distinctive smell of Riesling… I don’t know how else to describe it – it doesn’t remind me of anything else in the world. Sort of sweetish, minerally like a handful of wet gravel, and also fragrant like alpine wildflowers, with a piercing quality of fresh cold air, perhaps a tiny bit like bleach, although not unpleasant. Overall it’s a positive aroma, but hard to describe without rifling my aroma vocabulary for unusual descriptors.

The flavour was sweet and citrusy, tangy with acidity, and a slight hint of spiciness, like an apple strudel made with tangy green apples and just a faint touch of cinnamon. It wasn’t syrupy sweet, and in fact the sweetness was so restrained that M. declared it didn’t taste to her like a dessert wine at all. It was in the continuum between the ever so slightly sweet Gewürztraminer we had a while back and a full-on dessert wine. I could actually see having this one with a meal of fish, rather than dessert. I actually had it with cheese and a fresh pear, which matched nicely – I don’t think it would have worked with a chocolate cake.

I look forward to seeing if the next Riesling I have also has that unmistakeable “Riesling” aroma – if it’s indeed a constant then I can confidently say that I could pick Riesling out of a line-up of white wines without any trouble at all. I only hope at some point I start to get a similar feel for reds. The next week should help, as we’re taking a vacation trip to Western Australia, and spending a few days in the Margaret River wine region there, so should be dropping in on a few wineries.

Penfolds Private Release 2007 Shiraz Cabernet

Monday, 2 August, 2010

Penfolds Private Release 2007 Shiraz CabernetI got this bottle last Christmas, and we decided to try it at a new Greek restaurant that we hadn’t been to before: Claypot at Gordon, which was really good. I was hoping this wine wouldn’t be too robust for M., who prefers the smoothness of merlot to the stronger flavours of cabernet suavignon and shiraz.

Well I needn’t have worried, as this was a very smooth number, with little to no oak evident to my untrained palate, and very low levels of tannin. It had some robustness, but not in that oaky flavour complex that can seem overpowering at times. The aroma was… plummy – that’s about the best I can do I’m afraid. There was maybe a hint of spice in there too, from the shiraz no doubt, but not very strong, and none of the peppery notes that I’ve detected in shiraz before.

The taste was very smooth on the tongue. I picked the dominant flavour as plum-like, with a hint of raisins and some spice, perhaps a tough of aniseed. A little bit like a spicy fruit pudding, though not sweet at all. It was very… “round” in the mouth – I’m not sure if that’s the same thing that wine experts mean when they say a wine is “round”, but it feels right.

We didn’t finish the bottle, and it took me a few days to get back to it, at which point I decided not to drink the small remainder, but to make a poached pear in red wine with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Which I’m eating right now. Yum.

Wine three-for-one

Sunday, 25 July, 2010

De Bortoli "Sacred Hill" 2009 Traminer RieslingGramp's 2006 Botrytis SemillonDisaster Bay Hot Chili WineA triple wine post this time. Although purists would not regard the first offering as a “wine” – it’s made not from grapes, but from hot chilli peppers. That’s right, 100% chilli juice, pressed and fermented into a liqueur style drink, by Disaster Bay Chillies. I found this in a wine shop in Katoomba and the owner let me have a taste – wowee. It’s sweet and delicious, developing into a hot red chilli flavour that last and lasts and lasts. You don’t want a lot at once, but you do want more later on. I instantly bought a bottle and took it to a games night with some friends to share it around. Their opinion was mixed, with some not enjoying it, and others really liking it. I’m in the latter camp. The bottle says it lasts for months in the fridge, which is a good thing, because you don’t want more than half a shot glass at a time. But when it runs out, I’ll be buying another somewhere.

Next cab off the rank is Gramp’s botrytis semillon dessert wine. We’ve actually run out of sweet wines in our modest “cellar” (a box in the garage), so wanted to pick up something to go with cheese and crackers. This boasted some medals and wasn’t expensive, so we plumped for it. It’s thick and syrupy, and very sweet, without that hint of acidity to balance it out. The flavour is what I’ve begun to think of as typical for botrytis wines, of orange marmalade, but again without any of the subtle nuances of other flavours in there to give it complexity. M. didn’t like it much, but I thought it was passable with the cheese.

Today’s final offering is De Bortoli “Sacred Hill” 2009 Traminer Riseling, a blend of gewürztraminer and riesling to make a semi-sweet and spicy style of white wine. We found this in a bottle shop for a paltry $8.99 and I figured, “What the heck?” We had this over two nights, first with fish, then with Indian curries. I thought it was fine with both, showing the pickly spiciness of the previous gewürztraminer we tried. M. didn’t like it as much, stating it lacked the lemony citric notes that balanced the Stonecroft, and was a shade sweeter. True, it was as she described, but frankly I was hard pressed to notice the difference myself from memory. I think I’d need a side-by-side tasting to tell them apart. At any rate, I enjoyed this, and for the price I wouldn’t be shy of picking up more of this one.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and Mountain Ice Icewine

Wednesday, 14 July, 2010

Crimson Pinot NoirMountain Ice 2009 Viognier/Chardonnay IcewineAnother two-for-one wine post. The Pinot Noir is by Ata Rangi in Martinborough, New Zealand, vintage 2008. I really liked the previous Pinot Noir I had, so it was good to try a different one. We took this bottle to a local pizza restaurant. The colour is a striking transparent crimson red. The aroma I didn’t get a good handle on I’m afraid – it was mostly a heady alcoholic smell, with nothing else I could really recognise apart from the usual “red wine” smell. The taste, however, was a triple-layered development of flavours. At first it was very dry and mild, and both M. and I detected the slight prickle of fermentation. I understand this is usually considered a fault in red wines, but pinot noir seems light enough that it doesn’t seem astray. The overall effect was quite un-wine-like, with almost a chalky feel to it. In fact, it reminded me of the taste of a soluble aspirin. But after a few seconds, the flavour developed into a pleasant fruity number, mostly reminiscent of raspberries. Leaving it sit in the mouth for a while longer started to bring out some mild tannin. Overall I’d say I was happy with it, but perhaps not as nice as the previous pinot.

Today’s second wine is an icewine I bought on our recent day trip to the Blue Mountains. It’s from Orange Mountain Winery, near Orange in inland New South Wales. They freeze the Viognier and Chardonnay grapes artificially to concentrate the sugar for this sweet dessert wine. A sticker on the bottle says it won “Best Icewine” at the 2009 International Sweet Wine Challenge. It’s a gorgeous luminous pale straw yellow in colour. The smell is of citrus fruits, with orange and lemon coming out. But the taste is very different, being strong tropical fruits – passionfruit and pineapple, with a touch of orange. And it’s exceedingly sweet – possibly the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted; I certainly can’t recall a sweeter one. All of which make it delicious and more-ish. I want to see if I can find more of this one! We had this at home with a platter of brie, jarlsberg, and a cream cheese with apricot and almond in it, on crackers. What better dessert could you want?

Fermoy Estate 2007 Merlot & Adina 2008 Dessert Semillon

Sunday, 4 July, 2010

Adina 2008 Dessert SemillonFermoy Estate 2007 Margaret River MerlotTwo for one today. M. picked the Fermoy Estate merlot on our recent trek to the wine shop because she wanted to try one from Margaret River in Western Australia. We took it to a modern Australian/Italian restaurant up the road, a bit more fancy than ones we normally go to – because we had a 20% discount coupon ;-). I figured the hand-made pasta and the chicken-stuffed-with-spiced-sausage dishes we ordered would suit the wine reasonably well.

I am still really struggling with the big international red wine grape varieties. I mean, I can sort of tell the difference between merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and shiraz, but when it comes to actually describing them I’m still at a loss. Honestly, I could glean nothing out of this except the standard “blackcurranty” and “plummy” buzzwords. It was fairly tannic, but that’s really my only contribution to an original description. And I didn’t find it particularly nice, either. I need more practice with the reds.

The Adina dessert semillon on the other hand, we sipped at home as a stand-alone after-dinner sweet several days later. We’d acquired this on our trip to the Hunter Valley last year, and to my mind as we tasted things on a tour of vineyards, this was the best sweet wine of the trip. I recalled a piercing, sweet lemony acidity, which was how it first hits the nose and palate on more careful tasting. The aroma is of fresh lemons and lime, with a hint of banana. There’s fermentation prickle, which makes the lemon sweetness refreshing and it develops into a mild marmalade bitterness at the finish. It’s very light and enjoyable. We might pop into Adina Vineyard next time to grab some more.