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Sherry and Food

A while ago my colleagues and I were at ‘MoVidas Bar de Tapas’ in Melbourne and it was the most contemporary Spanish conceptual ideal that I have experienced in my life. What struck me about the venue was the atmosphere and dining experience that will be remembered for quite some time, not to mention the slick operation they work in..

Sherry has been long forgotten in today’s society and it’s a shame in so many ways that I can’t contemplate how to entertain your attention to understand my enthusiasm and passion for all things wine and food. However, you have to experience just once, the hidden treasures of sherry and its magic when it comes to food. We sat down and the barman poured a little glass of chilled Manzanilla sherry and sat it beside our plate of anchovy stuffed olives. I took a sip and it was cool, dry, crisp and slightly aromatic. We heard the clatter of pans form the kitchen and then appeared a plate of prawns and grilled snapper dressed with red capsicum placed next to the sherry. The glass was dripping with condensation at this time. This is the very essence of the three elements that dominate the part of Spain’s cooking culture, sherry, salt and fish…

I have, on occasion, indulged in Spanish fortified wines, commonly known as Sherry, it is the two lighter styles that hold the most appeal, however, Fino and Manzanilla…It’s not a drink but a way of life in Spain. To understand the drink, you have to eat the food that has evolved with it in its homeland.

For a wine to be called sherry, it must have been produced in a small triangle of Spain on the southern Atlantic coast marked by three sherry-making towns; El Puerto de Santa Marina on the ocean, Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the Guadalquivir estuary and about 20 km inland in the hills, the town of Jerez de la Frontera.. It’s here that the very heart of sherry evolves with the Palomino grapes covering the hills like a blanket. After the grapes are harvested and crushed, they are taken into the towns where the sherry is made in cathedral-like bodegas filled with blackened oak barrels…It truly is a work of artistry to see it close up.

Drink Fino or Manzanilla on its own and it can seem quite out of balance. It’s too big, too dry and complex and often far too yeasty, and even salty to a virgin palate that has not experienced the wonders of sherry… However, when you sit down with a plate of deep-fried baby sole or a full baked snapper, all the elements kind of come together and blend. The saltiness of the sherry complements the saltiness of the fish. The yeastiness and complex malty flavours work with the roundness of the fresh fish and the crispness leaves your mouth clean and wanting more food. I was fortunate enough to have it with snapper recently; the Fino sherry was superb in the complexity of rancio and aged characters, whilst complimenting the fish that I shared it with friends over dinner.

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Blue Cheese & Wine to Share

Blue cheese is frequently used as a generic classification and term to describe a variety of blue-veined cheeses made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk or goats milk of which have cultures of the mould Penicillium Roqueforti and Penicillium Glaucum. These fungi are found commonly in nature are added to it which causes the blue-grey or blue-green spotted veins form the cultivated bacteria.

The list of blue cheeses is quite lengthy but for example, there are a few common versions of European cheeses which have their names protected, much like the wine appellation of France Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Protetta. Here are some of the more notable and popular European styles: Danish Blue, Stilton, Bleu d‘Auvergne, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Foie Gras, Maytag Blue Cheese. Blue cheeses without a protected name are simply called Blue Cheese.

Blue cheeses are noted in history to be made by accident centuries ago, however, they are typically aged in a temperature-controlled environment such as a cave. Blue cheese can be eaten by itself or can be crumbled or melted over foods. Each Blue cheese does have its own personality and unique characteristic flavour and it tends to be sharp and salty. The smell of this food is due both to the mould and to types of bacteria encouraged to grow on the cheese. Those Blue cheese tragic lovers who are reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about!

Some wines with higher levels of acidity react with the protein in the cheese and the combination in your mouth becomes creamy in texture; which some readers may find confronting, that will only last a few seconds believe me, as you will also discover that the wine has another platform to show you it’s alter ego and other personality… It will surprise you like it did me many years ago when by accident I had a mouthful of Sauvignon Blanc with a soft and oozing gorgonzola blue, it was not heaven on a stick like an experience, but very close to it.

Blue cheese textures can vary from the creamy soft oozing type, (and these are decadent – which is my favourite style) to the rather firm and crumbly style. The wine to match must be a contrasting wine; moreover, it needs to contrast with the salty piquancy of the cheese. ‘Stickles’ and dessert wines are an exceptionally successful match and below is an updated list of a selection of red and white wines and beers you may wish to try, even if it’s not with blue cheese, they’re worth enjoying anytime, because I have always maintained a philosophy that life is too short to drink poor quality wines!

White Wines: Botrytis Semillon or Riesling, Sauterne, Muscat, Topaque and aged or vintage port, aromatic wine like a German Spätlese Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Late picked Pinot Gris, Trebbiano, Moscato Frizzante and Petit Manseng… these all have an elevated degree of sweetness.

Red Wines: Malbec, Merlot, Tannat, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Touriga and Dolcetto being the more popular matches.

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A new category of Fortified wines called ‘APERA’

We have a renaissance and the beginning of a NEW category of wines that have emerged in Australia. There have been many new varieties born into our market, giving you more choice and allowing you to explore your curiosity, and for this, there is an upside, in particular through many cellar doors as opposed to the larger liquor stores. It is one area of which I am very passionate about in my articles, because when you buy a bottle of Australian wine you’re supporting numerous levels of Australian business right back to the grape grower and owners of the vineyard standing there at the gate watching his grapes depart to the local winery, and keeping our dollars in our country…

The term Apera applies to an exciting collection of fresh, cutting-edge Australian fortified wines that are predominately used to “open up” the appetite in preparation for a meal. Yet in true Australian style, they are so much more and the term apera is merely the invitation to adventure. Whilst an Australian apera is the perfect pre-dinner drink to share over a light bite in the company of friends, it can sometimes last longer than dinner itself! An Australian apera can be delicate and crisp or rich and intense. An Australian apera can even be muddled together with other liqueurs to be enjoyed as a seriously good wine cocktail. The most enjoyable moment might be simply deciding when it is apera o’clock.

A special launch of the Pfeiffer Wines Seriously Apera range of wines took place at the winery in April 2012. You can get all the details from Pfeiffer’s website

The Pfeiffer Seriously Apera range consists of three unique and distinct personalities – Seriously Fine, Seriously Nutty and Seriously Pink. I’m sure you will be taken by their immediate appeal… I was privileged to be able to try the wines at their launch and share the excitement of this New Category of fortified wines which will appeal to a very broad market as there is something for everyone.

Pfeiffer’s Seriously Fine Apera 500ml Cellar Door
Beginning its life on Flor yeast, which grows on the surface of the wine protecting it from excessive oxygen, giving the wine unique and distinctively personality. As the name suggests it’s very fine and delicate and wonderfully refreshingly dry. The wine is fresh and elegant in style and texture. There is a clear line of citrus peel through the mid palate and green apples, which complement the acidity with a very delicate hint of saltiness just tickling the tongue. Versatile and drinkable anytime icy cold, or room temperature and you can even add it to your soups or casseroles and fruitcake… Try it with olives, smoked almonds, salty seafood’s and Jen tells me it’s seriously good with chocolate chilly truffles. Just relax and unwind with it.

Pfeiffer’s Seriously Nutty Apera 500ml Cellar Door
The average age of the wine would be over 40 years old. You have to appreciate these wines are handmade and spend decades in the barrels before they are skilfully blended to create this wonderful style. Elegant, stylish and classy. An extraordinary wine with depth and finesse. The nuttiness is simply adorable in the mouth with a soft, but complex textures and will open up as it warms to room temperature to reveal it’s true personality. Served with smoked meats, such as chicken or trout and will handle chorizo sausages, artichoke hearts and beef consommé with ease…

Pfeiffer’s Seriously Pink Rosé Apera 500ml Cellar Door
To complete the family and give it a little more style and fun, bring in the Pink. This wine is very innovative and creative. It’s fresh, fruity and fragrant, very versatile and heaps of fun. Served neat ice cold it’s refreshing and light, and as a long drink with your favourite mixer it comes into its own. Served as a Seriously Pink Slushy is another idea to try… Not to be taken lightly however, it does hold 16% a/v.

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Cider Renaissance or Revolution?

Unless you have been living under a rock over the past two years, you would have noticed the number of ciders on your bottle shop shelves and fridges kind of significantly multiply. Bottle shop managers are asking suppliers for new fridges just so they can stock them with the new ranges of ciders that are filling the shelves and funky bars in the cities…

Ciders are not “just ciders”… as the market is growing so rapidly many consumers think that all ciders are boring sweet fizzy drinks, well they aren’t… The difference in quality begins with the selection of fruit from the high-quality character-packed ciders using apples specifically grown for the purpose like sharp, bitter apples such as Kingston Black and Yarlington Mill and some granny smiths, through to the more dessert apples such as Fuji and Pink lady, they all play an integral part in the finished product, much like the regional fruit plays its roll in winemaking…

The Cider market is saturated with cheaper styles today much like the coffee used to be in this country. We see the bland, commercial cider that spurts sweet fizzy alcoholic apple juice that summons the sweet tooths and early interventionist’s, who have graduated from the ‘ready to drink’ sweet lollypop soda’s…So many of these products are like the cider version of International Roast. What we now need is the single-origin, freshly ground espresso ciders of the world to take centre stage and show cider drinkers what a real quality cider should taste like…

The German word for cider is apfelwein, apple wine, and it’s light, still, tart and not too dissimilar to a white wine like a German Riesling if you like.. Australian winemakers are experimenting with sparkling ciders. They are reminiscent of a crisp, clean, fragrant and kind of mainstream style; some like the Two Metre Tall Brewery north of Hobart which are somewhat cloudy, wild, funky, and deliciously ferrel, and they only make a couple of barrels a vintage…Some are fermented in big old oak vats that over 150 years of crusty mouldy growth inside them that actually add to the complexity of the cider… It’s a bit like the winemaking game whereby they pour hours into the fermentation, experimenting with yeast strains, barrel fermentation, cloudy mashed juice unstrained and even using likeminded winemaking techniques to produce the most interesting nectar that we know as alcoholic cider…

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Will Storing Wine Underwater Preserve it?

In 2010, a crew of divers discovered the kind of booty we would really get excited about: 79 perfectly preserved bottles of Champagne in a Baltic Sea shipwreck. At the beginning of August this year, 11 of them were auctioned off in Finland for an amazing $156,000 AU. Bloomberg Financial report that six of the bottles were Juglar (defunct since 1829), four were Veuve Clicquot and one was Heidsieck. The highest-priced bottle, one of the Clicquot, fetched 15,000 euros itself. These nearly 200-year-old Champagne bottles were in such perfect condition because they were lucky to land horizontally, under pressure, at a low temperature and in the dark, how amazing.

An enterprising young winemaker in the Yarra Valley Ben Porter decided to put two barrels of his Pyrenees Shiraz in a picking bin lined with plastic, and filled it with water and submerged the barrels holding them underwater with a heavy beam. After 12 months, he compared it with his vintage from normal barrels and was pleasantly surprised that the wine tasted very different.

Under normal maturation in barrels wine will interact with the air. Air enters the wood and in an aerobic environment a reaction occurs and softens the tannins in the wine. Conversely, some of the wine will evaporate through the staves. However, underwater this doesn’t occur. The wine flavours develop in the barrel in an anaerobic environment, almost like carbonic maceration without the oxygen. The tannins remain quite raw and kind of rustic according to Ben.

It’s not a completely new revelation; in Bordeaux’s Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion submerged a few barrels of their 2009 reds in the ocean for some time, and when they encouraged a panel of winemakers to assess the wine, the results were very positive and more than pleasing. They did suggest the wine had a briny tang to it but it had developed very nicely. It also suggested this method may eliminate the need to add sulfur to the wine to stop the air spoiling the fruit, how good would that be!

So! How much would you be prepared to pay for old wine in perfect condition? Well, perhaps you might like to consider mortgaging the house before you think about where you’re going to store it. Here are some of the most expensive wines in the world recently purchase from at Christie’s fine-wine auction.

A collection of seven bottles of white wine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti sold for almost $24,000 a bottle in 2001. Quite a pretty penny for a bottle of wine — good thing they were still drinkable. 1865 Chateau Lafite: $27,000. Romanée Conti 1945: $123,900. 1787 Chateau Lafite: $160,000. 1869 Château Lafite: $233,972 (about $46794 a glass!!!). 1947 Château Cheval Blanc: $304,375. 1907 Heidsieck: $275,000. 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild: $47,000. 1787 Chateau Yquem: $100,000 and finally 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: $117,000 one of the most supreme vintages ever produced.

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The Rise and Fall of Fortified Wine

It’s hard to imagine that just over 40 years ago, the larger majority of wine made in Australia was fortified. Sadly, today, it’s much fewer than this, somewhere around one bottle in every 32 sold. Don’t despair though, because today’s fortifieds are ranked amongst the finest in the world and the best value for money.

By the term fortified, I mean the fermentation of red wine is halted during the process by adding a brandy or neutral grape spirit to it. This does two things, stops the fermentation and raises the alcohol content to around 17%+ a/v the wine then is put away in barrels to be blended and aged to produce some amazingly rich, complex, unctuous and very sought after wine. It’s an art that is passed down by generations of winemakers to their children.

Australian Port can no longer use the name and is now called “Tawny”; part of our European agreement to phase out names of their regions. Australian Tawny’s live for many decades and are carefully blended using the ‘solera system’ which refreshes the wine from many aged barrels dictating each wine’s personality. Tawny is exceptional when drunk with roasted nuts and dried fruits, and dark high concentrated cocoa chocolate or blue cheeses, and they can be served slightly cold.

Muscat is the true Australian superstar, with its love of the warmer climate of Rutherglen, the most notable Muscat region of Australia, producing wines with its rich and sweeter raisined complex fruit. They evolve over decades in barrels, from their youthful marmalade, apricot, coffee and raisin flavours, to become these incredible opulent wines of deep, thick, brooding olive green colours, with an intense array of roasted nuts, toffee, dark chocolate, black olives, wood spices and dried figs; just a few to tempt you and not finish the entire bottle in one sitting. Try it from the fridge or freezer, particularly in summer as the temperature rises, it’s quite a surprise.

Rutherglen Tokay is now called “Topaque”, controversially I might add, many winemakers don’t like the name, but have decided to run with it as we see it already on the labels in Rutherglen fortifieds. Topaque shares it’s amazing longevity and ageing transformation’s with Muscat, slightly lighter in colour but not in its temperament. Reaching that broodingly thick concentrated complexity with the burnt toffee characters more dominant. Both Muscat and Topaque can confidently saddle up to rich desserts and some to try are the fruit mince Christmas tarts, bread and butter puddings, my favourite ‘stick date pudding’ cherry pie, and let’s not deny our love of chocolate which is one decadent lifestyle treat not to be missed out on.

The classification of the Rutherglen fortified wines being “Rutherglen” – an average age of 5 years, “Classic” – an average age of 10 years, “Grand” – an average age of 15 years, and “Rare” – an average age of 25 years. If you ever find yourself questioning the price of these iconic Australian wines from the most revered Australian winemakers, remember that what’s in the bottle you purchase today; was harvested and put away in barrels to be carefully nurtured and blended for your drinking pleasure, in many cases over 30 plus years ago. If the fashion for fortifieds ever takes off, it will push up the limited stock levels demand and the prices will go up to reflect their true value.