Saturday, 25 August 2007

The Holiday's Over

Return to Hong Kong

All good things come to an end and, well, I'm back. The pollution is high, the weathers disgustingly hot and life is suddenly very busy. Despite what a mate is saying this blog is called 'Eating HK', not 'Eating Australia' and I'm looking forward to keeping the posts coming on all things food and wine in Hong Kong.

Eating Australia - The Rumblings of a Fat Stomach

Trip To Australia
26th July to 22nd August

Though my stomach is about to explode, it must be pointed out Australia is not just about eating and drinking. During my three weeks back home I did a whole host of fantastic things. Skiing, surfing, runs with my father, sea-kayaking, rock-climbing, walks in the bush and visits to my Granny's were all highlights alongside all the great food and wine. Pies, Pies, Pies
The meat pie is more Australian than kola's and kangaroos, and I ate a lot of meat pies. Driving anywhere in Australia - whether its breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea time - the temptation is always there to pull into a bakery and indulge in a sly pie. While on the road with mates I seemed to be munching on them non-stop: some good, some average and some superb. The Malmsbury Bakery in Central Victoria was a favourite when I was at uni. Today its prices have polarised my mates, many of whom reckon $5 for a pie's a rip-off, but the tasty, steak filled pies I think are still the second best in the World.

Sitting, sipping coffee and watching the World is meant to be very European, but it's all I seemed to do. Australia's cafe scene is alive and well, perhaps unlike Italy - where a friend was complaining the other day of being unable to find a decent coffee!

For cafes, Melbourne's where the magic happens. When ever Mum wasn't working we seemed to be having constant coffees at Via Verona in Kew or Hahndorf's Chocolates in North Balwyn. Another favourite was the Red Star Cafe at the South Melbourne Market. On Sunday morning this place was pumping, but the delicious breakfast they served up certainly got me started after a very big day at the footy. An unexpected find was Kofi Beans in Croydon. This great little spot served up delicious organic coffee and great breakfasts amongst a tumbling bazaar of Moroccan homewares.

It's remarkably easy to get a decent coffee in country Australia these days. I enjoyed a couple of fantastic latt├ęs at the Green Olive Deli in Bendigo, where their range of tasty food and local produce had me salivating. The tiny town of Mortlake offered up a surprise with Jackies Coffee and Wine Bar. We were literally miles from anywhere, but Jackie did a great job serving up good coffee, tasty sandwiches and an impressive range of cakes. A favourite in Adelaide is Zuma Caffe at the Central Market were you can get a bargain priced breakfast and great coffee before browsing the market's tasty produce. The only place I couldn't find a decent coffee was in Port Adelaide, but that didn't surprise me as it's a very, very average place.

Australians love pubs as much as they love beer and as you can imagine I visited a fair few. While all pubs manage to serve cold beer, in all honesty, many are pretty average. Luckily this is not always the case and there are venues that take food, beer, wine and music very seriously. I've discussed the Healesville Hotel in a previous post, but I also enjoyed visiting a few old favourites in Richmond. Drinks in the London Tavern, Public House and Richmond Club helped prove that Melbourne's pub scene is definitely alive and kicking.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Torrensville, Adelaide is a ripper of a venue. I love this place as it takes it beer so seriously. Not only can you by Mountain Goat, Coopers and Little Creatures on tap, but they also have an English style hand pump and an amazing range of international bottled beers. The friendly Wheatsheaf crew love booze as is shown by their impressive line-up of single malts and excellent winelist.
Australia is a multicultural country, where every imaginable style of food seems to be on offer. Carmenuccios in East Kew is my local Italian; it's the kind of place were you walk into after a year away and they know your name, were you get huge serves of tasty pasta and the BYO option makes it a bargain. Another local favourite is Satguru's where they serve up a fantastic fusion of curry, tandoori and pizza. When I was in primary school Satguru's was a pizza joint, the new owners kept the pizza oven which they use to dish up an interesting selection of Indian style pizzas and delicious tandoori. Satguru's is definitely one of the best value restaurants in Melbourne. Victoria Street Richmond is know for it's Vietnamese food, yet somehow we ended up eating Thai and I enjoyed a great, but extremely spicy meal with old friends at Ying Thai. The list of great meals could go on - pizza in Adelaide, Thai in Horsham, pub lunches everywhere.
I've written up most of the wineries I visited, but a couple that slipped through the radar are definitely worth a mention. Bremerton in the Langhorne Creek area of South Australia was getting a lot of positive press while I was back; James Halliday in his Companion to Australian wine rated their Old Adam Shiraz 2004 a massive 97 points, the same as Australia's iconic Penfolds Grange. This visit was my second to Bremerton and it reconfirmed the opinion I formed on my first visit; their wines are good, but nothing special and that there are better producers in Langhorne Creek.

Another area I passed through was the Pyrenees in Victoria's Gold Fields Region. I visited the Dalwhinnie, Taltarni and Sally's Paddock wineries. I loved Dalwhinnie's impressive range of premium wines; what stood out was the intensity of their noses and the huge, opulence of their palates. Just down the road was Taltarni where I treied a large selection of tasty wines, including offerings from their sister label Clover Hill in Tasmania. Highlights here were the Clover Hill Sparkling 2003, Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Cephas 2001 and the Heathcote Shiraz 2004. Sally's Paddock was again all about the intense Pyrenees reds; my favourite alongside the Sally's Paddock 2005 was the Cabernet Franc 2005, both truly lovely wines. The Pyrenees has some fantastic wineries hidden amongst the beautiful, rugged box-ironbark forest and is well worthwhile.
Home Cooked Meals
What can be said; nothing is better than Friends around a table, good food and maybe a bottle of wine. BBQs with old mates in Melbourne, Lasagne down the beach with the boys, an awesome salad in Malvern, steak and kidney pie in Port Fairy, home-made wonton soup in Adelaide, kangaroo pie in Horsham, vegetarian delights in Bendigo, and a thrown together feast in Ripponlea. This really is what life is all about!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Healesville Hotel

256 Maroondah Highway, Healesville, Victoria
Visited 16th August

I'd nearly come to the end of a fantastic trip to Australia and I was full. Full of beers with friends, full of cooked breakfasts at cafes, full of coffee after coffee, full of bottles of great Aussie wine and full of what seemed like one huge never ending restaurant meal. I could write a hundred posts about all the interesting places were I'd eaten and drunk, yet amongst all these meals I wanted to mention dinner at the Healesville Hotel as it stood out as what 'eating Australia' should be all about.

The Healesville Hotel is a refurbished 1910 hotel in the town of Healesville about an hour from the centre of Melbourne, and conveniently near a mate's new house. The hotel is redecorated, refurbished and ready for business with a highly awarded restaurant out the back, accommodation upstairs and a produce store next door. We ignored all these, and like good Aussie lads went straight to the front bar ordered a couple of draft ales from local brewer Hargreaves Hill. The restaurant is pretty stylish, but the bistro/bar area is a comfortable collection of big rustic tables, and we found a seat near the roaring wood fireplace.

What did I like so much about the Healesville Hotel? Was it the fantastic, friendly staff who made us feel so welcome? Was it the great local brewed beer? Was it the superb bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Ridgeline Shiraz that we drunk all too quickly after the beers? Was it the delicious salad, huge thick steak and chips that I ate? Was it the hugely impressive winelist? Was it the relaxed setting, friendly atmosphere and lack of any sort of pretentiousness? Was it my mate's poor girlfriend who sat their totally confessed as we told tales in the almost indecipherable code of our shared histories? Was it the couple of beers we drank in the car on the way home which made me feel like I was sixteen again? Of course it was all these things that contributed to our little dinner at the Healesville Hotel being such an absolute cracking good night.

Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Balgownie Estate

Hermitage Rd, Maiden Gully, Bendigo, Victoria
Visited 16th August

Bendigo is a place of legends; tales of a goldmining past, the home of Banjo Paterson's fictional Mulga Bill, but also the stories and myths from my uni days. I spent four cracker years as a student in Bendigo and have nothing but fondness for a place that is bursting with memories of past adventures and people. I swung through town to catch up with a mate who's pretending to be respectable (owning both a house and a job) and next morning - after coffee at the magnificent Green Olive Delicatessen - headed out to Balgownie Estate.
The Bendigo wine region has a scattering of excellent wineries and Balgownie Estate, which was established in 1969, is definitely one. I arrived on a quite Thursday and received fantastic welcome from the lovely lady at the cellardoor. Balgownie produces great wines from Bendigo and the Yarra Valley. First up I tried the Gold Label blends; the aromatic Shiraz Viognier 2005 was good, while the Cabernet Merlot 2005 was all about green pepper and capsicum on the nose, replaced by lovely dark berries on the palate. I was also impressed by their slick drinkability of both these wines; it was about 10.30am and I could have quite easily have continued sucking on these little numbers all day. Next was the delicious Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006; it hints of bacon aromas, while the palate was bursting with bright, fresh cherries. The Estate Pinot Noir 2005 comes from the warmer climate of Bendigo and had awesome, intense flavours and a big slap of spice. Next was the Estate Shiraz 2004, another intense wine, but one with definite structure and classy tannins. The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was again about structured class and I'll even say sophistication, the tannins here were good and obviously built for the long haul, as was proved by the final tasting; a museum release Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998. This wine - with nearly ten years of age - still had good fruit flavours, but also lots of delicious spices coming through, especially cinnamon; the tannins were still there suggesting possibilities of an even longer future.

Balgownie always blows me away; for a winery to be making such fantastic wines at such reasonable prices is impressive. The big Estate reds are age-worthy for decades and offer classic Australian drinking, while the Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and the Gold Label wines are of the dangerous drinkable type. Bendigo really has a lot to offer; whether as a place to study or a place to make wine.

Visit winery website or checkout the Bendigo wine region.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Samuel's Gorge Grenache 2004

Samuel's Gorge Grenache 2004
McLaren Vale, South Australia, Aus $35, cork seal

This bottle was given to us as we walked out of the Samuel's Gorge winery in the McLaren Vale yesterday. The winemaker Justin McNamee was apologetic that he had to leave (it was 5.30pm!) and offered us a bottle to "take home for dinner". Not only is Justin a fantastic bloke, he is a wine maker full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. Of all the wineries we visited yesterday he was certainly the person least able to afford to be handing out free bottles, yet he was extremely generous in doing so.
We drank this alongside an tasty dried kangaroo, sundried tomato and pinenut pasta, while watching The Incredibles on TV. Justin actually reminded us a little of the evil red-headed villain in the film, but I'm just glad he uses his powers for the good of wine rather than evil.

The nose has an initial burst of vanilla oakiness, but it settled down and was replaced by a parade of savoury flavours. There are magnificent aromas of crumbly dried herbs, accompanied by tobacco, spice and alluring red cherries, raspberries and plum. On the palate there's a fair bit of sexy sweet fruit; black cherries, red currents and cranberries, but this is balanced by lingering savoury flavours. The wine maker, Justin McNamee, talks about the texture of his wines and I definitely appreciated the thick, creaminess of Samuel's Gorge 2004 Grenache. The palate was smooth and integrated; a couple of times there were hints of alcohol sneaking through, but it was reined in. Samuel's Gorge 2004 Grenache is a big thumbs up from LB and a big thumbs up from me; a superb, sensual drinking experience.

If you can't visit the magnificent cellar door then checkout the website.

Exploring the Mclaren Vale

Visit to the McLaren Vale
10th August

Three blokes, one excited Kelpie, a car and a map with a hell of lot of wineries circled. The obvious way to start a day like this is with a pie and so first stop was of course the McLaren Vale Bakery .
Gemtree (website) & Dowie Doole (website)
We got things started with a bang with two producers for the price of one at Gemtree and Dowie Doole. They share a new cellardoor facility were they offer formal wine flights as well as the usual tastings.

Though it's hard to discover Dowie Doole has a strong belief in biodynamics and many of their grapes are grown to these standards. It's interesting that they chose to let the quality of their wines sell themselves rather than marketing the environmental angle. I enjoyed the light, fruity Chenin Blanc 2006 and the slightly acidic Rose 2006. I also thought the Merlot 2005 was pretty impressive, it had a lovely nose that combined both fruit and earthy aromas; while the palate was well structured with nice up front fruit. I was surprised that I didn't rate the Shiraz 2004 I found it overly sour with harsh alcohol. The Reserve Shiraz 2004 on the other hand was a lovely wine; elegant nose, refined, structured palate and a hefty price tag of $50. A surprise highlight from the Dowie Doole range was their well named Sticky Bits Botrytis Semillon 2004, a nice wine that was a steal at only $13.50.

Visiting Gemtree it was lucky we had a geology expert with us who directed us to all the wines being named after rocks. I was not that impressed with the Citrine Chardonnay 2007 or the red blend Cadenzia 2005. The Bloodstone Tempranillo 2005 was much better; it was a richly textured in the mouth and had savoury, moreish, almost sour flavours. The Tatty Road 2005, a blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Merlot, had a soft pleasant nose and nice grippy tannins. The cellardoor only release The Phantom Petit Verdot 2005 was a good wine with nice earthy flavours and firm tannins. The Uncut Shiraz 2005 was also lovely, a rich fruit filled nose and a palate with firm structure and nice tannins. The winning wine was definitely the Obsidian Shiraz 2003; a powerful wine with plenty of lovely fruit, but also a silky smoothness that held it together magnificently.
Wirra Wirra (website)
Wirra Wirra is an old favourite and over the last few years I've really enjoyed the wines I purchased here on my first every winery tour back 1998. A beautiful building and grounds, with a modern cellar door and a heap of fantastic old timber scattered about the place in furniture, sculpture and fencing. The staff were awesome; friendly, helpful and full of good-advice. The Woodhenge Shiraz, RSW Shiraz and Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon had unfortunately sold out, but there was still a great range of good value wines to try. I thought the Hand-picked Riesling 2006 was an absolute bargain at $16.50. Both the 12th Man Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2006 and the brooding, finely tunned, limited release Sparrow's Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 were impressive, as were the fresh, savoury flavours of the Mrs Wigley Rose Grenache 2007. The driver was as taken with the big, ballsy The Anthem Sparkling Shiraz as I was, and earned a bottle for supposedly staying sober enough to drive us around. A cracker of a winery that is highly recommended.
Penny's Hill (website) & Mr Riggs Wines (website)
Next we had another value for money, two-for-one cellardoor. Wine maker Ben Riggs crafts all the wines here; some for his own brand Mr Riggs and some for Penny's Hill as their Penny's Hill range or for their second label Black Chook.

Mr Riggs offers two Rieslings, the Watervale Riesling 2007 and the off dry German style VOR-GS Riesling 2007. The Watervale offering was OK, but for $22 there's a lot better value around. On the other hand I really liked the VOR-GS with its lovely citrus and floral nose and balanced palate, though its slight sweetness is probably not for everyone. The Mr Riggs reds seemed to be defined by an alluring soft, ready to drink feel. The Gaffer Shiraz 2006 was all vanilla oak on the nose and a palate bursting with blackberries, chocolate and herbs, a slight sweetness and nice soft tannins - a good wine, though with very obvious oak. The appeal of the Shiraz Viognier 2005 was its delightful fragrant nose, though I felt the palate was dominated by alcohol. The Mr Riggs' wines were nice, though they didn't seem particularly good value.
First in the Penny's Hill Range was the Chardonnay 2006, a wine that was dominated by powerful oak and intense nutty flavours on the palate. I didn't like the Specialized 2005, a blend of Shiraz Cabernet and Merlot, it was unbalanced and alcoholic. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was a better offering; as black as a big black dog, it was rich and powerful with classy fruit and strong hard tannins. In contrast the Black Chook Shiraz Viognier 2005 was a soft and smooth drinking experience with plenty of lovely sweet berry flavours. The highlight of the cellardoor and one of the highlights of the day was the Penny's Hill Shiraz 2005; a truly lovely wine. It was extremely approachable, yet well structured with perfect balance and good tannins; an absolute bargain at $27. The best thing about the botrytis offering was its name; the Sticky End Viognier 2006 was a flat and unexciting wine.

Willunga Bakery
You know the drill: three blokes, a kelpie, a car, and a map which still has a hell of a lot of wineries it. Yes of course we had pies for lunch, but these ones were a step-up from breakfast. Willunga Bakery was absolutely superb, offering old-school Australian country style baking. The pies were different to what you normally get these days; the pasty was flaky and buttery, the meat was thick and chunky and they were served in a little aluminium tray. Trying to be a relatively healthy I limited myself to one pie, unlike my fat travelling companions; one of whom indulged in a fine looking lemon meringue pie and the other obese chat even ate two pies! Willunga Bakery was the perfect spot for lunch.

Fox Creek (website)
I'm not sure why we bought a dog on a wine tour but by lunchtime he'd had enough. It could have been the big run the day before, it could have been pies for breakfast and lunch or it could have been he was utterly bored, but our dog needed the vet. We discovered that Willunga didn't just have an awesome bakery, but that it also had a good vet. The driver dropped us at Fox Creek were Shadow, an illustrious wine dog, was there to play with while our puppy got a little love and attention

The two whites on offer at Fox Creek, the Chardonnay 2006 and Verdelho 2006 were both OK, though not overly exciting. Shadow's Run Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 offered pretty good everyday drinking for $12. I liked the Red Barron Shiraz 2006, a soft sweet wine that was asking to be drunk. The Duet Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 had peppery fruit on the palate wrapped in firm tannins. The JSM Shiraz Cabernet Franc 2004 was rich, with intense fruit and hints of oak. The soft and smooth Short Row Shiraz 2005 was a pleasant as was the Reserve Merlot 2005 which had lovely fruit flavours, firm tannins and good structure. The last wine we tried was the Vixen Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet Franc, a wine that gets great press, though it didn't do much for me. Though most of the wines at Fox Creek were nice enough I wasn't overly inspired and thought better value is to be had elsewhere. Coriole (website)
This hilltop location definitely takes the award for one of the most scenic of wineries in the McLaren Vale, with its impressive views of rows of vines stretching into the distance. The busy cellardoor also has a selection of cheese, their own olives to try and a restaurant out the back. Their Semillon 2005 was a touch out of balance with acidity and alcohol dominating. Coriole was a pioneer of Italian varieties in the McLaren Vale and next we tried the Fiano 2007. Fiano is a southern Italian variety I had never tried before, but I loved this wine; the herbal nose was delicious and the balanced palate oozed sweet pineapple. Next was another Italian, the tasty Sangiovese 2006, a bright, vibrant wine, medium bodied, with a palate packed full of cherries. The Nebbiolo 2005 was a lot lighter then I expected and another winner; it was very drinkable, with soft tannins and sweet raspberry flavours. The Lalla Rookh Grenache Shiraz 2003 was a tidy package with a tidy name; a soft palate with dark fruits and a hint of sweetness. The earthy Dancing Fig Shiraz Mourvedre 2004 was good as was the powerful fruit and firm structure of the Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, though there was a little distracting alcohol on the palate. The Estate Grown Shiraz 2005 was all about red fruits and pepper, though again this wine was let down by hot alcohol. The Lloyd Reserve Shiraz 2005 was an awesome wine made from 88 year-old vines, but with a hefty price tag of $70; its powerful and intense nose was packed with rich dark fruits and chocolate, while the palate was held together by big firm tannins. The dessert wine Racked Semillon 2006 was a tasty little number full of pears and orange peel. Coriole with their great views and interesting Italian offerings are worth a visit. Samuel's Gorge (website)
Our last winery of the day was Samuel's Gorge, a place none of us had heard of until we got the nod from the bloke at Wirra Wirra. Located in an old barn, along the ridge from Chapel Hill, Samuel's Gorge has great views across the Onkaparinga River Valley. The whole operation is pretty small scale and is run by a fantastic bloke called Justin McNamee. As we arrived he was leaving but re-opened and invited us in for a sip. Justin makes a Grenache, Tempranillo and Shiraz under the Samuel's Gorge brand. He is a bloke bursting with energy and stories; as we sampled the wines he told us tales of the building, the grapes, running the cellar door and the tiny individuals featured on the mosaic that circles the label. The Grenache 2004 was probably my favourite of the three; it was a beautifully balanced affair with dried herbs, sweet fruits and moreish softness. The Tempranillo 2005 was another nice wine full of sour cherry and earthy flavour. The Shiraz 2004 was savoury and peppery with dark fruits lingering in the background and nice clingy tannins. There were so many great things about visiting Samuel's Gorge; classy wine, an awesome location, fantastic views from the bathroom, but what impressed us the most was how welcome we felt. Justine made the driver coffee, kept filling up our tasting glasses, entertained us and was apologetic that he had to go (it was 5.30) and couldn't offer us a beer - a top bloke, a top location and top wine.
It was definitely time for a beer so we stopped at the Kangarilla Pub for a couple of quite ones. On returning to Adelaide we hit the awesome Wheatsheaf Hotel for lots of loud ones. Our exploration of the McLaren Vale was an absolutely fantastic day; good wines, good pies and a couple of great mates.

Visit the McLaren Vale website

Drinking Western Victoria

Visit to Port Fairy
7th August

I was in Australia and I was on the road. Two blokes, a car, an ipod full of Paul Kelly songs and a couple of spare weeks; it was going to be good. First stop was Port Fairy to visit friends. This tiny seaside town has a rich historical past and was one of Victoria's first settlements. Though there is still a large fishing fleet, today the whaling has been replaced by tourism and Port Fairy is well known for its annual Folk Festival. It's a long way from Melbourne and while there's a couple of streets of antique shops, cafes and B & Bs Port Fairy keeps its charm and is one of my favourite places in Victoria.

The friends we stayed with offered us amazing hospitality. Not only did we get a comfortable room, an awesome meal, a guided tour of Griffiths Island, but we got involved in some seriously delicious local booze. When we were offered a local wine I was thinking of maybe something from the Grampians, but oh no they were all from the Henty region. Bottle after bottle was pulled out and we were told to take our pick. Located close to the nearby the town of Hamilton, Henty seems to offer some extremely good cool climate wines.

First we had a couple of glasses of local beer from the Red Duck Brewery in Purrumbete; it was good, perhaps better even than Fat Nick's homebrew. The enjoyable Amber Ale was a flavoursome, honest ale, while the special release Golden Dragon was a superb beverage. It was rich and complex, but an absolute nightmare to pour; it just seemed to keep foaming and frothing. A bottle of delicious Henty Estate Riesling followed and disappeared quickly after the beer; this aromatic, well-balanced white was a perfect aperitif. Looking at the pile of reds we went with the Hochkirch Maximus Pinot Noir 2004, a good drop with tantalising red fruits and an accompanying warm fuzzy feeling from knowing it was made following organic and biodynamic principals. Alongside dinner we tucked into another wine from the Henty Estate stable, this time it was the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. This was a cracker of a wine; complex and well structured it went perfectly with dinner and was just plain tasty. To finish we had a little sip of Chambers Old Wine Muscadelle, and though not local, it was definitely very good.
Heading for Adelaide the next day - via Langhorne Creek of course - we were grateful for a fantastic night in Port Fairy, a chance to catch up with friends and an opportunely to try some great wines from the area.

Visit Henty wine region website

Monday, 6 August 2007

Merricks General Store

3458 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Victoria
Visited 5th August

After every big party there should be a big breakfast, and our big breakfast venue of choice was Merricks General Store. Back in the day Merricks General Store really was a general store selling papers, milkshakes, pies and mixed lollies. These days it's gone all posh and Port Philip Bay side, with a cafe and cellardoor. It's located next door to Stonier winery in the tiny settlement of Merricks.

They have expanded the original building and opened the back into an airy dinning area, which was streaming with winter sun. Our group plonked itself around a big wooden table and quickly ordered a round of big breakfasts and coffees. My plate was packed with mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, bacon and some lovely fat toast topped with a couple of poached eggs. The food was good, though I thought the sausages were a little under cooked and the mushrooms were average. A couple of excellent coffees, alongside this feast certainly made facing the World a little easier.

Merricks General Store is perhaps a little too big and as a result isn't a particularly intimate; it's also a disgrace that complimentary newspapers aren't provided to read with your breakfast. The wine at the 'cellardoor' / retail outlet is OK and a sip of something after breakfast is certainly better than a sip of nothing ... Despite the lack of newspapers Merricks General Store is a good spot for breakfast, offering tasty substance and good coffee, which goes down even better with a group of hung-over mates.

Visit cafe website

A Big Birthday at Lazzar Winery

60th Birthday at Lazzar Winery
4th August

You don't turn thirty every day and by the time the 4th August came around I'd already turned thirty a couple of days ago; we had a party anyway. I hooked up with a mate - who's a whole twenty-four hours younger and noticeably immature and less sophisticated - for a combined 60th. The crowd was select: a few close friends, a few family and a one questionable bloke who seems to get invited to everything.
Lazzar Winery was selected as the venue, more for its intimate nature and handy location on the edge of the thriving metropolis of Balnarring, rather than for any culinary or vino delights. The small restaurant was basically ours; a wood fireplace blazed, wattle decorated the tables and the staff were friendly. Being a winery the tasting bench got a look in before dinner; the whites seemed pleasant enough, with the Arneis probably being the highlight. The reds were a mixed selection; the Pinot Noir did absolutely nothing for me, while the Cabernet Merlot blend was pleasantly drinkable, the Cabernet was good, but the favourite for the night was the Tempranillo; of which the team tucked into quite a few bottles.

When we arrived I saw fresh lettuce being gathered from the garden so I had high hopes for the menu. There was a choice of four or five mains from which I picked the stuffed squid; it was disappointingly dry and rubbery, while on the other hand Naomi's generous serve of osso bucco was delightful. The desserts were again a bit of a mixed bag, some where positive, some weren't. I thought the food was pretty good, but certainly not overly exciting, though on a night like this what has food got to do with anything? I was with friends and family having a party, Nana was there tearing it up, I was an old bugger amd it was all happening in Australia. Thanks to everyone for making it such a fantastic night. Visit winery website.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Surfing and Sipping; The Mornington Peninsula

A Day Cruising the Mornington Peninsula
3rd August

The Mornington Peninsula is one of my favourite places. Though parts of it are full of people who have misplaced their heads, the Westernport Bay side is still nice and sleepy. A few days down the beach staying with mates was an opportunity to enjoy some great food, bottles of home brew, walks on the beach, a touch of surfing and of course a couple of wineries. Putting the surfboards on the roof, a mate (who is also a bit famous brewer) and I headed out for a surf and sip.

Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks
First stop was Stonier, an establishment I've always been a fan of. I'm not sure if they make me so happy because it's just down the road from my mates' house or because the people at the cellardoor are always so friendly or because once I got a big box of their wine very cheap or because they just make great plonk. Anyway looking at their snappy website I'm impressed that their location map features Antarctica, before zooming in to Victoria and the Mornington Peninsula. Talking to the boss at the cellardoor I can understand why; apart from being a super friendly bloke he was a man with a soft spot for the ocean. He chatted, gave us a taste, then nodded towards our surfboards and told us to piss-off and catch a wave.

Stonier specialised in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; the varieties the Peninsula is renowned for. First up was the Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2004; a refreshing drop that was all about crisp, green apples. The Chardonnay 2005 was a nice wine, it had a good nose, tiny hints of oak, was well balanced with a full and textured feel in the mouth. The Reserve Chardonnay 2005 was a bit more nutty and honeyed, but clean and drinkable. Produced from the vines around the winery the KBS Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 was more restrained with a toasted nose and a lovely minerally palate. The pretty and very drinkable Pinot Noir 2005 was a fruity delight; raspberries, strawberries and cherries all wrapped up in a package of subtle spice. The Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 had the lovely fruit flavours, but also had savoury herbs, spice and a hint of lively acidity. All up a great selection of drinkable wines and though I use to think they were expensive, by today's standards they offer pretty good value.

Paringa Estate
44 Paringa Rd, Red Hill
Taking the advice from the bloke at Stonier we headed for a surf. I'm a bumbling novice so when I saw the approaching black clouds I implemented the emergency plan and turned tail towards a second winery. Dropping my brave mate and his board at Pt Leo I headed to Paringa Estate and its awesome views across Westernport Bay. On arriving I was encouraged to take my tasting glass of Riesling outside and inspect the view of the vineyard, but unfortunately the black clouds finally arrived and forced another retreat. The cellardoor is well setup, with the views, friendly staff, a restaurant with a tidy looking menu and a gaggle of geese that seemed to be enjoying all the rain.

Paringa Estate has a reputation for producing excellent Pinot and interesting cool climate Shiraz. They produce three levels of wine; the Peninsula, Estate and Reserve ranges. The price tags on their reserve wines almost match their million dollar views, but many argue they are well worth the coin. Paringa as I understand is one of the very few producers of Riesling on the Peninsula; for $15 I thought their crisp Riesling 2005 wasn't a bad attempt. The Estate Viognier 2006 was a rich, opulent and intense offering, but the alcohol seemed a little unbalanced and confrontational. The two Chardonnays, the Peninsula 2005 and the Estate 2005, I thought were pretty good. The Peninsula Chardonnay was clean with a hint of acidity and lots of citrus flavours, while the Estate had stone fruits, walnuts, almonds and a hint of oak on the nose; while the palate melted with honey and caramel. The Peninsula Pinot Noir 2006 was a bright, vibrant wine with fruit all over the shop; cherry, plum and red current dominating, with a little green pepper ground on the palate. I really enjoyed the Estate Pinot Noir 2006; it had the fruit flavours of the Peninsula but was more restrained and complex; the nose whiffed spice and pepper and the palate had a pleasant, savoury, green herbal thing going on. The Peninsula Shiraz 2004 had sniffs of earthiness under the initial fruit smells; the tannins and structure seemed pretty good, though the pepper and dry sour notes on the palate were a little bit full on. The Estate Shiraz 2005 was a lot more rounded, soft and classy; yes there was a bit of pepper on the palate, but there were also seductive hints of dark berries, chocolate and a little milky coffee - a good wine. Unfortunately I didn't get to sample the Reserve Pinot and Shiraz and was encouraged to call back on the weekend when they are opened and it was promised I'd be impressed.

I picked my brave mate up from Pt Leo beach; he was raving about the surf and I was raving about the wines. We headed home for a coffee before driving to Melbourne to catch a little Friday night footy.

Visit the Mornington Peninsula website.

Passing through the Yarra Valley

Visit to the Yarra Valley
1st August

Driving north-east from Melbourne you pass through the Yarra Valley; a fantastic area packed with some of Australia's best wineries. On our way to visit friends we stopped to checkout a couple of wineries and snuck in a pizza for lunch.

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander

336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville (website)
This new winery/cellardoor is less than a year old. The huge building is pretty hard to miss situated on the main street of Healesville. The team behind these two wine labels are also responsible for the Fremantle brewing project Little Creatures; at the cellardoor they offer food, coffee, a bakery, cheese room and wine tastings, and also host regular music nights and speciality dinners.
The restaurant is an open space, with huge wooden tables and views through to the winery's vats and barrels. We were served by a friendly and knowledgeable lady and decided upon a 'Calabresse' pizza topped with spicy salami, gooey cheese and fresh oregano. For $18 the pizza wasn't cheap, but it was tasty, Naomi however did comment that the base was a little thin for her tastes. I accompanied lunch with a cafe latte and Naomi had a chai; any winery that serves pizza is onto a winner, but when they also make such good coffee they go a long way towards impressing me.

After lunch I walked the ten odd steps to the well setup tasting area for a little sample. The first sip had Naomi very excited; light, sweet and with slight, tickling bubbles the Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato was a refreshingly moreish. At only 6.5% alcohol and topped with a crownseal it was a pretty cool package, but $12 for 375ml seemed a bit much. Next I tried the Giant Steps range of Chardonnays; the Chardonnay 2004, as well as a two single vineyard realises - the 'Sexton Vineyard' and the 'Tarraford Vineyard' - and the premium Sexton Bernard Clones Chardonnay 2004. Though I enjoyed all the wines, I thought the winner was the rich and complex 'Tarraford Vineyard'. The easier drinking Innocent Bystander reds offered excellent value; my favourites were the light, fruity Pinot Noir 2005 and the dry, herbal Sangiovese Merlot 2005. My favourites from the Giant Steps reds were the 'Tarraford Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2005, which exploded with sour cherries and an intriguing little shake of pepper and the Sexton Harry's Monster 2004, a Cabernet blend that oozed class with impressive tannins and a smooth soft palate. All up a large, but good selection with some interesting comparisons possible between their different single vineyards wines.

Dominique Portet
870 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria
A little bit back towards Melbourne, the Dominique Portet winery is set in a lovely location amongst aches of vines. The cellardoor has an outside seating area that would be lovely in summer, but we contented ourselves with the log fireplace inside. The man Dominique Portet has been in Australia making wine since 1976 and comes from a family entrenched in the French wine industry.

We tried an excellent selection of wines. The sparkling rose we started with was fantastically fresh and refreshing. The Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 I thought was lovely, a richer texture in the mouth than expected and a nose awash with crisp pears and peaches. Dry, spicy and crisp the Fontaine Rose 2006 was a good wine that would go very well with breakfast or lunch. The Fontaine Red 2005 was an accessible blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot with plenty of sweet fruit on the nose and soft smooth palate. The Yarra Valley Merlot 2005 was an absolute cracker of a wine; elegant and stylish with refined tannins, a very high quality interpretation of Merlot. Sourced from Heathcote, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and Shiraz 2005 were both outstanding wines, though getting a little pricey at over $40 each. I was very impressed with Dominique Portet.
Visit Yarra Valley tourist website

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Hahndorf's Chocolate

149 Bulleen Rd, North Balwyn, Victoria
Visited 31st July

I really just wanted to review this great little cafe as it's North Balwyn; the place where I grew up, where Mum and Dad still live and the perfect example of the sweet dream of Australian suburban 'bliss'. Hahndorf's began in the town of Coleraine in Victoria's Western District in 1986. Founded by German immigrants, they make exceptional chocolates. Expanding into Melbourne they now have a scattering of cafes that offer not just chocolates, but coffee and cake. When I'm staying with my parents this is a favourite spot for a coffee after a walk along the Yarra.
Hahndorf's is comfortably laid out with tantalising displays of tasty chocolates along the walls. Mum and I stopped by for morning coffee and it seemed the rest of North Balwyn had too; the place was crammed. Within only a minor delay I was served a decent cafe latte, which was accompanied by the usual complementary truffle, I chose a chocolate coated, coffee filled delight. While the coffee was good, the chocolate was outstanding; life suddenly seemed very worthwhile.

Visit website