Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Best Coffee in School

Quality coffee in Yuen Long

Recently I seem to be discussing nothing but wine and figured I may as well separate the bottles of vino with my other favourite beverage. I'm a big coffee man and this year life has taken a dramatic improvement with decent coffee finally coming to work. For my first two years I made do with a plunger and a splash of milk, but after buying a small electric hot plate I can now brew a bit of magic under my desk. Work is now all about freshly ground Chip Seng coffee, a stove-top espresso machine and fresh milk frothed to perfection; things are so much more civilised.

You Long's restaurants can boast a grand total of five espresso machines between them (1, 2, 3, a juice place and McCafé!). When some of the best coffee in town comes from McDonalds you know things are tough, yet now at least in one school there's a decent aroma floating around the staff room. Life is good.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Brown Brothers Botrytis Riesling 2003

Milawa, Victoria, cork seal

I'm a bit worried; this is the fourth wine post in a row... My parents left this little bottle when they were last passing through town and though it's plastered with 'cellar door release' I'm pretty sure it was purchased at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport. Brown Brothers is a family owned winery that produced their first wine way back in 1889. Located at Milawa in the King Valley - a beautiful area were Italian varieties flourish - Brown Brothers has done much to encourage the acceptance of alternative varietals in Australia. They release a huge range of wines, many of which are rare in Australia, including Dolcetto, Barbera, Vermentino, Graciano and Nero d'Avola; and even some rare in the World such as the Australian developed Cienna and Tarrango.

Brown Brothers Botrytis Riesling 2003 is an amazingly deep golden orange colour that gives the impression that it's older than it is. I smell apricots, honey and if I was being a little creative maybe even some kind of sweet, golden syrup pudding. The palate tastes of marmalade, stewed peaches, apricots and a little spiciness. It's thick, but not too sticky with a touch of acid inspired freshness. It's certainly a tasty little number and I would have no problem drinking a bit of this

Visit winery website.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Tsing Tao Chardonnay 2005

Qing Dao, China, ¥78, cork seal

Another wine purchased in the big bad brewing town of Qingdao. The Tsing Tao Winery that this comes from is supposedly China's oldest having been established way back in 1912.

When I opened this my comments went something along the lines of "nice bottle", "nice colour", "nice nose", "what the f...". It's a lovely deep, golden colour, while the nose is an absolute delight. It smells of peaches, melon and honey with tropical fruits - maybe papaw and mango. This tastes good! The palate is crisp and refreshing with lemon, grapefruit, cantaloupe and pineapple flavours. The length is OK and the finish good, though it's a little thin across the middle. This is easily the best Chinese wine I've had to date. If I was being critical I'd have liked to have seen a little more depth to the mid-palate, but its gorgeous nose and refreshing crispness make it an attractive drop by the standards of any country. If you see the Tsing Tao Chardonnay 2005 around make sure you grab a bottle.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Domaine du Pegau 'Plan Pegau'

Southern Rhone, France, $138, cork seal
The air pollution in Hong Kong has been absolutely foul over the last couple of weeks. In the picture - behind the bottle and my village - you should be able to see the bright lights of Shenzhen; instead all you get is heavy grey filth. I grabbed this from Le Vin Rouge, Yuen Long's newest wine shop, on the recommendation of owner Thomas. It's made by Domaine du Pegau, who have a reputation for producing excellent Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Grenache, Syrah and Merlot fruit that make up the wine come from de-classified Châteauneuf-du-Pape grapes and two vineyards that fall just outside this appellation. As it's classed as a vin-de-table there's unfortunately no vintage date.

It's a deep purple black colour, with a hint of crimson. The nose is pleasant affair, full of ripe red fruits: cherry, raspberry and plum. There's also a little sprinkling of Mediterranean herbs around the edge. The palate has a lovely savoury tartness and bright red fruit flavours; cranberries stand out. It's got a beautiful feel in the mouth, with lingering chalky tannins creating texture and interest. The Rhone is one of my favourite wine producing areas and this brings a bit of its magic at a decent price. Plan Pegau is certainly worth trying and certainly a lot better than air pollution.

Visit winery website.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Weingut Dr Deinhard Riesling 2007

Pfalz, Germany, $248, cork seal
I picked this bottle up at Salen Fine Wines, one of a surprising number of independent wine retailers in Yuen Long. The guy working was pretty enthusiastic about it, though I'm not sure if this was due to the wine or because they're the sole Hong Kong importers. The wine itself comes from the town of Deidesheim in Pfalz. It's classed as 'Spatlese Trocken'; a late harvest dry wine and has a rather confusing label splattered in long Germanic words.

Weingut Dr Deinhard Riesling 2007 is a pretty, bright, sparkling gold colour. The nose is just as alluring with whiffs of talc, honeysuckle, wizz fizz and dried pear. It's really got a beautiful aroma; soft, subtle and enticing. After a sip the first thing I noticed was the lovely tingling, almost tickly acidity. I'm actually a bit torn by this wine's flavour. Structurally it's excellent with a nice mouth feel - fresh but round, good length and well integrated alcohol. But the palate lacks excitement; sure there are suggestions of apple, lemon balm and honey, yet nothing really grabs me. This divinely aromatic wine would match well with many foods, though I wonder if it's worth the money.

Visit winery website (German only).

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Steet Food Kuala Lumpur

Visit to Kuala Lumpur
12th to 15th September 2008

I really don't like Air Asia, so arriving in Kuala Lumpur for a long weekend was a joy on several levels. Kuala Lumpur's modern edge surprised me and I thoroughly enjoyed my couple of days exploring. Highlights included: the surprising good Bird Park, blue sky views from the KL Tower, getting stranded in a local shopping mall during a fierce tropical storm, the colonial architecture around Merdeka Square and a foot 'massage' from hundreds of hungry fish. China Town was a real let down, but that's always going to be the case when you live in the Hong Kong. Unfortunately we arrived at the Petronas Towers early Monday morning to discover that Monday is the only day they are shut and thus had to make do with a few snaps from the surrounding park.

Like and any holiday what's in your stomach plays and key role and I'm a big fan of Malay food; it's unique mix of different influences, fresh ingredients and vibrant spices give it a multicultural edge that's unusual in Asia. Apart from a spectacular meal at Bijan we ate mostly on the streets, enjoying an array of tasty treats. The street market on Jin Alor near out hotel in the Golden Triangle was a busy dinning hub with food stalls spilling over most of the road. I really enjoyed a serve of grilled sting-ray, sticky chicken wings and cold beer. Another Malay classic is the humble satays and we took several opportunities to indulge in these local delicacies from roadside vendors; who doesn't like meat on a stick!

Kuala Lumpur surprised me as a getaway location. Sure the food was good and the satays plentiful, but the skies were blue, the people friendly and the city modern and vibrant. If you're in the neighbourhood it's definitely worth spending a couple of days exploring the streets of KL.


3 Jalan Ceylon, Kuala Lumper, Malaysia
Visited 14th September 2008

For our Sunday night in Kuala Lumper we took a recommendation from the Lonely Planet and ended up at Bijan. This garden restaurant is located just past the busy strip of restaurants on Changkat Bukit Bintang. Half outside, half in the restaurant is beautifully decorated with Malay art, tasteful candles and plenty of potted greenery. When we arrived there was a delicious looking dinner buffet in progress, but we decided that our appetites couldn't handle the pressure so happily sipped on a bottle of wine until the a la carte menu recommenced at 9pm.

Bijan styles itself as offering modern versions of Malay favourites and we ummed and ahhed until finally deciding upon 'ayam goreng berempah' a crispy fried chicken dish, beef rendang and 'gulai sayur campur' vegetables cooked in a creamy coconut broth. The Chicken was crisp on the outer and succulent in the middle while the rendang was rich and flavoursome, though perhaps not as tender as I expected. She couldn't tear her eyes of the dessert menu and ordered a serve of banana fritters with coconut ice-cream, while "I" ordered 'pengat pisang' a mix of sago, palm sugar, coconut cream and fresh bananas. Both desserts were excellent and offered stylish takes on classic Malaysian flavours. Bijan wants to develop wine pairing with Malay food and their wine-list offered some excellent selections. Being a hot, holiday evening a little Sav Blanc seemed right and we enjoyed a bottle of Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2007.

From the start I was impressed. The service was outstanding and the staff were friendly, considerate and more than happy to offer suggestions or explanations. The delicious food was good value considering the prices on the surrounding streets; our bill come to RM320, but more than half of that was for wine, which isn't cheap in Malaysia. To top off the experience, Bijan was such a pleasant place to be; the garden atmosphere was relaxing and the candles and art gave it an enchanting feel. For a night of great Malay food Bijan is definitely the place in Kuala Lumpur.
Visit restaurant website.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Jaz Beer

Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, RM5.60

Well I'm in Malaysia so it's time for a Malaysian beer, in this case Jaz, the beer. The name reminds me of long ago when I was atrociously strutting my stuff at an underage nightclub with a couple of mates. One of buddies was approached by a girl and somewhat originally asked if he was wearing "Jazz"; ever since I've been amused by DT's response of "No babe, Old Spice". Anyway back to Jaz the beer, it's made by the Napex Brewery in Port Klang and that's about it.

It's a relatively clear and light and a bright gold colour. There were lots of big airy bubbles and a frothy head that quickly collapsed into nothing. The nose isn't particularly exciting; there are traces of Weetbix and an interesting soapy/sherbety element, that reminds me a little of the 'talc' aroma you find in white wine. The palate is even less 'exciting' then the nose and doesn't really taste of anything; if I was pushed I'd say maybe there's the slightest trace of citrus. Jaz Beer is typical boring Asian larger; while nothing's particularly wrong with it, it certainly has nothing to recommend it; a total non-event.Visit brewery website.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Marco Felluga Collio Merlot 1999

Friuli, Italy, $148, cork seal

This bottle came from Castello del Vino in Central, but it also come from the Collio Goriziano DOC in Italy's far west. Part of the Friuli-Gorizia region, Collio - which apparently translates as hills - is one of Italy's oldest DOCs. The area is famed for its whites, but also makes reds from the very un-Italian varietals of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

This is a lovely deep garnet red colour. It smells of sweet dark fruits - blackberry, boysenberry and cherry, though it also has a dry chalky aroma that always reminds me a little of dusty old dried oregano. The palate is still bright and lively; it's packed with vibrant red fruit - berries and cherries - and has a hint of sweetness that is balanced by a refreshing acidity. It's big and charismatic with impressive weight, good length and integrated tannins. Marco Felluga Collio Merlot 1999 is a good wine that's come together nicely and is probably drinking at its peak right about now.
Visit winery website.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2006

Coastal Region, South Africa, $69, cork seal

I don't try enough South African wine so I thought I'd give this a go as I enjoyed its sibling awhile ago. It's made in the Boekenhoutskloof Winery at Franschhoek in the Western Cape.

Yep this is dark; very dark in colour. Initially it smelled really meaty; kind of like someone had chucked a couple of gazelles on the barbie or something. As it opened up black fruits came to the front with heaps of mulberry and boysenberry, alongside obvious eucalyptus aromas. There's good fruit here and on the palate the flavours lean more towards sweet red fruit, especially raspberry. I also taste mint and a bit of cough medicine
. It's soft and smooth with decent weight and fine tannins. The wine benefited from a bit of air time in the decanter. Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2006 offers surprising complexity for its price, though too be honest it's a little too sweet for my tastes.

Visit winery website.


Shop 2, Knutsfield Steps, 132 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
Visited 7th October 2008

Focaccino; nice name. I met a couple of mates for a coffee Sunday afternoon and ended up being dragged here by the promise of best cheesecake in Hong Kong. This little cafe is tucked away on Knutsfield Steps, the little walkway in the Miramar Shopping Centre adjacent to Knutsfield Terrace. The modern decor is over stylised and has a bit of a franchise feel about it; which is probably fair enough as they also have branches in Shenzhen, Korea and the Philippines. To eat they've got all the usual selections of pasta, pizza and sandwiches plus a couple of daily specials. I kept things simple and ordered a coffee and grabbed a spoon to get intimate with half a slice of New York cheesecake. My cafe latte was OK though a bit too milky for my taste, the cake however was rather good. My mate had talked it up, but the deliciously rich, smooth cheesecake was everything he promised.

I'd probably have to disagree with the claim on Focaccino's website that it's "an authentic northern Italian trattoria and bar". To me the place had the vibe of a chain coffee shop and the un-inspirational coffee helped to reinforce this impression. There was nothing really wrong with Focaccino; it was clean, the staff smiled and it's got a cool name, it's just nothing about it remotely resembled "an authentic northern Italian trattoria and bar". In the end however it all worked out OK, Focaccino wasn't saved by a cappuccino or focaccia, but by a big thick slice of delicious New York cheesecake; cheesecake that's good enough to make me sit through another cup of average coffee for a couple of mouthfuls.
Visit restaurant website.

Alasce Wines Festival

Park Lane Hotel, 6th September 2008

As an Australian I'm not blindly bullied into adoring the wines of France with the puppy dog love that's so common in Asia. I tend to see Bordeaux as an overrated, overinflated minefield of pain, the Rhone as rich and flavoursome and the Languedoc as being full of great value surprises. But for me the two most fascinating regions in France would have to be Burgundy and the cool northern vineyards of Alsace. Organised by Sopexa and the French Tourism Association the Alsace Wines Festival was held at the Park Lane Hotel in Causeway Bay. The event offered Hong Kong wine suppliers and distributors a chance to feed their wine to the public in the hope of promoting France and more specifically the wines of the Alsace region.
The opportunity to taste and compare so many wines was a great way to get to grips with this interesting region. There were too many stalls to go through all the suppliers individually, so I thought I'd just list a few of my favourite wines amongst the many I tried on the day.

Pierre Sparr Reserve Gewurztraminer 2006 - A fresh, stylish wine that is all about sherbet and tropical fruits. Tastes just like good Gewurztraminer should.

Leo Beyer 'Comtes d'Eguisheim' Gewurztraminer 2000 - A good producer who hides great wines under very funky old school labels. A good wine, with a surprising freshness and a seductive nose. How perfectly matched are Alsace wines for Cantonese food?

Leo Beyer 'les Ecaillers' Riesling 2001 - My favourite Riesling of the day. A magnificently complex and delicious wine that's remarkably fresh.

Gustave Lorentz Reserve Riesling 2006 - Amazing length. Held in perfect place with beautiful acidity. Cutting precision and class.

Domaine Joseph Cattin Cremant D'Alsace NV - A surprisingly good sparkling wine. Plenty of green apple and nut flavours remind me of uncooked apple crumble. Fresh and fun.

Paul Zinck 'Eichberg' Gewurztraminer 2003 - A mammoth nose; big citrus flavours and powerful intensity. Not for the faint hearted.

Josmeyer Pinot Blanc 'Mise du Printemps' 2007 - I'm not the hugest fan of Pinot Blanc, but this was the best example I tried on day. Plenty of stone fruit, flowers and talc made for a delicate, yet delicious drop.

Josemyer Riesling 'Le Dragon' 2003 - These guys don't seem to produce a bad wine. This has plenty of citrus intensity, but is beautifully balanced. An excellent wine that has a certain bold freshness in the mouth.

Josemyer Pinot Gris 'Le Fromenteau' 2006 - Complex and interesting. Apart from the expected green apples this also has a lovely nuttiness to it. The nose surprised me with an obvious whiff of truffles.

Josemyer Pinot Noir 'Herenweg' 2005 - Alsace Pinot; a lovely surprise. A fascinating wine with plenty of spice and cherries. This has surprisingly good tannins and structure, but is it worth the $298 asking price?

Gustave Lorentz 'Vedages Rardives' Gewurztraminer 2003 - My favourite wine of the day. A late harvest package that is just absolutely gorgeous in its length and complexity. Well worth seeking out. The Alsace Wines Festival was an awesome opportunity to see what the region could do. There was certainly a range of styles on offer from lush, intense wines to more cutting, minerally ones. Riesling and Gewurztraminer, and to a lesser extend Pinot Gris were of course the stars of the show, but there were also a couple of surprises. I was impressed by Josemyer's delicious Pinot Noir and by several of the crisp, zingy sparkling offerings. The fact my favourite wine of the day was a sweet, late harvest desert wine perhaps best shows the surprising versatility of the region. Alsace also seemed to offer excellent value; many of the wines were under $100 and getting such quality at such a low price shows how undervalued these wines are. All this wine fair has done is make me an even bigger fan of Alsace.

Friday, 5 September 2008

To Love Yuen Long

'Yuen Longings'
HK Magazine, 5th September 2008, p.12

Everyone knows Yuen Long; it's the "cultural capital of the northern hemisphere", a "place where magic happens" and for me it is home. I was pretty impressed then to see a feature titled 'Yuen Longings' in this week's HK Magazine. The article by Cherry Ko suggests places to "eat", places to "play" and places to witness Yuen Long's diverse "history". The restaurants Ko suggests are Wing Nin Noodle Stall, an egg roll joint, the every popular Tanaka Sushi and Red Penny Thai (which is probably technically in Kam Tin). While brief the article raises awareness of some of the many things to be in Yuen Long. OK I'm a bit biased but Yuen Long really is where "the magic happens"! Read the article online or visit Yuen Long's great little tourist website.