Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mogao Ice Wine

Wuwei, China, diam cork seal

Opening a bottle of Chinese wine is always accompanied by a little trepidation, though this is the first time I've tried a Chinese sticky. I couldn't find out much about this wine, but it comes from Wuwei in Gansu province. The only English words on the bottle let slip it's made from Pinot Blanc and Riesling and while there's no vintage date it's stamped with 20070925, so I'm assuming it was bottled on the 25th September 2007.

Mogao Ice Wine is a light straw gold colour. The nose is rather reserved, though there're faint aromas of sweet honey and Dumbledore's favourites, old school sherbet lemons (you know; a little bit of lemon, a little bit of sherbet and a little bit of grandma). Tasting it there are traces of red apple and stone fruit, but the palate really lacks oomph. To be positive the sugar, acidity and alcohol are well balanced creating a drop that's smooth and very drinkable. It's a wine that's in many ways technically pretty good; it just lacks flavour, interest and complexity. Mogao Ice Wine while not inspiring does offer hope for this producer and region.

Visit winery's Chinese language website.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Thai Orchids, Quary Bay

39 Tong Chong St, Quarry Bay,
Visited 28th November 2008

I haven't spend much time in Quarry Bay, but as some mates had just moved into the area it was time for a visit. After a tour of their flat (something that never takes long in Hong Kong) it was time for a drink. I was surprised by the strip of bars on restaurants on Tong Chong St near the MTR station; it was Friday night and while it wasn't Lan Kwai Fong it was a lot busier than I was expecting. After a beer at the East End Brewery (the HK Brew House's Quarry Bay outlet) we hit Thai Orchids for a feed. There are apparently three branches of this Thai joint in Hong Kong, the other two are at Langham Place and Mega Box.

What attracted us to Thai Orchids was the advertising my mates had noticed touting an all you could eat and drink satay deal. $120 for as much beer and meat on a stick as you could stomach seemed almost too good to be true, the only catch was the rather late time frame of nine til eleven each evening. For us though it was perfect as we hadn't eaten and before we knew it we were sucking on our first frothy pints of Carlsberg. Initially two piled plates of satays arrived accompanied by peanut dipping sauce. The first was a simple mix of beef, chicken and pork sticks, while the second had a few more interesting titbits including chicken wings, tongue and squid. Freshly prepared, the well flavoured satays were good and we were able to keep ordering up selections of our favourites.

I enjoyed my night at Thai Orchids; atmosphere was relaxed, the grub tasty and the staff excellent. I was really impressed with the service; the friendly bloke behind the bar was attentive and totally understood how the all you can eat and drink setup worked - just before the beer was shut off he ensured we had full pints in front of us and kept us amused with a bit of friendly banter. I've got no idea how the regular menu at Thai Orchids stands up, but they're pretty good at beer and satays.

Visit restaurant website.

Lamma Island Barbacue

School Picnic
28th November 2008
As Christmas approaches teachers and students scramble to take advantage of the mild weather and assault the country parks in great wave of school picnics. These annual excursions are for many Hong Kong students a unique chance to spend time in the outdoors and visit a new place within the territory. For me last year's picnic was a spectacular nautical adventure amongst the remote islands of the north-east. This year the class of Form Five students I accompanied where given responsibility for organising the day themselves; the students did a great job and managed to take advantage of free ferry tickets. Before you could say "Lamma island, never been there" we piled on to a First Ferry and were off to Yung Shue Wan. Despite not being able to swim the students had a fantastic time and enjoyed the chance to escape the confines of the classroom.

For many the highlight of the day was a local style barbecue. Everyone in the world seems to love a good barbie and all seem to have their own unique way of going about it. For Hong Kongers the first step is to get a brave volunteer to spend ages fanning charcoal in a brick pit to get a fire going. The next stage involves everyone reaching into bags of shop-marinated meat and defrosted fishballs to grab a tasty treat that is then speared on the end of a long wire fork. The meat is cooked in a similar way to Australians cook marshmallows on a camp fire; everyone crowds around, trying to position their delicacy over the coals. The final step may seem strange, but involves smothering the almost cooked meat in honey to give it a sweet, caramelised finish. To many cooking a barbecue in this way may seem like a crazy waste of time and energy, yet for people who very rarely cook it is a chance to get down and dirty and prepare their own meal. While I do find the environmental impacts of the layers of protective plastic gloves, disposable table clothes and bales of tissues a bit hard to deal with, a Hong Kong style barbecue is real, honest fun.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Montgras 'Quatro' 2007

Colchagua Valley, Chile, $125, cork seal
Montgras are a big producer whose wines are readily available in Hong Kong at reasonable prices. Their website is pretty congratulatory of the fact they've realised a wine that is a blend of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 25% Syrah and 15% Carmenere; something that is apparently unknown in Chile were they claim single varietals rule.

This comes in a massive, heavy bottle; what is it with South America and big wine bottles? A strange reflection of Latino Machismo perhaps? It's a deep purple colour and when I first opened this there was a meaty gaminess about it, but the fruit soon came to the forefront. It smelt of cherry, plum and plenty of cheeky blueberries, meat and a touch of smoky oak. This is velvety in the mouth and tastes of plums and blackberry, though there's also an earthy element (forest mushrooms?) and pleasant acidity. For a young wine I thought this would be harder and tougher, yet it's surprisingly soft and creamy. It's long and lingering with only a hint of tannins. There is a touch of alcohol heat on the finish, but it's really just pleasant warmth. Montgras Quatro 2007 is pretty delicious, yet strangely I couldn't get excited about it; maybe it's not my style or maybe I wasn't in the mood, but give it a go and tell me what you think.

Visit winery website.

Fruits of Hope

Update from the Garden

While the economic climate's not one for celebrating November is glorious in Hong Kong. Perfect sunny autumn days are accompanied by surprising cool nights; pollution's minimal and the lack of humidity means the garden flourishes. While stock market's tumble, restaurant's shut and relationships teeter my little garden on the roof is showing encouraging signs of hope.

The passion fruit vine I propagated from a cutting has green fruit dangling in the autumn breeze. Young figs are getting plumper and plumper hidden under their covering of lush foliage. Lemons are turning yellow and capsicums red. Red seems to be a bit of a theme as stunningly bright pomegranates are ready for picking. My never ending hedge of basil is finally starting to go to seed, offering the means of germinating for the next crop.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003

Central Coast, California, $128, screw-top

Randall Graham from Bonny Doon Vineyard recently made an epic appearance on Wine Library TV, so when I saw this bottle I jumped at the chance of trying on of his wines. It's really well packed with a striking label and revolutionary screwtop, though I'm not sure about the almost incoherent blurb on the back. According to their just as well packaged website the wine is made using
whole bunch fermentation, with an exciting little 2% of Cinsault thrown into the mix. Again I lost the photos I took of this bottle (stupid hard drive crashing...) so the label image comes from the Bonny Doon website.

Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003 is a deep reddish purple colour. When I first opened there was a big whiff of smoky bacon. After a couple of hours in the decanter the boar had wandered off and it was all about sweet, red raspberries. When I say sweet I'm not meaning 'jammy' or sickly, but more of a "sweet mate" to express the pure, fresh fruit. Behind the fruit there's some delicate floral notes and a touch of aniseed; this really is a lovely smelling wine. It tastes of red fruits; cranberry, sour cherry and those delicious raspberries again. It's a soft and approachable with delicate tannins; medium bodied and only 13.5% alcohol this is pretty easy to drink. There's not much to dislike about Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003; it smells beautiful and tastes good.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Lagoalva 'Monte da Casta' Branco 2006

Ribatejo, Portugal, MOP90, diam cork seal
It's only three weeks to Macao Marathon and it's all beginning to look a little terrifying. Apart from concerns over the obvious lack of fitness, there's a serious chance that I'll run out of coffee and this was the last bottle of Portuguese wine in the house. I enjoyed this wine's red sibling a little while ago; and while this label is almost identical it does unfortunately lack the horses. It's made by the Quinta da Lagoalva winery whose useless website promotes ice-cream and agricultural machinery and says nothing about their wines. The more informative back label tells me it's a blend of Arinto, Chardonnay and Fernão Pires.

It's a lovely light golden colour. The nose has an initial burst of peach, buttery oak and tropical fruits, but very soon it's all aboard the melon train. There are traces of the lush tropical fruit on the palate, but the prominent flavours are red apples complimented with almonds. The alcohol in this is seamlessly integrated, but what's most impressive is the long, long finish. 'Monte da Casta' Branco 2006 is in many ways a great food wine: it's tasty, full, yet still fresh and lively. Good drinking; I like this a lot.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cricket without Coffee

Hong Kong 6s, Kowloon Cricket Club
8th & 9th November

Last weekend was the annual Kowloon Cricket Club's Hong Kong 6s tournament. An exciting event where international sides compete with a fast paced, hard hitting style of cricket that makes twenty20 look like a game of rural lawn bowls. The only things that distracted from these fantastic couple of days were the presence of the tacky 'Kukri Dancers', Hong Kong's Irfan Ahmed not getting player of the series and the impossibility of getting a decent coffee.
Visit event website.

Fat Angelo's

49 Elgin St, Soho
Visited 7th November 2008

Found at the top of the escalator in Elgin Street Fat Angelo's has a reputation for offering massive serves of wholesome Italian food at reasonable prices. The big restaurant is decked out to look like your typical family Italian joint with all the expected black and white photos, empty Chianti bottles and associated paraphernalia/junk.

I'm sure you could all tell me the menu at Fat Angelo's; it's standard Italian fare - pizza, pasta, risotto and grills - though they offer the choice of 'normal' or 'family' sized portions. My friends ordered pizza, pasta and ribs, while being a good Aussie bloke I couldn't go past the chicken parma. I was however disappointed with what was served to me; it was dry and tough and came with just a couple of fries and two bits of broccoli. My friends had mixed comments about their grub; the pasta with snow crab was enjoyed, while the ribs were apparently average and the sparsely decorated pizza a big disappointment, especially as $12 extra was paid for about four tiny pieces of pineapple. To drunk we started with bottles of Sol and then moved on to a very average and over priced bottle of Vene Merlot.

Fat Angelo's didn't impress me at all. To be fair the bloke who serviced us was efficient and friendly, but seemed to be in a serious rush the whole time. I thought the wine was terrible and over-priced, while the food was average. I'm a bit confused about why Fat Angelo's is famous for 'huge serves' as to get these larger portions you need to pay a larger price. We all ordered 'normal' sized portions and there was nothing monstrous about them at all. Our bill came to $916 for four basic mains, garlic bread, two beers and a terrible bottle of wine; I can't really see how this particularly good value? Cheap and cheerful Italian is a great thing and this is the angle Fat Angelo's is going for, but unfortunately they're not cheap, not cheerful and the food's certainly not worth the effort of climbing the escalator for. There are a lot better options around, even in pricey Soho.
Visit restaurant website.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Chateau de Surville Costières de Nîmes 2006

Nîmes, France, cork seal, $118

Nîmes gets a pretty good rap by travel guide writers; it's where denim originated, has the best preserved Roman ruins in France and the most sunny days. Yet for years I went through life muttering an expletive just prior to the word "Nimes" as "f!$king* Nimes" was also home to an ugly industrial estate where my broken van was once towed. On my last visit to France I made my peace with Nîmes and thought it time to give their wine a go. Purchased from Marks and Spencer this is a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache from the Costières de Nîmes AOC. I lost the photos I took of this wine so included a couple of the great town instead.

Chateau de Surville Costières de Nîmes 2006 is a magnificent deep purple colour. It smells like blackberries and black currents, with rich gameness just under the surface. There are secondary aromas of dusty coco powder, something medicinal and rich oak. This has vibrant cola, spice, pepper and red fruit (cherry and cranberry) flavours. I don't want to describe this as jammy as it's not sweet or sticky, but it's got a certain richness that suggests jam; maybe it's more like a chutney or even HP Sauce? There are firm tannins that kept things puckering along nicely and the 14% alcohol is perfectly integrated. I like this; it's a nice, easy drinking wine that's certainly more pleasurable than an old Japanese car breaking down in France.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Peking Garden

Basement, Alexandra House, Des Voeux Rd, Central
Visited 5th November 2008

Friends passing through Hong Kong demands a Chinese meal in Central and for a change we tried Peking Garden. The original branch of this restaurant is in Star House in TST, but this rather fancy looking place in the basement of the rather fancy Alexandra House. It really is beautifully decorated with bright coral (yes coral - not red, not pink, but coral) tablecloths and napkins, plates with classical Chinese images and rather snazzy wine glasses.

The highlights of the Peking inspired menu include beggars chicken and delicious looking Peking duck. The three of us couldn't face a whole duck and didn't order the chicken in advance so instead we went for beef with spring onions, chicken with walnuts, cabbage with Hunan ham and my friends have-to-order-every-time-favourite sweet and sour pork (and to be fair the tender pork was tasty and not overly sweet). I enjoyed the beef and richly flavoured cabbage, though I did think the chicken and walnut dish was a touch too dry. Having dinner with two girls meant that we didn't just order dessert, we ordered three desserts. The coconut jelly (which came with a cherry on top) and baked tapioca custard were both good, but the home banana fritters were the highlight. Finished at the table using cream soda to harden the toffee outside these bad-boys really were delicious. Peking Garden's has a decent winelist and we enjoyed a bottle of rose from one of my favourite Yarra Valley producers, Dominique Portet.

Peking Garden is good, very good. The setting is impeccable and the service ultra professional. I really enjoyed our meal and though it good value considering its location and the high quality; our food came to under $200 each and all the dishes we ordered cost less than $100. There is also an element of showmanship Peking Garden that is perfect to wow guests; the girls loved the banana fritters being finished at the table and the noodle making demonstration that happened half way through the evening was really impressive. I can't recommend Pecking Garden enough and I'll certainly be coming back soon to try the Peking Duck.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Suntime Niya Dry Red 2002

Xinjiang, China, ¥128, cork seal
Though I purchased this in Qingdao it originates far to the west in the province of Xinjiang; the label even has a touch of the exotic with a picture of a camel and Arabic styled font. It's made by Suntime, a huge state funded operation whose six wineries make them Asia's biggest wine producer. Having recently read Christian Tyler's outstanding book Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang it's probably good to be aware that not all of the businesses emerging in Xinjiang have a 100% positive effect on the local people.

This dark crimson wine smells of herbs, blueberries, raspberries, pencil shavings and resiny cedar. There's black fruit, mint, green veggies and of almost medicinal syrup on the palate. It's got nice chalky tannins and decent length, though there's a big hollow gap in the mid-palate. Suntime Niya Dry Red 2002 is a nice enough wine; it's certainly drinkable and went really well with the lamb and spinach shepherd's pie we had for dinner. While I enjoyed this the thin mid-palate did worry me a bit. I'm starting to see a few common elements in the better quality Chinese wines I try; medium body, green notes and thin mid-palate have got me wandering if the Bordeaux wine makers of old have all moved to China.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Bledisloe Cup

Bledisloe Cup Rugby
1st November 2008

A Bledisloe Cup rugby game in Hong Kong; good result for Hong Kong. Let's not talk about the result.