Friday, February 25, 2011


Wednesday night dinner was a visit to the newish Dieci e Mezzo (half past ten?) restaurant in the base of the new ACTEWAGL building here in Canberra. With a chef ex of Otto in Sydney and some cluey owners, Dieci stretches across breakfast, lunch and dinner services, with a largely Italian menu (though does not pass itself off as such).

There is some good Italian cooking, respectful and daring, going on in this kitchen. Some excellent marinated fish and gnocchi were had. After a Menabrea beer while looking through the menu and list, two other dishes stood out for me as interesting experiences with wine:
- A savoury pannacotta made with a deft loading of taleggio cheese sounded like a good chardonnay match to me. The chardonnay (from the good winelist, as this is not really a BYO venue) was a 2009 Oakridge. The matching did not work at all. Even though the food texture was light and creamy and the cheese flavour restrained, the chardonnay needed more weight, texture and generosity to complement (and compliment) the food. As it was, the wine looked thin, tinny and green-edged, all bone no curve, and exaggerated the mild fungal note of the taleggio.

Moving on...
- Veal stracotto with kipflers and quail eggs. Lots of soft, stewy, sweet-edged savoury textures and elements in the stewed and pulled-apart veal. The excellent service at Dieci included a suggested additional salad that provided a contrast of light, bright, crunch and acid: pea shoots, inner leaves of red radicchio, pickled red plums, pistachio. A winner of a salad, and exactly what the dish needed.
The wine I had was a glass of Nerello Mascalaese, a red wine from a grape often overshadowed by Nero d'Avola. A little wild, brambly spice (almost reminiscent of mataro), a pulse of ripe tannin and enough easy acid to balance the sweetness of the slow-cooked veal. Tenuta Della Terre Nere the producer, if I recall correctly.

So the unfamiliar Italian wine the better match with both the braise and the salad, while the pairing I thought most likely did not work at all. But definitely a restaurant to go back to. Very different to Italian & Sons, but a strong addition to Canberra's options.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Octopus, basil & white wine

Excellent fresh octopus are being fished out of Eden on the far south coast at the moment. Light braises and warm salads are some of my favourite late summer cooking and eating, and made with seafood can partner very well with pinot grigio, vermentino or Hunter semillon.

Take one medium-sized fresh whole octopus. Cut between head and legs, push out beak, slit down the side of head, trim membrane to remove guts, cut out the eyes and give everything a good rinse. Take care to not break the ink sack. You will end up with the head in one piece and the legs in another. Add to simmering water in which you have a bay leaf, some peppercorns and seed of wild fennel. Simmer, skimming to remove scum, until the octopus is tender. An hour is often about right.

While the octopus is simmering, finely dice onion and red capsicum. Sweat very slowly in olive oil with a little salt until very soft (as per a Spanish sofrito), adding chopped garlic near the end. When soft, lift the heat and deglaze with white wine, then back to a simmer.

Take the octopus from the water. Remove any skin you don't feel like eating, then cut the head and tentacles into bite sized pieces. Add these to the sauce and stir for a minute or two over low heat to get the octopus to take up some flavour. Add sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to bring the sauce up to a balance of sweet/sour, check seasoning and remove from heat. Stir in a generous amount of torn fresh basil leaves and serve.

Good with bread and butter, and a glass of something white and fresh.

Friday, February 18, 2011


My Italian is terrible, but I can appreciate the poetry in "delusione" as one of the Italian words for disappointment.

Two old Italian bottles this week, at a dinner at Rubicon:
- 1961 Pira Barolo
- 1979 Produttori del Barbaresco.

The first, oxidised. The second, cork tainted. But the bottles themselves, beautiful glass and design.

The dinner also redeemed by other excellent wines:
- Krug 1995
- Maximin Grunhauser M-S-R Abstberg Auslese Riesling (Fuder 45) 1994
- Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling Vendange Tardive 1989
- Jean-Jacques Confuron Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts 1996
- Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases 1985
- Ch. Coutet Cuvee Madame 1986
- Taylors Vintage Port 1970.

Raviolo of confit rabbit with braised mushrooms an outstanding match with the Confuron red burgundy. Using powdered porcini as flavour and a buckwheat-like texture in the pasta for the raviolo was something new and good to me.

Many thanks to David Lole for providing the wines.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Primo Estate Joseph Moda 1998

My three favourite Australian red wines would be Penfold's St Henri, Tyrrell's Vat 9 and Primo Estate's Moda. St Henri is its own creature, but both Vat 9 and the Moda have something 'Italianate' about their tannin, acid and fruit profiles, while also being distinctly Australian.

Where Vat 9, at least in its traditional form, is all about Hunter shiraz in large format old oak, built for drinking from 10 years of age, the Moda tells a different story. The 1998 version says 'Joseph 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot' on the front label, 'Moda Amarone' only appearing on the back of the bottle. This was Jo Grilli's 13th vintage make of an 'amarone' style wine, and it is 90% cabernet, 10% merlot. Sources vary with different vintages of this wine, with the 1998 taking the cabernet from McLaren Vale and the merlot from both the Vale and Coonawarra.

The cork on this bottle had just started to seep and fail - the barest of stained creases under the foil. Unusually for a Moda, the merlot component showed through quite clearly, though the overall impression was of dust, olive, bitter chocolate and beautifully mellow bittersweet tannins, courtesy of the grape drying process. Still fresh and bright, across fruit and acid, with no real dropping off of colour or a thrown crust. Lovely drinking, a wine in a good window at thirteen years of age.

Drunk with a rack of free range pork, roasted in the Weber over stock vegetables and herbs, the pan deglazed with dry marsala. A gratin of organic Desiree potato, cooked in butter in the oven, with lemon thyme and golden marjoram went well with the pork and the wine. Aged Moda and salty, puffy, crunching pork crackling is a very good thing indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sparkling pinot grigio - tasting without category

Even when tasting blind, I use categories to order my expectations, process what I taste, and make judgements however subjective. If I can see the wine, the visual cues start the categorisation: white, pink, red; bubbles or no; age cues or no. Tasting non-blind, category cues can be stronger. Knowing the year, the variety or blend, region, maker, the pricepoint, how the wine made its way to you... all these cues help build a frame for evaluating a wine.

But the efficacy of these category cues largely depends on having past examples to populate these categories with. Judgements of difference, or similarity, rely on other taste examples. But what happens when you have a new category and a new example, such as a sparkling pinot grigio from the Adelaide Hills?

One aesthetic judgement argument would suggest that the new object (bubbly, lemon juice on fresh pear, crisp, light to drink) could be processed against how it makes the taster feel. What do the senses say? What sensations are produced by watching, smelling, looking, tasting, drinking the wine? Is there an emotional response? This is judgement from affect (emotion, sense, sensation, considered together).

But I don't find I can taste wine from affect alone. Categories creep in. I have never had sparkling pinot grigio before. But I have had Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, German bubbles and sparklers made from 'other' grapes, such as riesling, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. And I have had pinot grigio before, the grape in the grigio-to-gris range, from different countries and regions. I know that I prefer gris to grigio, that I like the grape to taste of bright pear juice more than citrus, and to not show alcohol heat.

The glass in front of me, even while I try to not think categories but focus on newness, on the affective dimension of the wine, ends up passing by these other categories (variety, style, region) in my head. It's my first sparkling pinot grigio, and I quite like it (the Japanese woodcut label another aesthetic cue), but I end up tasting it with mouthfuls of many other wines. Which is fine by me.