Restaurant review: Starfish in Beijing, China

March 28, 2014

A restaurant I like to patronize in Beijing is Starfish, just across the street from the Australian and Canadian embassies.

A few weeks back, on a beautiful Sunday morning, I had lunch there again, a lunch which did not disappoint me.

Starfish

Starfish menu and Coriole info

I was quite surprised to find an add on my table ecouraging the diner to order a wine from Australia. In this case it was from Coriole, a winey in South Australia which I had visited some years ago. I love Coriole wines. The place belomgs to the “must see” category if you travel in this part of Australia. However, the price was a bit on the high side (more than 300 Yuan RMB).

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My fish dish

I ordered a white fish dish. The portion looked small, but was perfectly able to fill my stomach, and satify my taste buds.

I ordered a bottle of the house wine, a wine from Chile. Because of a free trade agreement between China and Chile, the bottle costs about half what the Coriole wine was priced.

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Long Country, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile

The Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Carolina, one of the largest wine producers in Chile, is of course an “industrial wine”.

Nonetheless, it shows an aromatic nose with hints of lemon and tangerine. On the palate, there’s the characteristic grass hints and some citrus. It’s dry and light and matched my choice of a fish dish perfectly.

The restaurant was rather empty at themtime of the day I visited. As always the service was very attentive and professional. At Starfish you get quality for your money.

Check it our yourself when in Beijing.


Gran Monte harvest festival 2014 – Khao Yai, Thailand

February 28, 2014

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Traditional folk dances to welcome the guests

The Gran Monte Harvest Festival was the highlight of the year for me here in Thailand. For the third time in a row I had the opportunity to participate in this wonderful event at the Gran Monte Family Winery in the Khao Yai region, about 2 1/2 hours northeast of Bangkok. And it is not getting boring, just the opposite. Each year Khun Visooth and his team surprise their guests with new highlights.

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Khun Visooth overseeing the competition

On the wine front of course everybody is eager to taste the new vintage. This year we were, among others, looking forward to the second vintage of the Viognier. Nikki Lohitnavy, the wine-maker, is doing a great job. I just love her hand grafted wines. And every year it seems they are getting better and better.

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Margit with Sole, the Chenin Blanc

For tasting notes, please visit the wine blog of my friend Oliver, the Winegetter. I cannot do tasting notes like him; just reading Oliver’s descriptions is mouth watering.

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Ripening grapes

Another novelty this year was that the evening program of the event was held in new building for the VinCotto Restaurant. After the addition of the tower, a wine cellar and a much enlarged main hall, the new VinCotto restaurant has the flair of a traditional country inn. I particularly liked the various bits of veranda which reminded me of an Australian porch.

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Together with my wife Margit, I threw myself into the festivities. Since we stayed overnight in the cottage at the estate, we did not have to worry about anything. Many musicians joined us in the evening and entertained the crowd with the good old songs from the last century: rock and roll.

GM HF5

Since we are leaving Thailand for Europe in June, it felt a bit like a farewell. But the good thing is that to travel back home to Australia we have to come via Thailand. Therefore, there is hope that this was not our last harvest festival. We will come again.

Cheers

GM HF6


2013 in review

February 5, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


All good things must come to an end

January 28, 2014

THV family

Margit, Helen, Michael, Lucy and Charlotte

After six weeks on the farm the time has come to go back to Bangkok. All good things (bad ones too) must come to an end, and the last days on the farm are always the most difficult ones. The brain tends to wonder off and indulges in the planning of activities which need to be done after the return to the job. At the same time last minutes projects await to be completed on the farm and in the vineyard. It is always the same anxiety which descends on the unprepared but well informed holiday maker.

As always it is very educative to spend such a long and uninterrupted time in Glenburn. The learning is amazing, and this on many different levels. Time and place attain a different meaning, and the observation of nature enriches the mind. The nights at the vineyard are dark when there is no moon, The milkyway looks stunning and the quiet is amazing. No street noise, nothing, things we are used from our life ini Bangkok where the city never sleeps.

While I was reading a historic account of the Crimean war from 1853-56, written by Orlando Figes, I was also browsing through a book about the history of Yea (by Harvey Blanks), the charming country town just 35 km north of Glenburn, which I have in our bookshelf. I found out that Yea, formerly known as Muddy Creek, was named after Colonel Lacy Walter Gilew Yea, an English officer who took part in the battles of Alama and Inkerman, and who lost his life during the siege of Sebastopol on June 18, 1855. After that, Melbourne street names such as Alama, Inkerman and Balaklava gained a new meaning. Who would have thought that innocuous things such as the name of a country town in central Victoria and a war fought more than 150 years ago in a very different part of the world could be connected?

Living on the farm right in the middle of an ancient Australian landscape also connects you to arts. In this case the Australian pastoral landscape paintingS. We visited the TarraWarra Estate to see the current art exhibition and have a bite at the restaurant of the TarraWarra Winery. Surprise surprise, a show by Russell Drysdale was on display, whose modernists pastoral landscapes connects the interracial histories of Australia.

The highlight on the culinary front were certainly the meal we had at the TerraWarra restaurant. I also liked the Viognier-Marsanne-Rousanne blend, an excellent white for hot summers days. Moreover, a visit to Rocky Passes Estate which is located between Seymour and Yea, gave us the opportunity to reconnect with Candy and Vitto, the charming owners. Candy prepared delicious tapas for us, and the award winning 2010 Rocky Passes Shiraz is just a ripper of a wine. Vitto does not only make delicious wines (with 90 plus Parker points) but also exquisite furniture. A visit is highly recommended.

I also discovered the Fratelli wines who make a very nice Riesling from grapes grown in the Upper Goulburn region of Central Victoria. Timo Mayer has a new Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in the Yarra Valley on granite soil. The current release is the first vintage and promises to become another star at the “Pinot Noir heaven”, if you know what I mean.

A week of sweltering heat above 40 Celsius taught us the importance of a fire plan (which we did not have but have now) and the positive effect our 12 mega liter irrigation dam can have for suffering humans. Every two hours we jumped in to cool down during those hot days. We survived a second heat wave with temperatures in the high 30ies. The hot weeks were interrupted by very cool days with even cooler nights. That might be one of the reasons why our own wines last so long. The fine and firm acids of our grapes allow for the Merlot wines to age so well. We tasted the 2004, 2006 and 2008 vintages and found that the 2004 Two Hills Merlot did still hold its freshness. Also the fruit (red cherries mainly) was still vivid. The younger vintages were less elegant and showed rather “umpf wine” characteristics.

THV Merlot 2004

2004 Two Hills Merlot

Our vineyard is still in a “mothball state”, meaning we are keeping the vines alive but do not produce fruit. Nonetheless, together with my twin daughters, I attacked the blackberries whose roots we tried to dig out. We did the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir blocks, and left the other two (Merlot and SB) for my next visit. Various repairs of the cottage and the shed were completed. We also cleared fallen branches and other wood from the paddocks. All in all, the property looks very nice and well kept. I can leave it behind with a laughing eye, as we say in German. The other one will, as always when leaving Two Hills, filled with tears. Cheers


New frontier for new latitude wines: Cambodia

November 29, 2013

When I opened the Bangkok Post last weekend, I could not believe my eyes. The headline red “Going wild for Cambodian wine”. Well, I thought why not Cambodia. After Indonesia (on Bali island), Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, another Southeast Asian country has joined the club of vine cultivators and wine makers.

The grapes for the wine-making are collected from wild forest grapes, the article says. There are photos available also on the internet but they are not so clear as regards the kind of vinus vinifera (if it is vinifera).

Cambodian wine

Bennett Murray and his piece in the Bangkok Post

The wine-making process described in the Bangkok Post article reads as follows:

“The manufacturing process is much the same as for wine everywhere. The juice is extracted from the grapes, and then palm sugar and yeast added”.

Palm sugar, I thought, that’s not just the usual additive to grape wine as far as I know. The article mentioned the problems with the grape quality. Since it is collected and not estate grown-fruit, I can imagine the magnitude of the issue. However, I am still interested to get a closer look at this product.

But there is also a real winery in Cambodia. Located in Battambang province, Leng Chan Thol and her husband Chan Thay Chhoueng, have planted a vineyard. They grow on a 3 ha plot of land mainly Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

I would love to try some of their wines.
My next trip to Cambodia should provide an opportunity for just that.

Address
Chan Thay Chhoueng plantation is located at
#72, Bot Sala Village, Banon District, 16 kilometres south of Battambang City.
For more information call tel.: 012 665 238.


Wine tasting at Oechsle, Trier

October 29, 2013

The following wine tasting was a remarkable event which we utterly enjoyed. I do not include tasting notes here; we were not in the mood to write all that stuff down. We wanted to enjoy each others company and get on with the exploration of the wines.

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The Oechsle wine house in Trier

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The tasting facilities

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Wine stored in the tasting room

The wine tasting costs about 15 EURO/Person and includes six wines. So what were the wines we had included in the tasting, you might ask?

They were as follows:

- 2011 Chardonnay by Sektgut Laurentius
- 2011 Elbling Classic Margarethenhof by Juergen Weber
- 2011 Riesling Spaetlese (old vines) by the Bremm winey
- 2011 Ayler Riesling by Peter Lauer
- 2011 Chardonnay by von Nell Estate in Kasel
- 2011 Kasler Kehrnagel (off dry) by Recihsgraf von Kesselstatt

and two red wines
- Rotweikoenigin (red wine queen) by Longen-Schloeder
- 2011 Pinot Noir by Chateau Edmond de la Fontain

You will have noticed that this in more than six wines. In fact the sommelier was so encouraged by our enthusiasm that he served us some selected drops.

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Elbling, my new passion

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Riesling from the Mosel

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, semi dry Riesling

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The Mosel produces also excellent Pinot Noir wines

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The jolly wine tasters: The Weber and Adam families


Elbling temptation – Open day at the Fuerst Winery in Metzdorf

September 30, 2013

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The Fuerst Winery in Metzdorf

My day job does not leave me much times these days. However, as promised, I wanted to share with you some of my wine experience during the last summer vacation in Europe. Today I want to inform you about our visit of the “Hoffest”, a kind of open day with all kinds of program for the guests including food and wine of the Fuerst winery in Metzdorf, a small village on the banks of the Sauer river.

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Elbling, one of the oldest vine varieties

The Fuerst family is know for their excellent Elbling wines. Elbling, a white grape, is one of the oldest grape varieties in Europe. It’s origins are not entirely clear. Some claim that the Romans brought the grape to Gallia and Germania, others say that is was an indigenous variety cultivated by Celtic communities long before the Romans arrived.

However that may be. It is very high in acidity, and therefore suitable for the production of sparkling. The total area under Elbling grapes has decreased over the years. Less than 600 ha are planted to Elbling grapes these days, most of it along the Mosel river. Luxembourg has about 120 ha of Elbling vineyards.

The wine is spritzy and fruity, in short a straight forward affair, a pleasant and down to earth experience. It should be drunk young.

It was a splendid day when the six of us visited on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately we had missed the breakfast and morning walk in the vineyards, which was offered as an culinary and educational experience for the guests.

Because everybody was in the vineyards, the seats and tables in the winery were rather empty when we arrived which left us with lost of choice. Just about 30 minutes later the place should fill up very quickly and we were lucky to have a comfortable place.

We were hungry. The photos below show the different dishes we ordered. Apart from various cold platters, even a simple sausage with fries could be ordered. The barbecue and grilled meat were the favourites with many guests.

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I was eager to taste the Elbling wines. They should not disappoint me. There is nothing more refreshing on a hot summers day, I must say. The relatively low alcohol of the wine also helps.

Before we left I searched for the vintner; and the young wine-maker sold me a few bottles. I was amazed. Here you get value for your money. Please check out the price list of the Fuerst winery. You will find many pleasing offers.

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The man from the Mosel with daughter Lucy

Concluding I will say that Elbling is an underrated grape variety but makes very pleasing wines. If you visit the Mosel river and its tributaries, please plan for an excursion along the Elbling wine route and visit some of the lesser known hamlets and villages and taste the wines of small family owned vineyards and wineries.


Back from paradise

August 13, 2013

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The Mosel river near Trittenheim

In the picture above you will see the wine village of Leiwen (left). Further around the bend of the river (to the right) is the wine village of Trittenheim. This is basically the view of the Mosel you will get when you drive though the Hunsrueck mountains.

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Trittenheim, Mosel

And this was also our first view of the Mosel when we arrived in Germany for our summer vacation this year. We were mesmerized. What a splendid view, what a splendid landscape, what a splendid river, how good to be home.

From the outset let me tell you we had a great time (only about 3 weeks), and despite our at best erratic planning and our lousy preparation, we were able to line up some unique, memorable and exquisite encounters with the wine and food world.

I intend to write in more detail about most of these encounters. But let me not be too optimistic as regards the time available for blogging.

So what were the highlights of our visit?

Well, we had the best pork-knuckle ever (!) after a two hour march through the forests near the Ammersee on our way to the monastery of Andechs, a famous location for catholic pilgrims. Bavaria is a fantastic place to visit especially if the weather gods are smiling on you, and smile they did. We had warm, at times even hot, weather during the whole time of our holidays.

Along the Mosel we visited three wineries – two along the Ruwer, one on the Sauer, both tributaries of the Mosel – and had one wine tasting in Trier city at Oechsle. Wonderful, exquisite, I can only rave about the many fresh and zesty wines we had the opportunity to sample.

The wineries we visited were:

- Fuerst Winery, Metzdorf, Sauer
- Karthaeuserhof Estate, Eitelsbach, Ruwer
- Maximin Gruenhaus C. von Schubert Winery-Estate, Mertesdorf, Ruwer

Another highlight was the visit of one of the best restaurants in the Alsace region of France. For a family lunch we went to the Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Lembach, Alsace near Wissembourg in the Vosges mountains.

Needless to say we spent many afternoon and evenings in wine bars and beer gardens, among them the wine bar Kesselstatt and the wine bar “Weinsinnig”, two of my favourite places to relax and enjoy a good glass of wine in Trier.

More soon. Stay tuned.

PS: I made some gorgeous pictures.


Thai wine and spicy Asian cuisine

July 8, 2013

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’2012 Colombard’ by Monsoon Valley

Many white wines go well with Asian cuisine, for instance my beloved Riesling, either in its dry or semi-dry incarnations.

Fortunately, Thailand has his own wines which do pair well with its cuisine. Chenin Blanc and Viognier wines from Gran Monte Winery, as well as Chenin Blanc from PB Valley come to mind.

One of my least favourite grapes, Colombard can also make a good wine to drink with spicy Asian food. Monsoon Valley Wine produces a Colombard wine (Classic Range) which I find ideal with spicy cuisine.

The grapes are produced near Hua Hin, a coastal town about 3 hours south of Bangkok. I personally have not visited the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard as yet but it is on my to-do list.

This Colombard wine is a blend made from Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Malaga Blanc grapes. It is light and fruity with some citrus aromas and fine acidity but has some residual sweetness which makes is well suited to accompany spicy dishes.

The 2012 vintage has won various bronze medals for instance at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2012, and the FBAT Wine Challenge in 2012.

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Spicy prawn noodles


It’s Riesling time

June 17, 2013

Selbach

2011 Selbach Riesling Classic

Recently, the supply with German Riesling wines in Bangkok has improved considerably. A fine specimen is the ’2011 Selbach Riesling Classic’ by the Selbach Winery in Zeltingen, Mosel.

Selbach 1

The family enterprise has vineyards in Zeltingen, Wehlen, Graach and Bernkastel and is currently working 20 ha of vines, many of them in very steep locations along the Mosel river. 98% of the area is under Riesling, the rest is planted to Pinot Blanc. As is customary with many German wine producers, the Selbach Riesling assortment includes dry, semi-dry and sweet wines, plus late harvest and ice wine.

Selbach 2

In Bangkok only the classic dry Riesling variety from the Selbach winery is available (88 Parker Points). In order to get your hands on terroir specific and single vineyard wines you might have to identify a specific importer. Although ever since the new It’s Riesling initiative has started operating, one has a much better chance as a consumer to find more exotic Riesling wines of the highest quality.

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The Selbach Riesling Classic shows all the qualities of a good German Riesling. It is not bone dry, has a good acidity and citrus notes. Riesling is a perfect compliment with Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Chinese food. I paired it with the shrimps (in the picture above) and some spicy chicken (as in the picture below) and it worked very well.

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Chicken on my Weber grill


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