Karl Marx and Chinese Grape Wine

November 28, 2008

To state it from the outset, Karl Marx never ever tasted Chinese grape wine in his lifetime. However, Karl Marx, the most famous son of my home town Trier, used to own for some time some of the better vineyards properties along the Ruwer river, a tributary of my beloved Mosel river.

The Marx family vineyard was found in the location “Viertelsberg” a medium quality terroir near the castle ‘Gruenhaus’. In 1857 the family sold its vineyards in Mertesdorf. Karl not only invested in vineyards and the wine industry but he also loved to drink Mosel wine. I frankly do not understand how Marx could survive those many years in London where good Mosel wines were certainly hard to come by in the latter half of the 19th century.

Marx would have enjoyed the samples of “College Wine” produced by the Chinese Agricultural University (CAU) oenology department. The wine is produced for purely non-commercial reasons. The bottles were presented to me by an old friend. We enjoyed it over a meal which marked our reunion. The wine went very well with the Chinese food on offer. Later at home in Bangkok we would have it with an Italian pasta. But in this case I felt that some depth and ‘strength’ was lacking.


The grapes for this wine come from Changli in Hebei province and were supplied to the oenology department by the well known Huaxia Winery. When I lived in Beijing in the early 1990s, it was marketed as Great Wall wine.


Swirling in the glass – what a beautiful ruby-red colour

The wine displays the typical varietal character of a Cabernet Sauvignon but is medium to lights bodied. At 12% alcohol it’s a bit “thin”/”light” for my taste. In comparison, it went well with Chinese but not Italian food.


A somehow classic design

PS: Despite the fact that the CAU is a modern university, at the entrance to its eastern campus, one of the few statues of Mao Zedong graces the gate. When I lived in Beijing in the early 1990s, my friend David McGrath (al marhum), chased the remaining Mao statues still standing in the capital city. He took photos of all of them. If I remember correctly David identified 8 statues. Around ‘Xue Yuan’ road where I stayed, I found 4 of these 8 in no time. All were to be found at the entrances of universities or other academic institutions.


The four Mao statues

F.l.t.r. and up to down: Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development, China University of Geosciences, University of Science and technology, China Agricultural University.

Announcement: 3rd Annual Meeting – American Association of Wine Economists

November 24, 2008

Next years annual meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) is going to take place in Reims, Champagne/France from June 18-20, 2009. The call for papers has just been put out. Please contact Karl Storchmann (storchkh@whitman.edu or jwe@whitman.edu) for more information.

In this context I am proud to mention that the very first meeting of the AAWE took place in my home town Trier. So next year it will mean bubbly all the way. Great fun, I guess.


Check it out.

Sunday Family Lunch in Bangkok

November 23, 2008

Sunday lunch is our favourite family affair. Usually the girls are doing their homework, Margit does the magic in the kitchen and I try to set the table, prepare the wines and do some of the supporting cast work.

In the morning we went to the Villa Market to buy the ingredients. Asia is great in this respect. Shops are open seven days a week and the Villa Market is just around the corner from our flat in Thong Loh, Bangkok.

“Sole with Walnuts in Parchment” from my favourite cook book –“The Philosophers’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan – was on the agenda. We could not get sole but grouper was available. Parchment paper was also on hand. The adventure could begin. And the recipe goes like this (page 110 of the above book):

– 1 cup shelled walnuts (have you ever had unshelled walnuts in a dish?)
– 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
– 1 cup fresh mint leaves
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
– 2 tablespoons walnut or olive oil (we had the latter)
– sea salt and freshly milled five-colour peppercorns (we took fresh green ones)
– 4 lemon sole fillets (in our case grouper), about 8 ounces each
– four 12 by 12 inches sheets of parchment paper
– 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
– lemon wedges

How to do the magic:
Well, first heat the oven to about 220 centigrades. Grind the walnuts finely, add the parsley, the mint, garlic, the cumin, the honey, the oil, the salt and the pepper. Puree this mesh until it is well blended. Divide the stuffing in four parts and spread it on the top of the four fish fillets. Then roll the fillets with the stuffing inside. Put two fillets on one sheet of parchment, dot the top of each with some butter, close the packet folding the parchment in pleads. Tuck the ends under the fish and put it into the oven. After about 15 minutes they are ready.

We had green asparagus grilled with parmesan on top, mushrooms and potatoes with it. Have a look at the dishes below. I love Francine’s recipes.


The grouper in parchment


Green asparagus with parmesan cheese


The mushrooms


The potatoes


Voila: the Sunday meal

You will ask what wine we had with this delicious meal. Well, we are still experimenting with the wines here in Bangkok. I choose a Thai wine (a rose). Unfortunately I tried the lower price end. It did not work. Nothing to report on the wine front. Sorry.

Wines are not cheap in Thailand. The lower price range starts at about 6-7 EURO/bottle, minimum prices for mass wines are 10-12 EURO. For a decent drop you have to fork out the minimum of 20 EURO. This situation is not conducive to extensive wine tastings. There is a great variety of wines from all over the world to chose from but the prices hinder you somehow.

I should have chosen a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Riesling from the Mosel (but had nothing at hand).

The Philosopher’s Kitchen
Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook
by Francine Segan
Random House, New York 2004

Cheers guys – The Man from Mosel River is back

November 22, 2008


I am back in Bangkok after some extended business trips to Beijing, the Thai country side near Khao Yai and Kuala Lumpur. There was no time at all for blogging during these days (10 days with no entry! which is half a lifetime for a blogger); often I had no internet access at all. Anyway I was so busy that no opportunity arose for writing or composing a blog entry.

It feels very strange now. When I look back. Not writing, I feel so removed from the world, so cut off. The urge to get back is strong but somehow I also lost the thread. It is amazing that ‘blogging’, an activity nobody knew anything about a couple of years ago, has become such a major part of my private life, such a passion and such a joy (and a learning experience).

As I jot down these lines, my family just walked into the door and my daughters peeped over my shoulder to get a glimpse at my newest blog entry. ‘Daddy is blogging’ has become something generally appreciated.

No light at the moment, only tunnel

November 12, 2008

Most of my recent posts I had already prepared in July-August during my holidays. They just needed ‘the finishing touch’, so to speak. I have reached the bottom of the well, it seems.

My new job is so demanding that very little time is left for my passion: wine and blogging. Also the move from Jakarta to Bangkok, the search for a place to live, the arrival of our goods, and the endless tedious bureaucratic tasks from getting a phone line, an internet connection to opening a bank account, etc. have all taken its toll.

My travel schedule and the places I am going to visit in the next few weeks are also not conducive to writing about wine. Alas, there is the Christmas break, as almost always on the vineyard in Glenburn.

Bear with me. I will become more active again. Somehow, sometime.
Because there must be light.
It’s the nature of tunnels to end in light, isn’t it?

Orchids once again

November 9, 2008

That I miss my tropical garden in Jakarta (and not just the garden) is an open secret. If I hear Bahasa Indonesia, I feel cheerful, it’s like home, the sight of a mosque excites me, me the non-Muslim. I take solace in the words of Rumi (or Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, Persian: مولانا جلال الدین محمد بلخى), the sufi poet of love. Live moves on, no worries, I know.

Well, but I still feel somehow lucky that our new home in Bangkok has at least a large terrace. This is quasi virgin territory for my, the city gardener in the making. The big pots the owner of the apartment put there are full of tropical plants and also have some orchids pinned on some of the palm tress.

Here they are. if anybody knows their names, you are welcome to tell me. Have a beautiful Sunday.




Portugal – Along the Douro river

November 8, 2008

One of our day trips from Quinta de Gatao, near Penafiel, was a day trip to see the famous Douro river valley. It was a Sunday morning when we set out, the sky was high and very blue, in short, a terrific day.

We took the rural roads not the highway and descended to the Douro river through a narrow valley on a winding road. It was a wonderful drive. I love driving through almost any rural landscape, then my heart opens up and I feel free. There is so much to see for an agricultural engineer like me: the forests and trees, the fields and the crops, animals, houses, agricultural machinery, irrigation and rivers and of course the peasants.

It was mesmerizing when very of a sudden the river cam into sight for the first time. Majestic it was, large and blue, and of course a cruise ship could be seen slowly making its way down to the city of Porto.


A terrific landscape is the trademark of the region.

Vineyards are all over the place, to be found on narrow terraces, usually just a few rows. Farm houses are also scattered among them. Here and there an olive orchard can be spotted.

Around midday we decided to visit Peso da Régua, a small town and the centre of Port in the upper Douro valley. Our guide book pointed us to Quinta do Castelinho, a winery cum restaurant where we planned to have Sunday lunch.

Since we do not speak Portuguese it was not easy to find the place. Though it was listed in our travel guide, the description how to get there was rather nebulous. After a very friendly man showed us the way, we made a stupid wrong turn and ended up on the freeway into the opposite direction. The rest was easy, we “chucked a u-ie” (no idea what the orthography says about this expression), as we say in Australia, and soon drove right into the yard of the Quinta do Castelinho Winery.

It was a beautiful Sunday lunch; we ordered a kind of continental cuisine. The waiter was very friendly, the service terrific. We had a bottle of their white, still wines which matched the food perfectly. The wine was fresh, clean and crisp, not complicated but a straight forward, excellent table wine.

After lunch we were shown the winery. We watched a introductory film and wandered through the large storage facilities with huge tanks and barrels. The gift shop offered all kinds of local produce and other very attractive items.


With our guide We walked through alleys of huge metal bins.

The wooden storage bins were also enormous.


Some of the items on offer in the gift shop.

Only much later did we learn that Quinta do Castelinho is one of the largest producers of fortified wines in the Douro. The winery is owned by Saraiva family and managed by Manuel António Crúzio Saraiva, the son of the founder who had started the business in the 1960’s. Many of the vineyards are classified as “A”-grade, the best for the production of excellent fruit for fortified wines. This part of the Douro valley is the first ever demarcated wine region in the world. The Marquês de Pombal, prime minister of Portugal, ordered in 1757 that the borders of the valley be marked with solid granite markers. This demarcation coincided with the efforts of navigating the Douro river so that the wines could be shipped down to the port city of Porto.

We tasted also the above two fortified wines.

The Quinta do Castelinho Porto LBV 1997, Castelinho Vinhos (Portugal), left in the picture. The grapes used are: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa

The wine has a dark, ruby red colour. The nose reveals intense and persistent aromas of black cherry, cherry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry and blackberry, some people detect the aroma of violets.
The wine is round in the mouth, well balanced and displays a beautiful finish. We have still one bottle here in Bangkok and treasure it which means that we treat it like medicine until we find a new source of supply.

The wine on the right hand side in the picture above is the Quinta do Castelinho Porto Tawny 10 Years, Castelinho Vinhos (Portugal). The grapes used are the same as the first wine.

The wine shows a deep orangey colour. The nose is rich and intense with aromas of black cherry jam, cherry jam, almond, licorice, cocoa, leather, dried fig and some vanilla. Also this wine is elegant and complex with soft tannins. The finish is also long. It was difficult to decide which one we preferred. Therefore we bought bottles of both of them.


What a beautiful colour

And of course, we tasted some of their famous port wines. We bought a couple of bottle of different port wines as well as some bottles of the white wine we had for lunch which had appealed to us so much.

Because I was the driver, I had to limit my tastings but we left the Quinta do Castelinho wholly satisfied, very cheerful, well fed and with a lot of bottles in our possession.

Quinta do Castelinho Winery
Castelinho Vinhos S.A.
5054-909 Peso da Regua

Tel: +351 254 320 100
FAX:+351 254 320 109
E-mail: castelinho@castelinho-vinhos.pt

Restaurant Review: La Vaca Veronica – fine dining in Madrid

November 2, 2008

Madrid is a wonderful place to visit. We were very lucky and had a great time in the capital city of Spain. We used the four days we had to the utmost to explore the amazing town. Foremost, we wanted to visit the museums such as the Prado and the Reina Sofia (we did not make it to the Thyssen museum). But it’s not just art and culture. The people of Madrid are amazingly friendly. It just blows you away. It started with the guy picking us up from the airport. He did not speak a word of English, and he also did not know where to bring us to. Alas, the modern world has mobile phones on hand (what did we do before we had them?). He made a call to the apartment renting agency and the rest was smooth driving. We communicated with hands and gestures, also the Spanish phrasebook helped somehow. It was a marvellous start of our four nights in Madrid.

Needless to say, we also explored the restaurant scene. First we checked out some of the many (many many many) tapas bars. On our last evening, however, we decided to have a different type of dinner. On our endless walks we had passed La Vaca Veronica before. After some appetisers in a famous Sherry bar, we leisurely strolled towards the narrow lane where La Vaca Veronica is located.

The restaurant opened only at 21h which we did not know. We were surrounded by other, patiently waiting, guests outside. My daughters passed the time by jumping from the roadside pillars barring cars from parking on the side walk. But luck was on our side. We got a table without a reservation. The restaurant owner was around and helped us along.

The dining room

What did we order? Well, mainly Italian type cuisine as you can see from the pictures below. We somehow all lounged for a pasta. The food was delicious. The colourful interior contributes to a very friendly atmosphere. We enjoyed it thoroughly and had a jolly good time. After all, it was our last evening after some very busy and eventful days.

If I am not mistaken, we ordered the house wine. I lost my tasting notes, sorry folks. But there is so much good wine in Spain that you cannot go wrong.

The landlady behind her desk.

Here is our recommendation: 5 stars out of five.

The decisions was democratically derived at. We go with the principle: one person, one vote. If you can, visit Madrid, and if you are hungry go to La Vaca Veronica for a meal, it’s worth it.

La Vaca Veronica
Abrimos los Domingos
Moratin, 38
28014 Madrid
Te.: 914297827