Finally a wine fridge

February 27, 2009

After so many years living in the tropics we finally decided to buy a wine fridge. Storing fine wine in a tropical climate is just no fun. In Jakarta we had a larder which was permanently air-conditioned. Wine would keep for some time but it was stored their with all the other food items a family of four needs.


Isn’t it a nice piece of furniture?

We bought only a small wine fridge here in Bangkok. Our kitchen is small and we did not want it to be too big. Anyway, strangely enough wine does not keep in our family. The fridge holds about 30 bottles which is usually sufficient. No cellaring folks.


Treasures, somehow

You might want to know what wine I store in this fridge. Well, some bottles of our house wine (Bushman’s Gully), some bottles of Thai wine (Gran Monte), some “rarities” given to me by friends (wines from China, Myanmar) and one lonely bottle of Saar Riesling (Van Volxem) for a Sunday treat.

A new farm car at Two Hills Vineyard

February 25, 2009


Isn’t it a beauty?

For twelve years we were driving our old Mazda, a sedan, suitable for a family of four, a family which lives in the city, but not in the country side. I loved the car. I carried seedling, straw, fertilizer, wood and wine boxes with it so that it looked like a farm vehicle. Even an encounter with a kangerooh at dawn could not end the live of it.

But last year the Mazda had it. It broke down every week of our holidays which proved to be too cumbersome for us. It’s not funny breaking down with the car in rural Victoria miles from any habitation. It slows you down though you get to know how nice your fellow Australian citizens are.

Therefore, we bought a new vehicle, an old pick-up truck, from Chris and Lu Birchall of Yarra Glen. Our old friend Peter Brown put a lot of work into the “old lady” to make it a true treasure (he made the back dust proved, repainted some parts and many more things). Thank you Peter!


Two Hills new Nissan

This pick up truck is just what we needed. While in Glenburn over Christmas we transported all kind of farm gear and other items from growceries to wine boxes. It was a delight to go around in this Nissan. The “lady” was built in 1986 (!) but it looks like a spring chuck of a car. On long drives the back passenger seats are not so comfortable, so the kids find it sometimes hard to sit there, their legs a bit twisted.

When we visit again in winter, we will need the truck to carry posts and other material to rebuilt the fences which we lost to the fire. Do you want to join me?

Francis Coppola

February 24, 2009

Recently, my friend Holger from Berlin had given us a bottle of “Francis Coppola wine”. I had never tasted anything from this producer though I have read a couple of reviews on the net. Therefore, opening this bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoying it with a Sunday roast (chicken this time) promised to be an exciting experience.

The ‘2006 Francis Coppola, Diamond Series, Silver Label Pinot Noir’, originates from Monterey County, a cool climate wine region in central California. During an Agricultural Economist Conference in 1997 I had the opportunity to visit this wine region. It’s a marvellous place and I treasure my memories of tasting various delicious boutique vineyard wines.


The ‘2006 Francis Coppola Pinot Noir Diamond Collection Silver Label’

So tasting wine from this part of the world was exciting indeed. We do not drink very many wines from California so this wine extended our experience with USA-wines. Ratings of the 2006 vintage vary (87 or so points), but it is definitely not one of the best Californian Pinot Noirs. However, the price of US$ 20 in the USA indicates that there is quite a market out there for this “very drinkable” drop.

The medium-bodied wine showed plenty of fruit on the nose (cherries, raspberries), it felt silky in the mouth with some forest flavours, and displayed a nice finish. No bitterness could be detected as some tasters have reported earlier. To my taste buds the pairing of lemon chicken with Pinot Noir worked well.


Port wine from Portugal helped us to digest the meal

What a pleasurable tropical afternoon on our terrace we had. The 38 degrees Celsius did not feel that hot but the dry-hot seasons has definitely started. After the meal I had a port wine. I always liked port. Our visit to Porto last summer re-enforced this passion.

With the port (10 years old), I smoked a cigar from Nicaragua, a hand made ‘Casa de CT Torres, Nicaragua, Hecho a mano’. The “smoke” was very pleasant, not to heavy; the tobacco was mild but distinct. I should buy more cigars from Nicaragua.

Cigars relax me and that is what I needed between two very busy work weeks, some relaxation. Also the bad news that we would not have a vintage this year at Two Hills Vineyard needed to be digested. Well, so is nature, unpredictable, unsteady, volatile, but marvellous.

A day of mourning

February 22, 2009

The wildfires in Victoria are far from over. Temperatures are rising again, the land is dry, the wind blows and accidents happen.

Today thousands gathered at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne for a memorial service for the 209 people who perished in the fires. Many speakers from politics, religious figures and representatives of the communities lauded the spirit of the survivors. The devastation triggered also the best in human behaviour. The extent of co-operation, the mutual help, the support, the kindness and assistance extended to the ones who lost beloved ones, their properties and their businesses is amazing. Also the Australian government is doing a good job.

We cannot do much here in Bangkok. As consolation I would like to share a poem from Omar Kayyam, one of my favourite poets.

Ah with the grape my fading life provide,
and wash my body whence the life has died,
and in a winding-sheet of vine-leaf wrapped,
so bury me by some sweet garden side.

Source: The FitzGerald Rubaiyat, 1859, LXVII
Omar Kayyam

Judging the wine judges

February 21, 2009


The Royal Sydney Wine Show has successfully completed its annual awards tasting a couple of days ago and the results can be downloaded from the web. When I browse through the long and impressive list of award winners I contemplate the fact that the fate of wine is fickle.

I cannot but think of the recent article by Prof. Robert T. Hodgson about the performance of wine judges on the American Association of Wine Economists website. The title of his paper was: “An Examination of Judge Reliability at a Major U.S. Wine Competition”.

My burning questions is: Are these findings as regards the reliability of wine judges from the USA also applicable to our Australian wine judges or to the Europeans? I am afraid that the most likely answer would be a “yes”.


And what were the main findings of Prof. Hodgson’s experiment? Well, we can conclude that wine judges were proven to be quite unreliable. Only about 10% of judges could judge wines consistently in the experiments, meaning that they were able to replicate their score within a single medal group. To put it another way: 90% of the judges were not able to come up with the same ranking for the same wine.

The implications of this are clear. The winner of a bronze medal might receive a different award (or indeed no award at all) in the same session by the same judges if the wine had been presented moments later or earlier. This is of course great news. If the costs of participating in wine competitions are low for you, just submit. Otherwise do not bother with these kinds of quality assessments. Just go with your clients: if they are happy and buy your wine why should you care what wine judges say about your product.


An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition
Robert T. Hodgson
Journal of Wine Economics, Vol. 3, No. 2, 105-113


Wine-judge performance at a major wine competition has been analyzed from 2005 to 2008 using replicate samples. Each panel of four expert judges received a flight of 30 wines imbedded with triplicate samples poured from the same bottle. Between 65 and 70 judges were tested each year. About 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group. Another 10 percent, on occasion, scored the same wine Bronze to Gold. Judges tend to be more consistent in what they don’t like than what they do. An analysis of variance covering every panel over the study period indicates only about half of the panels presented awards based solely on wine quality. (JEL Classification: Q13, Q19)

Portugal – The sparkling wines of Lamego

February 19, 2009

The Douro wine region in Portugal is not only famous for its red and port wine production. There is also a place were a wonderful sparkling wine is produced. The picturesque town of Lamego, considered the birthplace of port wine, was the target of a Sunday afternoon drive last August along the upper Douro river. Lamego is well known for the only sparkling wine produced in this region. So off we went along the river through a wonderful summer’s landscape with blue sky and a very dry wind.


Park, church and stairs in Lamego, Portugal

We drove up from Peso da Régua at the Douro where we had lunch and which is about 12 km from Lamego. We returned the same way except that we did not follow the Douro river on our way back but we took the highway through the mountains which was faster.


A scenic spot with church in the city of Lamego

As with all places in Europe, their history has been shaped by many a people. Lamego has seen Roman masters and the Visigoths, it was battleground in the wars of the Moors and Christians. Historically Lamego is significant because it was here that the first king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, was declared king by noblemen in 1143. Today, Lamego has about 9000 residents in the city walls proper, and another 17,000 live in the surrounding villages and the countryside.


There is not only ham but also local cheeses


Local produce can be bought from small shops – can you see our bottles?


We dashed in one of these small local shops before the afternoon closure to buy two bottles of the legendary sparkling wine of Lamego. We grabbed the last two bottles available without consideration for brand nor price, jumped into the car and went straight home because of the advanced time.

Later at home at Quinta do Gatao we chilled the bottles and I took the photos below.


This is the first bottle

Our booty consisted of a dry red and a semi-dry white sparkling from Caves da Raposeira, located in Lamego. Both wines where very fruity. The red displayed red berry aromas, the white a more fruit salad type fragrance. We tasted them before we had dinner, just like that, as a apperitif so to say, just delicious at a hot summers day. Both wines come from Raposeira’s flagship brand called “Reserva”, their premium and super-premium segments are called “Super Reserva” and “Old Reserva” respectively. We will have to try those another time.


This is the second bottle.

Our dash to Lamego was just too short. We have to come back and explore the Caves in the town proper. The wines we had secured, were very much to our liking. It’s a pity that we do not know where to get them here in Bangkok.

Caves da Raposeira
Lugar da Raposeira
Apartado 9
5101-909 Lamego, Portugal
Te.: (351)-254655003


Restaurant Review: Bon Ton in Kuala Lumpur

February 16, 2009


The twin towers of KL

After the good news from Australia and the photos of our house and vineyard I did not know what to do with myself. Since I always wanted to buy some Malaysian batik shirts, I went to the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex in Jalan Conlay. I was successful. The shirts are indeed very colourful, just the right outfits for me.


While strolling back to my hotel, by chance I passed by Bon Ton, one of my favourite restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Though it was already past 2 pm, I decided to enter and see if there would be a meal for me. And so it was. I was the only guest at this hour. Only when I had finished a Malay couple would join me in the place.


The inside

I love the décor, the furniture and the arrangements, the blending of European and Asian things so to say. It makes you completely oblivious to the fact that the restaurant hull consists of a steel-shed type of structure as it is very common in Australia. The colours camouflage it perfectly and provide the illusion that you are in an old traditional dwelling.


Fettucini ai funghi porcini and salmon

I felt like pasta, after all the Asian food I had tasted over the last couple of days, I needed something Italian. So I could not resist. The ‘fettuccini with mushrooms and salmon’ was very good, though a bit rich for my taste. But the mushrooms were delicious, so was the fish in the crust. The pasta was also “al dente”, not an easy thing in Asia. I would order the dish again, though I am a purist and just forest mushrooms would have been sufficient for me. I would not need the fish in it.


An espresso after the meal

I drank two glasses of house wine, a Semillion Chardonnay from Australia, which was just the right stuff, fruity and zesty and only with a very slight hint of oak. It’s a pity that somehow I did not dare to buy a whole bottle of wine from the interesting wine list. Prices where quite reasonable.

I did not regret sitting there all by myself. The waiter was very attentive, the guys in the kitchen did not mind me being late. And after all, I had to celebrate that our vineyard and our house were not consumed by the Victorian bushfires.

Only two things I did not like. The car park in front of the restaurant looked rather destitute a place on a Saturday afternoon. The restaurant sign there would also benefit from some renovation (letters missing). The second point is the windows of the place. They would benefit from a redo (take the flower design off).
Apart from these little details, Bon Ton is just a great place, a place to relax, enjoy local and international cuisine of a high standard.

Bon Ton Restaurant
8 Jalan Conlay
50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Tel: 603.2141.3848 / 2144.0289 Fax: 603.2144.9289

Two Hills Vineyard after the fire

February 15, 2009

Over the last couple of days I have read so many heartbreaking stories about the fire-storms in Victoria. They brought tears to my eyes. It is incredible what people went through and are still going through; the grief, the loss, the incomprehension, the suffering. Incredible. It takes so much courage to rebuilt and battle on.

At Two Hills we are lucky that the fire could be stopped in time. Michael sent some pictures. He says they don’t do justice to reality. How could the house and the vineyard survive?

Everything is black, he says, no grass or scrubs left. In the first picture the vineyard is to the right. The water in the dam is quite low. The second picture shows the vineyard. We will have some “toasted” grapes, I guess.


Our dam seen from the hill


The vineyard after the fire


It was very close (Chardonnay block in the background)


The pumping shed still standing

Among others (for instance the Upper Goulburn Winegrowers Association), our distributor, the Old England Hotel in Heidelberg, Melbourne has already offered to buy smoke-tainted wine to support us and all other grape growers who suffered because of the fires. Tragedies have some good; they bring people closer together, to help and support each other.

For the sake of the victims, we have to battle on.

Victor and Sheryl

February 14, 2009


The vine: sign of life

This post is dedicated to Victor and Sheryl from “across the road” as we say in Australia. They are our neighbours, neighbours we did not know until very recently. Well, not that we would personally know them as yet. But Victor and Sheryl and a bunch of fire-fighters we have to thank that our house in Two Hills Road is still standing. Victor and Sheryl defended it against the flames. Without them, it would have been cinder, and ashes. From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank you for saving this little shed of ours.

How do I know this? Well. Michael, my brother-in-law went up this morning and called us from the vineyard phone. The fire came about within one meter to the back of the house. If the gas bottle there would have caught fire, the shed would be history and with it all our belongings. Not that there is much valuable stuff in the house, but all the photos of the kids early childhood and other small pieces with huge emotional baggage attached to it.

It seems that the fire cam from the bush at Katy’s Creek, from the back of our block and from there burned its way through to the front of the property. Michael says the whole place is blacked out now. Our neighbour Ken’s hay shed and the pine trees on the hill are gone; so is his machinery shed, but his house is standing as well.

After the opening of the road, residents are returning to their properties. Emotions are raw, people are grieving. After more than a week of constant alert, attention, listening to the radio about the latest news, rumours, terrible life stories, witness reports, pictures of burning bush on TV and in a near or closer distance, smoke and haze people are just exhausted.

Thanks again to Victor and Sheryl and the firemen and all our friends down under keeping us informed and also our many other friends worldwide inquiring about our safety during the last couple of days.

We were lucky in Two Hills Road it seems. No life and no property lost what a stark contrast to Kinglake and Marysville. We will be returning to Glenburn only at the end of June. We will clean up, plan new trees and bring order to the place once again. Hope we see you one day. Welcome to Glenburn.


Jewel of Malaysia: Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur

February 13, 2009

Kuala Lumpur hides some of its beautiful treasures. One of them is Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest mosques in the city, located at the confluence of the Klang and the Gombak rivers in the heart of the city (exit Masjid Jamek LRT station).


Masjid Jamek was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a British architectural assistant to the director of public works at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Before coming to Malaysia Hubback had served in India and was very much influenced by the than common “Neo-Moorish/Mughal/Indo-Saracenic/Neo-Saracenic” style. He used his knowledge of this design school also in the case of the Jemak Mosque.


Arthur Hubback was also the architect of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Old City Hall. The mosque is an island of peace in the otherwise bustling mega-city. It was openend in 1909 and served as Kuala Lumpur’s main mosque until 1965.

If you happen to be in KL you should not only visit the KLCC, the imposing towers reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris, but take your time and go to the small mosque and pay your respect.