Sweet breakfast

January 31, 2010

Yummy waffles with strawberries

Our daughters Lucy and Charlotte surprised us today with waffles for breakfast. They had to try out the new waffle machine which we acquired yesterday. The sweet waffles cried out for a wine. Well, why not, I thought, starting this Sunday in style.

2008 Hardy’s Riesling Gewuerztraminer’, medium dry

We had this bottle of ‘2008 Hardy’s Riesling Gewuerztraminer’ (11.5% vol. alcohol.), an unusual blend for my taste buds, left over from last night. With the sweet breakfast it went much better than with the spicy bean soup. The strong lemon aroma of the wine is quite nice but its also oily like petrol (or good Alsatian and Australian Riesling). However, medium dry is “too sweet” for me somehow.

Great colour in the glass

I asked myself why one would blend these two varieties which stand on their own perfectly well? I rather enjoy them as single varieties, I must say. I only know of Australian blends of these two grape varieties.
If the purpose of a blend made of different grape varieties is to add more complexity to the flavour and texture of a wine, I am not sure if the Hardy winemakers succeeded.

But as Shakespeare has Hamlet say:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
(Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, 159–167)

Sushi on the Ginza

January 30, 2010

I had arrived the very morning from Bangkok. Nonetheless, my colleague Walter and I, we went for a stroll and checked out Tokyo’s main shopping district, the Ginza.

Interesting building near Ginza Street

Many well stocked wine shops in Japan

Of course we also needed food, and Sushi was our preferred choice. Wine and drink was secondary those days, despite the many wine shops I discovered during our stay. I should not have wine worth writing about. We also stayed away from Sake it turned out later. Well, Sake next time.

But small Sushi eateries were all over the place. Below “our” place, a tiny shop where we ended up just by accident.

Small Sushi restaurants on Ginza

Fine food of our choice: Sushi

The customers and the staff of the place were truly charming. We could not resist and ordered some Sushi, just Sushi. It was wonderful food. Two wide eyed foreigners utterly satisfied; Japan here we were.

Australia day 2010

January 26, 2010

I started the day with a lemington, a sponge cake and one of the two Australian national desserts (the other one is Pavlowa). It’s Australia’s national day again.

On 26 January 1788 the so called first fleet landed at Sydney Cove and today Australians are commemorating this event. Also we did celebrate, though muted. It was a normal school day for the children and a normal working day for the parents.

Morton Premium Brut

But we cracked a bottle of sparkling tonight which we had with the celery risotto. The sparkling came from New Zealand, which was given to us by our former neighbors Alain and Keiko. It was a ‘Morton Premium Brut’ (Methode Traditionnelle, no vintage), made of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, a blend from Hawkes Bay and Marlborough grapes. It’s a very creamy bubbly with buttery yeast aromas, easy to drink (12% Vol.). The wines won a couple of silver medals in 2008, 2007 and 2006. It also gained some recognition in a few wine buyers guides (for instance Michael Coopers Buyers Guide).

Celery risotto

It was an enjoyable family meal, an evening like many others for us here in Bangkok. But we raised the glass and toasted to our beloved “island down under”. Cheers

Burns Supper 2010 in Bangkok

January 25, 2010

Water taxi on San Saep Khlong

We took the water taxi on the San Saep Khlong at the end of Thonglor in order to join the 255 million people worldwide who were celebrating the life of the great bard of the Scots, Robert Burns. In fact his birthday is today on 25th January.

We felt great knowing that we would be among his followers again, drinking, eating the haggis, and listening to the various addresses and speeches, and at the end singing together ‘Auld lang syne’. The Bangkok St. Andrew Society Burns Supper is a wonderful event. We had been there last year, therefore, the 2010 celebration was ‘a must not miss’ on our social schedule for the year.

Crossing the road near Amari Watergate Hotel

Amari Watergate Hotel, Bangkok

About 90 to 100 faithful, Scots and their friends from all walks of life, had gathered at the Amari Watergate Hotel. We arrived an hour early (we had missed an e-mail) but spend the time enjoying a glass of white wine and talking to some of the other members of the Society.

The welcome by the Chieftain

After the Chieftains’ welcome and the toast to the King of Thailand, the Selkirk Grace, a prayer was said by Caroline Elliot. After that the haggis was piped in by Mike Brooks and toasted by us, the guests. The address to the haggis was delivered by Chieftain Willie Christie.

The address to the haggis

We enjoyed the haggis, neeps and latties, and had a jolly good time meeting old friends and making news ones. The highlights were ‘The Toast to the Lassies’ delivered by our good old friend Rab Thomas and the reply, ‘The Lassies response’ by Kirsty Hastie Smith. Both excellent speeches which delighted the audience.

Rab Thomas and Basjia

All kind of entertainment followed, songs and poems performed by Dan Fagan, Kirsty Hastie Smith and Mike Brooks. I do not remember all the details any more, because the bottle of Ballantine’s Whisky on our table found its way into my glass. I only took a photo of the Scottish cheeses but the food was delicious overall and I liked the sea-bass entree, the broth and the haggis as well as the dessert.

The cheese platter

Way after the official end of the event, we somehow made our way home successfully, utterly satisfied, we had had good food, plenty of drink and great company. As every year my pledge is to read some more of Robert Burns’ poems. Also German Celts from the Mosel can enjoy and appreciate Scotland’s favorite son, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire.

If you have the chance to somehow somewhere be invited to a Burns Supper, accept the kind offer and engulf in Scottish tradition.

PS: My first Burns Supper was in the early 1990ies in the Palace Hotel in Beijing. During my recent visit, I passed by reminiscing about golden days gone bye. The hotel is renamed now but the large flower pot near the entrance which was generously nourished by my old friend, the late David McGrath, when we took our bodies home at 4 in the freezing winter’s morning, was still there.

Capital M – Beijing

January 21, 2010

Capital M Beijing, an artists view

As always when I visit Beijing, I pay a visit to Brian Wallace, the director of Red Gate Gallery, my most favorite art gallery in China, and beyond. After about an hour of talking and catching up about Beijing’s art scene (and a quick box lunch), we also started talking about good food and inadvertedly talked about Michelle Garnaut and her newest restaurant in Beijing: Capital M.

Ever since Michelle started out in Hongkong in 1989 with 500 Dollar in her pocket but many good ideas and opened M at the Fringe, which won the Hongkong Dining Awards in 2009 as best restaurant, she has made a name for herself in restaurant and entertainment circles.

In 1999 she opened M on the Bund and later The Glamour Bar – self-declared as “Shanghai’s Sexiest Bar”.

Unfortunately Michelle was not there when we entered the bar early that afternoon for a glass of bubbly. Brian treated me with a bottle of Taittinger. But first he showed me around so that I got an idea of the place and its stunning views. We had a great time.

From Brian’s handphone camera

I will try the food next time I visit Beijing. Looking forward to it. Cheers

Red Gate Gallery
Te.: +86-10-65251005

Capital M Beijing
3/F, No.2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street
(just south of Tian’anmen Square)
Beijing 100051 China
邮编 100051
Tel +86 -10- 6702-2727
Fax +86-10 – 6702-3737

Seat of the gods

January 20, 2010

When flying from Tokyo to Beijing, I thought of the many blog entries which I would create over the weekend in the Chinese capitals. When visiting China in mid December last year, wordpress (to my surprise) could be accessed and I produced some pieces for The Man from Mosel River. But not so this time. The censors barred any access and I could not update you on any development.

You might have notices that my stories are heavily dependent on the photos which I take. In fact it is all about the photos, and I weave my stories around them. I always take my little but now old Olympus digital camera with me. Sometimes the shots are not worth being used and I always take more pics than I might use for any story.

Well to cut a long story short. The flight was only half full. I leaned back and contemplated about the week’s program in Tokyo and the many interesting discussions and exchanges we had had. Then very of a sudden I realised: we are flying past Mount Fuji. I rushed to get my camera and took a couple of shots of the majestic sacred mountain.

The seat of the gods: Mt. Fuji

All Nippon Airlines was generous with food and drink. I had quite a few bottles of French Chardonnay, the best you could get in economy class on that flight. I toasted the gods on the mountaintop, utterly content.

French Chardonnay

A place for introspection and worship and…..

January 13, 2010

Takayama Shinto Shrine

Nestled away near Shinagawa station in the bustling city of Tokyo there is the Takayama Shinto Shrine: a place of quiet contemplation, a place to worship, a place for introspection.

Just a quick turn from the main street, climb some stairs, and you can escape from the city, the noise, and the traffic. Amazing. I love these havens for the soul.

And right next to it, the JR station Shinagawa, with its many people, busy like a beehive, a group of young Japanese beauties are celebrating their 20th birthday in style. What a wonderful world this is.

11 January 20th birthday celebration: to attain full age is sweet

Life is beautiful. No wine for me today.

Vineyards of Thailand Part 2: Gran Monte, Asoke Valley, Khao Yai

January 11, 2010

Gran Monte vineyards

I have visited Gran Monte located in the Asoke Valley in the Khai Yai area before. But this time we did not have an appointment with the boss, Mr. Visooth Lohitnavy, and a winery tour was out of the question. We played the innocent tourist, and walked right into the cellar door and tasted the new vintage.

Cellar door to the right, beautiful mountains ahead

The tasting room

2009 was a great year for Gran Monte. The winery won about 20 national and international awards for its “new latitude” wines, and is now firmly established as one of Thailand’s top producers easily matching international standards.

Wines on display in the tasting room

2009 Spring Chenin Blanc

Though Chenin Blanc is usually not “my variety”, I just loved the ‘2009 Spring Chenin Blanc’ which won a silver medal at the AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge 2009. It’s a very fresh wine with a beautiful bouquet, and a clean finish. I liked it much better than the ‘2009 Sole Unwooded Chenin Blanc’. The ‘2009 Sakuma Rose Syrah’ was not for tasting but we bought some bottles nonetheless. Finally, we bought a whole selection from different vintages, varieties and price ranges. More about the food and wine pairings and our experiences with Gran Monte wines will follow soon.

Newspaper reviews about Nikki Lohitnavy

The daughter of Visooth Lohitnavy, the managing director and CEO, is Nikki (or Visootha). She is the first female wine-maker in Thailand. With a degree in oenology from Adelaide, the young vintner is on a mission, and one can feel this when visiting Gran Monte. The 2009 vintage with its excellent whites shows her hand.

Gran Monte has a guest house and restaurant at the winery. The park around the house and the cellar door is very lovely too. When we visited the place was very busy, with many visitors dropping in, most of them Thai. Apart from wine, there are a wide range of local produce including creams and lotions available from the shop.

Gran Monte is definitely worth visiting when going on a winery tour in Thailand, a “must” so to say. There are many other interesting things to visit in the Asoke valley and its surroundings. Khao Yai is just a beautiful region.

GranMonte in Bangkok
Granmonte Co,Ltd.
17 / 8 Soi Sukhumvit 6, Sukhumvit Road,
Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110
Tel : +66-2-653-1522
e-mail: Marketing@granmonte.com

GranMonte Vineyards and Wines at Asoke Valley, Khao Yai
52 Moo 9 Phayayen, Pakchong,
Nakornrachasima, Thailand
Tel : 081-923-200-7 , 084-904-194-4, 081-900-828-2 , 080-661-755-5

Vineyards of Thailand Part 1: Holiday Park

January 10, 2010

This blog entry if the first of three looking at various vineyards in Thailand. During the Christmas vacation, we went on a winery tour, visiting three Thai vineyards; Holiday Park, Gran Monte and PB Valley, except Holiday Park, all in the Khao Yai area.

Holiday Park, about two hours north of Bangkok, is a complex undertaking, more a holiday home cum entertainment facility than a vineyard cum winery. However, they do produce grapes, as it seems mostly table grapes for direct consumption. When we arrived in the place, vineyard workers were busy “cleaning” the grapes, which was thinning individual bunches of smaller berries so that the remaining ones could grow bigger. The table grapes we saw were very healthy.

Vineyard workers thinning bunches under the trellis system

Table grapes at Holiday Park

Small tractors were converted into small “locomotives” with wagons so that visitors can be driven around the property including a holiday housing park, a lake, an activity centre, the vineyards and a play ground.

The locomotive

The undertaking is obviously targeting domestic tourists and visitors. The staff at the tasting counter did not speak English. But nonetheless there were wines and juices to be tasted. It was my first ever experience with small plastic cups for a tasting.

Plastic cups for wine tasting at Holiday Park

I assume the wine made is just a by-product of the table grape business. The grapes which cannot be used as table grapes and/or are left over are made into wine. The price of the bottle was THB 250 (about 5 EURO or A$ 7.50). We did not buy any wine.

Holiday Park red

If you have small children, Holiday Park is still worth visiting. I suggest you go there early in the morning when it is not too hot. From there on you drive to Khai Yai to visit other wineries or the national park.

I could not find any address for Holiday Park on the internet in English. Sorry folks.

The Australian Wine Industry: oh boy!

January 7, 2010

The new year has started slow for me as a wine blogger. I have a couple of pieces in the making, for instance on my winery tour in Thailand where we visited three wineries and tasted their produce. But reading through the mail on the internet does not lend itself to optimism if you are an Australian vintner like me.

Here are some of the facts, suggestions and ideas for 2010 and beyond:

– rip out 35,000 ha of vineyards to restore a balance between demand and supply

– overproduction of 20-40 million cases of wine equivalent to 300,00 to 500,000 tonnes of fruit, ergo the need to rip out between 20,00 and 40,000 ha

– “clean skin” bottled wine available for A$ 1.99 or “two buck chuck”

– wine surplus being sold for 50 cent a litre

– grape prices of around A$ 150-200 per tonne of fruit

– in only seven years, I guess from 1995 to 2002, Australians planted 75,000 ha which was meant to be planted over a 25 year period

– estimated financial losses in the Australian wine industry of about A$ 124 million in 2009

-medium-sized producers such as De Bortoli Wines (our neighbour in the Yarra Valley) posted a loss of A$ 1.6 million in 2008-2009

– vineyards are unsellable, Cockatoo Ridge Wine, for instance, could not sell its Monash Winery (valued at $14.3 million) in Riverland

– more than 300 grape-grower contracts cancelled in the Murray

– Murray Valley Winegrowers removed about 2,000 ha of vineyards.

I could continue this list of bad news (for instance mentioning the strong Australian dollar) but do not want to depress you further. However, there is good news too. Consumers can finally enjoy good quality wines at much more affordable prices. I can feel this even in my Bangkok supermarket where Australian wines sell cheaper than last year.

I personally think that Australian wine prices were too high in the past. In my native Germany, many family wineries survived on much lower producer prices for many years. In my hometonw Trier you can get an excellent Riesling wine bought from the producer directly for about 5-8 EURO/bottle (A$ 8-12). These are Riesling wines from ultra steep cliffs, and everything is done by hand. On an aggregate, of course, German farmers and vintners are supported by various government subsidy schemes which we (alas) do not have in Australia.

Peolpe who say, that “the Australian wine industry did not know where to stop” are of course mistaken in their analysis. In a market economy the “overshooting” is punished by declning prices and unsold produce which in turn will lead to the reduction in production capacity. But since wine is an agricultural good which relies on a three to four year growing period before you can have additional grapes, the delay in decision-making can be costly.

The “irrational excuberance” was in fact the result of rational decision-making. Investors wanted to make a profit. That some of it was tax-fuelled is proof of irrational government interference by providing wrong incentives (tax credits). The second group party blamed for the glut is “lifestyle winemakers and vintners” to which I also belong. I still hope that my long-term view will “save” me and that I can indulge in grape growing and wine making after my retirement for a couple of more years. Since there is no succession plan, our enterprise might be short lived but such is life.

Cheers folk, after such heavy stuff I need a drink. Maybe, as Jancis Robinson suggest in her latest column, a German Riesling. How about a Forster Ungeheuer from the Pfalz or a Van Volxem Riesling from the Saar?

2007 Forster Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewaechs