The days are just packed!

February 25, 2015

THV 2015 A

The title of this post is from a Calvin&Hobbs cartoon book which was given to me by my friend Thomas Langenohl many many years ago. The cover shows Calvin and Hobbs lying on a branch of a tree and sleepily observing their surroundings, otherwise doing nothing.

This is how it feels right now. We have had three weeks on the farm in Glenburn, Victoria doing (almost) nothing.  We,  that is my wife Margit and our twin daughters Lucy and Charlotte, and of course me. It is about one year that our family is separated into two subunits: the girls going to university in Melbourne and we, the parents living in Sofia, Bulgaria, worlds apart, after moving for 19 years together in Asia from country to country. As for many close-knit families, we all suffer a little. A little much, I would add. The better for us now, we are hanging out together and just talking, listening, cooking, eating, singing, joking, laughing and pottering around the farm together, enjoying each other’s company, knowing how little time is left for such things in the current state of affairs.

THV 2015 B

We have all left home at one point or another, my wife Margit at 17 to get an education, me at 19 leaving for military service.  International gypsy life seems to have had a super-uniting effect on the four of us. Shared history and memory are very specific in that case, not inclusive and difficult to explain.

All good things are coming to an end. Soon we will part company for another year.

Life on the farm was and always will be bliss. And the days are just packed.

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Winstub: S’Thomas Stuebel, Strasbourg, Alsace

January 19, 2015

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Canal in Strasbourg

Strasbourg in autumn is very picturesque, and a great place to visit. I was lucky that I had to attend a conference and therefore had the chance to be there for a few days last year in early November.

I love this city and the wine region surrounding it: Alsace is one of my favourite French wine region. I especially love their whites, among them Riesling, Gewuerztraminer and Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Noir.

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S’Thomas Stuebel

Since I was a day early for the event, I used the Sunday afternoon for a stroll to explore the town. I had visited before. Actually my first visit was when I attended high school (or as we call it Gymnasium). Since I was in the “French branch” of my school, we went quite frequently to various places in France. We stayed at a youth hostel. Our teacher made us try some of the local wines. It was here in Strasbourg that I tasted my first Gewuerztraminer.

I was eager to visit one of the famous wine bars. Unfortunately, the S’Thomas Stuebel was closed on Sundays. I promised to come back another day. Which I did.

Winstub

The name plate at the entrance promised a truly indigenous dining experience. Something earthy, something traditional, something authentic with special dishes from the region and local wines.

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The guest chamber of the wine bar

I was not to be disappointed when I cam back a few days later on the last day of my Strasbourg visit. Together with a colleague, we intended to explore the culinary delights of the Alsace wine region. We longed for simple, peasant type of food and nothing fancy.

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A white wine served in an earthen flagon

Since my friend does not drink alcohol, a bottle was out of the question. Therefore, I ordered a 1/2 ltr. which was served in an earthen flagon. I selected a local Pinot Blanc.

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The assorted Alsatian dishes

As you can see from the photo above, we went for very basic, nutritious and hearty local food. The potatoes with ham were wonderful. The cottage cheese with garlic and onions was creamy and rich. The salads contained all the garden greens typical for the season.

Winstub 4

Crème brûlé

I am not a big fan of deserts, but the crème brûlé on the menue I was not willing to miss out on. I did not regret my choice. A fruit schnaps was used to make the crème brûlé, make it burn.
When we left, the taproom was filled with local diners. If you should visit Strasbourg you should not miss the S’Thomas Stuebel. Have dinner there and enjoy the local cuisine and the excellent selection of Alsatian wines.


Bulgaria – a paradise for wine lovers

September 19, 2014

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Vineyards in Trier

For someone like me, a native of Trier or Augusta Treverorum, as the city was called in Roman times, the move to another ancient Roman city, in this case Sofia, Bulgaria is not a big thing. Sofia was called Serdica (or Sardica) then, possibly named after the Celtic tribe Serdi.

Constantin the Great is supposed to have said “Serdica is my Rome”. And here we have the third city in which I lived and which belonged to the Roman empire. But he did not make Serdica the seat of his government. For this he choose Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople. By the way I lived in another Roman city: that was Vicus Bonnensis or Castra Bonnensis, the present day Bonn, my alma mater where I studied agriculture.

If I had lived two thousand years ago, a move from Trier to Sofia would have been a move from one province of a wast empire to another. Latin would have been the lingua franca. I would have had access to all the Roman infrastructure common in those days: a bath house, a circus, an amphitheater and so on.

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Constantine Basilica in Trier

Both my native Augusta Treverorum (the city of Augustus in the land of the Treverer) and my current home Sofia got their name from the native Celtic populations (the Treverer in my case). Both were major cities of the Roman Empire. Trier was located in the Roman province of Belgica, Sofia in the province of Thrace. Both places history is tied to the Roman emperor Constantin the Great.

There are also differences. Augusta Treverorum is famous for its wine cellars and its wine production, vineyards reaching deep into the city. Sofia does not have vineyards in its vicinity. However, the old province of Thrace was famous for its wines, and so is present day Bulgaria.

I admit that there is still a lot of room to improve its produces’ fame but more and more Bulgarian wines are available in wine shops in other parts of Europe, especially Germany and England.
Needless to say I use my spare time here in Sofia to explore the many wines of Bulgaria. My welcome present by my colleagues consisted of a wine guide, Di Vino 2014.

I would like to invite you to come along on this journey and explore the richness of the ancient land of Thrace, and it’s contemporary wines.

Le Voyage

Le Voyage by Katarzyna Estate


Germany – wine heaven

August 31, 2014

After about two months in Germany, we move on to our new posting in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been an exciting time. We enjoyed the climate, the greenness, the clean air and foremost: wonderful wines.

Coming from Bangkok, one is used to a 400% luxury tax on wine, which makes the heavenly drop very, very expensive. I used to say: a 5€ bottle of German Riesling wine, a solid but basic version of it, goes for 25-30 € equivalent in Thailand.

This has a devastating effect on my finances if not carefully targeted. Well, you might argue, there is wine produced by Thai vintners in Thailand itself. Are these wines not cheaper? The answer is “no”, because domestically produced wines are also subject to the luxury tax in the kingdom.

Germany, in comparison, is wine heaven. One can consume a wine from one of the primary producers for a pittance. Say 12 – 16 € for a Riesling from one of the top producers from Mosel, Saar, Pfalz and Rheingau.

It was no surprise that I dived into it, like a fish. I tried many different wines, from Germany and many European countries. I found out that there is lots of good quality wine in the market. But, apart from the famous VPD wineries, it is hard to find the really good stuff to drink, meaning a lot of tasting is required.

Concluding I might say that the two months in Germany was not sufficient time to find my favourite “every day wines”. I console myself with the fact that in my next destination, Bulgaria, there are many excellent wines to discover. Bulgaria is a wine region I know almost nothing about, which is a good start.

Stay tuned to my next entry.


Good bye Thailand – land of new latitude wines

May 30, 2014

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Thailand

My time in Thailand is coming to an end. After almost six years in Krungthep, the city of angels, we will move back to Europe.

Well, “back” is maybe the wrong word. The last 24 years I have spend in various Asian countries working for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom supporting our partners in their quest for liberty, property and prosperity.

Before coming to Thailand we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for about 10 years, and it was in Indonesia that I came into contact with the first wine grown in the tropics. It was Hatten wines produced on Bali island. These wines are also known as “new latitude wines” but I learned this much later.

To my great surprise (and because of my general ignorance) I was in the position to discover the secrets of tropical wines in Thailand.

I do not remember when exactly I tasted my first glass of wine grown and produced in Thailand, but I had the great fortune to meet some of the key drivers of the Thai wine industry over the last six years.

In these years I learned to appreciate Thai wines. I also learned about some of the challenges in growing wine grapes and making wine under tropical conditions.

The Thai wine industry is small but its proponents are determined to produce excellence and they are passionate about their wines. And rightly so. Thai wines have shined in international wine tastings and competitions and earned almost every possible award.

I have written about my experiences with Thai wines, wineries, and the people who make them. I will not hide that I have favourites.

My favourite family winery is Gran Monte Family Estate, the only true owner-operator family enterprise (about 17 ha under vines). The founder, Visooth Lohitnavy, his wife Sakuna and their daugther Nikki are all involved in the family business.

Over the years the wines produced by Nikki Lohitnavy have become better and better. It is hard to say what my favourites are, all are good, actually very good. Since 2008 Nikki has won with her wines more than 100 medals and international wine awards, an amazing performance.

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Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai

I love the Viognier but also the two Chenin Blanc wines. One of my favourites is the new Verdelho which is coming into the market soon. Also a sprakling wine is produced.

All the reds are exquisite. I like the Syrahs and the Cabernet Syrah blends. Of the two rose wines I prefer the dryer version made from Grenache.

If you should come to Thailand a visit of Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai region is a must. Gran Monte has also a very comfortable guesthouse (try the traditional Thai breakfast) and an excellent restaurant called “Vincotto”.

My favourite corporate wine producer is PB Valley Wines, also located in the Khao Yai region. The 80 ha vineyard is owned by the Bhirombhakdi family (owners of the Singha brewery). The chief wine-maker is Prayut Piangbunta.

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Wine presentation at the Great Hornbill bistro, Bangkok

The Great Hornbill Bistro in Bangkok serves as a cellar door. I have tasted their new vintage recently and can tell you that the new wines are very promising. Also at PB Valley, the wines are getting better and better.

Try the Pirom Reserve series of their Chenin Blanc and Shiraz wines. PB Valley also produces a Tempranillo, the 2010 vintage of which won a silver medal from the AWC in Vienna. I also like their Lychee schnaps, very fruity and worth the high price.

At an international wine symposium in Chaing Mai, I had the chance to meet the above vintners and wine-makers, amd some more of the about handful producers active in Thailand.

I will miss Thai wines. And I am glad to have had the chance to learn so much about the wine industry in Thailand. The generosity of the Thai wine people knows no bounds.

Thank you Khun Vissoth, Sakuna and Nikki but also Khun Prayut and Khun Heribert for your outstanding hospitality and generosity. I wish you all possible success in your quest for excellence. The Thai wine industry is on the world wine map. I am convinced that you will grow further also as a role model for producers in neighbouring countries.

Cheers


Mandala Winery, Yarra Valley, Victoria

April 30, 2014

Through a beautiful bartering arrangement I came into the possession of a bottle of ‘2010 Mandala Prophet’, a single vineyard Pinot Noir by the Mandala Winery from the Yarra Valley.

Mandala has two vineyards, one in Dixon’s Creek where the seat of the winery is located, the other in Yarra Junction, a vineyard at higher elevation where on 10 acres a Burgundy clone of the variety is grown.

Mandala Prophet

2010 Mandala Prophet Pinot Noir

Years ago I have visited the winery and eaten in the estate’s restaurant but have not visited recently. Mandala is owned by the Mulder family. The wine-maker is Charles Smedley; the viticulturist is Julian Parrott.

When I was given the bottle and red the name on the label, I was intrigued. Calling a Pinot Noir wine, “the prophet”, is quite something. Having lived in Indonesia for 10 years I have other associations when I hear the word ‘prophet’ than a grape wine.

We enjoyed this wine the very same day the bottle was given to me. A dinner with beautiful red meat was the right occasion to open a Pinot Noir. The wine did not disappoint.

In fact it turned out to be one of the most delicious Pinot Noir wines I drank during my three week on the farm in Glenburn.

The Prophet is not made every year; only in exceptional years is this single site wine produced (so far 2006, 2008, 2010). James Halliday, the Australian wine authority awarded it 94 Parker Points. I loved the plum and raspberry aromas of this well balanced and complex wine.

When you buy this wine here in Bangkok, you will have to pay about 1,500 Bath per bottle. You should try it; it is definitely worth that money.


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.