Tag Archives: wine

The Six Aussie Wines That Taste Better Than Grange

I have good news and bad.  The good news: I just tasted six wines that are better than Penfolds Grange. The bad news: one of them costs $850 and is so rare, only 1,100 bottles are produced each year. Sorry!

How can I make such bold statements? I recently tasted Australia’s 21 most in-demand wines; those that have earned the pinnacle ‘Exceptional’ ranking in ‘Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine’. As the country’s preeminent wine auction house, this classification released every five years is considered the form guide to Australia’s finest wines.

I love a pop culture reference, and if the Langton’s Classification was to be made into a movie, it would be Tina Fay and Lyndsay Lohan’s cult classic, Mean Girls. Let me explain why: all the really cool girls (the 21 best wines, we’ll call them The Plastics) would be hanging out in the Exceptional Category, while the other 118 merely ‘great’ wines of Australia would be languishing back in the Outstanding and Excellent categories.

The Queen of The Plastics, AKA Regina George, is of course Penfolds Grange. Ever since the first classification was released 25 years ago, it has always comfortably held the top position. While the other girls outwardly adore her, you just know these 20 other Exceptional wines are plotting her downfall.

Just like Regina in the movie, Grange’s crown is slipping: the current 2009 vintage isn’t the best Shiraz in Australia – and the Classification tasting proved this. But don’t fear, the much exalted 2010 vintage is only 12 months away, which many are already predicting to be the ‘fetchiest’ Grange yet.



Chris Ringland Dry Grown Barossa Ranges 2006 Shiraz, Barossa Valley

Chris Ringland is a god! This has such a small production, only 1,500 litres are made, hence the asking price of around $850/bottle, if you can find one! The vines were planted in 1910, which makes a shiraz of unique ‘lushness and tremendous concentration’. Some seasons, the fruit will ripen up to 17 Baume yet still retain excellent acid balance and flavour.

Deep, intense, opulent, dark berry, ripe and juicy, rich coffee and dark chocolate with exotic spice.

5 stars, $850.

Australia's god of wine - Chris Ringland!  Image courtesy of Chris Ringland Wines.

Australia’s god of wine – Chris Ringland! Image courtesy of Chris Ringland Wines.

Clonakilla 2012 Shiraz Viognier, Canberra

CHEAP!! Well, kinda. At $100, this wine is a steal compared to some of the other wines labelled as ‘Exceptional’. Langtons claims this to be one of the greatest advances in red wine production in Australia since the introduction of Grange in 1952. Why? Because winemaker Tim Kirk, decided to add a small percentage of Viognier grapes to the shiraz during fermentation, a trailblazing move for Australia at the time.

By adding this fragrant white wine variety to the blend, Tim emulated the famous white wines of the Cote du Rhone. This wine also singlehandedly made Australia (and the world) take Canberra wines seriously. To this day, the region is one of the most exciting in Australia (for me at least).

Medium to full bodied, fragrant black cherry with ginger spice. Ethereal.

4.75 stars, $100.

Image courtesy of Clonakilla

Image courtesy of Clonakilla

Henschke Hill of Grace 2009 Shiraz

Considered the best single vineyard in all of Australia, The Hill of Grace has always been the bridesmaid to Grange. Well not this year, 2009 Hill of Grace smashes Grange dead! The Hill of Grace vineyard is named after the famed Lutheran church which guards over the ancient vines, which were first planted in 1860 – yes, 1860! And they are still producing wine today!

Stephen and Prue Henschke have really hit it out of the park with this vintage. Sweet blackberry, mocha undertones, savoury herb characters and a voluptuous body.

5 stars, $680.

The famous Hill of Grace Vineyard.  Image courtesy of Henschke

The famous Hill of Grace Vineyard. Image courtesy of Henschke

Torbreck RunRig 2006 Shiraz, Barossa Valley

A relative newcomer to the wine world, its first vintage was only in 1995. Don’t let the youth fool you, the wine comprises of hand selected dry-grown vineyards that are 80-140 year old! This modern classic includes 2-3% Viognier, which enhances the wine’s aroma. The winemaking production even includes quirky practices such as ultra violet light treatment and the effects of gravitational pull on polymerization of tannins – whatever that means!

Beautifully balanced, intensely elegant, densely concentrated ripe plum and blackberry with deft handling of oak.

4.5 stars, $225.

Image courtesy of Torbreck

Image courtesy of Torbreck


Jim Barry The Armagh 2009 Shiraz, Clare Valley

Compared to the other wines, these vines are juvenile as they were only planted in 1968! Jim Barry was the Clare Valley’s first qualified winemaker, and it was this knowledge that led him to planting one of the valley’s most revered vineyards.

A beautiful integration of fine oak plays against opulent fruit. Hugely concentrated with intensely ripe plum and spice flavours.

4.75 stars, $230.

Image courtesy of Jim Barry Wines

Image courtesy of Jim Barry Wines

Clarendon Hills Astralis 2006 Syrah, McLaren Vale

A superb vineyard coupled with meticulous winemaking add up to this exemplary wine. The Astralis vineyard is one of McLaren Vale’s finest, if not the finest, having been planted in the 1920s.  Low yields and dry grown are essential elements for Australia’s super Shiraz.

Concentrated, spicy liquorice, dark cocoa, inky-ripe blackberry and traces of herb. It’s said to be slightly more muscular than your typical McLaren Vale Shiraz, so it’s built for aging.

Quality 4.5 stars $420



They may not be Shiraz, but they are seriously the best.

Giaconda Estate Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay, Beechworth VIC

4.75 stars, $120.

Moss Wood 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA

4.5 stars, $100.

Penfolds Bin 707 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia

5 stars, $340.

Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para Vintage 1914 Tawny, Barossa Valley, SA

5 stars, $1,500 (375mls)


The Best Places To Vacation If You Want To Escape The Heat & What To Do

Although we all love our home city, there are certain times of year where we wish we lived somewhere else. In the summer, some cities get a little too hot, especially those with heavy humidly. If you are looking to beat the heat and truly need a breath of fresh air, then we suggest visiting one of the five cities listed below, each with relatively low summer temperatures compared to the U.S. If you are wondering what you should do while you are there, we have provided a few suggestions of food, wine, and beer festivals that you can check out on your vacation from the heat.

1. San Francisco, CA

Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. The City by the Bay is known for its cooler summers with an average temperature of 67°F during the summer months [Wikipedia].

San Francisco at Sunset Photo By: Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco at Sunset
Photo By: Wikimedia Commons


Eat Drink SF

This is an amazing foodie festival in San Francisco, held August 1st-3rd, 2014. Eat Drink SF has tons of events for which tickets can be purchased here.

Cocktail Photo ByL Eat Drink San Francisco

Photo By: Eat Drink San Francisco


2. Seattle, WA

The Emerald City doesn’t have as chilly of summer as San Francisco, but the summer months are pretty mild, with an average temperature of 76°F. Seattle gets an average rainfall of 150 days per year, but the summers, especially July and August, are usually pretty free of rain. A great city to head to if you need a break from the humidity [Wikipedia].

Seattle Skyline Photo By:

Seattle Skyline
Photo By: Wikimedia Commons


Seattle International Beerfest

The Seattle International Beerfest is held August 22nd-24th. This three day festival, held at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion and lawn will feature over 200 international beers. If you love picnics and beer, this is the event for you.

Space Needle Photo: Seattle International Beerfest

Space Needle
Photo: Seattle International Beerfest


3. Portland, OR

The Rose City usually has warm, dry summers with an average temperature of 69°F. Portland lies a little further inland from the Pacific Ocean than San Francisco and Seattle, so it is a bit warmer in the summer months [Wikipedia].

Porland at Dawn Photo By: Wikimedia Commons

Portland at Dawn
Photo By: Wikimedia Commons


Oregon Brewers Festival

The Oregon Brewers Festival will be held July 23rd-27th this year and will feature beer from 85 breweries across the country. It makes sense for a large brewers festival to be held in Portland, as the city boosts the worldwide title of the city with the most breweries. You can purchase tickets here.


4. San Diego, CA

San Diego was rated at one of two cities in America with the best summer weather by the Weather Channel. San Diego typically has warm, dry summers, with an average temperature of 78 °F in August for downtown San Diego. Further inland can get a bit warmer, but this beach city is a great place to go for ideal summer temperatures that aren’t uncomfortably hot [Wikipedia].

Mission Beach in San Diego Photo By; Wikimedia Commons

Mission Beach in San Diego
Photo By: Wikimedia Commons


San Diego Wine Country Festival

The San Diego Wine Country Festival is a great display of locally made wines featuring live music and food from various vendors. The event will be held on July 12th at Bernardo Winery. You can purchase tickets here.

Outdoor Tasting Photo By: San Diego Wine Country

Outdoor Tasting
Photo By: San Diego Wine Country


5. Boston, MA

July is Boston’s hottest month, with an average temperature of 73.4 °F, which is pretty bearable [Wikipedia].

Downtown Boston Photo By: Wikimedia

Downtown Boston
Photo By: Wikimedia


Boston Seafood Festival

The Boston Seafood Festival will be held on July 27th this year at the Boston Fish Pier and will feature fresh, local seafood, chef demos, food tastings, and clambakes. You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Cooking Demo Photo By: Boston Seafood Festival

Cooking Demo
Photo By: Boston Seafood Festival

So, You Like Sunsets and Clare Valley Wines…


The sun rises over Wilpena Pound
Photo by Drew Lambert

It’s a shame so many people wait until they’ve retired before travelling around the Outback; they’re missing out on some truly spectacular sunsets. Why wait until you’re 65, I say – do it now! All you need is a simple long weekend and I’ll throw in a damn fine wine experience along the way.

Clare Valley Map Photo by Wikipedia

Clare Valley Map
Photo by Wikipedia

A five-hour drive north from Adelaide to watch the sunset over Wilpena Pound in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges may seem mad, but stopping off to taste the famed Clare Valley Rieslings and Shiraz along the way more than makes up for it.

I’m a big believer in the 15-minute cellar door stalk. If the cellar door has 12 wines on tasting, look the manager in the eye and say clearly, “I’ve only got time to taste the good stuff!” You’ll earn additional respect if you’re also carrying a notepad to write your tasting notes, trust me!

Auburn is the first town you drive through when you reach the Clare Valley, and it is fast becoming the place to stop. I recommend lunch at Auburn’s Rising Sun Hotel, which won the title of Australia’s Best Bistro – Regional at the recent Australian Hotel Association’s Awards.

The Rising Sun hotel, the oysters were devine

The Rising Sun hotel (the oysters were divine)
Photo by Drew Lambert

How to Order Drinks Like a Pro

Order Drinks Like a Pro

A weekend night out is supposed to be fun, relaxing, entertaining – it’s a time to catch up with friends, let loose, and kick back. Unfortunately, there are a lot of terrible people out there with bad bar etiquette. Don’t be one of those people. We’ve got everything you need to know, from how to order first to how to save a table.

How to Order Drinks Like a Pro

Berta, an Italian wine bar (Surry Hills, Australia). Photo by: I’m Still Hungry

How to Order

Making your way to the front of the bar, getting the bartender’s attention, and finally ordering can be quite an ordeal in a crowded bar on a weekend night. There are a few minor behavioral things you can do to speed up the process:

  • Mind your manners. Say please, thank you, and excuse me. A little courtesy can go a long way, especially in this kind of situation.
  • Don’t push. If bartenders see you pushing your way to the front, you’re going to be labeled as a troublemaker and probably ignored for a little bit to serve the people you’re trying to get in front of. Wait your turn.
  • Don’t fidget. Stand straight at the bar, even lean on it a little, and make eye contact with the bartender. If you’re looking around, talking to someone else, or angled away from the bar, the bartender will read that as a message that you’re not serious about ordering yet (via the Herald Sun).
  • Don’t draw attention to yourself. Waving your arms and signaling the bartender to look at you is not going to please them. Play it smart, wait your turn, and stick with simple eye contact (via the Herald Sun).



The Wine Aroma Wheel

Wine Aroma Wheel

Click the above image to enlarge. Print it out and keep it on the fridge.

This is the invention you’ve been waiting for!

How to use the wheel: Every time you drink a glass of wine, consult this aroma wheel until you become an expert. Splash some wine into a glass. Not too much though; you’ll need to swish it around in order to release the wine’s flavour messages. Take a short precise sniff and look towards your Aroma Wheel. Start on the inside and discern what the major smell is. Is it fruity? If so, what type of fruit? If the smell is a tropical fruit, determine what type of fruit it is by venturing to the next outer ring. Hey presto, you’ve discovered the aroma is pineapple.

To get you on the right path, I’ve selected the major grape varieties and listed the aromas you can expect to find. 

How to Drink Like a Frenchman

Wine Bar

I love wine, and rarely need an excuse to order another glass.  I also know what flavors I like — well, at least when I’m choosing a $10 or $15 bottle of wine at the grocery store. However, I don’t know anything about French wine. After an informal survey of our diners, I found that many of you feel the same way. So we went to our friend and expert Cyril Frechier, the Wine Director and Sommelier at Marche in Seattle to give us a quick tutorial on French wine, just in time for Bastille Day (July 14th).

Are you ready? Oui, e souhaite commander un verre de vin.

What is Bastille Day?

On July 14th, Francophones all over the world celebrate Bastille Day, a national holiday in France to commemorate the storming of the Bastille Prison in 1789. It is considered by historians to be the beginning of a constitutional monarchy. Now, we all get to celebrate with Bastille Day festivals and parties around the world.

World vs. French wine

How to Wow Any Dad Who Eats

pub_food_2 resize.jpg
culinary gift ideas

Ad Hoc, Sweet & Spicy Rub

Are you in a bind for the perfect gift for your dad on Father’s Day? No need to worry, we have extreme and amusing culinary gift ideas to impress your dad. Believe it or not, dads like to have fun. They may not admit it, but they want an exciting gift that makes them laugh, simplifies tasks, and impresses their friends and family. So put down the socks, v-necks, and tie and explore our unique and appealing gift guide for dad.

The Master Griller

Ad Hoc Sweet & Spicy BBQ Rub: This mix of spices is magic. Do your dad a favor and give him the Ad Hoc Sweet & Spicy BBQ rub. The savory spice rub is a one-step solution to make any barbequed entrée taste delicious. It is provided by Ad Hoc, a well known Napa Valley restaurant, where famous chef Thomas Keller creates the amazing rub.

culinary gift ideas

Personalized Steak Brander

Grill Alert Talking Remote Meat Thermometer: With little effort your dad can now BBQ the perfect steak with the Grill Alert Talking Remote Meat Thermometer.  The wireless remote thermometer, belt clip included, allows your dad to step away from the grill and enjoy his guests or watch a football game. All your dad has to do is insert the stainless steel probes into the middle of the meat he is cooking, select the type of meat and how he’d like it cooked, and the remote will alert him when it’s ready.

Personalized Steak Branding Iron: Give your dad the gift of pride. After he has cooked a picture-perfect, tasty steak, he can brand it with a personalized branding iron.

Restaurant Trend: Healthy Eating

Wheat Berry Café & Raw Juice Bar. Photo by crnapoleon.

With spring in the air and bathing suits on the brain, healthy eating is getting lots of attention these days. It seems each year more and more diet fads appear, and while many people find these fads a bit extreme (Cabbage Soup Diet, really?), few can argue the benefits of swapping a day or two of healthier eating into their weekly eating regimen.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular healthy eating trends these days:


Healthy Eating-Restaurant Trends

Ten Park Lanes by Fervent Foodie

Raw foodists believe uncooked foods are more nutritious than their cooked counterparts because high heat destroys food’s vital vitamins and enzymes. Cooked food is thought to be “dead” food.  Thus, under a raw eating plan, all foods are eaten in their natural state and not heated to more than 116 degrees Fahrenheit during any stage of the cooking process.

Common components of the raw diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but raw doesn’t necessarily mean vegan:  unpasteurized (i.e., unheated) milk is used to make raw cheese and yogurt.  Some raw foodies even eat meat, including raw eggs, salmon sashimi, and beef Carpaccio.

Many people find the idea of eating cold, raw food unappetizing.  Raw restaurants, however, get creative with their menus.  Who wouldn’t want to head to Austin, TX, and eat a slice of Pizza Rustica at Beets Livings Foods Café:  sprouted sunflower seed and hemp crust, seasoned almond nut cheeze, and a zesty tomato sauce topped with an assortment of veggies?  What about the Los Angeles based Euphoria Loves Rawvolution’s Mole Nori Tacos with seaweed taco shells, walnut taco meat, spicy cacao mole, and guacamole?


Healthy Eating-Restaurant Trends

Wheat Berry Café & Raw Juice Bar. Photo by crnapoleon.

No, we’re not talking steroids here, but rather the juicing of plant foods.  The health benefits of a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables are undeniable.  One advantage of juicing your fruits and vegetables rather than consuming them whole is that breaking these plants down into liquid enables “juicers” to consume a large amount of nutrients in a short period of time.  Just think how long it’d take you to consume three ounces of baby spinach, a whole apple, a carrot, a stick of celery, a quarter of a large lemon, and a one-inch piece of ginger?  (That’s what Giada De Laurentis’s Rise and Shine juice recipe calls for.)  Besides, who wants to sit around munching on raw spinach all day?  Juice advocates also emphasize that consuming foods in juice form gives the digestive system a much needed break.

Raise a Glass to Beaujolais Nouveau Day!

Beaujolais Nouveau DayBeaujolais Nouveau is a red wine, produced from Gamay grapes. Produced in the (you guessed it) Beaujolais region of France, it’s ready to drink only 6-8 weeks after being harvested. The uniqueness of this wine is that it’s only fermented for weeks before becoming available on the third Thursday of November. Known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day, it has become quite a popular celebration in France and other countries. However, serious wine experts dismiss Beaujolais as a simple and uncomplicated wine.

According to French law, the Gamay grapes must be hand-picked. The only other harvest that requires hand-picked grapes is Champagne. Another unique fact about Beaujolais wine is that it uses a process called carbonic maceration, or whole berry fermentation. The juice is not allowed to come in contact with the skin of grapes (where the tannins are), rendering it more sweet and fruity due to the absence of tannins.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Some of the flavors evident in this wine are banana, fig, and pear. Also notable about Beaujolais is that it is not intended to be stored, but rather consumed right away (or at least by the new year). About half of the production of Beaujolais is exported. Germany and Japan are the two biggest importers, followed by the USA, which has made it a popular wine for Thanksgiving. By the time this short season of Beaujolais Nouveau is done, over 65 million bottles, nearly half the total annual production of the region, will be drunk worldwide.

You can’t talk about this wine without mentioning Georges Duboeuf. For centuries, his family has produced wine in France. He is credited with promoting Beaujolais Nouveau to become as popular as it is today. The quick turnaround in production brings in a hefty amount of income for its producers.

Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Festivals are held all over the world. New York City will be hosting Rue de Beaujolais on Friday, November 16. The event features a tasting of wines plus a gourmet French buffet.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day

If you can’t make it to one of the festivals, why not host your own? Instead of a coursed sit-down dinner in which you lead your guests through a tasting, you could set out food in a buffet style to pair with various wines. Let your guests sip on wine and enjoy it with the food you’ve prepared.

I recommend keeping your Beaujolais Nouveau Festival menu fairly small. Here are some ideas for food that go well with this wine:

  • Charcuterie plate with 3-5 meat selections, olives, cornichons, and mustard
  • Bread and an assortment of cheeses – Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort
  • Dessert should be a mix of fruit and sweets: apples, pears, petits fours, and truffles

On a last note, many wine merchants run out of Beaujolais quickly. So if you plan to host a Beaujolais Nouveau Festival at your home, make sure to stock up on wine early.

Written for Urbanspoon by Malika Harricharan from The Atlanta Restaurant Blog

‘Tis the Season for Fresh-Hopped Beer

Fresh Hopping-BeerIn the Pacific Northwest (where Urbanspoon is based), the last days of summer and the first days of fall bring a short window for harvesting hops – the conical female flowers of the Hops vine that imbue beer with bitterness and divine flavor.  I’ve been making my own beer ever since we moved into our house and discovered a garden wall covered with vaguely familiar vines. Harvesting them is a simple matter of picking off the cones when they are plump and swollen leaving your fingers sticky with a sweet tangy smell of the lupulin glands.

Hops (both commercially and for the homegrower/brewer) are typically harvested, dried over a period of 1-2 weeks and then frozen for use throughout the year. But a new approach called fresh hopping is gaining widespread popularity.  In fresh hopping, hops go directly from vine to wort in the brewpot, imbuing IPAs and Pale Ales with more herbal, floral, green, fruity flavors.  Because fresh hopping is dependent on the timing of the harvest, fresh-hopped beers are a treat – available only during a short window, typically through late October.

Fresh hopping (occasionally called wet hopping) first went commercial back in 1996 when brewers at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company had hops shipped post haste from the Yakima Valley in eastern Washington to their breweries in Chico, CA and dumped right into their huge brew kettles on the same day. This April, Sierra flew a planeload of hops from New Zealand to deliver a fresh-hopped Southern Hemisphere Harvest.

Fresh Hopping-Beer Hops

Another great fresh-hopped beer distributed across 25 lucky states comes from Great Divide out of Colorado.  I spoke with Hannah there who told me their fresh hopped pale ale will be packaged this week and on shelves soon.  To get a feel for how short the fresh hop window is, consider this: Great Divide brews their entire batch during a four-day period during which they operate their brew kettles 24 hours a day.  Then they all go home, have a beer, and go to bed.

Your best bet to snag a fresh-hopped brew this year (if you don’t homebrew) is to find a small, local craft brewery and just ask. The hearty hops vines grow in almost all states and many local breweries deliver this special libation starting mid October.

Next year we plan to write a blog post with a review of some of the fresh-hopped beers in the US.  If you are a small brewery, send us a sample of this year’s bounty and the staff at Urbanspoon will undertake the laborious process of taste testing.  We’ll replace this blog post next year with a fresh-hopped taste comparison! Tweet us @urbanspoon for details.