Friday, December 28, 2007

Chocolate is one of the 4 main food groups

At Christmas time, if we have been naughty or nice, we should receive chocolate, so lets focus on one of the food main food groups.

Origin of Chocolate
Native to South America, cocoa beans first came to Europe in the treasure-laden galleons of the Spanish conquistadors. Quickly spreading throughout Europe and beyond, this gift from the New World won more and more admirers. But long before that, the cocoa bean had been enjoyed by the Maya and the Aztecs. So valued was the cocoa drink that they used it as a sacred offering and even employed cocoa beans as currency!

Cocoa Beans
Chocolate is made from the beans harvested from pods of the cacao tree, grown within 10 degrees north and south of the equator. The best-known beans are the rare, delicate Criollo and Trinitario varieties and the more robust Forastero. The finest quality cocoa beans come from hand-nurtured cacao plants and, like wine production, important factors are the local soil, weather and the grower's expertise. Each of these plays its role in the flavour of the chocolate produced.

Quality Chocolate
Quality chocolate has up to 75% cocoa content, compared with as little as 20% in cheap products. Made from carefully roasted and milled quality beans, it has a smooth, velvety finish. Mass-produced chocolate has a gritty texture, more sugar, lower-grade cocoa beans and non-traditional ingredients like dried milk and vegetable oil.

The most skilled chocolatiers learnt their craft in France, Belgium, Italy or Switzerland. First, they select the exact mix of cocoa bean varieties. Well-versed in each variety's special characteristics, chocolatiers create a blend that is balanced, yet with its own uniquely attractive personality. Gently roasted, these beans are then milled for many hours to produce a very fine cocoa. This is mixed with the only ingredients required for quality chocolate: cocoa butter, sugar, natural vanilla and lecithin. For milk chocolate, fresh milk alone is added.

Chocolate Tasting
Like wine, and any other quality food, the enjoyment of luxury chocolate involves all five senses. These are the characteristics that a true chocolate connoisseur looks for...

  • Sight - Look for a shiny, smooth surface of completely blended chocolate, free from any imperfection.
  • Sound - Well-tempered chocolate with a high content of pure cocoa makes a distinctive sharp snapping sound when broken.
  • Touch - The feel should be satin-smooth - not grainy like low-quality chocolate.
  • Smell - Like a vintage wine, premium chocolate releases a range of aromas.
  • Taste - Chocolate should be a savoured delight. Press it to the roof of your mouth and let it slowly melt around your tastebuds. The velvety flavours gradually translate into a pleasantly lingering after-taste. Luxury chocolate can be complex and distinctive, with aromas ranging from citrus, fruity, spice, coffee, smokey, and so forth depending upon the origin of the bean.

For guests with a desire to focus on this particular food group, Rich & Lingering have designed tours to gratfiy their senses and indulge!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rich & Lingering Receives Another Tourism Award

The 2007 SA Great Regional Tourism Services Award for the Adelaide Hills was recently awarded to Rich & Lingering by Catriona Rowntree, presenter of Channel 9’s travel program “Getaway”.

Catriona presented the award to Jason Miller of Rich & Lingering at the official awards ceremony at Auchendarroch House in the Adelaide Hills.

The award recognises and celebrates those individuals and businesses that have made a significant contribution to the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. This award is open to specialised tourism services or facilities that enhance the visitor experience and integrate with other tourism products.

“It is great to receive recognition from the industry of our efforts, and caps off a very successful year for us” said Jason Miller. “2007 has been fantastic for Rich & Lingering. Not only being winners of the SA Great award but also coming just a few weeks after receiving a SA Tourism Commission medal.”

Rich & Lingering were the proud recipients of a bronze medal in the New Tourism Development category in the SATC Tourism Awards. It is recognition of their creativity, professionalism and innovation in the industry. The award highlights Rich & Lingering’s focus on providing both high levels of wine and food knowledge and excellent customer service to their guests.

Rich & Lingering provides 5 star food and wine tours for guests, focussing on Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, and Fleurieu Peninsula wine regions of South Australia.

“South Australia is a fantastic place for food and wine, with many new indulgence seeking visitors discovering the region for the first time (both international, interstate, and from Adelaide!). It’s great to see the state continuing to grow in a tourism sense, and Rich & Lingering aim to be a key promoter of the area into the future.” Jason Miller said.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sherry for Summer

Sherry is disappearing, not evaporating, it is just not being purchased by consumers. The super sweet sherry which Great Aunt Nora used to consume from the early afternoon onwards doesn't really count.

True sherry takes its name from the town of Jerez de la Frontera, which is on the southern tip of Spain. Typically it is made from Pedro Ximenez (or PX to his friends) or Palomino grape varieties. Sherry is usually classified as flor (or fino), amontillado, or oloroso. The latter being older and sweeter.

To confuse consumers even more the name sherry (and port, and tokay) will begin to be phased out in the near future, following a trade agreement with the European Union. This follows similar off-limit names as Champagne, Burgundy, and Chablis.

A fino sherry is typically light in colour (eg pale straw), clean and dry on the palate, and generally they are consumed young. Fino sherry acquires its distinctive aroma and flavour from the flor yeast which grows in the barrel on top of the finished wine. This produces delicate nutty and salty characters, combined with refreshing acidity. For this very reason it is a fantastic drink for a summer’s afternoon, accompanied with olives, sardines, or chorizo, over looking the sea.

In South Australia one very fine example of a fino sherry comes from Seppelt in Barossa Valley. The Seppelt Fino DP 117, is light delicate, and very dry. It shows the beautiful characters of the flor on the aroma and the palate, which lasts for ever.

In Mildura (in Victoria) the local Slow Food group is proposing to have it classified as an endangered food and trying to included it in the international Ark of Taste. By including it in the Ark of Taste, Slow Food may work with local producers to promote the products and establishing quality and authenticity standards. In Mildura fino sherry has been made since 1888, using techniques appropriate for the Australian climate.

So this summer what better drink to enjoy with our Mediterranean climate than a refreshing and food friendly fino.

2007 South Australian Vintage – the good, the bad, and the interesting

The good news with this years vintage was that most areas had rest over Easter. The fruit was picked and in the winery a good three or four weeks early in most regions. Volumes were down significantly, down to almost a third of the average. It was tough work hunting for the berries in the vineyard, so we deserved an early break.

Across the country the vineyards succumbed to drought, frost, bushfire taint, and in some areas January rains. All this resulted in a 30 year low yield with a total production down 33% from last year. This affected reds more than white varieties.

In the Barossa Valley, the average was for volumes to be down by between 40-60%. But the fruit seems to be quite variable, with some reports indicating average quality with poor vine canopies leading to sunburnt fruit. However, there are some wine makers who have reported that the drought reduced the berry size. This leads to very good intense flavours, with great colour, and acid.
In McLaren Vale, the average volumes were down by between 50 to 80%. In the winery it appears that the fruit quality is showing good potential, with great colour, and flavour intensity. But they are not showing the same length of flavour as the 2004 and 2005 vintages.

In contrast the Adelaide Hills appeared to have a very good vintage, with warm days and cool nights helping with flavour development and acid retention. Across the region quantity will be slightly below average. Some winemakers are expecting some of the best ever fruit quality from this vintage.

Ask any winemaker what the best vintage is, and they will generally reply the one they are currently selling. The 2007 vintage will be interesting; with some fantastic wine already being released - if you can find them!

Wine tasting 101

Wine tasting is rigorous gruelling work! When you do it for a job, you sometimes forget that what you now do as second nature had to be learned in order to get the most from the experiences. So here’s a quick introductory lesson on maximising your vinous pleasure.

Swirl a small amount of wine in the glass. This releases the aromas, and provides an opportunity for visual inspection. Look at its intensity and its clarity - whether the wine is brilliant, or cloudy with particles. Swirling also prepares the wine for the next step, the olfactory examination.

Agitating the wine vaporizes it, and the thin sheet of liquid on the sides of the glass evaporates rapidly; the result is an intensification of the aromas. Stick your nose right into the glass and inhale. Generally your sense of smell is your most powerful. This is where I normally detect the most attributes and come up with all the wonderful descriptors which people use to try to explain the wine, and bore their friends. Complexity of aromas is a sign of a better wine.

There's a huge distinction between swallowing and tasting. First, as you hold the wine in your mouth, purse your lips and inhale gently through them. This accelerates vaporization, intensifying the aromas. I find making a slurping noise usually helps, and it stops the wine dribbling down your chin.
Second, “chew” the wine vigorously to draw every last nuance of flavour from the wine. Roll the wine all around your mouth, bringing it into contact with every part. This is where you will pickup a lot of the flavours of the wine, which may or may not be consistent with the aroma. Also look at the persistence of the flavours — it’s no good if they are gone in a second.

The mouth-feel of the wine is very important. The drying feeling of tannins is most perceptible on the inner cheeks and gums; some tannins can be smooth and silky, while others are like licking sandpaper.

Spit - if you must
If you are tasting a large number of wines it’s recommended to spit them out. This is mainly to ensure you can continue to enjoy the other wines, but also to ensure that you can remain upright.
After you swallow, exhale gently and slowly through both your nose and mouth to release more aromas of the wine. You'll find that the better the wine, the more complex and long-lasting these residual aromas can be.

Be promiscuous
The best piece of wine advice I have ever received is to drink promiscuously! Not necessarily a lot, just try different styles and varieties and see what you enjoy. No one can tell you what you like, it’s your mouth, it’s a very personal thing.

Sparkling Red Wine - what the!

So what do you do when as a State you already make some of the best red wines in the world? Make a sparkling red! This underlies the fact that as with any great product a fantastic base product, or ingredient, is essential. By using great fruit, whether that be Shiraz, Cabernet, or Merlot, it is possible to produce outstanding sparkling reds.

Sparkling reds are particularly Australian – despite the fact that they were first produced in France in the mid 1800’s. The first recorded Australian Sparkling Burgundy was produced in 1881, by the Victorian Champagne Company. This was described more as rose coloured, and is still made in Burgundy and Loire regions of France.

A sparkling red was entered into the 1894 Royal Agricultural Society wine show in Melbourne, by Hans Irvine of Great Western, Victoria. They also received a gold medal in the 1895 Bordeaux Exhibition of France to the 1893 Sparkling Burgundy. Hans Irvine & Co later become Seppelt which nowadays is a major producer of long lived Sparkling Shiraz.

Red wine destined for sparkling red typically has common characteristics, packed with primary fruit flavours, rich in texture, but soft and refreshing on the palate. Grapes are often picked at a later stage to get the ripe fruit flavours and intense colour. Generally the wine is made so that they do not extract too many mouth drying tannins. Any oak influence will hopefully be subtle rather than dominant.
The big ripe fruit flavours from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale can easily fulfil these needs. Rockford Black Shiraz is definitely a favourite. But in the Barossa more readily available sparkling red’s come from Charles Melton, Peter Lehmann Wines, St Hallett, and Langmeil. All of which are producers Rich & Lingering support on our tours.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Adelaide Hills Wine Region

Who would swap a view of Sydney Harbour, with the Harbour Bridge on one side, and the Opera House on the other, for a view of the Adelaide Hills? Only someone passionate about great food and wine.

The Adelaide Hills is an environment that easily surpasses even Sydney Harbour. It can truly be more delightful than the Harbour, yet many visitors (and even some locals) are unaware of what is available within 20 minutes of the Adelaide CBD. Imaging a different view around each bend in the road. A distinct four seasons throughout the year, with the colours and vibrancy which they bring, and a lovely cool climate. Making the journey to the region brings you more in touch with how food (and wine) are produced and the experience of eating produce purchased directly from the growers, fresh, in season, and full of flavour, cannot be surpassed. The Adelaide Hills Wine Region is one of Australia's premier cool climate wine regions, defined as part of the Mount Lofty Ranges which has an altitude of above 400 metres. It covers a 70km strip from Kuitpo in the south to Williamstown in the north.

To put the Adelaide Hills into a global context, it is warmer than Marlborough in New Zealand, and similar to Burgundy in France. The folds and undulations of the Adelaide Hills creates a wide range of climates. In an attempt to exploit these differences the vineyards tend to be small and often steep. It is possible, with appropriate site selection and careful vineyard management to get shiraz and even cabernet sauvignon ripe.

The Hills region has cool nights throughout the growing season, due largely to the altitude. This natural range in diurnal temperature is critical for slow, even ripening and especially important in terms of natural acid retention in the grape juice. This enhances the development of aroma and flavour profiles in the finished wine. Resulting in checky little chardonnays, voluptuous pinot’s and of course vibrant sauvignon blancs. Its an ideal region for a foodie.