Australian Syrah then and now: current line-up

Tonight was the second part of a two-part tasting of Australian Shiraz with Geoff Kelly at Regional Wines & Spirits, the first being the 1996 library tasting (see previous post). This time we blind-tasted eleven new 2013-14 Australian Shiraz wines, including the Penfold Grange which is north of $850 per bottle, and with an Elephant Hill Hawke’s Bay 2013 Syrah thrown in to keep us honest.

Each wine was very well-built, young and purple, peppery and bold. Each wine had something to say, but unfortunately this time I exhausted my palate by the ninth, and couldn’t make head or tail of the last three. Shame, because although I liked them the Lloyd Reserve which I admired in the library tasting was hiding among them.

As we poured the blind wines into glasses, the colours of all the wines were good healthy young Syrah deep purple-red, although I could tell there would be something special about No. 6 and No. 9 just from the density of colour; No. 6 looked like you could stand a spoon up in it.

For me the remarkable wines were Nos. 3, 6, and 9.

No. 3 reminded me of a big, older-style blackcurrant jam Australian Shiraz, with lots of berry, ripe toffee and a long oaky finish. The minty, freshly-crushed basil leaf on the nose typical of South Australian Shiraz goes well; Geoff says if he likes it he calls it “mint”, or “eucalypt” otherwise. Someone else remarked this wine might be like Kylie crashing a Holden ute full of Foster’s into a blackberry patch. Enjoyable perhaps, but not especially subtle. No. 6 was the most beautifully dark rich purple-red, with an intoxicating, highly concentrated nose of mostly blackcurrant, but also warm florals and a whiff of rough-sawn timber. The wine itself was complex, initially spicy but with savoury meaty flavours and berries competing for space, with a longer finish. No. 9 for me was also a dense colour, with a peppery lavender on the nose and an interesting hint of baked dates or figs, not over-sweet but nicely integrated into the plum fruit flavours for a lingering complexity.

Once again we gathered some “wisdom of the crowd” data to see if as a group we could pick our wines, and this time we did a bit better; results are below.

Blind rating totals from the new 2013-14 Australian Syrah tasting.

The Penfolds Grange hiding at No. 6 was correctly identified by about half the group. I was overthinking things too much and was trying to re-taste the last three wines at this point, to find the rich, complex wine that would be a likely Grange candidate. I had assumed that, having never tasted it before, something as ludicrously expensive as the Grange might surely be less up in one’s grill with its big bold Aussie blackcurrants, so although No. 6 was beautifully dense and concentrated, I had assumed the Grange was busy being all sophisticated elsewhere. Once everyone’s hands shot up, however, it became clear the cat was out of the bag! The No. 9 I liked was the Elephant Hill 2014 Syrah Reserve, which surprised me, and the Lloyd Reserve from Coriole in McLaren Valley was hiding at No. 10, which was interesting to re-taste after The Grange. It has that torn basil leaf mint and lavender on the nose, with savory and plum, liquorice and a good long finish.

Of futher note was No. 11, the Cape Mentelle 2013 Shiraz from Margaret River in Western Australia. This was a more delicate wine than the others, with interesting and complex boquet of jasmine, perhaps roses, with a good plum fruit body and a nice mild spiciness like a hint of Christmas cake, with a good long-ish finish. It was certainly different enough from the others that three of us thought it was the Hawke’s Bay Syrah.

Herewith the full list of wines:

1. 2015 Wirra Wirra Shiraz Catapult, McLaren Vale, South Australia
2. 2013 Domaine Chandon Shiraz, Yarra Valley, Victoria
3. 2014 Burge Shiraz FilsellBarossa Valley,  SA
4. 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Gnarly Dudes, Barossa Valley, SA
5. 2014 John Duval Shiraz EntityBarossa & Eden Valley,  SA
6. 2012 Penfolds Shiraz Grange, Barossa Valley, SA
7. 2012 Wirra Wirra Shiraz RSWMcLaren Vale,  SA
8. 2012 Elderton Shiraz Command, Barossa Valley, SA
9. 2014 Elephant Hill Syrah ReserveHawkes Bay, New Zealand
10. 2013 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve, McLaren Vale, SA
11. 2013 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, Margaret River, West Australia
12. 2013 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters, Grampians, Victoria

Australian Syrah then and now: 1996 library tasting

Tonight we went to one of Geoff Kelly‘s illuminating wine tastings, held as ever at Regional Wines & Spirits next to the Basin Reserve in Wellington. This was part one of a two part tasting – a library tasting of 20 year-old Australian Shiraz wines, with a 1996 Hermitage thrown in as a yardstick; Next month part two will be a tasting of eleven new vintage Australian Shiraz with a good Hawke’s Bay Syrah to compare. Tonight was a blind tasting, in order to gather some interesting data from participants before revealing which wines were which.

It really is quite intimidating to try twelve magnificent 20 year-old red wines, and try to remain objective about comparing their colour and weight, nose (aroma), taste, complexity, and so on. As humans we’re notoriously bad at taste and smell compared to our other senses, so even just trying to identify the different flavours is a constant challenge. They are sometimes elusive or fleeting; there at the start, but then gone with the vapours a few minutes later. Sometimes they are maddeningly familiar, but the right word, recollection or label for it is just out of reach. Geoff, a true national treasure, runs a good show; reminding us not to speak too much aloud and cloud each others’ judgements, but dropping a few helpful hints and starting points to look for in aged reds, and Australian Syrah in particular, drawing on his 40 years of wine cellaring, judging, and writing.

Most of them were just as you’d imagine beautiful aged 20 year-old Syrah to be: plum or berry dominant, interesting florals, smooth, and tannins tamed by oak and time. That is, apart from No. 5 which to my nose was of fresh cowpat and sweaty horse. No. 7 to me had an unpleasant butyric bile odour, but it had weird almost salty savoury taste, like Parmigiano. My favourites were No. 3 for its sheer number and complexity of different and intriguing flavours, and its beautiful long velvety finish, and No. 8, which was a standout for me. It was the most purple-red of the set like it was only three years old, while all the others had aged to a fairly uniform red-ruby, near garnet colour. It had a bold nose of cognac, almond and cherry, with a slight floral element of jasmine and violets. Strong dark plum fruit but with a savoury hint of truffle, and its long-lingering tannins, whilst softened with the oak, were still unwinding even after all this time, and could probably go for another ten years.

Before revealing the wines, Geoff asked us to rate a first and second favourite, a least favourite, and which we thought was the French wine hiding in the glasses. This data set is tabulated below.

No. 5 was the 1996 Cape Mentelle from Margaret River, Western Australia, which might have had either a dose of brett or it was corked. No. 3 was the 1996 d’Arenberg Dead Arm from McLaren Vale, South Australia, and No. 8, my favourite, was the 1995 Coriole Lloyd Reserve, also from McLaren Vale. The No. 7 was the ludicrously expensive Hermitage (AOC Syrah from Rhône, France), the Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle; Jancis Robinson writes about this wine, here. Luckily for me, Regional Wines had a couple of the 2011 Lloyd Reserves in stock!

The full list of wines are detailed on Geoff’s library tasting page, and reproduced here:

1. 1996 Seppelt Shiraz Mount Ida, Heathcote, Victoria
2. 1996 Barossa Valley Estates E&E Shiraz Black Pepper, Barossa Valley
3. 1996 d’Arenberg Shiraz Dead-Arm, McLaren Vale, South Australia
4. 1996 Jim Barry Shiraz McRae WoodClare Valley, SA
5. 1996 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, Margaret River, West Australia
6. 1996 Burge Shiraz Meschach, Barossa Valley, SA
7. 1996 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, Northern Rhone Valley, France
8. 1995 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd’s Reserve, McLaren Vale, SA
9. 1996 Bannockburn Shiraz, Geelong, Victoria
10. 1997 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi, Grampians, Victoria
11. 1996 Henschke Shiraz Mount EdelstoneEden Valley, SA
12. 1996 McWilliams Shiraz Maurice O’Shea, Hunter Valley, NSW

Facebook chat on your phone

There has been a lot of talk recently about the enormous liberties Facebook Messenger takes with your privacy and whatnot, and frankly, what’s new? What the hell are we even using this crummy Facebook service for anyway? In the meantime, if you want to continue to chat with your Facebook friends on your phone, install any of the dozens of apps available for iPhone or Android that can do XMPP (Jabber) protocol chat, and set up the account with your Facebook username (which looks something like fred.flinstone.1234) and your password. On an Android, I suggest you use Conversations (free if you install it with F-Droid). Oh but you can’t send pictures or video of your cat, or do video calls, sorry. But for the rest of the time you can have text conversations with your Facebook contacts without it hoovering up your contacts database, call log, SMS message history, and location and sending it to Facebook, every time you call someone, send a message, or use Google Hangouts. (I wonder if Google know about that?)

The reason I know Facebook Messanger does this is because I used a second option the more technologically enlightened among you could consider, which is to use the Privacy Guard built into CyanogenMod Android, and possibly other ROMs, to restrict all its app permissions to “Always Ask”. By doing this, I was able to see what Facebook Messenger was up to. Any time the phone rang, or I made a call, up would pop a message asking whether I would like to permit Facebook Messenger to read my contacts database and call log. Same thing when I use Google Hangouts to talk to people on Google Plus. So I just made all the permissions “Denied” instead. But now that I have Conversations installed, I think I’ll just uninstall it. For more information on Privacy Guard, head over to Julian Evans’ blog post “How to use Android Privacy Guard on CyanogenMod 11”.

 

Chipotle sauce

Penray in Otaki have pick your own chillies for $5.95 a kilo at the moment, so I was more or less obliged to take some late season red jalapeño off their hands in order to make chipotle sauce. A true chipotle is a completely dried and smoked red jalapeño chilli, and these are rehydrated in hot water to make a sauce. After a bit of looking online, I took an average and cut some corners, and I seem to have managed a good chipotle sauce with a fair amount of heat, a bonny colour, and a good blend of smoke, sour, citrus and fruity chilli flavours. First, equipment you will need:

  • A large roasting pan
  • Mortar & pestle
  • A smoker
  • Hickory chips for smoking
  • A very large jam saucepan, at least 8 litres (2 gallons)
  • Stick blender

Ingredients (these are approximate amounts, I pretty much made it up as I went along):

  • 7 kg (15 lb) red jalapeño chillieschipotle_20140418_1
  • olive oil
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 2-3 large onions
  • 2 tbsp cumin seed
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 450 g (1 lb) tomato concentrate paste
  • 300 ml (½ pint) juice of lemons and limes. That’s quite a lot; about 5 lemons and 10 limes, probably more
  • 300 ml (½ pint) cider vinegar (other vinegars would probably do)
  • Lots of boiling water, to stop it glooping and spattering everywhere

chipotle_20140418_2Preheat the oven to grill at least 240°C.

Pour all the chillies in the sink, fill it up with cold water and give them a good old wash to get all the mud, insect poo and residue off the outside. De-stem and halve the chillies and place cut-side down in an oven tray. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves; my arms were rather pleasantly on fire, from fingernail to elbow, for the rest of the day.

Put the tray of chillies in the chipotle_20140418_3oven to grill for at least 15 minutes or until the skins are well blistered and just beginning to blacken. (I had to do this step several times… 7 kg is a lot of chillies!)

While this is going on, get the smoker fired up with a few pine cones and kindling, and leave to burn down to form a good bed of embers.

chipotle_20140418_4Once the chillies are done, optionally remove the blistered skins (I left some of them on for a bit of texture and colour) and place them on trays in the smoker.

Pile up a load of hickory chips on the ember bed and close the lid on the smoker. Go drink some good wine, and leave chillies to smoke for a good few hours (at least 3 hours if you can manage it), the longer the better. Whenever the smoke starts to die down, get in there with some more wood chips and your best brass player breathing practice. Rinse and repeat for as long as you can be bothered, really.

At some point during the smoking stage,chipotle_20140418_6 grind the cumin in the mortar & pestle, and finely dice the onions and garlic. In a hot frying pan, dry-toast the ground cumin seed until fragrant, then tip in a bit of oil and sauté the garlic and onion with the cumin, and set aside.

Pull your now gloriously smoky chillies out of the smoker and tip into a truly gargantuan saucepan (I don’t actually have one, so I used two merely enormous saucepans instead). Add the sautéed onions and all the other ingredients, and stick-blend it, adding sufficient boiling water to thin it to a sauce consistency.

chipotle_20140418_8Bring it to the boil then simmer it for about 2 hours, stirring as needed to keep the bottom from sticking. It should reduce slightly and thicken. Like any pickle or jam, if it is glooping and spattering everywhere and sticking to the bottom, it is probably too thick; add water.

Once it has reduced and become slightly glossy, transfer it into pre-heated jars and seal immediately. This is where you re-use all those jars with quarter-turn metal lids you kept. These jars are best because unlike plastic lid jars, they will vacuum seal as the contents cool, and won’t leak air over a 2-3 year shelf life.

This recipe made sauce for 13 x 330 ml jars and 4 x 500 ml bottles, which is about 6.5 litres (1½ gallons) altogether.

chipotle_20140418_9

Fez repository plugin for Moodle

I have been writing a plugin for the Moodle Repository API that can now browse and search records in a Fez digital repository. Here’s the simple configuration, using the RMIT Research Bank as an example public access Fez repository:

Fez repository settings
To set up the Fez repository plugin in Moodle, simply give it the URL of your Fez repository, and how many records per page you want.

And here you can see that the plugin can browse communities, collections and records just like any other repository plugin:

Fez repository collections
The collections available in this Fez repository.
Fez repository search results
Fez repository search results and the record listing of a collection are displayed with the same interface.
Fez repository record
Selecting a record works as expected - including the title, author, date created and date modified metadata.

So far, it only supports using external files, and the resulting links are links to the Fez record view, not the attached files. This also means that you still have to add the title and description manually, even though that metadata is present in the metadata of the files presented by the repository plugin! I hope to somehow fix this with work on MDL-32130 on the Moodle bug tracker.

Citing Fez repository documents in Moodle

Today I wrote a text filter for Moodle 2.2 which will help Moodle teachers and admins cite documents from a Fez digital repository. Fez is a digital repository written by University of Queensland library staff for the university’s digital assets and for use as an open access research repository.

The best fit in Moodle for a digital repository such as Fez would be through a repository plugin, but the Moodle repository API assumes that you only want either a file, or a URL. I think there’s room for the API to be able to return a snippet of HTML as well – of an appropriately formatted link to the document in question. For instance, it would not be enough to simply present a URL, such as

Link to a document

it would instead be really nice to be able to have the repository plugin return a <div> element, with a formatted citation, such as:

Taylor, William (2005) (FAB_15_2_095) Lest We Forget: the Shrine of Remembrance, its redevelopment and the heritage of dissent. Fabrications : The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 15 2: 95-112.

This would also apply to other repositories – it would be nice if the Flickr, Picasa and YouTube repository plugins could return a thumbnail of the image or video instead of just the URL. Until that happy day arrives however, we can use a filter instead. After installing the filter, we tell it which Moodle content formats we would like it to parse, and the base URL for our Fez repository:

Fez text filter settings in Moodle
Fez text filter settings in Moodle

Then, in our content, we insert a search term or a Fez document PID into a placeholder using double curlies, e.g.

Inserting a Fez document into Moodle content
Inserting a Fez document into Moodle content using a placeholder.

Which when we save, and have the Fez filter enabled, will produce a nicely presented citation:

Fez document citation in Moodle
A Fez document citation displayed in Moodle.

It would not be very difficult to convert this into a repository plugin that simply returns the URL to the document, or to extend or clone this filter to talk to other digital repositories, such as EPrints, DSpace or Fedora.

TODO: add a setting to control how many search results you want to display.

LCA in Brisbane

Hopefully I’m going to Brisbane in a week or two for LCA 2011. This would be fine except for the worst flooding in Queensland in over a hundred years. The organisers are still saying (at time of writing) that everything’s fine because the venue, Queensland University of Technology, is sufficiently above the river. I’m a bit skeptical myself, so indulge my urge to paraphrase: “Hey – the streets that aren’t still inundated will be buried in two feet of silt, you’ll need a gondola to get around, the power might be out, the sewer might be overflowing, most of the hotels will have been seconded for evacuees, snakes have followed all the rats into basements and attics, but hey, QUT is above the water-line so there’s no problem! Mind one of the crocodiles wandering around in the parks doesn’t EAT YOUR LEGS OFF”

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go, and I’m hoping to meet up with a bunch of Brizzy friends and conduct some business with folks at University of Queensland while I’m there, but I don’t hold out much hope, and I don’t fancy getting eaten alive by crocodiles, snakes, giant ants or zillions of mosquitoes.

Why I’m not on Facebook any more

Dearest friends of mine,

You may have noticed I’ve dropped off the Facebook radar. Apart from finding it to be a gigantic time-waster, their increasing evilness with private data is a concern, as this link shows:
http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/

I urge you all to boycott it as well. You can rescue your friends’ email addresses into Yahoo Hotmail or GMail before you leave, as explained here:
http://www.labnol.org/internet/export-email-addresses-from-facebook/12970/

Coffee Roaster

For someone medically forbidden from drinking caffeine, I have perhaps an overactive interest in coffee. Well I inadvertently bought a home coffee roaster (I blame Matt), to go with Miss Silvia the espresso machine and Mr Macho the grinder, and I’ve started roasting green coffee beans. So far I have had really good results with Ethiopian Harrar, Colombian, and an Indian origin. Each has a distinct different flavour, and it is as much of a jump in flavour going from bought beans to freshly roasted as it is from going from filtered to espresso. I’ve ordered some decaffeinated beans to roast up and blend in so I don’t go overboard…