La Rioja, Spain

Rioja BlogIn late January 2014, we departed the hot Sydney Summer for a cold European Winter. We made two pit stops. One in Singapore for a quick hainanese chicken rice fix and the second a mandatory rest time in London before heading to Madrid, Spain.

We departed London at 7:30am from Gatwick Airport (seriously dislike early morning flights) and got into Madrid around 11am. We picked up the trusty rental car and headed straight for La Rioja. The drive took approximately 3.5hrs and soon we arrived into Logrono, where we will be staying for the next 3 nights at AC Hotel La Rioja.

Logrono is known for the densely populated tapas/pintxo bars within a 4 block area. It was roughly a 10min walk from our hotel and boy oh boy the food was super duper. You can never go wrong with tapas. We didn’t spend much time in Logrono as it was cold, wet and miserable. However, there was a massive Zara sale which made up for the weather!

The next couple of days were packed with cellar door meetings and sampling Spanish’s finest wine region – Rioja.

Rioja is a well known wine region in Spain. The region is divided into 3 zones; Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Traditionally, the grapes are blended together across the 3 zones to produce the wine. A trend for single zone wines are beginning to grow. La Rioja currently has over 57,000 ha cultivated producing 250million litres of wine per annum where by 85% is red. Amongst the red wines, Tempranillo is the most widely used grape as well as Garnarcha Tinta, Graciano and Mazuelo.

Day 1

Bodegas Olarra

Established in 1973, Bodegas Olarra is located in the outskirts of Logrono. Bodegas Olarra is commonly known as the Cathedral of Rioja due to its unique Y-shaped ground plan and its 111 hexagonal domes. The group has several brands in the market and each wine is produced has it’s own identity. The top wines produced are reds in aged oak barrels. The overall production was approx. 6 million bottles per year.

The wines were good, especially the award winning Erudito Reserva Especial 2008 where Decanter awarded 97 points. To us, it had structure, tight tannins but needs a bit more ageing.

Day 2

Bodegas Ontanon

Our first visit on Day 2 was Bodega Ontanon, a multi-generational, family-owned winery located in Rioja Baja. With 250 hectares of vineyard land sit high in the Sierra Yerga Mountains outside of the township of Quel, which has been one of Rioja’s outstanding winemaking centres for three centuries. “Passion for the vine, passion for wine and passion for art” is their motto, as we believe that each of these elements contributes to the human experience and illustrates the vital connection of the land to people and culture.

The winery was modern and sleek, it even had its own museum! We met with Jesus and Raquel, 5th generation to the winery. Both were really nice and friendly and guided us through their wines.

We really enjoyed the wines on offer at Bodegas Ontanon, a few stand outs. The Vetiver, made with 100% Viura grapes was crisp with floral and fruity notes. Definitely a must try, perfect with seafood or wine by the glass on a warm summer day. The Crianza and Reserva was also very good. Both had good structure, complexities with full fruit flavours.

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Day 3

Finca Valpiedra

Another early start, we drove to Fuenmayor to visit Finca Valpiedra, owned by Familia Martinez Bujanda. Here, we met with Marta, great-grand daughter to Joaquin Martinez Bujanda who founded the winery in 1889. The family currently has 5 different wineries with its own brand. Finca Valpiedra, Finca Antigua, Vina Bujanda, Cosecheros & Criadoresa and new project in de D.O Rueda. Finca Valpiedra is located in the best area of D.O.Ca Rioja overlooking the river Ebro and one of the great single estate vineyard in Spain.

By 11am, we had tasted over 10 different wines produced by the various wineries run by Marta. We definitely preferred the older classics compared to the younger and more modern wine techniques. The stand outs were both Finca Antigua and Vina Bujanda’s Crianza, crimson in colour, dark berries, easy tannins and long finishes. The Vina Bujanda Reserva was also good with more structure and depth, oakiness with slight leather and good aftertaste. The tasting room design was amazing, perfect for summer wine tasting.

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Bodegas Bilbainas

It was lunch time by the time we arrived at Bodegas Bilbainas. Located in the town of Haro, it was housed in an old traditional building. They specialise in making vintage wines and is regarded as a leader in setting wine styles. Vina Pomal and La Vicalanda are both flagship products and are famed wines in the Rioja region.

We met with Mabel and she gave us a tour around the winery including the original cellar that was used long time ago. It was dark, mouldy and had a distinctive musk type smell. Luckily, they do not use this cellar anymore or it would be pretty scary when fulfilling orders at night. The winery was old school style compared to the more modern wineries we had visited over the last couple of days. Again here, we had at least another 10 wines to sample and if it wasn’t for Mabel providing us with bread sticks and cheese, no matter how much you spit, I think we would have passed out from drinking on an empty stomach.

With some outstanding wines, we picked a few that would be ideal for the Australian market. We enjoyed the Vina Zaco, a modern take on the Riojan Tempranillo, dark crimson with dark berry flavours perfect for everyday drinking. The Vina Pomal Crianza and Reserva were both great. Earthiness, tannic with great length. The La Vicalanda Reserva was superb. New French oak, it was well structured, full bodied with hint of spice and vanilla. Pricing wise, its not too bad, but we think it’s probably best saved for special occasions.

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Overall, the trip was very productive. We learned a lot about Riojan wines and despite the weather being overcast most of our stay we really enjoyed meeting and sampling the wines this region had to offer. By far, Spanish wines is bang for your buck. Great wines at great prices!

For those who are interested in the above products, please do not hesitate to email us for more information.

Happy Reading!

Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain

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Travelling back a few months to the beginning of 2014, we were on our part business and part leisure winter trip to Europe and NYC. The main purpose was to visit the various wine regions in Europe to meet, greet and sample the wonderful wines produced by families that run and own the winery for generations and of course to eat our way through our 6 week trip!

First stop was Spain. We flew into Madrid from a quick pit stop in Singapore and London and drove 3hrs to La Rioja. We stayed in Lograno at the AC Hotel La Rioja, it was cheap and convenient. It was walking distance to the centre of town and Lograno is known for pintxo, where there are 50 taperias within a 4block area. We can never say no to pintxo! Unfortunately, weather was not the best, grey, cold and wet so no photos.

For the next 3days, we were super busy visiting wineries that we had scheduled months in advance to sample wines and meet the people behind the name. We had some favourites and some not so greats. I won’t elaborate on the specifics, but for those interested can visit our trade website to check out our producers. By far, the Spanish wines are definitely value for money!

The 5th and last day in Spain we drove from La Rioja to San Sebastian for our lunch appointment at Arzak before heading to Bilbao to catch our 9pm flight back to London. San Sebastian is a must visit place in Spain. One of our favourite Spanish city after Barcelona and definitely one city with the most Michelin star restaurants.

Arzak is a 3* Michelin restaurant located in San Sebastian and ranked No.8 on San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants 2014. Since our days in London, we have contemplated many times on trying this restaurant, but with mixed reviews from family and friends we never made it our mission to dine here. It so happens, that the next and closest flight out of Spain on the Friday evening was 9pm from Bilbao, so we took this opportunity to give it a go.

The drive took about 2hrs, we arrived early and was first to be seated in a small cosy main dining room. The degustation was to take approximately 2.5hrs with over 10 courses + snacks. The lunch was good. All courses were consistent in quality, finesse but the most memorable part was the visit to the cellar and a photo opportunity with Elena Arzak. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a copy of the menu and so I cannot really remember exactly what we ate. I am glad that we went to tick it off our list, but wouldn’t go back in a hurry or recommend it highly to my fellow foodies. I believe there are restaurants that would sit higher on the ‘must try’ list.


The Fat Duck, Round Two

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Okay, we admit we are Masterchef fans and we never miss an episode. Feeling a little bummed that Heston’s week is over and the finals are just around the corner, it reminded me that I have not posted round two, our Fat Duck visit from earlier this year. Yes, it is now almost August 2014!

If you are no where near Bray, United Kingdom, The Fat Duck will be moving to Melbourne Crown Complex in February 2015 for 6months. ‘How do one reserve a table?’ I hear you say. Unfortunately, this info is not released until later in the year. For those who are super keen, I suggest you check back on a regular basis on The Fat Duck website.

Alright, so back in February/March this year, we spent 5 weeks in Europe and 1 week in NYC. All we did was eat, drink and tried to keep warm. Apparently, it was the coldest winter since 1994 in NYC, at least it was no Hurricane Sandy this time round.

Before I get too side tracked reminiscing on my 6 week part business/part leisure trip, this post is dedicated to my ‘still’ favourite restaurant of all time – The Fat Duck. Although, it is now ranked no. 47 on San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants (in my opinion that is absurd!), it still knocks the socks off my feet!

It was an 8:30pm dinner on a Saturday evening for a group of 6, to celebrate a good mate’s 30 birthday. We had a very funny sommelier who was always poking fun at me for taking photos rather than eating.

Nevertheless, the evening started with Nitro Poached Aperitifs of either Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic or Tequila and Grapefruit, exactly the same combination that was aired last Thursday evening on Masterchef during the Masterclass. I am a vodka girl, so that was an easy choice.

The menu was then followed with Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. After 5 years (the last time we went), this particular dish remains on the menu, served the same way, still just as good. MmMm….

Next was the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream with Chicken Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. With truffle aromas, silky parfait, sweetness of the crayfish cream and not forgetting the dry ice experience spilling across the entire table as they serve, it never fails to get a giggle or chuckle from the dining guest.

One of Heston’s signature dish, Snail Porridge with Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel is another staple on his menu. On this occasion it was served in a small round bowl compared to a flat plate. It may sound a little horrifying, but it was tasty and I am sure some will describe it as tasting like chicken.

Next up was the Roast Foie Gras with Barberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit. When one is in Europe you indulge in foie gras no matter how it is served. Thinking about it makes my mouth water. The silky and creamy foie gras + the kombu and crab biscuit, totally brings out the umami flavour!

In my childhood days, Alice in Wonderland was one of my favourite bedtime story, from the cartoon to the Hollywood movies, Alice definitely had all the fun. So when family and friends who dined at the Fat Duck after us back in 2009, I was envious when they got to try Heston’s Mad Hatters Tea Party. It was finally my turn. The party included a golden pocket watch, which was the stock that turned into the Mock Turtle Soup, accompanied with a mad hatters sandwich stand, only thing missing was the mad hatter and the disappearing rabbit! I love soup, so it didn’t disappoint.

Another staple on the menu is “Sound of the Sea”. This is Heston’s multi-sensory cooking, an experience where Heston’s uses sound to draw your attention to the sea while consuming seafood on a bed of sand. If you listen hard enough, you can hear seagulls in the distance. According to my husband, ’fish and chips’ may have been a better idea, Heston’s triple cooked chips that is… I love chips!

As we are passing through the half way mark of the tasting menu, Salmon poached in a Liquorice Gel with Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe. It doesn’t sound all the delish if you are not a big liquorice fan; i.e. myself. The first time I had this back in 2009, it was a substantial piece of salmon but definitely did not taste of liquorice. The experience in 2014,  seems they downsized the serve of salmon, but I feel at this milestone of the menu, it was enough but not over the top. I think I enjoyed it more this time round.

I do apologise as I do not have any recollection of the Lamb with Cucumber, Green Pepper and Caviar Oil. It didn’t leave a lasting impression on my palate except that it was not on the older menu.

If you don’t know what Heston’s does with his food, this may blow your mind – Hot and Iced Tea. It may sound very simple and maybe it is very simple to make, but as the person experiencing this tea it is very unique. The diner must drink this tea as it is served and placed on your table. Reason for this is that the tea is split down the middle with one side being cold and the other being hot. The diner will be able to experience this same sensation within their mouth. The tea itself is a good palate refresher. Don’t ask how it was made, I have no idea.

Now down to the dessert part of the menu. First up was the Botrytis Cinerea, this alone was an artwork in itself. It was made up of many elements that formed the shape of the botrytis grape. It was sweet, fresh, light, acidic and crunchy, an explosion of flavours in your mouth. I wouldn’t mind a second serve of that please…

Sadly, another staple since the hey days, the Black Forest Gateau was closing its curtain that night. With it’s crisp almond base, multi-layered black forest gateau, chocolate ganache, aerated chocolate, chocolate sponge, white chocolate and Kirsch mousse was served with cherry puree, chocolate crumbs and a Kirsch ice cream. Sorry chocolate lovers, you may need to organised a petition for it to make a come back. You never know, Heston loves to reinvent the classics.

By this time of the evening, it was almost 1am and along with 1 other table, we were the last to stumble out of the quaint little restaurant located in a quiet English country town. Before we left, there is always a little something for you to take away to remember the sweetness of the last 5hrs spent at this 3 star Michelin restaurant – The lolly bag aka “Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop”. It consists of mainly chocolate, truffles and pralines that looked too good to eat. Yes, it is still resides in my fridge till this day!

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxford, England

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Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is absolutely stunning, not to mention great food with fresh produce home grown from its very own garden. Raymond was born in eastern France in the village of Besancon. His father taught him and his brothers to work in the kitchen garden and his mother taught him to cook. He opened his first restaurant in 1977 and won the Egon Ronay Restaurant of the Year and the rest was history. Le Manoir was opened in 1984 and has turned into a 2* Michelin restaurant and luxury country house hotel. Raymond is also known for his passion for seasonal, organic produce. In the 30 acre property, he has cultivated over 70 traditional and exotic variety of herbs, 2 acre of vegetable garden with over 90 types of vegetable, a mushroom garden and an orchid that grows apples, pears and quinces!

When you are next visiting old London town, make a trip to Le Manoir and allow for extra 1 or 2 hours to wonder the many gardens and laze by the fireplace sipping away at your aperitif before you are escorted to the main dining room and seated on your table for your 29 years long standing 2* Michelin culinary experience.

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2014 and may all the days be filled with great wine! Drink lots and be merry!

Saint Vincent 2014, Saint Aubin, France





The Saint Vincent festival is to celebrate the patron saint of wine making. It is a annual tradition that one village in Burgundy hosts each year and is considered the brightest event during the cold winter months. For 2014, it will be held in the village of Saint Aubin on the last weekend of January 25 & 26. At dawn on the Saturday, 25th January, Burgundy’s 80 Saint Vincent brotherhoods will have a ceremonial procession carrying the statue of their guardian saint through the vineyards and villages to Saint Aubin, it will then follow with a private mass before the village is open to a weekend of wine tasting and celebrations.

Unfortunately, we will have just missed this year celebration, but nevertheless it sure does bring back great memories from our 2010 visit. Great wine, good food and enjoyable company!

The French Laundry, Yountville, United States

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We consider ourselves very lucky in scoring a last min reservation at The French Laundry, 3* Michelin restaurant in Yountville, California owned by chef Thomas Keller. The previous months prior to our trip, with many sleepless nights without securing a table for 2, we thought we will never get to try what Anthony Bourdain claims to be “the best restaurant in the world, period”. Persistence is key. Everyday like clock work, at 10am, we will call through to reservation and checked if there were last min cancellation, only to be knocked back and be put on today’s waiting list. On the 3rd and last night we were in Napa Valley at 5pm we received a call, congratulating us that a table for 2 had become available for that evening at 9pm. Literally, I dropped everything and couldn’t stop thanking the lady on the other line and said ‘Hell Yeah! We will take it, thank you very much’.

Being a 30min drive from our hotel and not familiar with Yountville, we drove past the restaurant a number of times not knowing it was IT. The restaurant looked unpretentious and the front door was at the side which you could only enter via the back. All in all we made it. Inside we were greeted by friendly staff who made you feel very welcome. It was warm, small and packed full of patrons chatting away amongst themselves and indulging in the set degustation. As we were seated on our table, I must of mentioned it was my husband’s birthday and sure enough, they customised that evening’s menu to wish him a ‘ Happy Birthday’.

The food was great, but definitely the highlight was the Alba white truffle. Oct/Nov is the season for the infamous Alba White Truffles. The truffle is flown in from Italy. Every time the custom made box for the truffle was opened and the white gold was shaved over someone’s hand cut tagliatelle, the aroma wafts throughout the restaurant making you salivate for more. The wine list was pretty impressive, no encyclopedia at El Celler, instead a bit more new age stored in the iPad. Pages after pages of red, white, sparkling and sweet. As per usual, my husband always opt for the wine pairing (apologies, for not taking any photos).

At the end of the evening we were happy vegemite’s who came, tried and left with a big smile that we finally got to try Thomas Keller’s signature restaurant.

A Riesling Summer 2014

The 2014 summer is predicted to be a scorcher and what better way to cool down than to spend it with a bottle of (or many) Riesling! The Riesling grape variety originated from the Rhine area of Germany. The grape has a floral aroma along with high acidity. The younger German Riesling tends to have apple or tree fruit like notes where the more ripen grape it showcases a citrus or peach flavours. The Australian Riesling exhibits lime characteristics, especially those that are from the Clare or Eden Valley of South Australia.

The more notable regions that produce Riesling are: Germany, Alsace, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

We recommend the below as a must-try!

2009 Joh. Jos Prum Riesling Kabinett

Country: Germany
Region: Mosel
Description: A very racy Kabinett, well structured, combining lightness and delicacy, showing a crisp acidity and a balanced minerality.
Price: AU$50.00 per bottle

2011 Egon Muller Scharzhof Qualitatswein Riesling

Country: Germany
Region: Mosel
Description: Bouquet of citrus, barely detectable residual sugar balanced with cleansing acids.
Price: AU$37.00 per bottle.

2012 RK Josephshofer Riesling Kabinett Mosel Monopole

Country: Germany
Region: Mosel
Description: Straw yellow with green tinges. Ripe, yellow fruits, such as Mirabelle plum and peach, but also blood orange and flint.
Price: AU$33.00 per bottle

2011 Rudi Rabl Steinhaus Riesling

Country: Austria
Region: Kamptal
Description: A scent of apricots, cherrys and milk chocolate. Tight and clear, straightforward
structure, muscular body with long finish.
Price: AU$32.00 per bottle

2005 Hugel Et Fils Riesling Jubliee

Country: France
Region: Alsace
Description: Profound, suave and with a great minerality, it will still improve for years and keep for decades.
Price: AU$82.00 per bottle

2008 Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling (375ml)

Country: New Zealand
Region: Marlborough
Description: Pale gold in appearance, Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling delights the senses with aromas of honey, nougat, orange blossom and ripe peach.
Price: AU$39.00 per bottle

2012 Crabtree Watervale Riesling

Country: Australia
Region: South Australia
Description: Lifted aromatics of lemon zest and citrus spice, our Estate riesling has mouth filling concentration, balanced with finely textured, juicy acidity. With careful cellaring should mature gracefully for 10+ years.
Price: AU$24.00 per bottle

2013 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

Country: Australia
Region: South Australia
Description: Grosset Polish Hill Riesling has all the hallmarks of greatness: it’s tightly constrained, uber-concentrated, steely, and zingy.
Price: AU$46.00 per bottle

2005 Plantagenet Mount Baker Museum Release Riesling

Country: Australia
Region: Western Australia
Description: Pale straw colour with green hues. Wonderfully evolved classic lime infused aroma with lemon rind and pear characters, enhanced by subtle spice and mineral tones. Citrus characters follow through to the palate. Wonderful juicy acid structure. Great length with lemon, lime and pear elements lingering.
Price: AU$29.00 per bottle

To view our full listing, click here.

Happy Summer!

Moet & Chandon

Moet & Chandon needs no introduction, the legendary brand is celebrating it’s 270 years as the world’s most loved champagne house. With vineyards stretching across 5 different areas of the Champagne region of France. The 1150 hectares of rich chalk soil is made up of 50% classified as Grand Crus and 25% classified as Premier Crus, the wide range of fruits ensures the best selection of grapes that makes up the infamous Moet Imperial and the original Grand Vintage. The rich flavours and colours of champagne is a combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grape. Each to it’s own, brings a certain characteristics to the end result. The pinot noir’s structure, body, intensity and berry flavour combined with the pinot meunier round, supple and fleshiness and last, but not least, the chardonnay bring notes of citrus fruit, elegance, acidity and freshness.

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

An opulent bouquet of blackcurrant and blackberry, rich warm nuances of spice bread and dried figs with a hint of liquorice. Rounded medium-bodied palate with a slightly tannic structure and subtle tanginess. Refined finish with notes of dark chocolate.

Moet & Chandon Imperial NV

An elegant golden straw yellow with green highlights. Tangy intensity of green apple and citrus fruit. Hints if brioche, cereals and fresh nuts. A generous palate of pear, peach and apple with an alluring caress of fine bubbles.

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial NV

A lively and intense bouquet of wild strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Juicy and persistent intensity of red fruits. Fleshiness and firmness of peach with a a subtle menthol note.

Moet & Chandon Rose Grand Vintage 2003

Good white creamy mousse with exceptionally fine bead and persistence. Pale straw colour base wine. Aromas of yeast lees, toast, biscuit and baked bread – classic Champagne aromas. The palate is lighter than expected with delicate flavours of biscuit, lemon, cashew, yeast lees and toast. Refined with good palate length but not exceptional. Creamy texture with aftertaste of baked bread, biscuit, citrus and hazelnut.

Moet & Chandon Nector Imperial NV

Nectar Imperial is summed up by “exotic”, “rich” and “lively”. There is a burst of pineapple and mango with a slight hint of vanilla. Roundness provided by plums, apricots followed by freshness and acidity of grapefruit.

As the holiday season is around the corner, what better way to celebrate any occasion with a bottle of Moet & Chandon!

The Fat Duck, Bray, United Kingdom

After 4.5 years, hands down The Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal is still one of our favourite restaurant! It was fun, entertaining and most of all it tickled all the senses! Even though, its no longer on San Pellegrino’s top 10 restaurants of the world, we are sure Heston continues to surprise his patrons.

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May 2009:

“The day finally came, after waiting 4months for our table, our experience at Heston’s Fat Duck was fun, entertaining and will be very memorable. The journey took 5hrs to get through 14 courses, though it sounds all so formal, it made us giggle, while he took us down memory lane reminiscing childhood memories and having breakfast as dessert!”