Duck and Pinot Masterclass – Luv-a-Duck, Port Melbourne

I am fairly skeptical when it comes to those websites that peddle daily deals that are usually too good to be true, so when a friend of mine mentioned that she had recently taken a cooking class through Living Social, I subscribed more out of curiosity rather than intent. A couple of weeks later, hands-on duck cooking classes were offered at an unbelievable price and when I realised that it was provided by Luv-a-Duck, I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the discounted offer to participate in the Duck and Pinot Masterclass.

The long awaited day finally arrived and I excitedly arrived early at the Luv-a-Duck retail showroom in Port Melbourne, and meandered around the refrigerated stands selling the extensive range of duck produce, and associated gourmet sauces and condiments. Class participants receive a 10 per cent discount for items purchased on the evening, so I mentally started to prepare a shopping list of things to buy after the class. The chef’s table had been laid out in anticipation and the kitchen stations were ready for action.

The night began in the small classroom area with Wendy, our instructor for the evening, giving a brief overview of the history of the Luv-a-Duck company and the format of the masterclass. We were also introduced to Steve from PinotNow who was supplying the matched pinot wines for the evening. As there were five courses to be prepared and served throughout the night, the class needed to divide into teams of two and proceed into the kitchen, where packages of whole duck and sharp knives were waiting for us.

Wendy demonstrated the process for preparing and cooking a perfect roast duck before moving on to show us how to dissect the duck into smaller portions and extract the duck breasts and marylands for some of the evening’s recipes. Then it was our turn to pick up the knives and get to work on breaking down the duck, which wasn’t always as easy and effortless as Wendy made it appear but fun nonetheless. I tried to imagine myself doing this at home and could only conjure an image of me sailing into my local Foodworks to pick up a couple of pre-packaged duck breasts!

The next task was to volunteer for a course to prepare so I partnered up with a couple of guys to make the Duck and Portobello Mushroom Pie. While Fazil started on preparing the marinade for the duck breasts, Jesper and I set about preparing the shortcrust pastry made with duck fat for the pies. The pastry was extremely easy to make and duck fat seemed to make the pastry soft and malleable. After rolling out the pastry we lined a dozen small ceramic dishes and strangely enough, while it was somewhat labour-intensive, I could readily imagine doing this at home or for a dinner party.

Once finishing the first preparation stage to our recipes, the first entrée course of Smoked Duck with Lentil and Pear Salad was ready to be served. Steve had matched this first course with a 2008 Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Glengarry, Tasmania. With a 92 point rating from James Halliday in the 2011 Australian Wine Companion, this wine was now showing signs of age in the colour and has probably reached its peak. It had a very elegant nose with subtle black cherry aromas and a short finish on the palate. The soft acidity and fine tannins were a good match with the smoked flavour in the dish. This course was exceptional and I started to secretly wish that I had prepared this course so that I could replicate it at home. The lentils were softly cooked in duck stock and the caramelised pears were a wonderful addition to the dish and balanced out the ripe fruit flavours in the wine.

Wendy got the teams back into the kitchen to keep preparing our courses. As the pastry cases were chilling out in the fridge, our little band of three started to prepare the filling for pies. It was fun working together and pretending to be sous chefs so that one person could cook the mixture on the stove while we scrambled about chopping the remaining ingredients and throwing everything into the pot. Somehow we just got our pies filled and into the oven before we were called back to the dining table for the next course.

It was another case of food envy as a plate of Sticky Marmalade Duck Breast with Duck Fat Roast Potatoes was set before me. This dish had been matched with 2011 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon USA. In the WSET 2 course I had studied about premium wines from Oregon but I hadn’t actually tasted one, until now that is. This wine had distinctive floral characteristics and I could smell and taste violets, lilac and cherries but also on the palate the spicy elements of this wine started to evolve. With a white pepper finish, the wine had traces of cinnamon, cloves or Chinese five spice which helped to bring out the Asian flavours in the duck. Beautifully cooked and prepared, the duck breast had been roasted and basted in citrus, ginger, soy and sesame seeds so the wine Steve had selected was quite a good match. This dish is definitely on my must-do list!

With the pies nicely warming in the oven, the last task for the course I was helping to prepare was cooking the Braised Baby Cos and Speck accompaniment. So easy to prepare and yet incredibly delicious, I had never thought to wilt baby cos quarters in a mixture of speck, rosemary, currants, verjuice and vino cotto in a frypan. This dish was matched with a 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Millot “Aux Faulques” Pinot Noir from Cote de Nuits, France. The wine was elegant in style and its taste resembled a fine, classic burgundy. Although I’m generally not a fan of mushrooms, the mini duck pies were superb and a good choice for a cold Autumn evening.

With my course of the way, I could relax as the next team served the Duck Leg Tagine with Chermoula and Jewelled Cous Cous. This dish had been paired with the 2011 Pisa Range Estate “Run 245” Pinot Noir and as soon as I caught the beautiful bouquet on this wine, I reached for the order form. This wine was award 4 stars or 93 points by Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine (September 2013) and is finely crafted with distinctive red berry characters and suitable for cellaring. The duck tagine was an array of rich colours and flavours and the spices in the Chermoula paste complemented the wine.

While we were all full and just about ready to head home after a long day, the first team had whipped up a delicious Hot Raspberry Souffle with Rose Petal Cream for dessert. Extremely light and sweet to taste, this was a perfect end to an incredibly fun evening. The only job left to do was to exit through the gift shop with my duck and Pinot purchases ready to take home. Apart from recreating my duck dishes at home, my new hobby is monitoring the daily internet deals for the next Luv-a-Duck special as it was $50 extremely well spent.

Uncorked Wine Tours – Casablanca Valley, Chile

It’s been a while between postings, or drinks you might say, and while I’ve been absent from cyberspace, I took the opportunity to affirm my love of wine and complete the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 qualification. The eight week course provided an understanding of old world and new world wines and an overview of wine production and grape varietals in France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Chile. One evening, during a lesson on Pinot Noir, I was intently studying a map of Chile and its major wine growing regions and the very next day, I was asked if I would like to travel to Santiago on business. Naturally I said yes and started planning my next wine and food adventure in Chile as soon as I could.

After an intensive search on Google for wine tours near Santiago, I came across Uncorked Wine Tours and had the good fortune to book a semi-private tour to the Casablanca Valley, an internationally recognised producer of premium Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines.

Bodegas RE

It was an early start to a Saturday, but the sun was shining and I was excited to be out of the office and ready to explore the Chilean countryside. I met Stefan, my guide for the day at the hotel, and we headed downtown to meet the other three guests who had travelled from the US and were also looking forward to the opportunity to enjoy Chilean wine. After a short drive out of the city, the first stop of the day was Bodegas RE. The family behind the Bodegas RE vineyard is well known within the Chilean wine industry, however this new and innovative vineyard takes pride in experimenting in diverse varietals of grapes that are traditionally known to Casablanca Valley and Chile, and the results are bold and exciting wines.

After a walk to the vineyard and a tour of the “nursery” where olives and stone fruits were fermenting and maturing into oils and liqueurs respectively, we went through the gift shop and down into the cellar to see examples of ancestral methods of wine production using large clay pots and jars.

The wines that we had the pleasure of tasting at Bodegas RE were:

2011 Pinotel (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Muscatel): a dry, crisp wine, with a bronze-pink colour and a floral, orange blossom and jasmine perfume;

2011 Chardonnoir (55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir): Champagne recreated as a still wine! Gold-pink in colour complete with yeasty, bready notes, with a slightly sweet dried fruit, apricot aroma with an off-dry, medium sweet finish;

2008 Caberignan (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carignan): With hints of ageing and a ruby garnet appearance, with black fruits and hints of black pepper and oak on the nose, with a peppery taste on the palate;

2008 Carignan (100% Carignan): Fruit from 60 year-old vines and single vineyard, a superb wine with deep, ruby red colour, a long finish, dry with blackfruit and white pepper on the palate, blackberry and black plum notes on the nose, hints of oak and stewed prunes. A spectacular wine …. I couldn’t help myself and purchased a bottle on my way out through the gift shop!

2009 Valedo (100% Pinot Noir): The word valedo means “veil”. A gold coloured white wine which is vinified like a rosé and then aged under a veil of flor yeast giving the wine very complex aromas of sweet almonds and white pepper.

Loma Larga Vineyards

A little further down the road, we pulled into a winery that is surrounded by natural parkland complete with a mountain range and eucalyptus trees, and it almost reminded me of being back home in Australia.

With vines growing over the surface of the winery and barrel room, our little group enjoyed a private tour of the winery and walked up into the production area to see the wines ready for export to China and wines maturing in oak barrels.

Specialising in producing several red wine varietals and two white wines, the original country farm house at Loma Larga now serves as a tasting room, where we had the privilege of tasting a selection of one white (2012 Sauvignon Blanc) and three red wines 2013 Pinot Noir, 2010 Malbec and 2008 Cabernet Franc).

House, Casa del Vino

The final destination for the day was House (Casa del Vino) which is a unique centre offering wines produced by the Belen Group, educational tours and gastronomy.

Tirazis, which is the Persian name for Shiraz, is the specialty of the winery and is a cool climate Syrah planted with bush-vines in the Casablanca Valley.

After an enjoyable morning of sampling different wines, it was time to enjoy lunch, which was a degustation affair with matching wines.The first course was a ceviche of grouper, salmon and calamari matched with a glass of Morande 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva. Ceviche is a staple of Chilean cuisine and this dish was stunning in its pairing of the different types of fish, including its textures and colours. The citric acidity of the ceviche was matched with a pale yellow fruity wine with green apple citrus flavours.

The next dish was a delicious squid ink risotto with seafood sautéed in butter and topped with parmesan cheese paired with an offering of Morande 2009 Pinot Noir Gran Reserva. The vegetal aromas of mushroom and leather and red fruit flavours typically associated with Pinot Noir were an excellent match with the rice which was a substantial component of the meal.

Carmenère is a red grape varietal that is uniquely produced in Chile. Originally thought to be Merlot, Carmenère is a stunning red wine that defies description but I think everyone should have the pleasure of enjoying. Our third course was a pork loin with bacon, eggplant, tomato, zucchini, potato and salsa verde served with Morande 2011 Carmenère from the Maipo Valley. Absolutely delicious, although I can’t say which I enjoyed more – the wine or the food.

Then just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat and drink another thing, a glass of golden Morande 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was served with panna cotta, fresh berries and a Shiraz reduction. Both were rapidly devoured, so it must have been good.

Normally after I have been filled to the brim with excellent wine and delectable food, I am in ready need of a small siesta however our next appointment was a private tour of the winery to see how the wine is made in a didactic style. Escorted into a large room with stainless steel tanks (which bore some resemblance to the daleks from Doctor Who), large exotic concrete eggs and oak casks, a sommelier explained the wine making process for producing the special blend of Syrah that the winery is known for. The highlight of the day was definitely tasting two vintages of Syrah directly from the oak barrels.

Just when I thought the fun was about to come to an end, we were escorted into what every serious wine-loving girl needs – a private cellar of Shiraz with a trademark Christian Louboutin red concrete floor. All I need to do now is work out how I can build one into my new apartment.

I had a wonderful day enjoying Chilean wine from the Casablanca Valley and beyond, with many different wines and varietals to taste, and the opportunity to enjoy excellent food. I owe a big thanks to Stefan who made sure I got back home to my hotel safe and sound and that my wine purchases were also intact.