“Move Earth” Says the Chinese Almanac

The Chinese Almanac, which our agricultural ancestors had use throughout the last two thousand years to give advice about planting, has indicated the last two days would be auspicious days for “moving earth” and “start trading”. It’s so happened that these are the wettest days of the month, up to 95% humidity, and you can almost swim in the air. The plants are surviving the dampness, but they do need the sun to expose itself otherwise they will suffocate and die. This is the time I really believe an indoor garden is better for the growing then the outdoor ones. With my portable growing boxes, this is exactly what I will do and taking some of the plants indoor to the warmer and dryer atmosphere to let them have some air.

Endiveplants grown in different media.

The endive that I have transplanted about 4 weeks ago from seedlings are doing fine. The ones that are growing in perlite (珍珠岩) are growing at least 30% biggest than the ones I have planted in compost alone or half compost and half perlite. For this batch of plants I am growing them in a HypoNex high-grade solution that is diluted 1,000 times. I use the measuring cap supplied and used only half of the small cap and dissolve the nutrient in a 2 litre bottle that was recycled from used orange juice container. The nutrient is changes every week or so and the boxes that contain the nutrient are scrubbed and washed with dishwashing liquid.

Living outside the urban area is actually more challenging with the growing environment as there are more insects and pests to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This morning I’ve found a couple of fat green caterpillars munching on my Choi Sum leaves. They are promptly deported to our neighbour’s plot. Well, they don’t really grow anything there so it’s no harm for the green friends to have some dust for breakfast.

So, to follow the suggestion of the almanac, I thought I should plant some seeds to mark the wettest days of the month, or the year, who knows?

Sustainable Growing and Consuming of Local Produce

The seed of what is happening has been germinating for quite a while … and I don’t mean for plants. It’s about a resource book for the home gardeners on growing herbs and vegetables for Hong Kong and Macau region.

Bitter Gourd grown from seed harvested from fruit bought in the market.

I have been reseraching for books in the library on topics of vegetible and herbs growing for the local climate and found very few. What I could find was written many years ago and was not useful for the present setting. So I am going to start blogging here about my own effort in building a sustainable organic garden in Hong Kong. I am also going to use simple materials from local hardware stores and notably from the Ikea stores to build a hydroponics growing system on our balcony.

Time premit I will update this blog more frequently (hopefully at least once a week) and whenever I have made major progress in the building of my edible garden.

Chinese Wine Given Top Honour by Decanter World Wine Award

Out of 12,000 wines entered, only 25 were awarded at the Decanter World Wine Award and He Lan Qing Xue score top mark in the Red Bordeaux Varietal over 10 pound category.

The wine is not for sale outside of China and I have not try the wine but rest assured the Chinese connoisseurs will be racing to add this to their collections.

Besides China, the Asia winner of gold and silver awards include Japan, India and Thailand. The wine world is embracing new challenges from Asia.

Dining in Beijing

CCTV Tower Looming Above Beijing CBD Skyline

Quite unlike my previous experience with this capital city when I was a frequent traveller to Beijing the dispassionate manner of the shop keepers has definitely changed.

The tourist’s attractions are now filled with aggressive shop employees touting something to you.

I went with Kuei to Hou Hai and Sanlitun, both restaurants and bars area, on Thursday exploring the scene and looked for a nice venue for dinner and afterwards for a night cap. As we walked around we were swamped by the shopper keepers sent on the street to tout for business. Along the strips these people were trying to pull us into their bars.  I mean literally, physically, trying to pull you in.

Then on Friday, I went to Silk Street which is a building, similar to the Shenzhen Commercial Plaza, filled with arcade of little cubicles selling all sort of merchandise from handbags to mountaineering gears to electronics. I had to survive the same experience as the night before, with aggressive young ladies grabbing my shirt sleeves to stop my track so that I can buy something at their employee’s shop.

As a Chinese I wondered, what kind of people have we become? As communism rule in China is turning sixty years old, people on the street has retrograded to the behaviour of Ming and Ching dynasty. It seems like there is no more culture to show to visitors but to just want consumers to spend, spend and spend.

The capitalist shopkeepers may have found a much better way to draw you in their shops to spend your money. The Americans bars owners and the Italian bag designers did it by not letting you into their shops, and you have to queue in front of door for sometime before they will let you in. That would have been a better advertisement to say, “This place is COOL. Come in to spend your consumer dollars.”

The way they do it in Hou Hai and Sanlitun is reminiscence to the seedy bars in Bangkok. This is certainly not the kind of image to project for a world class capital city.

Qian Hai Lake Beijing

However, my experience in the two day trip was not all negative. After walking around the Qian Hai Lake for about half an hour, Kuei and I decided to stop at Qing Yun Lou Restaurant for dinner.

From the outside we could see the understated decoration with wooden tables and chairs in antique style. However, on the street we can see clearly there is a wine cellar with its contents in display. I thought that was a good sign that we can enjoy a nice glass of wine with our Chinese meal.

We went in and were seated at a large table on the side, but as guests at a table by the window were leaving I signalled to the waitress if we could move to that table. The request was promptly fulfilled.

View of Qian Hai Lake at Dusk

After we sat down, we ordered a whole Peking Duck with all the trimmings (¥128), a sweet and sour pork (¥45) and a stir fried asparagus (¥35). Kuei had a coke, which is his regular drink, and I had debated whether to order a bottle of red wine or by the glass. The waitress suggested that I can order a half bottle from the menu, which contain a choice of white and red as well as a Prosecco range between ¥170 to ¥225. I decided to order the house red instead, which was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia (¥50 per glass). The house red was adequate but I would probably choose to have a bottle the next time. Since, I thought we were going to talk shop I had not anticipated that I would drink more than two glasses, I was wrong and ended up consuming more than a half bottle.

The sweet and sour pork arrived which has well balanced sweetness with slightly sour flavour. The texture is also very pleasing as it melts in the mouth. The asparagus was crisp and fresh, not oily, and a perfect complement to the pork disk. My red wine which has a medium body was also a good match with both dishes.

Since the duck was made to order it took about 45 minutes to arrive. The skin was roasted to perfection and the chef has sliced it so that the meat and skin were intact. Some restaurants may prefer to serve the meat and skin separately but I find the duck meat so juicy and the skin so crispy that it gives a much better texture and flavour when you are biting into the wrapping. I ended up finishing my plate of duck meat and Kuei more than half of his.

There was no disappointment in all of our dishes, and we were so full that we could not even eat the duck soup which was part of the Peking Duck order.

Qing Yun Lou is advertised as a restaurant for Vietnamese and Shandong cuisine, however, the dishes we ordered were not from either of the origin. For our meal we find that the service was prompt and courteous, the drinks list was well provided and the food definitely stands up to expectation. The bill came to  ¥475, for two persons, is on the high side for China but then again, I believe the whole experience is worth every yuan.

SCENTED HEDGEROW OF SUSSEX IN A BOTTLE

After more than twenty years living in Hong Kong, Annabel is still home sick when Sussex is mentioned in conversations. So when we were invited to the Ridgeview Wine Estate wine tasting at Berry Bros last night Annabel was especially excited. One long draw on the nose with a glass of Bloomsbury, Ridgeview’s signature blend, she turned to me, “this is exactly my memory of the scent of hedgerow, strawberry and floral” in Sussex.

Ridgeview planted classic French Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines sixteen year ago at the foot of the South Downs in Sussex and today it is named as one of the best sparkling winemaker of England.

Simon Roberts, son of Ridgeview founder Mike Roberts, was speaking to guests in the tasting party. I asked Simon, “Why did you describe the bubbles in the wine as ‘mousse’?”

“Because when you pour the wine, you can see the bubbles floating up the glass like a mousse on top of the wine,” Simon said. The mousse “is the result of 3-4 months second fermentation under controlled 12 degree temperature.”

The Mousse, aka 'Bubbles'

I asked, “Why did the mousse goes down so quickly?”

Simon said, “It’s because when we drink the wine our saliva touches the wine which dissipates the bubbles.”

Well, that would be a very good reason to drink the wine quickly. And, don’t swirl the glass too much either.

Berry Bros had provided for tasting the following sample of Ridgeview wines, which are selling in their Lee Garden shop:

1.    2008 Cavendish ($230)
2.    2008 Bloomsbury ($240)
3.    2007 Grosvenor ($265)

Ridgeview Wines

There was one bottle of Fritzovia Rose, which is not yet available for sale in their shop, to share among the guests. I had the chance to taste a petite measure of it. The nose is filled with raspberry and redcurrant, as is described by the winemaker, while the palate has presence of strawberry and feels of creaminess. “For me this is all strawberry and cream,” said Geordie Willis, Business Development Manager of Berry Bros & Rudd, Hong Kong.

Simon recommends a way to drinking their wine, “Serve the wine in wine glasses,” instead of champagne flutes. “Stand still, fill the glass quickly then drink and analyse the wine.”

Simon Roberts Winemaker

I followed Simon’s recommendation and is delighted to enjoy the tinkling sensation of the mousse and the creamy finish of the palate. The scent of the fruit comes through while I was drinking it.

The three wines featured in the tasting were impressive. The pale golden colour mimic the soft golden sunshine of Sussex. I can now say I have experience the scent of hedgerow of Sussex from the bottles of Ridgeview wine.

Annabel reminisced, “This is the smell of English countryside. When I am back in England, this is the only wine I would drink.” My guess is, when she is feeling home sick this is the wine to drink too.

When the Fritzrovia is available, I am heading down to Lee Garden to revisit the strawberry and cream of Ridgeview.

Try the wines and tell me what you think.

Latest update: 2011-11-01

Ridgeview sparkling wine lovers would be glad to Ridgeview will be making a Waitrose brand for the supermarket chain.

Steve James Viticulturist Talks About Wine in Watson’s Cellar

Steve James Viticulturist

True to form, Steve talks about wine drinking in the most down to earth manner. He uses the ‘bottle test’ to measure a good wine. He said, “If you open a bottle of wine and you can finish it in one meal between two persons,” it has to be pretty good.

I was invited to attend the wine tasting for Voyager Estate’s in Watson’s last night. Viticulturist of the estate Steve James talks to Annabel Jackson, wine consultant and food writer, about his philosophy of wine tasting.

Voyager Estate Wines

Steve explained that although Western Australia only produce 4% of the wine in the country, it is accounting for 23% of its premium wine.

Annabel asked what is the attribute of premium wine in Australia, “Is it quality or price?” Steve said, to a large extend “it’s the price that determines” whether to category the wine as premium. So WA really produce more expensive wines per hector than other states in the federation.

Before moving to Voyager Estate 13 years ago, he had stints at the Stonier’s Winery and Amberley Estate, which he compared quite differently. He said, “Obviously the soil type and climate affects how the grapes grow.” He is very keen on preserving and improving the soils by employing organic and biodynamic philosophies.

Steve said, fruity style wine “is more commercially” focused and he thinks now the wine they are making in Voyager is “less about fruitiness and more about complexity.”

Voyager’s wine making philosophy is “to make great wine with common vine management principles,” said Steve, which he attributed the success to the teamwork in the estate.

We tried 5 wines from Voyager, and they are priced in Watson’s especially for this wine tasting promotion:
1.    Chenin Blanc 2010 ($115)
2.    Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010 ($125)
3.    Chardonnay 2008 ($204)

Voyager Cab Sauv Merlot 2005

4.    Shiraz 2009 ($165)
5.    Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005 ($285)

The last wine of the evening was the Cab Sauv Merlot 2005, which had a RP rating of 93. My first sniff of the wine was like a powerful punch to my nose. Full of aromatic complexity, dusty, chocolaty and generously fruity.

I asked Steve about the description ‘fleshy’ in their recommendations for their Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005. “Does that mean, it’s like a piece of juicy steak type of ‘fleshy’?” I asked. He said, he would relate more with the ‘blood plum’ and when you eat “the ripe plum the flesh is so soft and juicy that it runs on you face” type of ‘fleshy’.

The plum analogy did not work with me, I can’t relate to a red with the acidity of blood plum even when it’s fully ripe with all the sweetness. Instead, I said “It feels like sucking the flesh of a ripe fig, after you open up the skin and the soft pink flesh exposed for your ingesting pleasure.”

Try the wine and let me know which feels closer to your own experience.

Although Steve said the wine is ready for drinking after it’s opened, we found that even after breathing for about an hour prior to the tasting the wine was still quite tight. Annabel and I thought another hour might open up the compacted fruity flavor even more.

The white wine we tried exhibit excellent nose and rather straight palate and should be drunk quickly after opened, as the wine did not last. The Shiraz and Cab Sauv may be enhanced with longer airing.

Le Chene Marchand in FCC

Yesterday, I was bantering about ideas of a new wine and food book with Annabel at the FCC. To put our ideas into perspective, of course, we have to take words into action. She chose a bottle of Sancerre ala 2008 le Chene Marchand of Domaine Lucin Crochet from the menu.

To preserve the wholesome flavor, the Le Chene Marchand grapes were hand picked and ‘whole bunch of grapes’ transferred to a pneumatic press via conveyor belt to avoid skin bruising.

It was delightfully crisp with a balanced sweetness to accompany the Fettuccine with mushroom, chili and olive oil I’d ordered.

The brocade has an aroma of green star fruit, which reminded Annabel of Vietnam. I posit that the palate becomes ripe as a golden star fruit upon mixing with the sweetness of the tongue.

For a long summer day, this wine can complete a plate of fruit, cheese or a simple pasta dish. The winemaker recommended a match with fish dish such as seabass or turbot, which I may try the next time.

Above all, the Sancerre had provided new insights for our book ideas.

Le Chene Marchand 2008