Australian wines not only surprise you with their finesse, but also make the entire experience a delight owing to the country's love for cuisine.
By: Nikhil Agarwal, Sommelier & Director, All Things Nice
Posted on: May 25, 2012
Australian wines not only surprise you with their finesse, but also make the entire experience a delight owing to its love for cuisine.
This article is not about the ‘shrimp on the barbie’, neither is it about the ubiquitous Jacobs Creek nor the common Yellow Tail or any other reference to Australia in popular culture. Although they certainly have their place, this article is not about what’s popular, but about experiencing decadent wine and food - a story that won’t be found in your copy of Lonely Planet.
Wining a fully paid scholarship, that entitled me to learn about Australian wines and wineries, thrilled the sommelier in me. Travelling over 5,000 kilometers, I explored eight regions and two capital cities. I was hosted by over 20 winemakers and tasted over 170 wines from 110 producers spanning 30 regions. The meals I ate were legendary, outrageously paired with the most sensual wines. A heady mix that made me buckle at my knees and drown in it all. I have clothes that I no longer fit into as evidence.
The journey took us to McLaren Vale, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and Margaret River. Sounds exhaustive? It was. But we were having too good a time to care. Even the 5.00 am alarm bells, when we got to bed at 1.00 am, were no match for the onslaught of fabulous tastes that we were experiencing.
If ever there was a day of indulgence, it was the second day of the trip. Lunch was at The Wine Library in a quaint town in Sydney. The four hour meal was an endless array of shared plates, prepared by true master chefs, paired with iconic wines like Torbreck’s The Steading and Tyrrells 4 Acres Shiraz, among others that were up there in quality, but perhaps not as well known in India.
We came together for dinner at Otto – one of Sydney’s top restaurants barely an hour or so after lunch. Well, ‘I’ll go with the flow’ was my reaction. We began the evening with a couple of bottles of the 2000 Tasmanian sparkling wine from Crosser and a 98 Sparkling from Blue Pyranees paired with oysters, sipping from elegant crystal and watching the natural light fade while the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge lit up. What followed was eight or more wines, the likes of Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Peter Lehmans Reserve Riesling and By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir paired with beef carpaccio with truffle oil, beautifully cooked steak with a thin filament of dehydrated potato and of course the mandatory after dinner cheese platters, over yet some more wine. It was bliss.
The wine dinner pairing was superbly done with prawns and scallops served with an aged Semillon. We also tasted the ‘91 vintage of Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, Wendouree Shiraz and Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, paired with succulent lamb. Just layer after layer of flavours all coming together to gently lift you - making you almost weightless for a few moments. Well, it would make a poet out of you too.
The Yabby Lake Winery in the Mornington Peninsula was set in the midst of gorgeous rolling hills. We spotted our first kangaroo here as well! We experienced Australian Pinot Noir at its finest paired with quail wrapped in Proscuitto with chai infused crumbs followed by a six-hour oven-roasted Greek lamb. The wine, however, that impressed me personally, was the Lucy Margaux Vineyards Lucy M Pinot Noir. And if you get a chance, you absolutely must try this.
Next was eating kangaroos. Yes, you read that right. Lunch at the Coriole Vineyards in McLaren Vale was my first experience of eating kangaroo. Kangaroo meat goes well with a Coriole Sangiovese 2003 or their Shiraz, if you are ever in that situation.
My favourite wine region had to be McLaren Vale, not only for its famous wines, but for the charming vibes of the region too. We had one of our meals at The Victory Hotel, a gastro pub. The sheer casualness that Australia brings to fine dinning experiences made it so refreshingly charming. Our table was in the basement cellar where the owner of the establishment kept a collection of fine wines from Australia and around the world. We had the Grenache master class dinner here with SC Pannel, a super wine maker and one that immediately won my respect.
Various Grenache and Grenache blends such as John Duval’s Plexus Shiraz-Grenache-Mouvedre blend and other wines from D’Arenberg, Charles Melton (Nine Popes) Jasper Hill and SC Pannel himself were paired with house smoked salmon and seared scallop with sugar snap risotto followed by ricotta tortellini with jamon ham, sage buerre noisette and baby celery cress and then smoked organic lamb. This dinner was an absolute revelation of tastes. If you find yourself in McLaren Vale, visit this restaurant, and yes, be prepared to want to spend lots and lots of money. It’s all worth it.
We then travelled to Ferment Asia in Barossa Valley, a brilliant restaurant that serves Vietnamese cuisine. I have to be honest, the flavours here were a welcome break. The weather at our next stop, Clare Valley, was lovely, nice and chilly. I had spent some energy on 25 minutes of cycling and walked straight into The Artisans Table, our restaurant for the evening, with a sense that I deserved it. The prawn tails, duck confit, the porterhouse steak were all perfect and a reward to my half-baked cycling attempt.
Visiting Margaret River in Western Australia was beautiful from every aspect. The pristine, white sand beaches, with the blue green sea that you could see right through to the sea bed, was an astonishing surfers’ paradise. Margaret River is Australia’s Cabernet Sauvignon country with wineries that produce very high quality wine. Their Chardonnay is unbelievable too. The wines from Mosswood, Woodlands and Cullen particularly stood out. Must Wine Bar is definitely worth a visit and so is Wino’s. Both are dramatically different from each other, but superb nonetheless.
Leeuwin Estate, in all its grandeur, is another legendary winery where lunch was half shell scallops with salmon pearls, finger lime and chives to start off with. Herb rusted line caught fish was next. Sitting under an umbrella, overlooking the massive lawns, the sun shining over us and every now and then a cool breeze wafting around - I couldn’t help but feel hypnotized by the wine, the food and the setting.
The journey is endless. Australia has so much to offer that I feel the need to move there for a while just to experience it all. This is just glimpse, elaborating as much as I could on the wines and the food that went best with it, but to really get a taste, quite simply I recommend you stride your travelling feet there yourself.
Nikhil Agarwal is a renowned sommelier and the Director of All Things Nice, which promotes wine culture in India through educational training programs, consumer tasting events and introduction of quality international wine labels into the Indian market. He has been involved in numerous projects like leading a research on wine and champagne brands and culture in India for Moet Hennessy to spearheading the Imported Wine Portfolio at Sula Vineyards. He also boosted brand awareness and sales for many imported wine brands in India and launched several brands for Diageo besides conducting trainings for Diageo’s hotel and restaurant partners in the country.