I have known Ben Hughes - the Head of Liquids - as he likes to call himself, at the Australian Wine & Beer School - for quite some time, and we stroke a friendship out of common interest for food and wine.
So much so, that Ben surprised me with an invitation to join one of his July classes on Australian Wines.
Having recently acquired my full Australian citizenship, I thought it would be appropriate to investigate the local liquids with a friendly expert. Ben has over 25 years of experience in the wine industry and being originally from the UK, he has a vast knowledge of both local and international wines.
And what I particularly like about Ben is his no non sense, down to earth and simple approach to help you understand wine and get a good and common sense understanding of food/wine matching.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that cheese is also one of my passions and the prospect of matching Australian wines to European Cheeses was irresistible. So, I went last night...
I was not disappointed, and Ben had a few surprises in store for me...
Methode Tasmanoise - JANSZ
Not really a surprise here, though, as Jansz has been my second best choice after Chandon for many years. Delicate taste, fine bubbles, cold climate out of Tasmania. Great choice!
We had a Brie to match, and although pasteurised, as all Bries & Camemberts in Australia, it was a perfectly ripe fromage, and the surprise came as how good the two were playing together!
RIESLING - CLARE VALLEY - SOUTH AUSTRALIA - WATERVALE - JIM BARRY
We had a chance to match an Italian goat cheese called Brunet with this young but robust Riesling whose acidity cut through the fat of the cheese.
A bit more info on the Brunet:
Brunet is a great choice for goat’s cheese lovers and novices alike. It is named after a local goat breed in the Piedmont region, and it is made in the style of the traditional ‘robiola’ cheeses of the area. The flavour is rich and creamy with a fresh finish and clean goat’s milk flavours. The texture is smooth and even, dense and a little fudgey.
Chardonnay - MOUNT BARKER - WESTERN AUSTRALIA - WEST CAPE HOWE
Ben believes that the best food match for a Chardonnay is Roasted Chicken, so much so that I bought a Pouilly Fuissé for my wife's recent birthday and our children cooked a Poulet Provençale or Pollo alla Cacciatora in the Italian version if you prefer this implementation. I will soon post the recipe in our upcoming Winter Newsletter, so you might want to subscribe here
In this particular case, we had to content ourselves with a second serving of Brie in my case, as this is a more robust wine than the Riesling and I though the Brie would be a better match, and it was!
Harvested in cool weather, fermented in stainless steel and finished in French Oak, it has strenght and flavours and complexity not dissimilar to a Chablis or that Pouilly Fuissé
GRENACHE ROSE - BAROSSA VALLEY - SOUTH AUSTRALIA - Rogers & Rufus - A SURPRISE!
Well, let's be straight here: I don't like Rosé much, mainly because it has been traditionally not a very good wine. There are exceptions as in Cassis and Bandol in Provence, but I prefer to avoid them. Having said that, Ben recommends Rosé as a picnic wine, and I do agree with that, as it is lighter than other wines generally and you are not transporting elaborate food if you are trekking the Gorges du Verdon or ascending the Mont Ventoux. Charcuterie, cold pizzas and quiches would certainly thrive against a Rosé, and this particular example from the Barossa Valley was certainly a great and good surprise, so maybe once the weather warms a bit here in Sydney, a walk in the Blue Mountains will be "de rigour" and my food basket will certainly include a bottle of this amazing discovery!
Time to move to the Reds and Fortified!
PINOT NOIR - MORNINGTON PENINSULA - VICTORIA - Kooyong MASSALE
Well, I really like Pinot Noir and this one is a fine example of the genre. We went to the Mornington Peninsula two and a half years ago after the Australian Open and the now legendary match between Federer and Murray. We celebrated the Scot victory in style with a great lunch and wine at Montalto, so we didn't get a chance to visit Kooyong, although we heard plenty good things about them there.
We had a new set of cheeses with the red wines: a gorgonzola from Italy and a Manchego from Spain.
SHIRAZ - HUNTER VALLEY - NEW SOUTH WALES - ALLANDALE
Well, when it comes to Shiraz, I am a little biased as my almost daily consumption of French GSM makes me always wary of these big Australian reds. And this one is no exception, although I found it more subtle and layered than let's say a Barossa one...so goodnya Ben! I had not drank a red from the Hunter in a long time, and it was interesting to see that there is a movement away from heavy reds.
Although fermented for 12 months in American Oak, it is almost light at 13.5% alcohol and at 30$ a bottle, it is a steal. So, I will certainly revisit this one at home with a rack of lamb for instance...
Tempranillo - Barossa Valley - SOUTH AUSTRALIA - RUNNING WITH BULLS
The only wine that Ben decanted for our liquid pleasure! That tells you something about the body of this wine! Tempranillo, the Spanish grape behind the (now..) famous Rioja, this Australian version, and hence the name of the winery: clever! This is a big wine that needed the gorgonzola cheese.
"The 2013 Barossa Tempranillo has an expressive bouquet that opens up in the glass to reveal fruits of the forest, bramble and dark chocolate with hints of cinnamon and dried lavender. The wine is juicy and plush exhibiting flavours of Satsuma plum and chocolate, finishing with pomegranate crunch and long rustic tannins. Try with a spicy chorizo, red onion and capsicum pizza." I really enjoyed this one!
Tokay - RUTHERGLEN - VICTORIA - SeppeLTSFIELD
Clearly - or not so clearly - my camera is becoming tipsy by now, or is it just me?. Our last wine of the evening is a Tokay from the Rutherglen Valley in Northern Victoria, a region I am dying to visit, as it is a treasure trove of good food and wine, as well as astonishing beauty. The region is famous for its Ports and fortified wines, but produces also a very interesting range of cool climate wines.
Allow me to be straight with you, I am not a great fan of fortified wines, and even a good Sauternes with a thick slice of Foie Gras on Brioche is not something I have been really missing in my 17 years in Australia. I found this wine lacking character. Yes, it was sticky, but I thought it was a bit too sweet and fairly flat, and even with the Gorgonzola, I was not convinced, but that what education is all about!
In conclusion, we all had a great time tasting these wines and being carefully and expectedly guided through the maize of flavours and stories of wine and food pairing. Ben has acquired the casual professionalism which is the trademark of good Australian business people. His evenings are smartly structured, and his enthusiasm and his deep knowledge don't get in the way of you feeling like this is the first time he is doing this presentation, and he is doing it just for you! A great talent...
It is well oiled (!) and the range of wines gives a wide and knowledgeable picture of the Australian wine landscape. The cheeses supplied by Ocello don't disappoint and certainly added another dimension to the tasting. Ben organises European wine (that includes French...) tastings - called the European Wine Experience, as well as a Champagne only gig - The Champagne Showdown - all events will be bookable soon via a new website that should be up in a few days. I will have to go back then, and so should you!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
A link here for our non-metric readers: