Features & guest posts

Matching everyday wines with special occasion food

When I received an invitation to a lunch that would see a range of wines from giant Australian wine producer Hardys paired with food prepared by Pied--Terre’s Shane Osborne, I have to admit that my inner wine snob rather expected the stuff in the glasses to be outclassed by the stuff on the plates.

I’ll clearly have to have a stern word with my inner snob because – as it happens – both wines and food performed rather well, both individually and as partners.

The seven-course meal started off with a dish of asparagus (which was presented both as simply prepared spears and as a richer pannacotta), broad beans and poached quail’s egg in a herb nage, which was accompanied by the herbaceous, citrussy 2006 Nottage Hill Sauvignon Blanc. The simple, fresh green flavours of both dish and wine married well together, while the gentle acidity of the Sauvignon highlighted the creamy texture of the pannacotta.

We moved onto seared tuna wrapped in parma ham, which was served atop some crushed potatoes flavoured with olive oil, black olives and a shallot vinaigrette. The chosen wine was a VR Cabernet Sauvignon Ros. The wine was packed with juicy fruit strawberry flavours. It also had quite a bit of residual sugar to it, which worked well with the salty parma and the savoury olives, but was less successful with the meaty tuna flavours. I think a slightly drier style of ros might have worked better, but although Hardy’s make one, we didn’t get the chance to taste it with the dish.

More successful – in fact one of the best pairings of the lunch – was a plate of seared foie gras served with a cumin and carrot pure and a bayleaf foam. The wine chosen to accompany it was a 2006 Stamp of Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer. Again, there was a fair bit of sweetness to the wine, but it was tempered by the acidity of the Riesling, which also helped to cut through the richness of the foie gras. The spicy smear of pure worked in harmony with the note of spice in the wine, while the sweetness of the wine echoed that of the carrots. To my mind, a wine like this, with a some residual sugar but not too much and a balancing amount of fresh acidity is a far better match for foie gras than the traditional Sauternes, which I often find a cloying combination.

The next match was the triumph of the meal; a dish of John Dory, roast shallots stuffed with a green tomato fondue, a herby scallop sausage and vichyssoise foam was teamed with the complex, rich Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2004. Although the wine is gently oaked, it is a far cry from the clumsy, hefty Aussie Chardonnays of yore, and its zesty citrus acidity pays testament to the fact that the grapes are sourced from some of Australia’s best cool-climate regions.

While it will be another eight to ten years before the wine ‘hits its straps’, according to Bill Hardy, who presided over the lunch, it was already showing a persuasive, precise balance and elegantly layered flavours. All this made it a great match for an equally complex dish, and different facets of the wine were highlighted by the flavours on the plate.

It was only then that I began to appreciate the subtlety of the matching exercise that had been performed by Osborne and his sommelier, Mathieu Germond – the simpler wines had all been paired with dishes that were, at heart, equally simple. As the wines went up a notch or two in complexity, so too did the food.

The next plate of food saw a return to simple, punchy flavours. We were treated to a choice of two wines – a 2004 Nottage Hill Shiraz and a 2006 Stamp of Australia Cabernet Merlot – to accompany a roast veal rump served with morels in a sage sauce. The Shiraz, which was plummy and spicy and showed a hint of liquorice, was somewhat swamped by the rich flavours of the dish. The somewhat lighter Cabernet Merlot, whose slightly herbal currant fruit was supported by firm, ripe tannins and good, crisp acidity, was a far better match in terms of flavours and was also far better at refreshing the palate at the end of each mouthful of food.

Two of Hardys' top reds were then served with a pair of cheeses – and the contrast, in terms of which wine went with which cheese, provided some surprises. The sophisticated, elegant dark, cedary fruit of the 2001 Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon was a terrific match for a pungent Livarot, which brought out the sweet cassis fruit of the wine. On the other hand, its firm tannins became positively drying when the wine was partnered with a creamy Coulommier. In contrast, the Coulommier worked beautifully with the supple tannins and sweet American oak of the 2005 Oomoo Shiraz, but the wine failed to stand up to the earthy Livarot.

Lunch was rounded off with a chocolate mousse served with black cherries, a black cherry sorbet and a chocolate caramel crisp and paired with a glass of the Nottage Hill Dessert Shiraz. Because the wine showed plenty of cherry and chocolate fruit by itself, it proved a thoroughly harmonious match with the pudding – the sugar levels of both pudding and wine were also well matched. It was a fittingly sweet grace note on which to end a truly revelatory meal.

Natasha Hughes is a freelance food and drink writer who writes for Decanter, Wine & Spirit, Delicious, Off Licence News and Traveller, as well as the wine website www.wine-pages.com.

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