Thu 13 Dec 2012

What a North and South


However upsetting the recent result at the Millennium Stadium (what you mean, which result? Take your pick and stop going on about Twickers!) I welcome expeditionary forces from the antipodes to these shores.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

It’s good news, for instance, to find that a once mediocre hostelry has been not so much gussied up as “Kiwied” or “Ozzed”. Food instantly becomes more ambitious without the gastro-posturing that has ruined many a traditional inn, and service is competent and charming if a tad informal for those among us who like to stand on ceremony. Most importantly, a glass of pub wine is suddenly worth drinking. It could be a verdant Marlborough sauvignon, fragrant Otago pinot noir, crisp Tassie chard or cockle-warming Barossa shiraz. Whatever it is, it hasn’t been open for days in a dusty corner of the bar because “there’s not much call for it.”.

One of the recent joys of wine appreciation has been to witness the exponential evolution of regional styles in Australia, replacing the in-yer-face but remarkably consistent fruit bombs of yore that did good grub no favours. New Zealand has always played the premium card, but I still vividly recall feeble, rain-soaked reds and piercingly sharp whites in which high water tables could almost be heard gurgling in the background. Let’s leave the past tense thankfully where it belongs.

But here’s a thing. We may speak the same language, but regional accents are now all the rage especially in a part of the world where terroir used to play second fiddle (and last desk at that) to technique. If early invaders communicated in a serious of grunts, as, frankly, did some of our Great British food, these polished new ambassadors can be remarkably inarticulate in a different way. They could be, well, just a bit too posh. Let me explain, with a few examples.

First up, never let an elegant Otago, Martinborough or Victoria pinot noir anywhere near a rustic beef stew. It will turn up its nose and say, I didn’t come all this way to break bread with a peasant, as I discovered only last week at my local bring-your-own-bottle bistro. I brung just such a wine, which, instead of chiming fortuitously with the plat du jour – boeuf bourgignon – just plain sulked. The husband observed, unattractively smugly, that Les Bleus (and, very occasionally, even the All Whites) were, when it mattered, wont to pull the hakka from under the All Blacks so this made sense. Be that as it may, Lesson One is save your posh antipodean pinot for roast beef or pheasant, prime steak, or, topically, the Christmas turkey, a fine match for Te Tera (£13.50 per bottle).

d'Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, 2007

d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, 2007

Lesson Two is to get yourself deprogrammed pronto if you are primed to reach for an Aussie shiraz whenever you feel a spice attack coming on the plate. Time was, a lively, rather than gob-combustive chilli and a gutsy shiraz could be a marriage made in heaven, followed by comfortably comatose tastebuds. Nowadays, a new reserve and complexity in the wine makes you want to savour it and think about it, not to have it blown off your tastebuds by a peppery kick in the food. For me, good Aussie shiraz works better in controlled explosions, wherein gentler spices like ginger or cinnamon, fragrant herbs, sweet roots and onions gently probe the velvety texture of the wine, which opens out to receive them. The Footbolt (£11.95 per bottle) is particularly good at that.

Lesson Three dares to impugn the near-sainted status of Kiwi sauvignon blanc which should never be considered a substitute for, say, Sancerre with a serious bit of goat’s milk cheese. Individually, the two are natural wonders, but together, frankly, they stink. The cheese is earthy and gamey, as it should be, the wine is gloriously clean and green and the net result is something akin to a farmyard not quite fumigated with extra-strength pine disinfectant. This is a waste of two stars. Head to the Loire or England for the cheese and reserve a benchmark Marlborough sauvignon for similarly high-octane flavours, like lemon grass and lime or the green buzz of basil and dill. My current coup de coeur is Greywacke – look out for the 2012 vintage, which will be available in the New Year.

My last Lesson – based on the law of diminishing returns – is never wish away proper, honest and true Australian chardonnay as we historically knew it for the sake of some European ideal of elegance and restraint. My best food match of the week was between just such an unashamedly rich, viscous and tropical brew and an outrageously creamy pumpkin soup perked up with star anise. The opulence of the fruit absorbed the sweetness of the pumpkin. Spicy new oak met the aniseed head on and shook hands. There was enough lemony acidity to cut through the cream too. Absolute bliss, and a nirvana moment for one who rarely wants soup with her wine, because it’s just too wet. For my next glimpse of heaven, I’ll turn to Leeuwin’s old-school Prelude Chardonnay (£23 per bottle), and gladly pay the price.

Roll on the Six Nations and the World Cup. It’s only a game. Unlike this food and wine lark, which is deadly serious, you know.

And there endeth the last Lesson.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Categories : Australia, New Zealand


  1. Stephen Booth says:

    That Martinborough Pinot Noir also works very sweetly with a seared fresh tuna steak and a piquant salsa of lemon, parsley, mint, olive oil and garlic,

  2. John Daniel says:

    What a thoughtful article. I was once served suckling pig with a smooth Pinot Noir; what a disaster! It desperately needed a red with a bit of acidity to balance the fattiness of the meat.

    To my taste, Christmas Turkey and Alsace Riesling make an excellent combination too.

  3. Martin Mace says:

    I returned from holiday in NZ before Christmas having done some serious tasting with three outstanding bottles. The first a 5 year old Sauvignon Blanc from Highfield Est. near Blenheim. This was rich and rounded with still the background gooseberry flavour – truly remarkable. Do try Janet please!
    The second was an Otagan Pinot Noir called Devil’s Staircase with a label inviting you to descend to the devil and return with all the tastes and flavours with which the wine was endowed! It was a very good Pinot Noir, rich and subtle and the title…..?
    The third was a Chardonnay that tasted so much better in NZ than here. A mistake.
    Thank you for your interesting article.

  4. John williams says:

    Cyfarchion Janet. Eisiau caws gafrn da?-Cymru am dani! Carmarthenshire White ( gafr wen) a Carmarthenshire Blue. ( gafr las) Gweler Sian Elin,merch Hywel ac Enid sydd biau’,r busnes. Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Cofion. John a Mavis.

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