Australia produces some of the biggest, fruitiest, richest and most powerful wines on Earth.
This we know- but just how can Irish food stand up to all that for a pleasant gastronomic experience ?
The question was raised at the annual Wine Australia Trade Day which switched this year from the expanse of Croke Park to the Victorian claustrophobia of the Shelbourne Hotel.
As usual Australian producers and their Irish distributors were out in force- the former reeling from a succession of metrological shocks and the latter still punch drunk from the battering of the recession.
‘Just who would be a wine-producer ?’, we asked, bearing in mind the experiences of the Australians over the past four years. First they had 24 months of severe drought which shrivelled up vines and severely cut yields. Then when the rains came in 2011 there was a Biblical deluge which drenched the entire East of the country, resulting in the well-reported flooding in Queensland and Victoria and a month-long delay in the vintage. This year has been a bit better, but some areas were again hit by monsoon rains and flooding.
Four successive years of low yields have forced up grape prices and this, coupled with a strong Australian dollar has put pressure on exports. On the one hand the Oz producers are happy with higher prices, but in a world market where supply exceeds demand, they cannot afford to lose market share in the US, UK, Europe or China, so if they remain competitive on price, then it is at the expense of profit margins. Respected author James Halliday reports in his latest ‘Australian Wine Companion’, that many producers are struggling to break even.
Australia continues to do well on the Irish market however and the purpose of the Food Matching Masterclass at the Shelbourne was to show restaurateurs , chefs and hoteliers that the Wines of Oz and the Food of Ireland can get along famously.
Damian Corr, manager of The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion Hotel was one of the presenters. He has just returned from a study tour of Australian Wine Regions and is engaged in matching their wines with his menu. So what does he recommend to diners?
‘Let’s take for example Roast Chump of Donald Russell Irish Lamb with Lamb Neck and Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese Pastie, Spinach Puree, Merrion Pantry Mint Jelly.’ I would choose a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with a little age, firm but not overpowering tannins and lush ripe mouth filling fruit. Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from McLaren Vale with its beautiful cassis notes and careful oak handling is perfect for this pairing.
Having visited the wine producing regions of Orange, Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Barossa, Eden, Clare and Coonawarra, Damian says that it was apparent how different the varietals produced in each region were and their ability to be matched with different styles of food. ‘Producers such as Keith Tulloch in the Hunter who makes a stunning “Field of Mars” Shiraz that would stand up to anything in the Northern Rhone is perfect for Roast Beef. Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills is brilliant with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream. Oysters are a perfect match with McWilliams Lovedale Semillon from the Hunter Valley. He also suggests Pipers Brook Vineyard Estate, Tasmania, Pinot Noir, 2009 as an accompaniment to Goats Cheese and Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz from Clare Valley to match roast venison
‘Australians take food and wine very seriously and love the pure joy of eating and drinking in company’, he says. ‘Service tends to be family style in many good restaurants which is conducive to trying new dishes, new flavours and new wine pairings. I really don’t think there is a definitive correct pairing of any particular food to a certain wine, only guidelines and experiences. I’d love to see more white wines recommended with cheeses and more Pinot Noir being served slightly cooler but it is all about personal preference and a willingness to experiment. That is why Irish food and Australian wines make an excellent pairing as Australia offers so many options, be it cool climate Shiraz, well handled Chardonnay, vibrant Riesling, silky Cabernet or gutsy Grenache.’