Readers of this blog will know I have a lot of respect for Australian wines. While the image of Aussie wines in the UK is often associated with bottom-of-the-barrel supermarket specials, the country produces quite incredible wines at all price points. A tasting trip to South Australia in 2012 opened my eyes to the heritage of the region – with some of the oldest commercial vines on the planet, the diversity of the grape varieties available, thanks to the diversity of geography and climate, and the increasingly sharp focus Aussie winemakers put onto regionality and terroir. The region is made up of a number of separate wine-producing areas and offers everything from cool, breezy Riesling to full-bodied, punchy Shiraz. The state is responsible for producing over half of the entire country’s wine; correspondingly many of the southern hemisphere’s major players are based in South Australia, including perennial crowd-pleasers Jacob’s Creek and Australia’s ‘first growth’ Penfolds Grange.
My trip down-under was also one of the culinary highlights of my life so far and the South Australians are becoming increasingly well known for the pairing of top wines with regional produce. Some classic pairings include:
Shiraz is arguably Australia’s national wine, of which the south of the country is a huge producer. Some of the best Shiraz in the world hails from South Australia. And it’s more versatile than you might think it is. Lamb is a very popular Australian foodstuff (despite the stereotype, there are over twice as many more sheep in Australia than in neighbouring New Zealand). Grilled on a barbecue or roasted European-style, Shiraz is the perfect match for this juicy, lean and often ‘gamey’ meat. It also, of course, goes well with classic dishes such as steak with peppercorn sauce. For poultry – and roast chicken is a perennial favourite here – a Pinot Noir works well, being lighter and earthier. Adelaide Hills offers South Australia’s best source of Pinot.
Shiraz will match with traditionally Australian meats, such as kangaroo. But you’ll find upmarket restaurants often opting to match dishes such as kangaroo meatballs with a Cabernet Sauvignon for its deeper cassis-like fruitiness and more structured tannins.
Closer to the coast, seafood is the order of the day. Simplicity wins out here. A fresh, seared fish fillet, such as barramundi, dressed with just a squeeze of lemon is best paired with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc.
Bucking the global trend, Riesling is quite fashionable in South Australia. It’s acidic, limey zing goes excellently with the plethora of Asian cuisines found in Australia. In terms of traditional local produce, it’s delicious with baked scallops, grilled prawns and the sweeter styles accompany all kinds of desserts.
Chardonnay is Australia’s number one white wine and illustrates the point that white wines aren’t just for seafood. A full-bodied Chardonnay is excellent with chicken and other poultry and can work surprisingly well with light lamb dishes – sometimes even better than a Shiraz. Chardonnay also goes especially well with the huge South Australian export: the macadamia nut, which are fantastic in salads, light meat dishes or desserts. A pie floater is a very traditional dish of the region, which can be an ideal match for this wine, thanks to the pea soup and light, flaky pastry.
The lighter, unoaked Chardonnays from cooler sites in the state go well with fresh, seafood – especially oysters.
When it comes to ‘stickies’, there are some fantastic botrytised wines coming out of South Australia. Local and much-loved pastry desserts, such as quandong pie or Kitchener Bun go very well with a Botrytis Semillon.
Time to get cooking!
This post includes contributions from Exsus South Australia, providing luxury holidays to the food and wine capital.