Judging wine with food

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Tasting medium bodied reds with veal rack

In a recent alcohol-free period, the toughest time by far was dinner. Duck breast bereft of a juicy pinot noir or roast chicken craving for a flinty chardonnay created a thirst that no water could quench. Just as a squeeze of lemon or a sprinkling of herbs can elevate the flavours of a dish; add an appropriate wine and the synergy between the two can transform even a modest meal into something more special.

 

As enjoying wine with food is the way many are consumed and best enjoyed, I value wine competitions that are prepared to tackle the tricky logistics and judge its entrants with food. This is the approach taken by the Sydney International Wine Competition (SIWC), which I was back to judge last year and is showing it’s latest Top 100 at a tasting in Sydney next weekend.

 

Michael Manners ensuring the wines were well matched and we were well fed

Michael Manners ensuring the wines were well matched and we were well fed

Cracking open a bottle to imbibe with your repast may be a piece of cake, but managing a wine show where food is part of the equation presents an extra set of challenges. However, as one of the first to make food part of the blind judging process, the SIWC felt like a well-oiled machine, with chef Michael Manners delivering delicious dish after dish to match categories in which wines are grouped by style rather than variety.

 

Assessing all the wines entered with the dishes would be a huge call for the judges despite the 2,000 cap. Instead, we whittled them back in an initial tasting to what we considered the top 20 percent to taste with the food – a task that still took several days at the judging table. In a process that at times felt like competitive eating and required considerable restraint not to polish of every morsel of Manners’ appetising plates, we assessed each of these wines again alone and then with food, with the option to raise or lower our marks based on the combination.

 

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Full bodied reds tasted with venison casserole

Food is a great tool for ensuring that the more restrained wines that can be overlooked in a traditional wine competition are mot missed. Something that appears shy on its own can blossom with the right dish. Conversely, it drove home how dry extracted tannins are rarely tamed by food, but need to be in balance at the start and that table wines with dried fruit characters tend to see these come to the fore rather than recede when food enters the equation.

 

The “Best Wine of Competition” emerged as the Coolangatta Estate Wollstonecraft Semillon 2009, which will be available along with the rest of the Top 100 to taste at the competition’s consumer event on Saturday 11th February.

After all that eating a stroll with fellow judges very much the order of the day (L-R Meg Brodtmann MW, Andrew Pritzker MW, Robin Kick MW).

After all that eating a stroll with fellow judges in the beautiful Blue Mountains was very much the order of the day (L-R Meg Brodtmann MW, Andrea Pritzker MW, Robin Kick MW).

 

 

Here are some of my personal favourites from the flights that I judged at the show, along with details of the dishes with which they were tastes. The competition’s website handily provides all the food matches with Michael Manners’ recipes, so you can recreate the combinations at home.

 

Sparkling – Champagne Charles Orban Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (TROPHY)
Crab with Avocado and Lime Mayonnaise
A very stylish sparkling with great complexity to its notes of nut, apple and pastry, which are underpinned by a bright line of fresh citrus. It contains both the acidity that worked with the citrusy element of the dish with which it was judged, as well as a richness that enabled it to hold its own with the creamy elements.

 

Semi-sweet – Riverby Estate “Eliza” Marlborough Riesling 2014 (TROPHY)
Endive with Parmesan, thyme and prosciutto crumble
A golden hued medium sweet Riesling with a rich honeyed palate redolent of marmalade and spice, in which its sweetness is balanced by crisp grapefuity freshness.

 

Fuller bodied white – Seville Estate Yarra Valley Chardonnnay 2015 (TROPHY)
Veal Fillet with White Bean, Pea, Mushroom and Broad Bean Ragout
An elegant citrus driven Chardonnay with a linear palate with notes of almond paste over a savoury and almost briny mineral undercurrent. A top flight wine that really wine shone, despite the rather challenging food match.

 

Lighter bodied red – Carle Estate Upper Goulburn Nebbiolo 2010 (BLUE GOLD)
Lamb Tenderloin, Marinaded with Basil, Oregano on Pilaf Rice
Classic Nebbiolo notes abound on this intriguing and perfumed wine. Its dark fruits are infused with notes of liquorice spice, violet and cigar box aromatics over a lovely earthy, leathery, savoury undercurrent. It’s well structured with a great line of acidity and firm but ripe tannins that are starting to mellow.

 

Pinot Noir – Gladstone Vineyard 12,000 Miles Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (TOP 100)
Paired with Duck Breast with Pumpkin Mash
Bright, fresh and lifted berry fruit combine with notes of game, smoke and thyme in this silken Wairarapa Pinot. It worked well with the savoury duck flavours of the dish with which it was matched and acted as a fresh foil to its richness. An elegant style with good intensity, which when unveiled and revealed as available for under AU/NZ$30, also emerged as offering exceptional value for money.

 

Medium Bodied Red – Saint Clair Pioneer Block 17 “Plateau” Hawke’s Bay Malbec 2014 (GOLD)
Veal Rack on Potato Gratin with Mixed Mushroom Ragout
An intense violet/floral thread weaves through a supple juicy palate of dark berry fruit and spice of this Malbec. An svelte cool climate style with good acidity and ripe tannins that worked well with the food.

 

Full bodied red – Bird in Hand “Marie Elizabeth” Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (TROPHY)
Venison Casserole
Dense cassis fruit is fused with fragrant notes of sandalwood, sweet spice and hint of minty herb in this concentrated wine. Although it’s a powerful wine, its structure makes it well suited to food, with which it shines even more.

 

Awards guide
From the SIWC website

HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARD WINNERS – Judged with Food. These are the finalists that fall in approximately the 10.1% to 15% percentile range of the total entry.

BLUE-GOLD AWARD WINNERS – Judged with Food. These are the finalists that fall in approximately the top 10 percentile range of the total entry.

TOP 1OO WINES AWARD WINNERS – Judged with Food. As the name implies, these are the 100 highest pointed of the Blue-Gold Award winners but with aggregate scores adjusted to ensure Consumers have a choice of TOP 1OO wines in each of the Style Categories.

TROPHY WINNERS – In their several specialised areas, the Competition’s 24 Trophy Winners, amongst our galaxy of vinous stars, represent the elite wines of the annual Competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composing music for wine

New Zealand winery, Crown Range Cellar commissioned me to create a series of pieces of music specifically composed to complement its wines. The project employs both my own studies into the way perceptions of taste can be influenced by sound, and the current findings of scientific research into crossmodal correspondences. In the presentation on sound and wine that I am making at Pinot Noir NZ 2017 in Wellington, NZ, delegates will be able to experience the synergies between the music I composed for Crown Range Cellar Signature Pinot Noir and the wine itself.

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The piece for the Crown Range Cellar Signature Pinot Noir was inspired by its rich and silky notes. A legato melody is played by a cello over a soundscape created from field recordings of the rich but bright tones of bells and the higher pitched sounds of birdsong. The deeper notes bring out the savoury character, while the treble of the birds enhance the aromatics and freshness, and the bell drone its smoothness.

 

For the Drowsy Fish Pinot Gris, I collaborated with electronic pop artist, Misfit Mod. The resulting music is an upbeat track with an ethereal pop sensibility that echoes the fresh and bright character of the wine.

The hulusiTo accompany the light and bright China Girl Central Otago Pinot Noir, I  collaboration on a piece of music with Malcolm Riddoch. This features the smooth timbre of the traditional Chinese Hulusi flute that suits the supple texture of the wine, while the wine’s freshness is accentuated by the high-pitched backing to the traditional Dizi flute. The choice of instruments are also linked to both the wine and the label’s Chinese roots.

You can listen to the music and obtain more information about the wines on the Crown Range Cellar website.

 

My first trip to Rootstock

Rootstock 2016 - so much goodness under one roof

Rootstock 2016 – so much goodness under one roof

If anyone was still under the impression that Australian wine was all about homogeneity, technical winemaking and soulless corporates, attending the Rootstock Festival would soon set them straight. This year’s event in Sydney, which celebrates a natural and sustainable approach to wine, was the first I’d attended. And it drove home just how exciting and eclectic Australian wine can be, showcased here alongside some intriguing international counterparts.

Sameness was certainly not something that could be detected in its exhibitors. Amongst the Australian producers alone I sampled unusual assemblages that encompassed a Merlot Semillon to field blends created from multiple red and white varieties. It was teeming with textural skin-contact “whites” in shades from lemon to deep amber. Then there were the fresh and fragrant Syrahs, picked earlier than their historical counterparts, with a brightness and drinkability to lure many a jaded ex-Shiraz drinker back into the fold. Plus there was a profusion of crisp and cloudy “pet nats” delivered at varying stages of effervescence through their continued fermentation unfiltered in bottle.

In contrast to the winemaking wizardry that had come to charcaterise Australian wine, many of those poured at Rootstock were the product of very old winemaking techniques. The field blends harked back to an era before variety was king; when vignerons often had little idea of the different grapes they had planted on a single site and so harvested and fermented them all together. Proponents of this method consider that the resulting wines can be a more complete and truer expression of a single site than if they’d made all the varieties there into individual bottlings. It certainly made for some interesting wines.

“Orange” wines also abounded at the event, which included some benchmarks for comparison from the ancient winemaking country of Georgia. For thousands of years, its winemakers have been fermenting and maturing white grapes along with the skins that are disposed off very early on in most modern white winemaking. These skins impart both their golden to amber hue and a structure akin to a red. In Australia, as in a number of countries, the style has become an underground hit with winemakers and drinkers, and here as elsewhere they can be something of a mixed bag. The best displayed beguilingly intense aromatics and appealing pithy grip. The less successful had astringency that possibly wouldn’t be offset by the food with which this style was made to pair. It was good that visitors could enjoy the style in the way it’s best appreciated, by combining a glass from the Orange Wine Bar in situ with the sustainable food that was also part of the proceedings.

This minimal intervention in winemaking was a character shared by all wineries invited to Rootstock. This means using natural yeasts, no winemaking additions and little or none of the common preservative sulphur. It’s a philosophy which means imperfect fruit has nowhere to hide, but when applied to great grapes from great sites, regularly results in wines with purity and transparency that makes for some of the world’s most thrilling wines. And I certainly experienced some thrills at the fair!

This year, Rootstock’s organisers decided it wasn’t enough to keep the chemicals out of the wine, but away from the vines as well now, permitting only wines produced from organic-farmed vineyards to be shown. It’s a stand that I applaud, as to my mind, sustainable and natural wine must start from that philosophy in the vineyard. If a vigneron wants to truly express the character of their site, which is what gives a great wine its uniqueness, it’s best not to subdue this by dousing it with synthetic pesticides and herbicides. The number of wines that really conveyed their sense of place at Rootstock this year was testament that this really is the way forward.

Provenance and its clear articulation is what elevates wine from being just another drink. And it’s not alone, as the other non-wine producers at the festival illustrated. Two really caught my attention. One was Two Metre Tall Brewery, which unlike most brewers grows the grains, hops and all that goes into its beers made on its Tasmanian farm. Another was Belgrove Distillery, which again sources and makes everything for its rye whisky and other products from its bio-fuelled estate and distillery.

It’s telling that the Rootstock website lists its exhibitors under the heading “artisans” as everyone I encountered, united here by an ultra-natural approach, was a small producer. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a wine festival with a less corporate vibe. On a purely visual level there were tattoos, dreadlocks and crazy colourful labels aplenty. Going deeper, I enjoyed having real conversations with those intimately involved with the wines they were showing, who conveyed a personal passion for the product they were pouring. Not one marketing spiel did I hear across the tasting table.

It was a refreshing and stimulating day indeed for both the mind and the senses. If it’s been a while since you ventured into Australian wine, I’d encourage you to take another look. And maybe make a beeline for the Rootstock Festival next year if you want to encounter so much goodness in one place!

 

Natural stars

There were just too many exciting wines to cover here, so I’ve selected a handful of local examples that particularly impressed and piqued my interest across a spectrum of styles, as well as a few from further afield.

Ochota Barrels “The Fugazi Vineyard” McLaren Vale Grenache 2016
The 2014 vintage of this wine made my last top wines of the year. The latest release, made from 68-year-old vines, looks just as seductive with its ethereally textured raspberry fruit infused with notes of herb and exotic spice. Having admired the wines from afar, it was also great to at last meet their maker, Taras Ochota too!

Ravensworth Riesling Ancestral Murrumbateman 2016
Ravensworth’s “pet nat” epitomises the sheer fun and freshness to be found in the style. It’s cloudy, with a gentle effervescence and is now on the drier side (after being bottled with 12 g/l residual sugar). With its fresh citrusy tang, it’s akin to drinking homemade lemonade and goes down just as easily!

Sam Vinciullo Warner Glen Red/White Margaret River 2016
It was the first time I’d encountered the wines of Sam Viciullo, but then he’s not long been back from a stint making wine on Italy’s Mount Etna with the likes of Frank Cornelissen. Now making his own label with no additions and no oak in Margaret River, his Red/White is an intriguing blend of Merlot and Semillon. It initially came about by chance when he decided to blend the tiny quantity of Semillon he had the previous vintage in with some Merlot. It worked so well he did it again this vintage, and the result is a light coloured wine with soft red berry/cherry fruit, florals notes, hints of marzipan and a bright line of acid.

 Tommy Field by Tommy Ruff Barossa Valley Syrah 2015
Having enjoyed many of Tom Shobbrook’s wines in the past, when I finally got to meet him in person at Rootstock I had the uncanny feeling of knowing him already. Such is the power of wine! Tommy Field is the new name for what was Romanee Tuff, and is another senstaionally fresh and lifted Syrah that’s poles apart from the overripe and overoaked Barossa Shirazes that can be hard to so hard drink. It’s picked early – often in mid-February – to retain freshness, which is to the fore in this lifted and complex wine with its bright but deep plum fruit, notes of sweet spice, touch of herb and fine tannins.

Millton Libiamo Gisborne 2015
Of all the orange wines I tried – and there were quite a few – this example from Australasian organic and biodynamic pioneers, Millton was one of New World standouts. Cloudy, peach-coloured and highly perfumed, it fuses intense aromatics of rose florals, Earl Grey tea, rosemary and lemon oil and finishes on an attractive pithy note.

Cacique Maravilla Pipeño Vino Tinto Bio Bio Pais 2016
Pais was once the most widely planted grape in Chile, but fell out of favour and became widely considered fit only for bulk wine. However, in recent years it’s seen something of a revival, and from tasting a range at Rootstock I can see how its light and fresh profile is in tune with current tastes. This example was made from vines that are almost 300 years old, planted by the great-great grandfather of the current owner, Manuel Moraga made in the traditional Pipeño style in open rauli casks. Pink in colour and light in weight and texture, its pretty red cherry fruit in joined by hints of quinine, herb and smoke over a subtle savoury undercurrent.

Phillipe Bornard Pupillin Vin Jaune Arbois, Jura 2008
New York somms may have been the ones who helped place France’s tiny Jura region on the world wine map, but it’s worth looking beyond the hype to explore its paradoxical wines. With a number of Jura producers present, the region was the focus of one of Rootstock’s talks, where Phillipe Bornard presented this Vin Jaune, a unique unfortified style that’s aged oxidatively under a veil of yeast. While many Vins Jaune are aged in drafty attics, this one was matured in a cellar, resulting in a particularly refined style with less of the classic nutty character and more focus on its crisp green apple fruit, notes of mineral and savoury yeasty undercurrent.

 

 

 

Strength in diversity: NZ at the IWSC

NZ Pinot Noir judging at this year's IWSC

NZ Pinot Noir judging at this year’s IWSC

Back in September I was over in the UK to judge at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. Last night in London, the competition’s full awards were announced; with Matua named New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year, joining fellow New Zealand Trophy winners Giesen and Kim Crawford, which won the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc Trophies respectively.

It was another strong year for New Zealand at the IWSC. In the first tranche of results revealed in late September, the country was awarded a high proportion of Silver Medals and a raft of Golds, as well as Giesen Single Vineyard Ridge Block Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 taking out the top Pinot Noir Trophy and Kim Crawford Small Parcels Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 in pole position with its win of the Sauvignon Blanc Trophy.

One of the notable features of this year’s results was the wide spread of varieties and styles across the top wines. As well as the usual suspects – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir – the Gold medal winners included Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Merlot Cabernet and Malbec. I was also really pleased to see a spectrum of Riesling styles winning Golds – which ranged from an older example to a lusciously sweet expression – and were testament to just how good the country’s Rieslings are now.

 

Trophy winners

giesen_single-vineyard-ridge-block-2013IWSC Pinot Noir Trophy – Giesen Single Vineyard “Ridge Block” Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013

This wine unfurls to reveal complex layers of red and black cherry fruit, notes of sweet spice, earth, herb, hints of smoke and a savoury, gamey undercurrent. These are wrapped in a silken texture and supported by fine tannins and fresh spine of acid. An elegant, complex and harmonious wine.

“Marlborough has come of age: the vineyards have more maturity and personality. How to better capture that with a single site expression instead of blending multi sites together for a regional blend?” Marcel Giesen, Giesen

2016-kim-crawford-sp-spitfire-sauvignon-blanc-bottle-shotIWSC Sauvignon Blanc Trophy – Kim Crawford Small Parcels “Spitfire” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Punchy green aromas of fresh Thai basil and oregano laced with lime and grapefruit abound on the nose. On the palate there’s classic 17th November, 2016Marlborough sauvignon gooseberry fruit and a lush hit of guava, infused with fragrant notes of green herb and blackcurrant leaf, all underpinned by a vibrant line of mineral and limey acid. A wine in which power and elegance combine.

“While we are driven to make wines that people love to drink, it’s also great to achieve recognition from your peers and industry leaders that validates the hard work the whole team puts into making this wine.” Anthony Walkenhorst, Kim Crawford senior winemaker

matua-iwsc-trophyNew Zealand Wine Producer of the Year – Matua

“The biggest thing for me is that the Trophy recognises the breadth of the Matua portfolio. From an international perspective New Zealand is always talked about almost solely as a Sauvignon Blanc producer, and sometimes Pinot Noir, so we’re thrilled that the cumulative performance of so many different varietals got us here. There’s a lot of incredibly happy people in the Matua team right now across the board from viticulture, to packaging, marketing the cellar and of course winemaking – we’re a proud team.” Greg

 

Big competition, small classes

The fortified: a sweet end to the Trophy judging

The fortifieds: a sweet end to the Trophy judging

The IWSC is one of the big international competitions, with entries from around 90 countries judged over a 6-month period at its own premises in the UK. I’ve been a judge with the competition for 15 years, in the last couple chairing some of the New Zealand panels and judging the Trophy classes.

It’s always a treat to judge with some great palates from around the world at a well-organised competition where wines are initially judged in regional, and sometimes down to sub-regional categories.

With a cap set at tasting 60 wines each day, I always walk away confident that the wines have been given a fair and thorough look. This number is based on competition guidelines set down by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), which recommends “each juror shall taste at the rate of no more than 45 samples per day”. This is certainly not the case in many Australasian competitions, where despite a move to reduce wines judged in one day, judges are regularly expected to assess over 150 samples, despite all the evidence of the effect of palate fatigue when tasting such a large number of wines.

The full results can be accessed through the IWSC with in-depth New Zealand coverage in the forthcoming Summer issue of WineNZ magazine.

Jo Burzynska is a judge and New Zealand Ambassador for the IWSC