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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.