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Beyond the ordinary: Australian wines

08 March 2016
Beyond the ordinary: Australian wines

Roger Jones, owner of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn, delves a little deeper, down under

There is more to Australia than just Chardonnay and Shiraz, although both these varieties are now becoming more sought after. Significantly, Australia has also re-invented Riesling with a bone-dry version, increasing the worldwide expressions of this variety and kick-starting many ailing Riesling regions.

In recent years we have seen a huge increase in varieties coming from Australia, bringing a whole spectrum of new innovations to the diner.

At a recent Australia Day tasting, three pairs of masters of wine and master sommeliers were pitted against each other to come up with a perfect wine match for an array of eclectic food. Overall, the master sommeliers won the challenge, which is not surprising as they work with food and wine every day, but it was hugely positive for both camps to see the range of grapes that were put forward.

Pinot Gris

Spiced and curried dishes work best with creamy Chardonnay, but both Pinot Gris and Sémillon can also work. Pinot Gris can sometimes be a little lacklustre, but when aged in oak, or with the addition of time on lees, the wine is transformed into a seductive drink that excels with food.

Kooyong Beurrot Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsula, 2014

Pinot Beurrot is a grape variety linked to Pinot Gris, which was used in Burgundy but it is rarely seen now. Sandro Mosele, the former winemaker at Kooyong, introduced this oak-aged Pinot Gris and called it Beurrot in memory of this grape and style.

This is not your basic Pinot Gris, as it has essences of jasmine, yellow plums, juicy apricots, honeysuckle, delicate oak spice and a lovely acidity to bring it all together.

Food matching

Ceviche of sea bass with coriander, lime, chilli and pistachio.


Fiano is an Italian grape, but not something that would normally hit the headlines - unless it is a Fox Gordon Princess Fiano from the Adelaide Hills. Then, my word, it does!

Fiano is grown in the hotter southern regions of Italy, especially in Sicily. Due to the grape's low juice content, it is generally being replaced by Trebbiano; however, in Australia over 30 wineries grow this variety.

Fox Gordon Princess Fiano, 2014

There's lemon, pineapple and pink grapefruit on the nose, nutty aromas on the palate, and sweet, juicy nectarines with zesty, deep flavours, but with a clean acidity to balance and uplift the wine.

Food matching

It can take quite heavy and rich dishes, such as pasta with creamy sauces.


This is not a new grape, but it is certainly worth looking at again. Sémillon and Hunter Valley go hand in hand, and the grape that some find difficult to understand is definitely making a comeback, not least due to its value, low alcohol and ability to go well with food.

McGuigan Shortlist Sémillon, Hunter Valley, 2007

This McGuigan Sémillon is currently on offer at £10 a bottle at Tesco, which is incredible for a wine that is nearly 10 years old and now drinking in its prime. This has fresh lime, fresh-cut grass and a honey on toasted brioche nose. It is textured and layered and has a lovely zesty acidity to clean the palate.

Food matching

Curried monkfish cutlet with mint yogurt.


Another of Australia's back-to-the-future wines, highlighting a style made famous originally in Bordeaux. Australia, and Margaret River specifically, have made this blend their own - a Sauvignon Blanc with texture and depth, perfect with seafood.

Great names here to look for include Margaret River, Cullen Mangan and Fraser Gallop wines.

Pedestal Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc, Larry Cherubino, Margaret River, 2014

This wine has fresh-picked peas and wet stones with a citrus explosion on the nose. There is a lovely texture due to some careful oak handling, which gives it a luscious but fresh outlook.

Food matching

Caviar and squid ink macaroon with fresh crab and caviar salt is ideally matched with a full-bodied Sémillon Sauvignon.

Sparkling Shiraz

I have not been a fan of sparkling Shiraz in the past; however, when this dish was paired by Clement Robert MS to a dish of carpaccio of venison, it became the perfect match.

Ulithorne Flamma Sparkling Shiraz, NV, McLaren Vale

This is blended from a base wine made up of aged Shiraz and finished off with a dose of fortified Shiraz to give a dry, perfumed, sparkling wine, rich in chocolate, cassis and juicy black fruit. It is not sweet at all, but refreshingly vibrant.

Food matching

Carpaccio of venison with foie gras toffee and truffles.

Shiraz with Riesling

'Another Shiraz?', I hear you say. But it's not just a Shiraz. This has a small percentage of Riesling, which are grown in the same block.

Charles Melton Voices of Angels Shiraz, Barossa Valley, 2012

This Riesling gives the wine a special lift, livening the mood and getting the Shiraz flavours dancing on the palate. It's dark and full-flavoured, with bright aniseed and liquorice mingling with bright berries.

Food matching

Where I would normally advise against a Shiraz with a juicy fillet steak, this would be just the wine - especially if you elevated the steak to beef Wellington.


This grape was one of the first to be planted in Australia in the 1800s. It was mainly used for fortified wine and then overshadowed by its big brother, Shiraz. However, styles and times have changed and this grape is now being treated more like a Pinot. So instead of big, brash oak bombs, we are now seeing refined, graceful wines with delicate, precise fruit.

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2014

This is a top, good-value wine, to be served at cellar temperature. It has a delicate, perfumed scent, a light earthiness and some herbal nuances followed by luscious cherries.

Food matching

This would be an outstanding early summer wine with lamb or even an English goats' cheese salad with pistachios.

Kilikanoon the Duke Grenache, 2009

For a top-of-the-range aged Grenache, try this Kilikanoon from the Clare Valley. It is a single-vineyard Grenache, made only in exceptional years. The intensity in this wine is outstanding - where the Yalumba is fresh, bright and youthful, this takes the Grenache to a different level, with hints of chocolate, rippling juicy berries and fresh-picked herbs.

Food matching

Vietnamese spring rolls filled with shrimp, coriander and lemongrass.

MatarÁ³ and blends

With South Africa excelling at Rhône blends, it is good to see Australia developing some great blends of its own. Blends are often great value and, more importantly, the winemaker acts like a chef, balancing great flavours.

Ruggabellus Efferus, MatarÁ³, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Barossa, 2013

This has sweet raspberry and cherry fruit flavours with some spice. It's very precise, with a hint of smokey bacon crisps, and evolves in the mouth, carrying lots of depth and concentration. The underlying freshness of the raspberry carries this well.

Turkey Flat MatarÁ³ Barossa Valley, 2012

There are not many brave enough to make this style, but I would highly recommend this as a straight MatarÁ³. The nose is a concoction of earthy flavours balanced with blueberries and mulberries, hints of truffles and a clean acidity to give it freshness. It's an outstanding wine showing how good this grape can be.

Food matching

Try it with rich dishes such as macaroni cheese with fresh truffles

Vintage sparkling wine

Ed Carrr, Accolade Wine's chief sparkling winemaker

Tasmania is the capital of Australian sparkling wine, and there are numerous high-profile wines from the area, offering exceptional quality. Names to look out for include Jansz, Pirie, Apogee, Josef Chromy and Stefano Lubiana.

Sales of premium Australian sparkling wines are increasing, and without question this is down to the great work English sparkling wines have done, especially by setting such a great price for sparkling wine.

House of Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged, Tasmania, 2002

This aged wine is beautifully crafted and as good as any vintage Champagne within its price point. Ed Carr is one of Australia's wine heroes, and he has dedicated his life to creating the perfect bubbly.

Food matching

As with vintage Champagne, this wine is a perfect compliment to fine food, and would certainly stand up to some rich dishes, such as slow-braised pork cheek with morels and truffles served with creamy mashed potatoes. The depth and freshness of the sparkling wine would lift the dish well.

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