Summertime…

– With Peter Bourne

The warmer weather of our summer months lures us out of our wintery shells into the dazzling sunshine – and the heat. Cool flavours are what we seek – be it food or drinks. When it comes to food, the duo of Australia’s abundance of seafood and our incredible array of multicultural cuisines offers fresh, bright flavours that suit the balmy weather. Oysters, prawns, tuna, salmon and all-sorts of cephalopods – served a la natural or cooked with exotic spices and served with a wedge of lemon.

The barbecue becomes the focus with grilled sausages, chops and steaks served with simple salads. In fact, led by cooks like Yotam Ottolenghi, those salads are becoming more complex with healthy grains and pulses giving them the protein boost for a stand-alone lunch or for a light evening meal.

So let’s explore the amazing range of summertime wines. Oh, and remember to cool your reds on a blazing hot day…..

PICNICS

Outdoor eating takes on a whole new guise when it’s packed in a picnic basket, lugged for miles before being set up in a cool, grassy glade. Equally heavy is the mandatory Australian icon — an Esky brim full of cold beer and appropriately chill-able wines.

One of the best tips when matching food and wine is to balance the weight of the wine with the complexity of the food. Picnic food is fresh and tasty, so select equally refreshing whites and juicy, light-framed reds. That hefty basket may include a quiche, frittata, pâté, terrine, a plethora of charcuterie and some stinky cheese.

Pop the cork on an Angullong Sparkling Rosé to salve the thirst before moving on to a crisp white such as the Nine Yards Sauvignon Blanc.

Eschew your heavyweight shiraz and cabernets for alfresco reds that welcome a gentle chill. Pull them out of the icy Esky to allow them to come up a few degrees before serving. The savoury, spicy Colab & Bloom Grenache works well with salami or pork and pistachio terrine. Pair the raspberry and aniseed flavoured Willunga 100 Tempranillo with a Manchego cheese for a true Iberian experience.

One of the great benefits of Australian winegrower’s universal move to the screwcap is that forgetting a corkscrew is no longer the picnic disaster that it was in the olden days of cork!

SEAFOOD FEAST

Australia’s incredible wealth of seafood offers the opportunity to indulge in a feast of fresh and simply cooked crustacean, whole fish and other underwater treats. Oysters are a delicious starter and just perfect with a crisp, dry riesling from the Eden or Clare Valleys. The riesling’s citrus bright acidity replaces the need for a squeeze of lemon. Semillon is another wonderful seafood white — try a zippy young Hunter Valley semillon with a salt and pepper squid. Sauvignon blanc is equally seafood friendly – try the Leura Park Estate Sauvignon Blanc with a Thai style prawn and glass noodle salad.

Whole fish makes a great centre point to a seafood feast. Pair breezy white like the Buller King Valley Pinot Grigio with a snapper spiced with lemongrass and ginger or a delicate pinot noir with a whole baked Tasmanian salmon. The pinot’s mildmannered tannins and tangy acidity will cut through the oily (Omega 3 rich) texture of the salmon like a hot knife through butter. Speaking of butter, if the budget allows, split a fresh crayfish and grill it with a smothering of herb infused butter. Serve it with a buttery ‘old-school’ chardonnay for a marvellous food and wine match. Salmon also lends itself to Japanese dishes like sashimi or sushi – serve with lightly chilled sake for a nice (nationalistic) match. Salmon also shines as the base for Nordic-inspired gravlax. Damien Pignolet, of Claude’s and Bistro Moncur fame, marinated the salmon in sauvignon blanc for his legendary gravlax – so there’s an obvious synergy in serving a savoury sauvignon blanc.

Bouillabaisse is the ultimate seafood dish, its gusty (saffron) spiced flavours typically paired with an acid-etched Beaujolais Nouveau. An alternative is a frisky rosé with soft redcurrant flavours and an incisive acidity to cut through the seafood rich bouillabaisse and its garlic-laced aioli. Serve by lapping water to emulate a truly Mediterranean experience.

LONG & LAZY SUMMER LUNCH

School and public holidays offer the opportunity to invite family and friends for a long, lazy lunch. Kick things off with a fruity, low-alcohol wine like moscato or an offdry riesling (labelled as kabinett in Germany) with those from the Mosel the exemplar of the style. Served well chilled, the wine’s sweet’n’sour flavours echo those of an icy lemon sorbet. Served at 11am with a platter of fresh fruit, at 5-7% alcohol, an extra glass or two of moscato won’t impede the pleasures of a lengthy lunch.

Step the pace up a bit with a Champagne or sparkling wine. Australia’s top bubbles stand proudly alongside the French stuff, as they’re made with the same grape varieties using the methode traditionelle technique. The only thing missing in Australia is Champagne’s terroir Defining chalk. Serve the Saddler’s Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir with freshly shucked Port Stephen’s oysters for the ultimate palate cleanser.

It’s time for an entrée – perhaps a retro prawn cocktail served on a bed of shaved iceberg lettuce and doused in Marie Rose sauce. A crisp dry rosé such as the Leura Park Estate Rosé is a blushing companion to the equally rosy prawn cocktail.

Turkey and ham sneak their way into many family lunches with yester-year’s roast vegetables replaced by complex salads in the Ottolenghi style. A fuller white such as Monterra Chardonnay would work with the dense protein of the turkey. However, for a curved ball, try a sparkling red with the ham. The French despise the concept but sparkling red is as Australian as an Akubra hat. Sparkling reds are traditionally made with shiraz but the Saddler’s Creek team use cabernet sauvignon as the base for their Bluegrass Sparkling — and it’s a ripper. Serve the ham with your choice of mustards and don’t over chill the Bluegrass.

Now for dessert, a rare course for a weeknight meal, but the mandatory finale to a long lunch. Grandma’s pudding is legendary, usually accompanied by a brandy infused custard. Now’s the perfect moment to serve that port stuck at the back of the drinks cupboard. Buller Tawny is lush and plush, its raisiny flavours just perfect with grandma’s pudding. It’s now time for an afternoon nap.

Journals of a wine buyer: Day One

It is October. I head west from the Hume as the sun breaks over the rolling hills behind me. Its golden glow spreads over the tapestry of green. Dotted between the fields, vineyards and livestock are magnificent Victorian federation buildings. It’s clearly a region that enjoyed wealth from the mid 1800’s gold rush. Entering Rutherglen it’s easy to see the town’s past wealth – this region was second only to Ballarat in the gold days. The town that is today a vibrant community of about 2500 once serviced around 30000. Heading just west of the township is surreal. Clustered together within what seems a stones throw are all the major names in finest fortified wines that we have grown up knowing – Stanton & Killen, Buller, Campbell’s and within a few kilometres Morris. There is something special going on here – a small patch of this vast country that nowhere else can emulate. Unique soil, minerals and growing conditions produce world class Muscat and Tokay that compare only with the best that comes from the fortified homeland of the world – Portugal. It seems bizarre that only a few kilometres away in the neighbouring wine growing regions of Beechworth and King Valley it cannot be repeated. In fact, it doesn’t seem like they can produce the same quality even on the other side of town.

First stop, Stanton and Killen, where I’m introduced to Wendy Killen. I am amazed that a family planted and run vineyard and winery that is a major exporter and one of Australia’s premier fortified makers is so hands on and family run. This is a James Halliday Red 5 star rated winery – the highest rating in Australia. It was established and planted in 1864 by Timothy Stanton. I proceed to have 4 hours with head wine maker Andrew Drumm. The aroma of this place is almost intoxicating – a combination of old wood barrels and sweetness – magnificent. After a full
tour, including inspecting storage barrels still full of wine from the middle of last century, we head to the lab. Here we work on our Master’s Blend mix – a perfect combination of their very finest fortifieds blended to a tasting profile to suit the requirements of our community. An amazing experience – Tawny for its “port” flavour, tannin and structure, blended with a percentage of aged Muscat to add a raisin sweetness, thickness and lusciousness and just 15% of a very old Topaque which perfectly integrates the flavours and adds depth. After trying over 20 combinations, this was it! It was amazing how much variation the smallest changes in percentage made! This blend is now available as a premium “community blend’ – available in 5 litre bulk drums.

Next stop – Buller wines, and I am surprised. Buller is one of the biggest names in the fortified industry and they dominate the Dan Murphy shelves – yet their establishment is surprisingly humble. It has had a chequered history in recent years. The business went into administration in 2013 and was taken over by the local Judd family. Nowadays, their cheaper wine is produced in the Swan Hill region and only the high end fortified is from the premium Rutherglen vineyard. Thankfully, the takeover included the purchase of all the old storage barrels, so the legend continues. It’s another Halliday 5 star rated establishment – and I’m in for a treat! Entering the tasting room I introduce myself and am taken through a standard tasting. Buller also does a full range of table wines – including Durif’s which are the best that this country produces. Durif is a high tannic, intensely inky dark and brooding wine which obviously likes the same soil and hot, dry growing conditions. We have included their delicious Nine Muses Shiraz in the current subscription. These guys also produce a magnificent Pedro Ximenez, the dark , intense Spanish Sherry that has gained a following for use in cooking – but seriously, it’s better than that, it’s an incredible drop!

Dave Whyte, the head wine maker takes me on a tour of the storage barn – an old shed full of the largest, oldest barrels I have ever seen. One large barrel is full of wine from 1940 – and it is stored very close to the roof on the 2nd floor. In summer its temperature rises dramatically and winter it lowers. This is apparently part of the maturation process. I am then taken on a full tasting flight of the oldest and rarest wines. Amazing and unbelievable! You simply can’t sip and spit this stuff, it’s like liquid gold! All of these products are in the hundreds of dollars a bottle.

As I leave Rutherglen, the thick syrupy sweetness lingers and I ponder a tiny part of our vast country so close to other wine regions yet so very unique. An area that looks innocuous and low key with the simplest of wineries and facilities – still run by small hands-on family’s, producing pure magic. I can’t help pondering how fortunate we are. This really is the lucky country.