Aussie Aglianico makes a Great Food Wine
An American wine writer, W. Blake Grey, recently included in his rather interesting list of 10 things he’d learnt as a wine retailer: 1.) The wine press loves unusual varieties but consumers do not, and 2.) Most people don’t care about wine-food pairing (www.palatepress.com). Mr Grey’s mistake is that he keeps referring to “the average wine consumer” or “most people” – and he’s probably right about them – but “average wine consumers” don’t read wine columns. Reading about wine is for people who are really interested.
So this column breaks both Mr Grey’s rules, as it’s about a rare grape variety and how it was voted the best wine and food match at the recent 100 Mile Lunch –part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival.
The wine is Westend Estate‘s Calabria Aglianico 2009 (pronounced allie-ann-icco) and it was matched with succulent Riverina lamb.
The event was a first. At the old railway yards at Eveleigh, in Sydney, five teams of cooks representing five NSW regions gathered to prepare and serve three courses each to 500 diners. That’s five tables with 100 diners on each. And a small table of six judges, of which yours truly was one. The regions were South Coast, Central Ranges, Mid North Coast, Southern Highlands and Riverina. Each was required to source their ingredients from within a hundred mile radius, including the wines – one or two to be served with each course. A hell of a judging job, but someone had to do it…
It was an astonishing event, if slightly chaotic at first. The thought and effort that went into each dish was monumental, the flavours created were impressive and the learning experience, especially for the many apprentices, alone made it worthwhile. To say nothing of the fun we all had.
ABC celebs such as Adam Spencer, James Valentine and Robbie Buck acted as table spokespeople and Simon Marnie was the MC. One of the several awards given was for the best wine and food match. South Coast came close with a 2005 Coolangatta Estate Semillon (tastings) from Shoalhaven Heads matched with a lobster dish (half lobster on the shell served with potatoes, bacon, and mayonnaise). This region also opened our eyes with 2010 Cupitt’s Viognier (tastings) from Ulladulla which played nice music with lime-cured kingfish and Sydney Rock oysters. I also enjoyed the Mid North Coast’s oysters, blue-eye cod and squid served with Bago Spritzy Chardonnay (tastings) from the Hastings River region near Port Macquarie. And the Central Ranges team’s Small Acres Apscato Cider from Orange served with a pear and apple based dessert was inspired. But the winner was clearly the aglianico, and not only because it worked so well with the Riverina lamb served three ways (spiced rack, braised shoulder in vine leaf and lamb kibbeh), but also because it was a surprise. Here was a wine made from a grape variety very new to Australia which was made in a food-friendly style and which ticked the regionality box in a special way. By food-friendly, I mean it was medium-bodied and fruit-driven; not a try-hard wine, but natural tasting and balanced and it had the tannin structure to go with red meats.
It’s regional not only because it’s a local wine, but because winemaker Bryan Currie went to the trouble of travelling to Italy where he was inspired to plant aglianico because he realised the Riverina climate would suit it. Aglianico is planted in the hotter, southern half of Italy, and makes its most famous wine, Taurasi, in Campania. In the Riverina, as Currie says: “Shiraz, cabernet and merlot have all been picked, fermented and pressed while the aglianico is still ripening on the vine.”
The Riverina is one of Australia’s hottest and driest wine regions, and the world’s most sought-after grapes such as chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc are not ideal. However, says Currie, “The southern Italian varieties are late ripening, and with their high natural acidity and tannins are perfectly suited to the Riverina’s climate.” Late-ripening varieties are desirable in hot climates as they ripen in the cooler autumn instead of the hot summer, and because of that, they retain more of their flavour, aroma and acidity.
The wine, released under Westend Estate‘s Calabria label (it’s the owners’ name) is the culmination of a far-sighted program Currie initiated. In 2003 his boss, Bill Calabria, agreed to Currie’s suggestion to source, import and plant a number of quality red grapes native to southern Italy, the Calabria family’s ancestral home. Currie identified aglianico, nero d’avola, montepulciano and negroamaro – which he believed had not been planted in Australia before. He also figured they were distinctly different from the typical French-sourced varieties, with a different flavour, texture and mouth-feel than most Riverina wines. A critical factor was their late ripening. Currie travelled in southern and central Italy in the 2006 vintage, making wines and gaining further experience with the varieties.
The rest is history. And the wine is just $15 in wine stores, including Vintage Cellars. Someone should send a bottle to W. Blake Grey.
First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 15 November 2011.