A food and wine soirée at Franca Brasserie

Italy may have more indigenous grape varieties, but France produces more great wines than any other country.

Most New World winemakers hold a French wine up as the benchmark for the grape variety they cultivate. France is very organised: over the centuries they have worked out which grape varieties work best in each region, so it’s taken for granted now that Burgundy means chardonnay and pinot noir, the central Loire specialises in chenin blanc, the upper Loire in sauvignon blanc, the northern Rhône in syrah/shiraz, the south in blends of grenache with various other grapes, and Chablis in chardonnay. There’s mourvèdre in Bandol, malbec in Cahors and tannat in Madiran, etc, etc. In a similar way, Australia and New Zealand are starting to sort out which grapes suit which terroirs.

There was a widespread of favourites with most wines receiving some votes.

With a sensational menu at Sydney’s Franca Brasserie, we celebrated 10 of the finest grape varieties France has given the world.

First course

Snapper cru, caviar, lemonade fruit, pistachio

The Wines

Singlefile Fumé Blanc 2020, Pemberton

A barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc which wears its varietal character prominently on its sleeve. Very intense and bright, an excellent example of the pungent style although perhaps better served as an aperitif than a food wine.

Marri Wood Park Chenin Blanc 2018, Margaret River

An outstanding wine, and superb with the raw snapper and trimmings. Subtle complexities including barrel ferment and honey notes, but the wine’s restraint and gently nuanced flavours worked a treat.

Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne 2014, Nagambie Lakes

This is a famous semi-mature example of this grape, which has found its home in the Goulburn Valley, a long way from its cradle in the Rhône Valley and a style that’s likewise very unlike a Rhône Hermitage Blanc—but very good indeed.

Second course

Pickled octopus, ajo blanco, chorizo, fennel

The wines

Barmès-Buecher Rosenberg Pinot Gris 2018, Alsace, France

Spicy and almost opulent with a touch of sweetness which helped this wine team superbly with this excellent but high-acid, vinegary octopus dish. A very popular wine and one of the most interesting food matches.

Hentley Farm Viognier 2020, Barossa Valley

A very good viognier which avoids the heaviness of many Australian viogniers, it’s still very youthful and will almost certainly reward some cellaring by building more detail.

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2019, Margaret River

Superbly refined, sleek wine with great finesse and lovely balance of artifact and fruit flavours, it went well with the dish but would have been better without the challenge of vinegar. It was superb on its own.

Third course

Pan-fried gnocchi, mushrooms, goat’s cheese, sage

The wines

Tamar Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir 2018, Tasmania

This wine is developing lovely aromatics as it ages, building on its cherry fruit. A stylish pinot that went well with the dish and was one of the night’s popular wines.

Domain Road Defiance Pinot Noir 2017, Central Otago, New Zealand

Not quite as robust as some other Bannockburn subregion pinots, this is a fine wine which also went well with the dish and scored some votes. The sage burnt-butter struck a chord with the dried-herb, sage-like aromas in all three wines.

Yalumba Tri-Centenary Grenache 2017, Barossa Valley

Grenache’s nickname is ‘the pinot of the Barossa’, and this wine was right at home alongside the pinots. A harmonious wine with silken texture and lovely balance, made from 128-year-old vines. All three reds tasted good with this great dish.

Fourth course

Wagyu bavette, pancetta, eschalots, brussels sprouts, jus

The wines

Massena Vineyards The Moonlight Run 2019, Barossa Valley

A robust but smooth blend of grenache, shiraz, mataro and cinsault, this would probably never be mistaken for a Côtes-du-Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but it was fine with this smashing wagyu course, one of the most flavoursome and tender beef dishes I’ve had for many moons.

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2019, McLaren Vale

Rich and full-bodied but not over the top, well-structured but not astringent, and with the trademark Blass oak well under control, this was a top wine and many people’s favourite of the dinner. Ideal with beef.

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2018, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

A perfect foil for the Blass, being a lovely peppery, elegant, cool-climate style of shiraz with a refined texture, this was also good with the beef but arguably a little outgunned by the other reds in this context.

Wine of the night?

There was a wide spread of favourites with most wines receiving some votes, but on the show of hands it seemed the leading contenders were the Wolf Blass Shiraz, the Barmès-Buecher Pinot Gris and the Marri Wood Park Chenin Blanc.

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