Winter feasting inevitably means we reach for warming winter red wine. Fergal Gleeson suggests which local drops go well with hearty meals.
American singer Kathy Mattea once said that ‘a gourmet meal without a glass of wine just seems tragic’. It’s a sentiment that I agree wholeheartedly with, which is why I’ve spoken to four winemakers around the region and asked them to recommend their perfect wine and food pairing for the winter season.
Watershed Wines Senses Sangiovese 2014 ($29.95) and Charcuterie
“Our Sangiovese is grown on a single block just north of the vineyard. It likes a warmer, drier climate which is why we have it there,” says Severine Logan, head winemaker at Watershed Wines. “It’s an interesting variety. Sangiovese is our answer to Pinot Noir. Like Pinot Noir, it’s a lighter bodied wine than shiraz or cabernet.
Senses Sangiovese has cherries, spice and savoury characters. I like drinking it because it is not as big, tannic and rich. It is easier drinking. “Sangiovese is lovely with a charcuterie plate, duck or pasta. I suppose you could do all the Italian clichés because it’s an Italian variety. If you don’t like white wine and you are having fish you can get away with it too. It is a nice lunchtime wine. It also pairs well with cheese.”
How does Watershed Senses Sangiovese compare to Italian expressions of the grape? “Ours has lovely cherries and spice. We keep the tannins soft. In parts of Tuscany like Brunello they make big, full-bodied, structured Sangiovese like a Bordeaux. Ours doesn’t have the same depth. We are making something that is more food-friendly and made for earlier drinking.”
Severine is from the Loire Valley in France originally and studied Oenology at Toulouse before working in vintages in European wine regions such as Bordeaux, Alsace, Corsica and Burgundy before stints in Western Australia and the Hunter Valley. I asked if it’s confusing for a French winemaker living in Australia to be making an Italian wine. “I’ve been in Australia for more than 20 years so I think I am more Australian than French now!” she says. “In France I’d make wines from two or three varietals. In Australia I’ve typically been making wines from seven or eight different varieties. It does take time to get your head around the different wines. But I’ve been making Sangiovese at Watershed for over 10 years now.”
Woodlands Emily Cabernet Franc Merlot 2016 ($39) and Steak Tartare
Andrew Watson of Woodlands has happy memories as a youngster of helping his father wash out wine barrels at weekends to make a cabernet franc blend. It was 1989 and Woodlands had almost ceased production. Andrew’s father David Watson was struggling to balance raising a family with commuting from Perth on weekends to run Woodlands.
They sold their cabernet sauvignon grapes to other Margaret River producers but there was the problem of the unsold cabernet franc, Merlot and Malbec. David got together with some friends and they decided to make “Emily”, referencing the varietals used to make St Emilion wine in Bordeaux. Andrew describes it as an early example of crowdfunding. All the grapes used in the production of Emily now come from the Woodlands Brook Vineyard which Andrew and his brother Stuart Watson purchased in 2008.
“We were just taking control at that stage so this represents a real coming of age wine for us.” For readers unfamiliar with cabernet franc, what does it taste like? “It’s very different from cabernet sauvignon,” says Andrew. “It’s more aromatic with a strong flavour of violet. The tannin structure is also very different. The tannins coat the side of the tongue while cabernet sauvignon hits the back of the tongue. In Emily, cabernet franc provides the skeleton and merlot provides the flesh. I call merlot ‘the peacemaker’. The flavours of blackcurrant and plumb overlay the wine really well.
“2016 is my favourite vintage ever in Margaret River. It was very dry. We had a mild to warm summer. Then there was an enormous rain event in January when 90mm of rain fell. Then it went back to being dry again. For our unirrigated vines, this has helped create much better natural acidity, great flavours of bright fruits and wines that really sing.”
“Emily has great natural acidity but power. I call it ‘a graceful monster’. I don’t like wines above 14% alcohol. Emily is balanced with beautiful fruit. It’s not over extracted to taste expensive.” “I had the ultimate match with cabernet franc the other night – steak tartare. We’ve also recommended Emily with roast duck or sticky Chinese pork belly. The natural acids cut through the fat or oil. Cabernet Franc definitely changes with food. It fleshes out the middle palette. As a vegetarian option, I’d try it with something like a mushroom risotto.”
Wills Domain Cuveé D’élevage Shiraz 2014 ($75) and Arkady Lamb Rump
“This shiraz epitomises thestyle that we are after at Wills Domain”, says Darren Haunold, the winery’s managing director. “It’s not a typical Australian shiraz. The region has always had an affinity to French regions like Bordeaux and the Rhone with its strong maritime influence. In our choice of oak and in winemaking technique we have been inspired by the classic syrah that we like to drink.” “The cuveé is elegant and graceful. The modern shiraz drinker wants complexity and doesn’t want to be slapped around the face with wood and overripe fruit.” The Haunold family are of Austrian heritage and can trace their family back to the 1300s when they were winemakers for Austrian royalty. While Wills Domain is primarily planted with the classic French varietals, they do make a white wine from the Austro-German varietal scheurebe, which doffs the cap to the Haunold family history.
Darren recommends pairing the shiraz with the Arkady lamb rump accompanied by sesame eggplant, cucumber and pickled onion from the Wills Domain Restaurant menu. “The succulence of the wine pairs well with the richness of the lamb. The cuveé’s bright acidity pitches well with fattier cuts of meat. I’d say the depth of fruit demands proteins.” Head chef Seth James and the winemaking team create dishes that are suitable to the wines. Wills Domain’s restaurant has been West Australian Good Food Guide Regional Restaurant of the Year for two years running.
“The tasting menu is a bucket list experience in Western Australia because of the vista, the wine and of course the food. It’s based around supporting local farmers, nose to tail as much as customers’ tastes allow, and low food miles. We’ve built good relationships with local farmers because we like to keep the money locally.”
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($128) and Cheddar
Moss Wood cabernet sauvignon is one of the region’s most famous wines. The 2014 vintage achieved stellar scores from wine critics. I think the 2015 is an even better wine. “There’s a strong olive and black fruit presence in the 2015,” says proprietor and winemaker Keith Mugford. “It has floral notes and a nicely ripened tannin.”
Keith is in his 40th vintage at Moss Wood, having come to Margaret River after vintages with Tulloch and Orlando. He modestly refers to himself as having been a student in 1979, still working from the Roseworthy College textbook where he achieved his winemaking qualifications.
I asked him to reflect on Moss Cabernet now versus when he started at the winery in 1979. “The fundamentals haven’t changed. The grapes are handpicked and hand plunged in open fermenters. But I’d have to say the base-line quality has improved. Things are better in the vineyard such as improvements in trellising as well as in the winery where our technique has improved at destemming and the preparation of the fruit. So you’d have to say there is an improved quality which leads to a cleaner, purer wine. We tried just as hard in 1979 but in 2018 the skills and technology are better.”
Keith doesn’t fuss too much about food and wine matching and jokes that he is dreadful at it. “When I’m in a restaurant, I will choose a dish and wine that I want to drink but rarely know if they will match!” Some of the more novel food and wine matches he has had with Moss Wood wines have occurred in Taiwan. The Moss Wood Cabernet was served with a duck’s blood soup. Their Semillon was served with crunchy goose feet. Clare Mugford, co-proprietor and Keith’s wife, has noted that at Moss Wood dinners “whether with young or back vintage Moss Wood cabernet, the most complimentary match has been the last wine of the night served with the cheese plate. It goes really well with hard cheeses such as cheddar.”