Australian reds are big, bold, inky and more democratic than a double-dissolution election, writes Ben Canaider.
Right now, at this very moment, there’s one thing that every owner of a licensed venue in this country should be doing. Red wine. Australian red wine. Traditional, classic, big, bold, bursting with sunshine-in-the-glass red wine that requires almost no frontal lobe function to taste or smell or understand. In this sense, Australian red wine in the wintertime is truly, truly democratic: it is unmissable, inky; it’s hefty and powerful. And now’s the time to celebrate it.
Do it by region. Yes, yes, yawn, yawn, you say. Regional Australian wine is so 2015 … Okay, I get that—how all the wine-whisperers now talk about ‘drilling down’ to sub-regional points-of-difference. Or, further still, to single vineyards. And this cannot be doubted. But what must not be lost in this discussion is the fact that 99 per cent of your customers are NOT winemakers. They are wine drinkers. And come this time of year, such drinkers are up for a solid glass of red with a regional moniker they can recognise and understand. So keep it (relatively) simple.
In some respects this is the most democratic of all Australian wine regions, as it does shiraz in a kind of—as hairdresser windows used to say—‘uni-sex’ way. The earthiness of McLaren Vale shiraz is rounded; its fruitiness is just sweeter rather than savoury, and the berry flavours combined with increasingly less oak barrel poison make for white chocolate hints. The result is wine that is a perfect foil for any winter luncheon dish, whether that dish includes Spanish paprika, or subtle Vietnamese chilli, or meat stews reduced in the agro-dolce style with balsamic vinegar and honey. Try Heirloom Vineyards.
Unkind wine snobs think that Barossa shiraz is a red designed entirely for the enjoyment of Bundaberg Rum drinkers. Heady, thick, porty, sweet, and with high alcohol by volume measurements. Gosh, there are some cruel, hard hearts out there. Certainly Barossa shiraz is not the sort of thing to drink on a 40-degree day. But in the cooler months, it can sing with incredible depth and complex flavours that you just don’t get in shiraz—or many red wines—from other regions. A combination of factors make this so, the principal one being the age of many of the Barossa’s vines. The oldest—going back to the 1830s, and which at Langmeil still produce wine—bring a multi layered palate of fruit flavours, tannins and, all importantly, natural acid. The wine is certainly tightly focussed and powerful but it is also in balance. If your kitchen is turning out pies or steaks or any kind of richer game, the wine list needs to push Barossa red hard. Besides Langmeil, seek out Turkey Flat.
This is cabernet sauvignon country, a bit like Kentucky is horse breeding country and Coober Pedy is opals. It’s a natural coming together of components, and if you try and do it in another part of the world—even a few kilometres up the road—the effect is not the same. Coonawarra cabernet has more than a few things going in its favour: it is a world-class recognised name, it is a byword for long-lasting, cellarable cabernet, and it is a shortcut to wine understanding and connoisseurship. If a businessman/woman/person is entertaining and yet don’t know a hell of a lot about red wine, Coonawarra cabernet when spotted on the wine list is a Godsend. Furthermore, in the colder months, these often bottle-aged reds find a perfectly matched partner in any red or slow-cooked meats. Try Rymill or Balnaves.
Ditto Margaret River. This region not only delivers high quality; it brings with it real international cachet. From cabernet and chardonnay to semillon-sauvignon blanc blends, this region simply has to be on your wine list 24/7/365. In the winter time you should use oysters (at their peak) to match with this region’s chardonnay, warm composed salads or seafood soups with the semillon-sauvignon blanc blends, and the full range of red, white and grey meats cooked in roasted, stewed or braised styles for the cabernets. Try Hay Shed Hill or Stella Bella.
This grand old man of the Australian wine scene enjoys incredible, parochial support in NSW, as it does internationally. Its shiraz has a unique character and flavour profile within Australian wine regions, offering something that’s dry, peppery, sometimes a little herbal, sometimes a little Rhone-like. It doesn’t have the power of Barossa or the come-hither white chocolate of the Mclaren Vale, but it’s medium-bodied yet very satisfying style suits more modern Australian food styles. It also suits Australian game exceptionally well—so this is an area within which to promote kangaroo, wallaby, camel and emu. Keith Tulloch and Margan are right on song.
And if you want to be a little more adventurous, there are new styles from these regions that might help lead your customers into an area of wine discovery. McLaren Vale grenache has recently undergone a major personality adjustment, and all the clever wine makers are turning out examples that aren’t the tutti-fruit red lolly styles, but the more savoury and aromatic and lightly bodied versions. It’s pinot noir for blokes and blokettes, if you like. (Try S.C. Pannell.)
Barossa Mataro is another red to look out for. Known as Monastrell in Spain and Mourvèdre in France, this is earthy, meaty and gamey red wine that will satisfy shiraz drinkers. (Try Hewitson.) And Margaret River tempranillo is also worth looking for on your radar. Tempranillo = Spain, Spain = a continuing food and wine trend, therefore Margaret River tempranillo is a good both-way bet. (Try Stella Bella or Vasse Felix.)