When I have a glass of wine it is usually not an orphan. Enjoying the juice of the grape is most usually as an accompaniment to (hopefully very fine) food. Of course, then there is the food and wine matching to consider – not just flavour and texture, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in contrast. Wine tastes different when taken with food.
We’ve seen acknowledgement of this slipping into the wine judging process. So I was excited when I was in McLaren Vale recently to catch a whisper of an exciting – food and wine matching – change being introduced at the McLaren Vale Wine Show this year. And now, it is official.
In 2014, McLaren Vale will become the first regional Australian wine show to introduce food into the judging process where the public will be invited to be part of the experience.
McLaren Vale Wine Show Committee Chair Daniel Zuzolo, from Primo Estate, expects the additional elements of this year’s show will raise some debate.
“The question of whether wine should be judged with food is a heated one in the wine world but we feel that, with exceptional regional produce and the skills of our great chefs being so much a part of our lifestyle here in McLaren Vale, it’s a natural fit” Daniel said.
“We believe great wine and food is to be celebrated, so we want to invite people from our local community and all around the country to come and share the very best of what we have to offer in our vibrant coastal wine region.”
Judging for the 2014 McLaren Vale show will take place across four days, chaired by Jim Chatto of McWilliams Wines. Four Australian ‘Silver Bullets’ – James Halliday, Huon Hooke, Iain Riggs and Brian Walsh – will join the panel of judges for one day each.
Four major categories, considered the pillars of McLaren Vale, have been selected for showcasing: Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Whites. Each day, judging will focus on one of these categories, with the highest scoring wines being selected for ‘call back’. (Judging of the other trophies will also be done in these daytime sessions, scheduled across the four days.) Each afternoon, the call back wines will be taken to one of the region’s premium restaurants where the chef will have specially designed a dish to complement the variety. All judges will finalise their scores while sampling the wines alongside this dish. Once this is complete, a sub group of judges will join public guests in the restaurant. Each of the four dinners will be hosted by the day’s Silver Bullet who will be mic’d up to lead the evening’s conversation.
Guests will enjoy the chef’s specially designed dish accompanied by the 2013 category winner, other previous winners and top national and international examples of the particular variety. The host Silver Bullet will talk about the category and observations of the 2014 entries generally, along with commentary on the wines being poured with the meal.(The 2014 entries must remain blind until the Wine of Show is decided at the end of judging, hence winners cannot be revealed at the dinners.)
This new format will replace the show’s awards night which was not open to the general public. It allows McLaren Vale to showcase its world class produce, hospitality and culinary skills alongside its best wines. These events will be held on October 20, 21, 22 and 23. Tickets will be $150 each and on sale from 12th September. Restaurants have capacity for between 60 and 80 people each. A free public tasting of trophy and gold medal winning wines will also be held at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide’s CBD on Friday, 14th November.
Key dates and events for the McLaren Vale Wine Show
Sunday, 19th October Judges welcome dinner
Monday, 20th October 2014 Judging begins at Serafino; Dinner at Elbow Room with Huon Hooke, Cabernet theme
Tuesday, 21st October 2014 Judging continues; Dinner at Star of Greece with Brian Walsh, Whites theme
Wednesday, 22nd October 2014 Judging continues; Dinner at Salopian Inn with Iain Riggs, Shiraz theme
Thursday, 23rd October 2014 Final day of judging; Dinner at Fino with James Halliday, Grenache theme
Friday, 31st October 2014 Awards presentation and Bushing King lunch
Tuesday, 4th November 2014 Exhibitor’s tasting, Serafino
Friday, 14th November 2014 Free public tasting of trophy and gold medal winners at the National Wine Centre, 5.30pm
Set in a historic cottage in quiet Willunga, Fino is a restaurant with an earthy, authentic and humble character despite its long and varied list of dining awards. Being widely acclaimed as one of Australia’s best regional restaurants hasn’t altered Fino’s vision to create provincial dishes built around the best and freshest locally grown produce. Chef David Swain gathers ingredients from snapper and beetroots to octopus and sorrel direct from farms, fishermen and the neighbouring Willunga Farmers’ Market. These items are then prepared with minimum fuss to bring flavours to life rather than adhere to culinary fashions.
Many dishes are also influenced by the Italian heritage of David’s dynamic front-of-house business partner Sharon Romeo. Her energetic and award-winning service is renowned for providing memorable, personalised and fun dining experiences.
The handcrafted shelves in the wine room stock a list of wine ranked among Australia’s best. They offer a diverse range of styles and varieties from Australia and around the world, including a strong selection of sherries, which are carefully matched to each dish.
The Salopian Inn
The Salopian Inn is about authenticity, integrity and celebration: of regional history; of fine wine and spirits; of ethical eating; of community and seasonality; of premium experiences and a sense of adventure along the way. Chef and owner Karena Armstrong leads an all-women kitchen and, despite having worked with culinary stars like Kylie Kwong, Alla Wolfe-Tasker and Karen Martini, remains humble and committed to her vision for this historic McLaren Vale institution.
The menu is shaped around its ingredients – not just what has been done in the kitchen, but also the source and story behind them. Karena’s dishes are inspired “randomly” by an ingredient she spots in the market, or a new discovery at many of the States amazing culinary experiences. Dishes are unapologetically eclectic, seasonally inspired and “not overworked”.
The Salopian Inn first opened in 1851 and the restaurant fit out retains much of the heritage charm, embellished with warm design, rustic features and ever changing art. The enormous underground cellar is packed with literally hundreds of wine brands and vintages from across the world. Gin is also a star at the Salopian and more than 170 different varieties are on offer, along with dozens of recommended tonics and garnishes. Located amid McLaren Vale’s myriad cellar doors and wineries, the Salopian Inn is a welcoming, warm and exciting destination to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner.
Star of Greece
The Star of Greece sits in one of South Australia’s most iconic positions on McLaren Vale’s Port Willunga coastline. Perched on a cliff top overlooking a beach of white sand and turquoise water, the restaurant takes its name from the cargo ship which was wrecked in a storm just off shore in 1888. While the small building is modest from the exterior, inside you’ll find a delightful room full of elegant furnishings and bathed in plentiful natural light. Broad glass windows, plus an outdoor dining deck, give visitors plenty of scope to take in the coastal views.
Naturally, the menu features simple but creative dishes starring local seafood, as well as other premium regional South Australian produce. All dishes are built around core flavours, with hints of exotic influences but always fresh and approachable.
The wine list is extensive and awarded. Carefully selected wines from the local McLaren Vale region sit alongside pickings from France, Austria, Italy, New Zealand and other top Australian regions. The Star of Greece is as popular for weddings and celebrations as it is with local winemakers and food lovers. The cosy space is always full so travellers are advised to book well in advance for this very special dining experience.
The Elbow Room is a relatively recent addition to McLaren Vale’s fine dining scene and is the first solo venture for former d’Arry’s Verandah chef Nigel Rich. The restaurant is in a truly picturesque setting, with broad windows overlooking the surrounding Shingleback vineyards. The food philosophy is very much locavore and Nigel strives to source most of his ingredients within the immediately surrounding region. A keen fisherman and gardener, many elements are grown, picked or caught by the chef himself.
Dishes are generous in flavour, size and creativity and are clever without being pretentious. Familiar foods are given fresh twists and there are hints of Asian influence from Nigel’s time living and working in Hong Kong.
The wine list is described as “the new, the old and the quirky” which could also describe the visual aesthetic of the restaurant itself. Top McLaren Vale labels sit alongside international wines, with a good selection of European varieties such as Tempranillo, Vermentino, Sangiovese and Mourvedre. The local vs imported option continue through the list of beers, ciders and Sherries.