Saturday, 28 July 2012

Spectacular Shirazes with fish!

Once again, we broke the conventional rule of "white wine with fish!"

In my recent posting "1998 Lindeman's Verdelhao - one of the best white wines I have ever drunk", I make mention that this wine was one of several to start a brilliant dinner party.  This brilliant example of Verdelho was enjoyed with an opening cheese platter and great conversation, while the two reds where decanting.

Owen and Lucie had prepared the menu for the evening, with two fish courses to follow the cheese platter and an apple strudel for dessert.  The entree was a lightly seared tuna steak with a side of guacamole (with chili on the side which we could mix into the guacamole for taste - which we all did!), with the main dish being lightly battered and fried flathead, which is a denser and meatier type of fish.

Owen wanted to impress with a bottle of 15 year-old Pinot Noir, which would have been a nice match for the tuna and gaucamole, but most Pinot Noirs, no matter how well structured they are, are unlikely to last past a decade or so.  Unfortunately, this bottle was off and had to be disposed of.  While we were fortunate the 1998 Lindeman's Verdelhao was still a stunner, we were not as lucky with the Pinot Noir.

Not to be deterred, Owen had replaced the Pinot Noir with a 1997 Hungerford Hills Hilltop Shiraz and that was followed by a bottle of the 1991 Grant Burge Mesach Shiraz, which is considered one of the best Shiraz in Australia, if not the world.

The wines went brilliantly with the food because both the wines and the foods were brilliant on their own!  But what really made the Shirazes go well with the fish was the following:
  • Both the tuna and the flathead were denser, meatier fishes instead of a lighter style and texture to the fish
  • The tuna flavor was enhanced by the guacamole and chili, and the seasoning in the flathead batter had some nice, bold spices
  • Additionally, lightly battering and frying the flathead was a push into a Shiraz instead of a more traditional choice of white - had this fish been grilled, a more traditional white wine selection may have been more appropriate
These are importance nuances of flavor and texture that allow you to "turn the tables" on what type of wine matches well with the food you are having.  The slight differences in terms of the seasoning and sauces you use, the sides provided, or the texture of the main ingredient (in this case the tuna and the flathead), and the style of cooking provide you with a much wider selection of wines that match up brilliantly.  Therefore, don't be shy in terms of experimenting with a more diverse set of options for the wine.  With a little practice, you will stumble upon some great combinations that will truly surprise and excite.

The wines themselves were superb and given the iconic stature of the Mesach, we started with the 1997 Hungerford Hill Hilltop Shiraz with the tuna, followed by the 1991 Grant Burge Mesach Shiraz to go with the flathead.  Either Shiraz would have worked beautifully with either fish, but given the complexities of the wines, it was important to drink them in this order.

I have sampled Hungerford Hill wines over the last several years, and while I believe them to be decent wines, I must admit to not having tried their better wines or better vintages.  I was amazed at the quality and beauty of the 1997 Hungerford Hill Hilltop Shiraz!  It far exceeded my expectations, and has made me excited to go back to the winery and find out more.  This wine is a perfect example of how you can buy an inexpensive, yet good bottle of wine and how it can turn into a great bottle of wine if cellared properly for a decade.  (Beware, that is not possible with all inexpensive bottles of wine - you need to have the right grapes and structure to start with!)

The 1991 Grant Burge Mesach was superb.  Frankly, by this point, I was just enjoying the wine and the flathead, and the co-mingled tastes were starting to border on being "over-satiated!"  This is a truly superb wine and if you are a fan of the Henschke Hill of Grace, you will enjoy the Mesach at 20% of the price of the Hill of Grace!  The Mesach is smooth, flavorful and balanced with medium to large tannins.  Having had the 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 vintages of the Mesach, I would go with the 1991 and 1994.  They are superior vintages and still have some cellaring on them, whereas the 1992 and 1993 vintages do not.

To finish off the evening, we had a 2005 Château Haut Bergeron dessert wine to go with the apple strudel.  This is another great example of where the a $35 bottle of wine improves with each year in the cellar.  This is a great, great wine at 1/10th the price of Château D'Yquem, and most people in a side-by-side tasting cannot tell the difference!

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