Sydney Harbour and the nearby beaches in January are hard to beat. It’s probably the most spectacular place in the world to see in the new year, and for the whole month all that matters is that you are on, in or by the water. Sailing is safe and civilised, bolstered with a largesse of salad, fresh seafood and eskies of chilled beverages. Breakers pound the beach with delightful frequency, soothing you into a warm and pleasant slumber on the sand, a cold beer never far out of reach. And it’s hard to beat a magenta-hued stroll along the harbour front or beach boardwalk, ice-cream in hand and seagulls lurking for a scrap before sunset.
This month, in lieu of traveling south, and to invigorate myself of lockdown boredom, I’ve been dining south, cooking a number of Australian-style meals with wines to match.
Dinner 1: Light seafood with a light, dry white wine
Fresh prawns, flash grilled with lime juice, garlic and butter. Or even just fresh cooked from the shell. A favourite thing to do on a weekend was to head to the Pyrmont fish market, just up from the Harbour Bridge, and buy a kilo of fresh prawns. We’d take up residence on a table on one of the piers and start shelling them into the harbour, surreptitiously sneaking glasses of a young, South Australian Riesling. The bright lemon and lime juice intensity of bone-dry Riesling was a perfect, lip-smacking combination whilst basking in summer sunshine. A perfect partner would beHenschke Julius Riesling or Dandelion Riesling, both from the Eden Valley, with a delicate orange and lime blossom scent, hints of ginger and jasmine. Out of the Clare Valley you get more power with flavours of lime zest and preserved lemons - try Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling. A superb alternative is an aged Hunter Semillon . I’m having the 2013 Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon with this dish in mind. Bottle-aged for your pleasure where its subtle lemongrass and hay aromas have blossomed into a serving of waxy lanolin and lemon zest on toast, still glowing with the colours of youth. Will continue to improve for another decade.
Dinner 2: Richer seafood with a more powerful white wine
I once lived in Margaret River, a haven of relaxation at the end of the world where the sky is the clearest blue, the wines are effortlessly majestic and the seafood to die for. Our vineyard manager had crayfish pots on the go all summer, and we would head to his house on weekends to have fresh crayfish, grilled in their tails with butter on the bbq and wash it down with Devil’s Lair Chardonnay. A world-beating combination. I repeated this last weekend at home with both lobster tail and lobster on brioche rolls, and my last bottle of 2010 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, one of Australia’s finest chardonnays. The sensuous texture of the lobster a glorious match for the intense grapefruit and fresh cashew texture of the wine. We have the 2017 in stock, but the range of suitable matches is a long list - the focussed style of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay, the gentle stone-fruit elegance of Shaw + Smith from the Adelaide Hills, the intense lemon and yellow peach and flinty concentration of Tasmania’s Tolpuddle or the stunning power and grapefruit intensity of Vasse Felix Heytesbury, now regularly one of Australia’s most awarded wines. In fact almost any oak fermented Chardonnay would be a winner.
Dinner 3: Aged T-bone and a fine, dry red
I’ve been picking up the occasional Bistecca Fiorentina from the Osteria Antica Bologna to cook at home and they’re utterly marvellous. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides, bring to room temperature over a couple of hours, heat a cast-iron pan to as hot as you can and splash on some avocado oil (to reduce smoking). Sear all sides to develop a good crust and render the fat over about 8-10 minutes. Remove and allow to rest, covered with foil, for around half an hour. It will be medium-rare with a thick, salty crust and mouth-melting texture.
I paired this with a bottle of 2017 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, decanted 5 hours in advance. A wine that was once broad-shouldered and deeply scented with American Oak, now it’s dropped some dress sizes and glides like silk. A wine that unfurls slowly and ceremoniously without a wrinkle appearing. 2017 is one of the two great red wine vintages this decade in the Hunter Valley, and this will age with sublime ease over a several decades. But if that’s a stretch, and it really is a special occasion wine, then a perennial favourite is 2014 Wynn’s Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, a medium-bodied red with lots of cassis, mulberry and fine, cedary tannins. It’s got a lovely amount of bottle age and is terrific value.
Dinner 4: Slow-cooked lamb and a savoury, elegant red
The finale will be the meal of the month. I know the wine I want and have back-filled the meal from there. We’ve had some sublime wines from Henschke this past year, but I’ve mostly tasted them and not enjoyed the whole bottle. So this year I’m going to open my only bottle of 2010 Henschke Mount Edelstone – I wish I had bought more! A single-vineyard Shiraz from 100-year-old vines, Mount Edelstone has a signature note of sage and black pepper. So I’m going to slow-roast a shoulder of lamb seasoned with sage, black pepper and garlic. We’ve a eucalyptus tree nearby so it will be served with a spring of gum leaf as a garnish. Not for eating. Again this is a special and now rare wine, so a great alternative for elegance would be the ultra-refined 2017 Giaconda Shiraz from the Victorian Alps, a baby-Hermitage with more sumptuous fruit, or a the super-classy and great value Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz from the Canberra District. A red-fruited and pepper-scented wine of natural elegance and restraint that is modelled more in the style of Crozes-Hermitage with a little Saint Joseph.
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