A “new world” winter wine evening

5 Dec

A few years ago I traded in my allegiances and stopped drinking new world wine. I said adios to Chile and goodbye to Oz, in favour of good Cotes du Rhone or Chianti.

“Why?” you ask…

Because of the simple fact that wine from Italy, France or Spain is so much less expensive in England than it ever was in Canada. I was like a kid in a candy store when I moved here – a grape-drenched sweet store, that is.

When I was in the “new world” I drank Australian, Kiwi and South African wines all the time, so it was a nice change to switch over to European varieties when I shifted country codes.

As such, when I headed to a tasting with Jacob’s Creek at the beautiful boutique hotel, The Hempel, it was one of the first times in recent years that I was going to have a night solely on Australian vino.

The Hempel Hotel near Hyde Park

The company has recently launched its new range of wines from three specific Australian regions: the Barossa, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills.

Now, I will be honest here – I wasn’t expecting much. I have – when I was back in Canada – drunk many a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and always found it to be palatable, rich and tasty, but nothing spectacular. So, I was curious to see if these new wines were going to be a step up. I was also interested to see what the Hempel’s head chef was going to match with the wines.

I arrived at the white pillared hotel and was greeted with a lovely glass of champagne and a roomful of fellow bloggers, all eager to get the evening going.

After sitting down, Adrian Atkinson – a wine development director with Pernod Ricard, which owns the wine company – talked us through what bottles we would be trying and explained a key part of the new releases is in focusing on how regionality makes a big difference in the final product.

“The industry as a whole is talking about regions,” he said.

The first region on our list was the Barossa, from which the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling comes. It was paired with a smoked black pudding, red onion jam and roaster diver Isle of Mull scallops.

The incredible delights offered up on a plate at The Hempel

I’m not a massive fan of Riesling and Adrian admitted it can be a difficult variety to sell to Britain, which often links the grape with the very sweet varieties that come out of Germany.

“We put “dry riesling” on the label to try and overcome that,” he added.

This Riesling was very nice – it wasn’t sickly sweet, but instead had a rich butter and honey nose, and a slight hazelnut and lime taste that countered the salty flavours of the black pudding and scallops wonderfully.

The next region was Adelaide Hills with a 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc matched with a Staffordshire Innes goat cheese, hazelnut and beetroot salad.

I found the wine to be light, with grassy, citrusy notes on the nose, and a fresh but slightly bitter flavour on the palate – it paired perfectly with the beetroot and gooey goat cheese.

We continued on our culinary journey, working through a beautifully rich, brown sugar, vanilla and oak flavoured 2010 Chardonnay to go with sea bass, and a 2009 Pinot Noir that was earthy and very rich, with a slight hint of rhubarb, that was matched with a stunning mushroom consumme – by far my favourite pairing of the night.

Adrian spoke of how “certain winemakers, if they get bitten by the “Pinot bug” become obsessed” – this led to a conversation about that same obsession discussed by Miles in Sideways and Adrian explaining that there are few regions in the world where growers can really get the most from these delicate vines, namely: Sonoma, Oregon and Adelaide Hills, where this one originates.

Adrian Atkinson and the Hempel's head chef speak to bloggers on the night

The evening finished off with an organic Rhug Estate flat iron steak (to go with a delicious blackberry and smoky Shiraz) and a selection of locally sourced cheeses, which was paired with a vanilla and oak, floral Cabernet Sauvignon.

The stars of the evening, for me, were the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real treat was not only in discovering the incredible skills of the chefs at the Hempel but also in rediscovering some absolutely wonderful new world wines.

Adrian added the culture of taking a longer time learning about and focusing on regions is a key element in the quality of wines being released from Australia.

“Ten years ago, winemakers in Australia thought grapes grew in the back of trucks. Now they spend lots of time in the vineyard tasting and learning,” he said.

Jacob’s Creek have done a really good job with these releases, and I have a feeling they are going to go down a treat – for lovers of the brand and new converts alike.

Jacob’s Creek’s new reserve releases are available at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Tesco Wine and Ocado, and are all priced at £9.99.

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