I have been wanting to go to the Barossa Valley and surrounding vineyards since I acquired a taste for red wine (admittedly when I was only just of legal drinking age!) So when Pat and I decided to have a long weekend in Adelaide I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit. I knew I wanted to learn more about wine but was apprehensive about whether I would be able to be catered for, given the cheese and steak culture surrounding particularly red wine. Pat did the booking over the phone and reassured me that they could cater for me.
We meet Annie our tour guide (I prefer Wine Teacher) and I then realised this Master Class was based around food pairing, which I hadn’t realised prior to arriving! Annie informed me that I was the first vegan to book into a tour at Jacobs Creek! Aside from feeling as though I had probably put them out a little, I was pretty chummy about that title. To add to that excitement, she also explained that they are looking to offer a greater selection of vegan food and alternative wines in both their tours and restaurant. Bliss. Annie explained that the tour would be run as it normally does for Pat and the other couple and that Annie would guide me in a similar way, although I had different wines and different dishes – the principles of wine and food pairing are the same.
The wines I had the pleasure of tasting were from left: 2014 Jacobs Creek Earth, Vine, Grape Shiraz Cabernet, 2012 Biodynamic Jacobs Creek Shiraz (2012 was a particularly good vintage for Jacobs Creek) and 2014 Jacobs Creek Organic Shiraz. Rest assured there wasn’t a drop left of any by the end of the tour. Biodynamic? Organic? Yes, wine is derived from grapes and so as with any fruit it can be grown conventionally with pesticides or organically without. Biodynamics is a philosophy comprising sustainable soil fertility, the connection between plant growth and the “rhythms of the cosmos”. I purchased the Biodynamic Shiraz as I have never tasted anything like it. The grapes were hand picked from vines that were more than one hundred years old in McLaren Vale (a neighbouring region to the South which we also visited), on a fruit day (full moon).
We learned about how to swirl the wine in the glass to get a stronger smell (by adding oxygen); how to describe the scent and the taste in terms of the unique grape DNA, that may be fruity, woody etc and the tannins of wine. Tannins is a new term for me and its a bit complicated but in very basic terms it is a chemical compound found in plant matter – also found in tea and coffee – which is to describe the character and the quality of red wine. Tannins is an important term in wine tasting as it basically describes the “mouth feel” or “bitter” taste, a nice red may simply just be described a “tannic”. The darker the wine the “longer” the tannis and hence the more “drying” or “longer” the mouth feel. Interesting, Dr Paul Smith, a chemist at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI, in Adelaide) suggests wine tannins are considered more complex than grape tannins due to the various chemical reactions that occur during wine making and storage.
Annie informed me that her and the chef, Shaun, had spent the last few days creating and testing these dishes to check which wine they paired with and if the balance was right – they did a mighty fine job! The first dish was grilled zucchini and green herb sauce (a light sort of vinaigrette) which was paired with the Cabernet Shiraz. The two together radically changed due to the acidity of both, in significantly shortening the tannis and hence enhancing subtle fruity flavours in the wine. The second dish the oyster mushroom risotto was a similar love story albeit a little less dramatic. Moving on to the third and fourth dish was a step up of tannic proportions. Paired with my favourite of the three wines, the eggplant and red capsicum crumb and the salt and pepper tofu with loganberry and sage relish was a highlight for me. The sweetness of the loganberry with the truly unique tannic taste of the Biodynamic Shiraz almost bought a tear to my eye. The fifth dish was a real dark horse; the kale fried in olive oil and salt then baked in the oven with the potato was perfectly complimentary with the organic Shiraz. Any more salt would have thrown out the balance and using oil increased the fat content to make it a match made it heaven. Finally, the beetroot, olive salsa and tarragon was the vegan equivalent of steak and red. The earthy flavour of the beetroot, the fat from the olive salsa, the freshness of the tarragon and the tannis of the Shiraz made for a party in my mouth.
Here is a quick rule of thumb for wine and food pairing I found on Wine Folly:
- Acidity in wine pairs well with fatty and sweet foods (acid + acid)
- Fatty foods need either an acidic or high alcohol wine (think Shiraz or port), otherwise the wine will taste flabby.
- Bitter (or Tannic) wine can be balanced with a sweet food or fatty food
- Salty shouldn’t compete with acidity in wine. Use sparingly as necessary to keep sharpness in the meal (salty + sweet)
- Sweet food/wine benefits from a little acidity.
- Alcohol can be used to cut through fatty foods or balance a sweet dish.
This was one of the most incredible experiences and I shared it with someone I love so much (who is actually a non-drinker) but there is an elephant in the room. The wine might be organic and biodynamic but is it vegan? Traditionally, the most commonly used fining agents are casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein) which are used to clarify the wine. They are not additives to the wine, but animal products are used nonetheless. You might be okay with this, you might not. I’m not sure if the wine I had was vegan friendly though we could probably assume that it wasn’t. The traditional wine-making process is not going to change over night but there is a vegan friendly wine revolution starting. If you have the option to purchase a wine which is vegan friendly of course there is all the better reason to indulge. If a traditionally cheese and steak winery is prepared to accommodate food and wine pairing for a wine loving vegan – I’m going to sing their praises, it was an extraordinary experience.
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
To read more about the wine making process: http://www.jacobscreek.com/au/winemaking/shiraz
To read more about food and wine pairing: http://winefolly.com/tutorial/food-and-wine-pairing/
To read more about differing wine strengths: http://winefolly.com/tutorial/the-lightest-to-the-strongest-wine/
To read more about Tannis in wine: http://www.wineanorak.com/tannins.htm
What makes wine vegan? Plus link to purchase vegan wine: https://www.organicwine.com.au/what-makes-a-wine-vegan