Roger Jones Winter 2022
With the evenings drawing in and a chill in the air, we can still enjoy outdoor cooking, so why not freshen up your barbecue with a burst of Australian sunshine and a range of fresh vibrant exciting wines.
To pair with my Australian selection, I have cooked outside the box; everything from chicken feet to grouse to duck hearts.
Many of us may remember the Australia of old, with its big oaked Chardonnays and heavy, high alcohol Shiraz. But over the last decade there has been a huge change in the style of wines coming from Australia.
Just as with food where many people are changing to a lighter style, wine changes similarly and Australia is now known for beautiful delicate Pinot Noirs, fresh clean and crisp Chardonnays, zingy and exciting Riesling and a Shiraz more like Syrah.
There are plenty of wines outside the mainstream too, such as Semillon, quite unique to Australia and sourced mainly from the Hunter Valley.
I have matched this with stir fried chicken feet, but you can substitute the feet with chicken thighs.
Using a wok on a barbecue is great on a winter’s evening, as it not only keeps the aromatics out of the kitchen, but you can get a full-on heat without setting off those fire alarms or smoke detectives indoors.
The chicken feet/thighs, just like the Semillon, will take as much heat and spice that you can throw at it. The Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon 2021 offers incredible value (£14) and delivers a wine full of texture, citrus freshness, hints of pink grapefruit and luscious herbs. This is the baby of the family, with the star wine being Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon.
Australian Riesling is generally on the dry side, with lower alcohol and delivers fresh crisp wine that with age evolves with some toasty brioche and lime marmalade nuances.
But I would suggest for winter you want a younger wine. Because there is a racy acidity (citrus freshness) to these wines they are excellent to clean the palate, while eating not only seafood, but sticky food like ribs, ox tongue or a good old burger.
With Australian Chardonnay if you want to keep away from any trace of oak – at worst, back in the early 2000s, it reminded many of cheap suntan lotion mixed with vanilla ice cream – look for ‘unoaked’ on the label.
Even wines that are aged in oak are now often aged in old barrels, which enhance them, as opposed to adding that oak smack.
Good Australian Chardonnay should have delicate stone fruit, such as nectarines and peaches, some citrus flavours, such as pink grapefruit, a flinty feel (think matchstick) and then a mellow feel, imagine spring flowers and fresh herbs and a smooth delicate fresh finish.
Pinot Noir is one of those wines that shouts summer drinking. However for me the wine is equally good on a cold dark winter’s evening, for it can lift your spirits with that fresh hit of red berries and autumnal foraged goodies.
From the Adelaide Hills I have matched Shaw & Smith Pinot Noir 2012 with duck hearts, flavoured with curry spices.
I would suggest you cut the hearts into three and then marinade them for a few hours in curry spices and olive oil before putting them on a metal skewer to barbecue. Serve either pink or go the full hog and caramelise them and serve with minted yoghurt.
This wine has some age on it which gives a more savoury feel. As a Pinot ages, the bright fresh berries give way to truffles and dried mushrooms, but still offering a wine that lifts you and is clean, focused and moreish. If you just want that berry glow, look for a much younger vintage.
I have gone for traditional British game on the barbecue – whole grouse and squab pigeon roasted on a rotisserie. The richness and full flavour of the birds called for a trio of wines, which were great in highlighting three different Australian red grape varieties.
Grenache is one of the most widely planted red grape in the world, found in Spain, South of France, California and of course Australia, and, as you would have guessed, it needs heat.
It gives a spicy, full berry fresh wine that glows – again great for these winter nights.
Often in Australia it is made into a blend called GSM, which simply means a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. However, the Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2019 (£17) is 100% Grenache and delivers a wine full of bright red fruits, violets and rose buds on the nose with a complexity that lifts it. This means it’s just not full of sweet berries, but has a savoury background, rich lingering flavours and a clean, focused finish.
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon varies hugely in price. The Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (£26) is one of the finest value quality Cabernets from Australia. Here you will have blueberries, blackcurrants, hints of cedar, a touch of mocha, a hint of herbs, but a luscious long lingering velvety smooth wine.
They also produce a bargain entry level called Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet (£15). Both these wines have a small percentage of Petit Verdot and Malbec and are sourced from Margaret River in Western Australia.
Vasse Felix was founded in 1967 by Tom Cullity, and was the first vineyard to be set up in that region.
As a comparison and to showcase the very best but at a price, the Cullen Diana Madeline Margaret River Cabernet-Merlot 2016 is rated as one of the best Cabernets in the world; still youthful and will age for decades but will cost over £175 if you can get hold of a bottle.
Finally to Shiraz, which has had a bit of a journey in Australia. This Torbeck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2020 (£17) from the Barossa Valley is plummy and full of black cherries, hints of dark chocolate and then full of bright blueberries on the mid palate, meaning what sits in your mouth is luscious and easy on the palate.
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