Down under, up here. Two winemakers to watch

by Nick Harman - Saturday September 17, 2016 3:09 pm

Invited to a chef’s flat in Bethnal Green to meet two winemakers from down under, Nick puts on his hipster beard and gets on the tube.

Once through to the door of chef’s flat I immediately forget the rather scuzzy outside world as I am metaphorically embraced by the smell of fine cooking and almost physically by a very large winemaker in the shape of Matt Patterson-Green. He and Paul Smith are from Jackson Estate and Wirra Wirra respectively and have brought a selection of their wines to wow us all with. Chef is Gabriel Waterhouse, ex Chef de Partie at Galvin La Chapelle now running this The Water House Project, a top 5 London supper club, so I’m excited.

First wine served as we stand is a Jackson Estate ‘Stich’ Sauvignon Blanc, chilled in every sense, to help us to cool down; us being various proper wine writers, some bloggers and the magisterial presence that is Bruce Anderson of the Spectator. Bruce or ‘Brute’ as he is known to Private Eye, makes me the second oldest person here, which is a first.

Sauvignon Blanc remains one of New Zealand’s biggest hitters export wise and this 2015 example is beautifully crisp and mineral and just the thing for a very hot day.

Soon we’re crammed onto a table, elbows in each other’s plates, and we tackle a superb smoked haddock risotto with English mustard sauce, soft boiled quail’s egg with two white wines - a Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2013  and Wirra Wirra Absconder Grenache 2014. The two winemakers make the most of these early, still sober, moments to fill us in a bit about who they are, what they make and where they come from.

Matt tells us The Grey Ghost is named for a giant gum tree planted in 1867 by founder John Stichbury’s great grandmother Alice and today features on all Jackson Estate wine labels. I love this wine immediately. A scent of elderflower blossom and citrus and the usual stone fruit and citrus notes with a final acidity that cuts the rich risotto.

Wirra Wirra 12th Man Chardonnay 2015 gets its particular name, Paul explains, from founder Greg Trott who loved cricket so much he built his own concrete pitch at the family farm. He never thought he’d be in the Aussie team, but always said that being twelfth man would have made him just as happy.

I liked the lemon rind freshness on the nose of this one, as well as on the palate, as well as the vanilla and creamy-textured finish. Not quite as good as the Ghost with the haddock, lacking the acidity, but still an inspiring rendition of 100% Chardonnay.

Quail. Now there’s a challenge, the little blighters overcook so easily. Can Gabriel, who is cooking for ten people from a tiny domestic oven, pull this one off? He certainly can; it’s served with parsnip puree, pickled cranberries and quail jus and is perfect, the meat just right. I particularly love the braised red cabbage underneath.

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2013 is a wine we’re told that was named in recognition of the winemakers’ families, who are often forgotten as the workers strive to make the perfect bottle of Pinot Noir. The grapes are grown on clay-bound vineyards in the southern Waihopai Valley and the wine has a background of spice and cedar. Good firm tannins, but not too firm, and full of southern Marlborough clays’ character.

I love the name of the Wirra Wirra Absconder Grenache 2014  named for Wirra Wirra founder Robert Strangways Wigley, whose taste for flouting the law had him sent away by the courts to McLaren Vale where he mended his ways and began making wine. This 100% Grenache is a cracker, my favourite wine so far with lots of berries and spice and a mouth-filling intensity that backs off from being in yer face.

Cumbrian Herdwick lamb, pea shoots, mint oil, rosemary and thyme jus is jus (sic) as good as it sounds; who can resist the twin lamb-loving guns of rosemary and thyme? I’m not referring to the detectives, obviously.

Jackson Estate Gum Emperor Pinot Noir 2011 is brought to the table and is named for the Gum Emperor moth Opodiphthera eucalypti that’s found on the edge of the vineyards. I find the words Pinot Noir always sounds better said with a Kiwi or Aussie accent and the wine usually tastes better too. This one is rich and intense already and wiser palates than mine assure me that over time the tannins will smooth out still more to make an already lovely wine a real grandstander.

And what of the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2013? Well it was, we’re told, the first wine produced under the Wirra Wirra label back in 1972 and named after the small church across the road from Wirra Wirra’s century old ironstone cellars and is now an Australian favourite.   I found it a bit straight-ahead and no surprises; plenty of berries and what you’d expect from an Aussie blend (Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Shiraz (37%), Merlot (13%). A good wine, but for me not the best of the reds tonight.

A plate of cheeses sourced from Androuet cheeses, served with homemade sourdough bread, grape chutney and Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 was just the ticket. The cheeses were all at perfect temperature and ripeness and the Dead Ringer a great match.

It’s a wine that will cost you around £40 in the shops, but it does ring a lot of bells. A very deep colour, lots of wild berry fruits on the nose and as leathery as a feller left out in the bush too long without a tinny. real classic in fact.

And so to desserts, Brillat-Savarin and white chocolate ganache, strawberry and basil soup, strawberry sorbet with a Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Moscato 2015. Forget arguments about cork versus synthetic versus screw caps; this had a crown cap like an old bottle of pop.

This was of course to hold in the wine’s fizziness and presumably is cheaper than a champagne-style cork. A great sweet wine; bright, sherbetty and Frizzante style. Named, by way, after a local cat that moved into the cellars.  The food? A fitting end.

Both winemakers could head off into the night happy. All their wines gleamed with the lustre that comes from the dogged pursuit of excellence and if the assembled guests didn’t all break into applause it was b because some were a bit tight by now, including me. A great experience all round.

Down under?  I’m up for some more

Find out about Chef Gabriel Waterhouse’s Water House Project and on Facebook

Jackson Estate

Jackson Estate ‘Stich’ Sauvignon Blanc 2015: RSP £13.49 Waitrose, Majestic Wine, Ocado & Tesco.

Jackson Estate ‘Grey Ghost’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012: RSP £18.00 Majestic Wine, Ocado & Tesco Wine by the case & Cheers Wine Merchant

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2013: RSP £19.99 Majestic Wine, Ocado, Cheers Wine Merchants & Christopher Piper Wines.

Jackson Estate Gum Emperor Pinot Noir 2011: RSP £26.99 The Drink Shop.com, Rollings Wine Merchants (Harpenden), Christopher Piper Wines & Cheers Wine Merchants.

Wirra Wirra

Wirra Wirra 12th Man Chardonnay 2015: RSP £19 The Wine Society, Hennings Fine Wines, Cheers Wine Merchants, Bin 21, Harper Wells, The Wine Chambers, Winos (Oldham)

Wirra Wirra Absconder Grenache 2014: RSP £40 Carruthers & Kent, Abbey Fine Wines

Wirra Wirra Church Block 2013: RSP £13.50 Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco.com ‘wine by the case’, Morrisons Cellar, The Wine Society

Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: RSP £40 Cambridge Wine Merchants, Vagabond Wines, Abbey Fine Wines, H2Vin, The Wine Chambers, Cheers Wine Merchants, Vinea (Liverpool)

Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Moscato 2015: RSP £9.99 Ocado, Cheers Wine Merchants, Bin 21, Hennings Wine Merchants, The Wine Chambers, The Vineyard (Dorking), The Whalley Wine Shop, Mmm & Glug (Newcastle), The Oxford Wine Company

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