Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival - sweet & sticky

Most people with a passing interest in gourmet matters know the basics of matching food and wine. While many of the old rules (white wine with fish, red wine with red meat) are no longer set in stone, and many of us have developed our own personal favourite matches, it's very easy to learn the basic rules, as there's so much information available.

Matching food with fortified wine is a less explored topic and something that the Sweet & Sticky event at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival aims to change. It's a thoroughly indulgent event - fine chocolates matched with some of Australia's best fortifieds - and all for the bargain price of $22.

This event was first held several years ago, when Buller Wines were matched with Cacao chocolates and I've eagerly scanned the festival program each year since, waiting for it to make a return appearance. Thankfully this year it did and the Buller Wines were this time matched with Fardoulis chocolates from Sydney.

Buller Wines were founded in 1921 and have cellar doors at Rutherglen and Beverford. The Rutherglen region is world-famous for its wonderful fortified wines, particularly its muscats and tokays, and Buller Wines rank very highly.

"For a long time now, table wine has taken the spotlight and fortified wines have been overlooked [in terms of matching with food]," winemaker Richard Buller told the guests at Sweet & Sticky.

"There is a taste sensation with fortified wines and chocolate. It lends itself to an interesting combination of flavours and characters and, if you think outside the square, then you get some wonderful pairings."

We tasted seven wines, each matched with a chocolate: fine old malmsey (honey macadamia), fine old liqueur tawny (cherry cream), fine old tawny (fig), fine old tokay (orange macadamia), fine old muscat (ginger), calliope rare tokay (strawberry macadamia), and calliope rare muscat (lemoncello).

Some of the pairings were more successful than others (although, as the night went on, the palate became tired and overloaded and this could have something to do with it!) The fine old malmsey was my least favourite wine at the last tasting but, this time around, I really enjoyed it and it matched superbly with the honey macadamia chocolate. The chocolate picked up the honey flavours in the malmsey and the macadamia also shone through strongly.

The fine old liqueur tawny had a luscious cherry syrup flavour, with some caramel and blackcurrant flavours, and the subtle flavour of the cherry cream chocolate complemented the wine perfectly.

The rich, spicy fruit flavours of the fine old tawny married wonderfully with the fig chocolate - its flavour practically exploded in my mouth and softened the alcoholic taste of the wine.

Less successful was the pairing of fine old tokay with orange macadamia. The fine old tokay is a deliciously smooth wine, with toffee, malt and caramel sweetness, plus a hint of butterscotch. These flavours were completely overpowered by the dominant sweet orange flavour, which also masked the macadamia.

My favourite of these wines is the fine old muscat, which has strong raisin flavours, and it combined well with the ginger chocolate.

The two calliope fortifieds are magnificent wines. Influential wine critic Robert Parker has apparently rated both these wines 100/100, which is a great coup for Buller Wines but has unfortunate consequences (for consumers anyway) for the price. (We're kicking ourselves for not buying bottles at the last tasting, which were then about $60 - now they are more than $200). These wines are so good that they stand on their own and almost don't need the distraction of matching food. Robert Parker describes the Calliope Rare Tokay as boasting "colossal aromatics and flavours of melted caramels, coffee, toffee, candied fruits marinated in Cognac, magnificent richness and a huge finish that last over 70 seconds". He is equally glowing in describing the Calliope Rare Muscat: "...an intoxicating fragrance that includes scents of prunes, figs, maple syrup, molasses, and gobs of fruit. The glycerine is extraordinary, the acid level provides freshness and definition, and the finish lasts over a minute."

Only exceptional vintages are used in these wines and limited quantities are bottled each year. The muscat uses old material that dates back more than 35 years. It is an experience and a joy to taste both these wines but unfortunately the chocolate matches did not do them justice. The strawberry macadamia is cloyingly sweet, with the strawberry overpowering both the wine and the macadamia flavour. The lemoncello is more successful. It has a zesty lemon flavour that keeps on coming. At first taste, it appears too much but, after several more nibbles, it ended up being a reasonable match with the wine.

Sweet & Sticky was a wonderful night and I highly recommend attending if this event is held during a future festival. Although I think the wines were more successfully matched with the Cacao chocolates at the last tasting, it was still an enjoyable mix and we learnt a lot about how to taste both fortified wine and chocolate and about the skills involved in successful matching.

Buller Wines
Three Chain Road, Rutherglen
Ph: (02) 6032 9660

Fardoulis Chocolates
105-107 Prines Hwy, Kogarah, NSW
Ph: (02) 9553 9552
Melbourne distributor: (03) 9887 0329

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Sounds like a fantastic event, and at a bargain price! I will have to scour the programme for such gems next year.