We caught up with Roger Jones recently and talked premium Australian wine, food and the 2016 Mamba Awards celebrating the very best Australian wines.
Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones is a man who needs no introduction to the UK wine trade. Owner of the highly acclaimed Wiltshire restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, a wine writer for several trade publications including Harpers, Glass of Bubbly, The Buyer and The Caterer, Roger is a staunch advocate for premium Australian wines as his 350+ Australian wines in his restaurant cellar will attest. Roger has also established himself as an entrepreneur, hosting a series of elite tasting events including this week’s annual Mamba Awards which recognise the very best Australian wines distributed in the UK as judged by the trade. Wine Australia caught up with Roger recently and talked premium Australian wine, food, the 2016 Mamba Awards and gained his insight into the future of fine Australian wine.
Australian wine in restaurants: the premium evolution takes hold
Australian wine has always been a huge part of our business and happily these wines still offer the ‘X factor’ effect and continue to enthral not only us as restaurateurs but our customers too. As with its food, premium Australian wine is becoming more restrained, more focused and more consumer-friendly. In our restaurant, we are seeing a new movement in the younger generation who are now very much into wine from an earlier age. They are also more objective in what they drink and are often seeking quality over quantity. Food and wine matching itself is becoming more objective, and consumers clearly want an experience every time they dine out. As we eat lighter, less fussy food, together with the need for higher quality ingredients, we see a stylistic change in the wines that best suit this style of food. In doing so, I very much champion the quality of the ‘classic’ grape varieties that made Australia famous globally such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet and Shiraz. It’s also great to see Pinot Noir rising up especially in Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula.
Today we see consumers getting more and more demanding, and this is quite right because we are now not only competing against other restaurants and the budding Master Chef at home, but the new breed of wine experts. These people are well-connected with numerous wine apps and we no longer can fool the consumer with inaudible European wine languages or dialects. Just as food has been on a journey, I have seen the Australian wine industry develop as it evolves and satisfies the world demand for its wine. For me, I see premium Australian wine as a bastion to the New World of wine. We no longer look at the traditional ‘New’ and ‘Old World’, but there is a new style of wine clearly coming from many countries and Australia has been leading the way here. For example, Australia has reinvented Riesling.
A Riesling revolution
I am sure neither Germany nor Alsace will thank me for saying this, but the reason for the increased awareness of Riesling from both these areas can clearly be pointed at Australia, which has made modern, fresh, clean and crisp Rieslings so popular. At our restaurant we list 35 Australian Rieslings, with vertical years of the global stars such as Pewsey Vale Contours, Peter Lehmann’s Wigan, Jim Barry’s Florita, Grosset and Crawford River, we even had 250 special edition magnums of Tamar Ridge Single Vineyard Riesling made for us in 2008, which we will be releasing next week to our guests at The Mamba Awards. Australian Riesling is diverse, regionally they also offer different platforms to the palate and with age they develop an added complexity. This diversification makes Australian Riesling a perfect wine to go with a whole range of moods, occasions and celebrations. From a classic Clare Valley aperitif style to an intense aged Eden Valley, you have the ability to enjoy this grape variety in so many ways. Australian Riesling is also such an easy wine to match with food, just one simple rule; do not match it with over-spiced food and never with Indian food, where as an alternative, Australian Chardonnay, is the perfect match for both. In general, never match wines with similar flavours to food. For example a peppery Shiraz is not going to do a peppered steak any favours, just a mouth full of peppery spice. Whether it is sashimi of wild sea bass with shaved Perigord truffles and crème fraiche ideal with a Watervale Riesling or seared diver caught scallop, foie gras and black pudding with an aged High Eden Riesling or plain fish and chips with a fresh clean Tasmanian Riesling, you have a myriad of great matches. Together they work in harmony to highlight both the wine and the food. Then we have the Great Southern, sometimes the forgotten heaven of Western Australia, offering clean precise Rieslings with great minerality and wet stone compounds. Australian Chardonnay has always been a huge popular variety in our restaurant and names like Cullen, Moss Wood, Penfolds (Bin A & Yatarna), Heytesbury, Leeuwin, Giaconda are rightfully world renown for being some of the finest on the planet.
But wait there's more...... A sparkling wine renaissance is coming
Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lend themselves brilliant to sparkling wine, and I am particularly impressed with the latest sparkling wines from Australia. With France no longer dominating the sparkling wine category, it is fitting to look to Australia and specifically at Tasmania where a renaissance of sparkling wine has been gathering momentum. Together with the impressive recent vintages of English sparkling wines now on the market, especially at the higher price points, this puts premium Australian fizz more at ease in the UK market. Australian Sparkling Wine especially in the premium range with age should be treated like vintage champagne and matched to fine food, a Chardonnay based sparkling with grilled turbot with wild mushrooms, or a vintage rose with new season lamb and above all they are great with sushi and oriental dishes.
The Mamba Riedel Decanter Awaards 2016
To further highlight premium Australian wines, we are once again hosted our annual Mamba Riedel Decanter Awards on Tuesday in our grounds. Sue and I set up the Mambas 10 years ago to highlight the quality of Australian wines. Little did we know how big this event would become... The event involved round 80 invited trade and press who tasted through the finest Australian wines available in the UK. This year we highlighted Pinot Noir where we had 35 wines under consideration and Chardonnay where we had 60 wines in competition. The top wine in each category received The Mamba Riedel Decanter Award. We also awarded The Yvonne May Memorial Trophy for best value wine and The Decanter Perpetual Trophy for best agent/importer. You can see the list of winners and category top tens below:
The Mamba Pinot Noir Category Winner: Dalrymple 2013, Cottage Block, Pipers River,Tasmania
- Tapanapa 2010, Foggy Hill, Fleurie
- Ten Minutes by Tractor 2013, Wallis, Mornington Peninsula
- Tamar Ridge 2013, Tasmania
- Grosset 2013, Adelaide Hills
- Tamar Ridge 2012, Kayena Reserve, Tasmania
- Josef Chromy 2014, Tasmania
- Tolpuddle 2014, Tasmania
- Kooyong Massale 2013, Mornington Peninsula
- Crittenden Estate 2010, The Zumma, Mornington Peninsula
The Mamba Chardonnay Category Winner: Giaconda 2012, Beechworth
- Tyrrell’s VAT 47 2007, Hunter Valley
- Tournon 2013, Pyrenees, Victoria
- Petaluma 2013 Tiers, Piccadilly Valley
- Vasse Felix 2014, Heytesbury
- Soumah 2015, Yarra Valley
- Pierro 2013, Margaret River
- Dawson & James, 2011 Tasmania
- Dalrymple, 2013, Cave Block, Tasmania
- Vasse Felix, 2014 Filius, Margaret River
The Yvonne May Memorial Decanter Winner: Tournon 2013, Pyrenees, Victoria
Our congratulations to all the winners.
What makes the Mamba Awards different
Unlike other wine competitions, the wines in the Mamba’s are offered non-blind with a retail price attached to each bottle. The trade and press will judge against cost and perception of what that wine should be like, however what we are trying to achieve is to showcase the quality and diversity of both premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Australia. Leading wine critic, Steven Spurrier commented: 'On the hottest day of the year the Harrow at Little Bedwyn presented its 10th Mamba Riedel Decanter Awards Tasting, devoted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from all corners of Australia. There were 69 Chardonnays, perfectly chilled, ranging in price from £6.86 to £95 and the overall quality was stunningly high. Once the wines were into double figures price-wise, there was hardly a bottle that I marked less than 17/20 or 90/100 and many considerably higher. The expression of fruit overall was admirable and where oak was used it was well blended in. For me, tasting such a range from every single Chardonnay producing region in Australia was both a revelation and an education, a convincing overview that showed the country as second only to France as far as Chardonnay is concerned.'
What this year's awards plainly showed was that new world Pinot Noir has certainly evolved and both Mornington and Tasmania have been been producing some true classics in the last few years. These restrained Pinots are clearly what the public want, and as they have the ability to cross between meat and fish so well, who can blame them? Wine Australia is a proud sponsor of The Mamba Awards.
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