Expert’s Guide to the Hunter Valley – Gwyn Olsen
Finding the perfect pairing with Gwyn Olsen
The wine and food in the Hunter Valley are both exceptional – but when you combine them, in the form of wine and food pairings, the result is sublime.
Gwyn is the head winemaker at Pepper Tree Wines and one of the Australian wine industry's brightest young stars. Here, she takes you on a perfectly matched journey through the Hunter Valley.
First, could you tell us what makes a really good food and wine pairing? What kinds of foods go with what wines – and why?
There are a few factors. First, the flavours, but also the acidity and fat interplay between wine and food, along with the texture of both the dish and the wine. Finding a pairing that works with all of these factors is what dictates the perfect food and wine match, in my opinion. For example, our famous Hunter Valley semillons are perfect with the luscious fattiness, salinity and texture of a Sydney Rock oyster – the lime-like acidity cuts through the creamy texture of an oyster seamlessly. A cabernet sauvignon with a bit of tannin is great with a scotch fillet as it will cut through the fat. And while some people think that the best match for duck is a pinot noir – as the dark cherry notes complement the flavours of the duck – champagne also works well, particularly a rose champagne with the strawberry fruit nuances, rich mouthfeel and fine acidity.
Wine doesn’t always have to be matched with ‘fancy’ food though – I mean no-one eats wagyu every day! A great example is our Hunter shiraz with a cheeseburger; the medium body of the shiraz really lends itself to anything charcoaled or barbecued. Chardonnay is great with anything with pastry, like a creamy fish pie for example. Tempranillo, meanwhile, usually has a fair amount of tannin, which helps cut through the fattiness of a sausage roll (with tomato sauce!) while fiano, which is a newer grape to the Hunter, is the perfect wine to have with Korean fried chicken as the rich tropical fruit notes balance the flavour of the chicken, and it’s naturally high in acidity, which helps to cut through the fat.
What are the best cellar doors in the Hunter for food and wine pairings?
The Epic Experience at Hungerford Hill is a mini degustation of five of their wines matched to bite-sized dishes designed by Muse Restaurant. Muse Kitchen Bistro, which is located at Keith Tulloch Wine and is a more casual version of Muse, also does a three-course lunch matched with Tulloch wines, including a semillon and the flagship Kester Shiraz. If you’re visiting lots of wineries, you might just want to graze, and many of the cellar doors have nice, simple offerings – like the antipasto platters at Briar Ridge, salumi at Usher Tinkler Wines, or the selection of canapés at Brokenwood. Wine and cheese experiences are offered by us here at Pepper Tree and at De Iuliis, while First Creek Wines has fabulous wine served with cheese platters from local dairy Binnorie.
Any there any places that offer more unusual pairings with wine?
I’m not much of a sweet tooth, but there are a couple of places in the Hunter that do wine and chocolate matches. At Wine House in Pokolbin, there’s the Cocoa Nib Chocolate and Wine experience, while at Glandore Estate, six wines are matched with different chocolate truffles.
What about standout wine-matched degustation lunches or dinners?
I think overall the dining experience at Muse Restaurant is exceptional. Troy Rhoades-Brown’s food is sensational, with many different flavours, textures and techniques coming into play. The wines, sourced by the sommelier Melinda Beswick (who is married to head chef Mitchell Beswick), are matched to suit the dishes well and the whole experience is outstanding. At Muse Kitchen, the food is terrific and they really think about the wines – not just the flavours but the raft of different textures they’re matching them to. The degustation at EXP. Restaurant is another stand out. At Margan, they’re passionate about sustainability, both with their food and wine. You can tour their farm and orchard during the Grape, Garden and Graze Experience, where you taste yet-to-be released wines and graze on cheese and charcuterie.