Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A Tuscan idea that works well with Nero d'Avola, spicy shiraz or a richer style of sangiovese.

Take a kilo of beef shin and dice it into cubes of an inch or bigger. Crush six cloves of garlic. Grind a tablespoon of black pepper. Mix that all together, then add some tomato puree (130 grams is good) and 250ml of red wine. Touch it up with a bit of sea salt, then transfer to a heavy-based pan. Pour in enough water to cover the meat and cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered, for three and a half hours. Or until it is very tender. Stir occasionally to stop it catching and top up the water from time to time. There should be almost no liquid at the end.

Goes well with bread and a green salad. The pepper is the key to the distinctive flavour of the dish. It's one dish that shows really well with low or un-salted bread in the Tuscan style.

This was an idea I got from a good book on artisanal businesses in Tuscany (including the potter for whom this dish goes with the hottest time in the kiln-firing): Lori De Mori & Jason Lowe, 'The real flavour of Tuscany: Portraits & recipes from 25 of Tuscany's culinary artisans'. Worth a look, including for portraits of two Tuscan wine growers (Contini Bonacossi & Fonterenza).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bagna cauda & kangaroo

A simple idea, good with a barbera or spicy shiraz. A sangiovese could also work well, but not too light or too 'serious' a wine.

Marinate some kangaroo fillet in olive oil and quite a lot of pepper. You can't really overdo the pepper. Let come up to room temperature in the marinade.

Make a version of bagna cauda. A little butter, some olive oil in a small pan. Warm gently while you cut and crush 4 cloves of garlic & 4 good anchovy fillets. Gently heat both of these in the warm butter and oil. No colour. Break with tradition & finish with some capers and chopped parsley. Yes, veering to salsa verde. Hold off on thoughts of lemon zest. Rest off the heat, covered.

Take a barbecue grill up as hot as you can. Sear the roo, starting with the drier side. A minute and a half each side on a really hot barbecue, then a rest, should give you medium rare. As soon as the roo is off the heat, rest, bathed in the bastardised bagna cauda. A five minute rest, then slice across the grain to serve with the juice & sauce (and a bit of broccoli).

Tried with a barbera and also a spicy shiraz from the Adelaide Hills, with both working well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hand-selling an Italian

Last year, I started to help out with Sunday cellar door work at Eden Road Wines, who bought the old Doonkoona vineyard and winery at Murrumbateman. It is a good spot on the Barton Highway and on the granite that runs through the two Clonakilla vineyards.

I have not worked directly in wine retail since a stint between 1991 and 1994 when I lived in Sydney. In those days, working as a wine waiter, I shifted bottles from a list split between Australia (Rosemount chardonnay, semillon chardonnay, TR2) and Italy. Many a bottle of cheap Chianti, raffia fiasco and all, did I flog, not to mention Frascati and verdicchio from the 'genuine' fish-shaped bottle.

On-premise to cellar door is a difference, but some of the performance is shared. Both are based on conversation as much as labels or price. I may have an unhealthy sense of the fun of retail, but it can be among the most social, and sociable, acts of commerce. Having a good list, with good values, certainly helps the conversation, and the Eden Road range makes for easy selling.

Within that range, there is a 2009 vintage blend of barbera (90%) and cabernet sauvignon (10%). The barbera fruit comes from the Grove Estate vineyard at Hilltops (around Young, in NSW) and the cabernet from a Murrumbateman vineyard. It's a wine I enjoy drinking, which makes selling it easier, but I've also found the cellar door sales experience with this wine to be an excellent test of what this blog is all about: the fit between Australia and Italian vines.

Only a very small percentage of cellar door visitors have any familiarity with barbera. More have some experience with Italian wines or varieties in general, but that number is still quite small. I have the barbera blend in the tasting lineup after the shiraz-based wines and the contrast in fruit profiles seems to serve the barbera well. The mix of ripe cherry and blueberry fruits (perhaps some of the blueberry is Hilltops as much as the variety?) with bright acid seems to be immediately appealing to most visitors.

The conversation that seems to work best with this wine at cellar door involves talking about food as much, if not more, than the wine itself. Sometimes we talk about Italian foods in general, other times about how the high natural acid in barbera fits with high-acid food (like a fresh tomato sauce for a simple pizza, or a vinegar/oil dressed grilled vegetable dish). Another line of conversation involves situations: how the barbera fits with circumstances such as going around to a friend's house or out to a BYO when the cooking, menu or group ordering is not known. Only occasionally is there much conversation about the details of the wine itself, such as what the 10% cabernet does to extend the wine and give it structure.

As good as the wine is, as settled into itself, barbera is still a hand-selling proposition at cellar door. But that hand-selling seems to be effective, and mainly so through a conversation where food is at least as important as the bottle. Maybe my own interest, or effort, pushes through here as well, but this wine sells, even to people coming to barbera cold. I wonder if that would be the case with a more tannic variety such as sagrantino or even sangiovese? Maybe a different kind of conversation, a different set of foods?

But I also find a distinct satisfaction in introducing people to something unfamiliar and seeing that introduction jump past doubt, over indecision and novelty, and into real pleasure.