Perfect Match

July 21, 2012

By Max Allen
The Weekend Australian

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another … ”

It started with a tweet: Winemaker Neil Prentice is a big fan of the red mataro grape, responsible for producing full-flavoured, often wild, spicy and earthy wines in southern France, where the grape is known as mourvedre; Spain, where its called monastrell; and Australia, where winemakers use all three names interchangeably. One night, Prentice sent a food-and-wine question out into the Twitterverse:

“What’s the best food with mataro?” he asked. “Game?”

“Wild boar,” I tweeted back. I was half joking. But I obviously touched a nerve, because before the week was out, several tweeters – including blogger and Melbourne Fringe Food Festival co-founder Suzanne Farrell and wine writer/judge/maker Nick Stock – had organised a dinner showcasing the synergy of wild game and wild mataro.

As a tribute to the recently departed Maurice Sendak, we called the dinner Where the Wild Things Are. And this is why, one cold and rainy night last month, I found myself in the cosy warmth of Melbourne’s Libertine restaurant wearing a fur-trimmed crown and tail – just like Max, the king of the wild things in Sendak’s book – and tucking into a noisette of wild boar washed down with a glass of Dean Hewitson’s Baby Bush 2010 mourvedre from the Barossa.

Turns out I was spot on. The sweet saltiness of the boar was indeed a natural partner for the vibrant spiciness of the red wine. Prentice’s original suggestion of game (in general) was also inspired: I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed such a wonderful pairing of food and wine.

The rare purple richness of pigeon pie and slippery jack mushrooms was stunning with the earthy purple richness of Abel Gibson’s brilliant 2010 Efferus mataro blend from the Barossa. The deeply savoury power of Hewitson’s 2010 Old Garden mourvedre was incredible with the gamey twang of rare venison. And the dense, bloody flavour of hare met its perfect match in the intense, black complexity of the 2010 Caillard mataro – a wine that is almost a meal in itself.

Libertine chef Nick Creswick revealed the trick to turning a good meat and wine match into a great one: the sauce. Or rather: the wine in the sauce. Right until the point of plating up, Creswick keeps tasting his sauce and tasting the wine that will be drunk with it, reducing and adjusting until finally – if needed – adding some of the wine in question to the pan just before serving.

Try this at home the next time you feel like a feed of red meat and red wine: make a sauce with the wine you’re drinking and add a splash before plating up. It doesn’t have to be wild boar and mataro, of course – steak and a nice shiraz also works well.

And you don’t have to wear a crown and a tail to get the full effect, either. But it helps if you do.

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”