Alex Mitcheson

Do you sometimes picture yourself high in the Swiss Alps; log cabin and crackling fire with a goblet of luscious red wine in hand? 

Or is the image too removed from the reality of your modest suburban dwelling, whirring fan heater and dainty glass of meagre wine? 

 

One thing is for sure: if you want to drink great wine, your setting and glassware are not going to be deciding factors, folks. Neither is a discerning palate. The mere understanding of what particular wines are and how they drink will set you well on the path to feeling like you are indeed inside a James Bond movie.

My work as a sommelier to date has been enjoyable. The interactions and chats with guests of mine more than often result in a great pairing. 

 

Not necessarily the wine to the food, but often the wine to the people.

 

I purposely litter conversations with little questions and comments – breadcrumbs you might say – carefully considering each response and reaction in ultimately helping me present a wine I know they are going to love.

I do, however, encounter a lot of confusion and misconceptions. I see the following segments as a quest to eradicate the land of misinformation and raise hope in you finding the right wine. I am your gallant knight galloping upon my steed through a lush vineyard to save the day — now put down that generic ‘bottle shop’ rubbish at once.It’s time to understand and drink some damn fine wine.

 

Pinot Noir

 

The slinky and wide-eyed yoga teacher who permeates beauty, rides the bus everywhere but isn’t scared to put on heels and jump in a limousine.

 

This red grape variety is probably one of the most highly revered in the world. Period. And for good reason. Wines from Pinot Noir can be so seductive and light but with a depth of character that could rival a Shakespeare villain. Typically, wines are light and smooth drinking – but not always. You will find a spectrum of body for this grape so be sure if you want a light, elegant style because that's what you are getting. Burgundy, France and Central Otago are highly revered for their bigger styles - so be aware. The Mornington Peninsula is a great place to start and produces some world-class examples, right on our doorstep. 

 

Try pairing with a hearty roasted fish dish. Think: salmon or tuna with garlic mushrooms and spinach.  

 

Top picks:

Australian: Allies ‘Merricks’ Pinot Noir - Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

World: Louis Latour ‘Bourgogne’ Pinot Noir - Burgundy, France

Cabernet Sauvignon

 

The ever-smiling estate agent who drives a Volvo, always punctual and wears designer pyjamas.
 

This is the Rocky Balboa of wines and a big hitter on the palate. Concentrated flavours of blackcurrant and subtle pepper notes are very characteristic of this grape. Considered to be quite boisterous when a young wine, warmer climates will bring on jammy notes and older wines will develop smooth tobacco and spice notes – so bear this in mind when considering. Bordeaux, France is the classic home of this grape but anywhere with a moderate/warm climate will suit the vines. Regions range from Chile and California to Coonawarra South Australia.

Meat aside, Cabernet Sauvignon works really quite well with eggplant. Try grilling eggplant with salt and pepper and garnish with roughly chopped basil.

 

 Top picks:

 Australian: Xanadu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Margaret River, Western Australia

 World: Vintisquero ‘Queulat’ Cabernet Sauvignon - Maipo Valley, Chile

Shiraz/Syrah:

 

The farmer at the markets with soil clad hands, two dogs constantly at their feet, and enjoys a skinny vanilla latte whilst scrolling through Instagram.
 

Where would Australian wine be without Shiraz? A hard question to ask, really. The country’s most grown grape is a huge success story and has helped define a complete style of its own. The typical South Australian style is bold and deep with notes of blackberry, earthiness and even hints of mocha. But not all Shiraz is big and boozy! For a more restrained and classic style, try the Northern Rhone Valley, France as well as Victorian regions like Heathcote and Beechworth. These wines are typically more medium-bodied and show pronounced perfume and aromatics.

 

Spicy food isn’t generally a great pairing with red wines. However, a mildly spiced chilli beef nachos dish with enough guacamole and sour cream to save the day, is the unusual food pairing your shiraz sessions have been waiting for. 

 

Top picks:

Australian: Farr Rising Shiraz - Geelong, Victoria

World: M. Chapoutier ‘Crozes Hermitage’ - Rhone Valley, France

Nebbiolo:

 

The sexy and apparently dim-witted retail assistant who is actually a closet mathematician and has several ant farms in their bedroom.


Never has there been such a sadly misunderstood and oft ignored type of wine than Nebbiolo. Experience has taught me this: if people cannot pronounce wine names, they will shy away from them – and that's a travesty. Nebbiolo is a thinking person's wine and has complexity to match a Tarantino plot. The wines are delicate, but robust and have classic notes of roses and tar – think road laying on Valentine’s day. Quite the fussy grape and not an easy one to grow or make into a good wine outside of its native home of Piemonte in Italy. But when it’s right, it’s better than a late-night booty call armed with pizza. 

Who doesn't like pork belly? Ok, all the vegans out there. Sorry, but this one isn’t for you then. Chinese five-spiced roast pork belly and Asian greens paired with an opulently crafted Nebbiolo is going to blow your mind.

Top picks:

 Australia: Ravensworth Nebbiolo - Hilltops, New South Wales

 World: Pio Cesare Il Nebbio - Langhe, Italy

Sangiovese:

 

The geeky foreign student who sublets your spare room, always polite and friendly, but is a massive death metal fan.

 

Certain things just go together. Fish & chips, Sonny & Cher, Pauline Hanson & xenophobia — and so does Tuscany and Sangiovese. This beautiful and historic Italian region makes incredible medium-bodied examples, but we are beginning to see Australian winemakers try their luck. And the results speak for themselves. Tart cherry and fig flavours dominate with a normally high acid profile, meaning this drop is anything but cloying and is quite the quaffer. 

 

Thai cuisine certainly has no Mediterranean influence, but do not let this stop you. Sangiovese is generally a bit lower in alcohol and will accept spicy and complex dishes with open arms. Try Chicken Pad Thai for a unique intercontinental fusion of flavours.

 

Top picks:

Australia: Billy Button ‘The Rustic’ Sangiovese - Alpine Valleys, Victoria

World: La Spinetta Il Nero Di Casanova - Tuscany, Italy