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MWs vs MS taste-off: Wines with steak and seafood

Would the Masters of Wine or the Master Sommeliers prove better at matching wines with steak and seafood? See below to read Tina Gellie's third report from a Wine Australia competition.

Master Sommeliers hoped to fend off a challenge from Masters of Wine in a competition organised by Wine Australia, to see which group could pair the best food with wine.

Here, the rivalry continues with crab, steak and lobster dishes.

Final score:

Dish one

‘Dressed crab’ – mousse of brown meat, picked white meat, soft quail’s egg, fresh peas and foraged pennywort. Chef Roger Jones said, ‘I’ve updated this dish and made it harder to find a good wine match by adding tricky ingredients like pea, egg and cucumber.’

The wines

In other rounds we’ve seen the same region and the same producer selected, and here the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier – who didn’t know of the other’s wine choice before the taste-off – have both picked the same grape variety. It’s the battle of the Chardonnays.

Jo Ahearne MW

Holyman, Chardonnay, Tasmania 2010

£31.75 H2Vin (UK)

Jo Ahearne MW, a winemaker and winemaking consultant, said this was a deceivingly rich dish, thanks to the creamy egg, earthy pea, sweet white meat and savoury brown meat. ‘You need something with acidity to cut that richness, but also a weight of fruit and texture to balance,’ she said.

‘Chardonnay is the obvious choice, and this one has great complexity from wild yeasts plus firm acidity to refresh your palate.’

Isa Bal MS

Bindi, Quarz Chardonnay, Macedon Ranges, Victoria 2013

£59.99 Les Caves de Pyrène / A$82.99 Wine Culture (NSW, Australia)

Isa Bal MS, head sommelier at the Fat Duck, said his first instinct was for Riesling, but while that variety had the acidity he was looking for, he felt its weight was too light to stand up to this rich dish.

‘I wanted something still with that fresh, pure fruit element and nice acidity, but more power. This Chardonnay is perfect, again with wild yeast for complexity and a minimal-intervention style which lets the minerality and purity of stone fruit come through, but it has a weight and cleansing acidity that works.’

Audience verdict: Victorian Chardonnay

A convincing win for the Victorian Chardonnay

Dish two

‘Steak Rossini’ – cured fillet of beef, foie gras, wild mushroom crème, sourdough toast and PX caramel. Jones said: ‘I actually think there are too many flavours here – you don’t need foie gras, mushroom crème and a sweet PX caramel – but I was asked to make it tricky.’

The wines

Jo Ahearne MW

Charles Melton, Voices of Angels Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2012

£39.99 Liberty Wines / £25.65 Divine Fine Wines (UK)

For Ahearne, the strategy was to find a wine that balanced the rich foie gras and sweet PX caramel. ‘Normally if I saw foie gras on the menu I’d go straight for a high-acid sweet wine, but because we’ve got beef, we need to find a high-acid red wine.’

Looking to a winery where she was once assistant winemaker, she chose a cool-climate Shiraz that was co-fermented with 3% Riesling, in a quirky nod to the Shiraz-Viognier blends of Côte-Rôtie.

‘This has the fruit and French oak sweetness you want, as well as the important natural acidity to cut the richness of the dish. It’s a fresher, younger sister to a traditional Barossa Shiraz people might be more familiar with.’

Isa Bal MS

Best’s, Young Vine Pinot Meunier, Great Western, Victoria 2014

£29.49 Bibendum PLB / The Fine Wine Company £149.89 x6 bottles (UK)

Bal was initially perplexed by this dish. ‘It’s not one you’d come across every day. I wondered about an off-dry white, but decided to stick with red because of the beef.’

‘I spent time at this historic estate and was very impressed by this unique wine which, despite its name, is from cuttings of vines planted in 1971. It is intense yet delicate with a hint of sweetness to complement the foie gras but, importantly, the earthiness to go with the truffle and mushroom.’

Audience verdict: Shiraz

The Shiraz triumphs with about 70% of the vote.

Dish three

The dish‘Lobster Thermidor’ – medallions of lobster poached in a sauce of beer, anchovies and Old Winchester cheese, with a Sherry glaze

Jones said: ‘Who would have thought a red wine with this ’80s classic would work? Traditionally it was paired with Muscadet or maybe an off-dry German Riesling, but here my additions have meant the wine experts have had to think more broadly.’
The wines

Jo Ahearne MW

Ruggabellus, Efferus Mataro-Syrah-Grenache-Cinsault, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2013

£34 Indigo Wines

‘Despite the fact this is a lobster dish, that’s not what you have to worry about,’ said Ahearne. ‘It’s very savoury from the beer, cheese and anchovies, and a white wine is not going to cope.

‘I went out to find a red with a real freshness and stalkiness but also some of that typical jammy Australian fruit for the sweetness you need. Here you get those bright green notes from the 20% of whole-bunch fermentation, plus refreshing tannins, sweet, ripe fruit, and a seam of acidity to cut through the rich cheese.’

Isa Bal MS

Jasper Hills, Nebbiolo, Heathcote, Victoria 2013

£44 Yapp Bros (UK)

Bal also ignored the lobster in his wine choice. ‘It’s not the key component here, and it proves why it’s important to taste your dish before choosing a wine to go with it.’

‘Once I knew I wanted a red, I thought I’d continue with my all-Victorian selection and look for a wine with ripe fruit but defined tannins and acidity to offset the rich cheese sauce.

‘This estate is known more for its Shiraz, but this Nebbiolo is so striking it would have Barolo producers biting your arm off to snap it up. I really think it adds freshness and complements the dish.’

Audience verdict: Rhône-style blend

By one vote, the victory goes to the Rhône-style blend.

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