Riesling, says Peter Barry, introduced thousands of Australian teenagers to wine. The sweetness of riesling makes them very drinkable for youth, and Peter appears to puff his chest proudly when he theorises that for many of us, rieslings are the first wine we will ever drink, sneaking a sip from our parents' glass.
Today I'm at Spice Temple, attending the national media lunch hosted by Jim Barry Wines, from the Clare Valley in South Australia. Peter Barry now heads the company built by his late father Jim in 1959.
Originally Jim Barry started off growing sherry grapes in the Clare Vineyard, but soon switched to riesling. The media lunch includes a ten-course degustation from Spice Temple matched with rieslings from Jim Barry Wines.
The dishes, we are told, have been toned down slightly in spice so as to match the sweetness of the rieslings. At the start, we'd sipped on the 2010 Lodge Hill Dry Riesling before moving onto 2010 Watervale Reisling and the newly relaunched 2010 Lavender Hill Sweet Riesling with our first set of dishes.
Lighter fruitier wines tend to suit Asian cuisines and we find the rieslings slip down well. Pickled cucumber spears doused in ginger and garlic whet the appetite as we move onto an impressive dish of tingling prawns, liberally sprinkled with tongue-numbing Szeuchuan pepper. The prawns are sensationally fresh too, tender and fragrant.
Tea smoked duck breast is enough to get me all hot and bothered with its rich smoky flavour, thick ribbon of luscious fat and velvety smoothness on the tongue. Each dish is presented to share between four people, but I could have easily eaten this entire plate on my own.
Our next set of share dishes includes tender pieces of fried squid dusted in five spice powder. A squeeze of fresh lime adds some zing. We also begin an interesting journey through the vintages of Florita Reisling, starting with 2010 and concluding at the year 2004.
Crisp pork belly comes with tantalising slivers of crackling, and I find the thin slices of smoked tofu rather addictive too.
The younger rieslings are bright and fresh on the palate, and full of citrus. We do notice their sweetness is muted once we start eating.
Our next two dishes comes with tastings of the 2008, 2007 and 2005 Florita Rieslings. As rieslings age, they take on toast and honey characteristics. I'm an instant fan of the 2005 vintage which is noticeably mellower and smoother, but still boasts a crisp finish.
Hot and fragrant prawns are a simple stirfry with chilli, but it's the garlic shoots I'm more enamoured by, slim tender stalks that are delicately sweet.
Steamed flathead fillets are cooked to fork-flaking perfection, topped with a spicy pickle of chopped mustard greens and doused with a sesame soy dressing.
The spanner crab congee is decadent with crab and prawns, but I find its texture more akin to a chowder than a congee. Congee is usually a textural rice porridge that is thick with cooked and swollen rice grains, whereas I find only a few grains in the bottom of the bowl.
The congee is paired with the 2010 Lavender Hill Sweet Riesling which tastes almost toffee-like in sweetness, especially against the subtlety of the congee.
Our final series of savoury dishes was matched with the 2004 Florita Riesling, 2002 Watervale Riesling and 1999 Lodge Hill Dry Riesling (hic!).
Shredded duck had a mild background nuance of chilli, but wasn't as fatty as I expected, and I was rather disappointed with the hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork which seemed devoid of heat. The pork was thick was batter and sticky with maltose - presumably this was toned down to match the rieslings but I really wanted to try this dish at its numbing best!
Steamed king abalone mushrooms were huge in size, and almost meaty in consistency. We detected alcohol in the sauce which we presume was Shaoxing wine.
Our tastebuds weren't terribly numb but the dessert of watermelon granita was still a welcome palate cleanser. This was a beautifully simple dessert, the soft crystals of watermelon ice studded with small chunks of fresh frozen watermelon.
The Spice Girls
And yes, I found the Spice Girls! I'd always remembered Simon Thomsen's review on Spice Temple, which included a mention of the Asian female portraits that line one dining room wall. They are, Simon says "no doubt meant to add exotic sensuality but seem a little too much like a male fantasy of mail-order brides."
We were seated in the adjacent dining room so I didn't have their bedroom eyes imploring me to "come hither" during lunch. I find them an odd inclusion in a fine dining restaurant, even if the Spice Temple basement location does create the feel of a gentleman's club when you first enter. The only spice I'm looking for is best served on my plate.
Grab Your Fork attended the Jim Barry Wines national media lunch as a guest of Jim Barry Wines.
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3/31/2011 03:12:00 a.m.