Most of my high school French is getting rusty these days but my vocabulary of French food and wine is on an exponential learning curve.
So thanks to Melbourne Food and Wine Festival I attended a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event called France vs. Australia Food & Wine Showdown as a guest purely for the purposes of higher learning.
Well, let’s be honest. For educational and intensely pleasurable gastronomic purposes.
In my book, French champagne, French cheese, French bread and French pastries are the best in the world. But some of our Australian produce and wine is pretty darn amazing. So this 4 course dinner was going to be pretty interesting – classically French dishes from the kitchen of casual bistro/wine bar Mr Mason paired with a French and Australian wine for each course.
Facilitating the good-natured competition was sommelier, educator and Melbourne Weekly wine writer Ben Knight who discussed the background, flavours, aromas and notes of an Australian sparkling vs a champagne, a Clare Valley riesling vs an Alsatian varietal, an Australian pinot noir vs a burgundy and a bortrytis vs Coonawarra traminer.
To kick off proceedings, an amuse buche trifle of intensely carroty jelly layered with a cold coriander pesto, a tomato and roasted capsicum reduction, mussels and tiny fried shallots for textural and visual interest. A sign of good things to come.
Next course was a chicken mousseline hiding a nugget of escargot, julienned white asparagus, truffle and parmesan. Overall, a lovely delicate dish slightly overpowered by the bold shavings of parmesan on top. You kind of had to skirt around the cheese to really taste the other elements of the dish but in the end, who can say no to parmesan?
The Pol Roger was the hands-down winner. Kicked the Radenti out of the park. So fresh, clean, elegant and finessed that when a waitress accidentally spilled a glass of it onto our table my dining companion suggested that they bring us a straw. That bottle of champagne costs around $130 a pop!
You could smell the second course before it reached you table, thanks to the warming indulgence of the rich beurre blanc. Butter is why restaurant food tastes so good! Still, it wasn’t just a plate of melted butter. Delicate dory with clams, beautifully turned ovals of cucumber, samphire and a sprinkling of chives. A much better balanced dish than the snails, with more of a nod to a traditional French fish and beurre blanc combination.
The fish was paired with a Hugel Riesling 2009 vs an O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2011. A bit unfair to compare wines from two different vintages perhaps but the Australian Riesling simply didn’t have the developed, richer flavour of the French wine. France 2, Australia 0.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen goose on the menu in Australia so I was quite excited to try it here. This plate was a rich and earthy selection of goose au vin (which I’d compare in texture and taste to braised and roasted pork belly), an equally meaty slab of king brown mushrooms and some baby onions. Didn’t particularly like the look or taste of the fried puffs of air garnish.
The matched wines for this course were the most controversial. On an initial taste the TarraWarra Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 was a clear winner – soft, fragrant, easy to drink. I took one sip of the Domaine de l’Arlot Le Petit Plets 2009 and immediately wrinkled my nose – I found it harsh and raw in comparison. Yet its drinkability improved with food and that was the key – the Australian wine was a quaffing wine, the French wine was strictly to be drunk with food and they were at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of flavour profile. Also turned out the French wine used whole bunch fermentation, something I’d never heard about before (not being much of a wine connoisseur and certainly no expert on pinot noir). When you ferment grapes with their stems it gives a wine a structure and complexity that apparently cannot be replicated using any other method.
Final course was an enormous platter of cheese – from left to right Fourme d’amert, a Double gloucester from Tasmania, Brie de meaux from Rouzaire and Jensen’s Red from Tarago River Cheese, Victoria. I really hope the French Cheese Shop in Queen Victoria Market stocks the Brie de meaux because it is amazing! Rich and creamy, I think it’s been voted the king of cheeses for a reason.
Our final course was accompanied by two stickys – Chateau Rieussec Carmes de Rieussec 2008 and Rymill June Traminer 2008. I found the Australian dessert wine too sweet and spicy for my liking, but my dining companions all voted it their favourite over the lighter French wine.
While my final vote was France 3, Australia 1 everyone had their own likes and dislikes but everyone agreed that the night was a success – great food, great wine, a jovial ambience and I should also mention excellent service from the smiling and attentive staff of Mr Mason.
A winning night for everyone, je pense :–)
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