JOHN TORODE is now one of this country’s most popular celebrity chefs. Only last week he launched his new cookery programme Australia.
But he also comes from a part of Australia which is the oldest wine-making region on that vast continent, the Hunter Valley.
So it should come as no surprise that he has been happy to pair up with one of that region’s most successful wineries, McGuigan Wines, to create some tastebud-tantalising food and wine matches.
McGuigan has consistently won many awards. Winemaker Neil McGuigan made history by being the first person to be named world’s best winemaker in three out of four years.
You will know I enjoy my scientific wine and food experiments, so it was too tempting not to speak to Mr Torode about food and, specifically, wine.
He told me: “When I grew up, wine was not something I was allowed to have, I was too young, but I do love Hunter Valley Semillon.”
I cooked some of the exclusive recipes from the Neil McGuigan and John Torode Recipe collection. I started with green curry barbecue chicken – and had a couple of chilled glasses of McGuigan Classic Semillon Blanc (£7.99 in Sainsbury and Tesco – reduced to £5.32 in Tesco until March 18). John’s recipe was simplicity itself – chicken, coconut milk, coriander and green curry paste. The wine had guava, lychee, lemon aromas and acidity which didn’t overpower the creamy melting chicken. Tropical fruits, with lemon and lime, added to the complexity with overtones of freshly scrunched lemon geranium leaves. The wine wasn’t afraid of the green curry contrasts; in fact it was lifted to another flavoursome level.
So does food and wine pairing come naturally to John? “I believe that food and wine are like hand in glove, one compliments the other,” he says. “Good food loves good wine and good wine loves good food. It’s all about understanding flavours and what goes with what.” But how should people begin to think about matching food and wine at home?
Says John: “The first step is to drink something you like whilst you cook, and use your nose to see if what you are cooking will work with what you are drinking.
“The human mind is cleverer than you think and your nose will tell you what belongs together.
“I can say though that a semillon or GSM (a classic Rhône blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre) are both pretty versatile and will go with most things.
“Some wines sit better with certain foods, but I love red wine with fish. I love crisp white wine with roast pork. I love sparkling shiraz with a barbecue. But I appreciate that some people believe there should be rules. I don’t.”
John is known for his love of Asian foods. What would be his wines to match? He says: ”Asian food is as varied as wines are, but generally go for a lighter style of red due to the subtle flavours in Asian foods and go for crisp white wines with chilli. Saying that, a chilled red wine with ginger-based dishes is a wondrous thing.”
John’s Lemon Grass Beef, paired with McGuigan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, (£9.99, Tesco) took centre stage on my dining table.
It took only minutes to prepare and the beef marinated for most of a calm Sunday. I also marinated myself with the cab sav. (Only joking. Honest.)
Neil McGuigan says of the pairing: “This might seem to be quite a serious wine for a dish that might be served as a casual supper. But John has got lots of flavours in there and I think it deserves a wine like the deep, blackcurranty reserve cabernet.”
My thoughts? The cab sav is full of deep blackcurrants, black pepper and soft vanilla overtones. With the beef it was perfect. The beef was soft as a cushion with citrus and spice playing tastebud ping pong.
Add in the peppers and fruit from the cab sav and it was like being at a wedding buffet; all flavours tempting and teasing so much that you don’t know in which direction to go next.
If there is one recipe I urge you to try, it would be Thai Pork Relish Lettuce Cups. Squeezey pleasey bites of pork mince flavoured so simply with ingredients including chilli paste, peanuts and fish sauce.
If I hadn’t had a glass of McGuigan Reserve Shiraz (£9.99, Sainsbury and Morrisons) in my hand I would have high fived Mr Torode there and then. But things could have got messy. The wine had red fruits on the nose, it was woody like a newly snapped twig, with pepper and red fruits on the palate too. Combined with the pork, it was a palate pamper of spice.
I tried McGuigan Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99, Tesco) also a wine pairing for the BBQ chicken. This sauvignon blanc has a delicate nose of tropical fruits and a finish of crisp, refreshing lemon.
The star of my whites was McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay, 2011, Adelaide Hills (Tesco online, RRP £15) which had subtle honeyed oak on the nose, some grilled pineapple and peach. Loved it. It had a spritely acidity with zippy lemon and creamy honeyed vanilla. Neil and John recommend it with steamed mussels.
Says John: “Food and wine are fashion, they change with the times and are influenced by people, season and the environment. It’s all ever-changing, always variable; and that’s what makes it all so exciting.”