We were the luckiest food writers in Adelaide this week as we went to the Barossa Valley for an 8 course degustation with matched wines at St Hugo Winery. The new cellar door launched late last year at the former Grant Burge site and has been given a magnificent renovation. It features an impressive lounge area for tasting with spectacular views over the vineyard, specialized tasting rooms, temperature controlled cellars and a stunning outdoor BBQ area. But, it was the dining room that we were there to see and it is an impressive modern, yet elegant space. We were seated at the chefs table that looks over the kitchen and were wowed by how eerily quiet it was as the staff worked with calm precision.
Instead of matching the wine to a dish or a concept, Head Chef Mark McNamara and his team carefully construct a dish around the wine and the wines complementing flavours. The process starts with a tasting session, different herbs, spices, vegetables, fruits and ingredients are tasted with each wine. The pairings are rated and then those pairings that show to be outstanding are used to form the foundation of the course. Any restaurant can talk about their use of local and seasonal produce, here this goes without saying. The emphasis at St Hugo is all about the wine, it is after all a winery restaurant and the wine is the hero in each course.
We start with a young 2016 Orlando St. Helga Riesling with Smoked kingfish, oyster cream, kohlrabi salsa, and wakame crackers. The pronounced lime flavour in the dish does not dominate the delicate kingfish curls. Oyster mayonnaise adds richness without being fishy or over powering and the pressed brown rice and wakame crackers add a desired crunch while providing the seaweed hint that has repeatedly been found to pair extremely well with Riesling. We discover that it indeed does.
Our second course is a take on a quintessential Barossa style ‘hunters roast’ paired with a 2012 Orlando St. Harriett Semillon, full bodied with hints of citrus and honey and grass. The Jagerbraten of Berkshire Pork Belly is stuffed with a mandarin and thyme farce. A mustard vinaigrette and capers cut through the richness of the meat with a sharp bite. The pork itself melts as it passes over the tongue.
We move onto a 2014 St Hugo Signature Grenache Shiraz Mataro that proved to pair extremely well with yoghurt. Inspired by this match a Ricotta Gnocchi and whey butter sauce capitalize on this flavour and labneh adds another sour note mixed in with eggplant. Golden beets provide an earthy, sweet contrast. There is no doubt that fennel came up trumps in the flavour testing. Here we see a multidimensional use of fennel including sliced fresh shards, fennel tips, granulated fennel salt and an expressive confit of fennel that has been cooked in whey.
A non-traditional Black Pudding is served with a 2012 St Hugo Private Collection Seppeltsfield Shiraz. In contrast to the typical dense, hearty pudding this pudding has a light airy texture. It possesses a familiar consistency that I am unable to put my finger on until told the pudding is bound with blended chickpeas – the texture is falafel like. A butter sauce that has been infused with coffee beans is drizzled over the venison pudding which is topped with fresh picked pine mushrooms. Finished with velvety smooth chestnut puree with a rich premium wine this woodlands style dish was perfection on a rainy, cold day.
A serve of juicy, roasted deboned Spatchcock has crisp golden skin that has a wonderful saltiness. What sits under the poultry is somewhat of a ying yang- in appearance as well as taste. To the left is a soft, stark white polenta that is airy, light and creamy. To the right is a puree of black bean, rich, hearty and earthy. The juxtaposition of flavour and texture resulted in a delightful and exciting contrast when eaten with the meat. The 2008 St Hugo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon also played with both flavours. The wine has proved to pair well with parsnip so we have the addition of crispy parsnip chips on top and a finale of grated salted egg.
I can assure you that this stunning pink slice of Seared Wagyu tastes as good as it looks. The slice of oyster blade is presented with charred cos as bitter greens scored well with the 2010 St Hugo Vetus Purum Shiraz. The beef is underpinned with a caramelized onion soubise that is sweet and velvety and marries with the tender beef. For textural contrast we are given supremely crunchy jeruselum artichoke chips that give an audible snap when bitten.
Our cheese course comprises of a French Ewes Milk Cheese that has matured for 12 months with a 2009 St Hugo Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. A ‘Granola’ of barley and two types of lentils provide outstanding crunch with the semi-hard cheese. Shaved over the top is a light zest of lemon and shavings of locally sourced acorn. The acorn really pumps up the crunch factor which is countered with a soy crème. A few immaculate rocket leaves complete the dish by adding freshness.
We have been wowed through 7 courses and we have finally arrived at dessert. To go with our 2016 St Hugo Fortified Shiraz which has notes of cinnamon, cloves and mandarin peel we are served a wintery apple based creation reminiscent of an apple strudel. Circles of Apple that have been baked in butter and sugar are served with flaky pastry shards and a coconut parfait that dissolves in the mouth. I was a stranger to the spiced muntries that gave warmth and depth to the dish. Muntries are also known as emu apples or native cranberries are little berries that are used here to give another texture and depth. A compressed apple jelly shows off a another cooking technique from the skilled kitchen and lightens the dish.
The degustation is sophisticated, elegant and refined. The portions and balance of each course ensures you enjoy the whole food journey without a sinking fullness to compress the experience. The St Hugo menu changes frequently as not only is the menu influenced by seasons and the aligning produce, but each new wine or change in vintage will result in changes to accommodate the new flavour profiles in the wine.
Adelaide Food Central would like to thank the team at Pernod Ricard and all the fabulous staff at St Hugo for a wonderful dining experience that we will remember for a long time. We’d also like to thank One Green Bean for making it all possible.
Words by Kate Wilkinson
WHERE: 2141 Barossa Valley Way, Rowland Flat