What Wine Goes With Kangaroo?
Many as it turns out. But before you think I’m a cold-hearted diner, the truth is I had only one bite of kangaroo on a recent trip to Australia. I couldn’t actually eat it after getting to pet and feed kangaroos in the local Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne. Their big brown eyes followed me everywhere after that and when a few plates of (very well-prepared mind you) kangaroo dishes showed up, I didn’t have the stomach for it.
The side note on kangaroos is they have beautiful soft faces with gentle eyes and move at lightning speed once they get hopping. The ones in the sanctuary were smaller than I thought they’d be (wild kangaroos grazing alongside the roads are slightly bigger). They eat dried corn and carrots and while they’ll readily approach for food, they don’t linger long with their skittish personalities. And yes, we saw koalas which are bigger than I thought and, opposite the kangaroo, move as little and as slowly as possible eating only eucalyptus leaves which turn their teeth black.
Back to wine and kangaroo (and other food pairings), Australia offers phenomenal wines in all categories. From taut mineral and lime-driven Rieslings from Yarra, Eden, and Claire Valleys to elegant and graceful Shiraz from McLaren Vale and Barossa with many offerings in-between. Off the beaten track, the St. Hallett Sparkling Shiraz was one of my favorites (it comes in both dry and sweeter styles) and the Fortified wines (somewhat similar to Tawny Ports) are also an Australian specialty. De Bortoli’s 2013 Noble One Botrytis Semillon is a standout in the dessert wine category.
Other very well-done varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Bordeaux blends, and many Southern Rhone-style blends of Grenache, Mataro (Mouvedre), and Syrah/Shiraz. Keep in mind that Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape but the name used generally results from where the wine is from (Northern Rhone uses “ Syrah” while Australia uses “Shiraz”) and occasionally the style of wine made (restrained Syrah versus more fruit-forward and robust Shiraz). These are only generalizations however. My impression of Australian Shiraz before visiting Australia was this latter style but I found many of the former on my trip which was a delicious surprise.
We had kangaroo tail (very similar in looks and taste to ox-tail) as well as kangaroo steak filets. Very dark meat with slight gaminess to it, it paired perfectly with Grenache, Shiraz, or blends of the two along with Mataro. Shiraz typically offers notes of game, violet, pepper, black olive, and smoke/tar while Grenache contributes strawberry and raspberry fruit flavors along with an herbal note. Both are perfect complements to kangaroo or any other type of red meat.
I confess that, being a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, I haven’t always warmed to Shiraz. However, I was dazzled by the Shiraz I found in Australia as well as Grenache, which I also struggle with. Some of the standout wines of the trip (most of which can all be found in the Chicago area or on wine.com) were the Torbreck 2013 Descendant, the Yangarra 2013 High Sands Grenache, Mitolo 2007 G.A.M. Shiraz, the Giant Steps 2015 Yarra Valley Syrah, Shaw & Smith 2009 Shiraz, the Tait 2014 The Border Crossing (Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro blend), and the St. Hallett 2010 Blackwell Shiraz.
While we tried mostly Shiraz, I also found some wonderful Cabernets in the De Bortoli 2013 Melba Reserve Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Mitolo 2014 Jester Cabernet Sauvignon, Levantine Hill’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mac Forbes 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Giant Steps 2015 Harry’s Monster (named for the owner’s son Harry being afraid of a monster). We also tried a brilliant Pinot from the Mornington Peninsula in the Moorooduc 2012 McIntyre Pinot Noir.
If you’re a white wine or rosé lover, look for Giant Steps 2015 Yarra Valley Chardonnay, Mitolo’s 2014 Jester Sangiovese Rosé, and Moorooduc’s 2013 Estate Robinson Chardonnay (unoaked style).
One of the most interesting wines of the trip was the Mitolo 2004 Serpico “Amarone” Cabernet Sauvignon. Made of dried grapes in the typical Amarone style, this wine was a powerhouse of black fruit and figs with true decadence yet still elegant in nature. Another special wine was Tait’s Liquid Gold Fronti (made of Frontignan grapes in a sweet Port style). This wine, which I bought for $20 Australian, was the best Port-style purchase I’ve made in a long time for the quality and price. Sadly, we can’t buy that one here yet but hopefully one day it will make it across to the United States.
Australia has a dizzying array of microclimates and is able to produce incredibly different wines from region to region. We only had time for the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne) and McLaren Vale and Barossa (near Adelaide) but even that was enough to demonstrate how exciting the wine industry is in Australia right now.
We encountered very few over-the-top red wines with high alcohol as you might have seen a few years ago. While the alcohol remains high in some regions due to natural conditions, it was very well-integrated in most of the wines we tried. There is a fantastic variety of high quality wines coming out of Australia for every taste and style. Start tasting (and you don’t even have to try them with kangaroo).
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