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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

An Evening With...Fighting Gully Road La Longa Sangiovese 2017

I would argue no Asiustralian has more passion for Sangiovese than Mark Walpole. His winery, Fighting Gully Road, is in Beechworth and, as a whole, there is a lot being done with Sangiovese in the region. It's a weird quirk of history. The grape was first trialled in the Barossa by Penfolds and Montrose in Mudgee in the early 1970s. It was Coriole, in the 1980s, who really gained commercial traction with the variety. But, in the 1990s, the gears shifted. Maybe sick of Sangiovese being made for Shiraz drinkers, a lot of vineyards in King Valley and Beechworth started to plant it and make it in a more Italian style - think Pizzini, Castagna and Dal Zotto.

In the mid 1990s, Mark brought in new clones of the grape into the country from Italy. The dominant clone in the country at the time was all about producing quantity, but what Mark brought in naturally produced a smaller yield and increased quality (think of clones like dog breeds - domestic dogs are all the same species, but a Golden Retriever is not the same as a Border Collie). Without him, Aussie Sangiovese simply would not be where it is today. His ultimate goal, according to the Fighting Gully Road website, is to set the standard for Sangiovese in this country. But enough about the history here. Let's get to it. The La Longa is Fighting Gully Road's premium Sangiovese, and will set you back $75. 12 months in new and new-ish oak, 12 months in large format barrels and then 12 months in bottle before it's released.


The first thing which jumped out was the colour - so pretty. It has this really gorgeous gorgeous rose petal thing going on, with a rusty sheen on it. It's super fragrant and finely tuned. Rosehip, cocao nibs, potpourri, sandalwood, dried cherry, old leather - they're all there but none of them are overwhelming. I can taste tobacco leaf, spices and sour cherry at first, but then this bitter orange/herb combination. The tannins are pretty soft, but they do build over time.

APERITIVO - Unaged Pecorino

If you've not had pecorino before, it is a dry and firm sheep cheese. It's pretty crumbly, super salty and has a lot of tang and, from the research my partner did, a textbook pairing. This was a younger style, so still had some creaminess to it.

The acid of the wine has pretty much disappeared entirely. There is still a nice, grippy finish but the cheese has brought out so much more fruit into the wine - it feels darker and wilder, with more forest berries and wild herbs. It works for the cheese as well. The tannins of the wine strip away the waxiness of the cheese and really brings out the flavour. It's a simple and rustic match - the Occam's Razor of pairing, really. It's moreish too, and it's a struggle not to drink all the wine with this. It's honest, it's relaxed and it's fun. Isn't that the whole damn point?

ANTIPASTO - Truffle Arancini with Bitter Leaves

Truffle is such a Tuscan thing. Plus, apparently a perfect match for Sangiovese so of course something was going to happen with truffles. These were the big, Sicilian style of arancini and were stuffed with ricotta and truffle. I wasn't expecting it, but this is a clean and fresh dish. There isn't a lot of oil or cheese, so there isn't any fat content. Just delicate flavours. Even the truffle isn't in-your-face here.

This makes the wine seem really acidic, and the savoury elements stand out. It still has a cleansing vibe, but there isn't anything in this dish to keep the wine in check. It feels lighter and fresher, with some tar-and-roses flavour coming through, but I definitely preferred the heavier aspects which came through with the pecorino. It isn't a terrible pairing, but the food isn't doing the wine any favours. Maybe it would be a different story if the arancini were stuffed with a meatier mushroom, like porcini.

PRIMI - Papparadelle with Raddichio and Duck

One of the things which kept on coming up on repeat when we were looking at food pairings was game meat. Feathered game. Furry game. Game you find at the market. This is a deceptive dish. It looks so simple on paper, but there is a lot going on. It's really well balanced with sweet/bitter/umami - it ticks a lot of boxes - and the flavours are strong, but structured.

Oh. This makes the wine very happy. The oiliness of the pasta is a really good support structure for everything here, and keeps the wine from being too overbearing. The bitterness of the raddichio brings out a lot of red plum and cherry, which are flavours which go really nicely with the duck. The tannins work really well with the duck fat too. Every part of this dish is doing something important - it's like a well oiled machine. The wine is just...I'm struggling to think of the peace here. It's comfortable and in its element. This is a good combination. I'm really impressed.

INSALATA - Oxheart Tomato with Basil and Smoked Fior di Latte

There is a golden rule with pairing food with Sangiovese. When it doubt - tomatoes. Which is weird given that tomatoes didn't make it to Italy until the 15th or 16th century. Also weird because fresh vegetables and Sangiovese don't immediately correlate. My wife decided to go against the classic buffalo mozzarella and used a smoked cheese because of this. The gamble really paid off. The smokiness of the cheese works so well with the wine and brings out a cool cedar note. It's nice to have some fresh vegies, don't get me wrong, but I don't see it doing a lot for the wine. This is all about the cheese.

SECONDI - Kangaroo Stew with Tasmanian Pepperberry

Aussie Aussie Aussie! We do normally try do something a little of beat with these nights, and kangaroo isn't what a lot of Italians were thinking when they said 'furred game.' It's a typical Tuscan recipe, though. Just with a meat switch. And pepperberries instead of pepper. Kangaroo is a lot leaner than beef, so this will be interesting.

OMFG. This is amazing. The kangaroo falls apart in your mouth. But, more importantly, the wine loves it. The deep savoury flavours suddenly make the wine pop with vibrant blueberries and raspberries. It reminds me, in a way, of those Nordic game and berry dishes. The wine really integrates itself here - it simply slops nicely into the gaps and makes this feel complete. It feels perfect, and made for each other. This must be what people mean when they say wine is part of a meal. I really can't imagine this stew without having something like this wine now. Dang.

DOLCE - Castagnaccio

Red wine and dessert. Traditionally, not the best idea. But this cake has no white sugar at all. It gets its sweetness from chestnut flour, roasted nuts and raisins. I wouldn't say that this works, but it doesn't not work. Nothing in the cake clashes with the wine, at all, and the sweetness isn't so overt that it makes the wine seem bitter. In fact, the chestnut flour brings out some walnut husk and bitter herbal flavours. Like I said, not a terrible pairing, but I'd rather have a liqueur or coffee with this.


So, first of all, this is clearly an excellent wine. A lot of time and care went into this, and it shows. It's refined and elegant. Confident, but not overbearing. It certainly has gravitas but it isn't loud about it and it doesn't demand your attention. It also went really well with a lot of the dishes here - the pecorino, the pasta, the salad, the kangaroo stew - these are all wildly different dishes but they all went really well with this wine. But I think what really struck me here was just how much the wine liked simple flavours. I'm not saying that these are quick and easy dishes - that duck pasta was the result of several hours of cooking - but it is absolutely a rustic dish. I think that is the key. This is a farmer's wine. It's honest. It's friendly. It's confident without being obnoxious. It needs food which matches with its personality.

If anyone is wondering, I think that the kangaroo was the best match. There is a lot of game in Tuscan cuisine, so it makes sense that it would suit Australian game meat. I like the parallel of it too: this is a grape taken out of Italy, trying to find a home in Australia. What better way for it to do that then to pair with such an Australian dish?

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