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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

An Evening With...SC Pannell Aglianico 2019

There are winemakers, and then there's Stephen Pannell. I was lucky enough to meet him a few years back and he is switched on. Not only does he know his wines, he knows his history. I remember him casually mentioning that the Northern Rhone makes Syrah Viognier blends because, back in the day, there was no refrigeration. You simply had to put your Viognier somewhere and so it was blended with their Syrah. So it became a tradition. That's so blindingly obvious, I thought at the time. Why didn't I realise of that?

He's also deeply passionate about making wines which suit our climate and our food. If you browse his list of wines you'll see some Shiraz and Cabernet, but you'll also find Barbera, Touriga, Tempranillo and a whole lot more. You'll also see, obviously, Aglianico (I say allee-ah-niko). This is a southern Italian grape which has been responsible for some of the most drinkable wines I've come across. This vintage is also kind of a big deal. It retails for around $40 and it won Best 'Other' Red at the recent Wine Companion awards. The review includes the sentence "why weren't we making this 100 years ago?" Probably because we Australians aren't typically known for our foresight. But, hopefully, in another hundred years there'll be a lot more of this variety planted in Australia.

A Glass Alone

It's a cool colour - deep purple with some cherry edges. I'm looking at my notes on what I've written for the perfume and the first thing is 'Oh, bro.' Powerful and deep scents of gravel, butcher's block, sour cherries with fennel and leather. There is a mass of dried spices in there too. It's juicy and plump, with good, firm tannins. Sour cherries again, forest berries, oak, pomegranate and clove. There is a certain jubilance to this, but it's balanced out by a core of bitter roots and herbs. I felt bad opening this so young, but it's good to go. Why bother ageing it more when it's this delicious now.

Entree - Napoletana Pizza

Aglianico is a DOC grape of Campania, which basically means that the grape is typical to the region and has some rules and regulations. There is a movement to make Napoletana pizza a DOC food of the region too, so we figured matching DOC with DOC was a good place to start. My wife even found the official Napoletana pizza recipe and made sure the base was within regulations. The toppings are easy enough - tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil. At first, I thought that the pizza was too delicate for the wine and it's tannins, but it did bring out some of the wine's richness and brightness. I have a few notes written down to the effect of 'good but not great' and then a scrawled nope - I take it all back. This rocks. The had opened up. It's slight tannic grip works so well with the pizza and cheese, bringing out a dolce vita vibe. Food and wine in harmony. I adore it.

Vegan Option - Miso Pumpkin with Blackbean and Mushrooms

I was expecting this to be either really good or really bad. It's neither of those things at all. A lot works here - the miso glaze and the umami of the mushrooms adds a nice depth to the wine. Add some blackbean to the mix and, suddenly, the wine is showing a lot of savoury aspects. There is still cherry, but distinct flavours of fennel and cardamom now. I think that the wine is better when it is showing more fruit but I can't deny that it's holding up to this really well. It's maybe too full bodied for this (something like a Pinot might have been better) but I'm not complaining - just an observation.

Winemaker's Choice - Lamb and Vegies

The actual suggestion on the bottle is a roast leg of lamb on a bed of potatoes, but we're not roasting a whole leg (or a half leg, for that matter) for just two people. Instead, we did a BBQ chop with roast vegies and artichoke. Fun fact: this was my first time ever eating a fresh artichoke. Let me tell you, the wine does not like it. It brings out a lot of tannin and astringency which is, really, best avoided. The lamb and root vegetables is another story., though. The char on the meat highlights the freshness of fruit and softens those tannins beautifully. Fresh cherry flavours come out and the wine transforms into a thing of subtlety and elegance, with a little bit of flirty charm. It's like Stephen Pannell and his team know what they're talking about. Who knew?

Left of Centre - Tibs with Injera Bread

We always like to put something from unexpected in these evenings. It helps cover all bases and we might discover something amazing. Tibs is an Ethiopian dish - stir fried beef which is loaded up with aromatic spices like fenugreek, cardamom, cumin, clove and pepper (my wife was quite clever here - all these spices are varietal characteristics of Aglianico) which is served with a sour flat bread called injera bread. I wasn't expecting it, given how powerful this dish was, but the wine absolutely picks up what the tibs puts down. The mass of spices really complimented the wine well, bringing out some savoury, earthy notes without sacrificing fruit. From a gastronomical point of view as well, the sour bread is great palate freshener too and makes this a super moreish pairing. The wine feels light, fresh and agile here. Really impressive.

ALL IN ALL I have to say that we weren't easy on this wine. These four dishes come from four very different food cultures - Italian, Japanese, Modern Australian and Ethiopian. You'd think that one of them would be an absolutely terrible pairing. But none of them were. The worst was 'good, but not great.' I'm not sure whether it's the nature of Aglianico or the skills of Stephen Pannell, but this wine is the definition of Food Friendly. It's a term which is thrown around a lot these days but this is the best example of it that I've seen. It just finds a way to fit comfortably with what's on the plate. I'm not saying serve it with fish and chips, but I'm so impressed by how versatile this wine is. And for $40 too. What a bargain. The hardest part of this night wasn't trying to figure out which dish went best - it was resisting the urge to drink one bottle and open a second.

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