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To pair or not to pair

“My philosophy on [food and wine] pairings is probably slightly controversial, in that I don’t necessarily think it’s always the greatest way to go,” says long time Spicers sommelier Peter Marchant

“I’m a big believer that the pairing could be the time [of day] and the wine, as opposed to the food and the wine.

“Wine is experiential – it’s about who you’re with, what you’re doing, and what you’re eating. It’s all part of it. And, more so, it’s about what [wines] people like.”

Peter is no grape snob, and finds his reward in helping guide diners towards the wines that best suit their taste.

The Balfour Kitchen Wine Awards 2019

“There is no point me telling someone, ‘This Chardonnay is going to go absolutely superbly with the Kobe fillet’ if they hate Chardonnay,” he says.

“When it comes to food and wine matching, the number one thing we say to any of our guests when they say ‘What do you recommend?’ is ‘What do you normally like?’, and then ‘Did you want to stay with something like that, or try something different?’

“I can sit there and be super technical and say ‘This is going to work perfectly’, and they go ‘Yeah, I really don’t like Chardonnay’, and all of a sudden we’ve lost them, so we have to listen first when it comes to recommendations or pairings.”

Peter says there is “always a flexibility with pairings”, and that the key is the “acid and texture in the wines”.

“Those are the number one things,” he says. “The acid – high, medium or low; and the texture – light, medium or full-bodied.

“If we’ve got a really light dish, we need a really light wine. [But] if someone comes in and says ‘I would like a dozen oysters and I want a big glass of Shiraz’, no problems. At the end of the day it’s what I call the hockey puck theory.

“I used to have a guest who would always order his steak well done, to the point it turned into a hockey puck. The chef didn’t want to do it, ‘It’s ruining the meat’. [I’d say] ‘Yeah, but you’re not eating it’.”

Peter, based on the Sunshine Coast at Spicers Clovelly Estate, curates the wine lists for all of the Spicers properties and spends time on the restaurant floor each week.

“From our point of view it’s about the guest, it’s not about us telling them what to eat and to drink,” he says. “It has to be a conversation. We’re not delivering a sermon, it’s not me running a master class and telling you what works, it’s about making sure your experience is the best it possibly can be.

“We can talk about the duck and Pinot, or the Sauvignon Blanc and the goat’s cheese, and those classic matches that always work really well, but again it’s about preferences.

And people tend to be quite specific in their preferred wines.

“They will say ‘Oh, I really like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’, [and] that tells me everything I need to know – you like fruit, you don’t like oak, you like a little bit of acid, but not too much, and you like consistency,” Peter says.

“If they want to try something different, fantastic, but we’re going to stay in the similar kind of realm, aromatics and low oak. What we’re not going to do is go to the polar extreme and go ‘Here, have this dirty big Chardonnay from Margaret River’, because they’re going to hate it.”

Words by William Holmes