18 February 2016

Jacob and Gray make a perfect pair

Jacob's Creek enjoys both the best and the worst of Hong Kong's fickle wine market.

The more than 160-year-old Barossa Valley-based winery is one of the city's most widely available labels - it sells in every Wellcome and ParknShop supermarket from Central to Tin Shui Wai.

Sam Kurtz, Jacob's Creek group red and tawny winemaker, was in Hong Kong recently to introduce rare vintages that are still priced competitively, but would please the most discriminating of connoisseurs.

He brought along a smattering of bold reds that chef Gray Kunz of his namesake Cafe Gray Deluxe creatively paired with a la carte items to showcase the characteristics of each vintage.

Since it opened in late 2009, The Upper House hotel's signature restaurant has become a hot table for movers and shakers in Hong Kong. Designed by local wonder boy Andre Fu, it has an enviable location above Pacific Place with stunning harbor and city views.

A sixth-generation Barossa Valley winemaker, Kurtz is involved in all aspects of winemaking, from overseeing the vineyards to its marketing. "In 1837, Johann Gramp came to Australia from Bavaria; he planted some of the first vines in the Barossa," he says.

One of the winery's special vintages is a drier version of the rieslings typically found in the Alsace; its flinty flavor is laced with overtones of lemon.

It is aptly dubbed Jacobs Creek Steingarten Riesling in reference to the Barossa's extremely rocky soil conditions.

Kunz pairs the 2011 white with a tamarind grilled tiger prawn salad drizzled with a spiced passion fruit glaze. The tart fruit is a welcome juxtaposition against the crunchy, slightly charred prawns while bringing out the green apple flavors of the wine.

A starter of red and golden beet root salad with crisped pork belly (HK$180 a la carte, $23) includes the surprise of hazelnuts and is refreshingly balanced by being simultaneously sweet and savory.

Kurtz matches the dish with St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, one of his most popular wines above the $30 range.

"We have plans to expand the St. Hugo range; we think it will be very successful as an independent brand," he says.

The wine is meaty and has a lot of gusto, with savory tannins that bring out the richness of the pork belly.

For our main of braised beef shank, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and celery root in a chili soy reduction with pickled legumes (HK$335), we are treated to two masterpieces: Centenary Hill Shiraz 2006 and Johann Shiraz Cabernet 2006.

"The shiraz cabernet is our biggest seller," Kurtz says. "It really shows the winemaker's craft since it contains many notes from the spice cabinet to mark his style."

The Centenary Hill, on the other hand, uses vines ranging from 40 to 90 years old aged in 80 percent new French and American oak.

I love how the beef falls apart at a nudge and the rich, deep wine color of the jus. We all agree that the Centenary Hill complimented the robust flavors of the beef better than the shiraz cab, though the latter would hold its own as a sipping wine.

We finish with a floating island and stewed berries in a sauce Anglaise (HK$95) and a sparkling moscato rose.

I loved the bubble gum pink colored wine - it reminded me of cotton candy from a carnival and the touch of red liqueur in it was yummy with the juicy berries.