Behold the yabbie. It looks and tastes sort of like a Louisiana crawfish, a prawn-like beast, but 3 to 5 inches long. Australians prefer to boil them without the loud spices that are de rigueur in Louisiana, the better to emphasize their naturally delicate flavor, rich in classic "seafood" essence.
Matt Fowles has a particular fascination with making the wines of his eponymous winery in the highlands of central Victoria fit with game, especially the 10 wines in the colorfully named labels Are You Game? and Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch. Yabbies count, since they are generally plucked from local streams, lakes and reservoirs (Aussies call them dams) on most farms—including vineyards.
Fowles had been hunting the countryside for game to show against these wines at a lunch for me and my colleague MaryAnn Worobiec. At the dam closest to his home he pulled out a trap skittering with yabbies, and carefully held up one of the flailing shellfish for inspection. We then repaired to his kitchen to taste yabbies and other game with all 10 wines. A cook had neatly shelled a few yabbies for us. An old hand at crawfish, I polished off the whole beasts serving as garnish. The fruit qualities of a charming, Prosecco-style sparkler made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Vermentino made a seamless match.
"The wines I like to drink best with game have fresh fruit to play against any gamy flavors in the dish," Fowles notes pointedly. He agrees that big wines, or wines with their own gamy flavors, often compete with the food instead of enhancing it.
That worked for darker proteins, too. Quail grilled over charcoal brought extra breadth to the Are You Game? Chardonnay 2015, made in a light, silky style. The richer texture of Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Chardonnay 2014, from its wild fermentation, sang nicely with rillettes made from rabbit and hare. Loin of hare cooked rare on the grill was Fowles' favorite, and mine, its hint of smokiness enhancing a bright, lively Are You Game? Shiraz 2013.
The Ladies Shiraz 2013, given hints of savory notes with whole-bunch fermentation to enhance its bead of ripe blackberry fruit, paired well with grilled fallow deer loin.
The darker cast to the fruit character of a Shiraz 2013, from a third label, Farm to Table (aimed at farm-raised poultry and meat) picked up extra savory notes with lamb raised on the very farm where we were tasting it.
The Are You Game? wines retail for $17, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch $35 and Farm to Table $15. They reflect the crisp structure of Fowles' 360 acres of vineyards in the rocky hills of the Strathbogie range, overlooking the Goulburn Valley in central Victoria. The overused term "food wine" actually applies here. The wines are lively and flavorful, in a lighter style, on their own, but they really do come into their own with the food Fowles had in mind when he named them.