At-home wine pairings: Josh Begbie

Published on 4 September 2020

Photo: Bar Liberty's Josh Begbie (credit: Dominic Xavier)

In a new series for Victorians looking to level up their home pairings while in lockdown, Bar Liberty’s drinks boss gives us his top drinks for home-cooked favourites, from lasagne to noodles.

Whether you’ve marvelled at the wine list at Bar Liberty or been treated to the skilful pairings that are always on offer at Embla, you’ve come in contact with the Josh Begbie effect. The sommelier has been doing his thing for almost two decades at some of this country’s most forward-thinking eateries, as well as Brawn in East London. Beyond Bar Liberty and Embla, Begbie was behind the stick at Der Raum, collaborated on the wine program at Peter Jo’s ambitious Korean restaurant Shik and also put in time at Poly, the wine bar from the Ester team in Sydney. Armed with his tips, your home libations are about to take a turn for the better.

Lasagne – Keep it classic with a lasagne companion and grab an Italian red with a bit of rusticity to it. We’re lucky that we have such a rich Italian history here in Victoria and also that our climate is well-suited to a lot of the Italian varieties planted inland. I’d recommend the nebbiolos from Minim or Owen Latta. Want to pep your lasagne up a little bit? Source a bottle of (good!) Lambrusco. My absolute favourite is Vittorio Graziano’s Fontana dei Boschi from a very small Italian-focused importer Quel Vino.

Dan dan noodles – I recently spent six months working in a Korean restaurant and one of the things I worked out really quickly was how well spicy food pairs with skin-contact (or orange) wine. Something as full flavoured as dan dan noodles deserves an aromatic drink with plenty of flesh and grip. One of my favourite local producers of this particular style is Dane Johns from Momento Mori. All of his whites are unique but stylistically distinct and have varying degrees of maceration. With Sichuan noodles, I’d be on the lookout for his energetic Italian blend Staring at The Sun. Keep an eye on his Instagram as the wines are getting harder and harder to get hold of but he’s been directly releasing some bangers during lockdown.

Roast chicken – If roast chicken is in the oven, I’m reaching for a big-boy chardonnay every time. If you want to splash the cash, the nuttier versions from the Jura work wonders. Keep an eye out for cult-producer Valentin Morel (available from Wine & Food Solutions) or the great value, racy Burgundies from Domaine De La Cras (available through REAL Wines). There are also some fantastic Victorian examples coming from Macedon from producers Dilworth & Allain or Josh Cooper.

Ma po tofu – I need to make more ma po tofu at home, even if it’s just to have the leftovers in jaffles à la Super Ling. You’ll need something with loads of flavor alongside this dish, like one of Benoit Camus’ Beaujolais, imported by Melbourne trailblazer Campbell Burton. As a general rule, the bright and tart gamays are packed full of minerality and detail to sit playfully alongside something with a touch of spice. In the King Valley, Marc Lunt at Terrason makes a cheeky no-sulphur gamay that hits all the right expressive, herbal and tart notes you'd expect in its Beaujolais counterpart. Perfect for funky but vibrant Asian cuisine.

Instant noodles – Luckily I live near Minh Phat on Victoria Street so the variety of instant noodles at my disposal is endless. I try to limit myself but I can’t go past the La Mian laksa. Keep the match simple but rustic. I’ve been crushing cans of a collab Bar Liberty did with Hop Nation in lockdown. It’s what’s known as a table beer: a lower ABV, malty and slightly sour saison.

Spag bol – At this time of year I like my Bolognese to be as hearty and rich as possible – the funkier, the better. I like to include some livers and what I call old fridge meat (charcuterie offcuts). With your wine, go for contrast; perhaps the bright, raw and fruit-forward sangiovese from Primitive Wines. Made in a shed in Castlemaine by Nick Jeffery, these wines are highly drinkable and honest. I’ve only just recently come across Primitive and I’m loving the range.

Top-shelf steak – I’m a huge fan of the red wines from Auvergne, an underrated region in the centre of France. Melbourne company Halle Aux Vins imports one of the pioneering labels from the area, Marie and Vincent Tricot. Find a bottle of the pinot noir or gamay. The smoky minerality from the Auvergne’s volcanic soils will sing with a nice piece of beef from the grill. Alternatively, if you’re a steak and shiraz person, Cobaw Ridge has some vintage gear about and I can vouch for the 2014.

Frittata – Lots of things spring to mind to drink alongside a frittata. You could keep the breakfast vibe strong with a pét-nat. Pat Underwood from Little Reddie makes a cracker that will certainly get your day started off on the right foot. Alternatively, the Tarrington Vineyards chardonnay looks fantastic alongside some eggs. Or if you garnish your frittata with some fresh vegetables (raw or pickled), the Hochkirch syrah is perfectly perfumed, vegetal and fresh.

A bowl of soup – We’ve been living on vegetable soup in our household at the moment and a recipe on high rotation is the southern French soupe au pistou. Loads of garlic, carrots, onions and turnips, finished with a dollop of pesto. Xavier Goodridge makes a great rosé in the Provencal style called Shirley and it’s a ripper. Herbal, spicy and textured – good for all year round.

Speed round 

Go-to beer – I’ve been lucky in lockdown: I live in the catchment for Lulie Tavern’s Van with a Can so I’ve been enjoying tap beer delivered to my door most weeks. I think I’d go mental without a Guinness from time-to-time. Being a Ballarat boy, it would be remiss of me not to mention someone from home, given all the exciting things happening out west. Dollar Bill Brewing are making some unique and super-tasty seasonal sour beers that can be hard to come by but are worth the hunt.

Favourite well-priced white and red – I first got hooked on their reds but Tom and Sally Belford’s Bobar chardonnay has an amazing purity and vitality. It’s incredible value for a wine from the Yarra Valley. For a red, it’d be hard to go past the Boomtown Red by Tim Watson, perhaps better known for his Minim range of wines. A 50-50 blend of nero d’avola and cabernet sauvignon, it has a great balance of density and power but also freshness, impressive for a heavier wine. I’d put it up against wines twice the price.

Top spirit or cocktail at home – I’m pretty lazy when it comes to cocktails at home, but the bottled Bellinis from Darren Leaney at Capitano are highly addictive.

Preferred night cap – Local boys and girls Marionette do some amazing things with well-sourced fruit. I’m currently belting through their Nocino, a distinctly Australian liqueur that’s made with green walnuts from the Yarra Ranges and finished with some toasted wattleseed and lemon myrtle. A great sipper at room temperature or over a nice chunk of ice.

Bar Liberty is currently open for online and takeaway wine sales and food specials. Visit bar-liberty.myshopify.com. Follow Josh’s at-home drinking adventures at @j_begbie.