At-home wine pairings: Travis Howe

Published on 16 September 2020

Photo: Carlton Wine Room co-owner Travis Howe (credit: Kristoffer Paulsen)

Travis Howe of Carlton Wine Room gives us his top drinks for your home-cooked wonders.

From Euro-leaning wine bar to contemporary Indian, Melbourne restaurants of all persuasions have benefited from Travis Howe’s talents as a sommelier. His time at Coda, Tonka and Carlton Wine Room, where he’s also currently co-owner, have earned him two Sommelier of the Year titles, from the 2012 Age Good Food Guide and the national 2019 Good Food Guide. With that kind of CV, we knew we’d be in safe hands asking Howe to tackle some of our most common wine pairings on the home front.

Lasagne – This is a dish that goes with so much, but especially well with fancy orange wines (like the deeply-coloured ones made by Radikon), if you want to spoil yourself. It’s also a great dish to have with fresh young reds. I like young Beaujolais and pinot and I really love a young, spicy, silky and floral shiraz/syrah like Trutta from Harcourt North.

Dan dan noodles – With all the Sichuan peppercorn that’s present, proceed with caution on your wine pairing. The basic rules are avoid wine with high alcohol (13 per cent plus) and anything with more than low-level tannins – both will clash horribly with the pepper and you will most likely ruin your delicious wine and your noodles. I’d play it safe and go for something light, fun and with a little sugar. Look at Mac Forbes riesling or a local and affordable pet-nat, perhaps from Combes, or else splash out for Eric Bordelet Poire Granit cider if your bank account can handle it.

Roast chicken – Red wine can be good but white wine is great. Try and find a bottle of either Mount Mary Triolet, a sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle blend, or Yeringberg’s marsanne roussane. Both are exceptional full-bodied wines with stacks of character and textural complexity, and each is very unique. I would decant them an hour before drinking and serve them just below red wine temperature – not straight from the fridge! – to get their full expression. If you can afford to, try to find one with as much age as possible; 10 years is no problem for these guys. If you’re doing roast chicken on a budget, choose chardonnay every time.

Ma po tofu – Pairing this dish with wine depends entirely on the level of spice. If it’s a hot ma po tofu, young pinot noir from the fridge works a treat. I’d suggest tracking down pinots by Josh Cooper in Macedon or Eastern Peake from Ballarat. A variation on that theme could be Fikkers pinot meunier from Yarra Valley.

Instant noodles – Ha! Open some dry rosé, perhaps the Little RaRa from Pyren Vineyard, and don’t stop at one bottle.

Spag Bol – For me, it’s an entry-level Pizzini sangiovese, all day long. I pinched this idea from Tiamo in Carlton, where I’ve definitely hit this combo a few times. If the spag Bol is the kind that takes all day to cook, I’d go a bit more fancy and spring for a northern Italian red, the most I can afford on the day.

A splash-out red for a really good steak – I’ll always choose Chianti Classico or Chianti Riserva: Monteraponi, Montevertine, Fèlsina and San Guisto are some producers to look out for. There are plenty of great Victorian options, too. Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock shiraz, Syrahmi New Beginnings shiraz, Mount Mary Quintet cabernet blend (as old as you can find), or Timo Mayer syrah all come to mind.

Frittata – This calls for a fresh, crisp white wine. I personally love a lot of Euro egg dishes with lively chardonnay like the ones Luke Lambert makes in the Yarra Valley but if you’re celebrating, you’d do pretty well with the Gembrook Hill sparkling. It’s a serious, nutty and crisp bottle of fizz from the Upper Yarra that’s also awesome with roast chicken.

Potato and leek soup – Go for either a crisp young riesling, like Crawford River Young Vines, or a rich but equally fresh, cool climate chardonnay such as Ben Rankin’s, made under the Willimee label in Macedon.

Speed round

Go-to beerMountain Goat Steam Ale because it’s local, refreshing and requires no thought.

Favourite well-priced everyday white and everyday redBlood Moon chenin blanc 2019 and Mac Forbes pinot noir 2019.

Favourite spirit or cocktail at home – Wet Martini, no contest. Currently on Balcombe gin from the Mornington Peninsula, seasoned with either sherry or pastis and, of course, dry vermouth.

Favourite nightcap – Grappa, grappa and more grappa.

Carlton Wine Room is currently closed, but you can show your support by buying a gift voucher. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media @thecarltonwinewineroom for updates on reopening.

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