Late, last year Ovolo Hotels brought celebrated plant-based cuisine guru Matthew Kenney to Australia for a series of take-over pop-up dinners in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.
The Taste of Alibi sold-out events featured many of Matthew Kenney Cuisine’s greatest hits. His Californian-based company runs a number of restaurants and food business across five continents. He has been hands-on in the development of Alibi.
Matthew worked closely with Michael Nicolaou, Alibi’s Executive Chef. Many of the dishes are currently available at Alibi Bar and Kitchen at Ovolo Woolloomooloo. The degustation menus were paired with wines selected by Shun Eto, Ovolo’s Group Curator of Wine.
After six years with QT Hotels, Shun now is developing the wine, beer and cocktails at all the Australian Ovolo properties.
I spoke with Shun about the challenge of developing a wine list that more than simply complements the food, but highlights it.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in curating a vegan wine list?
I really want this list to develop organically, (laughs). It takes time – there can be no rash decisions. It doesn’t happen overnight and I want it to make optimal sense that the wines are delicious and enjoyable with the food – that it’s holistic.
Surprisingly many certified organic and biodynamic wines are not vegan. We now have all vegan cocktails and draught beer at Alibi. 90% of our wine by the glass is also vegan. I’m evolving it – taking baby steps.
Working with Michael specifically, made putting this list together a better experience. There is true osmosis – he may have made some changes so the food was further enhanced by the wine. Chefs have honed palates, so they understand sweetness/sourness. Tasting with the rest of the staff also allows them to understand the wines even more.
And the specific challenges with this Matthew Kenney menu?
I like to be audacious. With the cold Kelp Noodle Cacio e Pepe, I wanted something that harmonizes with the pepper and the dehydrated olive dust. I put my pepper hat on and it was the Nick Spencer ‘Dry Red’ Shiraz + Tempranillo + Touriga Nacional + Cabernet Sauvignon from Gundagai.
With the Beet Hummus, the 2017 Eloquesto ‘BIush’ Black Muscat + Viognier is served chilled. I want Australians to drink reds at 18-20 degrees, not room temperature. Firstly, you’re doing many of these fine, often old vine wines a disservice drinking them at 25 degrees or more. These reds are also more alcoholic because alcohol enters the bloodstream faster at room temperature.
And the fun part?
Finding a dessert wine to work with the Coconut Cream Pie with banana and macadamia crust. The 2017 Frogmore Creek ‘Iced Riesling’ mellows out the agave making it light and lovely. The little bit of fizz from the bottle fermentation in the Piero Gatti Brachetto worked very well with the coconut and lemon myrtle in the Strawberry Panacotta.
There aren’t many vegan or dessert wines out there – many do contain animal products.
Who is the typical customer at Alibi?
They love the freshness and the all-round philosophy of health. Many are vegan or eating a plant-based diet and want to share the idea with loved ones. Eating and drinking at Alibi can let them dip their toe into their family member’s lifestyle.
Many other people are just seeking a lightness in their food and want to experience something which is harmonious with the planet. They’re living to be happy – not living to work. Guests are also looking for quality, not volume and realizing the energy in fresh veggies.
What should people look for in the bottle shop if they want a vegan wine?
Firstly, look for wines that are unfiltered and unfined. Many bottles now say vegan on the back of the bottle. With sensible eating, many people are asking questions about a plant-based diet. So if you’re interested in a wine or winery – call or email them to find out more.
All the LVMH houses like Krug, Moet & Chandon, Ruinart and Perrier-Jouet are plant-based. Torbreck has always been and all Yalumba wines (even their casks) are free of any animal products. Ask yourself if you want wines with ‘true presence and form’ – not created or manufactured and winemakers who respect the grapes.