Caviar and fish roe are the epitome of umami – its salty, fishy flavours so very savoury and equally intriguing. And a glass of something is never lost on its charm.

Black Pearl Iranian Sevruga Caviar + NV Pol Roger Brut Reserve, Épernay, Champagne, France, A$60/375ml

It was 1995 and my now 40-plus-year-old daughter was turning 18. Her first (legal) drink was Pol Roger paired with a 50 gram can of Black Pearl Iranian Sevruga Caviar. Not a bad introduction to adulthood – it was a delightful occasion, the intensity of the Sevruga tamed by the creamy-textured Pol. Needless to say, we scoffed the lot in no time.

Oscietra Caviar + Belvedere Single Estate Rye Smogóry Forest Vodka, Poland, A$100/NZ$90

A more serious caviar moment came 15 years later in St. Petersburg. We’d booked at the Hotel Astoria and pre-planned a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne and a small serve of Oscietra Caviar. The Roederer bottle was almost empty when two shots of vodka arrived ‘with the compliments of the manager’. The nutty flavours of the Oscietra and the earthy richness of the vodka was a dream match.

Salmon Gravlax & Yarra Valley Salmon Roe + 2018 Two Paddocks Pinot Rosé, Central Otago, NZ, A$33/NZ$33

My first introduction to salmon roe was at Giraffe in Potts Point with Darren Taylor behind the stoves. His gravlax is legendary, but the generous dollop of salmon roe lifted the dish to a higher plane. The wine match is lost
in the mists of time but Taylor now caters under the Harvest banner and reprised the dish at a recent Two Paddocks function. The delicious pinot noir-based Rosé was a fabulous match, the wine’s sumptuous red-fruited flavours, savoury profile and crisp acidity swiftly mopping up the potency of the salmon and its roe.

Peter Conistis’ moussaka of eggplant, seared sea Scallops & taramasalata + 2018 Jim Barry Assyrtiko, Clare Valley, A$35

I’ve always been indifferent to taramasalata (made from fish roe), but as part of Peter Conistis’ daring interpretation of moussaka at his 1990s ‘hole-in-the-wall’ Cosmos, it took on a whole new light. I feel sure we drank riesling at Cosmos, for it was well before the New Wines of Greece initiative which brought the saline fresh whites of Santorini to my notice. Assyrtiko is the indigenous variety of the island and it came to Peter Barry’s attention while holidaying there in 2006. The 2018 has distinctive lemon pith flavours and assertive acidity that are made for this recipe.

Coddled eggs topped with Tobiko + 2018 Nautilus Estate Albariño, Marlborough, A$35/NZ$29

Fish roe comes in all shapes and sizes, with its microscopic spheres of flying fish roe known in Japan as tobiko. I tasted plenty of tobiko in Japan – usually as part of sushi or in an omelette with crab meat. I experimented with tobiko and came up with this simple dish. I opened a number of whites and rosés but found the texturally rich yet subtle flavours of albariño worked best. The Kiwis are planting the Galician variety and Clive Jones’ interpretation is right on the mark.

Spaghetti with bottarga + 2017 Graci Etna Bianco DOC, Sicily, Italy, A$50

The final lunch on my 2018 Sicilian trip was in Marzamemi. We ate at the Ristorante Cortile Arabo on outdoor tables with the Ionian Sea lapping beneath the deck. Swordfish was a must but the pasta dish of the day was also a hit. It featured bottarga, the salt cured roe of mullet that’s ubiquitous to the towns of the Mediterranean. Its strong ‘fishy’ flavours worked perfectly with a clean, precise Mount Etna white. For a local hero, try the 2019 Gundog Estate Wild Semillon (A$35).

Back in my day

I subscribe to the school that caviar comes from sturgeon and everything else is fish roe. I also come from a time when caviar was only sourced from the
Caspian Sea and was (relatively) affordable. Oh, for the good old days...