Archives for category: Wine with Food

The W1ng group met at the ICC on Thursday 18th April to explore the theme of ‘Dinner Party Wines’. Here are my rather belated notes on the evening and the wines.

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Caves S. João 2016 Reserva Brut. 12.5%. Brigitte Bordeaux £14.45
A really great aperitif wine from Barraida in Portugal. Made using the traditional method, this wine is a blend of Bical, Chardonnay, Maria Gomes and Arinto. Aromas of citrus, pineapple and peach. On the palate, as well as the fruit, it has some lovely biscuit and brioche notes.  A fresh and creamy attack and a beautiful acidity that gives it structure and persistence. On its own, this was the favourite wine of 4 group members on the night. Paired with a smoked salmon canape on Irish soda bread with crème fraiche and chives, it was the favourite pairing of 6 people.
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 17/20

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Lustau NV Manzanilla Papirusa. 15%. Brigitte Bordeaux £20.50
A light and dry Manzanilla which paired very well with gazpacho and anchovy stuffed olives. Almond, apple and a slight salinity. Some tanginess and herbal notes too. The sherry was the favourite wine of two of the group, whilst the gazpacho pairing was favoured by 3 people.
Quality: 15/20                    Value: 15/20

Trimbach 2016 Pinot Blanc. 13%. Brigitte Bordeaux £14.95
A lovely medium bodied wine with citrus, stone fruit and a hint of apple on the palate. Well balanced with good acidity. Paired very well with a cheddar and caramelised onion quiche. The wine had 3 votes for wine of the night; the food and wine got 5 votes for best pairing.
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 17/20

Domaine Du Vissoux, Chermette, 2017 Brouilly. 13.5%. Brigitte Bordeaux £19.50
Pronounced cherry and redcurrant with some herbal notes. Very smooth and well rounded. Paired perfectly with charcuterie. The wine was the most popular of the evening with 11 votes and its pairing with Milano salami, coppa and beef chorizo was the most popular pairing with 8 votes.
Quality: 17/20          Value: 16/20

Chateau La Sabatiere 2015 Monbazillac. 13%. Brigitte Bordeaux £14.50
Rich honey and marmarlade with dried fruit and caramel. Very well balanced: like drinking nectar! A very good, less expensive alternative to Sauternes. Paired with a crème caramel. The wine was popular with 5 votes for favourite of the night; the pairing had no votes.
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 17/20

Barao De Vilar 10 Year Old White Port. 19.5% Brigitte Bordeaux £18.70 for 50cl.
Lively acidity and great freshness with pronounced flavours of nuts, dried fruit, orange peel and caramel. On its own it didn’t get any votes for wine of the night, but its pairing with hard goat’s cheese was favourite with 3 members of the group.
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 16/20

A really interesting evening with some great wines and pairings. Interestingly, only 2 people in the group voted for the same wine as that of their favourite pairing.
See you next time,
Brigitte. x

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We all love a good dinner party: convivial company, several delicious food courses and of course, the wine. But when thinking about what food to serve up and what wine to go with it, are there really rules that must be obeyed? Is it a social faux pas to serve oysters with anything other than blanc de blancs champagne or premier cru Chablis? Must the roast lamb be paired with a good Pauillac or St-Julien? And is serving the stilton with anything other than Vintage Port likely to cause quiet outrage amongst your guests?

Well, not according to Tim Hanni MW, who has recently dismissed the concept of food and wine pairing as ‘bullshit’. Speaking at the International Sauvignon Blanc celebration in Marlborough at the end of January, Hanni said “A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage the way we’re matching wine and categorising it. We need to start a campaign to stop wine and food pairing as we’ve created a lot of bullshit around the idea… We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve Sauvignon Blanc with steak – why not?”

When Hanni’s comments were reported in an article in The Drinks Business, they unsurprisingly provoked many responses and much debate on the subject. Another Master of Wine, David Bird, agreed with Hanni’s comments, stating ‘it’s all about personal taste. I am doing some lectures for a sommeliers’ association and they spend hours on this subject, as if there is only one possible right combination. They were shocked when I told them I drink Sancerre with roast lamb! It’s perfect!’

Some of those responding to Hanni’s comments disagreed, whilst others agreed to a certain extent, but to me, the sensible standpoint seems to be that whilst tastes are, of course, subjective, and there may be some people who like nothing better than to wash down their fish and chips with a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, there do exist some food and wine combinations that are generally found to complement one another well and make the experience of both the food and the wine more enjoyable. There are undoubtedly also combinations that are less successful. Whilst I wouldn’t object at all to quaffing a Sancerre with my roast lamb, I’d personally try to finish my glass (or two) before making a start on my sticky toffee pudding dessert.

So whilst I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules that always need to be adhered to or that there is only one possible perfect wine match for any dish, there is certainly some advice that can be followed to help you find wines and foods that have a good chance of complementing each other on the palates of the majority of your dinner party guests.

As a starting point, the website ‘Wine Folly’ provides these 9 handy tips:

  1. The wine should be more acidic than the food.
  2. The wine should be sweeter than the food.
  3. The wine should have the same flavour intensity as the food.
  4. Red wines pair best with bold flavoured meats (e.g. red meat).
  5. White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
  6. Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
  7. It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
  8. More often than not, White, Sparkling and Rosé wines create contrasting pairings.
  9. More often than not, Red wines will create congruent pairings.

There’s clearly a lot to think about in terms of trying to create successful pairings but I do agree with Tim Hanni that we shouldn’t be too prescriptive or get too bogged down in searching for the perfect match. A lot of fun can be had in creating interesting food and wine combinations which hopefully enhance the experience of consuming both, but one person’s ‘match made in heaven’ isn’t necessarily another’s.

Puligny-Montrachet and Beef and Tomato Pot Noodle, anyone?

See you tomorrow,

Brigitte. x

The next Wine Dinner (the fourth – or was it fifth?) of our indulgent week in France took place in Bourgueil. One of a series of 12 through the summer in Bourgueil where a Wine Maker and a Chef collaborate to offer a 4 course meal at one of 5 participating hostelries.

On Tuesday 3rd July this took place at the Hôtel l’Ecu de France with wine presented by François Duvernay of Domaine de la Lande. This property is in the North of the Bourgueil commune, less than 2 km North of the town centre. The winery is based on the Coteaux, the ridge running east-west right along the top of the appellation, with a more tuffeau  in the soil and a South facing aspect. The Domaine is Biologique (organic) certified by Ecocert and Argriculture Biologique. All their Bourgueil are 100% Cabernet Franc, hand-harvested and sorted.

We started by sampling their Bourgueil Rosé on the terrace with a variety of meat and vegetable amuses bouches. The wine is made from young (<20yo) vines grown on clay-limestone soil. It showed pretty red fruit with a slight herb hint, very refreshing on a very hot early evening.

We then sat at the table for the starter: Profiteroles with mushroom and escargot with tiny red peppers in a Burgundy sauce. With this we had the Domaine’s Bourgueil “Les Pins” 2015, made from 35 to 45 years old vines grown on a clay-chalk  soil.

This had a very typical Cabernet Franc nose. The palate had red fruit but mostly notable for its herby and lively, grippy shape, with a hint of the mineral I think of showing limestone in Cabernet Franc. This went well with the substance of the dish but the baby peppers had such sharpness and the reduced Burgundy sauce such pronounced richness that almost any wine would have difficulty with the range. IMO this wine did better with the sharpness – less well with the richness!


We moved on to the main dish – a stuffed chicken dish with great, very slightly gamey, depth of flavour. With this we received Bourgueil “Prestige” 2014, made from 60 to 85 years old grown on clay-limestone soil. This fermented in wooden vats and raised in foudre.

This was a great match, the wine had darker deeper, but still a very Cabernet Franc, nose – tending to more earthiness. The palate was rounder with more plum notes and a more tannic package, spice elements near the bigger finish help with the food.


The next course was a cheese course including a creamy goat cheese. With this we were served Bourgueil “Prestige” 1989! This was staggeringly good, the nose showed mushrooms and sous-bois, compost and earthy notes with some fruit and Cabernet underneath, with a perfume developing later. The palate was balanced between depth and lightness showing, amazingly, a fresh red fruit blooming at the finish. A great wine.

We concluded with a raspberry based dessert, rather a challenge for Bourgueil. We were served Bourgueil “Les Graviers” 2017, made from 35 to 50 years old vines from gravel-on-clay soil.

This is quite an interesting wine showing red fruit and herbs then a round palate with soft tannins, obviously young but with real raspberry fruit  – but, of course nothing sweet.


The matching was interesting and mainly successful,  I’d score the matching, by course including the amuses bouches:  17/20 ; 15/20 ; 17/20 ; 19/20 ; 12/20…  but overall a lovely evening with good wines and food… and Happy Birthday Kim!

Regular readers will have picked up that I rather enjoy Indian food, in fact the lack of such cuisine is one of the things on my (rather short) list of what I miss (other than people!) when in France. So I’m naturally interested in how to find wines that go with Spicy food.

Finding wines to go with spicy food.

There is a temptation, when eating spicy – especially Indian – food to be drawn to cool, neutral whites. The idea – I suppose – is to contrast cool with hot to wash the food down. That’s OK, but as a wine lover I want to taste the wine in harness with the food, and – for me – I would as soon drink water as a “neutral” wine.

As with all wine-matching there are a couple of general elements: contrast and complementation – either have the wine frame the food (eg: tannins with a roast meat…) or add another component to the dish (eg: another sweet flavour with dessert), although ideally one can do both. The key issue is that the depth of flavour of the wine should be at-the-same-level as the food.

This is tricky with Indian cuisine – the flavours are both intense and complex, and the heat side of the flavour palate clashes badly with some wine flavours.

The aim of matching depth of flavour leads to thinking of bigger flavoured wines – often red – to hold their own when matched with big flavoured, hot curries. However tannin or spicy elements in red wine usually clash with, rather than complement or contrast, the spice in the food. This leads one to more fruit driven, low tannin, red wines… and another set of problems…

My experience in all this has been sharpened over the last few years by assisting my friend, Amita Sawhney – the proprietor of MemSaab, my favourite Indian Restaurant – compile their wine list.

A new angle on Food/Wine Matching.
Corkmaster and Amita at MemSaab on New Year’s Eve.

We worked on the list originally in 2013 and to renew it in 2017. During this process I have personally tasted well over 200 wines in conjunction with MemSaab food, so it seems timely to discuss my thoughts on the process, and the new wines on the MemSaab list.

General Principles

Not all Indian food is curry (meaning dishes in a strong-flavoured sauce), of course – and MemSaab is far (very far indeed) from a standard curry-house. This Restaurant shows food which builds on the flavour traditions of Indian Cuisine towards a modern fine-dining ethos. In this context a wine list is a crucial factor. So it’s important to design the list around the food, and we have worked hard to choose the wines with the food in mind… (or indeed in mouth!)

There are some elements that help a wine match Indian Cuisine, ideally responding to a key feature of the dish. These are:

  • Crispness (meaning clean and long, but not very steely, acidity)
  • Aromatics (to compliment the food)
  • Creaminess (to counter-point sauce texture)
  • Sweetness (to offset salt, sourness, heat in the food)
  • Fruit (to balance the strength of flavour in the dish)

          +   Absence of strong tannin or spice

If a wine shows the last of these points together with, at least, a couple of the others – it stands a good chance.

My own favourites – applying these principles – are off-dry “old-fashioned” Riesling; not-fully-dry Gewürztraminer and other Alsace wines; similarly aromatic whites with some sweetness; Champagne; better quality Rosés; light fruity reds whose grip is from acidity rather than tannins; big New World “fruit-bombs” (of the sort I would never drink otherwise) with some fresh acidity to go with the out-and-out strongly-sauced curry!

However because of the challenge of the food – sometimes it is not enough to specify types of wine – one has to find specific products that fit the bill.

An example is Syrah. One might think that a spicy, big fruited Syrah/Shiraz would be just the thing for a hot lamb curry, but so many have a salty twist to the tannins that completely clash with chilli flavours…. So it is a matter of finding an individual version that shows the flavours without that element… This is what we have done with many of the wines, especially the reds, listed at MemSaab. Sometimes too, we think we have found the answer only for the supplier to de-list it after a year or so…

Of course the evolution of the wine list has to take into account many factors other than simple wine pleasure. There is the existing list to start from, as well as: customer favourites; saleability; reliability of supply; price…

So after some considerable time trying wines the new list is up and running. You can see it here…  New Wine List

Highlights.

I want to highlight some new additions that I think work really well.

The new Sauvignon Blanc (Founders Block) has enough crispness to frame the food and enough depth of fruit to complement it without tipping – as many SB do – out of balance to one side or the other.

The newly listed Grillo is a surprise. It has some floral aromatics, a level of fruit and freshness to go with the cuisine, a slight hint of sweetness and ginger that matches but doesn’t clash with the food.

Torrontés is a grape we have considered for a while and this example is very good. It offers aromatics, tropical fruit and a zingy acidity – a package that works with the food in the same way as Gewürztraminer – but with a lighter, fresher approach!

The big red find is the Nero d’Avola. This is supple and succulent with sweet fruit and a crisp cranberry lift that ticks all the boxes… I tried this with both Chicken Tikka and Lamb Saag – perfect.

Of course there are many other brilliant matching wines that continue from the previous list: the Pinot Gris (and a new White Rioja which does a similar job with different flavours); the Shiraz/Viognier; the Sparklers, Sweet Wines and Sherry; the Riojas and Pinot Noirs; and – IMO – the outstanding Provence Rosé…

I could go on – why not go and try for yourself?

 

À Bientôt

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Kim hosted the Festive end-of-year Sock Club gathering on Friday 29th December. A very lively and enjoyable evening marked by some rather nice wines…

Here are my (decreasingly coherent??) notes:


ROYAL CARLTON BRUT RIOJA CAVA      Welcome Wine
This has a toasty nose with rather nuts & seeds, slightly oily, notes. Palate is citric, with a frothy mousse and a grapefruit tinged finish. It comes from Haro in Rioja rather than the usual Catalonia, and features Viura and Malvesia grapes…

CHABLIS GRAND CRU LES PREUSES 2011 (La Chablisienne)     Laurie   
First nose is caramel with a slight coconut oil tinge and then mounting citrus takes over. The palate shows similar elements – butter caramel shot through with a warm citric acidity. Long and quite rich but with mounting mineral texture shaping the finish. A wine with many of the elements of very good GC Chablis not quite integrated – maybe another 3 years?

JASNIERES “ST JACQUES VIELLE VIGNES” 2011 (Gigou)          Anna
A surprising smoke, cinder tinged nose, then some creaminess and only later some honey and apple. The palate is cleaner with apple and honeyed fruit again and a warm but rather sharp acidity, a combination that is typical of this appellation. A food wine of great attraction…

MERSAULT “L’ORMEAU” 2011 (Coche-Bizouard)           John
Vanilla, caramel and a nutty line, with citrus wafting through the nose- complex and lovely! The palate shows a full bodied Burgundy but with a surprisingly steely citric line – long and warming. A well-structured Mersault that has great complexity and supporting acidity. Seemingly nearer peak than the Chablis!

ALBORIÑO RESERVE 2016 (Garzon – Uruguay)            Sue T
The nose shows immediate greengage fruit, and a strong lemon note. Sharp acidity with plump fruit and a slightly oily texture lifted by citrus acidity.

ALTO-ADIGE GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2016            Rachel
Nose of grapes, roses and tropical fruit. Palate has a ginger spice note, and a warm hint of bitterness to lift the slightly oily texture. A text-book Gewürz!

NETTIE VIOGNIER (McManis – Central Valley, California) 2016            Yvonne 
Pungent nose, with peach hints and some vegetal hints. The palate follows the nose, with a warm but long acid line that lift the slightly rich peachy fruit. A typically Californian take on this grape, which, IMO, needs a spiced dish to set it off….


ULTIMA EDIZIONE NV QUATTRO UVE (Farnese) 2009     Mike
A prune nose, with spicy wood notes. The palate has light tannins and sweet black fruit and a liquorice twist. The Quattro Uve in question are Montepulciano, Primitivo, Sangeoves & Negromaro. Made in Abruzzo but with some Puglian grapes. Succulent!

PINARD “CLASSIQUE” – IGP Comté-Tolosan 2014                 Ann
A black fruit nose, converging onto blackberry. The palate has sweet black fruit too, focusing more at the finish. This is a near-Gaillac – made from Duras, Braucol (Fer Servadou), Syrah & Merlot.

CHATEAU GRAND TAYAC (Margaux) 2005            Paul   
Clear old-claret nose (perfume, forest-floor…) with a slight cardamom hint. Palate has a tannic backbone with a sweet fruit and an evolved complexity of non-fruit flavours. This isn’t a monster but balanced and showing some elegance…

RIOJA GRAN RESERVA 2009 (Marqués de Cáceres)          Rob
Oaky nose, with red fruit and a hint of spice. Palate has some spice too but soft red fruit and a woody hint. This is warm, voluptuous and long with the structural elements slightly peripheral… maybe 3 years more would improve this impressive wine?

ORAMA CABERNET/MERLOT (Dionysos – Peloponnese) 2013     Sue Mc
Damson fruit, a soda-ish tone, bay leaf notes and a higher-perfumed zephyr. Palate is sweet black fruit, but a herby line emerges and a sharp finish.

JILABA TRASOTOÑO BIANCO VENDIMIA TARDÍA 2015 (Cosado Araba, Rioja)     Kim
This 100% late harvest Viura, from very (very) old vines, shows quince and a spicy note. The palate has supple soft fruit acidity but with a lingering sweetness entwining it, rather than being at the fore. Lovely long flavours which cope well with mince pies….  I wonder what this wine would be in 10 years?

Thanks to everyone for such a convivial evening, and to Kim for her hospitality and food… I think I enjoyed this Sock gathering rather too much. But the run of 2011 whites at the start was a lovely set of wines to delight the most exacting oenophile!   Happy New Year!

 

As this is the end of the Festive season, I thought I’d just give you a glimpse of the vinous components of Xmas Chez Corkmaster:

“Bookend” halves – Wine Society, £11 ish
Full bottles, all from grower – from left: £9; £11; £15; £13; £19; £15; £15.

This wines all did their job really well with the food. The halves (Hugel Riesling and Pieropan Soave) to wash down light lunches. The Morgan and Gewürztraminer served with Turkey (curried for the latter). The La Fagotière Châteauneuf Blanc (2012) was gratifyingly, and surprisingly, balanced and great with Paté and the Givry 2009 (Ragot) just perfection. The La Fagotière Châteauneuf Rouge (2010) was wonderful with a cider glazed ham, but tasted alone seemed a little young, maybe 2 or 3 years. The same could be said of the St. Emilion GC 2010, Château Cardinal Villemaurine, but it was perfect with roast goose served with a gooseberry stuffing and sprouts flash fried with lardons and chestnuts.  I know some readers may have these wines so I thought I would share….

Coming soon, a post on matching wines and Indian cuisine…

À Bientôt

Last Friday (10th February) I once again ventured to my favourite Indian Restaurant, MemSaab to sample their Seasonal Tasting Menu. This time completing the set with Winter. As before the format is 5 courses with matched wines, and I declare an interest as I has some say in the matching wines. Here are my impressions, with some general thoughts.

Amuse Bouche: Chatpat Artichoke
Jerusalem Artichoke Chat, sweet Yogurt, Tamarind chutney
Altonzano Verdejo-Sauvignon Blanc, Gonzalez Byass, Spain (12.5%)
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This wine is 70% Verdejo, and that adds richness, salinity and a hint of florality to warm Sauvignon Blanc acidity. So a slower-burning, subtler entry to the food, and then when the food arrives it shows the wine to its best advantage. There is a counterpoint with the earthiness of the Jerusalem Artichoke, allowing the gentle heat of the spice to glow – and it copes with the sharpness of the Tamarind. A good combination that actually elevates my view of the wine – and gives me an idea to revisit Rueda – where a similar blend is common…

Starter: Anari Pheasant
Charcoal flavour Pheasant breast, sun dried Pomegranate powder, Chestnuts puree & Pickle cap mushroom
Terra Andina Reserva Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile (13.7%)
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The wine is a slightly herby, quite light, red fruit pinot. The dish is beautifully balanced with the sweet meat and chestnut see-sawing wonderfully with the pickle. The wine match with the pheasant is very good, and also echoes the interplay of flavours. My favourite dish of the night – although the tomato broth, nice enough in itself, seems an unnecessary distraction…

Fish Course: Kale Wali Machli
Crispy Kale leaf wrap Hake, Kale puree, Aubergine Bharta and tangy Peanut
Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, USA, 14.5%
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As usual, an impeccably cooked piece of fish, presenting with a supporting role of accompaniments. Fish dishes at MemSaab usually seem to have this shape: highlighting the fish itself, and a very good thing in my view. The wine is now familiar to us: a little clumsy and oaky on its own – it seems to grow with the food… its acidity and minerality and a classy creaminess emerging…

<At this stage I was so involved in the pleasure of the evening I forgot to  take any more photographs.>

 

Main Course: Oxtail Nihari
Very slow braised Oxtail, Keralan spice and Curry Leaf – Mustard Yogurt
Salice Salentino 35 Parellelo, Puglia, Italy (13%)
This is a very big, warm dish, wintery fare indeed – a variation on something very British. Very deep flavoured broth with Indian spices and a heavy beefy meat served on the bone (which put off my slightly squeamish companion). The weight of all this is quite hard to match, and the Salice does pretty well: earthy dried fruit and tannic hints keeping up well. I wonder, though, if this dish, impressive in itself, is too big to conclude such an involved meal. Maybe it could set the scene of a winter menu as an initial soup – with a sherry!

Dessert: Apple Kheer
Apple Rice pudding, caramelised Apple, Almond flakes and Fennel cress
Kia-Ora Late Harvest, Kanu, Western Cape, South Africa (11.5%)
A beautifully cooling and comfortable coda to the meal where the lovely wine acts as another element rather than an accompaniment. The whole thing left me purring…

A whole year in seasonal menus.

We have now had four of these menus and maybe it’s time to draw some general conclusions about the wine, the food, the concept itself and other issues. Here are my 6 things to note (in no particular order)

1 The  quality of the food is very high, and in some cases better than the quality of the wine. I think usually the wines were well-matched with the dishes (I would say that though, wouldn’t I), and those with a little sweetness did very well.  However, at least once in each meal I had the feeling: “this is the right sort of wine, but a better (and more expensive) example would shine with this food, echoing its depth and complexity!”

2 The fish dishes, as a whole, stood out for me. I think (as I hint above) this is because of perfect cooking and letting the star of the show shine. This makes wine matching easier too – of course – and the Canoe Ridge, Chablis or Provence Rosé have all done their job…

3 With a 5 course meal there is an added element – over and above each dish is the progression or arc from one to the next giving the whole meal an overall trajectory. From this point of view I enjoyed each menu very much, but I thought the summer menu was wonderfully orchestrated – taking the whole experience a notch even higher… Mmmmmmmm

4 Matching Indian Cuisine is a challenge, and the wines with forward fruit, freshness, aromatics and some depth (richness, sweetness, warm acidity…) work the best. Too much structure, tannin or – paradoxically – spice can cause a clash…

5 Wines:  As well as several dishes deserving better wines it seems that there is some limitation as to wines available to match the dishes well. There has been some repetition: the Andina Pinot, the Canoe Ridge Chardonnay; the Kanu sweet wine…. So the portfolio could do with other alternatives here: a lightish red, of Pinot weight, but with different flavours; a clean Pinot Gris or a slightly off-dry Riesling; a fresh Riesling sweet wine….

6 A minor cavil: once or twice dishes are offered with an extra (usually liquid) flavour – the sauce with the starter on this menu is an example. This sometimes alters the balance between the food and the wine and – from my point of view as a wine enthusiast – can seem superfluous and over-complicating.

A wonderful year of tasting menus then, and for me a great success – affording some wonderful matching experiences. This includes at least one surprising success: the quail tikka with a Muscato as the Summer menu starter…

I hope these menus (or a series of something similar) continue because they afford an opportunity to eat a wonderfully presented set of varied and complex dishes which would be impossible to match with a single wine.

Thanks so much to Amita and her staff for 4 wonderful evenings, and I drink to, and hope for, many more!

Until soon…

After sampling their Spring and Summer Seasonal tasting menus at Mem Saab, my favourite Indian Restaurant, I and a companion sought to repeat the pleasure with the Autumn Seasonal Menu. As before the format is 5 courses with matched wines, and I declare an interest as I has some say in the matching wines.

menu
Here are my thoughts:

The Amuse Bouche is Tomato Chai paired with Tio Pepe Fino Sherry.
The Chai is a mustard seed and curry leaf infused tomato tea served with onion pakora. The tea is delightfully savoury – piquant rather than hot – and the pakora gives a subtle hint of the spices to come, balancing the liquid with a dryish heat and a hint of sweetness. It really did Amuse my Bouche. However it is mainly a savoury liquid and notoriously hard to match. The sherry doesn’t so much match as carry on the idea of a liquid titillation of the palate… Another mouth watering gateway to the pleasures to come…

The Starter is Sarso Wali Khargosh paired with Villa Maria Gewurtztraminer
starter
This is Robata grilled mustard flavoured Rabbit tikka paired with a fennel salad with accents of prune and seasonal berry compote and apple chutney. The rabbit is fabulous: tender, slightly sweet with a salty spice making a brilliant triangle with the the cool and aromatic fennel (inspired!) and the two sweet accents each with slightly divergent balancing sharp notes. The wine makes this triangle into a square of flavours offsetting each, the rabbit brilliantly – the sweetness dashingly and the fennel adequately. The wine is rich and has a couple of notches of residual sweetness to help balance the salt and sweet flavours. Gewurztraminer is a great match (if I say so myself) but – as so often – I feel the food would merit an example a notch or two up. A Grand Cru Alsace example, for instance!

The Fish Course is Tawe Ki Machchi served with Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay
Pan fried Atlantic halibut served with saffron and cumin, kadhai mushrooms. Fabulous dish, fabulously cooked and presented – so taken was I that I neglected to take a photograph. The delicacy and purity of flavour of the fish, somehow dry and rich together with a slight sweetness, is counterbalanced by the warmth and earthy flavours in the mushrooms. Now this wine is a Columbia River Chardonnay from Washington State USA aged in 38% New Oak with full malolactic fermentation, and although “fresh and elegant” by US standards it seems quite big, creamy and oaky and slightly sweet to me. Not the sort of Chardonnay I would usually chose to be fair, but with this dish – a harmony that amplifies the whole dish. Wonderful!

The Main Course is Chettinard Batakh with the Chilean Pinot Noir Terra Andina
main
This is pan-roasted mallard duck breast, with a crispy duck and cabbage foogat and chettinard sauce. This succulent duck breast and Pinot is lovely,  an expressive combination with the sweetness of the meat counterpointing against the fruit and acidity in the wine. The wine holds up with the foogat too, although the complexity in the food (again) merits more complexity in the wine. The dish  has some accents (anise leaves, spicy peel) that the wine can’t really cope with – and for me anyway are unnecessary for the dish. Pinot Noir is right, with the right fruit and structure, but again a better example would sing even more…

For Dessert: Pear Imarti with Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest
dessert
Honey caramelized, cinnamon & star anise flavoured pears, with Ice Cream and the Indian Sweet, Imarti. The wine has sweetness and honey notes but a hint of apple acidity  and earthy hints (from Chenin) that acts as another element in the dish. A lovely finish…

All very good indeed. The wine match triumph is undoubtedly the fish with the US Chardonnay. As usual I feel a couple of instances (the Gewurz and the Pinot) when the wine is undoubtedly pleasurable and of the right type but could be of more complexity and depth to do full justice to the impeccable food. The old adage of spending the same on the wine as the food might well apply here. Nevertheless a rare treat…. This menu runs to the end of November, I can’t wait for the Winter one…

Until soon…

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