This was the first of my regular food and wine evenings with Braidwoods Restaurant in Ayrshire, Scotland, since they were awarded a Michelin star in January 2000. I regard Braidwoods as one of the finest restaurants in Britain, so these evenings are very special occasions. The Braidwoods devise a 4 course menu, and I choose wines to accompany each course. Sometimes these are “classic” matches, sometimes quite experimental, but always designed to be interesting and to offer a hopefully exciting match. The food and wine evenings are always sell-out events, attracting a wide mix of people who share our passion for fine food and wine without snobbery – the evenings are educational with plenty of lively debate, but are informal and inevitably good fun. Before each course I lead a brief tutored tasting of the wine to be drunk before we settle back to enjoy the wine with the food. I source many of the wines from brokers and they are difficult to find in the open market.
Michel Arnould Rosé Champagne Grand Cru with canapés
This is an excellent “grower’s Champagne” from Grand Cru vineyards. It contains 15% red wine from Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims, giving it an intensely fruity, robust character without being at all coarse. The colour is a delightful salmon pink, and there are aromas of raspberry and some earthy strawberry fruit. Bubbles are fine and quite persistent, and in the mouth the mousse is quite dense. The palate has no harsh edges and offers plenty of zippy red fruit flavours as well as a nice biscuity dryness. Very nice rosé.
Layered Terrine of Foie-Gras and Duck Confit
Hugel (Alsace) Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive 1989
Late harvest wines are traditional partners to foie gras. Such wines work well partly because their lusciousness enhances the richness of the dish, but also because they have an intensity of fruit and sufficient acidity to cleanse the palate and cut through the richness. This dish was also layered with a much more dense, meaty confit of duck that was delicately spiced, so I chose a Gewürztraminer, a grape variety which itself has a certain spiciness. 1989 was a great vintage for Alsace late harvest wines, and Hugel is one of the masters of the style. The colour is pale gold. the nose is immediately luscious and sweetly exotic with a bouquet of ripe mango and orange, with hints of marzipan and lime. On the palate it is big and packed with flavour. Quite rounded with a weighty texture, it is also perfectly balanced with grapefruit acidity sharpening the picture and keeping it fresh and clean. This really was superb with the dish, working both to complement and cleanse the palate.
Fine Filo Tart of Courgette, Goat’s Cheese, Plum Tomato, Basil and Pine Nuts
Charles Joguet (Loire) Chinon Jeunes Vignes 1996
This was a wonderful dish: little discs of filo layered with tomato and pesto and baked, then topped with goat’s cheese and baked again. My choice of a red wine was a little controversial on the night, but this was one where I came out the winner with unanimous approval for the food/wine match (unanimity is not always the case!). The wine has a rich ruby colour. The nose is perfumed with fragrant raspberry and earthy notes, as well as leafy mint and blackcurrant. On the palate it is quite tannic, and the highish acidity is very freshening. There is no shortage of sweet, ripe fruit however, and there is moderate length. The wine on its own split the customers, but with the dish it worked really well: the bright, keen-edged quality of the fruit and acidity coped well with the pungent, creamy goat’s cheese, yet it had sufficient depth and robustness to stand up to the flavours of the pesto and tomato. A lovely combination.
Fillet of Aberdeen Angus with a Tarragon and Arran Mustard Sauce
Howell Mountain (California, Napa) Zinfandel 1996
Braidwood’s Aberdeen Angus is a beef-lovers dream: one of the handful of top steaks I’ve eaten anywhere, cut and hung to their exact specification and cooked to perfection. The sauce was based on a rich Madeira and wild mushroom reduction, the mustard and herb adding aromatics and a little kick. I selected this massive Zinfandel (at 15.5% alcohol) as the dish cried out for a powerful wine, yet also a fruit-driven style to complement the sweeter nuances of the sauce. The Howell Mountain zin is made from ancient vines (from two vineyards, one 30 and the other 100 years old). It is made in a very Burgundian style, with cold-soaking of the grapes, only natural yeasts and no fining or filtration. The wine has a vivid, deep colour and the aroma wafts from the glass of mulberry, blackcurrant and red cherry along with leather, spice and vanilla. On the palate it is a truly chewy wine: thick in texture and with heaps of fruit, a firm tannic structure, sweetness of alcohol intermingled with sweet and sour fruit and a long, spicy finish. It was a sumptuous experience with the beef, though one diner (a confessed traditionalist) said he would have much prefered a claret.
Chilled Apple Crumble on an Iced Vanilla Custard Parfait with Vanilla and Caramel Sauces
Château de Genaiserie (Loire) Coteaux du Layon Chaume SdGN “Les Tetuères” 1996
I”ve been keeping this wine in mind since tasting and raving about it on these pages last year. Like Chinon, Coteaux du Layon is another of those areas in the middle Loire that is not paid the attention it perhaps deserves by many wine drinkers. These sweet Chenin Blanc-based wines are amongst my favourite dessert wines. This example is “SdGN” (Sélection des Grains Nobles) which means it is made only using botrytis-affected berries so that it is super-sweet and concentrated, coming as it does from an outstanding Loire vintage, and from one of the best vineyard sites, Chaume. I hoped it would be a perfect counterfoil for this wonderful dessert: a sweet yet slightly tart apple crumble on top of a sweet, creamy, vanilla-rich bombe. The wine has a glowing gold colour and just an amazingly intense nose of honey, with cool lemon and apple fruit fruit beneath, then a layer of fig, marmalade and quince. On the palate great concentration and weight with honey and barley-sugar over plenty of ripe botrytis fruit and finely-honed balancing acidity. It has length and real presence. Another successful food match too, after a little worry that the wine would out-gun the dessert, but the two were well matched.