In co-operation with Braidwoods Restaurant in Ayrshire, Scotland, I present regular food and wine evenings. Braidwoods is arguably the finest restaurant in Scotland and one of Britain’s best: Chef Keith Braidwood is currently “Scottish Chef of the Year” and the restaurant is the AA’s “Best Restaurant in Scotland”. For this special millennium dinner the Braidwoods devised a luxurious menu and I chose a magnificent selection of wines to accompany each course.
The wines for the evening were chosen either as “classic” matches, or as something a little more experimental, but always designed to be interesting and hopefully exciting. Part of the fun of the evening is the debate over the merits of the wine and food match. These evenings are always sell-out events, attracting a wide mix of people who share our passion for fine food and wine without snobbery. Before each course I lead a brief tutored tasting of the wine then we settle down to enjoy it with the food.
Michel Arnould (France) Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Noirs
Traditionally Champagne has been a region of those who grew vines and those who made wine: the Champagne houses did not grow grapes; the farmers did not make Champagne. In the last decade however there has been a movement towards estate-bottled Champagnes (commonly refered to as “grower’s” Champagnes) made by farmers who have decided to bottle their own wines. Many of these are excellent and good value. This one comes exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards and is 100% Pinot Noir. The colour is a medium-gold, and the wine has a steady stream of fine bubbles. On the nose it is deeply fruity with scents of apple and citrus, along with a little toasty character. Round and rich on the palate, there are darkly-hued flavours and a mouth-filling texture. A nicely balanced and food-friendly wine with good acidity and plenty of fruit.
Thyme Infused Chicken Consommé with Quail Breast & Poached Quail Egg
Domaine E. Defaix (Burgundy) Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 1990
Defaix adopts an unusual technique of lees-contact and regular bâtonnage (stirring) with his Chablis as it matures over 18 months. The resulting wine has a powerful, rich, leesy nose with complex herbal and mineral scents as well as citrus fruit. On the palate it is lovely wine, with an unusual combination of crisp fruit and a streak of firm acidity, yet a richness and earthy, savoury breadth. There is nice complexity, with more non-fruit nuances of spices and herbs leading into a long, focused and pure finish. This wine proved a truly excellent match for the chicken consommé and quail, somehow the delicate earthiness of flavours in each working in harmony.
Lobster, New Potato, Herb & Olive Salad with Truffle Oil
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace) Tokay-Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 1992
This was undoubtedly the wine of the evening. It was a knockout with all of the guests, both in its own right and accompanying the food. The colour is a fairly deep gold. The bouquet leaps from the glass with fabulously rich and luscious notes of honey, peach, almonds and grapefruit. There’s a butterscotch-like luxuriousness, but also little peaks of spice and exotic, flowery notes. On the palate it delivers in spades, with a full, round, almost oily weight of fruit and the complex and hedonistic depth swamping the senses. There is a definite hint of late-harvest sweetness, and also a little liquorice edge, but the wine retains great purity and delineation thanks to a mineral firmness and fine citrus acidity leading to a very long, dry and lingering finish. I had chosen this super-rich and just off-dry example as the salad had quite powerful flavours like olive and truffle oil as well as lobster. The match was sensational, the wine not overpowering the dish but components of it working beautifully with the sweet flesh of the lobster and more pungent flavours in the salad.
Roast Squab Pigeon on a Compote of Red Cabbage with a Madeira & Morel Essence
Château Talbot (Bordeaux, St-Julien) 1983
A safer bet this time with a classic wine to accompany the pigeon – and toast the forthcoming millennium. This is certainly as good as just about any of the 1983 clarets I’ve tasted – and that’s pretty good. It has a dark, still quite youthful ruby colour and an immediately appealing nose with plenty of rich blackcurrant fruit, but also a distinct animal note of beef and game as well as some old, sweet oak. On the palate this is a lovely wine with a terrific balance of cassis fruit, fine, silky tannins and moderate acidity. It his a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel and a delicious mature savouriness. It drank beautifully with the pigeons. These birds were flown in for the dinner from Bresse in France. Their subtle gamy flavour and the rich, slightly sweet sauce liberally scattered with whole morels was just perfect with the wine.
Two Scottish Cheeses in Prime Condition
A local Cheddar and a Dunsyre Blue, and some more of the Talbot…….
Sultana Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding with Homemade Vanilla Ice-cream
Willi Opitz (Austria) Pinot Gris Beerenauslese 1995
For me this was the only minor disappointment of the evening. This wine was a late substitute after a merchant let me down on a fabulous Quarts de Chaume from the Loire which I had ordered. Opitz is regarded as one of the World’s great dessert wine makers, but although delicious, this wasn’t the most convincing of his wines. The colour is a medium-deep, burnished gold. The nose has a beguiling bouquet of honey, marmalade orange, apricot and cloves. On the palate it is quite full, dense and luscious with more sweet, honeyed tangerine and orange fruit. The finish shows good length and purity of fruit, but there’s a streak of slightly bitter, pithy acidity that dominates. Though acidity is essential in a good dessert wine – and it was specifically what I wanted for this course – I found a little hollowness on the mid-palate of this example, with good up-front fruit and a definite finish, but a little disjointed in-between. Having said that, with the light but creamy richness of this wonderful pudding the wine worked well: concentrated enough not to be overpowered and with ample palate-cleansing acidity.