Food and wine evening at Braidwood’s Spring 1999

In co-operation with Braidwoods Restaurant in Ayrshire, Scotland, I present regular food and wine evenings. I have been a paying customer at Braidwoods almost since the day it opened 5 years ago, and I regard it as arguably the finest restaurant in Scotland: Keith and Nicola Braidwood, the husband and wife team at the helm, are both Masterchefs of Great Britain and Keith is currently “Scottish Chef of the Year”. For our food and wine evenings the Braidwoods devise a 4 course menu, and I choose wines to accompany each course. These are sometimes 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 inevitibly end up as pretty riotous good fun!

I was delighted to meet several Wine Pages visitors face-to-face at this event, including wine lovers from as far afield as Canada and Germany.

Smooth foie gras & chicken liver parfait on toasted sultana bread
Villa Lanata (Italy) Gavi di Gavi Raccolto Tardivo 1997
A very traditional partner to foie gras is a sweet wine, perhaps Sauternes or a late-harvest Alsace Gewürtztraminer. Such wines work so well with foie-gras 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. As I was finishing off the meal in style with a fine Sauternes, I decided to avoid that route, and instead looked for a wine that would have similarly intense concentration of fruit and acidity, yet would be dry on the palate. This Gavi wine from Piedmont in Northwest Italy is a late harvest wine with a very clean and zippy character, yet the super-ripe fruit gives a real complexity and intensity of flavours. On the nose it is floral and elegant, with subtle aromas of mineral salts, citrus fruit, pineapple and tangerine. On the palate it has tangy gooseberry and citrus flavours, but lots of subtle nuances and a long, long, concentrated finish. I thought it went wonderfully with the parfait, the fruit really asserting itself and cutting through the buttery texture of the foie gras, the acidity setting up the palate for the next mouthful.

A ramekin of finnan haddock with parmesan soufflé crust
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” (California) Malvasia Bianca 1997
This dish presented quite a tricky wine matching challenge. The haddock was smoked, the fresh parmesan quite earthy and pungent, and to top all that, a little horseradish was used to spice-up the mixture. This was an absolutely breathtaking dish that brought lots of oohs and aahs from the guests. I would normally have chosen a soft, fruity red to accompany this dish: perhaps a Barbera or Dolcetto, maybe a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. As I was following a white wine theme however, I instead chose a wine that I hoped had the same generous, fruity style yet a little bit of structure and again, concentration of flavours. The Malvasia from Bonny Doon was quite an easy choice. On the nose it is perfumed and vividly aromatic, with aromas of apricot, rose-petals, talcum-powder, musk, honey and peach-skins. The brain has already decided this wine is sweet, so the lush but bone-dry reality comes as quite a shock. It floods the palate with generous, broad flavours of apricot, melon and pear. Quite viscous and alcoholic, acidity keeps the finish very fresh. This was another very successful match with the guests, though a couple of people thought the power of the wine was just too much even for the assertive flavours in the dish.

Baked fillet of Turbot on a lobster bisque sauce
Saintsbury (California) Carneros Chardonnay 1997
Turbot is a meaty-textured and very tasty white fish that I would instantly partner with a Chardonnay on most occasions. Depending on how the fish is cooked and what sauce accompanies it, this might be something dry and steely like a Chablis, or something with more weight and power like an oaked wine from the Côte de Beaune. Given that the sauce for this wine was a wonderful reduction including lobster stock, Pernod and star-anise, I decided on the latter style. The Carneros Chardonnay from Saintsbury has quite pronounced new oak on the nose, suggesting charred toast and coffee beans. There is also good pear and melon fruit which is quite reserved and elegant. On the palate the wine is chewy and quite densely-textured with lots of liquoricy oak flavours and alcohol giving a savoury character, but there is sufficient clean and ripe fruit flavour too. This is not a terribly flamboyant, tropical style, but leans more towards buttery, nutty flavours and pear and apple fruit. Quite long, this low-acid wine is a delicious but quite straight-forward Chardonnay. Again I was happy with the wine and food match as were the guests, though perhaps the oak could have been a touch better integrated as it was the only slightly jarring note.

Millefeuille “Peach Melba” with homemade vanilla ice-cream
Château La Tour Blanche (France) Sauternes Premier Cru 1989
La Tour Blanche is reckoned to be the estate where Sauternes was first developed and it was classified just behind Yquem at the top of the 1855 list, so quite a contrast to the preceeding wine from Saintsbury, who were founded only in 1981! This wine has a crystal-clear and refined nose of honey and fig botrytis, citrus fruit and an almost minty purity. It is obviously a baby, and on the palate reveals its complexity only very slowly. The overall impression is of fine, pure sweetness and honeyed, luscious fruit, but interesting nuances of spices and minerals appear fleetingly. Long, composed and rich, this will develop over 20 years. With the gorgeous dessert: layers of honey-wafers, cream, local raspberries and sweet poached peaches, it made a lovely partnership.