Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Rhubarb … and Cahors?

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I am always fascinated by new partnerships of food and wine. I was intrigued, therefore, to read of the banquet given by the Danish royal family in honour of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and his wife Tatiana who visited Copenhagen on April 27 and 28. According to a report published in the French weekly, ‘Point de Vue’, they tucked into smoked fish and then a nice bit of brisket, along with onions and new season carrots. Lovely! But then came the pud. It was enough to make me jealous: ‘ a succulent rhubarb pastry’.

28 April happens to be my birthday, and I crave rhubarb as the only essential ingredient of a birthday feast. So I was jealous. But they served it with … Cahors. Possibly more than one Cahors. What on earth did they make of it? It seems as unlikely a combination as oyster with Tizer. Though, on second thoughts, that probably isn’t a stark enough analogy. Never mind, the Cahors growers are chuffed. But I think I’ll keep my rhubarb and my Cahors well apart. I love them too much.

Chinese Cuisine and English Wine

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

A second fun evening of matching food and Chinese cuisines at North Shields’s Golden Swallow Restaurant gave everyone there serious food for thought. By and large, aromatic, elegant wines, with good fruit, but fairly low residual sugar have proven exceptionally successful companions for a wide range of Chinese dishes – at least as cooked Golden Swallow style, with not a hint of MSG. There are no gloopy sauces here, sauces which are no friends to good wine, just a lightness of touch and a genuine harmony of flavours and textures.

Villa Maria’s Private Bin Riesling 2009, going for a song at Majestic right now, was terrific, but was matched by Chapel Down’s newly released Bacchus 2009. It’s a delightful wine: fresh, aromatic and crisply fruity, but fully ripe and beautifully clean.  An equally happy discovery was Chapel Down’s English Rose 2008, a pink made from a small dose of Pinot Noir and quite a lot of apparently unpromising material such as Huxelrebe. I bought it from the winery last week. Only a few cases remain, but the 09 will doubtless soon be on stream. On its own it was nice enough, scented, even a little herby and still fresh, but it showed an unexpected depth of fruit when drunk with a range of sometimes quite spicy chicken, prawn and pork dishes.

The other great success of the evening, I think, was the terrific Colomé Amalaya 2008, a Malbec blend from some of Argentina’s highest altitude vineyards.  It not only stood up to a fiery Sichuan beef dish, but seemed to lift and spread the spice from the food around the mouth.

Amongst other wines, we also gave an airing to the Jacob’s Creek Rosé that Simon Tam and his team found such an effective partner for abalone at last year’s Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine Challenge. We couldn’t run to abalone, but it seemed fine with all things prawny.  I’m not sure I’d have given it a trophy, I’d have saved if for either of the two English wines that impressed everyone so much.

A bit of indulgence … reporting on fabulous Veuve Clicquot Champagnes with fine food

Friday, January 1st, 2010

In my article in The Journal today I had no space – or maybe it would have been an indulgence too far – to describe the matching of rare Veuve Cliquot champagnes with food. On 16 November I was privileged to be invited to dinner at The Manoir de Verzy with François Hautekeur, one of the Veuve Cliquot team of winemakers and Edwin Dublin of Berry Brothers, like me a national finalist in the 2009 Champagne Ambassador’s Award.  With a risotto with cèpes and a fillet of line-caught sea-bass, we were treated to Veuve Cliquot’s Vintage Réseve 1982. It was disgorged in 1989, a blend of around fifty base wines, one third Chardonnay to two-thirds Pinot Noir. A deep coppery gold it had an amazingly intense bouquet of brioche and caramelised sugar. Through fine, persistent bubbles the flavour, which was gentle, rich and dry had refreshing hints of pink grapefruit. It was superb with the risotto. The fish, fine in itself, was almost a garnish too far.

And then with pigeon breast seared with honey and served on a bed of sweet roasted winter vegetables and a hint of truffles we enjoyed Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage Rosé 1985, which had been disgorged just three years ago. This extraordinary wine has a low dosage – just 5 grams/litre sugar. The blend from 17 Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages is dominated by Pinot Noir (49% – nevertheless a lower proportion than usual) with Chardonnay (36.5%) and Pinot Meunier (14.5%). Still pink tinged, with copper, it was elegant and very rich with fresh acidity and the delicate flavour of preserved red fruits – remarkable for a rosé of such an age. It was a superb partner for the food. Not only did it stand up to the robust flavours of the dish, but its own flavour was undiminished. After cheese (Mimolette) with Vintage 2002, about which I wrote in my Journal piece, we finished the meal with a pineapple, tonka bean and passion fruit dessert with Veuve Cliquot’s Demi-Sec. This has a dosage of 45 grams/litre sugar. François insisted that it was decanted to lower, he said, the appearance of acidity in the wine. It worked!

The whole dinner was a rare and memorable treat. And if it was rather an indulgence to write about it I apologise, but I also hope that it illustrates again, just what a fabulous food wine champagne can be: far more fun, I think, than just as a drink on its own. Happy New Year!

Matching Wine with Fine Asian Food

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I’ve just penned my Christmas wine recommendations for The Journal. As usual, it was quite fun to do, but frankly, the choice is so huge that I often don’t know quite where to begin – or to end. Not everyone eats turkey for Christmas!

A similar challenge surrounds the pairing of wine with ‘Asian Cuisine’. Which Asian cuisine, I wonder?

This year, for the first time, a panel of Asian judges gathered in Hong Kong to make their own selections as part of the International Wine Challenge and Hong Kong International Wine Fair (European tastes and standards are not the only benchmark for wine quality) and to suggest wines that might best complement a number of Chinese culinary classics.

This intrigued me so much that I spoke to Keith Pun, owner of the excellent Golden Swallow Restaurant in North Shields, with an eye to the possibility to recreating this challenge – at least in part. Keith who is passionate about fine food readily agreed and we’ve come up with a date: Thursday March 18. It should be both fascinating and a lot of fun. If you’d like to be part of it, have a look at the information that’ll soon be posted on the Vine Visit website. If you can’t come; don’t worry, I write it up for The Journal soon after the event