Last week Eriska hosted it's annual Spring Wine Weekend with guest Wine Connoisseur Philippe Larue of L'art du Vin. The event showcased a selection of French wines by 'Second Generation Winemakers' hand-picked by Philippe, who worked closely with Ross in the kitchen to pair the wines with appropriate dishes.
Wine Choice - Why Second Generation Wine?
When asked about his choice of Second Generation Winemakers, Philippe explained to us that it may have been possible to accuse the French winemakers of the 70s and 80s of complacency; their wines were selling well around the world because of their reputation. With the advent of a number of excellent New World wine styles (such as the Cabernet Sauvignons of the Napa Valley in California, or Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand) there was the need to return focus to quality in order to compete internationally!
With this in mind, Philippe selected some wines where there has been a marked improvement or development of style with the introduction of a winemaker from the next generation who understands the pressure of international competition.
Thienot was set up 25 years ago and is run by the youngest MD in Champagne, Stanislas, the son of the original Founder. The company (who also own Canard Duchene) originally sold 70% of their wine in France and exported 30% to the UK, but under Stanislas have added a further 25 countries to their export market. The brand is recieving excellent reviews and are well on the way to competing with the more famous 'Grande Marques'. We used their wonderful Vintage Brut as an aperitif with canapes of our own Smoked Salmon, and Salt Cod with Chicken Skin.
Run by the Pabiot family, son Jerome started with only 3 hectares, which he recieved as a birthday present. His first step was to convert the vineyard to be totally organic and biodynamic, and over the subsequent years has continued to espouse this philosophy to much critical acclaim. We paired his top Cuvee with hand-dived Scallops and Pork Belly so that the fresh acidity could counter the richness of the Pork, and the herbaceous and mineral character pair beautifully with the lightly cooked Scallop.
For the fish course we prepared some fresh Halibut from Mallaig with braised Leeks and a Toast Puree. Philippe had selected a beautiful Puligny Montrachet from Jean Chartron so the hints of bread and brioche from its Oak-Ageing would reinforce the flavour of the Toast Puree, and its lean mineral acidity would keep the palate refreshed without overpowering the fresh fish. Now run by the youngest member of the Chartron Family, the estate is maintaining its reputation as being among the finest producers in the Puligny-Montrachet appellation. In fact it was the Great Grandfather of Jean Chartron who campaigned for the hugely reputable suffix 'Montrachet' to be added to the Village name of Puligny, which had the effect of doubling the sale prices of the wines from the area almost overnight!
The current managing director of Chateau le Grand Verdus, Thomas, took over from his father in 2008 after working as a wine consultant in France and Spain. With a degree in agricultural engineering and experience from apprenticeships in Malborough, New Zealand, he introduced a low yield philosophy focusing on the usage of carefully selected grapes and high quality oak for ageing to produce excellent modern Bordeaux. We paired the rich Grande Reserve Wine with Oven Roasted Beef Sirloin, which had been covered with Kohlrabi Ash before being roasted and carved into steaks. The smoky notes of the Bordeaux beautifully complemented the char on the outside of the meat, while the velvety texture and ripe plum flavours served to enhance the richness of the Onion Gravy and Kohlrabi accompaniments.
With 50% of vineyards in Alsace being owned by Cooperative producers, the wines outside of the top long-established producers can sometimes be a little disappointing. At Domaine Mann however, brothers Maurice and Jacky Barthelmé - sons-in-law to Albert Mann, are gaining quite a reputation. They were awarded winemakers of the year in 2012, and best Pinot Noir in Alsace 2013. We chose to serve their single vineyard Pinot with our cheese course of Isle of Mull cheddar on Sourdough with plum Ketchup. Here the intention was to have the acid profile of the wine counteracting the rich protein of the cheese, while the rich fruit and minimal tannin add another layer of complementary flavour.
The Sweet Wine to end the evening was also from Domaine Mann. We showed the Vendanges Tardives ('late harvest') Pinot Gris along with Slow-Grilled Pear and White Chocolate Curd. The Pinot Gris is a comparatively fresh and light style of sweet wine, and so the flavours are more in the spectrum of ripe pear and citrus purity than the rich and complex honey styles of Sauternes or Tokaji. The Pear dessert was a natural choice to accentuate this character, and the fact that Ross in the kitchen grilled the fruit slowly meant that the natural sugars caramelised and softened the flesh all the way through without introducing any 'burned' flavours.
Food and Wine Considerations
Matching wines to food can seem intimidating for those of little knowledge. When matching wines with food there can be said to be two very broad approaches-
The traditional approach to wine matching is picking wines and food from the same region. Matching food with wine from the same geographical location is a good fundamental rule because often the food and wines have evolved alongside one another and have a natural affinity. Goat's cheese from Chavignol in the Loire Valley with Loire Sauvignon Blancs such as Sancerre or Pouilly Fume is an excellent example of this, or fine Barolo with the truffle and oil-covered pasta of Piedmont in Northern Italy.
An alternative approach to wine matching is to look at the variety of factors that can affect flavour and trying to find qualities in both food and wine that might complement each other. Things to take into particular consideration would be the levels of acidity in the wine, intensity of flavour, fats and proteins and sauces and dressings, flavour profiles etc.
The fundamentals of this approach can be about reinforcing flavours - for example matching 'heavy' food with 'heavy' wines - or contrasting flavours - using acidic wines with cream or butter sauces to 'cut through' the richness and refresh the palate.
It is also definitely worth pointing out that there are no hard-and-fast rules to the practice of combining wine with food, and the whole thing should be a fun experiment. If you enjoy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc alongside your Roast Sunday Dinner then you shouldn't let anyone tell you it's wrong!
Co-written with F&B Manager Glen Montgomery