If you want a quintessentially English experience when you come to London you couldn’t do better than Late at the Tate, a dinner that takes place once a month during the Tate Britain’s late night opening. It’s held in the stunning Rex Whistler room whose walls are painted with exotic murals. You can read all about them here.
The menu and pairings are presided over by the Tate’s urbane and civilised head sommelier and wine buyer Hamish Anderson. The Tate has always has been famous for its winelist and on this occasion Anderson has the opportunity to show off his talents at combining them with food.
I finally got to go along last Friday when the restaurant was hosting Mark Hellyer, a Cornishman who makes wine in the Cotes du Bourg in Bordeaux under the Chateau Civrac label. Being an outsider, as he describes himself, he makes wines that he describes as ‘new claret’ but which are in no way over-extracted or unbalanced.
In fact we kicked off with a very attractive Quincy, which I imagine was the Domaine de Chevilly from the current list
The first pairing was a slightly off the wall one of parsnip and truffle honey soup with candied parsnip and the 2009 Chateau de Sours rosé (since Civrac don't make a rosé). I could see where Anderson was coming from on this one, given the sweetness of the parsnip element, but for me it didn’t quite come off. An old white burgundy or vintage champagne would have been ideal though would have no doubt blown the budget for the evening.
Next we had Hellyer’s 2009 Element de Civrac, a vivid and delicious single varietal Merlot which must cause a fair amount of controversy back in the appellation (see here for the notes on the 2007) It was served with some beautifully fresh Cornish hake in red wine with Jerusalem artichokes and black cabbage - an unexpectedly good match and, I thought, the best dish of the meal.
Anderson played safe with the main course: Beef Wellington and salsify pure which was matched with the 2006 and 2007 Civracs and, of course, it worked though it would have been even better if the meat had been served rarer as there’s a fair amount of Malbec in the cuve. I thought the ’07, which contains 35% Malbec, was particularly appealing.
Globetrotting again, Anderson turned to South Africa with the cheese - pairing a mellow Westcombe Cheddar with a 2007 Raats Cabernet Franc from Stellenbosch, a producer I really like but the wine had developed a curious capsicum flavour which I don't recall from last tasting it.
Finally a stunning sweet wine - the 2006 Grandjo Late Harvest semillon from the Real Companhia Velha from the Douro region of Portugal which was served with a slow-roasted quince with vanilla ice cream and orange caramel sauce. Just gorgeous - though, to be ultra-picky, they could have done with peeling the quince.
I wouldn’t say the Rex Whistler (which is apparently closing shortly for renovation) has the best food in London but it’s certainly one of the best places to drink. And one of the most beautiful dining rooms to eat in. And Chateau Civrac, which is also available from these stockists and a number of other top London restaurants is a good wine to try if you’re not convinced by, or have only just started drinking, red Bordeaux.
I attended the dinner as a guest of Chateau Civrac.