Last night I went back to The Greenhouse for the first time since its revamp, for dinner with its owner Marlon Abela and his head wine buyer Jean-Marc Heurlière.
It’s a measure of just how obessive Abela is about wine that he owns his own wine importing company Marc Fine Wines which not only supplies his own fine dining restaurant (and its 3000 bins) but several others. Clearly he also enjoys nothing better than opening bottles with like-minded oenophiles, so we were treated to a stunning series of older vintages from the Greenhouse cellar.
The restaurant also has an exceptional cheese trolley so inevitably we came to that moment in the meal when we had to decide what to drink with cheese.We had two wines in our glasses, both sublime. A 2003 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses from Domaine Groffier and a 2003 Kistler Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both had proved a perfect match for a dish of ultra-rare Anjou pigeon crusted with gomasio (a Japanese blend of sesame seeds and salt). We couldn’t not finish them, but the cheese, which is matured well beyond the point of normal ripeness under the indulgent eye of the restaurant’s cheese sommelier Christophe Demeyer was going to do them few favours.
In the event it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Of the two wines the Kistler performed slightly better due to the ripeness and intensity of its fruit, surviving a Reblochon-like Abbaye de Tamié and a mature Chaource that both defeated the Les Amoureuses. It also outperformed the burgundy with the two most wine-friendly cheeses a Tomme d’Abondance from Savoie and a fabulously crystalline, crumbly 56 month old Comté.
The Chambolle Musigny fared better with a less mature Abbaye de Citeaux. Both wines stumbled at a pungent Anneau de Vic Bilh (goat) and a Coulommiers fermier and failed absolutely to cope with a herb-crusted Corsican sheeps’ cheese for which we concluded the only appropriate match would be grappa.
Since the cheese was as good as any I’ve eaten this year, I’m reluctant to conclude that the answer to this sort of dilemma would be to mature it for a shorter time (the Abbaye de Citeaux, which Abela correctly suggested would be the least demanding match for fine Pinot Noir was in many ways the least interesting of the cheeses).
The only alternative for a cheese and wine-loving host (or a similarly well-endowed restaurant) would be to limit the range of cheeses you offer to two or three which won’t detract from your wine and/or serve them with some kind of accompaniment such as a fruit paste, jelly or cooked fruits (something Abela, being a purist about cheese, is reluctant to contemplate).
The other stellar matches of the evening or me were the softest, airiest imaginable sweetbread with wild garlic caramel and glazed leek with Chapoutier’s golden, richly oxidised 1995 vintage of Cuvée de l’Orée white Hermitage which picked up perfectly on the caramel notes. And the decadently creamy cauliflower purée, crisp kromeskies and shot of warm, creamy monkfish velouté that accompanied a dish of slow-cooked monkfish brushed with ground nora pepper - sheer heaven with a 1989 Domaine Ramonet Batard-Montrachet. (Incidentally I think the chef, Antonin Bonnet is slightly undercooking his fish at the moment. Both the monkfish and a slow-cooked lobster dish were a little lacking in flavour.)
We finished - as if all this was not enough - with a glass of Rhum Bally 1929. It didn’t really need a counterpart but went beautifully with a chocolate petit four. Needless to say we couldn’t manage dessert . . .