Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I’m an enthusiast about natural wine so I was particularly interested to go to a couple of natural wine dinners this last week at Artisan and Vine and Angela Hartnett’s Murano
Both bore out a feeling I’ve had for a while that natural wines need a different approach to conventional wine dinners - simpler, less fussed about food but also a less hidebound attitude to winematching.
We certainly got it at last night’s dinner at Murano with Corsican producer Domaine Comte Abbatucci. It only included one red, a magnum of Ministre Imperial vin de table 2007, a blend of Morescola, Morescono, Aleatico, Carcajolo Nero, Montanaccia, Sciacarello and Nielluccio (the Corsicans, like the Italians seem to go in for obscure grape varieties). A typically warm Southern Italian red, it was paired relatively conventionally with rack of lamb but the top notes - confit lemon, roasted artichokes and black olive powder - brought out a whole raft of complex flavours in the wine.
Then instead of going on to another red with the cheese they reverted to a jeroboam of 2007 white ‘Diplomate d’Empire’ (a blend of Bianco Gentile, Brustiano, Genovese, Rossola Bianca and Vermentino’ ) which matched the carefully chosen cheeses - Etivas, Chevrotine, Fleur de Maquis and Persillais du Marais - perfectly.
They also had the courage to serve a dry ros, the 2009 Cuvee Faustine (a blend of Sciacarello and Barbarossa), with dessert - a strawberry meringue with yoghurt foam. The slight sourness of the yoghurt certainly helped but it was reining back on the sweetness of the dish that made the match work.
The fish pairings were more obvious but both included clever touches: Pan-fried scallops came with the unconventional but fresh-tasting accompaniment of strips of crisp Granny Smith apple as well as broad been pure and Pata Negra ham which accentuated the youthful freshness of the 2010 Ajaccio ‘Faustine’ Blanc. And the almond pure that was served with a dish of fried monkfish - along with clams and fresh-tasting heirloom tomatoes - keyed into the fuller, richer General de la Revolution vin de table that was served in two vintages, 2007 and 2008 (it was particularly good with the ’07). Another blend of Vermentino with indigenous varieties.
Possibly the best dish of all however was a quail ravioli with a creamy chicken velout, tarragon (I think, though possibly chervil - a herby note anyway) and a little orange zest, just spectacularly good with a rich, musky Barbarossa 2009.
Even the amuses and the petits fours were well matched. The Faustine Blanc was just brilliant with garlic and lemon popcorn and the ros with a Crunchie-like banana and star anise chocolate, both fun and clever pairings
What struck me was how clever the kitchen had been in introducing notes that made the wines sing which is what can happen when the kitchen and front of house both have an interest in wine and work closely in tandem. All credit to head sommelier Marc-Andrea Levy who, incidentally, had sent his entire team to the Natural Wine Fair this week.
I was invited to the dinner as a guest of Murano. This was the first of a series of wine dinners they will be holding at the restaurant. Check out their website for more details.