From the archives

Pairing natural wines at Hibiscus

One of the things that most fascinated me about Claude Bosi’s recent decision to list so many natural wines at his London restaurant Hibiscus is how they would work with two Michelin star food. Yesterday I got a chance to find out over lunch with Isabelle Legeron, the wine consultant who put together his list.

My impression up to now is that natural wines* are actually quite food-friendly as they rarely hit the levels of alcohol of conventional wines, tend not to have excessive tannins and are generally pretty well-balanced. But Claude’s food is quite challenging so it said a good deal for the skill of Legeron and his sommelier Romain Henry that so many of the pairings were spot on.

Here’s what we ate and drank:

Royale of parmesan, Shropshire walnuts, warm velout potato and toasted rice
The Domaine de la Tournelle Fleur de Savagnin 2008 Arbois that Romain chose, while being the least jaw-droppingly impressive of the pairings worked well with this umami-rich dish. It was also a very good start to the meal being a classic aperitif wine with a lovely crisp acidity. Legeron said the dish also pairs well with vintage champagne which I guess would probably have had the edge. An attractive fresh-tasting wine though.

Ravioli of hen’s egg yolk and smoked potato with chopped winter truffle (above)
Apparently one of Bosi’s signature dish and a nightmare, I would imagine, to match, given the runny egg yolk, smoke and truffles. Bliss to eat though. We tried two wines with it, a Josko Gravner Ribolla 2002 from Venezia Giula which qualifies as an ‘orange wine’ and an extraordinarily lush, dry Chenin Les Jardins d’Esmeraldins, Gense 2001 from the Loire. (Apparently it spends 5 years in barrel with minimal sulphur. This is the current release) Though I found the Ribolla fascinating the Chenin won hands down, matching the richness of the egg and truffle. Amazing.

Halibut braised in coffee and cardamom, roasted quince
I’d have probably reached for a white like the Arbois with this dish but the simple red burgundy that Romain picked - the Domaine Arlaud Bourgogne Roncevie 2007 - was one of those stellar pairings that enhance both the food and the wine. On its own it was pleasant but something about the coffee notes in the sauce turned wild hedgerow fruit flavours into silky raspberry ones and made it taste much more complex.

Barbequed English kid, garlic and limequat pure, roast white asparagus and glazed winkles
A really great dish with the slightly smoky flavour of the barbecue and the saline hit of the winkles along with a gamey side of a goats offal and winkle shepherds pie (you couldn’t make it up . . . ) Another stellar match with probably my favourite wine of the meal , the Le Casot des Mailloles El Nino 2007 vin de table from Roussillon, a super-smokey, super-savoury blend of grenache gris and carignan. Heaven.

Melilot pannacotta, russet apple, cinnamon shortbread
Another new ingredient on me, Melilot is a sweet clover with a delicate floral flavour which chimed in perfectly with a 2009 Muscat de Rivesaltes from Domaine Les Enfants Sauvages, again changing the wine and bringing out some extraordinary herbal flavours alongside its apricot fruit.

What struck me particularly about this meal - apart from the intelligence of the pairings - was how natural wines add to the sense of discovery you get from eating at a cutting edge restaurant like Bosi’s. I'm sure more restaurants at that level will be taking them on.

* a contentious phrase - you might want to see how I definite it in my recent post on the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog

I ate at Hibiscus as a guest of the restaurant.



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