Can food at a wine dinner be too distracting?
At the Cape Wine Legends dinner in London showcasing some of South Africa's greatest old vintages, Lucy Bridgers wonders which was the hero - the wine or the food?
Lucy writes: "Last week I attended a dinner hosted by Cape Legends at Restaurant Story near Tower Bridge, run by dynamic and experimental 26 year old chef Tom Sellers.
The event was to showcase an elite selection of South African wines that included some rare mature wines dating back to 1964. It was an unusual choice of venue as the food is so head-turning and, at times, exceptional that the wines had to fight for attention and often lost out.
Anyway, after a quick tasting and some distinctive canapés such as fried cod skin dotted with cod roe purée, we sat down for dinner. The first wine poured was some rather fine fizz (the only white served) – Desiderius 2003 from Pongracz – creamy, delicately fragrant and toasty with a fresh zesty finish, working well with the menu opener, bread and dripping and ‘English relish’ (veal tongue, celery, parsley, rapeseed oil, horseradish and chicken consommé). The dripping is strikingly presented as a lit candle – inspired and delicious, but the sourdough bread was a little too salty for me.
The first flight of reds was poured (Jacobsdal Pinotage 2001, Stellenzicht Syrah 1994, Uitkyk Carlonet 1982, a Cabernet and Cinsault blend) and, with their evolved, silky tannins worked well alongside the dripping, especially the meatier Syrah.
The second dish was onion and English plum – onion prepared in a variety of ways with pieces of raw plum, served in a gin broth – not the most wine-friendly dish. However, the Syrah did well again. It had been aged in American oak enhancing the sweetly ripe fruit which was still very much in evidence. The mellow and refreshingly balanced Carlonet was comfortable, too.
More reds were poured – Fleur du Cap Pinotage 1982, Fleur du Cap Cabernet 1984 and Zonnebloem Cabernet 1982 and another course was served, scallops, cucumber and dill ash.
The reds weren’t appropriate for this dish which was creamy, slithery and slightly smoky, however, they were happier with the veal, apple, peas and thyme that followed.
The Cabernets partnered this dish well with the 1984 having the edge with its spicy oak and still-lively fruit. The Pinotage had a tasty autumnal complexity, but the softer structure didn’t work as well as the Cabs. The pure clean apple and pea flavours were a fresh and lively contrast to the tender slow-cooked veal and better suited to the more aromatic Cabernets.
At this point a dessert wine was poured – Monis Marsala 1983, a toothsomely rich and caramelly Muscadelle. The first of the sweet dishes, almond and dill, needed something much lighter, but on its own was fabulous combination of creamy and powdery textures, wet and dry, sweet, slightly salty and cleansing. A chilled Moscato would have been just the ticket.
We then had wild berries, chocolate and buttermilk – powdery chocolate ‘soil’, chocolately cornflake crisp, red berries, creamy iced buttermilk snow and berry sorbet – pure, fresh, yet rich and satisfying. Beautifully judged (despite including more ‘soil’ – a bit samey and tricky to eat). The Marsala was on more familiar territory here, although more than a few sips would have overwhelmed the dish.
At the end of the meal we tasted a trio of older wines – Zonnebloem Cabernet 1964, Zonnebloem Pinotage 1974 and Zonnebloem Cabernet 1974. All three wines still had much to offer. I enjoyed the mellow spice, leathery prune fruit and fresh acidity of the 1964. The 1974 Cab was complex earthy and raisiny and the Pinotage from the same year was still pretty perky. (Some mature hard cheese wouldn’t have gone amiss here!)
Throughout the meal, the condition of the bottles varied but showed sufficiently well to demonstrate that these wines are built to last. What’s more, it was fascinating to put these wines into their historical context and consider the changes in South Africa that have take place since.
Then, as a slightly surreal conclusion, we were treated to a sort of rhubarb and custard soda served in tiny milk bottles with striped straws and chocolates formed like Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, but with sophisticated rose scented marshmallow on the biscuit base. Great fun.
Personally, I’d have preferred less distracting food to allow these venerable bottles to express themselves more fully, but it was a remarkable evening nonetheless.
Lucy Bridgers is a wine and food writer, book editor and blogger and a regular contributor to matchingfoodandwine.com
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