Wine pros

How to create a menu around wine

The dinner I mentioned earlier this week was ostensibly to present Zalto wine glasses but was interesting in its own right too as an example of a well-devised wine dinner. Goodness knows, it should be. Neville and Sonia Blech, a former professional chef, have been entertaining winelovers at their Kensington home for years and before that in their own restaurant, Mijanou.

By today's standards Sonia's menu was not flashy, slightly old-fashioned even, but it fulfilled the key purpose of acting as a flattering foil to the wines that were served while pleasing the maximum number of palates. Here's what we ate and drank:

Sea-bass baked in a crust of Salzkammer Auseerland salt served with a light white wine sabayon
Dernberg Gruner Veltliner Rubenstein 2007
A creamy sauce is the best possible foil for an elegantly oaked white wine especially if accompanied, as this was, by braised fennel (and a touch of dill). It would have been an equally good partner for a fine white burgundy or other cold climate chardonnay. And it flattered the delicate flavour of the simply cooked fish.

Magret de Canard with a plum and red wine sauce
Chateau de la Ligne Bordeaux Superieur in magnum
Most chefs would have cooked the duck next to rare and made the plum sauce sweet and jammy but Sonia is far too experienced a cook to do that. The duck was barely pink and the sauce tart which gave what was, despite the vintage, a quite modest Bordeaux a chance to shine. It was accompanied by black rice (pleasantly nutty, also flattering) and some inoffensively bland mangetout. No competition from the vegetables and in the rice, which had a slightly earthy note, something for the tannins of the wine to latch on to.

Selection of international cheeses
Villa de Corullon Bierzo 2000, Descendentes de J. Palacios
Serving more than 2 or 3 cheeses with a wine is a risk but the Bleches know what they are doing. All, except the blueberry cheese, were interesting. None was a troublemaker. They included a not over-mature English cheddar, a Grana di Tavola (young Parmigiano), a Gorgonzola Mascarpone (the creaminess mitigated any bitterness from the blue), a very mild English cheese (Wensleydale, I think, with blueberries), a Provolone Piccante and a Pecorino Fresca (young Pecorino) which for me was the star of the sextet, especially with the second bottle that was produced, a blend of Riesling, Veltliner and RoterTraminer from Drnberg's Kircher vineyard. The Bierzo was great but I always think white wine has the edge with cheese. Good to offer both though.

Fromage glac with marinated grillotines
Khron's Colheita 1968 Tawny Port
It was a brave move putting a 40 year old port with ice-cream, even if this was more like a parfait but they got away with it. Possibly the least convincing of the matches nonetheless. I'm not sure the dessert wouldn't have been better with a vintage port and the tawny with a walnut tart or tiramisu but certainly the use of booze-soaked cherries to show off a venerable port is an inspired notion.

Neville and Sonia run regular wine dinners. You can see more of their menus - and some recipes and reviews - on their site Bacchus and Comus.

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