Wine pros

Matching the vegetarian tasting menu at Sketch

This week I had a really fascinating vegetarian tasting menu at the Lecture Room and Library at Sketch, Pierre Gagnaire’s London restaurant. The sommelier, Fred Brugues, claims not to believe in food and wine matching (too complicated, he says, with large tables all ordering different dishes) but he actually came up with some inspired pairings.

The dishes as they appeared on the menu:

1. Seaweed jelly and celeriac salad
Jelly of seaweed and flat-leaf parsley, celeriac salad and curcuma carrots

2. French onion soup
French onion soup with grilled mushrooms, sweet potato cream and honey

3. Braised chicory
Chicory and romaine salad cooked with a spinach velouté

4. Chestnut cream and Quinoa
Chestnut cream with fresh grapes and creamy Quinoa

5. Gratinated leeks with pear
Gratinated leeks and pears spiced with satay
Red beetroot syrup and Coleman’s mustard

6. Gouda and Beaufort Cheese
Gouda Broth, Buffala ice cream, Toast with Beaufort Cheese

(There was also Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert, a selection of no less than 5 different desserts, all quite delicious about which I’ll probably write another time . . . )

What Fred recommended:

1. This was a very delicate clean-flavoured dish so Fred picked the piercingly minerally Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fum de Pouilly, Silex 2004. It added an intense citrussy lift to the ingredients on the plate, picking up particularly well on the turmeric flavour of the carrot. You could also serve a Greek assyrtiko, he suggested. An albarino might have worked too.

2. This was like no French onion soup I’ve ever had. A soup bowl arrived at the table with what looked like a square silver napkin ring filled with mushrooms. The ring was lifted and a thick, sweet onion soup poured over the mushrooms. There was one of those odd smears that chefs love so much on the side of the bowl which turned out to be the sweet potato.

Fred lined up two wines, a 1995 Chateau Laville Haut-Brion, Pessac-Lognan (with that fat, rich lanolin texture that is so typical of mature white Bordeaux) and a lush peachy 2002 Bergerac Sec called Le Vin from Domaine les Verdots, a blend of Muscadelle. Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon. Both matched well, the Chateau Laville picking up on the very umami mushroom and onion flavours and the Bergerac Sec on the sweet potato. If forced to choose I’d have probably plumped for the former though the latter was a really stunning wine.

3. A delicious but very challenging dish. Caramelised chicory and wilted romaine in an intense green spinach soup. Fred pronounced the dominant note bitterness and boldly lined up a 2002 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir on the basis that it needed a contrasting note of sweetness. It did the job but slightly overwhelmed the soup in the process. And it was early in the menu to bring on such a big red. Fred’s alternative a 2004 Kaferber single vineyard Grner Veltliner from Loimer was on the other hand quite perfect, dealing with the bitterness without losing its minerally core.

4. Wasn’t too sure about this dish. More soup really, and very mild mealy and bland. It needed the spark provided by the 2003 Egon Mller Scharzhofberger Riesling Sptlese, an exotically ripe wine from an extraordinary vintage which picked up on the sweetness of the chestnut. If it had had slightly more texture it could have taken a lightish pinot noir

5. My favourite dish of the menu I think. The beetroot and Coleman’s mustard weren’t too obtrusive, the dominant notes being the mild onion flavour of the leek, the gentle sweetness of the pear and chewy parmesan texture of the tuiles. A perfect foil for a very fine, extraordinarily honeyed premier cru Chablis la Foret from Dauvissat-Camus, again from the exceptional 2003 vintage. A Puligny- or Chassagne-Montrachet from the same vintage would have worked too, I think but might have lacked the acidity of the Chablis

6. Possibly one of the most difficult dishes to pair with wine I’ve ever come across - warm cheesy milk, frozen cheesy ice cream and what amounted to a cold cheese sandwich (which we felt was probably meant to have been served hot) Weird, if truth be told. Fred did his best with a glorious Barsac, a 1994 Chateau Coutet which brought a luxurious note of sweetness to the party but I can’t say the dish really did it any favours. Would anything have worked? Coca-cola maybe . . . ;-)

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