Nothing feels quite so decadent as a long lazy Sunday lunch. And if it’s really good, you don’t need to worry about dinner, as you will still be deep in conversation with your friends and grazing the cheese board till late into the evening.
I am visiting snowy London, staying with my friend Nicola Thomson and her partner Drew. Robert Giorgione, another wine writer friend, joined us for the six or seven hour long repast. We started with a toast to the new year and the coming meal with a lovely Portuguese champagne-method sparkling wine, a dry pink non-vintage, made by Casa Senhorial do Reguengo, near Braga in the Minho region, though it is not a DOC or even regional wine. The wine was a lovely peachy-pink colour with a fine even fizz and delightful nose and palate of red summer fruits (strawberry, currant, raspberry), rather delicate and elegant. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a surprise to find it is made of primarily Vinhão – a grape which is associated with the highly acidic red Vinho Verde wines – and a little Syrah.
Drew was chef du jour, and we were happy with an hors d’oeuvre of sliced hot pork sausages, pickled shallots and a home-blend honey and mustard sauce till he was ready to serve forth the “proper” starter: a generous slice of grilled ciabatta bread coverered two-thirds with a hot mixture of sautéed mushrooms and one third with a cold tomato concassé. We finished the sparkling wine and switched to a lovely Mosel Riesling, Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2010, Weingut WWE Dr. H Thanisch which had a palate of tropical fruit and a nice acidity which cut through the richness of the pork sausages from Boston Sausage, and made a very effective contrast.
There followed a perfectly cooked massive leg of lamb, with which we finished two different bottles of claret: the first a Margaux, Chevalier de Lascombes, 2005, which had been decanted a couple hours previously, the second a 2005 Saint-Émilion made for Fortnum & Mason by Château Dessault. Both were drinking beautifully now and were perfect with the lamb, of course – Bordeaux and roast lamb are a classic pairing.
The intention was to go on to the cheese board, but somewhere along the line discussion got onto the subject of artisanal chocolates (in fact most of our conversation turned on wine and food!) which prompted Drew to share a box of Damian Allsop chocolates, and open a bottle of Tokaji Aszú 2003, also from Fortnum & Mason, this made by Chateau Megyer. Although 5 puttonyos, this was quite light on the palate and had a quite fresh flavour profile of lime and grapefruit. This, with the Allsop water ganache truffles was absolutely divine. Damian’s trademark is a ganache filling which is made with water, rather than the usual cream and butter. Though the chocolate was rich and deeply, intensely chocolatey, the unbelievably light texture worked to make this pair beautifully with the elegant Tokaji. Having said the pairing with the ganache was divine leaves me without an adequate adjective to describe how it paired with the salt caramel truffle. Really really well! The caramel had a soft whipped consistency and the salt was under control, so the weight and flavour-strength of the confectionary balanced nicely with the Tokaji.
Then on to the cheese board. Seven cheeses and three bottles of wine – sounds about right, doesn’t it? We had fun trying and comparing all the possible combinations of cheeses (with or without a slice of marmelada, quince paste) with each of the wines. Here’s the list:
- Madeira Barbeito Malvasia 2000 Colheita, single cask 44a – flavour of orange blossom honey, quite vivid but neither flavour nor texture of the wine was heavy or cloying, absolutely delightful
- Quevedo 40 Years Old Tawny Port – so rich and complex it defies description (like all really good Port, I think!) I first had this in Oscar’s tasting room last September, whilst clutching an ice pack to a severely sprained knee incurred in the Douro seven hours previously. The knee soon ceased to bother me. It tasted wonderful on a warm evening in Vila Nova de Gaia, and tasted wonderful again in cold snowy London last night.
- Chateau Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2007 Famille Meslier – another wine with a wonderful light texture despite its sweetness, with distinctive minerality and pineapple notes
- Drunken cheese with barolo
- Drunken cheese with prosecco
- Drunken cheese with vernaccia
- Serra de Estrela São Gião (a Portuguese sheep’s milk cheese, strong flavoured and very creamy buttery textured)
- Marmelada (quince paste)
All the cheeses were excellent and like much of the food that night, came from Borough Market near London Bridge. The Comté or the drunken cheese made with Prosecco would be my picks if I were just making a meal of cheese and biscuits with fruit (which yes, I do occasionally, paired with a really good story, preferably one of John Buchan’s thriller/adventure novels). Stilton really is THE cheese for wine, par excellence, for me, I find it too pungent and salty to make a meal on its own with just water and fruit, it needs a wine of strong character to balance it.
Our cheese and wine pairing picks of the night:
- Nicola – Caerphilly with marmelada and celery with the Madeira
- Drew – Stilton on a biscuit with the Madeira
- Cynthia – Stilton on celery dipped in just a tiny bit of coarse salt with the Port
- Robert – Serra de Estrela on a biscuit with the Madeira
We all liked the caerphilly/marmelada combination with both wines, the balance was right in both cases, with the wines showing splendidly against the food. When Drew recommended trying the Stilton spread on celery and dipped in Maldon sea salt, we found that this particular food combination really changed the character of the Madeira on our palates – we think it was the added salt that did the trick. It was not unpleasant, by any means, but just brought out a different balance in the flavours of the Madeira, from how it came across when paired with the milder, less salty cheeses. The Quevedo 40 Year Old Tawny on the other held its own and balanced beautifully with the strong flavour combination.
The meal really was a lesson in food pairing – how successful pairings can be driven by either contrast or matching, as long as the relative strength of flavour and weight-in-the-mouth of food and wine are balanced. Fantastic examples from this meal:
- The contrast of the sweet fruity Riesling versus the rich savoury pork sausages
- The matching of the sweet, delicate Tokaji with the water ganache chocolates – a traditional thick creamy filled chocolate would have suffocated the Tokaji
- The classic matching of the savoury roasted lamb with the Bordeaux – depth and complexity of flavour well balanced
What have been your most memorable food and wine pairings? I would love to hear your stories and suggestions.