Those people who know me well and the loyal followers of this blog may also be aware, I have a particular passionate soft spot for New Zealand. As I have family ties and quite a few friends there and have actually been to the country six times, one could say that I am more than just enthusiastic about all things Aotearoa. In addition, I adore the country’s culture, wine and food and the whole natural beauty that New Zealand exemplifies. Owing to my passion for photography, this is summed up greatly in the very photogenic nature of New Zealand itself. My photography contained within this blog acts as a poignant reminder and record of the places I have visited. My main inspiration was Kevin Judd (ex-Cloudy Bay chief winemaker).
As you also may know, I am currently in the process of writing a book, which will fully demonstrate and encapsulate the country’s regional produce and wine, embellished with personal anecdotes, including a few recipes from the likes of Peter Gordon, Anna Hansen, Chris Fortune and other top Kiwi chefs, for whom I have much admiration and I have got to know over the years. The latter is an award-winning Kiwi chef, who was working at Seresin for the 2006 vintage harvest and is currently in charge of Blenheim Farmers Market. I envisage the whole journey, which I have made, and am still contuining, is to bring all of these factors together into a very enjoyable, interactive and readable ‘road trip’ around New Zealand. I really think that blogging and other forms of social media on the internet, when used correctly in this way are extremely advantageous and can make a positive impact. My aim is to showcase and champion wonderful produce and local farmers and their ingredients and talented winemakers to sincerely emphasise a notion of ‘terroir’. Moreover, I have used this passion and determination as my core reason to apply for this year’s Geoffrey Roberts Award.
Thus, I was recently absolutely thrilled to be invited along to a winemaker’s dinner at Providores in Marylebone. For me it was a delightful opportunity to indulge in my three favourite things: great food, wine and photography (and all of them involving my favourite country and restaurant to boot).
I first became familiar with Seresin wines back in 1997 when I was at Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank. We were one of the first restaurants to list them. I met Michael Seresin (owner of the vineyard and famous film cinematographer/director) and original winemaker Brian Bicknell (now at Mahi) – refer to related blog post . I have much admiration for both men, primarily for their talents in their respective fields and they are genuinely great human beings. But anyone who had an important part to play making great films, including one of my favourites (Midnight Express) in my humble opinion is a real hero. Brian is a great winemaker and a wonderful guy too. The third, and equally important part of the event is the food. For me, and I mean this most sincerely, no other chef captures the essence of New Zealand and his fusion style cuisine better than Peter Gordon. Moreover, no other place encapsulates the friendly ambience and spirit of New Zealand than Providores. In that room, we had the culmination of Kiwi excellence and we were all in for a treat!
I first went to New Zealand in 2000 and visited Seresin vineyards in Marlborough, amongst a few others. I took this photograph of Michael’s monumentally-iconic and Stonehenge-like masterpiece, which is at the entrance to the vineyards. Michael talking to Charlotte, my companion (below) during the aperitif reception and explaining to her about his philosophies and thoughts about biodynamic viticulture.
We started off the evening with a welcoming 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. It certainly woke up the taste buds with its clean, fresh and crisp citrus and tropical fruit character. However, what I particularly enjoy about this savvy, is that it has a soft texture and mouthfeel, which is beautifully balanced and invigorated with mouth-watering acidity.
The charming Providores floor staff were all wearing black aprons with the famous hand print Seresin logo. As we all have become increasingly aware, especially with brands, and of course, that now includes wine, the striking importance of a catchy name or a wonderful label is a key memorable detail. The hand i.e the natural, manual, artisan craft (of wine, vineyards and winemaking) is very much integral to the whole Seresin ethos. From time to time, Michael used to visit Orrery restaurant, where I used to work, also on Marylebone High Street just up from Providores and one day I asked him whose hand was it on the label. His wife, who was siting next to him in the restaurant raised her hand and said “Mine!”
Peter Gordon introduced the menu with his head chef Cristian Cossack (right). We commenced the dinner with a duo of tartares: Chinese Beef and Pacific Fish. They were both quite spicy and aromatically-flavoured. The wine pairing of the 2007 Pinot Gris disappointingly did not work as well as I hoped, even though they do make a good example of this grape variety, yet in this instance, the textures did not match up. The pear and quince fruit character of the wine married well with the spiciness of the dish, but the powerful aromatics and alcohol dominated. I believe the Riesling with its higher acidity, lower alcohol and much more citrus and refreshing character would have been better. I wonder what the Kiwi for chaque a son gout is?
Everyone listened intently to Peter describing his intricate style of cuisine. The delicious recipes can also be found in his wonderful book Fusion: A Culinary Journey published in the UK by Jacqui Small and originally commissioned by Penguin NZ. Often dubbed the ‘father of Fusion cuisine’ – a culinary style that integrates various regional flavours and cooking techniques in order to create innovative new tastes – Peter reveals how he developed his unique culinary philosophy, influenced by his travels around the world, exploring different cuisines, foods, tastes and cooking ideas. Now I very proudly have a signed copy to add to my collection.
Next up we enjoyed a very interesting food and wine pairing. Salad of crispy belly pork and green papaya with lychees and tamarind caramel dressing was matched with white aromatic wine called “Chiaroscuro” Michael briefly explained to us what inspired him to name the wine “Chiaroscuro“, which means light-dark in Italian.
The wine itself was allegedly inspired by a North-Eastern Italian blend of aromatic grapes – for instance a style of wine called “Vintage Tunina” made by Jermann in Friuli. The first vintage of the Seresin Chiaroscuro was 2007, when around four barrels were produced and is a blend of four cepages: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. No wine was made in 2008 and when I visited the winery last year they made some, but again in very limited quantities. Clive Dougall, (below) winemaker at Seresin, extracting some out of the barrel for us to taste.
This food and wine combination was excellent. The complex yet restrained style of the wine matched beautifully the rich fattiness of the belly pork, with its crispy texture and crunchy, flavoursome Asian-style salad. Peter has very kindly given me the recipe.
Peter substituted the pork with a seared, plump hand-dived scallop for those with dietary requirements. I was enthusiastically informed by Charlotte that it tasted equally exquisite with the wine.
Michael spoke a bit about biodynamic viticulture, organic farming methods, olive oil production, the estate’s winemaking and other activities, such as events at his ‘bach’ at Waterfall Bay on the coast. This wonderful location hosts dinners, including an annual event whereby guest chefs from around the world are invited to participate, and which recently included Peter Gordon and Melanie Ellis of Providores and Hamish Brown of Roka.
Last year, when I visited Seresin for the fourth time, Clive Dougall showed me the progression and developments they were making with biodynamics. In fact, this was the topic for my recent article in the Marylebone Journal. There is also an interview with Peter Gordon by Mark Riddaway.
Ok…back to the dinner. The next course was a delicious master-stock poached squab with buttered wild garlic and creamy smoked mash. It was yummy! It went perfectly with the 2006 Reserve Chardonnay. From time to time, Chardonnay can get a bit of a bad rep. However, Seresin produce a very good one with the focus on an elegant, restrained style with plenty of texture and complexity. For the wine anoraks and tecchies amongst you that involves battonage (lees stirring). This pairing ticked all my boxes.
The main course was pure New Zealand – Roast farmed venison with salsify, vanilla plums and crispy buckwheat. The meat was succulent, flavoursome and absolutely melted in the mouth. The great quality and personality of the ingredients and their simplicity were allowed to just shine on the plate.
New Zealand is becoming very famous for its Pinot Noirs. Quite rightly so, I think as some of them are great. With the main course we were treated to two produced by Seresin. We were served the 2007 “Home” and “Rachel” Pinots. Both of them showed ripe, bright, cherry and plummy fruit, with some hints of spice and savoury earthiness. Marlborough Pinots are all about elegance.
Moreover, they have now extended their range to making a few more, including the top-of -the-range, premium “Sun and the Moon”. I simply adore Pinot Noir and my favourite one from the estate is Raupo Creek. In fact, in 2006, when I left Harvey Nichols before starting work at Orrery, I spent one month in New Zealand and worked the vintage harvest in Marlborough. I spent some time with Brian Bicknell and Clive Dougall at Seresin and was taken to the vineyard, which is in the Omaka Valley. I took the photograph (below) in April 2006). I love this picture and am proud of it, as it really manages to capture the landscape, the colours and the natural beauty very well. Even if I say so myself! That wonderful autumnal colour comes from the leaves which turn brown after the grapes have been harvested.
The cheese and dessert course were cleverly incorporated into one. We were served a lovely goats cheese panna cotta with roast rhubarb and hibiscus shortbread.
Again, the wine pairing proved to be excellent and well-judged. The 2005 Late Harvest Riesling with its elderflower, citrus zest and sherbet character, sweet yet perfectly-balanced and not too cloying was a terrific accompaniment. It managed to leave me feeling refreshed after a long, decadent meal. It was almost as if a delightful flight attendant had passed me one of those hot, citrus-scented towels you get on long-haul flights.
We polished off the evening with a selection of Colston Basset Stilton chocolates and Parmeggiano Reggiano lime biscuits and the best ‘flat white’ in London. It was truly a wonderful and memorable experience.
In my opinion, Melanie has put together an excellent wine list, featuring all the best vinous examples of what New Zealand has to offer. The selection is very well laid-out, unique, inspiritional, quirky, yet very easy to work your way around. She manages to display through her imaginative list that there is more than just Marlborough savvy! However, you get genuinely get the creme de la creme here. In addition, they serve an excellent range of wines by the glass and always have monthly specials, which normally come from very individual, ’boutique’ wineries at very affordable prices.