Imbibe’s inter-merchant food- and wine-matching competition continues with an unusual contestant. Les Grands Chais de France puts its on-trade wines to the test with a team of sommeliers, while Chris Losh sits in for some course-by-course analysis
Previous Come Wine With Me contestants have been UK-based agents/importers. But this, our third match-off, saw giant French company Les Grands Chais de France stepping up (literally) to the plate, at The Stafford London. Better known for its off-trade business, LGCF still sells some 6m bottles into the UK on-trade every year – a number that it’s keen to increase.
‘We have some really specialist wines in our range,’ says national account manager Steven Raynes, ‘and remember that for most of them we’re not the agent – we’re the winemakers.’
With a vast, mostly French, portfolio, there must have been the temptation to put forward a lot of expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy, but in fact LGCF went the opposite route, looking mostly for well-priced bottles, with a handful of pricier wines thrown in.
How it Worked
Our wine merchant teamed up with a restaurant to suggest five wines for each of three courses. No criteria were laid down, other than to point out that our tasters would be looking to reward consistency of quality, bravery of choice and, of course, the success of the matches.
Our judges (three sommeliers plus Imbibe editor Chris Losh) tasted all of the wines first, each judge scoring them out of 10. These combined marks gave a total score out of 40 which, since all previous CWWM events have featured one extra judge, was calculated to give a final mark out of 50 points for each.
The four judges then re-tasted the wines with the relevant dishes, each awarding a score out of 10. Again, in the interests of consistency, this combined total was totted up
to give a mark out of 50 for each of the wines.
Finally, once the tasting was over, we asked our tasters to rate the whole experience out of 10 – just like they do on the telly!
Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle Chris Losh, Imbibe Angus Macnab, consultant
Scallops and chicken wings with a tarragon butter
LGCF’s selection here ranged from classic French scallop-matching fare such as Muscadet, to a Greek Assyrtiko (made by an ex-Burgundian). Interestingly, the latter – at close on £20 – was the most expensive wine by some distance, and the pricing here was impressively keen.
With everything from herbal (a Bordeaux Sauvignon Gris) through aromatic (Alsace Gewürz) to oaky (Languedoc Chardonnay/Viognier), LGCF seemed to have every eventuality covered, and our team were confident of finding a match.
‘I liked the differences in style,’ said Etrusca’s Luigi Buonanno. ‘They were food-friendly, and largely good value. Not one failed to impress.’
WITH THE FOOD
Before the food came out, our tasters were pretty confident of what the winning wine would be: three out of four went for the Sauvignon Gris. ‘It’s vibrant, with good, musky, vegetal characters and it should work well,’ said Galvin La Chapelle’s Marco Feraldi.
In fact, this dish turned out to be almost impossible to find a match for. Taken on their own, the scallops worked well with both the Muscadet and the Greek T-Oinos (Assyrtiko), but the tarragon butter was very rich and creamy and rendered the former, in particular, rather bitter.
Meanwhile, the fried chicken wings were, as you would imagine, fatty and slightly seasoned. They were far too much for the lighter wines, working to an extent with the Sauvignon Gris, and surprisingly well with the oaky Languedoc Chardonnay/Viognier.
‘The Chardonnay is great with the food, but doesn’t clear your palate for the next mouthful,’ said Feraldi of a wine that improved its score significantly.
As well as having two very distinct main components, with very different wine requirements, the tarragon butter was a lot less aromatic and lot richer than our panel expected. Far from being a flavour match with the herbal characters, the Sauvignon Gris rather rode over the top of everything, adding a vegetal quality that, in fact, wasn’t there at all in the dish. Strictly speaking, it was a bit too big for the food, but the flavours it brought generally worked, and it scored well across the board.
The T-Oinos was popular too. Minerally, subtle and expertly crafted, it struggled with the chicken, but proved a sympathetic match for the scallops.
‘On its own, I’m not excited by it,’ said Buonanno. ‘But you want food and wine to stay together on your palate, and it does that.’
Overall, only one wine failed with the food – the Gewürz – and three of them held or improved their ‘tasted-alone’ scores, which is very unusual in this competition, and suggests a range of highly food-friendly wines.
Château Haut-Mouleyre Sauvignon 2010, Bordeaux, France, £7.61
Aromatic, with hints of woodsmoke, musk and vanilla, then a soft, honeyed palate, this was a wine with impressive balance and texture for the price.
Guinea fowl in brioche with wild mushroom and buttery mash
This was a mostly mid-range selection of wines in style – and a highly affordable set of choices in terms of price, with four of the five under £11 ex-VAT. Reds from the Loire and Beaujolais, plus a Californian Pinot, suggested LGCF thought they knew the style of the dish, with a chunky Languedoc Merlot and a full-bodied St-Emilion thrown in just in case the mushrooms dominated.
‘We thought of putting in an Alsace Pinot, but we just thought it would be too light, so we went for the Californian instead,’ explained Steven Raynes.
Though only one scored over 40 (the Merlot), it was a consistent range, and to see so many sub-£10 wines scoring over 35 was impressive.
WITH THE FOOD
It was interesting that, before the dish came out, our four tasters came up with three different suggestions, from the full-bodied Merlot to the far lighter Chinon, as well as the oaky Pinot.
And such indecision proved entirely justified. It quickly became obvious this was nowhere near as rich a dish as anyone had anticipated, with the mushrooms playing a supporting role, and the meat enveloped within lightly toasted brioche.
With no crisping of skin or caramelisation, this was a dish that required the lightest of reds, or maybe even a rosé or white. Indeed, when our panel tried the Chardonnay/Viognier left over from the starter, it was a perfect (but sadly ineligible) match.
Heavier reds, such as the Merlot and the St-Emilion simply crashed and burned, their big tannins adding a bitter note. The former, which scored over 40 on its own, dropped to mid-20s mediocrity.
The lighter reds, the Fleurie and the Chinon, were just about acceptable, though the Beaujolais would have done better if it had lower acidity. Again, both dropped marks from their tasted-alone score.
And while there were one or two question marks about the tannic finish on the Californian Pinot, it was felt to have enough comforting softness for the gentle meat. Not so much a match, though, as a giant strawberry-flavoured hug. Maybe that Alsace Pinot Noir would have been a better bet after all…
‘The texture is quite delicate,’ said Buonanno. ‘Maybe we needed a lighter red. Or a white. That’s what I’d usually match with guinea fowl.’
Concannon Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir 2010, Central Coast, California, France, £8.12
Ripe, rich fruit with a decidedly warm vanillic oaky kick, this well-priced Californian came into its own with food, its opulence and richness forming a comforting blanket around the meat and mushrooms.
This, arguably, is where LGCF came into its own. The selection was extraordinary in its range, and again – and this was a consistent theme of the day – pricing was excellent. But most of all, with such a wide range (and all of them good), tasters were confident of finding a great match.
The scores – with four of the five scoring 40 or more on their own – tell their own story. With an astonishing 47 (including two perfect 10s) the Vin de Paille was the highest scoring wine we’ve had.
WITH THE FOOD
There were big question marks before this dish came out as to how it would be made: how much caramelisation would there be, and what effect would the use of pears have?
If it was richer and darker, our tasters felt the Jura would be the best bet; if lighter, then either one of the Loire wines or the Alsace. The Melchione, with some attractive pear flavours, was reckoned to probably be too light.
And so it turned out. The dish was not caramelised, but nor was it super-fresh – a rich, sticky butterscotchy sauce saw to that. And while there were some who felt that the Vin de Paille matched the dish (with one taster giving it another perfect 10), the rather lovely Château de Fesles scored extremely highly across the board. Its score of 44 was comfortably the best dessert match we’ve had in this competition so far. In fact, the second-place Vin de Paille (41 out of 50) would have won the day in either of the two previous Come Wine With Me challenges as well.
Château de Fesles, Bonnezeaux 2009, Loire, France, £22.47/50cl
A terrific nose of marzipan, spice, apples, honey and fresh pineapple gives way to a supple, sweet, yet beautifully balanced palate, with texture, complexity and freshness. A near-perfect match for the dessert.
In the Cab…
I know, I know. They’re not in a cab. But we’re doing that whole TV shtick, innit?
Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants
‘There was a lot of versatility here from this range of wines. The only problem was that there should have been some whites for the main course. But we found good matches for the starter and dessert.’
Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle
‘I was amazed to see such quality in the wines at these prices. It was stunning. The selection with the food was tricky, but fortunately the range was wide enough to give us a match most times.’
Chris Losh, Imbibe
‘The range of wines – and the prices – was impressive. They were in the wrong area for the main course, but the starter was OK and the dessert matches were exceptional.’
Angus Macnab, consultant
‘The reds and whites could have been more unusual. I’m sure these guys have some really unusual French wines, and it would have been good to see them for the starter and main, like we did for the desserts.’