Come Wine With Me

Drinks: Wines
Location: Alsace
Other: People

It’s not every day that you need your passport for a wine tasting, but Matthew Clark’s decision to partner up with The Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow Terminal Two brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘flight of wines’. Chris Losh reports

Probably the greatest praise you can reserve for The Gorgeous Kitchen is that it doesn’t feel like it belongs in an airport. Spend a couple of hours in its bright, airy, tile-and-chrome filled surroundings and it’s something of a shock to the system to walk out into the departure mall of Heathrow’s Terminal Two.

No mean feat, given that the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows is of planes lumbering down the runway en route to the four corners of the globe.

It was here that Matthew Clark elected to set the latest in our run of Come Wine With Me challenges. And, once our tasters had finally made it airside, through the rigours of security, they were eager to see how the wines stacked up to the challenge before them.

Our wine merchant teamed up with its partner restaurant to suggest five wines for each of three courses. No criteria were laid down other than to point out that our tasters would give higher marks for consistency of quality, adventurousness of selection and, of course, the success of the food matches themselves.

Our four sommelier judges tasted all the wines first, scoring them out of 10, to give an overall ‘stand-alone’ score out of 40. They then re-tasted every wine with the relevant dish, scoring them (again) out of 10 to give a food-match score out of 40. To make these scores easier to understand, we used the wizardry of MATHEMATICS to turn them into a total out of 100.

Finally, once the tastings were completed, we asked our panel to mark the overall quality of the both the wine, and the wine and food experience out of 10. Just like they do on the telly.

The Panel
Sara Bachiorri, Chez Bruce; Sarah Guignard, The French Table; Laurent Richet MS, Sat Bains; Sarah Riddle, Sketch

Prawn and scallops with a delicate ponzu sauce and shaved vegetables

With a dish containing ginger, soy, spring onions and pink grapefruit sauce, it’s no surprise the wines chosen by the Matthew Clark team were a) white, b) unoaked and c) on the fresher side of things.

‘We looked at the meat part of the dish, but also everything going with it,’ said Matthew Clark’s wine development specialist, Doug McCrorie. ‘We figured we’d need something with good fruit, but also acidity to match the dish and clean the palate.’

The selection included both traditional and non-traditional wines. While the wine merchant had avoided the ‘safe’ options of Chablis or Sancerre, the choices were what could be termed ‘modern classics’ in the form of an Albariño, a Picpoul and an Aussie Riesling. These were supplemented with a weightier Alsace Pinot Gris and an aromatic Sauvignon and Picoli blend from northern Italy.

‘They are in the right areas with the wines that they’ve chosen,’ praised Sarah Guignard. ‘The wines have nice aromatic tones to them.’

Pricing, too, was impressive, with all but one of the wines under £12 ex-VAT and nothing over £20.

One of the features of The Gorgeous Kitchen is that its dishes have been created by four female chefs. This starter, from Caroline MiLi Artiss, was fresh, light and delicate. It had a clear Asian influence, but wore this lightly. ‘I wanted to make sure you could taste the seafood,’ she said. ‘Normally Asian food has quite strong flavours, but this is more subtle.’

Certainly, this made the food matching easier than usual, and the scores were far higher than we might have expected for what looked on paper to be a potentially troublesome dish. While only one wine improved its ‘tasted alone’ score, with one remaining unchanged, it is par for the course for Come Wine With Me for wines to score worse with food.

Just about every wine had someone prepared to speak up for it. The most negative comment was that some of the wines ‘sat apart’ from the food. The Picpoul and the Albariño were both cited as examples of the latter. Not arguing with the food per se, but slightly aloof from each other.

The overall winner was the Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris, which attracted plenty of positive feedback from our panel. It had the weight and (slight) sweetness to go with what spice there was in the dish, while the scallop and prawns both added a briny freshness to a wine that is naturally low on acidity.

‘The Pinot Gris goes against the saltiness of the soy, and texturally it really works,’ said Sara Bachiorri. ‘It’s harmonious,’ added Guignard.

Slow roasted pork belly with sweet and sour apples and potato purée

While the starter wines were, understandably, all white, here our merchant had gone for a split approach, putting forward two whites and three reds. And while the Rioja could be described as a ‘safe’ (albeit pricey) choice, the other reds were, again, more in the ‘modern classic’ range, with an Otago Pinot and a Barossa Grenache.

By contrast, the two whites were brave: a Portuguese white from the Alentejo, and a seven-varietal South African blend at a ballsy £18.

‘Pork and Rioja is a classic match, and Grenache goes well with it, too,’ said McCrorie, explaining his selections, ‘but pork belly is also quite fatty, so you need acidity to cut through that. The sweet apple sauce will go well with the saltiness of the pork, but in terms of matching, that looks like the wildcard.’

With the mix of red and white, and quality consistently high (the lowest ‘taste alone’ score was 66), our tasters were confident of finding a match. ‘My first choice for this would be a Savennières,’ said Sat Bains’ Laurent Richet MS. ‘Apples and Savennières is perfect. From what we have, I’d guess either the Esporão or the Ceres Pinot.’

‘I’m curious to see how the Nederburg goes with it,’ added Bachiorri. ‘There’s a lot going on in there, and it’s really a food wine.’

Accurately described by MiLi Artiss as ‘a rich and hearty autumnal dish’, nothing here was over-complicated. It was simply good food, cooked well.

Yes, the apples were maybe slightly more caramelised than our tasters expected, and the presence of a layer of fennel within the meat added an extra layer of fragrant aromatics, but this was relatively straightforward.

While every wine (again) had its champion at different times, the big winner was the Ceres Pinot Noir. ‘On its own, it’s a bit alcoholic,’ said Bachiorri, ‘but the food helps with that, and the flavours work.’

The Rioja scored highly with every judge, too – ‘a safe match,’ said Guignard. Meanwhile, the Nederburg was the best of the whites, its extra richness and complexity allowing it to cope manfully with the meat, and genuinely chiming well once the fennel and the caramelised apples were added into the mix. ‘It makes the wine fresher,’ said Richet.

Bitter chocolate mousse, with 75% cocoa chocolate, served with salted caramel and shortbread

Somewhat fittingly, given the kind of hoops passengers have to jump through to get on a plane nowadays, one of the Matthew Clark dessert wines – a Willi Opitz Pinot Noir Beerenauslese – was stuck in security and unable to make it to the tasting. At the last minute, the company pulled in a Chapel Down Blanc de Blancs as a replacement, while admitting it was unlikely to be anywhere near as good a match as the first-choice Austrian for which they’ve just acquired the agency.

Interestingly, the Chapel Down was not the only dry wine on show, with The Federalist – a typically chunky and turbo-charged Californian Zinfandel – also in the line-up. Otherwise, it was more traditional, with a 10-year-old tawny, a Vin Santo and González Byass’s old oloroso, Matusalem.

It made for an interestingly wide-ranging selection of wines, with Matthew Clark clearly hoping that the sheer variety on display would lead to a perfect match somewhere down the line.

‘Dark chocolate can match with fruity [dry]reds, and while the Vin Santo is usually matched with almondy dishes, we’re hoping that its orangey characters will bring out some flavours in the chocolate,’ said McCrorie. ‘The 10-year-old tawny should sit underneath the dish, while the sherry is a lot more powerful.’

Dessert is usually the area where our panel struggles to find a match, and even with the range of styles on offer here, it was a familiar story. Described by MiLi Artiss as ‘a deconstructed millionaire’s shortbread’ the dessert simply laid waste to our contenders. Not one wine improved its score with the food, and some of the falls were dramatic.

We might, perhaps, expect the emergency-replacement Chapel Down fizz to struggle. After all, chocolate and sparkling Chardonnay isn’t exactly a classic combination. But even the magnificent Matusalem, which picked up 83 points when tasted on its own – the highest score of the day – haemorrhaged points once the food appeared.

‘It was too strong and leathery,’ said Guignard, ‘while the chocolate turned the tawny bitter.’

The problem, perhaps, was the way in which the dish was created, with the salted caramel lurking at the bottom of a narrow glass of mousse, and the shortbread on the side.

‘There’s a lovely creamy chocolate character, and a lovely sweet saltiness to the dish as well, but it’s hard to match because you get different elements at different times,’ said Sarah Riddle. ‘It probably needs a PX.’

In the end, the Vin Santo won almost by default. ‘It was characterful, with a lot of flavours, but not overpowering,’ said Richet. ‘It’s not 100% ideal, but it was the best match available.’

OK, so we didn’t lay on a cab for our tasters. This is an airport, whaddya want? But we did ask them for their scores and feedback on the day.

Sara Bachiorri, Chez Bruce – 7.5
‘Most of the wines were well priced and interesting, too. Overall, my favourite was probably the Pinot Gris. It was interesting to see how it changed with the food.’

Sarah Guignard, The French Table – 7.5
‘I found wines that matched for each course, so I’m happy. Matthew Clark chose interesting wines, and that’s important. They want people to push themselves out of their usual boundaries.’

Laurent Richet MS, Sat Bains – 8
‘I liked the broad selection of wines for the dessert, and the mix of reds and whites for the main, too. As a sommelier, it’s handy to have an alternative.’

Sarah Riddle, Sketch – 8
‘The wines were pretty safe, but good options with plenty of GP. The starter was the easiest to match, the main changed with every wine, and the dessert was difficult.’

For further information on any of the wines in this tasting, contact Matthew Clark on 0344 822 3910. All bottles are 75cl unless otherwise stated.

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Since its launch in March 2007, Imbibe magazine has established itself as the UK’s leading publication for on-trade drinks professionals. Imbibe’s editorial coverage takes in all the main drinks categories, from wine to water, spirits to soft drinks.

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