Come Wine With Me: Food pairing with John E Fells

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

29 October 2015

Imbibe’s food and wine matching challenge returns, with John E Fells the latest merchant to put its bottles centre stage. Chris Losh follows all the foodie action


The Panel
Luigi Buonanno, Bianco43; James Fryer, Portland; Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent; Lionel Periner, The Lucky Onion

The format of Come Wine With Me is simple: a wine merchant (in this case John E Fells) teams up with a restaurant (in this case Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street) to come up with a series of food and wine matches, with sommeliers judging their efforts.

The tasters try the wines without food first and score each one out of 10, before tasting them and scoring them again with the food. At the end of the challenge, we ask our tasters to score the merchant’s overall efforts, depending on how good the wines were, how brave or imaginative were the choices and how successful the matches.


STARTER:
Baked scallops, carrot purée, treacle-cured bacon, celery cress, apple

THE WINES
A traditional-looking starter and a range of wines that went from extreme safety (Chablis plus scallops is about as straightforward as it gets!) to extreme left-field. There was a good deal of sommelier eyebrow-raising at the sight of the Tedeschi Valpolicella chilling down for this dish. The Fransola (an oaked Spanish Sauvignon Blanc) and the Hugel Pinot Gris were somewhere in between these two outliers – unusual, but our panel could see a case for both.

‘The Chablis is a classic, but why must we go with a classic?’ mused The Lucky Onion’s Lionel Periner. ‘The Pinot Gris might work. With the apple there’s probably already nice acidity in the dish, so it could be a good match.’

WITH THE FOOD
This was not a complicated dish. The added elements – the bacon, the celery, the apple – were gentle seasoning to the scallops, rather than dominant oddball notes, so it was no surprise that the two Chardonnays rose to the top.The Fèvre Chablis was fresher and lighter – ‘a very good wine for an entry level Chablis from a difficult year’, as Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie pointed out – but worked nicely with the seafood, its gentle salinity a sympathetic counterpoint to the richness of the meat.

Yet top spot went to the Tyrrell’s. Just. It was richer and slightly oakier, and this allowed it to meet the scallops more or less head-on, while still coping with the purée and the sweet saltiness of the bacon.

‘It’s a very good example of the new style of Australian Chardonnay,’ said Portland’s James Fryer. ‘There’s still a generosity there, but it’s a lot more restrained than it would have been 10 years ago.’

It wasn’t unreasonable, our panel felt, to describe the Fèvre as a good ‘lunchtime’ match, and the Tyrrell’s more as one for the evening.

Neither, sadly, could be said of the Valpolicella – it was a brave choice, and a decent enough wine, but one that just didn’t work here.

STAR MATCH
Tyrrell’s Hunter Heroes Moon Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (£10.27)
Honeysuckle and apple blossom on the nose with a gentle but well integrated toastiness. This manages to be elegant and restrained, yet still quite rich on the palate. ‘It’s really well balanced,’ said Lionel Periner.

However, while neither of the other two remaining whites beat the two Chardonnays, our panel felt that a case could still be made for both the Fransola and, especially, the Hugel. Flavour-wise, the Pinot Gris was a good match – particularly for the bacon. ‘You get that earthiness and button mushroom note,’ said Marie. ‘It really brings something to the dish.’

The problem was the residual sugar in the wine. ‘It stays a bit on the sweet side,’ said Bianco43’s Luigi Buonanno. ‘It lacks enough acidity to cut through.’

The Sauvignon, meanwhile, was slightly beaten by the richness of the purée. ‘It’s all about the garnish,’ said Buonanno. ‘With a fennel purée it would have been lovely.’

WINE

Score on its own

Position

With the food

Position

Tyrrell’s Hunter Heroes Moon Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (£10.27)

 32

 2nd

 36

 1st

William Fèvre Chablis 2013, France (£10.41)

 31

 3rd

35

2nd

Hugel Jubilee Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace, France (£19.93)

 34

 1st

33

3rd

Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Penedès, Spain (£12.42)

 27

 5th

23

4th

Tedeschi Lucchine Valpolicella Classico 2013, Veneto, Italy (£7.41)

 28

 4th

16

5th


MAIN COURSE:
Goosnargh duck, pink peppercorns, spinach purée, fondant potato

THE WINES
Another pretty traditional-looking dish, and again, Fells suggested wines that tipped their hat to convention without being all that traditional. No Burgundy, for instance; the two Pinot Noirs came from Oregon and, more surprisingly, Spain, with also a Douro red, an Argentinian Bonarda and a Californian Cabernet. In truth the latter shouldn’t have been there, but due to a handling error at London City Bond, it arrived instead of the South African Vergelegen Cabernet Franc. All the more galling, given that the latter had, apparently, been the star performer in the test rounds.

‘We wanted something that wouldn’t cover the duck,’ explained Heddon Street’s sommelier, Angelika Oparczyk. ‘Look at the Post Scriptum, for instance – the nose is heavier than the palate.’

After tasting the wines, our tasters largely predicted that the La Crema Pinot would be the star performer, though Periner made a case for the Bonarda. ‘Both it and the Willamette had lovely acidity rather than tannin, which is what you’ll need with this dish,’ he said.

WITH THE FOOD
The chosen wines put in an impressive performance here. Four out of the five either held their tasted-alone score or improved it, which is all-but unheard of in this competition. Even the Kendall Jackson Cabernet which, don’t forget, wasn’t meant to be here in the first place, put in a creditable shift, with the judges commenting that it was unusual to get a decent Californian red for that kind of price.

STAR MATCH
Jackson Family Wines, La Crema
Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012, Oregon, USA (£16.98)
No shortage of praise for this beautiful North American Pinot, with tasters admiring the combination of ripe red berry fruit and earthier, more savoury mid-palate. ‘Superb aromatics. Lifted, elegant and complex,’ said Olivier Marie.

The star wine was the Oregon Pinot Noir, which had terrific freshness to cut through the fattiness of the duck and a gentle savoury character as well that worked beautifully with the gamey notes in the meat. It got 9/10 all around – an impressive feat.

Yet the performance of the Post Scriptum was noteworthy, too. A partnership between Bruno Prats, former owner of Bordeaux second growth Château Cos d’Estournel, and the port-producing Symington family, this was more elegant than your typical Douro Valley red and fully bore out Oparczyk’s earlier assessment.

While the Bonarda finished in joint third place, at least one judge put it down as their favourite match, and all agreed that, if you were serving duck with a concentrated fruit sauce, it would be a top pairing.

WINE

Score on its own

Position

With the food

Position

Jackson Family Wines, La Crema Willamette Pinot Noir 2012, Oregon, USA (£16.98)

35

1st

36

1st

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia 2012, Douro, Portugal (£11.90)

30

3rd=

33

2nd

Torres Mas Borràs Pinot Noir 2010, Penedès, Spain (£14.71)

30

3rd=

30

3rd=

Chakana Estate Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (£7.20)

30

3rd=

30

3rd=

Kendall Jackson Avant Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, California, USA (£8.63)

34

2nd

26

5th


DESSERT:
Dark chocolate tart, cherry purée, honeycomb, salt caramel ice cream

THE WINES
This was an interesting selection of sweet wines, ranging from the aromatic perfume of the Floralis Moscatel, through the balance and intensity of the Late Harvest Seifried Riesling, to the more salty, savoury tang of the Graham’s 20yo tawny port.

The Seifried Sweet Agnes stood out and attracted two perfect 10 and two 9.5 when tasted on its own. ‘Sweet, luscious and rich, but amazingly well balanced,’ praised Marie.

That said, none of the tasters could see how it – or, indeed, any of the late harvest wines – would work with a dark chocolate tart. ‘It’s an incredible wine,’ said Buonanno. ‘But for the food, I’m thinking more of the port or madeira.’

‘The Seifried might work with the honeycomb,’ agreed Marie. ‘But the caramel and cherries point me more towards the port.’

Having worked on the matches, the suggestion from Oparczyk was that either could work, but for different reasons: ‘The tawny brought out a creaminess in the chocolate that we didn’t expect, and accentuated the cherries, while the madeira highlighted more the bitterness of the chocolate.’

WITH THE FOOD
In Come Wine With Me, dessert is always the most difficult course to find good matches for. And here no wine improved its ‘taste alone’ score, with some tumbling dramatically.

Such a one, to no-one’s great surprise, was the Seifried. It worked with the honeycomb, but was totally overpowered by the main components. ‘We should make another dessert with the honeycomb, just for the wine,’ half jested Buonanno.

STAR MATCH
Graham’s 20yo Tawny Port, Portugal (£24.56)
With its lovely dried-fruit, nuts and cocoa aromas, this well-developed tawny port picked up on many of the elements in the dessert. ‘Sweet, balanced, refined and long,’ praised Lionel Periner. ‘Complex and developed, but with lovely freshness,’ added Olivier Marie.

It was a similar story with the other whites. Less intense than the Kiwi Riesling, they were utterly overwhelmed here, requiring fruit, rather than chocolate-based desserts to show their best.

Another pretty traditional dish meant that, again, the more traditional matches performed best, though even here our tasters had some reservations. ‘The Madeira is great with the caramel and the chocolate, but it doesn’t work with the fruit,’ said Fryer.

And while Graham’s 20yo Tawny did a manful job with all the various elements of the dish, there was agreement with Buonanno’s assertion that ‘a more fruit-driven style, like LBV, reserve ruby or even young vintage port might have been better.’

WINE

Score on its own

Position

With the food

Position

Graham’s 20yo Tawny Port, Portugal (£24.56)

33

3rd

33

1st

Blandy’s Malmsey Colheita 1996, Madeira (£31.82/50cl)

35

2nd

28

2nd

Seifried Sweet Agnes Riesling 2013, Nelson, New Zealand (£9.32/37.5cl)

39

1st

22

3rd

Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro NV, Spain (£6.18/50cl)

29

4th

19

4th

Torres Nectaria Vendimia Tardía Riesling 2009,
Central Valley, Chile (£6.98/37.5cl)

21

5th

19

4th


IN THE CAB

OK, we didn’t really film our somms in a cab. But we did ask them for their scores out of 10 and feedback

James Fryer, Portland
‘For the first two courses, the matches nearly all worked... You could even make an argument for the Valpol if you wanted. It was stimulating to try wines and wine-matches that I wouldn’t necessarily have tried, like the Bonarda and the Pinot Gris. The value for money was good too.’

Luigi Buonanno, Bianco43
‘The selection was good – quite safe in places, and not any new trendy whites, but some innovation in the reds, like the Bonarda and the Douro red. The wines were good in isolation, and the value for money was good, especially the Seifried Riesling and Avant Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s just that they were not always perfect with the food.’

Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent
‘Overall, a good selection. All the wines showed a sense of place and typicity, and the range was diverse and interesting. You don’t need to spend too much to get a quality match – there were some good wines for the price here. And the Riesling was delicious – just not with the food.’

Lionel Periner, The Lucky Onion
‘I liked the choice of wines. There was some unusual stuff here, which was good, and the Bonarda for the money was excellent. The whites were the most successful with food. The dessert was tough – there was a lot going on. I liked that nearly all these were between £7-£20, which is exactly where we all sell.’


Many thanks to Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen for hosting and for all their help on the day. Photos: Miles Willis.

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