Thanks to the generosity of Roger and Sue Jones at the Harrow, the Club had a most memorable evening for its first Summer Meeting.
Whisked by coach from Oxford or making their own way by car to the Kennet valley through the late afternoon sun, forty or so members and their guests made the most of a fabulous three-part evening of tasting, enhanced by Roger’s culinary genius.
We went straight into a blind tasting of sparkling wines – all of them award winning and none of them easy to work out. This was not a competition – a good thing, really, since if it had been there would have been few if any with a decent score. At the grand reveal Roger asked simply New World or Old World? Most of us didn’t even get that far, but the wines were excellent. The well-priced N2 Nautilus Brut (2015 disgorgement) from Tasmania was a favourite for many members but there were votes too for the ‘All Angels’ from Berkshire (grown in the field next door to the church where Roger and Sue were married 35 years ago) and the Ambriel Classic Cuvée Blanc de Blancs 2010.
We had mingled and chatted as we tried our hand at the blind tasting but now it was time to sit down and indulge in some wine and food pairings.
Roger led us through the generous selection of wines and his suggested food matches. Roger rejects the traditional ‘like with like’ approach to food matching which sets steak with a peppery Shiraz. Not for him the stereotypical Gewurztraminer with curry. Not everyone agreed with all the matches proposed but the beauty of the Harrow evening was that we could try any one of the six wines offered with the food to see whether or not we agreed. Taste the wine, then try the food, then try the wine again.
The first of the suggested pairings was a foie gras macaroon with Nyetimber Demi-Sec (though this wine is perhaps ‘richer’ than its ‘demi-sec’ descriptor would suggest. The clementine note in the wine was a perfect foil to the richness of the foie gras, whilst the sweetness complemented the caramel sweetness of the macaroon.
Next a Sashimi of Sea Bream with Avocado, Pistachio and Yuzu (a Japanese citrus). This was paired with a Pewsey Vale Riesling 2015 from Eden Valley in Australia. ‘Happy Riesling’ said Roger of the Australian wines, compared to the more serious, less forgiving German equivalents. Australian Rieslings are still harder to find and benefit from age – so if you find one you like it’s worth stocking up a bit. If you’re a ‘petrol’ hater then Roger suggested a touch of mental re-framing. Think toasted brioche and lime marmalade!
Third was a demonstration of the ability of oaked Chardonnay to complement curry spices. For Roger, the lactic note of Brokenwood’s good 2016 Chardonnay is perfect with the yogurt base of so many Indian sauces and worked unexpectedly well with his Spiced Lobster Cocktail. Yes, it did, but there were votes too for the Pewsey Vale Riesling.
Next up were Seared Diver Caught Scallops with Chicken and Cep Cream matched with the 2015 Bannockburn Pinot Noir from Felton Road succeeded by Carpaccio of Venison with Perigord Truffle matched with Rhône-style Houghton Thomas Yule Shiraz 2012 from the Frankland River in Australia. These were perhaps the most disputed of the matches with some feeling that the first pairing deadening rather than refreshing the scallops whilst the Pinot might have been a better pair for the truffled magnificence of the venison. But that’s the great thing about such tastings – learning about one’s own palate and own preferences.
The final dish of the main food pairing was Loin of Welsh Lamb with Minted Cous Cous. For this, Roger’s suggested pair was a wine from Coonawarra, Yalumba Menzies The Cigar Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. The mint in the couscous was a delicious foil to the rich dusty black fruit and smokey oak of the Cab.
And all those challenges and delights were only part two of our evening. Part three (after a decent interval) was a tasting of British cheese: Rachel Goat’s Cheese, Old Winchester, Perl Las (a blue cheese from Glyneithinog Farm in West Wales) and Slack Ma Girdle (a full fat cow’s milk cheese from Charles Martell & Son Ltd).
And yet more glorious wines! The Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam Chenin Blanc 2016 from the Western Cape of South Africa, the Larry McKenna Escarpment Chardonnay 2014 from Martinborough in New Zealand, the Foundry Viognier 2014 from Stellenbosch and lastly the Dopff Gewurztraminer 2016. Memory and notes now largely fail me (I regret) but both cheeses and wines were wonderful. The standout pairings (for me) were the Old Winchester and the Chardonnay and the goat’s cheese with the Chenin.
‘Only at the Harrow’ said Roger at one point – and that more or less summed up the evening. Only at the Harrow! On the coach back there was much call for a 2019 repeat. If Roger and Sue are willing, then bring it on!