Tuesday , May 17 2022

Matches made in heaven?

Featured in Feast, issue 39 – September 2019 

You won’t be entirely surprised to discover that my three-week sojourn to the Languedoc this summer was largely taken up with making the most of the food and the wine that this wonderful region has to offer – generally at the same time.

That is the point about wine drinking in France.  Although you will see glasses being taken at cafés, usually as an aperitif, the vast majority of wine drunk by our Gallic cousins is with food. It is in my house, too. I have always found beer too heavy for most foods, and the idea of killing your taste buds with spirits was not something I would ever have considered.

However, it is good to have your preconceptions challenged, and twice recently my set ideas about what to put in my dinner-time glass have been confronted.

The first occasion came following the Hospitality Action charity dinner at Holkham Hall, a menu created by a who’s who of Norfolk chefs to launch the charity, which looks after the welfare of those working in the hospitality industry.  I was lucky enough to find myself sitting next to Laura Handford, marketing guru at Redwell Brewery. She listened politely to my advice on what we should be drinking with each course, and then said she had just the thing to make me question my ‘wine is always right’ mindset.

Two days later, Redwell boss Ben Hopkins himself arrived at my door with two bottles of the brewery’s brand-new Brut IPA. This, said Ben, is a beer for food: and you know what, he’s right. Made from Sauvin hops, a variety which originated in New Zealand and which is said to impart flavours similar to a white wine fruitiness, the Brut IPA is pale and dry, with notes of grapes and tropical fruit, and definitely one to match with food. At 6 per cent abv, it’s not a glugging beer, but that’s kind of the point.

If drinking beer with food is not exactly breaking the mould, then consuming spirits with your meal has always seemed a massive no-no to me. The high levels of alcohol numb the palate, leaving little sensitivity to the subtleties of the food’s own flavours.

So it was with some trepidation that I found myself at The Ivy Brasserie Norwich recently. The guests of Matt and Steph Brown, whose Founding Drinks company is responsible for Norfolk’s own Wild Knight English Vodka, Nelson’s Gold vodka liqueur, and most recently, a growing range of gins marketed under the Boadicea label, this was a Gin Tasting Dinner – three words which I wouldn’t have thought belonged in the same phrase.

For me, gin has always fallen firmly into the pre-dinner cocktail category, but some real thought had been put in by both chef and sommelier. The first course of Bang Bang chicken (crispy chicken with peanut and sweet chilli on a salad of cucumber, baby gem and radish) was perfectly complemented by a gin and tonic made from Boadicea’s fruity Rosa gin and elderflower tonic. The long nature of the drink moderated the gin’s alcohol, and the fruitiness of both gin and tonic was a perfect foil for the dry spiciness of the chicken.

Next came sea bream with fennel, apple and watercress salad and a chive and Champagne velouté. Served with this was Boadicea Gin with yuzu juice, hibiscus syrup and lemonade (a concoction called a Japanese Warrior). I was worried this might be too sweet for the dish, but the richness of the velouté stood up to the sweeter elements of the drink, and the citrus of the yuzu cut through.

Pudding was a cherry panna cotta, served with a cocktail made from the Rosa gin, with lemon juice, raspberry syrup and egg white. The cherries in both panna cotta and gin were well-matched, and this time an element of sweetness was welcome.

My worry about drinking spirits with a meal is that the amount of alcohol can be numbing, but Matt assured me that we had each consumed around six units of alcohol during the meal – about the same as in a 500ml carafe of wine.

I’m sure our French friends would be horrified at the idea of drinking gin with dinner, but sometimes it’s good to leave your prejudices at the door and try something new. I’m not convinced I will be drinking anything other than wine with dinner on a regular basis, but when there are such top-quality alternatives being made here in Norfolk, it’s certainly worth giving them a try. 

Three wines Andy has enjoyed this month:

  • Kaesler Love Child Viognier, Barossa Valley, 2018
    Bakers & Larners, £19.75
    A wonderful, rich and creamy barrel-fermented Viognier from Australia’s Barossa Valley, with a huge nose of peach, honey and honeysuckle, and packed with apricot, peach and spicy cinnamon flavours.  Nicely balanced, with just enough oak, and a genuine Viognier varietal character.  The best New World match for a Condrieu I have yet tasted

  • Domaine des Mailloches Bourgeuil, 2017
    Bakers & Larners, £12.75
    100 per cent Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, made from young vines, this is a real fruit bomb: ruby-red in colour, with red and black fruits on the nose, and a simple, light and easy palate which matches the nose.  I would put this in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving

  • Morrisons ‘The Best’ Alsace Pinot Gris, 2017
    Morrisons, £8.50
    Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, but in Alsace it gives wines with more body and more interest.  This is a classic of the genre, at a bargain price.  Honeyed and floral on the nose, the palate has honeyed spice, and a big depth of flavour

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