The life of a vintner can be a lonely, frustrating experience but, just occasionally, it throws up the sort of opportunity that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
So it was that, in the company of food and drink writer and Birmingham legend, Paul Fulford, I set about one of the toughest food and wine matching challenges to date in the beautiful surroundings of Chung Ying Central on Colmore Row.
Our generous host, Will Wong, had put together a myriad of different dishes, against which I chose 8 wines which I felt might provide interesting and (hopefully) successful flavour combinations. Paul and I had attempted to conduct the exercise in the somewhat sterile surroundings of our office a couple of weeks before but without any of the dishes in front of us the challenge just proved a little too er … challenging. Now here we were with the table groaning beneath the array of dishes, preparing to do battle.
Riesling is a no-brainer in terms of food matching as it works with so many different dishes but with Chinese food it’s really compulsory. The biggest surprise was that although it demonstrated its versatility across a range of different dishes, it triumphed only once.
I love Gruner Veltliner and it is generally soooo food friendly with great acidity and that lovely spiciness. This proved a bit too much for many of the dishes but it did work beautifully with the Tempura prawns.
This dry Muscat from western Turkey was one of my outside bets to impress; full of spicy fruit and that classic Muscat “grapiness” it ultimately struggled to deliver being just a tad too dry for many of the dishes.
Star performer amongst the whites; this has such poise and length that it never appears too weighty and intense yet really comes out of its shell with the right dishes.
Something of a surprise; I had expected the whites to outperform the reds (it was a draw) and thought I ought to throw a rose in for good measure; I love the wine anyway as it is such a lovely, accessible, dry rose with hints of red fruit and minerality but I did not expect it to impress as much as it did. Chapeau!
Probably the biggest disappointment; this is such a delightful Pinot with just enough ripeness to give it broad appeal but not enough to send it into the “soupy” category. Sadly it just didn’t seem to cut it as well as the other two reds as it seemed to dominate rather than partner the dishes – could possibly work better with a few minutes in the ice bucket to bring out a bit more acidity.
One of the stars. Like so many others, Paul voiced a concern that, coming from such a hot country as Turkey, this would be too rich and alcoholic. In fact the reverse is true, this is wonderfully light and refreshing with great acidity yet sufficient grip to stand up to some of the fuller flavoured dishes.
Another triumph; this is a relatively modest red – young, juicy and vibrant. It has older siblings which have much more weight, richness and oak ageing but this is just full of youthful enthusiasm and a desire to please which it did time and again.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
This was a real surprise. I felt that it had Riesling written all over it (and, once again, it was by no means an abject failure) but having exhausted the various whites, I then threw in the Kalecik Karasi from central Turkey which took it’s shoes off at the door, put the kettle on and hugged the Spring Rolls as though they had been together for a lifetime. Kalecik Karasi is a native Turkish grape which produces beautifully food-friendly styles of red almost a la Beaujolais and it worked brilliantly here.
Beef Siu Mai
This is a slightly blander style of dish and although I was all geared up to put it with one of the fuller styles of red, it was actually the dry rose from Domaine de la Bastide that shone through. The reds were just a bit too full whilst the red fruit and acidity of the rose worked perfectly.
Pork Spicy Dumpling
The extra level of spice and the herbal nature of the dumplings caused a real explosion of flavours in the mouth for which the juicy vibrancy of the Castillo de Jumilla provided the perfect foil. It’s a young, unoaked red from southern Spain which was one of the real success stories of the afternoon.
King Prawns Tempura
We had thought that the Riesling would be a great match and, indeed, it did work well (as it did with a number of the dishes) but the hint of white pepper spice and slightly drier style of the Gruner Veltliner was the unmistakeable winner. The two married well without ever overwhelming each other.
Chicken Satay skewers
The richness and sweetness of the sauce really cried out for something with a bit of weight and the Viognier from Arendsig in Robertson answered in spades. In some winemakers’ hands, Viognier can overwhelm with its intensity and lose sight of its primary objective which is to refresh the palate; by contrast, Lourens Van Westhuizen’s “hands-off” approach has produced a much more expressive style of wine which brought out the flavours of the dish rather than overwhelming them and then brought its own personality to bear on the finish.
Salt & Chilli Squid
Dishes with a bit of chilli heat to them frequently get paired with somewhat heavier, higher alcohol wines which are mistakenly believed to work well with the intensity of the dish. In reality, the alcohol merely serves to exaggerate the heat and spiciness whilst the richness of the wine frequently overwhelms the rest of the dish. Consequently, the off-dry Riesling was a shoo-in here, refreshing the palate beautifully with its lightness and delicacy whilst the chilli absorbed some of the sweetness to leave a clean, dry finish.
Sweet & Sour Pork
None of the wines we had open seemed to cut the mustard here but I wonder whether a sweeter style of rose may work? (Us on the website chip in with the Villa Wolf Rose?)
Beef in Black Bean Sauce
I did wonder whether this might require a somewhat bolder style of red than we had open but once again the Castillo de Jumilla came good; in fact, when we tried it with a splash of Malbec that was behind the bar it masked much of the dish’s subtlety. Interestingly, the dish also showed a different side to the wine as it brought out more of the dark fruit character of the Monastrell.
Monkfish in Salt & Chilli
This was another dish where the Viognier raised a wry smile, winked and laid down a royal flush; it’s a beautiful full-flavoured dish which proved a bit too much for the other whites but, once again, served to demonstrate that the right food and wine match brings out the best in both. The flavours in the dish became slightly more focused whilst the wine developed an extra layer of depth and richness.
Chicken Katsu Curry
We almost went through the card on this one before considering the Domaine de la Bastide, Cotes du Rhone Rose; it’s not a strongly flavoured dish and was in danger of being sidelined by some of the bolder styles of wine but the delicate red fruit and balancing acidity of the rose worked really well.
Lemon & Honey Chicken
Sorry. We crashed and burned with this. We really tried but nothing quite worked.
Lamb in Ginger & Spring Onion
This was another triumph for the lighter, more delicate style of the Kalecik Karasi; it’s got a really expressive, crunchy acidity which lends a brightness and zing to the whole experience.
For the final week we look at Louisvale, and will be opening their Stone Road Sauvignon Blanc and the newly arrived sparkling MCC Brut Chardonnay-
“We have a particular soft spot for Louisvale as it was our introduction to them 12 months ago and the subsequent success that their wines have enjoyed that encouraged this project in the first instance.
For week 3 we’re focusing on Longridge:
“With a series of awards and a trophy cupboard which, it’s fair to say, is more along the lines of Barcelona than Birmingham City this is a truly impressive line-up. Stars of the show were the ridiculously pretty, The Emily, a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend that just cries out to be drunk, a delicate, beautifully balanced 2015 Chardonnay, the truly exceptional, Bordeaux style, Eklipika 2014 – widely regarded as one of the country’s finest reds and, for me the real surprise – Pinotage 2015 – it’s Pinotage Jim but not as we know it; bright, full of sweet red fruit and not a trace of burnt rubber in sight.