Claire Tennant-Scull chooses wines to complement a November dinner party
This month's dinner party menu is quite a challenging one to match with wine. Another factor is the fairly tight budget, but fortunately, Jonny Gibson from Wine Discoveries and Bernard Wilkes, Wine Specialist at Waitrose in Tenterden have been on hand to help.
Jonny Gibson specialises in tracking down great wines from small family producers in France, Italy, Spain and the New World. In 2003, Jonny headed off to France in search of interesting bargains for his family and friends, but his reputation as a wine "hound" quickly spread and the business grew from there. He still works exclusively with independent winemakers and firmly believes that hand-crafted wines made in an environmentally friendly way have more rewarding and complex flavours.
Waitrose have recently won the Multiple Wine Retailer of the Year Award for 2011 and were commended for their high level of customer service. With more Masters of Wine on staff than any other supermarket, the company takes wine retailing seriously. Bernard Wilkes and Matt Hukins are the Wine Specialists at Tenterden and have been professionally trained in food and wine matching, so it is well worth asking them for some advice.
With the budget in mind, I wanted to find a suitable apéritif that would suit both the cheese appetisers and the trio of soups. The soups feature some strong flavours and with the sweet potato and parsnip and apple ingredients in two of them, the sweetness could be a challenge for a wine, so with the rich mushroom soup in mind too, I opted for a medium dry sherry, La Concha Amontillado (£7.99 Waitrose). Its rich, warming, nutty, almost mushroomy flavour works well with the cheese in the canapés and balances the flavours in all three soups. Sherry might sound a little old-fashioned, but this one is a finely balanced one with a slightly salty tang - just the thing to sharpen the appetite and especially pleasing on a cold November evening. Serve it in copitas (small, tulip-shaped glasses) to make the most of the rich aroma.
Although the list of ingredients includes some strong flavours (orange juice and zest, muscovado sugar, red onion, garlic and chilli), once the dish is cooked, no one flavour dominates, but the sauce does have sweet and slightly spicy notes so it takes a fairly robust wine to stand up to it. All these have been tried and tasted with the chicken and complement it well. It is no accident that they are all from either southern France or the New World. This is because the grapes can be left to ripen in the warmer climates for longer, so that they have higher levels of alcohol, lower acidity and softer tannins that result in rich, smooth and slightly spicy wines.
Jonny came up with a really unusual idea for a drink to go with the pud. Chocolate is notoriously difficult to pair, but Jonny's inspired choice is 'Espresso' Rich Coffee Beer from Dark Star Brewery in West Sussex (£2.29). This black beer is made with dark roasted barley malt and challenger hops to which freshly ground Arabica coffee beans are added. The "bitter" quality of the beer works surprisingly well with the rich chocolate, but I'd recommend serving it in smaller, more elegant glasses than half pint measures!
The more conventional alternative is an Orange Muscat such as: Brown Brothers' Special Late-Harvested Orange Muscat & Flora 2009, Victoria, Australia (£6.99 Waitrose). This really does have orange blossom aromas and a honeyed, apricot flavour, so whether you like this with the mousse will probably depend on your views on mixing fruit with chocolate in general.
Wine Discoveries take orders online or by telephone, and deliver by the case. 01342 826139 www.winediscoveries.co.uk. Or at the shops at: Forest Row, East Sussex (01342 826139) and Westerham, Kent (01959 565999). To contact Waitrose in Tenterden telephone: 01580 765168 They have branches all over Kent and East Sussex and can be found online at: www.waitrose.com