The key to working out the best order in which to serve one’s wines is to mix it up a bit discovers Jonathan Ray.
There were five of us to dinner last night at a BYO-friendly club in London and each of us had brought one or two fine bottles to knock back and bang on about. (And five, incidentally, is the perfect number for such a dinner as you get one hearty glass each out of every bottle.) The trouble was that none of us could agree on the best order in which to serve the stuff, not least because we had all ordered something different to eat.
And it had all seemed so obvious at the beginning. I had brought some fine fizz and between them the others had brought a magnum of Provencal rosé, a German Riesling, a claret, a Rhône, a New World Pinot Noir and a Sauternes. I had naturally imagined that in the normal course of things it would be fizz first as an aperitif, then Riesling with the starters, then maybe a palate-cleansing rosé, followed by a mishmash of Pinot, claret and Rhône with the mains and cheese before ending up with the Sauternes alongside the pudding.
But oh no. Gather five wine bores together and each will have his or her opinion on just about every possible vinous topic and especially the best order in which to serve the vino. We argued for ages, so long in fact that it was only the threat of a dry evening that prompted us finally to ignore our differences and come to some sort of decision.
(And BTW, just what is the collective noun for a group of wine bores? The best we could come up with was a bunch of wine bores – geddit? – or a pontification of wine bores or a slurring of wine bores.)*
Anyway, Pete rightly pointed out that the fizz – 2004 Pol Roger Brut Vintage – was far too weighty and characterful and Pinot Noir-dominant to have as an aperitif and would be better served with food. How about the Riesling – a 2004 Donnhoff Spatlese – taking it’s place then? Too light in alcohol to give the kick required of the first drink of the evening reckoned Jason (it’s only 10%vol) besides which, as an off-dry or demi-sec, it might go better with fish or cheese.
We finally agreed to broach the 2015 Clos Saint Magdeleine Provencal Rosé (a cracking blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvèdre full of summery fruit but with a very appealing savoury finish) after Nigel pointed out that since it was a magnum there’d be plenty left for anyone to have it with grub too and since it was also well-chilled it was more than fit for purpose as an aperitif. After that, things began finally to fit into place, albeit somewhat chaotically.
We quaffed merrily on the rosé until the starters arrived whereupon the three of us having smoked eel with beetroot & horseradish carried on with it and the two having foie gras on toast had a small glass each of the 2003 Ch. Rieussec Sauternes. The bottle was then confiscated from them so they didn’t leave the rest of us short for later.
Tiring of the rosé, excellent though it was, I broke ranks and had a small glass of the deliciously fresh, honeyed and appley 2004 Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese with my smoked eel and it matched it perfectly, the crispness and near sweetness of the wine contrasting with the creaminess and saltiness of the eel.
With our main courses of rack of lamb, calves’ liver and bacon, mushroom risotto and rib eye steak we had the reds side by side but in the following order: 2012 Dalrymple Pinot Noir from Tasmania (soft, smooth and slightly smokey), 1998 Ch. Léoville-Barton (a fine vintage but in an awkward middle age and not, sadly, showing at its best) and 1998 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas (rich, spicy and wonderfully earthy).
Then, with the table crammed to its very edges with glasses, bottles, decanters and ice buckets, it was on to a plate of hard cheeses – Mimolette, vintage Cheddar and Parmesan – washed down by the fabulous toasty, brioche-y and honeyed Pol Roger. Then – after a pause – we had mercifully tiny savoury goats’ cheese tartlets perfectly matched with the rest of the Donnhoff Spatlese.
After that (and I stress that we didn’t quite finish every bottle nor indeed every dish) it was on to the sublime, marmaladey, apricotty sweet and unctuous 2003 Ch. Rieussec. Only one greedy-guts among us could manage a pudding and only a couple of spoonfuls at that as we all finally found something to agree on: that the majestic Ch. Rieussec in its pomp such as this was a pudding in itself.