We attended the Wine Society’s 14th Annual Festive Dinner on Tuesday 16th December – and what an evening it was!
On arrival at the traditionally elegant Merchant Taylor’s hall in London’s Threadneedle Street, we were greeted with the impeccably rounded Alfred Gratien 2000, served in large flutes. A flock of waiters circulated offering delicious canapés, topping up any glass that looked depleted.
When Angela took a few moments to powder her nose, the society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes took the opportunity to chat, and continued the conversation with both of us on Angela’s return. He was genuinely interested in our views and keen to find out what we thought the society could do to improve the service to members.
We were seated for dining at large round tables. It is not often that you come across a place setting with eight empty wine glasses! With a continual flow of wine on offer, it didn’t take long for a lively conversation to develop with our fellow members. The amuse-bouche was a pumpkin velouté topped by a smoked bacon foam with a lovely saltiness – a great appetiser.
The guest speaker for the evening was the renowned wine maker, Caroline Frey from Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné, so it was appropriate that most of the wines for the evening were Jaboulet wines. It is unusual for the speaker to provide the chef, but on this occasion the meal was prepared by the chef from the Frey family estate, which turned out to be an inspired choice.
The pasta course – Langoustine, foie gras and black truffle ravioli – was a light, fragrant, creamy sensation. Reminiscent of ‘lobster bisque’ with rich truffle overtones. The accompanying Condrieu Domaine des Grands Amandiers 2012 had a refined nose of parma ham and melon with a honeyed creamy palate.
The fish course – Sea bass fillet, fondant leeks, champagne sauce – presented perfectly cooked fish on sweet leeks with a buttery sauce. We found it somewhat unusual to have the skin moist instead of crispy, but that in no way diminished the excellence of the dish. Offsetting this perfectly, the Saint-Peray ‘La Sauvagere’ 2012 had a clean fragrant nose with a subtle pepperiness and a palate showing grapes with drying apricots and a flinty, chablis-like character.
Our main course for the evening – Veal, ravioles de royans and cep gratin, courgette with parmesan cheese – demonstrated what great things can be achieved with this under-appreciated product. Not a hammered, breadcrumbed escalope, but a succulent fillet melting on the tongue. Befittingly for the centre piece of a wine society event, three wines were offered to accompany the main course. The Incognito Rouge H Cotes du Rhone 2004 had a light peppery nose with a light raspbery palate. A definite step up, the Hermitage La Chapelle 2007 showed massive fruit on the nose, with further to follow on the palate and satisfying tannin on the finish. The final wine was, for some, the main reason for attending the event. The Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 offered a more subtle, fruity nose, with a little mustiness. On the palate the wine showed fine structure and complexity with balanced tannin. A great treat for the connoisseur, but interestingly several around the table preferred the 2007. We are told that ‘less is more’, but in these austere times, perhaps, we also appreciate ‘a little more of what you fancy’?
The cheese course – Picodon and St Marcelin cheeses – consisted of a lovely soft and salty St Marcelin cheese on toast accompanied by two pieces of the Picodon. We both liked the St Marcelin, but neither of us have an affinity for cheeses with a rubbery consistency, so the Picodon was not to our taste – a matter of personal preference, rather than a reflection of the quality of the cheese. The accompanying Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg 2012 was lightly aromatic with a Riesling-like quality. Not quite what we expected, but it definitely ‘worked’.
The final sweet course – Vecors with walnut and salted butter caramel – consisted of a delightfully light meringue base with a delicious vanilla cream top. This time the wine was not from Jaboulet, but a Chateau Climens 2005 with Gales honey on the nose and light, light ‘Crunchie bars’ with Acacia honey on the palate. Our speaker, Caroline Frey, who had regaled us with interesting background to each of the wines throughout the evening, said that she was very happy about this as a bottle of Chateau Climens had played a part in a special incident in her life. Which left as all wondering what this mysterious occasion was.
We both felt that our first attendance at a Wine Society Christmas Dinner was a great success, and we will definitely be attending next year’s event.