Wine knowledge has been spreading around the globe. Wine collecting is now a hobby, and not just for the well-heeled. More and more, people who are mad about wine want to share the great bottles they have been collecting. What's the point of tracking down sometimes rare wines from your favourite growers to drink alone, or with people who are frankly bored by your enthusiasm for analysing their aromas and flavours? A lot of thought goes into choosing bottles to compare and contrast with other wine enthusiasts. It is my contention that this sort of dinner is best held at home. What I have learnt from many years of cooking for wine makers,wine traders, commentators and wine collectors is this: - keep the food simple. This is not the moment to try out complicated dishes. Your culinary skills are there to help not hinder wine appreciation. For a "wine dinner" the food is the orchestra, the wines are the soloists.
Becky Wasserman and her husband Russell Hone receive hundreds - yes, really hundreds - of people each year in their beautiful farmhouse near Beaune, giving them a taste of what it's like to live in Burgundy. Becky's wine exporting business, Le Serbet, entertains its clients here. Many of them become friends and return as often as they can, because this is a table where wines shine, but unpretentiously. No wine snobbism, just a respect for growers who do their work very conscientiously whether they are making village wines or Grands Crus.
The world-famous wine region is essentially a rustic place. Russell is noted and loved for a repertoire of dishes which are the backbone of French country cooking - red wine stews, navarins, blanquettes and much else, made with ingredients bought from local growers, just like the wines. This is a long way from French restaurant cooking and does the job perfectly. These are dishes which don't impose themselves. They are delicious but they allow the wines to shine while everyone relaxes round a convivial table,conversation flowing.
If you have a line-up of wines as above - lucky you! - to serve, with the wine maker present at the dinner, it makes sense to ask him or her what they would like. In this case, Frederic Mugnier (one of my all time favourite growers) has quite strong feelings. He prefers to serve fish as a first course with his reds. He likes, as many Burgundians do, white with cheese. In fact, most growers if consulted about a menu will say, "something simple". We don't need to get too precious about wine and food matching, but the cook has to be happy to take a facilitating role.
A menu which exemplifies this, chosen recently by Becky Wasserman and Russell Hone for a dinner show-casing Frederic Mugnier, was as follows:
Cold Salmon with Sauce Verte - a "quiet" dish which was a great partner for three reds:
Chambolle-Musigny 2010 (made from Premier Cru Les Plantes and Village vines), Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Clos de la Marechale Monopole 2009, and Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Fuees 2002.
Boned roast rack of Lamb with a stew of aubergines, onions and potatoes with mild flavours of cumin and ginger was served with four more great reds from Fred:
Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 2003, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Amoureuses 2003,Musigny Grand Cru 2007, Musigny Grand Cru 1993.
Local cheeses served with a white Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Clos de la Marechale Monopole 2009.
Poached fresh apricots with Orange Florentines were accompanied, not by a wine but by Apricot Liqueur distilled and made by another favourite wine maker as a side-line, Jean-Marc Roulot of Meursault.