In my ongoing attempt to clear my drafts folder of half-completed posts, here is another account of a truly enjoyable wine dinner in great company that I attended at the end of last year.
One of the great things about living abroad is that it opens up a while new world of wine enjoyment. Living in a wine-producing country such as South Africa, I drank almost exclusively South African wine. And why not: it’s generally of a very high standard, and drinking the imported stuff is hilariously expensive – so it’s a no-brainer. After a few months in the UK, I decided to get to the bottom of what all the fuss was about with Chablis, Rioja and Bordeaux and so I started exploring the wines of other countries. It has been an interesting learning curve and a very pleasurable way to develop a taste yardstick by which to measure and place your own country’s wines in the larger family tree of world wine. But what I find most interesting of all is that even after 10 years of drinking wines from regions all over the Old World, my palate still shows a distinct preference for the fruit and accessibility of New World wines.
Jacob’s Creek is an Australian producer with a bit of history. Bavarian Johann Gramp arrived in Australia by shop in 1837, just a year or two before the Barossa Valley’s potential as a wine-growing area was discovered. By 1847, Johann had purhcase 30 hectares of land and planted the Barossa Valley’s first commercial vineyard on the banks of Jacob’s Creek, although no wines were bottled under their own label until 1976. Today, more than 160 years after the story started, Jacob’s Creek produces a number of ranges of wines: Classic, Cool Harvest, Sparkling, Winemaker’s, Super Premium, and Reserve. It was the latter range that was being showcased at a dinner hosted by Jacob’s Creek at No. 35 at The Hempel, led by Pernod Ricard’s Head of Wine Development Adrian Atkinson and accompanied by chef Michael Carter’s seasonal winter tasting menu. Adrian chatted to us about winemaking techniques and the particular influence of terroir on a wine’s finished product, highlighting the fact that many of the Jacob’s Creek vineyards occupy subtly different terroirs, and that the winemakers try to emphasise these regional differences in their wines.
Our meal started with roasted diver-caught Isle of Mull scallops with smoked black pudding, red onion jam and microgreens salad. This was my kind of dish: scallops almost crisp on the outside and buttery on the inside; and the earthy flavours of the black pudding bringing out the sweetness in the scallops. Delicious. This was served withJacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2012 (Barossa) – a pale straw colour with a lovely and typical floral, lightly keroseney nose with notes of lemon. ON the palate it was minerally rather than fruity but with defntie hints of lemon and a lingering finish.
This was followed by a heritage beetroot salad (ruby, golden and candystripe varieties) with Staffordshire Innes goat’s cheese, hazelnuts and mustard leaves. As a recent convert to beetroot, I find it easy to get evangelical about it, but I have to say that goat’s cheese and beetroot is an all-time classic combination. The cheese was creamy and particularly moreish to blance out the earthy notes of the beets; the and what’s not to like about the three colours of beetroot? This was served with Jacob’s Creek Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Adelaide Hills). This had a pale, almost greenish colour and a greenish, gooseberry nose. The surprisingly full-bodied palate provided a veritable fruit salad of green apples, gooseberries and guavas but with a lovely acidity to lend vibrance. One of the best wine matches of the night, in my opinion.
Our fish course was a piece of line-caught wild seabass with Scottish girolles, Jerusalem artichokes & vanilla oil. I love girolles, and I love Jerusalem artichokes – but I would certainyl not have thought to serve vanilla oil with fish. That said, it worked beautifully, lending a sweetness to the darker and more earthy flavours of the mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes. The fish itself was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin and lightly flaking flesh. This was paired wth the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2012 (Adelaide Hills). A pale lemon colour with a toasty nutty nose with a whiff of lemons, the palate revealed a delightfully creamy-textured wine packed with toasted nut and grapefruit flavours and a long clean finish with hints of vanilla. My favourite white wine of the night.
Next up was a kind of culinary intermezzo before the meat course. This came in the form of an enoki mushroom consommé with soft boiled quail egg and chicken oysters on a tiny bamboo skewer. I am a sucker for this kind of dish – small yet perfectly formed and brimming with flavours and textures. The broth was packed with rich umami flavour, and the egg was perfectly soft boiled (which must take some skill in something so small!). I also loved the slightly charred chicken oyster and how it was served. This was accmpanied by the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 (Adelaide Hills) which had a good ruby colour and a fruity nose full of ripe red berries. On the palate, the wine was a happy marriage of soft tannin, chocolate and ripe red fruit flavours. Although lovely on its own, this wine proved an outstanding match for the food as well.
Our meat course was an organic Rhug Estate flatiron steak with roasted onions, braised leeks, garlic & mashed potato. Flatiron steak is not nearly as popular here in the UK as it is in the US – and I can’t imagine why because it’s a great cut I wondered if this particular example had spent some time in the sous vide oven before pan-finishing,given its uniform cooking from the centre to the surface? In any event, the result was tender and super-flavourful meat. This was matched with a Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2008 (Barossa) a deep garnet colour and a phenomenal nose of vanilla and brandy pudding with hints of spice. It was also delicious in the mouth with a full-bodied mouthful of ripe red cherries and vanilla, but with soft tannins making it super-accessible.
And last but not least came the cheeseboard of British and continental cheeses: Staffordshire goat’s cheese, Lincolnshire Poacher, Wigmore, Cashel Blue (and omnt,together with a sliver of pressed fig and almond cake. I am a cheese freak, so needless to say, I loved this course, although the goat’s cheese and the Lincolnshire Poacher must be singled out for particular deliciousness. The cheese were served with the Jacob’s Creek reserve Cabernet 2009 (Coonawarra) This deep garnet-coloured wine had a slightly minty new-clone nose with hints of liquorice and vanilla. In the mouth there was an explosion of ripe cassis still with underlying minty hints, and more structure than the Shiraz. This made it probably slightly less accessible than the Shiraz, but with greater ageing potential.
All in all, it was an enjoyable night in good company, discovering Jacob’s Creek more premium wines. As with South African wines like Kumala, the entry level wines of such a big brand are necessarily made to a specific price point and do not always reflect accurately what the estate can do. It is almost always worth paying that little bit extra and going to the premium ranges – as this evening illustrated. I was also impressed with the food at the Hempel, my only previous experience here having been mass catering when I spoke at Food Blogger Connect. Ingredients are obviously sourced with care and thought, which is apparent in the clean and distinct flavours of the dishes. The serene, minimalist interiors and the spacious private dining room made for a relaxed and enjoyable evening – thanks to Weber Shandwick for inviting me.
Here are some other impressions of the evening:
Jacob’s Creek’s Reserve wines are available at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Tesco Wine and Ocado, and are all priced at £9.99.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this dinner as a guest of Weber Shandwick and Jacob’s Creek
No. 35 @ THE HEMPEL
31-35 Craven Hill Gardens
Tel. +44 (0) 207 298 9000
Fax: +44 (0) 207 402 4666
And while we’re chatting, don’t forget to submit your entry to my annual barbecue event, Braai, the Beloved Country! Participants also stand to win one of two copies of Braai Masters of the Cape Winelands – so get the fire going right now! Details of how to enter can be found here.