Slow Food Society revs up the pace with a fun-filled event

Put a group of wine and food lovers
together in a room with five courses of carefully crafted cuisine and exciting
and varied wines and have them pit their wits against each other in a brain
teasing wine and wisdom test and you are onto a sure-fire winner of an evening.
Slow Food President Alan Markoff recently teamed up with Blackbeard’s wine
expert Jeremy Corday and Bacchus restaurant to produce a night full of hilarity
and more than a touch of competitive instinct at one such evening.

Wine dinners are always a great excuse to
get together with friends and let your hair down, safe in the knowledge that
the wine and food experts have already done the decision-making for you so you
can just focus on having a good time. Adding the competitive element of
guessing the grape and the like adds a frisson of excitement to the
proceedings, as everyone pitches their wits against their neighbour in
anticipation of being crowned the winner.

At Bacchus restaurant the scene was set for
one such evening, Blackbeard’s Jeremy Corday and the Slow Food’s Alan Markoff
concocting a masterful plan to have us all scratching our heads while at the
same time sampling some sumptuous dishes by the talented staff at Bacchus.

After a tantalising selection of nibbles
had well and truly got our appetites into gear and a glass or two of the first
wine on our list to be guessed, diners took their seats in large tables, all
split into groups of around four to work together on the night’s competition.

This is the first year that Alan has taken
the helm at the Slow Food Society. He says that he decided to take Slow Food in
the direction he thinks it should go, which is more toward the philosophies of
Slow Food International. 

“That includes having fun in convivial
settings, actively seeking new members, and having more events.  Instead of being an elite culinary group, my
emphasis is on putting together fun events for people who enjoy fine
dining.  Although there are some higher
priced events, I’m trying to keep costs down as much as possible so I can have
events in the CI$60-CI$75 pp range.

There is little in the way of formalities, but the events tend to be a
lot of fun, partially because I insist on seating people at large tables
together!” he says.

Jeremy set the scene by explaining that
Alan had managed to persuade him to provide some “rockstar” wines at a very
reasonable price for diners on this occasion. “You are going to be drinking
some killer wines without having to pay the high price!” he confirmed. “This
dinner should easily be CI$100 or more.”

His first competition was duly handed out
to diners while they supped on their deliciously fruity yet not too full of
fizz first wine, a delicate shade of pale pink and a light and crisp entry into
the wines. The competition had an added bite as we were required not only to
guess the grape but also answer a myriad of other wine-related questions
throughout the course of the evening. 

We were sure we were onto a winner with
Concha y Toro, always an acceptable bottle of fizz with which to start
proceedings, but alas it was not to be, as Jeremy revealed the first wine to be
none other but the well-consumed (in our house at least) Fantinel Brut Rose
Sparkling NV at CI$25.29.

“This is a great alternative to Champagne,
a wonderful wine with a strawberry-infused nose that you can take to the beach,
drink on the patio or perhaps enjoy with brunch,” Jeremy confirmed.

At least we completed the quote from
Silence of the Lambs correctly (“I ate his liver with some [fava beans] and a
nice [Chianti]”).

A tea-cured local Yellow Fin Tuna Sashimi
graced our tables, and I had a strong feeling that a great Riesling would be
the obvious choice as a wine accompaniment, the slight sweetness of the grape
complementing the spicy Asian-infused dish perfectly. The nose of our second
wine confirmed this to me in excellent style, giving off that faint whiff of
petrol. Once imbibed, the flavour said we had hit the nail on the head.

Jeremy confirmed our wine as an ‘Eroica’
Riesling from 2008 at CI$28.99, by Chateau Ste Michelle/Dr Loosen.      

“The winemakers have had their wines in the
Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the Year for the past five years (except for
2004 when their wine scored 89 points). In fact, their first five vintages that
were in the top 100 and every vintage ever made had received 90 points or more
except the 2004 – the rest were all over 90 points,” Jeremy says. “This wine
shows a great balance of new world with its balance of fruit and acidity and
old world with its minerality and petrol. It manages to even out spice and heat
so it’s perfect for the dish. It is made in a slightly sweet/off–dry style and
it is the benchmark for American Riesling”

An incredibly rich, creamy smooth and deliciously
cheesy grilled potato gnocchi Florentine then was served up to diners, complete
with an intensely flavoured spinach truffle cream sauce. We guessed that the
wine ought to be a Chardonnay here, the intelligent choice for a rich sauce;
however our wine had no hints of oak and was refreshing and crisp, fruity and
acidic, so we chose a Pinot Grigio as the grape.

We should have gone with our gut instinct,
as Jeremy revealed the wine to be a Yangarra unoaked Chardonnay 2007 from
Australia, priced at CI$20.49.

“The wine is made from gnarly looking 20
year old bush vines that grow from one big stump with huge knots in
un-irrigated soil so the grapes really have to struggle to grow and this makes
great wine,” Jeremy explains. “This is a gorgeous unoaked Australian Chardonnay
that is made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes.”

Jeremy says he loves to offer this wine to
customers in the store with a preconceived notion about Chardonnay.

”They come in thinking all Chardonnay wines
are oak bombs and are delighted by the bright, citrussy notes in this wine,” he
confirms. “It also makes a great pairing with oysters.”

Our seared diver scallops with an Asian
peanut stir fry were a delicious follow on from the gnocchi and went
surprisingly well with our next light and delicious red. 

Betting our money on Pinot Noir, we scored
a big zero for this wine, when Jeremy revealed it to actually be a
Grenache  – a Betts & Scholl ‘O.G.’
Grenache 2007 CI$30.99.

Jeremy explained that the Aspen,
Colorado-based sommelier Richard Betts and art collector Dennis Scholl led an
interesting life making wine all over the world, without actually owning any
vineyards or a winery themselves. 

“They work with the property and their
famous winemaker friends in Australia, California and France to produce some
outstanding wines,” he said.

Bacchus chefs outdid themselves for the
mains – a duet of New Zealand chop and braised beef short ribs that sang like a
symphony on the palate. Deeply flavoured and meltingly tender, this was a great
dish which deserves a great wine. Thankfully it was poured – a deep red little
number that almost shouted Cabernet Sauvignon to the drinker.

“The combination of this braised short rib
and this killer wine is like sex on your lips and this Rustenberg ‘Peter
Barlow’ Cabernet 2004 priced at CI$52.99 pairs extremely well,” Jeremy says.
“If you are a fan of Bordeaux wines you’ll love this South Africa gem – an
awesome, complex combination of old and new world, full of cassis and dark,
dark cherry notes with hints of earth.”

Bacchus created a tempting array for
dessert – banana fritters (always a winner) with a milk chocolate mousse and
the sparkling, raspberry-scented wine with light, delicate bubbles that
concluded the meal had us all guessing to the end. Not a Moscato, not an ice
wine…instead a Batasiolo Brachetto Spumante NV at CI$19.99.  Ah well, two out of five ain’t bad. And of
course, everyone who dined at Bacchus that night was a winner!