I state this with certainty: There is more wine in our cellar than we can drink before we die.
What started as an interesting hobby, to accumulate a bit of nice wine to drink on special occasions, has turned into an obsession to never, ever have to drink young wine!
And while my other half tends (and continuously stocks) said cellar, I cook. I cook to eat, I cook to share, but most of all, I cook as to create. My children would know I’d had a rough day if they arrived home to find me chain-baking, tins lining up along the kitchen counter to take their place in the oven as others came out. The perfect stress-reliever – particularly with a perfect glass of wine in hand.
When I taste good wine, there is an immediate question in my head: “but what should I be cooking to eat with this?” No doubt to the frustration of my fellow wine tasters, waxing eloquent about the nose, the floral tones, the spicy notes; I instead am talking duck with cardamom, or garlicky rosemary lamb, sticky soy scallops, delicate poached salmon…
So when I was asked to donate an item for a charity auction, to support a colleague recently diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, I hatched an elaborate plan. A pairing for Parky, a matched food and wine dinner for 10 people – at home, because charity, of course, begins at home. It sounded like a good idea at the time – but on the night, with close to a thousand dollars paid for what was simply “dinner at my place”, I have to admit to a small feeling of trepidation.
It’s an entirely different proposition, you see, serving up a dinner to invited guests of your choosing than to people who’ve actually paid (albeit to a good cause) to be sharing your food and wine. I tried starting with the wine – but my husband was adamant: sort out the menu first, then he would match the wine. So that’s what we did.
Our guests arrived to Hibiscus bubbles – a light but decorative flute of preserved hibiscus flowers in a local NZ Deutz methode champenoise. As they sipped, they nibbled on red onion balsamic tarts, and blue cheese gougones, the tart richness offsetting the sweetness of the hibiscus.
Then on to the perfectly set dinner table, complete with bone china, silver and crystal… usually reserved for very special family occasions; but nothing like a well set table to add a touch of “special” to an event.
A minor complication – one of our guests was vegetarian (thankfully declared well in advance, so easily accommodated). More daunting, another an ex-chef… Deep breath, let the service begin!
To start, herby haloumi cigars, on a salad of vegetable tabbouleh. The crisp crunch of the phyllo pastry, with the interior richness of the cheese a perfect match for the rounded honey waxiness of a 2010 Alberino. A grape so popular in Spain, yet little know here in NZ, where Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay tend to divide white wine drinkers into two entrenched camps, almost to the exclusion of all other varietals.
The main course was deliberately simple, designed to provide a backdrop for the wine, a beautiful perfectly aged 2002 Penfolds Bin 407, not quite at its peak perhaps, but a taste sensation nevertheless. A classic cabernet sauvignon from an iconic Australian winemaker. The roast beef fillet a tad overcooked – too much conversation at the table, my one near disaster of the evening – but no one seemed to mind. Roast field mushrooms replacing the beef for our lone vegetarian (these too overcooked, go figure!). I steered clear of the obvious chocolate sauce, preferring to complement the mocha and blackcurrant tones of the wine with fresh crisp green beans and bright tomato salad – and of course, the melt in your mouth beef fillet.
Cheese came next – a French custom that to my mind provides a perfect transition from the serious food just eaten to the frivolous food to come. A beautiful blue and aged cheddar from Whitestone, a small local producer, with Pinot Noir jelly… And a choice to stay with the Penfolds (definitely my pick) or move on to the aged Riesling that was to come with dessert.
Foregoing my natural tendency to equate dessert with chocolate, I went for an easy-to-match lime coconut pudding, with a tiny glass of homemade limoncello on the side (for pouring over the pud, of course) while sipping on the gorgeously rich and limey 2003 Mesh Riesling.
Our wines had taken us around the world, from New Zealand, to Spain, through the Barossa & Eden Valleys in Australia. Our guests were replete, the cook self-satisfied, the cellar a little emptier…
Most of all, we celebrated that a simple dinner party could contribute so much to our colleague’s lifelong project to support Savong School in Cambodia, a mission becoming ever more challenging for him as Parky impacts his life.
And so we paired up for Parky, pairing our food and our wine, our cooking and our hospitality, our effort with our guests’ generosity, to support a Kiwi doing good work half a world away. And it was good.