Dinner with Mark De Vere MW

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A Blurry Mark de Vere MW 

To say that I am a bit late in writing this blog would be a huge understatement. I went along to the JW Steakhouse in Park Lane in May 2012 a guest of Mark de Vere MW and Robert Mondavi Wines. But better late then never I like to say. I lie. I don’t like that saying it and have very rarely used in my life. But I digress… back to dinner.

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Mark is a fascinating character. A peculiar, vibrant, highly intelligent and passionate wine communicator. Now despite working for that vinous colossus and preaching the wine gospel according to Bob Mondavi for the past 15 years, Mark is very much his own man. Of course he was there to talk up their wines but his focus was really on expanding our minds in terms of how we viewed the relationship between food and wine matching. “The Liberated Enjoyment of Wine and Food” he called it.

Most consumers feel comfortable with red wine with red meat & white wine with fish rule. But why does it work? There must be some chemical reasoning. But there was more to it as we were about to find out.

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The experiment began with the arrival of plates of cooked plain unseasoned chicken, sea bass and steak. There were also plates with sliced lemon and salt on them. Mark asked us to taste the wines(which included Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Fume Blanc aka Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon, all 2008 and around £15 each. There was also a tasty Inniskillin Ice Riesling 2006 from my native Canada) without the food and note what we tasted. Then we sampled the wines with the food and the results were startling. The classic matches were in disarray. The white wines stung the mouth, acidity completely out of control. The reds are all mouth puckering tannin, no fruit and metallic dryness.

“Mark you villain!!” we cried “What sorcery is this?! You have ruined our taste buds!!”. But he simply gestured to the small plates in the centre of the table. After adding a few sprinkles of salt andScreen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.07 squeezes of lemon the process was repeated and as if by magic the food and wines behaved as you would expect. With the seasoning even the Ice Wine worked with the steak(not that I have tried it since). Miraculous! Not really Mark explained. It was simple science. So instead of delicious food and wine pairings being something inherent in their molecules, it revealed that when the balance is out in favour of sweetness or savoury umami without the grounding sour or salty, our palate focuses on specific characteristics rather than seeing the whole picture. Which makes it taste “wrong’. Really fascinating stuff!

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.41We moved onto their Napa Valley Reserve Fume Blanc(pricey at £30) & Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve(a whopping £80 a bottle) with dinner and though the wines themselves are perfectly ok, in all honestly I’m not wild about Robert Mondavi wines. Why? Because for the same money(and a lot cheaper than the reserve wines) I can find wines produced in much smaller quantities with so much more character and originality. Sorry Mark.

Food wasn’t anything to get excited about except for the pan bread. Nearly 18 months have passed but I can still taste it’s rich rosemary salty crunch and squishy soft buttery middle. Mmmmm…Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.30

Going Pop Up: #WineWednesdays

Now Pop Ups are all the rage these days and despite being the sort of guy that you might expect to have his finger on their popping pulse, embarrassingly I have been to very few. Thankfully my Fiancée and I walked right past the aptly named WineWednesdays at the rooftop venue Skyroom near Tower Bridge. With this stunning weather our decision was made for us and after receiving our wristbands (the meaning of which will be come apparent) we dashed up the elevator to the 5th floor. WineWednesdays are the lovechild of Kiki & Laura who run A Grape Night In, a Pop Up wine business that’s not just a one hit wonder, whose aim is to enliven and demystify the sometimes murky world of wine.

The venue itself is cosy and has the feel of a upscale beachside bar. Much of the covered cushioned area was reserved so we took a small table out in the open.Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 13.19.23

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The Girls (as they seem to be called in much of their literature) decided on the theme of Summer Playlist for the month, drawing inspiration from the many famed festivals that take place on this hallowed Isle in the month of July. Kiki explained with much warmth and energy their concept behind their inventive short list of appropriately themed musical genre wines & accompanying optional nibbles.

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Growing up on Simon & Garfunkel and Gordon Lightfoot during my early childhood Track 1-Folk seemed the best way to start. Folk’s vinous equivalent being an floral aromatic 2012 Gewurztraminer “Adobe” from the organic & ethical Emiliana in Chile. Lively & clean, subtle mango moving into flinty stone and without the candied feel you sometimes get with Gewurz. It went beautifully with the delicious dukkah crusted hand rolled falafel nuts & thickest minty garlicky tzatziki this side of the Ionian Sea.

 

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My lady had Track 3-Classical which was a 2011 Circumstance “Cape Coral” Mourvedre Rose by Waterkloof in Stellenbosch. Biodynamic and made much in the restrained style of Provence Rose (your nod to classical right there) but with a glint of smokiness so typical of South African Red Varieties. It was paired with that most Provencal dishes of Pissalidiere, mini pastries of onion jam, black olives & anchovies. The rose &  savoury pastries wove a harmony worthy of great applause for the conductor indeed.

My companion decided to move onto Track 2-Reggae which was a crowd pleasing easy drinking 2012 Suikkerboisse Chenin Blanc/Viognier also from Stellenbosch. Rather unsurprisingly it came “Jungle” chicken fingers, homemade plantain chips & mango chutney. The chutney stood out, but the chicken which for me though perfectly cooked & crispy lacked seasoning and perhaps a little Marley Magic.

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Decided to go Track 4-Rock in an homage to my teen years from those bad boys of McClaren Vale, the very aptly named Some Young Punks. I found the  2011 “Passion has Red Lips” Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz  more Phil Collins than The Pixies. Now both could be called rock and I like some Phil Collins (not embarrassed to say so) with and without Genesis he crafted some solid 80’s “Soft” Rock songs. I am however a huge Pixies fan (which arguably are more Alt Rock if we are going to split hairs) so when I saw “Rock” I was thinking more Kim Deal than Mike Rutherford. But I digress… The wine was ripe concentrated and supple. Dark cassis blackberry fruit with relaxed tannins. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t like getting stomped on in a mosh pit. It was paired with spicy meatballs of beef, chorizo & roast pepper stew that honestly did kick a bit of ass and wouldn’t have been out of place at a an early 90’s Lollapalooza concert.

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A total of 10 tracks (6 wines by the glass and a further B side of 4 by the bottle) there should be enough to keep you entertained by the New World leaning lineup. For those not into wine they had an offering from the mighty Kernel Brewery down the road as well as cider (I think). Lovely setting, warm knowledgeable staff, tasty food and very reasonable prices Laura & Kiki are onto a good thing. Hopefully the weather holds and despite going onto a new theme for next month #WineWednesdays is well worth a visit.

 

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