Recently I was treated to a dinner at lovely little cafe in Sydney. Now normally I do not associate cafes with fine food nor fine wine, but this one was a little different. The place goes by the name of Cafe Sydney and boasts and evening that far surpasses its moniker.
Whilst the food here is renowned as being great, it was really the wine I was interested in and herein lies the challenge, how do you manage wine selection with a party of over a dozen?
There is the obligatory starting order of a red and white for the table, and thank god the dreaded Chardonnay didn’t get a look in. Don’t get me wrong I know there are great chardys out there…somewhere…possibly, but to pick a chardy you really need to know your chardy lest you end up with the obligatory unoaked horse wee that ends up adorning so many tables and footpaths outside so many hens nights.
Mercifully I got an input for the red and we started with Lark Hill Sangiovese out of the ACT. Now I love my Sangiovese so tend to be rather critical but I have to say this plonk was bang on (I suppose given the price it ought to have been) and I started to settle in as the sips got longer…. I’m sure the white was worthwhile, a Sav Blanc from Peregrine located in Otago, but tonight I was not willing to pollute my palate with something I could see through.
My choice of main was a Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, simple, delicate but a real favourite starter for me, something I will almost always order if I see it on the menu. The lightness of the Sangiovese a nice match and not overpowering the marbled beef before me.
The mains rolled out, and I have to say I was impressed, but that may have had something to do with the wine so far consumed. I opted for the Tandoori trout, something not experienced before but I am a big fan of trout, smoked or otherwise. This particular dish was good and worth the gamble. The time was also right for a switch to something with a few more balls, in my mind a Shiraz was called for. A conservative choice but nonetheless worthwhile, and no sooner do we ask than a few bottles of a Bowen Estate Shiraz hit the table.
I am not a wine snob, but I have a soft place in my heart for a good earthy Shiraz and often feel a fair share of disappointment when sampling a new one. …I will take a short moment to digress here…as I write this I am currently sitting aboard a flight back to Sydney from Brisbane and dinner has just been served in cattle class. The option of a wine with dinner came up and when asked what the choices are I hear a Shiraz is up for grabs. Sure..!
Now I know that anything served in a teeny weeny ompa-loompa sized bottle can’t be stunning, but this is my point about disappointment… This Shiraz was as close to a good Shiraz as Fosters is to good beer. I was almost longing for an unoaked chardy to get the taste of cat wee out of my mouth, incidentally cat wee is worse than horse wee. If you find yourself in such a predicament, go the horse wee every time. So now my opinion of airline booze has again been reinforced, let us get back to our evening and an example of a good Shiraz, actually not just good, this was a cracker. Full of flavour and smooth as silk and whilst I would love to give a full run down on its finer qualities, I was starting to feel the wave of alcohol sweeping me off to that happy place we all know. That point where you stop thinking about the wine and just simply appreciate it, and that is not actually a bad thing. I find I really notice a bad wine when I am in this place but really enjoy a good one, and this one I was enjoying.
The trout, by the way, was better than fine. Tasty but by no means over done with spice and helped down by the shiraz, the magic of each dancing in my mouth, each taking the lead in something resembling an awkward kind of tango, I was never much of a dancer.
The night ends with a chocolate slice dessert and the obligatory dessert wine. I am a fan of a good sticky but I was a little let down, you get that every now and then. We all have our favourites but it’s also good to peek over the wall and see what else is out there, alas tonight was not my night. I still fondly recall the very first dessert wine that I had met, a magic Noble One that unfortunately tainted my opinions from that day forth. I have since had many that equal and some even surpass that benchmark, but having it set high at day one was probably a bad thing, kind of like having Margot Robbie as your very first girlfriend.
So to answer the very first question, how do you choose wines for a table of a dozen? I have no idea but am willing to keep trying and if I ever work it out I will let you know.