Queen Sarah and Her Night of the Round Table

POSTED ON 21/09/2009

If you’re a woman who loves wine, you can only dream of hosting a dinner table with such living legends of wine as Anthony Barton, Michael Broadbent, Angelo Gaja, Baron Eric de Rothschild, Hugh Johnson, Serge Hochar and Nicolas Catena. The dream came true last week for Decanter Magazine’s publishing director Sarah Kemp, who surrounded herself with past Decanter Men of the Year at a posh dinner held in honour of Nicolás Catena.

Nicolás and Laura CatenaNicolás and Laura Catena

In the company of his wife Elena, and their two daughters, Laura and Adrianna, 2009 Man of the Year Nicolás Catena, gave a humble, but impassioned speech in which he explained the factors, his revelations about temperature and altitude in particular, that had helped shape his vision of making great wines in the high semi-desert vineyards of Mendoza, and particularly the Uco Valley. Of course he was too modest to refer to his own perfectionist streak, but that was undoubtedly the key.

Held at the Argentinian Ambassador’s residence, the occasion was in the best possible taste with not a Ferrero Rocher in sight. No, the menu, prepared by Jean-François Foucher of the Park Hyatt in Paris was a model of delicacy and style (see below) and the wines that accompanied it well chosen. Everyone had a smashing time, especially when it came to the unusual pudding, although I do wish one man at our table (you know who you are) hadn’t gone round smashing everyone’s sugared apples as I wanted to smash my own thank you. Meanwhile, the odd ‘where’s the beef?’ grumble was swept aside as misplaced xenophobia.

Two Roués: Michael Broadbent and Baron Philippe de RothschildTwo Roués: Michael Broadbent and Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Nicolás Catena - 2009 Decanter Man of the Year

Dinner at The Residency of the Argentine Embassy Wednesday, 16th September 2009

Duck foie gras ‘pot au feu’ with vegetables

Pan-sautéed kernel of scallops, pomegranates & tangy capers Cauliflower fine mousse with curry

Mustard “Gougère” & Rucola salad Peas & summer truffles

Saddle of milk-fed lamb smoked with pine needles violet aubergines

Ox cheek with black olives Flour chestnuts pappardelle

Pomme d’amour version 2009, crée par Jean-François Foucher

Jean-François Rouquette and teamJean-François Rouquette and team

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2002

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2004

CARO 2005

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2004

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2004

Château Rieussec 1997

Menu Élaboré par Jean-François Rouquette Park Hyatt Paris Vandome

A late night would have been a bad idea as the next day I was at Decanter’s Blue Fin Building for a masterclass given to some of the magazine’s editorial and tasting staff by Philip Harper, Japan’s only English master brewer. Philip explained the process of sake making and the importance of rice polishing, the variety of rice, the water used and the technique of turning the rice grains into fermentable sugars using the koji mould. It was fascinating stuff and we then tasted our way through a number of sakes, including some made and shipped specially for the occasion by Philip.

What’s interesting about Philip is that as he comes up to his 20th year of brewing sake in Japan (he doesn’t look old enough to be that experienced but he is) is that his approach is unconventional. If he were making wine, it would be the off-the-wall styles made in small wineries by growers committed to maintaining or reviving traditional styles, as for example in France’s South-West. Yes, he has to be conscious of commercial realities (he made a sweet sake last year to go with ice cream) but unpasteurised, wild yeast, organic and traditional yamahai / kimoto (no added lactic acid) sakes are his stock-in-trade.

Philip Harper, tojiPhilip Harper, toji

Philip said he was a bit disappointed that sake hadn’t yet received the kind of recognition in this country that it has in the United States for instance, where many a restaurant list features not just one but a variety of styles of sake. Nevertheless, he felt confident that with suitable education and tastings, the market for sake in this country could be much bigger once consumers began to understand and appreciate its many subtleties and fine qualities. I hope for his sake (no pun intended) that he’s right.

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