The days are so busy for most people that only self-employed, business owners and retired people seem to be able to take a long lunch. When a glass of wine is served, the rest of the day should be spent networking and strengthening friendships. Such is the curse for the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club members! Lunch clubs are an anachronism from more relaxed times, and a rarity in today’s pressurised world. Yet when one attends a ‘meeting’ you know it’s fun and the right place to be. The tradition for the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club of Tinakori is to hold their end-of-year function, with partners especially encouraged, in the evening, to remove the pressures (or guilt?) of work obligations, and it’s a time for the Foodmaster to select a favourite dining establishment and for the Winemaster to serve some special wines. The venue this year was ‘Hippopotamus’ at The Museum Hotel, opposite Te Papa National Museum on the Wellington waterfront, where highly regarded chef Laurent Loudeac presides.
On arrival, a glass of bubbles greeted the members. Interestingly it was served in a ‘Chianti’ style glass rather than Champagne flute. Very fine, tight and dry with good bready autolysis and yellow stonefruit flavours, this spoke of a genuine Pinot Noir based Champagne, but not something familiar. The fact that I had just come from a tasting of 28 different Champagnes helped with that conclusion! A concentrated and driven palate was its feature, with more weight and character lurking than initial impressions provided. It turned out to be a P. Louis Martin Champagne Bouzy Brut NV, from a small, family-run operation, based in the famous village of Bouzy. It was a good and interesting aperitif that spoke for the quality of the wine ahead. The Winemaster had the recommendation to serve the wine in a larger bowl glass to allow it to show more, very much as the Prosecco producers of Veneto do.
The entrée dish was Poached scampi in a saffron clam velouté with a pea pannacotta and Parma ham wafer. Here the scampi were moist and sweet with crunchy textures, showing their freshness. I felt the savoury sauce and salty wafer components a little overwhelmed by the pea pannacotta which quickly dissolved, forming a soup. Nevertheless a flavoursome dish which was appreciated by all the diners.
The white wine served to accompany the entrée was a powerful one that in theory should have matched the seafood, sauce and ham. The pea flavours of the entrée ended up dominating the wine when considering the pairing. On its own, the wine was something special. Concentrated and intense citrus fruit flavours with plenty of oak input to match. Complexing savoury nuances of reduction, in the most favourable and contemporary way were present, with a softening creaminess from beautiful integration of barrel-fermentation and MLF. We easily saw it as a North Island Chardonnay, probably Hawke’s Bay from the 2009 vintage from one of many possible top-quality labels. We were not wrong, the wine being a limited release Black Barn Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010, bottled exclusively for Centre City Wines.
The main course was Sirloin steak served with traditional potato gratin, onion jam and ‘beurre rouge’, a classic and hearty cut of flavoursome, grainy-textured beef that was filling and satisfying. The potato was essential for mollifying and absorbing the richness of the heavily reduced jus. And the onion was there to provide some sweet relief and contrast. And cooked medium-rare, as it should be. Such things are regular fare, but to serve to a large group and on time always requires management, and this was done perfectly.
The red wine came across as a fruit-driven New World style immediately. The brightness of the raspberryish fruit, and its ripeness suggested Rhone-style varietals, especially Grenache, from the likes of the Barossa Valley or similar warm-climate growing region. There were Rhone-earth hints, indicating the possibility of other varietals in the mix. I was happy with Grenache only, others saw a GSM type blend. High alcohol was evident, and supple tannins, meant this was a sure bet to be a pleaser for anyone tucking into their steak. There was no indication it was a fragrant, lighter Pinot Noir, nor did it have the concentration, firmness or austerity the Bordeaux varietals provide. If I was to put a vintage on the wine, it would be 2009 from its fruitiness or 2008 because of the garnet hues appearing. The wine was a Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2009, making us completely wrong, yet so close to being right! (At least that’s how we justified it…) We had all the right characteristics and descriptors, but just didn’t think beyond the square.
There was no wine to accompany the Coffee and chocolate fondant, chocolate crumble and coconut ice-cream. It was a chocolate hit, the coffee more reserved, and quite a textural dessert. Maybe a sweet wine could have lightened it a little, but I noticed every plate was clean…
President and master of ceremonies Digby Paape made the evening flow, and added a quiz to keep all of the diners alert and interacting with their neighbours. A hearty “well-chosen” must be offered to Grae Harrison the Foodmaster for having Hippopotamus as the year’s finale. The members were, to coin a phrase “Happy as a Hippo”. And also “well done Winemaster” to Dean Derwin, for serving some quality and interesting wines with the meal, and keeping the Beefsteak and Burgundy club members guessing.