St Johns Bar and Restaurant on Cable Street, next to Frank Kitts Park on the Wellington waterfront is one of the places to enjoy the sunshine. Relatively protected from the winds, on a sunny day, it’s a heat-trap outside, and throngs of Wellingtonians and visitors can be seen there lapping up drinks and enjoying the bar food. However, inside, there’s a tasteful restaurant that is part of the St Johns complex which is quieter and characterful. The restaurant has had the services of some excellent chefs, and the theme of contemporary New Zealand cuisine has been continued by Sébastien Cogné who took over the kitchen in October 2012. www.stjohnsbar.co.nz
This meeting of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club was a classical one with three courses, with the mandatory steak as the feature. Winemaster Dean Derwin arranged another trio of wines, this time more straightforward, but with a little twist to keep the attendees guessing. The service under the careful eye of St John’s Nicola Davies was faultless. Among the guests were Peter and Deborah Jackson, long-time Marlborough grapegrowers. Peter gave a brief overview of the New Zealand wine industry, from the perspective as a grower. His insights and experiences are quite different to what is usually discussed by winemakers and marketers, and it was refreshing to appreciate the more fundamental, and agricultural aspects that comes from living on the land.
On Arrival and Starter
On arrival a white wine was served. The shape of the glass suggested it was a Chardonnay, and on nosing and tasting it, the identity of the varietal was confirmed. The initial impression was of a contemporary style, showing the complex gunflinty characters that are pretty popular nowadays. Once at the table, the wine given some air time, the creamy, butterscotch aromas, flavours and textures appeared. This indicated good barrel-ferment and MLF. On palate, this was clean, fresh and had an underlying crisp acidity. Plenty of citrussy fruit and oak nuttiness were all part of the mix. Our table’s guess was a New Zealand Chardonnay, going towards Marlborough, the speaker plumping for Marlborough, a Villa Maria wine. There were dissenters, and Hawke’s Bay was in the mix. The wine was the newly released Cypress ‘Terraces’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2012. It all made sense, the up-front lush style as made by the Lawson family’s winemaker Rod McDonald, from a cooler year, with elevated acidity.
Served with the last half of the glass was Ham hock terrine – ham hock and foie gras terrine, fig and apple chutney, brioche. This was more mild in flavour, with good chunky pieces of ham to compensate, held together well, and counter-set by the mildly sweet chutney. The wine was a little too rich and bold for the terrine in the final analysis.
The entre was charcuterie, Bressola – cured beef, artichoke and parsley cream, shaved parmesan, dressed rocket, truffle oil. A good dish, the air-dried beef not quite paper-thin, with fine salting and more subtle meat flavours. The beef with the extra nuances of nuts and cheese, moistened by the cream and oil, the rocket providing good cut.
The red wine served was elegant and tightly bound, with restrained aromas and flavours of dark red berry fruits with a gentle curranty note, indicating Bordeaux varieties. As the wine was more sweet that herbal and curranty, Merlot was the pick. Lovely plum notes and a suggestion of leaf, clean as a whistle and very fresh and modern. The tannin extraction was modest and integral. Truly well-made and balance, with the emphasis on fruit, without obvious oak extras. The dark red colour with a flash of purple indicated relative youth. My guess was a moderately priced Hawke’s Bay Merlot-based wine from the 2011 vintage. Close enough, but not quite. It was the Ch. de Sours Bordeaux Rouge 2010, a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot, from the veritable backwaters of the Entre-Deux-Mers region. The property is making thoroughly modern wines, and the international style clearly has a kinship with Hawke’s Bay – well at least I thought so!
In food pairing terms, this worked, but not significantly well. The lighter weight and suppleness of the wine didn’t overwhelm the bressola, and as both food and wine quite mild, the componentry didn’t reach out and connect.
The main course was Angus Beef – 220 gm eye fillet cooked medium-rare, potato gratin, wilted spinach and cherry tomatoes, beurre maître d’hotel, served with seasonal vegetables, salad and hand-cut chips. This was a beautifully tender and perfectly cooked piece of beef. Quite faultless, and quite substantial. The butter a little too cool and firm, not quite melting enough, and the gratin a little too firm and dry. These are quibbles and often a matter of personal taste. With the beef the feature, the other components – the spinach and tomatoes were extras. Being a cold day, the vegetables and chips were the preferred sides.
The wine was much more difficult to come to grips with. Clearly in the secondary phase, with garnet hues to the colour and aromas and flavours of game and savoury herbs, but underlying layers of savoury red fruits. Could this be European? Such evolution means that the varietal expression fades away. The palate was distinctly luscious with bright acidity and still with a core of tannins. The sweetness of the fruit and finesse of the tannins pointed to New World, in fact New Zealand, and its elegance compared to the previous red put it into the Pinot Noir camp. With that acidity, it had to be South Island. Our table chose Central Otago, and guessed Gibbston area from 2009. A close call as it was the Valli ‘Bannockburn Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2009. I was surprised at the degree of secondary development in this, but then again, this vintage is coming along. This is delicious and complex now.
With the steak, the Pinot Noir was a little light, the structure and fruit sweetness not as bright as it could have been to match the meat. The assertion was made that the two reds could have been swapped to better effect, and I think I’d agree with that.
I don’t envy the Winemaster’s task. Having assumed that role for a number of years, I know it’s difficult to match the wines properly to the food without actually eating the food and drinking the intended wine with it. It’s a matter of an educated guess. The pairings today really didn’t really work, but they certainly didn’t clash. That’s a good start! The other aim for our current Winemaster is that he has fun choosing the wines that are a little out of the ordinary to keep the members thinking. That, he has achieved successfully.
St Johns Bar & Restaurant, 5 Cable Street, Wellington, Tel: 04 801-8017, Email: [email protected]
The Beefsteak & Burgundy Club
The Beefsteak & Burgundy Club organization was founded in Adelaide in 1954 with the aim of its members sharing knowledge and experiencing great wines and food and fellowship on a regular basis. With over 150 branches around the world in countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.A., it is an international success. In New Zealand there are ten branches, with five located in Wellington. The meetings are run on a semi-formal basis, with officers and committee including a Foodmaster and Winemaster who co-ordinate the meals and wines respectively. The Adelaide parent body oversees administration and maintains a constitution to provide a framework and uniformity, but it is a relaxed and enjoyable time attending the meetings and the occasional international conventions. For more information, go to www.beefsteakandburgundyclub.org.au where you can find out about joining an existing club or forming a new branch.