We’ve become accustomed to pairing our wine with our food, but what would happen if we did things the other way round?
If you sit down in a restaurant and reach for the wine list before the menu, you’re probably one of two things: thirsty, or at the vanguard of a new trend gaining ground in the gastronomic industry. This is because adventurous restaurateurs are engaging with wine-led dining, creating menus that are sensitive to what’s in the cellar and matching dishes to specific bottles, rather than the other way round.
At wine-centric members’ club 67 Pall Mall in London, for example, those in the private dining room often call ahead to let head chef Marcus Verberne know what they’ll be drinking with dinner – bringing in their own bottles, or requesting one of their own if they’re stored at the club – and he’ll tailor the courses to match. ‘If you want to drink a really exciting Spanish red, you’ll want food from that region to match,’ he says. ‘You don’t just want to pick something off an à la carte menu.’
The idea that wine should take centre stage makes even more sense when the restaurant is run by oenophiles. Take Cabotte in the City, a restaurant opened last year by two master sommeliers, Gearoid Devaney – formerly of Tom Aikens and now also a director of Burgundy specialists Flint Wines – and Xavier Rousset, late of the wine-bar group 28°-50° and most recently Blandford Comptoir. The fact that Cabotte’s investors include 12 Burgundy wine producers gives you some idea of how seriously wine is taken here. See also Clarette in Marylebone, which was launched this month by Château Margaux heiress Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos. And celebrated chef Michael Caines has even planted a vineyard at his country house hotel, Lympstone Manor, in east Devon.
‘Whether eating out or at home, people have to decide: what’s the star of the show here?’ says founder of winechap.com and wine director of Honest Grapes, Tom Harrow. ‘Is it that wonderful mature claret you’re going to open? Because if you’ve got really complex wines on the table, you don’t want to mess around with complex flavours of the food.’ Increasingly for oenophiles, it seems, the grape wins out.
Charlotte Hogarth Jones