To Sunday evening dinner with long-standing friends, a retired diplomat and wife, where you expect quality with a French accent. In this case both literally and in the glass. We knew that the other guests included the chef and front-of-house couple of our excellent local French restaurant (www.closdumarquis.co.uk), not to mention a retired senior general and his companion. The evening started on a lively note with a magnum of the Wine Society’s Champagne, a raffle prize that was worth winning, and the general in combative conversational mood. He announced in this mainly very Conservative gathering, that he would have trouble voting blue this time because of David Cameron’s Euro-scepticism … But if you have moved in this sort of circle, you can not only cause a stir with your opening salvo but also save the evening. A short account of the virtues of Euro federalism (with a small ‘f’ you understand) and a good natured correction from the career diplomat on the rather different nature of the French European vision restored the peace. Meanwhile the Society’s Champagne, sourced from Alfred Gratien, can be counted on to soothe any social situation, pleasantly yeasty nose, refreshingly acid, remarkably complex for an entry-level wine.
Dinner was a splendid affair, a triumph of British gastronomy, a rare experience indeed. Poached salmon and smoked salmon roulade came with Sancerre, first tasted in situ in France which our diplomat host had tried to buy at source and failed, only for it to turn up on the wine list of the Clos du Marquis. A happy enough coincidence. The wine itself was interesting for its zippy greenness, more New Zealand in style than mineral Loire. A case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’?
Our hostess announced the main course as partridge which reduced the general to a state of complete contentment. These subtly flavoured small game birds came with their traditional accompaniments of nutmeg-flavoured bread sauce, bacon, roast potatoes and sprouts, and imposing bottles of Pommard, a great red Burgundy village. Red Burgundy teases. It promises so much … fresh raspberry fruit, perfume or power, gamey, barnyardy aromas with ageing … and each decent bottle offers something. This Pommard from 2002, from Gaunoux, a fine old family according to Clive Coates in his Bible-sized recent revision of his guide, delivers in the alcohol and power stakes, sometimes missing refinement. Our diplomat friend brings home his own finds from Burgundy but in fact these bottles had come from Berry’s. After the anticipation, the wine itself was slightly elusive – little on the nose (decanting might have rectified that) but full and savoury on the palate. The Anglo-French alliance of grouse and Pinot Noir a form of Euro-federalism acceptable to all in deep blue Hampshire.
Dessert ‘a la Delia’, a splendid red and black berry jelly (there is a better word than this!). We later learnt that there was pudding wine but clearly we were all enjoying our selves too much to miss this. Cheese, a second opportunity to savour the Burgundy, coffee. Some completed the course with Armagnac.