"Stop the press and call the sitter!" My husband had last minute seen an announcement about a food and wine event at Rococco in the JBR. My "press to stop" was roasting in the oven. I called the sitter, finished cooking, set some aside for my son, and stuck the rest in the fridge for another day.
The evening of my husband's frantic call for the sitter took us back to Rococco. This time for an Italian menu matched with the wines of Silvio Nardi, a wine estate in the stunning little town of Montalcino. Just south of Siena, this is the heartland of Tuscany's Brunello wines. We have fond memories of touring around the region, stopping at the small wineries for a little tasting, long lunches in medieval villages, and even longer snoozes after on a blanket under the vines. Enjoying the beautifully-cooked mushroom and duck risotto and sipping a full-bodied Brunello red, well, that's just happiness. We finished the evening with Vin Santo and a relaxing chat with the wine maker present that evening.
As it is, we still just happen upon these events. Usually very last minute, and more often after-the-fact. Even with my hungry and his thirsty eye always on the lookout. Hear it through the grapevine. Actually, that may already be working as last week, the well-timed email of a fellow food and wine lover about a potentially interesting event took us to sea.
A three-course dinner matched with wines from Hungary. All this to be enjoyed aboard a "bateau mouche" just off the beach of the Jebel Ali Resort. It is a luxurious, romantic boat, with an open deck perfect for sun-downers, and a dining room downstairs. The (Hungarian) manager of the Jebel Ali Resort - a very enthusiastic and entertaining host - told us the boat functions as one of the hotel's evening restaurants. You can jump on board I believe almost daily for a three-course dinner and a cruise.
This evening had László Mészáros, director of wine estate Diznoko in the Tokaji wine region in Hungary on board. We were welcomed with a dry white - a Tokaji Dry Furmint - and enjoyed the cool breeze on the open deck. The crew was getting ready for departure, we nibbled on deep-fried rice and mushroom balls, and slurped down oysters shooters.
Now, Tokaji Aszú wines are sweet. I have enjoyed Tokaji as a dessert wine in the past. This evening would see five vintages paired with appetizer, first and main course, and dessert.
First to arrive to the table was a duo of hammour and beef pastrami. Hammour - marinated in a gentle spicy harissa - is seared last minute and placed hot and crisp on top of the rolled pastrami. Which in turn had a good savory bite to it. The combination of harissa and hearty set off nicely against the sweet Tokaji. I enjoyed the pairing.
A 2002 vintage Tokaji next was matched with crispy fried tiger prawns. There was a saline crunchiness to the accompanying green bean salad that made it taste almost like samphire. It was an enjoyable taste. Pasted on the plate was a "balsamic and Tokaji" reduction. With hints of citrus, an intense flavor, and enough acidity not to be overwhelming in sweetness, I'd have to say it was a shame it was quite literally painted on the plate. It was nearly impossible to scrape it off and let my taste buds enjoy its intensity. The apple sauce - also prepared with Tokaji wine - was an unnecessary addition.
In between the courses, the wine maker - a sweet man passionate about his wines - gave a presentation about the grapes, the soil, the region, and his wine estate. Proud particularly of the Tokaji Aszú - a wine that apparently features in the Hungarian national anthem - he spent some time explaining the process of leaving grapes on the vines long enough to get "noble rot", how the Aszú berries are picked individually, processed into a paste ("Aszú dough"), and added to the base wine to ultimately deliver this world-famous orange-reddish sweet wine.
A 1999 vintage Tokaji Aszú found its way to our glasses to accompany the main course. Roast duck breast with pineapple caramelized with Tokaji Aszú. Duck naturally goes well with (sweet) fruit. But if you find that sweet fruity match in your wine already - particularly such an intense sweet wine with hints of candied orange, apricot, and peach - a well-seasoned duck breast really is all you need to have a perfect combination. Any additional fruit on the plate is overkill. Caramelized at that!
Every course had some garnish incorporating the wine it was paired with. In some cases, this disrupted the balance to dominant sweet. You don't have to cook with the wine to match the food with it. Same as you wouldn't add any flavor ingredients from your food to the wine. The way I see it, you find aromas in the food that you can translate in the wine, or vice versa. Sometimes in contrast, sometimes in agreement. Mushrooms go well with pinot noir because they share an earthiness. Gewurztraminer works with a spicy curry because its sweetness softens the spiciness. Aside from the traditional and popular pairings, it is not easy to match food and wine. It is a balance where one does not overpower the other. And then, ultimately, it is also what your palate likes. Or not. The match-making of Tokaji wines was a great effort. Even with the sweet-criticism, overall the entire experience was in many ways a highly pleasing eye-opener.