A celebration in our family tends to involve a special meal which, this time, took the form of an outing to La Bécasse, a Michelin starred restaurant in Ludlow, Shropshire whose chef is Will Holland. This is very serious cooking, at least five courses bookended and interleaved with amuses bouches and palate cleansers and not to be approached lightly.
Five different courses pose a problem to whoever is choosing the wine. It is soluble with a table of four, or better six, but almost impossible for two because you really ought to limit yourselves to the equivalent of one bottle between you, though perhaps in the form of two half-bottles. But which one or two wines could work with all five courses if you care at all about how tastes interact? And if you don’t, why are you there? The solution, which is increasingly being offered by the restaurants themselves, is a recommended set of wines, served by the glass, for their gourmet menus. La Bécasse offered a set of five different wines which, though costing £39 a head (yes, that’s just the wine), offers professional pairings and some exotic surprises.
I have already forgotten many details of the menu which I hope you will forgive when I mention that even the second course, the most straightforward, was goats cheese, beetroot and various other bits (there’s gourmande language for you) including walnuts and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Now it is entry-level wine matching to respond to either of ‘goats cheese’ or ‘beetroot’ with sauvignon blanc and with both it should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately those damned walnuts and the balsamic vinegar are a complication, especially as you haven’t even seen the dish, let alone tasted it. Fortunately the sommelier has, and in a Michelin starred restaurant you should trust him. Here’s what we had, omitting all the tiny intermediate morsels:
Pigeon and foie-gras with crispy-fried shreds of leek (and other things) was accompanied by a Gewurtztraminer by Hugel, off-dry and very well structured. I liked it better even than the Trimbach I drank with our Christmas goose.
The above-mentioned goats cheese ‘salad’ was accompanied by Madeira – yes, a sweet, brown wine aimed at the walnuts and balsamic vinegar and it worked beautifully.
Halibut with chicken wing (I’m not making this up, it was lovely) came with a sauvignon from the Loire – as you can see, I’m beginning to forget the details.
A course of tender and juicy venison with a sauce that included chocolate came with a wonderful Rioja.
Finally the intense chocolate pudding was accompanied by Banyuls, a sweet red wine from where the Eastern Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean. This is a well-known pairing but not one I had tried before and it takes courage to invest in a full bottle just to try. Well, it works every bit as well as they say.
We didn’t have the cheese course because, much as I love it, it keeps me awake if I eat it any later than the afternoon.
This selection of wines, as well as being delightful, was also interesting and educational. The meal was as good as you should expect from a restaurant of this class.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Chenin Blanc
- Cotes du Rhone
- Creme Fraiche
- New Zealand
- Pak Choi
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
- Red pepper
- Sauvignon Blanc
- South Africa
- tomato sauce