Sud de France Wines Sommelier of the Year competition – Finalist Dinner, Club Gascon:
Having just returned from the South of France, it would have been churlish not to accept an invitation to celebrate with the winners of the Sud de France wines sommelier of the year competition. Especially as the dinner was hosted by Club Gascon, a favourite old haunt of mine.
It was a fascinating evening (with some amazing food and wine too). From the start it was evident that winner Adam Pawlowski, from Northcote and runner up Terry Kandylis from the Ledbury knew each other. A little investigation revealed that they had competed against each other earlier in the year in the South African sommelier of the year competition and that time Terry had won. So, both were in very good spirits, despite a final to the competition which included food and wine matching in front of an audience, blind tasting and serving rounds. The expert judging panel comprised Ronan Sayburn, MS and Head of Wine at the Dorchester, Imbibe magazine’s Chris Losh, last year’s Sud de France Sommelier Competition winner Lionel Periner from the Lucky Onion Group and Pascal Aussignac, Chef Patron of Club Gascon. It must have been very special for those taking part to be invited to dine at one of the judge’s own restaurants as his guest.
I rather enjoyed the banter between the now off-duty competitors and I shall definitely be making my way to the Ledbury (long overdue as it is almost on my doorstep) very soon. Adam comes from Poznan in Poland but seems to be enjoying life in the North of England, while Terry is from Evia in Greece.
The third place went to Florent Belotti, currently working at New Street Grill, where I enjoyed a great Sunday lunch a few months ago.
And of course I loved the meal. After a pretty beetroot crisp amuse bouche we went on to an immaculate black pudding tart with truffle vinaigrette and salsifis. I love black pudding, but it can be overpowering and totally dominate a dish. Here, a fine slice was beautifully balanced with popcorn-crisp scratchings (I think), salsifis and a lightly truffled sauce.
Served with Sud de France specially selected wines throughout, we started with Vinci Coyade 2006. Having felt I needed to spend a few hours afterwards learning a bit more about the wine, I wonder if the people at Sud de France were intending to keep the winners working throughout the evening. It was delicious but, a quick search on Google tells me that it was ‘a blend of Macabeu, white Grenache and white Carignan -a blend quite unknown to me until now.
Our main course was breast and leg of wild pigeon with toasted water chestnuts, pickled mirabelles and nori. Rich gamey flavours offset by a little potato puree, this was an elegant presentation with perfectly tender pink meat.
The Mas Delmas Cotes du Roussillon 2009 we were offered was an organic wine from close to the Spanish borders. It had the perfect depth to match our game main course without overpowering as some Spanish wines can do. The second red wine of the evening Domaine Alain Chabanon – Les Boissières 2001 was a fruity, rich red wine, equally delicious.
Cheese was served in the form of some very delicate roquefort macaroons with an accompaniment of peated whisky with pickled walnuts and something listed as ‘crushed rancio’. I still haven’t found out what that is, but, the whole plate was a delicious combination of flavours.
We finished the meal with a fudge delicacy – and a very beautiful glass of domaine des demoiselles, rivesaltes ambre, solera. It was a wonderful evening and provided a great insight into the working life of a sommelier. I was charmed to meet such lively and intelligent guys, looking to their future rather than resting on their laurels despite the obvious challenge of the day.
With many thanks to Sud de France for the invitation. I’ve certainly learnt a little more about the wines of the Languedoc Roussillon because having enjoyed what I was drinking I’ve been researching prices and can honestly say I am pleasantly suprised by the value for money offered for such elegant wines. Perhaps needless to add, given the photographs, that the food from Club Gascon was just superb.