Degustation. A hard word to say for us who were born with the English spoon. The word comes from the French dégustation, which is a derivative of the Latin degustare, which means ‘to taste’.
A degustation menu incorporates a number of courses. Small plates. A tasting menu, to be concise. It’s becoming more and more popular at the top restaurants and allows the chef to showcase a number of dishes from appetisers to after dinner mints – or whatever the 21st century equivalent of the a.d.m. is.
In my experience each course is matched to an appropriate wine and indeed, if you look at degustation menus offered by some of our top restaurants, a wine match is de rigueur.
Most of my degustation experiences have been winemakers lunches or dinners, and indeed that was the case when I was a guest at Villa Maria last week, and not one wine with each course, but two!
1st course. Smoked tomato consommé, crab and avocado salad and basil
Wine match 1: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2012
A little restrained on the nose – slightly herbal with tomato stalk and the smokiness of cut grass but juicy flavours with fruit reminiscent of citrus, melon and feijoa skin. Bright with a warm expansive finish.
Wine match 2: Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Verdelho 2012
With a bouquet that is delicately floral and a taste that is full bodied and warm with a vibrant spiciness and fruit reminiscent of citrus, apricot and peach, it’s like a combo of Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling with a refreshing finish of lime citrus.
Verdict: I just loved the smoked tomato soup and while on paper it seems like a match made for the Sauv – it was only the basil component that really worked with the Sauv for me. The Verdelho, however, was outstanding – the combo was so smooth and harmonious in a melt in the mouth kind of way.
2nd course. Caesar Salad (although others ate the chef’s choice of Clams with Spinach Tagliatelle)
Wine match 1: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Viognier 2011
Richly perfumed with spicy oak and apricot, and full bodied and fragrant in the palate – quite warm, rich and spicy with a hint of oiliness that makes it skip down rather easily. A savouriness comes through on the finish and balances the vinous richness with lingering nuances of spiced raisin bread and nutmeg.
Wine match 2: Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Gisborne Chardonnay 2011
There’s a touch of nougat sweetness to the nutty fragrance and a subtle smoky nuance too. A lightly creamy wine with lovely freshness, a mealy, leesy backbone, nuances of melon joining stonefruit and a sensual smoky finish.
Verdict: This was a Chicken Caesar with anchovies, cos lettuce, not quite hard boiled egg, crispy bacon and shredded roast chicken. First of all, wine and anchovies do not go and cos lettuce is best eaten ‘sans vino’. The Viognier was mostly quite overpowering for the food and was best with the chicken and bacon together, but if you are looking for a wine match for crispy bacon and egg – believe me, this Chardonnay is a yes, yes, yes!
3rd course. Szechuan duck breast, vanilla butternut puree, broccolini, micro salad, mandarin, chioggia beetroot and a hedonistic roast duck reduction/jus.
Wine match 1: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Gimblett Gravels Grenache 2010
Deep blue red with a bouquet of wood smoke, vanilla, cherry and creamy oak. Spicy and juicy to the taste with an enticing red fruit sweetness, supple tannins, cake spices, a hint of pepper creamy oak and a full bodied richness to the luscious finish.
Wine match 2: Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010
Dark ruby. Lovely fresh, spicy savoury flavours with those bittersweet red fruit nuances coming through. Creamy and long with the most seductive sensual mouth coating texture.
Verdict: Perfect with the Pinot – the duck breast caramelised and sweet. The Grenache also excellent but to be truthful, the Pinot Noir was quite simply the match of the day.
4th course. Smoked lamb loin with spiced eggplant, roasted artichoke puree and aniseed
Wine match 1: Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Dark red. The bouquet is deep and rich and developing some lovely mellow cedary complexities, then in the palate concentrated red and black currant fruit, underlying freshness, hints of tar, leather, vanilla and cedar with firm velvet-edged tannins. This is a wine that despite its age is only starting to flourish. Sweet, long and mellow – a striking Gimblett Gravels wine.
Wine match 2: Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2010
Purple red with a little touch of pepper joining the smoky oak and deep dark berry fruit scent that is infused with nuances of mocha, liquorice, etc. Then in the palate it’s bright, spicy and fresh with a firm tannin structure – like velvet on cream. Smooth, seductive, spicy and succulent while keeping its savoury edge.
Verdict: The eggplant purée was quite hot for me – a little cayenne action in there I would think, but together with the lamb and artichoke on the fork, it is terrific match to the Syrah. The Cabernet works well with the lamb and artichoke components, but the eggplant spices are too overpowering this time.
5th course. Almond cake with lemon and passionfruit icing, charred apricot and marscapone.
Wine match 1: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Late Harvest Riesling 2011
Tantalisingly fragrant with the scent of orange honey, honeysuckle and a touch of apricot, these characters replicating in the palate with tropical fruit and a hint of grapefruit.
Wine match 2: Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Noble Botrytis Riesling 2011
So concentrated and intense both on the nose and in the palate – there’s dried apricot, candied fruit, honey and a subtle smoky nuance too. Concentrated and mouthcoatingly viscous with candied citrus, honeysuckle, marmalade notes coming through but overall fresh and clean with brightness and length.
Verdict: Both terrific wines for this food course, but Noble just offering that little bit more.
With food and wine like this, degusting is a great pastime. I highly recommend it.