I'll Get My Côtes

Saturday Night TV... with a taste test. 

You may recall last year, a challenge was thrown down to a few bloggers to match the wines of Chablis to a few takeaway dishes. As it happened, I won that one - if you'll excuse me, I think a "woot" may be in order  - and was promptly dispatched to Chablis for a couple of nights to sample more classically crisp whites and roam the vineyards. Literally, in fact: the centrepiece of the prize was to take part in the "Balade Gourmande", a roving picnic across 12km of glorious (if wet and muddy) countryside. Stupidly I didn't blog about it, partly because of work commitments but mostly because, well, nutmegsseven won the previous year and blogged about it so blooming expertly, I couldn't possibly have competed. 

Regardless, the same PR contacted me again a few weeks ago. Did I fancy doing a similar challenge with Côtes du Rhône? It was much the same deal. We'll send you two bottles of wine, you see how they fare with a Chinese takeaway. No, it's not an obvious pairing. And, er, yes, that's kind of the point, CdR wanting to show that, actually, they're a lot more adaptable than you might presume. 

The wines in question were a Jean-Luc Colombo La Redonne Côtes du Rhône (which you can find, as per the link, in Waitrose for £12.99) and the Côtes-du-Rhône Les Peyrouses Syrah, Domaine Voge 2011. This was available via The Wine Society at £11.50 however it appears to have sold out: had I known it was going to be that popular / that much of a bargain, I might not have done this challenge and instead have stuck my bottle on eBay. Possibly while twirling my moustache and making "bouahahaha! noises

So, where to start with a couple of unfamiliar wines and our local takeaway's menu? Unsurprisingly, the answer was "the internet" and a look at some expert tasting notes and cross reference a few suggestions. 

According to various sources, the Colombo was a light straw colour (agreed) with a floral and fruity bouquet (ditto), a crisp, fresh, food-friendly wine that's 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne. The former was of use - Viognier's classic stone fruit / apricots thing is one of the few wine-y notes I can remember - but Marsanne? Complete mystery to me, mate. Google threw up things such as "pear" and "white peach" plus surprises like "nuts" and "honeydew melon". To be fair, I couldn't pick up much of that from my insensitive nosing but, for what my two penn'orth is worth (approximately two pennies then, I'd guess), it was a fine, crisp, refreshing drop. 
Choose your weapons
In the red corner, The Domaine Voge was declared online as "showcasing the full potential of the Syrah grape" and, particularly pleasing to this writer, "inky purple". As you might expect, the 100% Syrah thing resulted in red fruit, floral notes and a spicy, peppery finish. Wine Spectator even suggested a hint of "plum sauce" in the make-up, which seemed highly appropriate in this test case. We were always likely to order a quarter of duck for this experiment, that just made our minds up. 

So, with white chilling and red breathing, a call was made to Xian in Finchley. We're not short of takeaways in Finchley but 18 years of testing has put Xian top of the list for Chinese plus, while big on the stalwart dishes, there's a little creativity in the kitchen, and a couple of surprises on the menu: prawns with lily bulb and mango anyone? 

The order was: a) far too large for two people ( but then what did Mrs L expect when she left me to my own devices, eh?); b) a fair old mix of things that I thought might challenge the wines and things that I thought would work. So, alongside the aromatic duck, we had Golden Sand King Prawns with Garlic, Beef Fillet with Black Pepper sauce, the Vegetable Trio (mushroom, aubergine, tofu) in Black Bean Sauce, a Special Fried Rice and the aforementioned Prawns with Lily Bulb and Mango, partly because I was thinking "flowery" re the white, but mostly because I've never eaten a lily bulb. And also partly because it reminded me of a very silly joke*
Damned good duck, as it happens
 I digress (yeah, does make a change, etc., etc.,) so back to the matching / clashing / not causing offence-ing. As it happened, the duck - Xian's is a remarkably aromatic, nicely cooked, star anise-wafting version of the classic - sat very nicely with the red, that "plum sauce" quality doing everything you'd pretty much expect. However, possibly because of the spring onion and cucumber, we both thought the white was the stand out pairing here. The red improved as it warmed up, although it wasn't as if we were serving it from the fridge, just from a regular cupboard in February in Britain. I'm still declaring victory for the white here. 
If anyone needs any garlic for a week or so... 
The Golden Sand King Prawn proved, as I suspected, a big challenge for both bottles. It's the first time we've ordered the dish and won't be the last, as it comes atop a vast pile of crispy, diced, fried garlic which we kept and lobbed onto salads and things on toast for the following day or three. The garlic made this dish deeply unpleasant against the Les Peyrouses Syrah. The La Redonne fared better and almost held up, and the slight acidity cut through the fat, a feat the Syrah didn't  but this was not a classic (or a pairing to be repeated) by anyone's standards. 
Prawn, lily bulb and mango. And, oddly, a single rogue pea I don't remember... 
It probably won't come as a huge surprise then that the red also struggled with the prawns, lily bulb and mango - I'll pause here while you make "dur" noises at me - while the white, well, sang. For me, this was the best pairing of the evening. It was also the most designed to go well, so perhaps that shouldn't count? We can thrash out the morals another time. My notes have two ticks by the La Redonne for this one... and two big XXs against the Syrah. 
Some of the best beef I've ever had from a takeaway. He says,. damning Xian with the faintest of praise.
Still, the Syrah would have its moment with the final dishes. Both wines did sterling work with the rice - the white against the rich, fatty nature of the dish as a whole, the red with the meatier content - but the La Redonne didn't really stand a chance against anything in a black bean sauce. Les Peyrouses though bounced happily off and around the vegetable and tofu mix, the aubergine being a particularly harmonious affair. The white briefly impressed with the addition of chilli oil and soy to the dish, but the plaudits still go to the Syrah. The same, somewhat inevitably, happened with the beef. It's not that the white was unpleasant, but Xian used some pretty damn tender, very well marinated meat and the Syrah was basically unstoppable. 
Not Britain's most photogenic dish. Sorry. 
All told then, a pretty interesting experiment and one that will probably kick us out of our usual Chinese food and Gewurtztraminer / Riesling / etc., predictability. Cheers then, Rhone Valley. Was a fun "assignment."

*oh, yes, nearly forgot. A man walks into the pub, looking exhausted. "Are you alright, mate?" asks the barman. "Just been a hell of a day," the man replies. "My wife was cooking herself some lunch and she reached for what she thought were onions, and it turns out they were daffodil bulbs and the daffodil bulbs are poisonous. She collapsed, my kids found her, called an ambulance and they got her to hospital." "Blimey," says the barman, "how is she?" "Well, it wasn't looking good," replies the man. "They had to pump her stomach, she's been on a drip, and we were all worried. But she's been responding to treatment and they expect her to be out in the Spring..." 

Yeah. I'll get my coat. 


Kavey said…
Yup. Xian definitely a cut above. Pricy but don't mind that, given the quality. Problem we have is that sometimes they take SO MUCH LONGER than is remotely acceptable, it's too much of a crapshoot on whether we'll get fed before we fall asleep. Seems better last couple of times so perhaps they've turned a corner on that front...

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