The art of lunching

(by peter & susie)

For those readers who think we’ve sunk into some sort of wine-soaked morass, or become wrapped up in newborn-baby bliss – think again.

While admitting that there is at least a grain of truth in both these charges – we have been busy on the wine front, and certainly revelling in the family fun – things have been as eventful as ever.

We’ve actually been taking advantage of this time to do some work under the radar (including quite a few tastings, which we’ll be reporting on soon) as well as having some rather enjoyable downtime.

And it’s the latter that forms the topic for this particular blog.

On Saturday we headed over to enjoy lunch courtesy of supermum and brilliant chef/presenter Jo Pratt – she who contributes the wonderful recipes to our School News bulletins and the site. You can check out her excellent new website by clicking here.

Jo effortlessly juggled preparing a sumptuous three-course spread, featuring pan-fried pimientos de padrón, a stunning seafood paella and strawberry pavlova, with entertaining us and four energetic kids.

So it’s no surprise to learn that her new (and third) book will be about her secrets of how to be a supermum while cooking inspired dishes for the family. Can’t wait, Jo! We’ll post more details here in due course.

Jo’s husband Phil, meanwhile, did some sterling work on the wine front. He expertly plied us with Prosecco (ideal for a warm summer’s lunchtime aperitif), Tio Pepe Fino sherry (bone dry and crisply chilled – perfect with tapas-style nibbles) and Eidos de Padriñan Albariño (a lovely drop from Lea & Sandeman and brilliant with the paella). Finally, with the pavlova, we were treated to a bottle – served blind, which of course meant that Susie guessed it within seconds – of Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2001. Wonderful, warming spice and orange marmalade flavours – a real treat, which Phil & Jo had brought back from a trip to South Africa a few years ago.

Can’t wait for Jo’s next recipe, which will feature in our August bulletin.

The next day we were entertaining a special guest, also a Master of Wine, here in Winchester – which of course meant more top drops and some pretty fine food.

Susie rustled up her classic summer starter of 18-month-matured Parma ham, fresh buffalo mozzarella and succulent nectarine served with fresh mint and balsamic vinegar. This we served with Tio Pepe En Rama – a sherry we’d been sent by the good people at González Byass.

There has been a fair bit of interesting innovation from the sherry category in recent years and this is a good example of a big company doing something different.

The en rama bit essentially means that it’s bottled swiftly, with minimal filtering or other treatments, which often strip flavour to ensure stability and shelf-life. Click on En Rama information for a fuller explanation of what is quite a technical issue.

The best way to drink fino or manzanilla sherry – the bone dry, fresh, crisp, delightful styles that work brilliantly well as an aperitif, especially when it’s warm – is straight from the cask. It’s meant to be fresh and vibrant.

That’s why bottles kept for years under the stairs or, worse still, half-empty behind bars, are such a crying shame: every day a fino spends in a bottle is a day that’s wasted.

This wine was bottled in May and they advise drinking it within a few months. We were thus a bit behind, which may have contributed to it tasting a little tired and lacking in vibrancy. But it was certainly different from the normal, crisp, tangy Tio Pepe mould, with some very pleasant rustic breadth and spice.

This is certainly an innovation we’d encourage and would like to see more of. I know González Byass are considering doing an autumn bottling, too – we’ll keep you posted.

Also on the menu was barbecued squid and Meon Valley beef burgers – bought from the Winchester Farmers’ Market that morning, and both delicious. Lamb koftas, home-made cumin homous and couscous with roasted vegetables made up the difference.

All of which was paired with Vosne-Romanée 2004, Domaine Jean Grivot (£22, Stone, Vine & Sun). A special treat – but then this was a special occasion. It definitely showed some of that peppery, leafy, almost dusty character associated with the 2004 vintage, but with very fine-grained tannin, elegant floral and red-berry character, with a lovely refreshing finish. Nothing ridiculously over the top, but ideal for a warm afternoon’s barbecue with pretty diverse flavours.

After which it was time for a wander (including the obligatory tea and cake) to take in the sights and atmosphere of a typically relaxed Sunday in Winchester.