The weekend before last I took 6 pre-teen children to Splashdown water park in Poole for my 11 year-old son’s birthday celebrations. My kids and their guests had a marvellous time but at the end of an exhausting weekend I felt like I was the one in need of a treat.
This wished for indulgence was not long in coming as last Thursday I joined my dad as his guest at a Garrick Club Wine Committee Dinner. Regular readers of this blog will know that I dine out well and often but seldom as well as we did that night. About 30 of us convened in the impressively art-laden Milne room at 7.30pm for an aperitif of champagne served in magnums. From its dark colour, richly yeasty tastes and gentle effervescence I took this to be a superior vintage cuvée with some decent bottle-age but I neglected to inquire what it was and the magnums were too tightly swathed in white linen to reveal their identity. No matter, it was delicious and made a wonderful accompaniment to native oysters served on the half shell (neatly separated from the muscle by some expert shucker) by patient waiting staff who also brandished forks whose tines were wrapped in top-notch (London cure?) Scottish smoked salmon. If this is how the other half live then I would love to join their ranks, if only on a part-time basis. I’d happily help with the washing up!
A polite introduction to newest committee member (and legendary axe-man) Mark Knopfler and his charming wife Kitty only added to the other wordly experience, before we were seated at a single banqueting table groaning with glass and silver ware. Our first course of whole poached lemon sole with shellfish sauce was light, deftly cooked and wonderfully Piscean – the antithesis of traditional club food. To partner the fish we enjoyed a brace of fine burgundies eloquently introduced by David Peppercorn MW, a veritable font of Old World wine wisdom, who was on chipper form having recently been honoured with life membership of the Garrick. A Rully ‘Maizières’ 2006 from Domaine Dureuil was taut and nervy with a fresh minerality and was a resounding hit. Its partner a Mersault ‘Les Bouchères’ 1er Cru 2000 from Château Génot-Boulanger was more subdued and was met with less enthusiasm by my immediate neighbours. I think it was better received further up the table which suggests there might have been some bottle variation.
Our main course of roast partridge was tender and gamey and as good an autumnal red wine accompaniment as one could hope for. With this came a pair of fine clarets – Château Calon-Ségur, Saint Estèphe 1995 and Château Figeac, Saint Emilion 1988. Both wines were attributed to the magnum format but were served from a jeroboam and impériale respectively. Peter Leaver, the chairman of the Wine Committee, explained that “at the Garrick anything larger than a bottle is a magnum”. Opinion wavered here between favouring the fruitier and more forward Calon-Ségur and the denser, more gravelly Figeac. The former was a delight on its own with bright fruit and easy charm but the Saint Emilion opened out in the glass and with the food. Both were excellent but I think my allegiance shifted from Left to Right Bank as the meal progressed on to a fondue of Vacherin Mont d’Or with truffle and walnut bread.
We rounded the evening off in traditional style with a magnum of Grahams 1977 passed diligently to the left. The ‘jubilee vintage’ did not disappoint, with layers of complex raisiny fruit and mellow maturity. Mr Peppercorn declared it a personal favourite and suggested that the club serve it by the glass in the run up to Christmas. Then after some much appreciated coffee we dispersed into the night.
My only problem is having sampled such splendour I want to go back, and I want to go back soon. Perhaps I’ll threaten to take the old boy to Splashdown unless he promises a return visit.