Thursday, 19 December 2013

Loire Red: With Extra Fish

So we're having dinner with some people and our host, looking abundantly pleased with himself, announces that not only has he recreated for us a meal he recently enjoyed in a restaurant in France - using salmon, admittedly, instead of proper sea bream on account of the fillets of sea bream you get over here being the size and thickness of a stamp hinge - but that to accompany it, we're all going to drink red wine. I am thrilled and slightly scared, as if potholing or strip poker have suddenly made it onto the menu. But I feign calm, while the host explains his reasoning.

'It's the perfect match,' says the host. 'It's not like a red at all.'

We're talking Loire, as it happens, and a Loire red - in this case, an apparently standalone Cabernet Franc - served with an intimation of the fridge about it, appears right in front of me like a visitor from another planet.

Well, this is one of those moments. This is on a par with serving Sauternes with foie gras (pretty much a waste of two good ingredients); or sticking a dash of red wine into a Bloody Mary (surprisingly affirmative); or drinking cider with asparagus like the late Sir Oswald Mosley (never tried it); or serving port and melon (just crappy, let's be clear); or Guinness and oysters (Guinness yes, oysters no). Even chilled red wine tout court makes me a bit edgy. I mean, it's just food and drink, it's not an assault on my belief system. But it assumes a kind of terrible unreasonable intensity, as if I might be found to be a lesser person (I'm as neurotically craven as PK, here) for not appreciating red wine with fish.

So I push in a forkful of salmon and take a sip of the Cabernet Franc. At this point the host waves his hands and says, loudly, 'The mash is infused with garlic.'

This leads the bloke opposite me - who is actually a French economist - suddenly to advance the proposition that restaurants in provincial/suburban France are now uniformly awful because the women who used to run them have all gone off for better-paid jobs in other industries. 'Without the women, they're nothing,' he seethes.
'I think you'll like the aniseed fragrances in the fennel,' the host adds, before going on to do an impersonation of Kevin Pietersen, the South African-born cricketer.
'I am working on a memoir of my parents,' the woman next to me says. 'I intend to tell the truth.'
'France has lost its way. The whole country has lost its way,' the French economist says.
'It was a wonderful restaurant,' the host shouts, 'they had sea bream, you see.'
'They were very unhappy together,' the woman next to me says.
'Geoffrey, you're shouting,' says the host's wife.

We take a run at the food.

'I think the salmon's delicious,' my wife ventures.
'And then we filled the car with Loire reds,' the host goes on.
'It's important not to disguise the truth.'
'And of course, London is now France's sixth-largest city.'
'Stop shouting, Geoffrey.'
'In Paris, you can still eat well. Toulouse, also.'
'They separated while I was still young,' the woman next to me says.

Our host knocks over the butter.

'Have I done my Kevin Pietersen?'
'He shouts like this when he's had too much wine.'
'The potato's very good.'
'It's infused with garlic.'
'Actually, we had a huge lunch before we came here. I can't eat all this.'
'My name's Kevin Pietersen.'
'I'm not trying for a publisher.'

'So look - ' the host turns unexpectedly to me - 'what did you think of that red? With the fish? It was good, wasn't it?'

I look at the bottle of Loire Red. It is empty. I have no recollection of drinking any of it. That's how unassuming it must be, I think to myself. So unassuming that you can drink it with fish and not turn a hair; probably cornflakes, too. No wonder they don't make a big deal out of Cabernet Franc.

'It was great,' I say. 'Really good with the fish.'

CJ



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