Gourmet Delights

It’s not often you find yourself Kung Fu fighting in the middle of dinner, but once tasted it was a case of fighting for another mouthful of a winning wine with a wacky moniker.

The US wine, Kung Fu Girl Riesling, was one of the show-stopping bottles from suppliers Vivas, served up by wine expert Louise Playle at a gourmet food and wine dinner at The Blackbird in Ponteland.

The characterful pub and restaurant is winning plaudits for its creative menu as well as the bar’s variety of wines and award-winning gins and spirits.

And showing off these skills, the kitchen teamed up with food supplier Bidvest to showcase the skills of the kitchen at an exclusive autumn/winter tasting dinner.

The dinner was in the atmospheric private dining area on the first floor of the historic restaurant.

The room, which is available for functions and private dining, is laced with quirky features that reflect its history – thick walls, solid beams and beautiful original leaded windows.

You sit back and in a moment can imagine some of the deeds and dealings these walls have been party to over the centuries. The place reeks of history and intrigue. If walls could talk, as they say.

If the talk was about this gourmet dinner they would have plenty to say. The end of a year always heralds the desire for rich food, comforting sauces and accompaniments, the seasonal greats.

And it’s a time when we’re ready to delve into robust reds, alternative whites and drinks offering a taste of adventure all their own.

Our dinner began with a nice local touch – a glass of Durham Gin and Fentimans tonic, keeping provenance in mind.

The starter of confit of chicken and wild mushroom terrine brought a fine example of kitchen skills. The terrine meaty and full of the gutsy flavours of foraged fungi. It looked a picture and an added bite came from punchy tarragon crème fraîche dressing.

The wine-tasting fun began with the game of champagne vs prosecco. It wasn’t about good or bad, but about appreciating the subtleties as you drank them side by side, said Louise.

With champagne it’s all about a meaty, toasty mouthful, ‘big’ flavours. With the ever-popular process you’re talking a lighter drink with an appealing and accessible fruity flavour.

For the fish course it was time for beautifully soft scallops with a gentle caramelised edge served with a roasted cobnut salad and a drizzle of maple syrup dressing. Lots of flavours going on here – so Kung Fu Girl arrived for the challenge.

Riesling brings some citrus flavours of lychee and peach, but also some mineral intensity able to deal with the rich flavours on the plate. In the other corner, Louise put forward Tuffolo Gavi, an intense dry white Italian, lighter in alcohol but with a crisp flavour.

Dinner continued to reflect the season with a main course that pretty much sang the season out loud. Cannon of Buccleugh Estate Lamb was served pink and had a stunning, intense colour to it on the plate. Surrounded by sweet and slightly caramelised roasted vegetables and bathed in a red wine reduction jus, it exemplified the richness of the land and naturally demanded some punchy wines to accompany it.

It was time for the challenge of Lorosco Carmenere vs Castillo Clavijo Rioja Reserva.

Most of us know a rioja well, but carmenere is a lesser known variety. The carmenere grape is Chile’s most popular and offers up a lighter cherry/chocolate flavour than the deep and bold plum, tobacco and leather notes of rioja’s tempranillo black grape. The lightness of the carmenere works well with the lamb and the rioja with its berryish flavours was perfect with the meat’s intense reduction jus.

Desserts arrived at the table with a flourish. The trio of desserts included a zingy lemon posset so it was interesting to know which wines would play out with this – and the sweeter tart au chocolat and chocolate brownie with raspberry coulis and whipped cream.

A spritzy Little Eden Moscato from Australia offered up a real contrast to what we expect from a dessert wine. This could also play out as a real light, summery drink and is great with lighter deserts. A floral nose makes it easy-drinking and refreshing at the end of a meal.

Definitely offering up a contrast, Els Pyernaus Muscat de Rivesaltes is a more robust, traditional dessert wine; a sweet wine with aromas and flavours of ripe fruit and gentle and brilliant yellow colour.

With the cheeseboard came a wine pairing surprise – a New Zealand Maota Bay sauvignon blanc – as well as the traditional port – for this menu, Taylors late-bottled vintage.

Some say sauvignon blanc and goats cheese are a match made in heaven. The crisp sauvignon also works well with salty feta or even a pungent cream cheese, so there you go, be adventurous next time the cheeseboard is set out.

A few lessons learned – and tasted – from a memorable gourmet dinner.

The Blackbird, Ponteland