Sunday, 17 May 2009

The little difficult return

I spent a very enjoyable evening in London the other week, heading to a favourite stomping ground, Marylebone, to meet one of my more glamorous City friends who had been waiting for me to finish my Lenten purging. We decided to meet for a drink to lubricate our jaws for the gossip ahead and I suggested Providores, a brilliant restaurant and tapas bar for the local chic that has a fantastically sourced wine list. Providores is owned by the New Zealand chef Peter Gordon who is a leading light in the fusion food stakes and is certainly highly admired in ‘foodie’ circles.

Seated at one of the busy long ‘posing’ tables that are in the centre of the room I decided out of curiosity on a glass of Little Rascal Arneis 2007, from Cooper’s Green, Gisbourne. I say ‘curiosity’ because, although I am qualified in wine (and got the badge, the t-shirt, and drank all the bottles), I have never heard of it before. The wine waiter suggested I give it a go describing the glowing and unctuous glass of golden wine as a zesty version of Pinot Gris.

So trying hard not to be put off by the wonderfully tempting smells coming from the plates being served around me (Hey! Is that Laksa!?) I started to take in the new aromas and tastes being offered in this glass.

As we dipped our noses in, there was an amazing sense of lemon and zest with hints of mint. Swirling the glass, aromas mixed with flint merged to produce an exciting fresh smell. Even leaving this to sit for a while (a very short time – we had a table booked at eight), the richness of aromas remained distinct and strong. All perfectly suited to the rich mix of Peter Gordon’s cuisine.

Arneis di roero, (translated from the local dialect, means the little difficult one) has its origins in the Piedmonte region of Northern Italy, from where the grape was ‘pilfered’ by a New Zealand vintner to plant in Gisbourne, on the east coast of the North Island. There the soil is rich alluvial loam (a mixture of sand, clay and decomposing organic matter, but you probably knew that already) producing high yields (the area was previously famous for big commercial production, wine boxes, that sort of thing, rather than boutique wineries. Now the situation is changing rapidly) and fine rich whites including Chardonnay and Gew├╝rztraminers, and now arneis. The warmer climate develops the grape’s flavours and the soils, the richness.

So now you have had the science bit, back to the wine. On the tongue there was a creamy sherbet dip prickliness; lemon pith combined with spice and mint. Did I say mint? It’s minty lemon fresh! Given its spice, it is a creamier version of Gew├╝rztraminer but with an Italian fanfare. More Enrico Caruso than Max Lorenz (although, the latter may have been more frivolous, if you know what I mean). The unctuous element, similar to pinot gris, was wonderfully balanced, bringing the two contrasting elements of cream and citrus together in a well rounded and wholesome flavour. Resting it for a short time, there was also a hint of minerality which was followed by the aftertaste of basils and sweet liquorice. The long finish provided a crisp mineral note with metallic edges and good acidity.

Mouth-wateringly good and a great recommendation from the waiter. Soft and fragrant but with a nice kick to it. Kiri te Kanawa meets Russell Crowe. I have to find this on the web as I want more of it!

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