“Very Seventies” was the reaction of my colleague upon hearing that I would be attending a Theo Randall cheese and wine pairing at the Park Lane InterContinental.
“Very impressive” was the rather more enthused response of my dining companion upon being presented with four generous pieces of cheese, crackers and chutney, billed as a “journey through Italy’s terroir and traditions”.
Our equally enthused sommelier, Yuri Gualeni, who devised the menu, went on to explain that the terroir unites the selections of both cheese and wine in perfect harmony. The first match had been paired according to two adjacent regions in Piedmont; the Roero Arneis and the Robiola delle Langhe.
Yuri’s passionate presentation of each pairing began with the story behind the sparkling rose wine produced from the Arneis grape, named Rossana, in honour of the producer’s wife, an adorer of ‘pink plonk’. The Robiola, a mixture of cow, goat and ewe’s milk cheese, played second fiddle to the delicious, zesty wine, but was an appropriately subtle, creamy introduction.
The second pairing saw things being stepped up a gear, with the most intriguing wine of the evening – a Principi Corsini Bonacossi Birillo. Matured for close to ten years, this was produced much like a sherry, was startlingly similar in colour and smell, with a dry, burnt toffee taste. Perhaps this sherry-like tipple was a nod to the Seventies theme envisaged by my aforementioned colleague.
Yuri, prompting the best results, urged us to sip this wine, nibble the accompanying Pecorino Ubriaco di Pienza, then return to the wine. He was quick to add that we should, of course, do as we saw fit, but such is the man’s infectious dedication to his craft, it would have seemed downright bloody-minded to ignore this sage advice. Sure enough, with the salty Pecorino coating our palates, the wine developed into a sweeter, more full-bodied bouquet.
The next wine, and in my opinion the best of the evening, was a Ronchedone from Ca dei Frati. This fruity red combined the ripest Sangiovese, Marzemino and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which had been pressed as tenderly as possible in a process that uses argon gas. This ensures the delicate skins are kept intact for as long as possible to significantly reduce the tannins. If that all sounds like a massive palaver, one sip of this smooth, luscious berry-flavoured wine proves its efficacy. The cheese was another crowd-pleaser, the firm Italian favourite, Tallegio, from the hills of Bergamo in the Lombardy region. Neither crowded out the other, and both caressed the palate with soothing, rich and mellow flavours.
To finish, we enjoyed a dessert wine, what else? This was a Moscato Passito di Strevi and came with a Gorgonzola Piccante, both of which brought the evening to a satisfyingly decadent conclusion.
For £24, this is worth every penny. Not only does the menu treat guests to four truly distinctive wines, perfectly paired cheeses – with delectably soft, crumbly homemade crackers and “sweet and hot” Mostarda di pere – there is also Yuri himself; a man who imparts expert knowledge and exudes sheer joy and generosity in the process. After the official ‘tasting window’, we were invited to enjoy another glass of our favourite tipple – not an invitation that had to be made twice.
Much like the produce on our plates, the experience was unfussy, unpretentious and borne of love. Yuri describes the menu as “another way to show our passion”, which is evident from the off. What I particularly appreciated was all information being given at the start, after which there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the experience.
Need to know: Wine and food pairings also come as part of Theo Randall’s celebrated seasonal Saturday Masterclasses. The head sommelier treats guests to an overview of wines paired with lunch, which, at 3pm, concludes a five-hour class. Upcoming class dates include:
Saturday 5th July – Fish
Saturday 2nd August – Pasta and Risotto
Classes are £200, which includes tasting, demonstration, wine with lunch, and a copy of Theo Randall’s first cookbook, Pasta. For further information visit theorandall.com, or to arrange a more bespoke class call 0207 318 8747 or email firstname.lastname@example.org