A taste of the Orient at wine club

The roasted duck Thai red curry with sticky rice, which was matched with a Monsoon Valley shiraz from Thailand.
The roasted duck Thai red curry with sticky rice, which was matched with a Monsoon Valley shiraz from Thailand.

I don’t often get the chance to pinch a cushty food and drink job from under the nose of Tom Hay, who guards his territory armed with a a catapult he got in 1986 for being the Beano Fan Club’s Fan of the Year .

But when I got sight of an invite to try interesting wines paired with food I made sure I put my name down.

The event in question offered wines from countries not well known for producing wines: Japan, Cyprus and Thailand, as well as a pudding wine from California.

It was the last wine club of 2012, which is held at the White Hart Hotel on Cold Bath Road in Harrogate.

We started off with various canapes in the bar adjoining the hotel, the Fat Badger, which were accompanied by an excellent dry white from Japan (Koshu Kayagatake, Grace Winery, Katsunuma, 2011).

It was fresh and zippy and almost had a hint of pine to it, but certainly nowhere near the often near undrinkable Greek plonk retsina. At 11% it’s not too strong and would go well with white fish.

I found it to have a touch of viognier and riesling about it but the sommelier said it had more of a pinot grigio taste to it. When I buy whites I normally steer clear of that grape as I associate it with watery, tasteless bottles of Italian bought from a garage. But that’s definitely my lack of knowledge. I tasted a New Zealand pinot grigio from Ned the other day and that was excellent so I should perhaps investigate further.

I’ll definitely keep my eye out for Japanese wines in future. I’m not sure they’ll sell it in Asda but Harrogate Fine Wines might be able to help.

As we went through to the main restaurant I was reminded of how much I like the design of the White Hart. It shunned the usual heavy, busy colours hotels seem to think is de rigeur. Instead it offers a modern country house style with lots of Farrow and Ball-type shades. The restaurant is painted in a light grey which sounds horrible and cold on paper but really works. In fact, with the Christmas decorations up it felt very festive and cosy.

When we sat down we were poured another glass of white, this time from Cyprus (Kyperounda, Petritis, 2010). It was from one of the highest vineyards in world at 1200m, second only to Argentinian wineries. It had strong citrus notes and some apricot similar to a Malborough sauvignon blanc. This was to go with a grilled halloumi salad with orange and mint.

The wine to go with the main course was a shiraz from Thailand (Monsoon Valley, 2007), which was a good match for a nicely-presented duck Thai red curry. It had a dusty vanilla taste with smooth tannins. Considering it was a fairly hefty 13.5% it was quite light for shiraz, giving it a hint of pinot noir.

We learned Thailand is the only place in the world that can have two harvests of a vine a year, along with India. The Monsoon Valley grapes are handpicked, which is much more gentle than machine- picking and doesn’t burst the grapes.

One of the bonuses of the wine club is that you get the opportunity to listen to an expert who gives a brief overview of each wine. He explained that Japan and Thailand have somewhat surprisingly been producing wines for as long as many of the better known wine producing countries. The Japanese winery was established in 1923 and Monsoon Valley in 1883.

I was looking forward to the dessert wine because it’s not something I often get to drink; I’m normally still glugging back the red at the end of the main and rarely order pudding. As it was a set menu and the chocolate cheesecake with salted butter ice cream had been put in front of me I could hardly turn it away, could I? I’m glad I didn’t because it was superb.

The sticky wine was a 2011 Elysium black muscat from California, which has received lots of awards and is well regarded. It comes from a winery owned by former fireworks designer Andrew Quady. I was not used to seeing a dark purple sweet wine, but it was very tasty with strong lychee notes both on the nose and in the mouth. At 15% it was pretty strong but could have continued to ferment if it was not for the addition of grape brandy.

I personally thought that having a very sweet pudding with the sticky wine was possibly a bit much. I think the Elysium would go really well with a cheese board.

Overall the food was decent with the pudding being a particular hightlight. At £35 all-in, it’s decent value. The chef has come from the excellent Drum & Monkey so should continue to develop the food at the White Hart.

In summary, it was a great evening and I’d recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in wine, but leave the car at home. The ladies all got presented with a white rose at the end too.

The wine club is held on the second Tuesday of the month, every two months. Check the White Hart website for details of upcoming events.