THOSE who know me will understand that for me, wine and food are inextricably linked.
This is a marriage which really works, understanding the characteristics of different grape varieties, and pairing them with the vast array of taste sensations on offer. This then extends to the relationship that exists between me and the wine makers.
Recently, I met Paul Ham, whose family established the Alpha Domus winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, as recently as 1990. Experienced horticulturists, they chose this area of the North Island because of its temperate climate.
The region is sandwiched between the two mountain ranges, Ruahine and Kaweka, to the west, which are also the source of three dominant rivers. This all provides shelter and a long growing season with low rainfall and lots of sunshine!
Renowned for its soil and drainage, and coupled with the right amount of heat, a wide range of high quality whites and reds is produced here.
Tasting the wines was a privilege, as each was exceptional, but I did particularly enjoy The Navigator, 2006, a Bordeaux-style blend. Together, Paul and I decided that we should create a menu, pairing his wines with matching food, which was served at a dinner at Friends on March 1. Unfortunately, as it is grape harvest time on the other side of the world, Paul could not be here!
Footnote: The company logo, a Tiger Moth biplane, depicted on the wine labels, is a tribute to the many pioneer pilots who trained in them, at the nearby historic airfield of Bridge Pa. Below is what we are serving with The Navigator.
Roast loin of lamb with herb mash and forest mushrooms
Ingredients (serves 4)
* 2 boneless loins of lamb, about 700g
* 150ml lamb stock
* 100g mixed wild mushrooms
* 3 large baking potatoes, peeled
* 100g French beans, blanched in boiling salted water
* 125ml white wine
* 25g chopped parsley, chives and tarragon
* 1 clove garlic, crushed
* 125ml single cream
* 25g butter
* olive oil
* Salt and pepper
Method 1) Seal the lamb in a hot pan, using olive oil, colouring on all sides.
2) Place into a moderately hot oven for five to six minutes until pink.
3) Sauté the lightly seasoned mushrooms in more hot olive oil, together with the garlic.
4) Add the white wine and lamb stock, and reduce by half - thicken slightly with a teaspoon of arrowroot, if necessary.
5) Meanwhile, chop, boil and mash the potatoes, and finish them with the butter and cream, adding the herbs and seasoning to taste.
6) Carve the lamb into slices, arrange around a mound of mash in the centre of each plate, and spoon the mushroom sauce over the top, garnishing with the reheated French beans.