Last week, I found myself in Portland's private dining room sandwiched between a table full of chatty and excitable food bloggers and several glasses of delicious wines from Loire Valley Wines. We'd all been invited by Square Meal to try a selection of Loire Valley's best wines paired with a carefully curated seasonal menu from Portland.
With hardly any room on the long table to spare for our DSLRs and phones, we listened attentively as Ruth Spivey of Street Vin introduced the pretty pink Rosé d'Anjous and Touraine Sauvignon Blancs we'd be sampling that evening and how they'd work with the different courses we were about to try. I loved her simple, straightforward approach to wine and hearing about her enthusiasm for the Loire Valley region where the wines are produced.
We kicked off the evening with the Domaine de l’Aumônier, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 - a very easy-to-drink Sauvignon Blanc that worked well with Portland's starter of Mangalitsa pig rillettes, pickles, and toast.
Between mouthfuls of the delicious rillettes, I chatted with my other blogger neighbor, Vivian, who runs her own supper club - impressive, much? We agreed that the pickles and rillettes were a delicious accompaniment to the first wine, and launched into the next course of pickled shitake mushrooms with soy and ginger. The tartness of the mushrooms made my mouth pucker but the Domaine des Essarts, Rosé D’Anjou, 2014 worked well with the flavors - tempering the initial sourness of the pickle and allowing the lingering flavor of the shitake to really blossom. I thought this was the most impactful pairing of all.
From there, we were delighted with a gorgeous summer salad - with flowers and all.
I know that Andrea wasn't too impressed with this salad, but I loved the refreshing crunch the baby gem lettuce gave, not to mention the slightly tangy dressing, which was very effective when paired with the Domaine de l'Aumonier Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (perhaps my favorite wine of the evening!).
The next two dishes, the grilled English asparagus with garlic yogurt and charred vegetables with smoked hollandaise sauce, were the standouts.
The flavors were delicate, rather than jarring, and subtle - a tough feat to produce in a sauce and one that I would imagine could only come about after a lot of testing and experimenting! If anyone can make vegetables look exciting, well then, Portland wins hands down. Someone commented on my Instagram feed that "asparagus has never looked more appealing!" That's some high praise there.
But back to the wines: I'm not usually a fan of rosés, but as I chatted to Megan next to me (foodie blogger of Got to be Gourmet), she made an interesting point about drinking rosé in the right environment and atmosphere i.e. a sun-drenched terrace somewhere in Cyprus (where she grew up!) or at a summer's picnic in the park. As we sipped the La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau Rosé d'Anjou 2014 (and, don't worry - I couldn't tell them apart by name at this point, but would simply point to the glass I liked!), I wondered how I'd find room for our main courses ... but my question was answered shortly, as the most incredible sequence of dishes was presented to us:
... a true feast of roast Cornish monkfish, fine beans and yellow courgette (again, the veg was scrumptious), potato millefeuille (which resembled Jenga pieces and had everyone asking, "How did they do that?) and old spot pig belly.
To be honest, none of the meat dishes really wowed me (the monkfish was a bit rubbery and the pork belly could have been more flavorful), and the pairing of Les Marcottes Domaine de Pierre, Lionel Gosseaume, Touraine Gamay, 2012 (the only red on the menu) also didn't tickle my tastebuds. However, content with the selection of vegetables and the crisp, sweet selections of Sauvignon Blancs and rosés in front of me, I happily ate, chatted, Instagrammed, tweeted, and repeated throughout the evening - this time, there was no one around (ahem, John!) to snatch away my phone while I uploaded photos of our gorgeous salads and tried not to misspell the hashtag #loirevalleywines as the evening progressed.
Suddenly, my eyelids began to droop and I looked down at my watch: 10:00 pm! The time had flown by and we still hadn't had dessert!
I was so looking forward to the almond pithivier with raspberry jam (because I love almond-anything) and I wasn't disappointed. This indulgent pastry with a flaky, outer crust was a pure delight when slathered with homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream - a comforting dessert that seemed fitting to be enjoyed in a country pub or farmhouse somewhere remote, rather than a central London restaurant. Paired with the final rosé of the evening, La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau, Rosé d’Anjou, 2014, a sweeter (but not too sweet!) wine which perfectly complemented the raspberry jam, I was in dessert heaven.
Because I'm a total lightweight, it looked like my glasses hadn't budged all evening, when in reality, I'd had quite a lot and was beginning to mumble my words, let alone remember which wine came in sequence! I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in Loire Valley's extraordinary selection of wines, with a particular penchant for the Sauvignon Blancs and a changed mind about rosés, which you just might find me happily sipping this summer.
I managed to stumble into an Uber around 11:30 pm or so, armed with a goodie bag fit for a foodie from SquareMeal, filled with fresh produce like rhubarb, artichoke, two bottles of Loire Valley wine and a punnet of strawberries - the perfect ingredients for summer cooking. Ridiculously generous, right?
Such a lovely, relaxed evening to remember with some of my favorite foodie bloggers.
I was generously hosted by SquareMeal, Portland, and Loire Valley Wines - thank you so much! All opinions are my own.