Friday, 12 March 2010

Caballeros dinner at The Dorchester


Being a huge fan of Spanish wine, I was delighted to get a phone call last week from a winemaker friend, Amelia Aragon, inviting me to the annual dinner of the loftily-titled Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino at the Dorchester.

Accepting her offer without hesitation, I set about trying to find a suitable dress for the occasion. I mentioned the dinner to a colleague and she looked and me pitifully. 'Poor you', she said, rolling her eyes. 'All I remember are the interminable speeches. Make sure you're sat near the back so you can talk.'

Undeterred, I was determined to have a good night. Donning my hot pink ruffle dress in the office after work, I hotfooted it over to Park Lane, and tried my best to glide swan-like into the ballroom, passing a smiling, tuxedo-clad Steven Spurrier en route.

The Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino was set up 26 years ago as a way of promoting and developing knowledge of Spanish wines in the UK. Each year two new members join the likes of Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin and are invested into the order for their exceptional contribution to the promotion of quality Spanish wines in the UK.

Tonight we were to witness the knighting of the order's two newest recruits. Grabbing a glass of Cava, I made my way over to my menagerie of a table. It was full of familiar faces: a radiant Amelia, her cheeky-looking brother Oscar, head chef of Brindisa José Pizarro, M&S winemaker Jo Ahearne and Richard Bigg, the charismatic owner of Spanish restaurant Camino and soon-to-open Sherry bodega Bar Pepito. I was sat next to a tall, jazz-loving Fin called William, a Cambridge undergraduate, who got me talking on subjects as diverse as the merits of atheism and the orgasmic potential of Mozart.

We got to enjoy some sensational wines, my favourite being the Bodegas Naia Naiades 2006 from Rueda. Recommended recently by José Peñin in Decanter as one of the Spanish whites to watch and winner of the best white over £10 in the New Wave Spanish Wine Awards '09, I was blown away by its complexity and depth. Made from Verdejo from pre-phylloxera vines then fermented and aged in new French oak for 8 months, the result is a vibrant mix of ripe, honeyed fruit, structure and richness.

The food was outstanding too, from the seafood 'guisito' with Jerusalem artichoke and blood orange foam to start, and the perfectly pink loin of salt marsh lamb with wild mushrooms for main, to the divine desert: pear poached in Moscatel with shavings of dark chocolate.

Other wines in the line up included a delicious golden Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana from Javier Hidalgo and the Chivite Colección 125 Vendemia Tardía 2007 from Navarra. The sweet wine from 40-year-old vines had hints of ginger that lingered in the long, luscious finish.

While I was busy enjoying all this liquid pleasure, the new Caballeros were announced: Decanter's own Sarah Jane Evans MW and Pablo Alvarez, head of iconic Ribera del Duero producer Vega Sicilia. Before the new recruits were knighted, the current Caballeros paraded into the ballroom in their fire engine red robes and gold-rimmed mortarboards. Cue graduation flashbacks.

The evening was rounded off with Spanish cheese and a speech from Allan Cheesman about time, energy and money, and how you never have them all at once. As the Brandy de Jerez made its way round I made a dash for the exit, swapping my Cinderella shoes for a practical pair of ballet pumps for the tube ride home. Leaving the ballroom behind, I fished my i-pod from my bag and stepped out into the chilly spring night, aware of what a wonderfully paradoxical life I lead.

1 comment:

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