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Food Matching: Wine vs Cider at The Thatchers Arms, Bures

By David Wyatt, also posted in News on

Wine vs Cider showdown at the Thatchers Arms, Mount BuresWell, this was a fun thing I was involved in recently. I was asked by Adnams to battle for the 'wine corner' in a food matching taste-off. It all sounded very exciting. I was teamed up with Emily O'Hare, Sommelier at the River Café in London and together we racked our minds and our palates to come up with what we thought should be a winning combination of five wines. The event was held at The Thatchers Arms in Mount Bures, just outside of Colchester, it's won plenty of awards and hosts really interesting events throughout the year. This was the first time that something like this had been done, primarily matching different ciders with the food, but the added competition of trying to out do the classic wine and food was thrown in for a bit of something extra. Well, we were up against tough competition. The ciders chosen by Mr Aspall himself, Henry Chevallier-Guild and award winning beer writer Pete Brown who is currently writing the book on cider. There isn't a definitive one already, so a pretty heady task, he officially now knows more about cider than anyone! We went into the competition perhaps a little naively, assuming we would win, but within minutes of chatting to Henry and Pete we knew we were in for a tough competition. "Let battle Commence" - wine vs ciderAll the wines were chosen from the Adnams wine list, five in total. One for each course. We tried our best to chose wines that perhaps weren't the obvious choices to keep the evening interesting, so, even if we didn't win the guests would have tried something new regardless. The courses were as follows: Starter: Broccoli & Parmesan Soup with Homemade Chilli Foccaccia Fish Course: Fresh Mackerel Fillet with a Fennel, Mint & Parsley Salsa & a Pont Neuf Potato Main Course: Slow Roast Blythburgh Pork Belly with a Homemade Duck, Pork & Sage Sausage & a Tomato & Mixed Bean Cassoulet Dessert: Sour Cherry Cheesecake Cheeses: Suffolk Gold & Binham Blue Cheeses with Chutney & Biscuits The sixty strong crowd, including about fifteen other journalists and English cider producers really got into the swing of things and were heckling all the way through mine and Emily's and Henry and Pete's brief introductions. We both had a chance to explain the wheres and hows and whys for each drink before we got down to tasting and eating. The food was delicious from start to finish and the wines were fabulous. However, the ciders were even better. After each course we had a round of open voting with Ready Steady Cook style voting cards held up, red for wine and green for cider. The first round went to cider, quite convincingly, although everyone admitted that both were excellent matches, ours, a Spanish white Rioja and theirs a Spanish cider, just the cider being the obvious winner. The fish course was the exact opposite, everyone again agreeing both were great matches but our choice, the Gouguenheim Torrontes from Argentina came out a comfortable winner. Next up, the Pork, an absolute classic match with apple, but the dish was complex with the tomato and bean cassoulet as an accompaniment, the Quinta do Crasto Douro Red and Hennys Vintage cider both doing their jobs brilliantly but very differently, which split the crowd thirty to thirty one in favour of cider. I was gutted and half of the crowd were shocked. A furore followed and chants of a recount were disregarded and the result stood. Cider was in the lead! Reserved - Dan Probert defending the wine cornerDessert and neither team pairing the dessert with a sweeter option? Crazy. We pulled out our big guns and went for the expensive but exquisite Billecart-Salmon Rosé, a dry, delicate, pale pink and delicious rosé, the bubbles subtly lightening the cherry cheesecake. A similar tactic from the cider team playing world's best cider Aspall Premier Cru. We were confident for this round though and when we even convinced the cider team to vote for the Champagne, we thought we had it in the bag. Interestingly a few pesky voters claimed neither drink worked with the sweetness of the cheesecake and opted out of voting, so by the end of the round Cider had pipped it again. To the confusion of Henry, the delight of Pete and the dismay of Emily and I, we had lost! Three points against one with one round left. The last round, two local, East Anglian blue cheeses. My pre-game tactic was to choose either a Port or a sweet Sauternes, but we decided against it, chose against playing safe, assuming we'd be well on our way to the winning line, we chose Gonzales Byass 'Vina AB' Amontillado sherry. Make of that what you will, but the cider team played an ace and trumped us overwhelmingly with the only English Iced Cider in production the Blenheim Superb. It's a method of freezing the unfermented juice and filtering out the frozen water, leaving only the incredibly sweet apple nectar. Ice Wine or 'Eiswein' is similar, crushing frozen grapes to extract only the concentrated, sweet grape juice. The result is a pure, clean and fresh, but wonderfully sweet cider or wine. A clean sweep for cider against the unusual amontillado, perfect with the blue cheese, and a crushing four to one defeat. Still, a brilliantly fun, eye-opening evening for everyone involved and a testament to the diverse range of ciders that not enough people know about. Do grab a copy of Pete's book on cider when it's out, it will be an interesting read. We're already planning the rematch. Dan Probert is the Manager of Adnams Cellar & Kitchen Store, Holt - find him on the store's Facebook Page.


David Wyatt