This past weekend, my older sister Chrissie was in town visiting. In fact, this has become a routine occurrence, for which I feel incredibly thankful for! We have our little traditions every time she comes to London – we always go to see a play and indulge in quite a bit of champagne. When I was invited to come along to Vintwined’s Champanois event, I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather experience it with than my sister!
Now, for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with VINtwined, it is a fantastic new venture founded by ex-pharmaceutical strategy consultant Neil Deacon.
Neil’s philosophy is one I can definitely get on bored with – “Life’s too short, so why wait?”
Despite an established career, Neil took his passion for phenomenal wine and started VINtwined – a company that takes unique wines and uses them for culinary inspiration. Instead of the typical food with wine pairing, Neil uses the wine as inspiration for the dishes.
Neil, along with Head Chef James Welch, have been showcasing their passion for great wine and food with a series of supper clubs and we got to experience the very special four-course wine-led dining experience featuring exquisite grower champagnes this past weekend. To say it was superb is an understatement.
Taking place in Clerkenwell Kitchen, we were greeted with smiles and a glass of Gounel Lasalle Prestige Brut paired with Comte and Brioche rarebit fingers. A delicious combination as the flavours of the brioche in the canapé distinctively mirrored the creamy buttery notes of our champagne. We met Neil, who told us some hilarious stories about travelling throughout France, knocking on wine-makers door to discover the next big thing.
I have a real appreciation for smaller, lesser known wineries and prefer to drink wine from small production companies when possible as opposed to mass produced wines. I find the stories behind them to be quite fascinating and like to support smaller companies as much as I can. I also find that a lot of the times, the wine is much better quality!
Neil told us all about how he wasn’t having much luck going door to door when he was in France. He was about to give up on the expedition and head home when a surfer-looking dude walked up to him and asked him if he was looking to try some different wine. Neil said yes, and the surfer took him to a shed, where he kept several barrels of wine on reserve. The surfer happened to be the owner of a small production winery that had been in his family for years and Neil ended up bringing some of the wine back to serve at his Vintwined dinners.
We sipped on our lovely first glass of champagne and chatted with the rest of the group before sitting down for the main event…
The first-course was a Ployez-Jacquemart Extra Brut Vintage 2005 paired with a Salmon tart fine, chestnut mushrooms, watercress and creme fraiche. The champagne itself is fresh and palatable, with hints of honey and spices that paired incredibly well with the salmon tart. The champagne itself wasn’t heavy and didn’t leave an acidic taste in your mouth like many champagnes can. It was lovely and light – one that is perfect to drink at the beginning of the evening. The Salmon Tart was delicious, with the pastry underneath adding a rich buttery texture to the overall flavourful fish. Lovely indeed.
The next course was my absolute favourite of the evening, and very well may have inspired my wedding menu!
Duck breast served with potato terrine, turnips, red cabbage and a rich blackberry jus. The inspiration for this dish comes from the Louis Casters Cuvee Superiore Brut, one of the most special champagnes I’ve had the pleasure of sampling. The champagne itself is crisp and decadent, with notes of blackberry, apricot, brioche and lemon zest. It paired exquisitely with the duck and the blackberry jus that accompanied it. It is a very distinctive champagne and one I would love to try again soon.
The duck itself was cooked to perfection and melted in our mouths. I really liked the freshness that the blackberries brought to the dish – it was fantastic! Hat’s off to the chef.
Unlike a lot of wine tastings I have been to in the past, the dinner is formatted perfectly in that Neil talked briefly about the champagne and how it inspired the dish that we were about to eat. It wasn’t overwhelming or too complicated. His outlook on wine is that is is supposed to be fun, not daunting and while I can’t speak for everyone, I know that I walked away feeling a lot more knowledgeable than when I came!
I also want to note that the thought and effort that went into choosing the specific champagnes we tried on the evening as well as the pairing of the dishes was so evident and Neil’s passion for what he does shined throughout the entire evening.
For our final course, we were surprised with a sweet dessert wine called Pierre Morlet, Rattafia paired with a Cherry Bakewell Tart, almond crumble and vanilla cream. I am not always a huge fan of dessert wines as I find the consistency can be a bit too syrupy, but this sweet wine was delightful and the soft cherry notes mirrored those in the Bakewell Tart. There was a bit of acidity to the wine, which balanced out the sweetness of the overall dessert. It was a wonderful way to end our superb evening.
For a digestif, my sister and I ordered one more glass of the incredible Louis Casters champagne and chatted along with Neil about his future plans. This was one of the last of the Champanois dinners, but he is hosting a new series called “This is English,” celebrating English wines just in time for English Wine Week coming up in London.
The four-course event will take place at Stepney City Farm on 18th March, 15th April and 27th May. Tickets are £65 and can be purchased here. The Champanois event was truly spectacular and I would expect nothing less at his next series! If you are a big wine fan or just want to meet some new people and learn more about it, I can’t recommend Neil’s relaxed Vintwined series enough. The wines are outstanding and the food is divine – a truly winning combination.
*I was a guest of Neil’s, but all thoughts and opinions are my own and I am really excited to see what VINtwined has in store for the future and really looking forward to the next event. Thank you Vintwined for a most memorable of evenings!