About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, July 23, 2007
A Wine Dinner
Due to diary clashes, the final bit of birthday celebrations, that started in early May, wasn't completed until last Saturday night when all my wine friends were able to get together for a night that had its beginnings some twenty-five years previous. It was then when I got my hands on a bottle of Hungary's finest - a bottle of legendary Tokay Eszencia, vintaged in 1957, one of the great years. This bottle was chosen because 1957 was generally an indifferent year for wines in most places around the world.

Hungary does have thriving vineyards, but their wines are little known outside the region, with the notable exception of wines from Tokaj-Hegyalja, which was the birthplace of the world's first botrytis wines which achieved fame, especially in Eastern Europe, in the 17th & 18th centuries, though viticulture has been practised in this area since at least the 12th century and perhaps even earlier than this. Six grape varieties are permitted with Furmint being the predominant grape at about 70% of all plantings. There are many different classes of wine made, both sweet and white and the sweet wines are classified according to how much sugar and sugar free extract a wine contains. This classification is the puttonyos number which ranges from three to six for aszu (botrytis) wines and beyond six puttonyos is Tokay Eszencia (Essence), which is only made when conditions are right.

This is what Wikipedia says about Eszencia...

The rarest of all varieties is Eszencia. This form is not only pure AszĂș, but consists of overripened, moldy, shriveled, raisiny grapes that are not pressed, but do expel a modicum of free-run juice. This juice is carefully collected and if it contains a sugar content of at least 500 grams/liter of sugar (some as high as 700 grams/liter), then it can qualify as Eszencia. Half of it is aged in small glass containers and not fermented. Another is slowly fermented over 7-10 years in small wooden barrels and, due to the high sugar, achieves an alcohol content of 2 to 7 percent. These two are blended into a wine that has 2 to 4 percent alcohol, 40% to 60% residual sugar, the consistency of honey, and extreme rarity. In times of unrest in Austro-Hungary in 1848, the Russian Czars (with the Hapsburgs, the Rakoczy family and a handful of other notables, the key consumers of this elixir), sent troops to protect the supply of Eszencia. Because of the high degree of botrytis, the wine was also thought to have medicinal powers, perhaps like penicillin.

So you can see, to have a fifty year old bottle is something special and has to be appreciated with your best friends. So eight of us gathered for a dinner party that will be long remembered, not just for the Eszencia but the quality of all the other wines. This is what we had.

Scallops with Puy Lentils
Bannockburn Chardonnay '97
Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot '97

Boeuf Bourguignonne & Mashed Potato
Henschke Hill of Grace '92
Penfolds Grange Hermitage '86
Chateau Latour '82

Mt Mary Quintet '96
Wynns Claret '57

Creamy Apple Tart
Tokay Eszencia '57

With the exception of the Wynns (unsurprisingly) and Chassagne Montrachet (surprisingly), which had both seen better days, all the wines were outstanding, particularly the Chateau Latour which was from such a great vintage and still had decades in front of it and the Tokay Eszencia, which was sublime. It was interesting with the Grange and Hill of Grace, which are considered Australia's top two wines, that even though they are both shiraz, they couldn't be more different. The Grange was rich and concentrated, very masculine in style, whilst the Hill of Grace was more feminine and subtle. The table was divided over which was the better wine, but I will say the Hill of Grace was the better of the pair for me, but only by a whisker. I was also surprised the the Australian chardonnay outlasted a French burgundy from the same year.

The food was also a great hit, even if I do say so myself. It was designed so that chef wouldn't have his drinking time impaired! The following scallop dish was from Rick Stein's French Odyssey and by making the dressing in advance, all that was required was to sear the scallops and simmer the lentils before eating.

It is also worth mentioning that this dish seemed born of Rick's reaction to partnering scallops with everything like '...large lumps of black pudding, potato choux balls, ponzu sauce, you name it.' My own experience of this was about five years ago when all the rage was to partner scallops with pork belly, a combination that I just don't get. For me, keeping scallops simple is key. The most memorable scallop I've ever had was one I snaffled from my son's plate in Tasmania. It was just a scallop in batter that tasted so brightly of the sea, with the crunch of batter against the melting, sweet scallop flesh. Yes, you heard right, I stole it from my son and I don't care, it was bloody good!

Seared Scallops with Lentils
(Adapted from a French Odyssey) - Serves four

100g Puy lentils
2 & 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
12 - 16 large prepared scallops
salt and fresh ground black pepper

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium sized vine ripened tomatoes,
skinned, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon chopped mixed rosemary & thyme or
large pinch dried herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons mixed chopped parsley & basil

For the dressing, put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan and add the garlic. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, add the tomatoes and chopped rosemary and thyme. Simmer until thick, about fifteen minutes. In a small pot put the vinegar and sugar and reduce until about two teaspoons are left and add to the tomato mixture, season with salt and pepper. In a pot of boiling salted water add the lentils and cook until tender, about twenty minutes. Season with salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Keep warm.

If the scallops are large slice in half, keeping the roe attached to one half. Place in a dish with some salt and pepper and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, toss together. In a non stick pan heated until smoking hot, fry the scallops 1 minute on each side.

To finish the dressing add the remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice and season to taste, heat very gently without boiling.

Divide the scallops between the plates in a semi-circle and place next to them a small pile of lentils. Dress the scallops with the sauce and serve.
  posted at 8:25 am

At 12:51 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I sure wish I'd been in on this dinner! The wine sounds incredible. Scallops and Lentils - that'll do it for me.
May to July now that is about the right time for a birthday celebration to last.

At 6:24 pm, Anonymous Cam Wheeler said...

Sounds like a superb dinner Neil.

Out of interest, which producer was the Chassagne? Not really surprising (but still sad) that it had seen better days - mid to late 90s White Burgundy is now renown for well above average premature oxidation problems (some claims of 20% and higher among some producers!!)

At 6:56 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, isn't it great to prolong everything?!!! The scallops were lovely.

Hi cam, it was from Domaine Blain Gagnard. I didn't know that about white burgundies, do you know what caused the problem?

At 11:56 pm, Anonymous Cam Wheeler said...

Ah, the cause is complicated as it seems for every potential cause, there will be a producer that doesn't do X but still had problems. Needless to say there is much heated debate on various message boards without a whole lot of progress ;)

Some possible causes and rationale can be read here

At 2:15 am, Blogger Blue Zebra said...

Hi Neil I found your blog through the Abstract Gourmet site. The dinner sounded gorgeous, as did the wines. How exciting to be able to get the Tokay!

B (my better half) and I love wine and entertaining friends while "wining" (only B spells my wining differently ;) )!

We really enjoy Penfolds wines quite a bit and we both lust after trying the Grange...

Come visit sometime.
Blue Zebra
( www.mulliganstewme.blogspot.com )

At 2:07 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi blue zebra, nice site you've got there. Wine and food, what more is there?!!!

At 5:42 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love exotic sea food so when I heard about this recipe, I just had to try it. Since the recipe requires olive oil, I used some olive oil I bought from Holy Food Imports(www.holyfoodimports.com) which is produced in Israel but sold in the US. My family loved the combinations of the two exotic oils.


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