Last week I had occasion to return to The Riverview Hotel in Balmain - yeah I know, my last review was only in March 2010, but this was for a special event - The Spanish Acquisition Wine Merchant Dinner. It was an opportunity to learn more about Spanish wines, and enjoy more food from Head Chef Brad Sloane.
According to the folk from The Spanish Acquisition, Spain is "the most happening wine place on the planet." It's probably one of the easier areas to get your head around the grape varieties too, as there are only 3-4 white grapes and 4 red grape varieties to remember.
The 6 course dinner began with Smoked Mackerel on Toast matched to the Delgado Zuleta La Goya Manzanilla, Sancular de Barrameda which is a sherry from the fino (fine) subset. Fino sherries are matured under a film of yeast, and that eats all the sugar, so they are dry. Most of the sherry they drink in Spain is fino. This particular one is astringently bone dry and needs food in my humble opinion. It's considered one of the greatest versions of fino; so great it gets its own appellation.
Sitting with the licensee has its advantages. Instead of having to choose between a wine and a sherry for this course, I was lucky enough to receive both. The sherry was a Sanchez Romate Fino 'Marismeno', Jerez which wasn't a great match for the acidity of the tomato (apparently a hard food to match well). The wine was a 2008 Telmo Rodriguez 'Basa' Verdejo, Rueda which I think would appeal to Sauvignon Blanc drinkers who are ready to branch out and try something new without straying too far from their favourite! The Paella Filled Tomato that accompanied these wines was excellent and nowhere big enough!
For the next course, Brad created a Spanish Picnic with a shot of gazpacho, air dried tuna, white anchovies and Serrano ham. We had it with Spain's most famous white wine - the 2008 Castro Martin Albarino, Salnes Valley. You see this one on lots of Sydney wine lists, and I always enjoy it. I also got a glass of the Sanchez Romate Amontillado N.P.U., Jerez which was my favourite sherry of the night. It's nutty and accessible, and is basically an old fino. It starts like a fino under yeast, then it goes to a non-yeast environment where it oxidises.
My favourite savoury moment was the Pork Belly with Morcilla and Spiced Quince. The matching sherry was a Sanchez Romate Palo Cortado 'Regente', Jerez. This is a special category of sherry that's rather obscure - only one in a thousand sherries become one. The yeast doesn't take, and they oxidise from day one, which makes them quite fragrant. This one is a whopping eighteen percent. The wine match was a 2006 Palacios Remondo 'La Montesa' from Rioja. The area of Rioja is unique because it was basically derelict until 1989, but now their wines are some of the most expensive on the planet! This wine was a blend of Grenache and Tempranillo, and I found it nice, soft and juicy.
What's not to like about Churros with Chocolate, Tonka Bean Foam and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream? Lovely clean oil make these a real treat, and many a spoon was heard to clank in the accompanying glasses after the churros had run out. We had it with the sweetest wine you'll ever drink - a sherry with a whopping 475 grams of residual sugar - the Sanchez Romate Pedro Ximenez 'Cardinal Cisneros', Jerez.
These little cubes of Mandarin Jelly were an absolute treat, juicy and bright.
I also really enjoyed the chance to hear a little more about The Riverview Hotel from Tim Condon who started life as an altar boy (to meet altar girls), and ended up as a licensee. He tells me that the restful interior dining room colour scheme was chosen from looking out the window and using the colours present in the trees by a Balmain designer who lives just around the corner. I even got to rib him a little about the dueling billboards for the inner west's two best gastro-pubs on Victoria Road, both featuring the same burgundy!
In coming months, Head Chef Brad Sloane will show off some hearty winter fare which the hotel is most famous for. One dish you can expect to see is the Duck Sausage Roll. Tim says that dish sums up exactly what The Riverview is about - taking accessible food and making it posh; or taking posh food and making it accessible. Another exciting thing you can look out for soon on Monday nights is Foodie Pub Trivia with chances to win meals at a number of Sydney's great restaurants.
The Riverview Hotel
29 Birchgrove Road, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9810 1151 www.theriverviewhotel.com.au
The Spanish Acquisition
Ph: (03) 9495 6373 www.thespanishacquisition.com