The wine guy: since you've been gone

by Andy Clarke

09 February 2018

With all the new openings in our local area to keep up with, how often do you manage to find the time to return to old faithfuls? I finally revisit one of my favourite local gaffs, tail between my legs...

To say that the West Country’s food scene is vibrant is an understatement. The hub of culinary activity known as Bristol is without doubt one of the most exciting in the country. But this kaleidoscope of eateries and watering holes poses a bit of a problem for us greedy locals: how the hell do you find time to go back to the places you love, when you want to try out the newbies? Allow me to present to you a case study...

It’s May 2015. I’ve just returned to Bristol after 20 years of living at the other end of the M4. I’m two months back and, already, the list of restaurants to try has reached epic proportions. For my husband’s 40th birthday we decide to make our first visit to No Man’s Grace in Redland, a restaurant that’s fine dining in style, but with the atmosphere of a friendly pub (the perfect combo, right?). Our meal is epic, and we vow to come back, sharpish. Fast forward to early 2018, and we’ve still not been again. That’s two years and nine months that it’s been on our to-eat list.

Having now finally made it back, I have to say John Watson (formerly of Casamia and The Gallimaufry) and his incredible team are still at the top of their game. And I’m not just speaking under the influence of the homemade rhubarb gin that they have perched behind the bar for lushes like me...

John is a self-confessed rhubarb junkie, so when I asked him if he could give me a seasonal recipe to match some wine to, he fessed up about his obsession with this perky pink paragon, and demonstrated his inventiveness with a plate of pork belly with salt baked candied beetroot and soused rhubarb.

Sure, it sounds great, but John’s posed a bit of a challenge here: the earthy beetroots holler for a robust red, and yet the sour and sweet rhubarb whistle for a fragrant white. What to do? Well, seeing as pork can go with either, naturally I’ve decided to do both.

Averys, which is currently celebrating an impressive 225 years in the business, have a couple of belters ready to ride alongside John’s pork. If white’s your thing, Clefs du Pontif 2016 Marsanne Viognier from the Languedoc is ideal for bringing out the vibrancy of the rhubarb; it has a peachy nose which hints at its fragrant, unctuousness qualities in the mouth. The wine’s off-dry nature is ideal with the sweet and sour rhubarb, but it harbours a streak of acidity too, which is really lifting. But there’s more to this wine; the texture, thanks to the Marsanne grape, feels quite large in the mouth, and will pair nicely with the lardy pork belly and even with the beetroot too.

But it is still wintry outside, so red wine cravings are rife. Señorio de Sarria Reserva Especial 2012 is a fantastic modern Spanish wine, made only in good vintages. It comprises Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, and, while oak aged, it’s a far cry from the tradition of oaky Spanish reds we’re used to from the likes of Rioja. This wine has a muted spicy nose that makes you want to devour the beetroot, and an unforgiving dry feel in the mouth while providing plummy fruit character too. It has a rich, velvety texture which is just what the pork wants, as well as a violet charm to the finish which works with the soused rhubarb.

So that you can test this match out for yourself, I’ve got the recipe for a simplified version of the dish from John here . I’d definitely recommend trying his cooking firsthand, too – and if you do, promise me one thing? Don’t leave it as long as I did between visits. Life’s too short.