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Olivier Humbrecht, Rowley Leigh and the Cafe Anglais

Sarah Kemp meets Olivier Humbrecht at the Cafe Anglais, and discusses the 2009, Alsace's relation to Bordeaux - and Botox...

One of the best kept secrets in London are the wine dinners held by Rowley Leigh at his restaurant Café Anglais.

The thing about Leigh is that unlike most chefs in Britain he actually does know about wine and how to match food.

The other night he had invited Olivier Humbrecht of Zind Humbrecht, one of the stars of Alsace. As Humbrecht walked in with a glamorous blonde I asked who she was. ‘His wife’ I was told. ‘Newly married?’ I curiously enquired. ‘No, they’ve been together for 22 years’. Forget botox, I thought. What a girl obviously needs is Vendage Tardives on a regular basis.

Olivier Humbrecht explained how people tend to judge all French vintages on how Bordeaux does, but that Alsace is 1000km away from Bordeaux and half that distance from the Piedmont.

The wines he had chosen to show were mainly from the 2005 vintage, with Riesling Gueberschwihr 2005 and Riesling Heimbourg 2005 accompanying the first course of millefeuille of smoked eel with beetroot and horseradish. The Gueberschwihr is a blend of villages from 8 parcels whist the Heimbourg is a single vineyard in Turkheim.

For me the Heimbourg had the edge over the Guberschwihr. A wonderful depth of flavour, with classic Riesling petrol notes, great balance and elegance.

The star of the night was the Riesling Brand Vendages Tardives 1989. Like a great racehorse, here was power and beauty in one, purity of fruit shone out, a perfect match for the terrine of foie gras, quince and endive salad.

Everyone at the table was interested in the 2009s. Would Alsace follow Burgundy and Bordeaux in producing a superb vintage?

‘I think 2008 and 2007 will prove to be better vintages in Alsace than 2009,’ Humbrecht said. ‘2009 is a bit softer.’

With a glass of Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Selection des Grains Nobles 2005 as a final sweet memory, we tottered off into the night and spent the journey home thinking about tweaking our Christmas menus, happy to have been reminded to make room for a decent amount of great Alsace.

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Written by Sarah Kemp

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