Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Wine Society at Hayfield Manor

Hayfield Manor is an oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Cork City.  Hidden from view by an innocuous driveway, this family-run hotel delivers a five star luxury experience with charm and grace.  Not only does it offer guests a beautiful place to stay, but Hayfield Manor loves wine, with a subterranean wine cellar and dining room in the basement.  The Vine wine cellar not only contains a collection of exceptional wine, curated by sommelier Sandra Biret Crowley, but also hosts their Wine Society evenings.

I was invited to attend the May dinner which featured Rustenberg Winery from South Africa, represented by winemaker Murray Barlow and whose wines were chosen to complement the five course meal created by Executive Head Chef Mark Staples.  Founded in 1862, the Rustenberg Estate is a family winery in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountain, right in the heart of Stellenbosch. Peter & Pamela Barlow purchased Rustenberg in 1941 and have worked with nature to create a range of truly exceptional wines, some of which were showcased at the Wine Society dinner.  Their son Simon took over in 1987 and his son Murray, who holds a Masters in Oenology, has now joined the team, both making wine and marketing it globally.  What a fabulous job to have!


Our evening started with drinks and canapes in the garden including a selection South African Boerewors,  From there we made our way to the intimate Wine Cellar for an evening of exquisite food and wine.  Murray began by introducing the winery and the history behind the brand as we began our meal with a Ceviche of Irish Scallops with cucumber, samphire and coriander cress.  This small plate was packed with flavour (although I did avoid my nemesis, coriander) and paired with the Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2014 which was fresh and acidic with lots of upfront fruit.

This was followed with a Kinsale Celeriac Carpaccio with smoked Ardsallagh goats cheese, summer truffles, rocket and a hazelnut & wild garlic pesto.  Lots of local ingredients brought together to create possibly one of the most delicious starters I've had in years.  The fresh celery flavours combined with the earthiness of truffle and the creamy acidity of goats cheese were matched with the Rustenberg Chardonnay 2014 which is a very lightly oaked wine and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, given that I usually avoid this grape wherever possible.

Our fish course was my low point of the evening, although the others seemed to love it, the roast Kenmare Monkfish fillet with Prawn Risotto and white asparagus seemed very muted in comparison to the scallops and celeriac.  Although very prettily plated with a vibrant green nettle cream, I thought the risotto could have benefited from another minute or two in the pot to transform it from chalky al dente to silky perfection.  The Five Soldiers Chardonnay served with this course was a resounding hit in the room and rightly so as it's one of the Rustenberg flagship wines.

A Hendricks gin and tonic sorbet was a very welcome palate cleanser in anticipation of the main course, Midleton Lamb with Pea Puree.  This was a delicate, yet robust plate crammed with flavour from perfectly pink lamb to a crisp pithivier and an impeccable gratin of sweet potato.  I would happily have eaten a second, perhaps even a third plate of this dish.  The iconic Peter Barlow 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the highlights of the evening and was an exceptional example of Cabernet.  As with the lamb, I wanted more.

I was momentarily distracted by a rectangular plate of Irish cheeses as the Peter Barlow was prised from my fingers, which was accompanied by a glass of John Merriman X 2013.  This was a polarising wine with half of the guests loving it, and the other half begging for just another drop of Peter Barlow.  I'm Team Barlow.

Dessert was another highlight with an Alunga Milk Chocolate and Jameson Parfait, adorned with an edible flower and some beautiful spun sugar for added texture and crunch alongside the silky parfait.  This was paired with a truly delicious dessert wine, Straw Wine 2015 - the name comes from the traditional process of drying grapes on straw to draw out the moisture and concentrate the flavour.  The wine was not as cloying and sweet as you would expect, with honey
ed notes and enough acidity to cope with the rich chocolate dessert.  One I would definitely like to try again.

The next Wine Society dinner takes place in Hayfield Manor on Thursday 15th September (my birthday, how fortuitous!) and features Chateau du Chatelard from Beaujolais in France.  Tickets are €99 per person and prebooking is essential as these dinners always sell out.  Call Roisin in Hayfield Manor at +353 21 4845909 or email to reserve your place.  If you feel like a very indulgent treat, there's also special overnight offers so you can relax and enjoy the wonderful Hayfield experience

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