White Wines & Fish for the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is such an amazing charity – entirely funded by donations, their crews set sail without a thought for their own safety, often in dreadful weather whilst the rest of us are tucked up on the sofa at home. In order for them to be equipped to cope with the challenges that the seas around the UK throw at them when out on a “shout”, the RNLI is brilliant in raising these essential funds in all manners of ways! To run the RNLI last year cost £177.3 million (yes – please read that figure again!). In 2016 alone, they rescued 8, 643 people at sea, plus RNLI

Lifeguards went to the aid of a further 20, 538 beach goers!  So when they appealed this year for people to host a fund raising Fish Supper – it seemed a great way to invite a few friends over for supper, try out a range of wines to see what paired best with fish and top up the donation box as well.

Planning menus is almost as much fun as the actual cooking, but a bit of a quandary ensued for this evening. Fish supper implies a visit to the local “chippy” so would people be disappointed if the menu went all chi chi and offered a ballotine of poached salmon with yuzu dressing? So some canapés to pacify my need for pretty presentation followed by a Fish Supper involving batter but with a bit of a twist!

Cullen Skink

A trio of fishy Canapés to kick off with -  mini blini’s topped with smoked salmon, sour cream&  faux caviar, followed by Scandi inspired waxy potatoes topped with dill gherkins & smoked anchovy, ending with a shot of Cullen Skink (smoked haddock soup).

Baguette aux goujons de poisson sounds so much more elegant than Fish Fingers sandwiches, but not when made with rustic haddock fingers, lemon mayo and even a handful of rocket to pimp it up inside soft white rolls!

A beautiful platter from Southern Italy was heaped with golden nuggets of scampi, delicate lemon sole goujons and tempura king prawns. All very delicious, but of course no fish supper is complete without chips – so newspaper cones overflowing with steaming hot crinkle cuts completed the scene. Well almost, as individual ramekins of minted mushy peas were there for those of that odd persuasion!

So onto the wines - to avoid being too serious, we opened up a range of wines so people could taste a variety of grapes and countries.

Given the menu, whites obviously dominated, and with one exception all the wines were ordered from the brilliant Wine Society, whose list not only weaves around the wine world throwing up many a lesser known gem, but almost all the wine were just below a tenner!

Gewurztraminer is one of those divisive varieties (the Marmite Love it Hate it of the Wine World!) so it’s always great to see friends get excited about this aromatic variety. Add to the fact this one comes from Slovenia, Traminec from Dveri Pax, is a fun one to add into a blind tasting! Delicate rose notes typical of the variety backed up by lovely spiciness. Worked well with the oiliness of the smoked anchovies. £9.95 (WS)

Some classic wine pairings disappear as the wine sadly goes out of fashion. Muscadet used to be a default choice with shellfish, but sadly not offered as much these days as the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. So how delightful to taste (drink…..) the Muscadet Sevre et Maine from the charming Bougrier family. They’ve been making wine in the Loire for six generations, including this lively, refreshing bone dry Muscadet, the acidity making it the perfect pair for the rich batter of the scampi. Great wine for a party being great value at only £6.50 (WS).

Tabali, a wine estate located in the mystical valley of Limari in Northern Chile, make a smooth Chardonnay Reserve Especial. Offering a more rounded mouth feel than some of the crisper other whites, it’s surprisingly richness (given the young vines and no oak) picked up the smoked salmon quite well. £9.50 (WS)

The volcanic soils of Mount Etna, home to the Carricante & Cataratto white grape varieties give wines with appealing layers of minerality. Tenuta Nicosia Etna Bianco with appealing red apple flavours paired happily with the tempura king prawns and the kick of the chilli dip. £12.50 (WS)

Encruzado is a lesser known white variety from the Dao region of Portugal, which sadly has seen so many vineyards recently destroyed in the forest fires. The Ribeiro Santo Encruzado is a delicious example to discover; citrus yet soft, a light touch of French oak adding complexity. £10.95 (WS)

Chateau Thieuley showed the elegance of a Bordeaux Blanc, when Semillion grapes are used in the blend, rather than the recent trend of doing 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This one also having a touch of Sauvignon Gris in the blend as well. Fabulous citrus notes, not just lemons but also tangerines & pink grapefruit. £9.50 (WS)

Hailing from the Cotes du Rhône, Secret de Famille Blanc from Paul Jaboulet Ainé is a blend of four whites grapes (including Viognier and Marsanne). Put quite simply, it ticked all the boxes for a good mouth feel, peach notes from the Viognier, well balanced and a great all- rounder wine – and I mean that in a positive way! Great value £8.50 (WS)

Matakana Estate Pinot Gris 2014 from New Zealand – the only wine shown not from the Wine Society but from our excellent local (Hampshire) independent Wine Merchant, The General Wine Company. Given this arrived in the hands of a vegetarian friend (no fish therefore), who is also lactose intolerant – it was much appreciated as a sop for the challenge of doing a “fish” supper for a veggie! It was deliciously rich with good acidity, ripe pears, slightly floral and honeyed long finish. £19.59 (General Wine Co.)

But for a couple of friends known for their devotion to reds, they gamely tried some of the whites before moving onto a couple of reds to see how well they worked with the fish.

Bulgaria might not be the first country to spring to mind when looking for a Pinot Noir, but stand up Soli from Edoardo Miroglio. Made by an Italian in Bulgaria, this wine is delightful, relatively uncomplicated but all the more appealing and very food friendly - worked best with the richness of the scampi.  £9.95 (WS)

New Zealand is perhaps better known for that same grape variety, so the Kumeu Village Pinot Noir made by Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich was a great comparison with lovely raspberry and redcurrant notes. His family emigrated from Croatia to New Zealand in 1937, and their estate, Kumeu River is on the North Island, also making truly world class Chardonnay (albeit with a higher price tag than this!). £9.95 (WS)

Back to Mount Etna for the partner in crime of the Nicosia above – this time from the red Nerello Mascalese variety. Trademark minerality showing through the attractive notes of red fruit with herbal notes, almost savoury finish. Would have worked better with a tuna fish steak (or meat!), but was a great option for relaxing with after supper! £9.95 (WS)

Added to the number of bottles rapidly mounting on the table, two beer options for one friend who was designated driver! Sharps Brewery comes from Rock in Cornwall and two beers which matched the fish main course – Doombar Amber Ale, named for the notorious sand bank in the Camel Estuary and Sharps Sea Fury, brewed at the request of local fishermen to have a stronger ale to revive them after facing the storms of the Atlantic coast. Seemed an appropriate choice! My informal Beer Guru of the evening said the Doombar apparently went well with the prawns!

So apart from a fun evening with a group of friends, having shown off a wide range of some lesser known wines and test run them with various sorts of fish dishes, the eight of us managed to raise £151.32 for the Lifeboat – which is good news! Still not sure where the £1.32 came from – but as they say, Every Little Helps!

With the high costs of building and maintaining the boats and Lifeboat stations, the RNLI are outstanding at looking to the future. Their use of sustainable energy last year created at the stations by wind turbines and solar panels saved enough money to run nine inshore lifeboats.

Please do visit RNLI.com for more information. If there is any way you can get involved (last year I did the H2O Challenge giving up all liquids except water for a month – no wine for 31 days? That was a challenge and a half but raised almost £600 – not sure if that says something about my friends doubting my wine resistance levels?) , then there are lots of ways to help support this truly selfless charity.

PS – If you want to see the RNLI in action, available on BBC iPlayer is “Saving Lives at Sea”  following the work of Lifeboat crews as far afield from Tower Bridge on the Thames down to the Atlantic coast in Cornwall.

PPS – Apologies, I meant to take lots of great photos of the fabulous food, but we were having so much fun pairing the wines & fish that was forgotten!! So hence a few images from some of the empty bottles next day!