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The King Sitric & La Confrerie St Etienne d'Alsace - A Celebration of Quality

Confrerie - Barberstown

Ross Golden Bannon reflects on the significance of a very special event, when the oldest wine guild in France teamed up with the oldest seafood restaurant in Dublin - a unique celebration of quality that resulted in a convivivial evening of wonderful wine and food pairings

What is the essence of a successful restaurant? Longevity. Because people just won’t come back if you can’t deliver great food and wine. The King Sitric, Howth’s famed fish restaurant, has been serving discerning diners for some 40 years. Now that’s a successful restaurant.

Over those four decades they’ve forged a long and lasting relationship with the wine growers of Alsace. So it’s no surprise that when the guild of Alsatian wine makers (La Confrérie St Etienne d’Alsace) decided to hold their first chapter meeting outside France they chose the eponymous Dublin restaurant for their first dinner on Friday 18 November.

With typical King Sitric style two generations of the MacManus clan welcomed, cooked and chatted with a gathering of Irish food and wine writers along with some of Alsace’s finest wine producers. Joan MacManus was on front of house and it was good to see Aidan MacManus sitting in his own restaurant as his son Declan did the cheffing. Declan’s fiancée, Susan McKiernan, served the sparkling Meyer-Fonné Brut Extra Cremant d’Alsace. Champagne certainly does not have all the best bubbles, as this drop proves. Lip-smackingly dry and an elegant match for cloud-like prawns caught mere metres away in Balscadden Bay.

King Sitric LobsterLa Confrérie St Etienne d’Alsace dates back a little further than two generations, indeed they were founded in 1561 and are the oldest guild in France. Even at that, they were rather late getting themselves organised as the first vineyards were planted in Alsace by the Romans in the third century AD.

The guild is based in the Chateau de Klentzheim and their cellars are filled with over 60,000 bottles of wine dating back to 1834. Their role is to oversee the quality of Alsatian wines through blind tasting, and it is only after they pass this quality test that selected wines are awarded the right to bear the stamp ‘sigille’ on their bottles.

The present Grand Master of the Confrérie is an old friend of Ireland, David Ling, who is married to Alsace native, Marie-Leonce Freudenreich, known as Mimi, whose passion for the beautiful region knows no bounds. So they are well matched. David introduced the wines, with great aplomb, in the face of the usual Irish high-volume conviviality. He explained that The King Sitric has its own world records and is the world's largest single restaurant customer of Hugel’s Pinot Blanc.

A highlight of the dinner was the main course of fillet of wild turbot with celeriac, Howth apple foam and kale pommes purée with its echoes of ancient Irish Halloween traditions. This was matched with three great Alsatian wines: Riesling Josmeyer 1976; Clos St-Theobald Grand Cru 1996; and Riesling Frederick Emile from Trimbach 2008.

Hugel WineThis extraordinary collection of wines was proof positive of the staying power of fine white wines, a phenomena which is often ignored in favour of the aging power of red wines. This clever pairing of wines from over 40 years was not just a respectful salute to the age of the King Sitric but the quintessence of the culinary arts, as the flavours of the dish sang counterpoint and harmony to decades of fine wine maturation.

If the job of the Confrérie was to remind people of the versatility and quality of the wines of Alsace, they delivered that in spades - and did so again at a more formal ceremonial event held at Barberstown Castle a couple of days later.

If the job of the King Sitric was to remind people that we have a gem of a seafood restaurant in Howth, they delivered on that too. However, restaurateurs and wine makers can never be sure, until the final taste of an agreed menu with the wine, if they’ve achieved that gastronomic miracle of food and wine becoming greater together than apart. The marriage of the King Sitric with the Confrérie St Etienne d’Alsace did just that, reminding me why I fell in love with gastronomy in the first place.

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Ross Golden Bannon

Ross Golden-Bannon is a member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild. Follow him on Twitter at @goldenshots

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