Sunday, December 31, 2006

Off sick

Dont know what Ive done, but my back is is wicked agony. It all started on boxing day but by wednesday night after driving back from Grismby I was in quite some discomfort. I woke up on thursday and could hardly move. Shooting pains right down my right buttock and thigh, absolute agony. Went to the quacks on Friday who signed me off until the 12th January with lower back pain. Ive never had serious back pain before, but by god it hurts. Good thing the drugs hes prescribed are pretty strong. 2 co-codamol 500mg every four hours to feel absolutely nothing. I mean not a damned thing, mind you I cant concentrate worth shit, my vision is slightly blury and they make you constipated, so its not all good.

So this is the first hogmanay in twelve years that Im not working. I will probably be in bed before the bells. I also just found out that my Mum has been hospitalised in Nigeria, and may well be shipped home early. Not really turning out to be the great end to the year that I hoped for.

Happy new year, and may 2007 be better than 2006. (Shouldnt be too difficult, although if I do end up getting divorced, it might not be!!). d'Oh!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "les Combettes" 1999

Part of our holding stock of wines that we are keeping in the cellar until they are more mature. Tasted last week as a possibility for the Board xmas lunch (it was rejected in favour of its next-door neighbour wine the 1er cru "Champs-Canet") The colour was a pale straw with a slight golden tinge to it. On the nose it had the classic Puligny nose of frangipane, with oaky notes and apples and citrus undertones. On the palate it was rich full flavoured, very fat on the palate with nutty, buttery flavours, caramelised apples and pastry, with a great length and fullness to it. The flavours developed well on the palate and the aftertaste was pleasantly full and lasting. Very very good wine.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How to make a complaint.

In a convoluted logic kind of way I thought I would just post this as a kind of follow on to hazardous to my health. It would seem that Britons are becoming more comfortable with complaining. The old "Stiff upper lip" seems to be softening and we are now more willing to kick up a fuss if things dont go to our liking. About bloody time! The only problem is that most of you havent got the slightest clue about how to actually complain. So I though I would post a little How to to make it a bit easier for you.

There is a school of thought that says complaints are bad news. It signals trouble - either a troublesome customer who is going to be hard work or a spongeing freeloader who makes up spurious complaints to get free stuff. Alas in some cases both these scenarios are woefully true. But Ive always taken the viewpoint that a complaint is a cry for help. The customer is trying to tell you that somewhere down the line something is wrong, something is preventing them from having the marvelous night out they wanted. They are giving you the opportunity to resolve the issue and allow them the happiness they are expecting. So complaints should be seen as such, and wherever possible you should be making every human effort to resolve their issue and allow them their happiness. As the old proverb states " a stitch in time, saves nine" meaning that the sooner you nip any problems in the bud, the more likely you are to prevent any escalation. Which brings me on to my first lesson.

There is a right and a wrong time to make a complaint. The right time is as soon as the problem becomes apparent. This allows us the opportunity to attempt to resolve it. All being well we will rectify any problem and life will continue happily along. If you've been inconvenienced we will usually make an appropriate reconcilliatory gesture - a complementary glass of wine or something for example. The incorrect time is three weeks later. What the hell do you honestly expect us to do after three weeks. It is this kind of complaint that gets us thinking you are a freeloader. People who do this usually always use the phrase - "I didnt want to make a fuss". What?!!! If you didnt want to make a fuss, what on earth do you think writing to the managing director is going to do. Do you think he invites us all up to his office for a nice cup of tea to discuss your letter in a civilised manner?! Get real, we get a phone call at some ungodly hour of the morning tersely summoning us into his office in record time for the bollocking of a lifetime. Think Gordon Ramsay's scarey? He's a pussycat compared to the MD flying off on one. Do us all a favour and state your issue at the time it happens. Then we can solve it for you and save us all some serious grief. Which brings me on to my second lesson.

What is it you are actually complaining about? Be specific -again the more specific you are, the more likely we are to be able to resolve your problem. Meal not cooked to your satisfaction - fine, exactly how do you want it. Your rooms terrible and you had a crap nites sleep - oh Im sorry, what was wrong with it exactly - too hot, too cold, bed to soft/hard, not enough pillows etc etc etc. And while we are talking about focus, Ive often found that when people start "stockpiling" complaints, there is always one fundamental problem that they want resolved. Everything else is just filler to make them feel more agrieved. Tell us what that fundamental problem is and we'll try to resolve it. Dont go exagerrating everything out of all proportion, magnifying every small issue into the worlds biggest crisis. It makes you look like the bad guy. Be clear about the problem and this leads onto lesson three

Have an aim in mind.
Ok so you've aired your grievance and made your complaint, what exactly do you want out of it. Let us know what your win scenario is. Do you want your steak medium well instead, do you want a different main course, what do you want to achieve from the complaint. By telling us this, you allow us the final piece of information to resolve your issue. Now we know what we are aiming to achieve. It makes it so much easier to resolve issues if we know our end-game. But for gods sake be realistic. There are many things that are within our realm to resolve, there are some things that need higher powers. If I cant solve a problem because I lack the authority to make a certain decision I will tell you, and then I will get someone who has the authority. Obviously this will take more time. So be patient. We will keep you informed of what is happening as we can. Any compensatory measures will be proportional to the issue. Dont expect your entire stay "comped" because your steak was a touch overdone. But it isnt unreasonable to expect a glass of wine while the kitchen re-prepares your meal, unless you ordered it that way, in which case take some responsability, know what you are ordering before you order it.

Other tips to remember - losing your temper solves nothing. It gets our backs up and the situation escalates beyond resolve. Shouting at us isnt going to make us want to resolve your issue. Explaining the problem in a clear calm voice is more likely to get it resolved quicker than calling us arseholes and screaming at us.
Manners go a long way.
Be gracious and accept our apologies. We dont want to cause problems, we want people to enjoy their meals and return.

Follow these guidelines and you might make your life a lot easier, sure as hell it might make mine too!!

Hazardous to my health

I sometimes think that this industry should carry a health warning, much like cigarettes do, and if the Eurocrats get they way wine bottles too. Maybe it should be enblazoned across our wage slips - Warning - working in the hospitality industry will ruin your sleep pattern, your diet, your social life, your financial security - it will generally just f&*k you up! I feel I have earned the right to say that. My diet is appalling - partially a victim of circumstance and partly my own apathy to change it. My eating pattern is shot to hell and beyond. I currently get by on one or if im lucky two meals a day with "nibbles" inbetween. That meal is usually served after I finish work - ie around one am. My only exercise consists of running up and down to the cellar several times a night, not to mention the miles we walk everyday. Im currently "surviving" on around four or five hours of interupted sleep a night (not entirely the hotels fault - my three year old has developed an internal alarm clock he has set to 5:30am, and believes that because he is up, then everyone else should be too.Im starting to sympathise with the parents in those NSPCC adverts, although I would never ever condone violence towards children, I find my temper getting shorter and shorter with each passing day.) I need an industrial sandblaster to remove the layers of dead skin that are building up on my feet daily due in no small part to spending the best part of fourteen hours a day on my feet.

My relationship with my wife and family is almost non-existent. Working an average of 56 hours a week, more at xmas and may races and stocktake week and busy weeks, and most weeks in fact. An average day is at least twelve hours at least ten of which will be spend on our feet. I speak to my wife almost everyday on the phone. I see her in the morning when she leaves, and at night, asleep, when I come home. Of our two days off she works one day, leaving me one whole day with her and the kids. We spend an average of 12 hours a week in each others company. Thats a really shit deal for her, as she has to deal with the kids on her own five nights out of seven. Perhaps its no wonder that Ive been given till April to get a new job, or find a divorce lawyer.

In fact after looking at this sorry state of affairs the only saving grace is that I dont smoke. And better than that, the hotel is a smoke free environment, so Im not even second-hand smoking. So if youre reading this and thinking about whether or not to get into the hospitality industry you might be thinking "well why do they do it?". Good question! It sure as shit aint for the money. My salary averaged out over the number of hours I work works out to less than minimum wage. The hospitality industry is notorious for slave labour like wages, until that is you hit the upper management levels at which point the rewards are pretty serious for the right places. So why do we do it? I often wonder that myself, and the answer that I always come back to is we do it for the love. You see at the quality level I work at, we all love our jobs. Sure we bitch and moan about the hours and the pay, conditions etc etc. But we all get an enormous amount of job satisfaction from a smooth service. When people walk out the door at the end of the night, having had a great meal, with good, friendly service and they come back several days/weeks/months later with friends/family/colleagues, then we know we've done a good job. It gives us a sense of pride, of acheivement to know that we can make a persons evening special.

So next time you're out in a restaurant, take a look at the staff, smile at them, be appreciative and you'll get a lot more in return. Its karma!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wild Hog, Siani Farm Carignane 2002

Wild Hog Vineyards is a true boutique winery based in the Sonoma Coast region of California about midway between Cazadero and Fort Ross. Sitting at an elevation of about 1400 feet, only five miles from the Pacific coast, the vineyards manage to avoid the morning fogs so prevalent around the region. The long hot days and shorter cool nights allow the Schoenfleds to produce some of the most intensely concentrated fruit in the region. Winemakers since the late 70's Wild Hog was opened in 1990 and has since been crafting the most superb wines imaginable.

They have transformed a rugged, moutainous terrain into a veritable garden of Eden. Their organic farm grows grapes, numerous fruits and vegetables, and their whole environment is run on eco-friendly terms, the winery and their home are powered by combination solar and hydro electricity. They utilise bio-sustainable farming practices and eschew the use of chemicals in their crops, even using natural predators to manage vineyard pests.

I first came across their wines in Scotland at a Villeneuve wines tasting at the Champany Inn near Linlithgow. The Saralee Vineyard Pinot was unlike any Pinot I had ever tasted. It was a deep red colour, thick, almost like a soup. Unfiltered and unfined the wine was cloudy and there were many fine particles suspended in the wine. But the flavours and intensity were phenominal! Super-turbo-charged pinot for those who want their pinots with more whoomph! Kenny and Alaistair were raving about the wines, having just spend a number of days there (I believe one day was spend just trying to find the winery, its a bit off the beaten track apparently.). Off the back of tasting that one wine, we agreed to list the three wines that Villeneuve had managed to negiotiate exclusive UK rights to. I never got the taste the Carignane because I never had the chance to sell one before leaving Amaryllis and moving on to Gleneagles.

Anyway long story short, I eventually managed to get it listed here, along with the fantastic pinot. Last night was the first chance that I've had to taste the wine (Six years after first listing it!! a new record perhaps?) I dont recall tasting a mono-cepage Carignane before so I wasnt too sure what to expect really. On the nose there was a full bodied nose of brooding purple and dark fruits - morello cherries, brambles, currants, blueberries, with a storng undernote of mint that didnt translate to the palate. I expected it to be really harsh and quite tannic like the rustic reds of the minervois, but was actually pleasantly surprised by the suppleness of it. It was quite smooth with a medium acidity still, big fruit flavours dominated with some subtle oak flavours - a touch of spice and toastyness. Absolutely fantastic wine, I reckon it would suit dishes such as venison, hearty beef dishes and rich stews or casseroles. Great winter wine.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chateau de Tracy, "Mademoiselle de Saint-Baville", Pouilly Fume 2005

There is something quite special about a really good Pouilly Fume. The smoky, gunflint like character, that after all is hinted at in the name, seems all the dominant here. Yet many pouilly fume's that I taste these days seem to lack that essential flavour. I guess that is why I love this wine so much.

Sometimes called the second wine of Chateau de Tracy, the Mademoiselle de Saint-Baville is in fact made by the Comtesse d'Estutt d'Assay, from fruit sourced on the estate in Tracy-Sur-Loire. It is slightly more approachable that the parent wine, which I feel needs a few years on the bottle to show its true flavours. There is no reference on the bottle to the Chateau de Tracy save for the Comtesse's name on the bottom of the label. When you open the bottle what strikes you first is the freshness of the wine. It has a very vibrant nose that seems to leap out of the bottle with the cork. The gunsmoke aroma is quite dominant, but then the fruityness of the wine becomes more apparent. This is no one-dimensional Kiwi fruit bomb of a sauvignon, rather the true experience of a multi-layered wine. Each moment absorbing the aromas brings new flavours to mind. There are typical sauvignon aromas of gooseberry, lime fruit, grapefruit - more ruby I think, and some bizarre aroma that reminds me of my grandads greenhouse with his tomatos and cucumbers growing in it. Intermingled among the fruit salad of flavours there are more mineral characters - flint being the dominant one, taking me back to childhood days of playing in the field at the bottom of our housing estate and making our own arrow heads out of the abundant flint that was around the place.

On the palate these flavours continue, blending well together to produce a clean, fresh wine that just glides down and leaves you wanting more. The smoky element of the flavour lingers slightly on the palate with the finish. There is also a subtle flavour of slightly unripe banana at the end of the finish. The acidity gets your lips smacking and your mouth watering, which makes this a perfect wine for serving either as an aperitif or with some crab, shellfish or light white fish. It won't strain the wallet too much either!!

Saturday, December 16, 2006 wines of the year

I was over at Tom Cannavans excellent site the other day and noticed that it is time for his annual Wines of the Year meme. Its interesting because it encourages you to have a review of some of the many, many wines that you've tried, drunk and maybe written about over a year. It is quite hard singleing out one wine for each category. Especially when in my position Ive been exceptionally fortunate enough to sample some world-class wines this year. Check it out, and why not contribute to it too!

Domaine Georges Roumier Bonnes Mares 1983 en magnum

Had a fantabulous lunch service yesterday with a table of ten drinking some really decent wines. For me the best wines of the service were the two magnums of Bonnes Mares 83. Now okay, 83 wasnt a great year in Burgundy, but as I always believe, the vintage isnt the be all and end all of the wines. A great winemaker can still make good wines in off vintages, a crap winemaker will still make crap wines in excellent vintages. It goes without saying that in excellent years, a great winemaker will (should) make stupendously great wine. And thats quite appropriate because I believe that Christophe Roumier (currently in charge at Dom G Roumier) is a great winemaker. Third generation winemaker (Georges was his grandfather), Christophe prefers to manage the domaine in an organic style, favouring harsh pruning, no chemical management of the vines, partial destemming, absolute minimal chemical intervention in the cuverie. Depending on the particular appelation of the grapes, Roumier varies the proportion of new oak to suit the grapes. The grand cru wines receiving the highest proportions (40-50%), with the premier crus only getting between 20 and 40% new oak. The wines are eventually bottles with no filtration and if possible without fining too. The result is a bold richer wine, that just blossoms with a few years of cellar age. Roumier's wines are now beginning to command some serious money on the market, and the Bonnes Mares particularly is in high demand. Lucky I've got quite a bit then eh?

1983 marks Christophes first full vintage as a partner in the domaine with his late father. It is the vintage that he started to shape the future wines of the domaine, and make his mark in Burgundy and beyond. The wine showed good fruit character upon opening, with typical burgundy earthyness and stone fruit aromas upon opening. After a few minutes the slightly more feral character started to show, with a liquorice and fur-like smell. On the palate it was very graceful, soft supple tannins caressed my gums, while the stone fruit flavours mingled with exotic winter spices and again the sense of liquorice on the tongue with a very subtle hint of coffee on the finish. A slight touch of bitterness at the end too, which actually seemed more appealing than it sounds. There wasnt a huge amount of variation in the two magnums, which was quite a surprise, but pleasant none the less. Ive got one left, and knowing my luck it will be either totally crap, or exceptionally good. My money is on the former though!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday 28 - Non Champagne Sparklers.

Great topic for this months WBW. Sparkling wines that DONT come from Champagne. Ive thought hard about this one over the last few weeks, there were a few wines that I really wanted to show, but in the end, Ive gone back to an old favourite.

Charles Melton Sparkling Red, Barossa Valley, Australia. No vintage statement, but bottled in 2005. Im a big fan of Charlies wines, his shiraz is some of the best Aussie red Ive ever tasted and despite its absence on the label this wine is 100% shiraz. Taken from some of his best plots, which feature gnarly old vines that are dry-farmed (no irrigation), with an average age over fifty years old. The grapes are picked at optimum ripeness, mostly by hand, before being made into red wine in the normal manner. Once the wine has been made and has spend nearly a year in oak (mostly French, 25% new), before being bottled. It then spends about another year in bottle before having the liqueur d'expidition added. This is a dose of unfermented grape must, often sweetened with sugar and sometimes dosed with yeast to kickstart the secondary fermentation. This is the same method used to produce champagne. The only difference is the geography, and of course the colour.

It is strangely surreal to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and pour out a deep red wine, with a fizzy vimto mousse. Thats kind of what it reminds me of, Welchs fizzy grape juice. If youve ever seen the ferment on a vat of red wine, when the yeast is bubbling up over the vat, thats what the mousse is like on this.

On the nose its quite weird too, but good weird, its a bit of a mindf*^k having a deliberately sparkling red. Once you get over the bubbles, you can tell its a Barossa Shiraz. It has the distinctive menthol, black fruit aromas, and there are hints of peppercorns in there too. On the palate it is again a bit surprising. There is a touch of residual sugar there, hardly surprising after all, but again its a challenge getting your head round the idea of a sweetish sparkling red. There is more raspberry on the palate than on the nose, it really reminded me of a "beverage" from my childhood - Cremola Foam ( Ive been serving this tonight as an accompanyment to a dark chocolate fondant with sauce suzette and sorbet. I think it went rather well, even if the dessert had all sorts of random flavours there.

Charlies wines dont come cheap, they are labours of love, hand crafted from old vines, and so I wouldnt consider this an everyday kind of purchase. Apparently the Aussies glug this stuff down as an aperitif, but to my palate it is a bit too sweet for that. I think this works really well paired with dark chocolate, served with a bit of a chill on it. Charlie recommends cellaring it for about 10 years or more. I might stash a bottle or two and give it a shot, but Im not too sure that I will still be here to give them a bash. Who knows what the future holds eh? Anyway, forget the crappy red sparklers that you get down in Tesco's, this is the real deal, as I said it aint cheap, but its worth it.

Thanks to Culinary Fool for hosting this edition and I cant wait for the New Year to see whats in store.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2 Covers

It seems almost surreal. With less than two weeks until Santa comes, its Tuesday night and we are sitting with two covers. One table of two. The hotel is full tonight, 80 rooms sold, 81 covers in house!! One double occupancy. Its all a big pharma company, here for some conference or other, but tonight they are at leisure. So maybe we will pick up, or maybe tonight will be the shift from hell and we wont. There is nothing worse that a quiet night. You would think that the customers get the most amazing service when there is only one table. You would generally be wrong.

Try as hard as we might, it wont happen. We get bored, they get quiet and usually weve exhausted all conversation topics within five minutes, leaving long tense pauses, where the clock ticks slowly, and time seems to drag. When Einstein was postulating his general theory of relativity, he should have studied the time dilation effects of an empty restaurant. As the staff anxiously wait for the 9:30 last orders to pass by, time slows down so that seconds seem to last minutes. Its hell.

On the other hand, when the restaurant is full and you are all going full tilt, everyone usually gets great service because we are all focused. We have purpose, we have drive and we know that there is more to come. Before we know what has happened, the last table is asking for the bill and its quarter past midnight. Time flies by.

Update: we picked up three more covers, to complete one of the most mindnumbingly boring nights of the year.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saxenburg Guinea Fowl White 2006

Earlier this year I blogged about the Guinea Fowl white 2005.
We've just moved onto the 2006 vintage and I got the chance to taste it the other day. My hat goes off to winemaker Nico van der Merwe because he has taking a fantastic wine and made it even better!!! There is a touch more viognier this time (about 22% compared to 14% last vintage) which gives the wine a more candied nose, exotic fruit and almost slightly floral. I strongly suggest you find this wine and give it a go, because it is going to be the most fantastic wine for summer drinking, and judging by how much we sold this year, I dont reckon it will be around for much longer.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saxenburg Special Selection Shiraz "SSS" 2001

Since we had the Saxenburg Dinner last year Ive always had a soft spot for their top cuvee, the "SSS". We served that from magnums on the evening, and it was definately one of the highlights of the year. Ive since been able to secure a dozen bottles of the 2001 vintage, and Ive sold about four now. Not bad considering it comes with a £120 price tag. If that was Australia or even California it would be too much of a problem to sell. But Stellenbosch? At the moment South Africa isnt really associated with top notch premium wines. That isnt to say that there arent any. I can probably name about half a dozen - Rustenberg's Peter Barlow, Meerlust Rubicon, Glen Carlou, Sadie Family Columela, Graham Beck the Ridge, Rust-en-Vrede Estate Red, and Vergelegen Vergelegen are the most memorable. But for the most part you very rarely see them outside of South Africa. They are produced in such tiny quantities that the strong domestic market snaps them all up before they go abroad. Unfortunately the economies of scale mean that the wines that are exported are generally of a lower quality, more volume driven type. This is where South Africa's previous co-operative winemaking system really had a big advantage. Lets not forget that for many years the political trade embargoes on South African products during the Apartheid era, meant that they had to build their domestic market. They were prevented from exporting their goods by the embargoes. Now the co-operative method is being slowly dismantled and many growers are turning their hand to making their own wines. I think that the next ten years are going to see a winemaking revolution in South Africa. It has already started with the movement away from Co-operative production, and the black empowerment movement is fostering the next generation of winemakers, as well as giving the local communities a greater share in their efforts.

Anyways back to the triple S. It is quite vibrant on the nose with typical shiraz aromas - black fruit, plums, cocao and a touch of licorice. There is also quite a dominant vanilla aroma, hardly surprising considering the wine had about 15 months in new american and french oak barriques, before being bottled without fining and with only a rough filtration. It actually put me in mind of the 97 Hill of Grace I had served the previous night, without the menthol tones. That ripe opulent fruit, medium to firm tannins that opened out with decanting, and the stunningly long, lingering finish with spicy peppercorn and cinnamon. Im told by friends that have visited South Africa, that this is really hard to get hold of there. I suppose it is kind of easy for me here, because of the relationship we have fostered with Saxenburg. It is one that I will continue to build on as long as winemaker Nico van der Merwe continues to produce such fantastic wines. Judging by the wines of his own that he has brought out - entry level Merlot Robert Alexander and top end Mas Nicholas, Saxenburg is an estate that continues to grow in stature and quality. Long may it continue.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 1997

After selling the last of our Vieux Telegraphe 1996, I was desperate to list another mature chateauneuf. So I went shopping, and managed to find two cases of Beaucastel 97 right under my nose, with a supplier that I wouldnt have pegged as listing such decent wine. The price was great too, which is always an added bonus. So last night I sold my first two bottles. Im always a bit apprehensive when I sell the first of the case, because usually you are buying blind, and you have no idea how well the wines have been stored until you open the bottle. Thats not strictly true, because about two years ago I went around their storage depot one afternoon when I went for a tasting in Telford.

The wine was a bright ruby colour, clear and starbright, with a dark purple core and a slightly redder tinge to the rim, suggesting some maturity. On the nose it was clean and pronounced with a rich fruity character of mulberries and stone fruit, with undernotes of white pepper and anise. On the palate the flavours were more pronounced with the mulberries and plums being more dominant at the start, the hotter spices coming in towards the finish. A great length and soft supple tannins with a pleasant tingle of acidity still left you wanting more. Great wine. I believe the Perrins have been running a blog themselves for a while.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


What a dumb ass. Today we had an Arkle lunch with Dom Perignon. We poured the 98 vintage and the 92 Oenotheque. It's just occured to me now that I never got to taste the 92. D'Oh!!

It's official. Our new house champagne is...

Well I can now reveal that our new house champagne is Taittinger. As of January we will be pouring the Taittinger Brut for our house champagne. I like Taittinger and it is going to be interesting to see how our customers respond to the change. Hell as long as the price doesnt go up, I doubt they even care.

One last Mouton tit-bit.

I found out today (its probably old news but hey im behind the times!) that the 2004 vintage of Mouton Rothschild will have a label designed by HRH the Prince of Wales. It seems that the current head of the family Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild has commissioned him to produce the label image. As is the tradition he will not receive payment, but will be compensated with a couple of cases of wine, some of which will be from "his" vintage.

Such a label will no doubt make the wine that little bit more appealing to collectors of royal memorabilia, and could help to maintain a solid market value. Crafty marketing huh?

Now that enough about Mouton from me for a while, I promise!

Update/Correction. The label artwork hasnt been commisioned, rather the Baroness Phillipine has selected an artwork of the Princes - a watercolour of pine trees in the south of France- for the label art.

Was it worth it? Hell yes baby!!

Its just after quarter past one in the morning and weve just finished the Mouton dinner. Im sat at my desk, knowing that I ought to get home and into bed, but Im still kind of buzzing. The wines were every bit as exceptional as I thought that they would be, and the uunexpected star of the night was actually the jero of d'Armailhac. It rocked!!

This afternoon at about 4pm I opened the reds and started the laborious process of double decanting them. This was especially important for the jeroboams as they were going to be way too heavy to pour full, so we had to decant them all out. Rinse the bottle and clean it up. Dry it out and then refill it with the decanted wines about 2/3rds of the way up. It was still a bugger to pour and needed two of us to get it right. Me holding the bottle and Danny picking up the glasses and holding them under the neck as I poured. We actually managed to get the room poured quite quickly doing that!! Anyways the wine was really expressive then, with rich fruity character and a touch of barnyard like aromas at first that seemed to dissipate after a short while. By tonight, when it was poured the aromas were leaping out of the glass ripe juicy red and black fruits with a touch of tobacco and a hint of xmas spices.

The 96 Mouton was really tight when I opened it this afternoon, not showing much fruit on the nose, but quite flavoursome on the palate. After double decanting (decanting out of the bottle, rinsing the bottle and then decanting back into the bottle.) it was showing some signs of opening up a bit. Nearly four hours later when it was eventually poured it was only just starting to show some character on the nose. Think of Vimto like mixed fruits - some berries, brambles, all a little under ripe and youre starting to get there a bit. I confess I was a bit disappointed by this wine. Maybe it is just still a bit too young.

The 1990 was outstanding. In magnums it has aged really well, it was massively expressive on the nose when opened, and after decanting it just seemed to fill the room with its flavour. Again there was plenty of fruit, but a little bit more developed now, more stone fruit flavours, some damsons, prunes, jammy berries, and well seasoned cigar like aromas. This had some depth to it. It had lived a little, maybe seen a bit of the world, this was a grown up wine! And four hours after it had been decanted it still ruled the roost. Those mags were the steal of the century, we picked them up from a broking list for about £20 more than the cost of a bottle of 1990 now (

The boss seemed to be really happy. The feedback from the guests has been great and its been a really good end to the years events. Only problem now is how do we top this next year. Well Im working on something!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

13 straight days.

Today marks the thirteenth straight day Ive worked since my last day off. Ive worked 76 hours this week. But the good news is that Ive got two days off now, and Im going out on Tuesday night for a champagne dinner hosted by de Venoge at Paul Heathcotes place in Preston - Longridge. Cant wait.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hoots man, hogmanays just roond tha corner.

Carly came in for a quick visit this afternoon, in between panto up north. Shes going to come back for New Years eve (Hogmanay as we say in Scotland). That got me thinking about last year, and planning for this year. Im going to wear my kilt again, and Ross will probably be persuaded to get his out again. I love wearing my kilt, although it doesnt half itch sometimes (for the record I dont go commando!).

People all around the world are reading this!!!!!

I got this cool widget on my blog now that records the clusters of readers. You might see the little map down on the sidebar. Its well cool, I can see that people across the world are reading this - Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Italy, Scandanavia, and all across the USA. Wow!!!

Are you aware............?

After a phone call we received the other day questioning our prices, which ended with the now immortal line - " Are you aware that your are more expensive than the Ritz?" we have spawned a new catchphrase here. "Are you aware.......?"

Are you aware.. that you need to book a table on a saturday, after all its our busiest day of the year. By the way, booking in advance doesnt mean phoning up at 7pm wanting a table at 8pm. Plan ahead.

Are you aware.. that I know how to do my job. I dont need constant hints from yourself to clear your glasses when you have just this second drained the wine from it and plonked it down on your table. We have standards here that require me to carry glasses on a tray, so I need to fetch a tray first before I clear your glasses.

Are you aware.. that the whole restaurant can hear your "hilarious" story about the time you cheated on your wife with a supermodel. Are you also aware that we arent really interested. Little voices please.

Are you aware.. that I have another fifteen tables to serve tonight, I like to chat with customers, but I also have to keep an eye out not to spend too much time with one table. I try not to be rude but sometimes you just have to cut someone short.

Are you aware..that we have bedrooms here in the hotel. Much as we all enjoy a bit of amateur porno, we dont want to see it in full public view. For gods sake get a room! A bit of kissing is ok, but when you're trying to ram your tongue so far down the poor girls throat you can taste her dinner, then its time for somewhere more private than the middle of the library.

Are you aware.. that "joke" you just spend the best part of ten minutes preparing is told to us at least ten times a night. HO HO HO HO. Yes how original, "have we got any hovis on the bread trolley". Yes dont give up your day job pal.

Friday, December 01, 2006

White Rabbits

Perhaps if my first words this morning had been white rabbits instead of "f*&%^$ng hell!" then today might have gone better. Then again I think the gods have got it in for us this month. They must know that we all have three weeks off coming up and so they are deciding to make us work now for our pleasure later. We got royally shafted today. Our funeral buffet for thirty rapidly evolved into a bunfight for at least 70 covers. It was hard to get an accurate head count when the buggers keep moving around. So I guess that eclipses our previous record of 54 covers by at least 16. Hopefully it will be a long time before we repeat that fiasco again.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Good Ship lollypop.

After a rocky start to the week, things are on much better footing now. They have kept the faith, and now we can move forward on a positive note. Im a happy bunny again, and ready to face the pounding we are going to take this month. Bring it on baby!!

Im in Mouton Heaven baby!!

Six more days until the highlight of my year, the Mouton Rothschild Dinner. I know that Im going to be working it, but Ive been looking forward to this dinner for a while. The stock finally arrived earlier this week. Ive been down to the cellar to admire it, caressing the bottles, wishing they could be mine. Weve got three Jeroboems of d'Armailhac 93 for the intermediate course. Tell you what they weigh a chuffing ton, pouring those bad boys is gonnae be a challenge but I cant wait. I plan to decant them and then wash the bottle out, and refill it a third of the way full. Should make pouring a bit easier, and the theatre of it all is great.

For those that might be interested we are pouring:

Aperitif - "R" de Ruinart NV

First Course: Aile d'Argent 2003

Intermediate: Chateau d'Armailhac 1993 en Jeroboem

Main Course: Mouton Rothschild 1996

Cheese Course: Mouton Rothschild 1990 en Magnum

Dessert wine: Chateau Coutet 1998 en demi

All for the princely sum of £225 for a gourmet five course meal with the above wines included. Its a deal, its a steal, its the sale of the century!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pride of Britain, Pride of the Chester Grosvenor.

This last weekend we were host to the annual Pride of Britain conference. Pride of Britain (POB) is a marketing consortium for small independant hotels that provide top class service. It counts amongst its members places like the Devonshire Arms, Pear Tree Inn, Cromlix House, Isle of Eriska, Holbeck Ghyll, and of course the Chester Grosvenor as well as many others. With such a gathering of our peers and colleagues you can imagine the tension over the last few weeks building up to this event. Our MD was getting more and more stressed the closer it came, and when he's stressed, we're all stressed. I got roped into the event last night at Eaton Hall to be paraded as his pet monkey, and to ensure that the wines were all tip-top. The wines were all provided by sponsors including Lay and Wheeler who sponsored the starter wine - Fromm Estate, La Strada Riesling, from Marlborough New Zealand. The Wine Treasury provided the wine for the main course and the cheese which was a Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, and Louis Latour provided the dessert wine which was an interesting Muscat-de-Beaumes de Venise.

So Monday afternoon (my day off - boy was my wife pissed off at that!) I ended up at Eaton Hall opening nearly a hundred bottles of wine (yes I will be sueing for RSI!!!) and then checking them all to make sure that none were corked. Then I had the mammoth task of double decanting 42 bottles of Cabernet. In the end it was only 41 because one was corked. I got finished with the double decanting as they were about to sit down for the starter! Today my shoulder aches, my wrist is killing me, and Im knackered, with another seven days to go until I get a day off. My last day off was last monday, so thats fourteen straight days. Maybe I ought to negotiate a pay rise before I go and do these shifts!

At the end of the night all was well, our MD seemed to be over the moon, most of the guests were two sheets to the wind, and everybody commented on how well the red was showing despite its youth. So I did my job well.

The Burden of Suspicion

How ironic that after posting about our errant bartender and the misplaced faith we placed in him, the dirty odour of suspicion is now starting to stick to me. Overt inquiries are being made into the events of last nights dinner at Eaton Hall, and the "misappropriation" of "booty". Its been gnawing away at me all day, and is going to invade my dreams tonight. I dont like it.

The hotel places a huge amount of trust in me. I have access to hundreds of thousands of pounds of stock, I have access to the stock control system, I have access to a reasonably large amount of money (on a good night). I have free run of the cellar, in and out of hours, with little oversight excepting for the fact that I have to sign the keys out. That said, there are camera's everywhere, so it isnt as casual or an easy target as perhaps Im making it sound. But I respect that trust. It allows me to be confidant that I have the support of my senior managers. That allows me to carry out my responsabilities more effectively, without constantly having to have someone babysit me while Im in the cellar, or always seeking permission for doing this or that. But now that is gone. My confidance that I have the complete trust and support of Ross is wavering. He is now going to be suspicious and start looking over my shoulder more often, looking more closely at what Im doing, perhaps restrict my access to either the cellar, or the system or both. While I have nothing to hide, these things will hinder my ability to do my job effectively. The next stocktake will undoubtably throw up numerous issues, but from now on they will be viewed with a touch of suspicion. Why is the cellar down two bottles of _____, has he stolen them? It will be quite a while until that trust is repaired and returned and it may well never be completely restored.

But for the record, I have never, nor would I ever steal anything from the hotel. This job may have shitty hours, and the pay is nowhere near commensurate to the hours and agravation suffered, but it isnt worth losing for the sake of a bottle of wine/gin/insert beverage of choice. It isnt even worth losing for a case of wine, even if that case is Petrus 1982. I have too much respect for myself to steal.

So I havent broken the faith. But have they?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Charles Melton Barossa Valley Shiraz 1998

There aren't many wines that I will wholeheartedly endorse, but Im always willing to stick my balls on the line for Charlies wines. I think that he is one of the best winemakers in Barossa and for sure in Australia. And he's got some serious competition, especially in Barossa. But I've been following his wines for nearly seven years now and I've seen them get better and better each year. And they were bloody good to start with (to lapse into the aussie vernacular).

I was fortunate enough to meet him once, back when I was at Amaryllis. Our head sommelier had ordered a few cases of his Barossa Shiraz which turned up a couple of weeks after Davy had left. So I got in touch with Kenny at Villeneuve (who had sent the wines) to ask where the stock had come from. Kenny filled me in, and then offered to bring Charlie in to talk me through his wines. They came in for lunch and we talked a bit over lunch. I remember Charlie talked about being in France while he was learning his trade, and how he fell in love with the wines of Gruaud-Larose. I had just got a small parcel of 1970 Gruaud that I had picked up off a broking list. The wine has a brilliant brick red, clear, vibrant in colour. The nose had classic mature claret aromas - red fruits, blackberries and currants with the smells of a well seasoned humidor full of prime cuban cigars. It was absolutely fantastic - I can still remember it now after all these years.

After lunch we sat in the lounge and he talked me through his wines, how he makes them, why he makes them and a whole load of other stuff. We even managed to taste a few of the wines, including the Rose of Virginia and the Nine Popes as well as the Barossa Cabernet. I was amazed at the intensity of flavours, the rich character of the fruit, mingled with the typical Barossa character - eucalyptus and menthol flavours that Im guessing come from neighbouring Eucalyptus trees. I ended up added the Cabernet, the rose and Nine Popes to the list as well, so it wasnt a wasted journey. Ive since amassed a small personal stash of Charlies wines, and Ive managed to build a ten year vertical of the Barossa Shiraz from 1990 to 2000.

The 1998 comes from a small parcel of mature stock that I managed to score from Liberty a short while ago when they must have been having a bin end clearance. I managed to snap the case up, and Im very glad that I got it. The colour is a deep purple with a slightly redder tinge to the rim. On the nose that unmistakeable aromas of deep jammy black fruits mixed with menthol, a touch of tar and nice cedary notes dominate the wine. This is a wine that just loves to be decanted. The aromas build up with the extra aeration and just explode out of the glass for you. Over time it settles down slightly and the damson notes become more dominant, although the minty aromas still linger in the background.

On the palate this is still really packed with fruit, again black jammy fruits with a touch of licorice, anise and black peppercorns are more obvious. The length is quite long and it finishes with a cassis like fruity leafy flavour fading away.

I should be counting sheep, not bottles

Its that time of the month again, our funfilled stocktake. Im shattered, I got to bed sometime after two only to hear little feet running around as my little boy decided it must be "wakey-wakey" time because he obviously heard me coming in. So another half an hour spent settling him down and I eventually crawled back into my bed sometime closer to three. Normal for a saturday night, but somewhat unpleasant when Im supposed to be up for 7ish in order to drag my weary carcass in for the stocktake by 8am. So four and a bit hours later, Im woken up. After a half-assed shave and wash to try and wake me up, its not been the most successful start to the day, Ive got about 15 minutes to make a 20 minute journey (do-able on a sunday morning). I grab a danish and set off, with my eyes still stinging from the lack of sleep, and my feet still throbbing from yesterdays shift. I made it in for about ten past eight, and we started the count. After several breaks to try and shake the trance like state that you inevitably find yourself falling into while counting some 4 or 5 thousand bottles, we eventually finished at just after 1pm, which is very good going. I dont think that we missed anything, but now that I think about it, that was hellish quick we got that done. Maybe we just spent less time dicking around.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In _________ we trust.

Tonight I believe we are about to set a new record for the Arkle. We are looking at serving 58 covers tonight. Ouch! We are re-siting a table of eight, not to mention three twos. The reason we find ourselves in this position is due to the malicious actions of the muppet who half-inched the cod from the pass. It seems that a few days before he handed his notice in, and a week or so before he was eventually told to leave due to the cod incident, our errant bartender cancelled several large bookings in the computer system using other peoples names. We were exceptionally lucky that one customer decided to check his reservation for tonight, last night. That is when the whole scenario came to light. Paco has managed to find three other bookings between now and march next year that have been deliberately cancelled. All for large numbers. Thats evil, unprofessional and spiteful, and worst of all, we dont know why.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two Hands - For Love or Money Cane Cut Semillon

Two Hands winery is fast becoming an iconic name from Australia. Apparently they are fairing quite well with a particular American wine critic earning Parker points in the high nineties. I nearly met winemaker Matt Wenks a few years ago when he came to Gleneagles to do a tasting with my colleagues, but for some reason I was off that day. I remember tasting the wines the next day and being blown away by the intensity of the shiraz - especially the Lily's Garden Shiraz from McLaren and the Bad Impersonator from Barossa. Ive since come across them several other times at various tastings and toyed with the idea of adding them to my list, but Ive never really had the gap for the Shiraz, or truth be told the sales of shiraz to justify them. But that hasnt stopped me from adding a couple of their other wines, notably the Brilliant Disguise Moscato also from Barossa. A light, crisp fruity moscato with a touch of petillance that works really well with light fruity desserts like the caramelised pineapple with white chocolate and pink peppercorns.Just recently I went out on a limb and slurged for some For Love or Money which is a cane cut semillon from the Barossa. The principle behind the wine is that the vines canes are cut some weeks before the harvest. What this does is effectively cut the water supply to the fruit so the berries start to shrivel. So come the harvest what you are picking is dehydrated grapes, almost raisins, which produce a very sweet, syrup like juice when crushed. This must can take nearly a year to ferment out to about 10% abv leaving loads of residual sugar. The method seems to be uniquely Australian, Mount Horrocks produce a cane cut riesling, but I havent seen it done anywhere else.The colour is a vibrant golden yellow, with an amazingly prominant nose. The aromas drift out of the glass and assualt your nasal passages with tons of honeyed fruit aromas. Charantais melon, passionfruit, bananas, peaches with honeysuckle aromas all mingled together. Im not the biggest fan of dessert wines, but the aromas of this were absolutely gorgeous. And the flavour more than lived up to the promise of the nose. The tropical fruit flavours all came together on the palate wrapped up in an unctously sweet package that had so much balance and just the perfect levels of acidity that you could forget that this was a dessert wine. It was almost a shame to spoil the wine by eating pud with it! I want some!! Alas the UK allocation of this ambrosia is a measly 120 bottles. Ten cases of 12 halves. 60 litres. A true pittance. And Ive already sold three bottles of my single solitary case. Aaargggghhhhhh!!!!!!!! Im going to have to wait for next year to get some more. Needless to say with so little coming into the UK it doesnt come cheap. £75 for a half bottle on a restaurant wine list. This puts it into the same league as the Canadian icewines, and slightly more expensive than the Raymond Lafon Sauternes. Is it worth it? Hell yes!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Two Hands - Canny Butcher Grenache

Another great name from Two Hands, this is called Canny Butcher because like the butcher you go to for a pound of mince, and end up leaving with some lamb chops and a gigot pie, this wine delivers more than you anticipate.

Coming from the slightly cooler climes of McLaren Vale, this is a corker of a red, made in a beaujolais style for easy drinking. Bags of succulent ripe red fruit flavours, with a touch of spicyness and hints of mint. On the palate the fruit is wrapped in a soft layer of super-ripe tannin, so the wine just glides silkily down your throat. You want more, you drink more.

Slightly higher allocation than the For Love or Money, at 200 cases of full bottles, this wine is a steal at £35, you couldnt get a decent bottle of Fleurie for that much on a restaurant list. If you like Bonny Doon's Clos de Gilroy, thenyoure gonnae love this one.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ridge Dinner Update.

Well its about quarter to one in the morning and weve just finish clearing up and resetting the restaurant. The dinner went well, and overall the feedback was good. Most people liked the Santa Cruz chardonnay, the MD has ordered a case for his wife, so I know that she liked it! The Geyserville was outstanding. After double decanting and about two hours it showed exceptionally well. A little bit too well, as the Monte Bello was a tad underwhelming. There were a few people that commented positively but overall the response was a touch of disappointment.

The Stone Ranch Zinfandel Essense was the star of the show tonight. It totally blew everyone away. The MD asked for more after dinner, which I usually take to be a good sign. And the evening ended with the Vin de Glaciere from Bonny Doon which went really well with the caramelised pineapple and peppercorn sorbet. A great night seemed to be had by all, and I managed to get another four booked for the Mouton Event next month!!
Its hard to believe that there is only a little more than two weeks to go on that one.

Ridge Vineyards Dinner

Another month, another Gourmet dinner, tonight we are hosting the Ridge Vineyards Dinner. Charlotte Cotterill from Morris and Verdun is coming to showcase some of their fantastic range of wines. Ridge have been pioneers of single vineyard bottlings in California since the early sixties. Fronted by legendary winemaker Paul Draper since 1969 Ridge have crafted exceptional red wines from small plots carefully planted to unfashionable grapes - Zinfandel, Carignane, Mataro, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Alicante as well as the more commercially viable Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay all predominantly grown in Santa Cruz.

The first Ridge wine that I ever tried was a Lytton Springs Vineyard blend, predominantly zinfandel with a touch of carignane and some petite sirah thrown in for added spice and balance. I dont recall the vintage but I was quite amazed at the intensity of the flavours, the rich opulent fruit, integrated layers of spice, oak flavours and an earthyness that I hadnt seen in a new world wine until then. From there I went on to discover several of their amazing wines, including the fabulous Bridgehead Mataro. Unfortunately the Bridgehead Mataro is no longer made as the vines succumbed to disease and had to be grubbed up. Which is a damned shame as it remains the best example of a pure mourvedre that I have ever come across, knocking the spots off even the Bonny Doon Le Telegram.

As Ridge are known for their reds, they only produce two whites - both Chardonnays, tonight we are starting off with champagne. I had originally intended to start with the Santa Cruz chardonnay, but our MD felt that there wasnt enough white in the mix. Then we thought about putting on a Californian sparkler, but they were going to work out more expensive than champagne!! For the starter we are pouring the Santa Cruz Chardonnay 03. On the nose there are aromas similar to a Mr Kiplings apple pie, green apples, a buttery pastry like aroma with a touch of vanilla and slightly caramelised edge to it. On the palate it is quite crisp, still fairly acidic with green apple flavours and a slight frangipane - almond nuttiness about it. A great length with a clean sharp finish.

For the intermediate course we are pouring Geyserville 02 from magnums. Intense fruit aromas with dark stone fruit and exotic spices, fairly obvious oaky aromas. One the palate the wine needs some serious decanting. It is a big wine, that I hope will calm down a bit after double decanting. The tannins dominate just now, with more dark cherry fruit and spicy clove, nutmeg and cinnamon flavours all hiding behind the protective cloak of the tannin. In a few hours this is going to be great.

With the main course we are pouring the 1998 Montebello Cabernet. A bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and just 1% Cab Franc. Dark fruits with hints of espresso, dark chocolate and cassis on the nose, rounded with tobacco and the sort of smell you get after bonfire night - a touch of smoke, black powder, flint and graphite. 98 was a very low yielding year, a difficult vintage from many. This is also going to need some serious decanting to open out.

For the cheese we are serving the Stone Ranch Zinfandel Essense 2003. This is the second vintage of Stone Ranch produced. Only 13 barrels were produced, very little really. Insense black fruit on the nose it is hard to get any indication that this is carrying 10% residual sugar. On the palate it is almost like a good ripe lbv port without the alcohol burn. Dense black fruits with a touch of spice and a good dose of sweetness all merge surprisingly well. I quite like this one.

For dessert we had to throw in a ringer so we looked to Bonny Doon vineyards. The Muscat Vin de Glaciere 2003. Made from Muscat grapes that are frozen post-harvest to create Randall Grahms take on an Eiswein. It is quite rich on the nose with orange melon (Galia?) aromas and that typical muscat nose of tinned fruit cocktail - a medley of pears, peaches and sugar syrup. Its something a bit unusual and I think it will go down well.

Well thats tonights fare, its amazing to think that in about two weeks time we finish the season with the Mouton Rothschild dinner, then three weeks after that we finish the year. Where has this year gone?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bunny Food

If we have one failing in the restaurant its our vegetarian menu. We dont really cater for veggies or vegans well enough. Part of the problem is that none of the chefs are veggie, and so they dont really understand the principle in the same way. In fairness to them, the menu that they produce is pretty good, a hell of a lot better than most veggie menus, but the one criticism that we most often get about the vegetarian menu is portion sizes. There is never enough. When you look at the "normal" dishes compared to the veggie dishes, the portions do appear disparate. But what we need to factor into the equation is that meat weighs more and is more filling than vegetables and pulses. Also as large percentages of certain foods are indigestable we need to compensate for that. That means balancing the ingredients to create an even dish, and increasing the portion sizes.

Im not a vegetarian, but Ive read a bit about the situation in Restaurant magazine and Ive picked up more from listening to the customers. Now all Ive got to do is get the chef to listen and make some changes. mmmm my mission should i chose to accept it..................

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Domaine Georges Roumier Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru "les Cras" 1997

The premiere cru vineyards of "les Cras" lie on the slopes overlooking the village of Chambolle Musigny, just off the Route des Grands Cru's. Its northernmost end leads into "les Fuees" which itself leads into the Grand Cru vineyards of Bonnes Mares. This bottling from the well regarded domaine of Georges Roumier was produced by son Christophe who has been in charge since the mid eighties. Christophe is passionate about the terrior of Burgundy and is often cited as believing that the terrior of Burgundy expresses itself through the medium of the noble grape Pinot Noir. Eschewing chemical management of weeds, he prefers where possible to plough the vines, an act that is said to force the vines to send the roots deeper into the subsoil where it is best able to extract the essense of terrior of Burgundy. The vines are pruned vigourously, controlling the number of buds and therefore eliminating the need for a vendage vert (green harvest) later in the season. The result is a very low yield of usually high quality fruit. The fruit undergoes at least two triages to sort out the best fruit, and sometimes the fruit will be destemmed if Christophe feels it is necessary. Most of the grapes will then be transfered into big open topped wooden fermenting vats for the slow process of fermentation. The berries undergo a lengthy maceration drawing the maximum of flavour and character from the fruit. The temperature of the ferments is maintained at less than 30degrees C, any higher tends to lose the more delicate aromas and adds a stewed character to the wine.

Once the ferment is over the wines are racked into old french oak pieces for anything upto 18 months. The wines are usually bottles unfiltered and rarely fined, although if the wines do require fining the domaine prefers a single egg white per cask.

Ive always found Roumier's wines to be very expressive, they tend to have a earthy start to the aromas before the layers of aromas start to be revealed. The Chambolle came out with an aroma that best reminded me of the African Violets that my granny used to keep on her windowsill. The dominant character being the wet earth until the scent of the violets seemed to punch through and take over. There was fruit there too, soft red fruits - alpine strawberries and a touch of raspberries with an edge of anise or cocao nibs. On the palate it was very elegant with soft supple tannins, the red fruit flavours starting at the fore before a slightly spicier finish. It kind of reminded me of toasted Cloutie dumpling - a touch of raisin, some cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of allspice. The length was pretty impresive, with the spicy notes being the finishing touch to the flavours. All in all a damned good wine, from one of the leading producers in the region.

As a side note, I got an email recently from one of the brokers that we deal with listing a selection of Roumier wines, particularly the Bonnes Mares. I couldnt believe the prices that were being asked for it, particularly as we have quite a bit of it downstairs. When I compared what we paid, with what it is selling for now, I thank my lucky stars that Phil was such an astute buyer. Problem is now, that I dont know whether I will sell it in the restaurant, or end up brokering it off and re-investing in new wines. The second option would be the more profitable of the two, but I kind of feel that I want to reward someone who takes the time and effort to read the list looking for a bargain. Because let me say, those wines are the deal of the century.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Restaurant Etiquette

In keeping with the Mental floss blog ( which has been posting excerpts from Amy Vanderbilts "Complete book of Etiquette", I thought I would post my own version of restaurant etiquette based on my experiences this last week.

1) When you enter the library or restaurant it is good manners to respond when the staff greet you. Dont walk past us as if we dont exist.

2) If your table is booked for 7:30pm it is entirely appropriate for you to arrive at 7:00pm to partake of a pre-dinner drink. It is completely rude to walk in at 8:30pm then expect to sit in the lounge for over an hour without a word of apology. If you are going to be late, the courtesy of a phone call informing us is very much appreciated.

3) If you have any dietary requirements, the time to tell us is before you order your meal. Not five minutes after the dish that you ordered is placed in front of you. Chefs work with knives you know, and they get a tad unhappy when we return food to the kitchen after they have spent the last twenty minutes preparing it to be told that the customer is "allergic" to shellfish, so can they do something else with the scallops and crab raviolis.

4) If you are going to order your meat well done, be prepared for it to have the texture and consistency of shoe leather. By cooking it well done, you are effectively removing any moisture from the inside of the meat, hence it becomes tougher and stringier. It chefspeak when a check is called on with a steak well done it is usually shouted down the line as " One beef - fucked!". It is considered bad form to return said steak to the kitchen to be redone because you dont know the difference between medium and well done.

5) Vegetarians eat vegetables. Last time I looked fish, chicken, rabbit, and veal are all generally considered to be animals, and hence if you are vegetarian then they are supposed to be off-limits to you.

6) Menus are there for a reason, the chefs are in the building from 8am preparing their ingredients for the evening service. They prepare their "mis-en-place" according to the recipes that they follow for the dishes. So if you come in and decide that you want a dover sole meunierre, dont be surprised if we cant do it. If the kitchen has the gear and crucially the time to prepare it, by all means we will do it. If you wish to order off the menu, have the courtesy and foresight to let us know in advance. Then anything is possible (as long as its legal of course!)

8) We spend several hours a day preparing the restaurant - polishing everything in sight virtually, laying the tables up in fairly precise settings. For fecks sake when you sit down DONT move the glasses into the middle of the table. Im not Inspector Gadget, I cant say "go go gadget arm" and my bionic arm will telescope out over the middle of the table and fill your glass up with wine/water/whatever. The glasses are there for a reason. You have more than plenty of personal space, leave the damned settings alone.

9) on the subject of at the table. Dont sit half a mile away from the table. Again this boils down to our lack of gadget arms. If we cant reach the table to put the plates down, then you aint getting fed!

10) We appreciate that you are here for a nice meal, often with company, friends, girlfriends, business partners whatever. All we ask is that the few occasions when we approach the table to ask for water, food choices, describe the bread, whatever, do us the courtesy of shutting up and giving us your undivided attention for those few moments. We will be out of your way in less time, and you are going to get much better service that way.

11) Contrary to popular belief the words Please and Thank you are still very much part of the English language and it would be nice to hear them a bit more often. They go a long way to getting better service.

12) Also despite popular opinion food allergies are surprisingly rare. Im not in any way belittling those people with geniune allergies to nuts, shellfish etc. But your latest faddy diet does not count as an allergy to whatever. If you dont like something be brave enough to say that you dont like something. You wont hurt the chefs feelings, and they can usually leave certain things off the dishes without major problems. Just dont make out some fantasy allergy, because we usually spot the bullshitters when they subsequently ask for something they are allegedly allergic to.

Thats about all for now, but Im sure that over the next few busy weeks Im bound to think of more. Maybe I ought to write a book about it?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

That smells like...............

Its been bugging me for a while now. Every time I open one of the bottles of Chablis that we have on the list, there is something there on the nose that I just couldn't identify. It isnt a fault, it is vaguely unpleasant, but not too much so, and it soon disappears allowing the fruit character forward. It seems most vibrant on the Grand Cru Chablis, especially from Louis Michel.

Then it dawned on me tonight. It smells of baby sick - that sharp acidic almost milky kind of aroma. I was fairly familiar with it when bottle feeding all three of my kids in the early hours of the morning after returning from work. When you burp them afterwards they usually "posset" a bit of the milk back, inevitably onto your shoulder or all over your neck. I checked with Paco to see if he recognised the aroma and he confirmed it!! I guess youve got to be a parent to get it, but thats what I get when I smell a freshly opened bottle of Chablis. I havent smelt it on anything else though, so maybe it is unique to Chablis. That might help me when I do blind tasting!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Miner Family Vineyards, Simpson Vineyard Viognier

In over two years working at Gleneagles I only managed to get one wine listed on the wine-list. I had to be a sneaky bastard and use underhand methods to do it as well.

It was a quiet afternoon in the Strathearn and I was setting up the restaurant with my friend and colleague Remi. A more tedious and mindnumbing job would be difficult to imagine. One of the bartenders came down to the restaurant and asked for one of the sommeliers to come and speak to a couple about wines. Being the more senior of us, I took the opportunity for a quick skive and trundled off to the bar with a wine-list in hand. To keep this brief, the young couple in mind were due to get married in the hotel in a few months time and wanted some nice new-world wines for the wedding breakfast. As we didnt really have much to offer, I stuck my neck out a bit and blagged it, telling them we could get something in specially for them. I knew this fantastic viognier from Rosenblum that would suit what they were looking for, and it wasnt too expensive. They went for it, and I got my chance to add something to the list that I had wanted since I got there.

My plan almost backfired thought, when James from the Vineyard Cellars told me he didnt have any of the Rosenblum Viognier, but he had an even better one that was very similar in price. More blagging and the customers were sold, we got the wine in. James wasnt wrong when he said it was better than the Rosenblum. It was so good it ended up staying on the list, and although it wasnt a huge mover, it sold well enough while I was there.

Miner Family vineyards is run by Dave Miner and his wife Emily, in partnership with his parents. Before establishing Miner Family Vineyards in 1998 Dave was president of Oakville Ranch Vineyards, where he met his wife to be. The Miner philosophy is to source fruit from outstanding vineyards that reflect the terrior of California. They have secured long term contracts with some of the premiere vineyard sites in Napa and beyond, including Pisoni, Gibson, Simpson, Stagecoach and Oakville Ranch.

The Simpson vineyard is in Madera county, in the Central Valley area not too far from Fresno. Previously written off as unsuitable for grapes, several growers and producers are proving them wrong with outstanding, low yield fruit, packed with intense flavour and balance. The Viognier is quite outstanding, with vibrant white peach notes, apricot and white melon aromas. There is a slightly floral quality to the nose - not quite honeysuckle but similar. On the palate it is full bodied with the same bouncy fruit flavours and a slight hint of fruit sugar. Really ripe and luscious with mild acidity that builds towards the finish. Damned good viognier that come shining out of the glass and grows as it develops in the glass. Perfect summer sipper, or great with medium weight fish dishes - Turbot and clams with chorizo foam and intense bisque reduction.

Ive since added the wine to the list here, as well as Daves fantastic Zinfandel and there are a few more that Ive got my eye on!!


After a couple of days mulling it over, I decided this morning to delete a post that I wrote on Saturday night. I wrote it after a bit of a row with one of the chefs, and in the cold hard light of hindsight I decided that it wasnt appropriate to have the post remain up.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Highbank, Basket Pressed Estate Red 2001

About two years ago I was invited to a lunch at Northcote Manor for the Coonawarra Winemakers. I hadnt been there before and chef had been fairly complementary about it, so I took them up on their invitation. So after a fairly long and thankfully uneventful drive I found myself in the middle of nowhere and luckily stumbled upon Northcote Manor.

The event had been set-up by Judy Kendrick and was a gathering of the great names of Coonawarra. Ian Hollick, Kym Tolley, Wayne Stehbens, H Dennis Vice, and a few other folks whose name escapes me. A fantastic lunch was laid on with tastings of several blockbuster wines before hand. For me there was one wine which stood head and shoulders above the rest and that was the Highbank Basket pressed Estate Red wine. It had a vibrant eucalyptus/menthol note but really opulent red fruit character, finely integrated tannins with a soft smooth finish that begged for more to follow. I managed to blag an extra glassful to accompany the lamb hotpot that was the basis of the main course and Im glad I did. The aroma of the wine was leaping out from the glass, I was hooked. It took me a little while to track it down, but eventually I found a small independant supplier who had a limited stock available. Apparently Dennis Vice only makes about 200 cases a year of the wine. With Trevor Mast (Mt Langhi Ghiran) as consultant winemaker, this wine sells out to the small mailing list of exclusive restaurants around Australia. Dennis exports less than a dozen cases a year, because quite frankly he doesnt need to. But damn am I glad that he does. Hopefully the production will increase a little and maybe some more will come over here. Unfortunately our supplier of this fantastic wine has since gone out of business, so Im back to square one.

Anyway I managed to sell a bottle tonight, so it was interesting to revisit it after a gap of nearly year. It was a bit tighter on the nose immediately after opening, but the menthol aromas are still omnipresent. The fruit seems denser and more malty fruit cake in character, with spicy notes. But after an hour in the decanter, the menthol still shines forward, but there is much more fruit evident on the nose. Big juicy blackcurrants and forest berries with a sprinkling of cinnamon and anise. On the palate the tannins are really soft and silky with the fruit taking a more prominant role than the oaky flavours. It has an amazing length that seems to get mintier as it fades. I am going to have to renew my search for this wine, because it has got so much better over the last year. I want to get some for myself!!

Dennis is a lecturer in Viticulture at Mt Gambier, but he also makes some wines under the Protero label from fruit sourced in the Adelaide Hills. The Viognier is outstanding, but the chardonnay is also the bollocks. Rich minerally style with well integrated oak. Im going to have to add them to my search list now as well. Oh well more fun to be had.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

House Champagne

Our eightteen year history with Ruinart is coming to an end. We were one of their first UK customers, if not the first, and our relationship has spanned many years, some more prosperous than others. That is a very special kind of partnership, and in many ways it is a shame to see it come to an end. But our paths run in different directions now, and the time has come to move forward in the direction that we have set for ourselves. To this end, we have spent the last four months engaged in various negotiations with several grand marque houses to forge a new partnership and select what we feel is the appropriate champagne to represent the Chester Grosvenor. I use "we" quite loosely, because the fact of the matter is that I actually had very little part in the proceedings. Negotiations of this calibre take place way above my payscale, and Im way too inexperienced at that kind of deal to have been any practical use anyway. For the most part our negotiating team consisted of the Managing Director and Ross. They met with the various UK representatives of the brands in question and outlined what we were expecting of our house champagne. This is not only about price, although that is a dominating factor, but a whole raft of support and commitment on their behalf and an almost equal amount of commitment on our part too. Staff education and training, stock availability and placement within our immediate vicinity, brand support with gourmet dinners, lunches, marketing support, advertising within our internal magazine and potential other collateral, negotiated price freezing and inflationary increases in cost, and a host of other little terms and condititions.

So after a couple of false starts and two very attractive offers from two high profile Grand Marque houses we have finally agreed a new house champagne. I cant divulge the name until the ink is dry but it should be done soon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "les Referts" 2003

Sold a few bottles of this golden nectar last night. A lovely couple from Jersey were entertaining some old friends for dinner. I had taken them on a cellar tour earlier that afternoon as they had expressed an interest, and considering that the night before they had drunk a bottle of Mouton 96 in La Brasserie, I was hoping that I might entice them onto something nice.

As they had chosen a fairly wide selection of starters, I suggested that they might want to look at a white burgundy to start off with. This idea was well recieved and the choices were narrowed down to either a Puligny or a Chassagne Montrachet. The lady host expressed her preference for Puligny so they opted to leave the choice up to me. With four Puligny's to chose from I plumped for the Girardin "Referts" 03. It is the youngest Puligny on our list, but it is one of the most forward in style, and besides once it has been decanted it opens up very nicely indeed. When opened the bottle emitted a very attractive sherbetty vanilla aroma that entranced my cold addled nostrils. Looking back on it, with the state of my sinuses at the moment, the nose must be bloody strong on that wine. The colour was a lovely golden yellow colour with a tinge of green about the edge. After decanting the nose still carried the dominant aromas of vanilla, toasty oaky flavours, but there was more fruit there too - greenish apples and membrillos with a kind of unripened stone fruit maybe peaches. I couldnt really taste anything, but I could get a sense of spicyness no doubt coming from the oak influence. The customers were loving it, so much so they ended up drinking five bottles. For a 2003 it was very forward - Ive got 2002's and 2000's that are tighter and less expressive than that one. It will be interesting to see how that one develops over time. Maybe I ought to secure a bottle or two into our holding stock so that I can see!

Out of Service

Aaaarggghhhh!!!!! Ive got the sniffles. It started yesterday and today my sinuses feel all swollen and tender. Ive managed to go over a year without a cold, and now I get one. Checklist to recover from a cold

Vicks inhaler - check!
Lemsip max strength - check!
Nurofen Liquid Crack - Check!
Sleep - um not likely
Vitamin C and Zinc tabs - check!
Healthy food and balanced diet - umm not likely again
Couple of days of bed rest to recuperate - in my dreams!!!

I will probably shake it off in about six or seven weeks, which means that I might be back to normal service by January. Oh well.

The Case of the missing cod!!

It was a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Well maybe more like Inspector Clousseau. In the middle of service the other night, our sous chef "Scally" was rooting around looking for a piece of cod that had vanished into thin air. We were all interogated as to whether we were playing silly buggers and hiding it, but we're all pro's, we dont mess around with the guests food. One minute it was there, he turned his back to finish off the veg and when he turned back it was gone. No-one confessed, the fish never re-appeared and the kitchen turned out another piece of cod in a matter of a few minutes. The customer barely noticed any delay. But the matter didnt end there.

For a multitude of reasons the kitchen is all hooked up with CCTV cameras. They cover the pass in both kitchens, the pastry section, the main corridor and the larder section. So this morning the tape was scrutinised to see if any further light could be shed on the "mystery of the disappearing cod". The camera apparently shows Scally prepping the fish and cooking it, then when it is ready he puts it down under the hot lamp while he finishes off the vegs. Then there is the top of someones head as they obviously lean into the hotplate to steal the piece of cod. The fool has consequently been identified and dismissed. Not the brightest way to lose your job!

So the case of the disappearing cod is solved and we all (well almost all) survive to work another day. Minus one barman, which isnt too great a loss. Who says its boring working in a hotel!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday 27 - Ice wines.

Oh lordy another month has gone and whizzed by and its time for WBW again. Hosted today by Kitchen Chick ( this month has a sweet theme. A few months ago I emailed Lenn to enquire as to how I might go about hosting a WBW. I fancied doing something about dessert wines as up until now there hasnt been a specific theme about stickies. I was gobsmacked when Lenn replied that sure I could host a WBW, the next available slot is sometime late next year!!!! Guess it shows how popular the meme has become. Anyways Im glad this theme has come up as Ive always had a hankering for the stickies, and Icewines (Eisweins for the Germanic peeps) are something kind of special. I managed to track down a copy of John Schreiners "Icewine" sometime earlier this year, but have so far managed to get as far as page 24. Im not a slow reader, but Im currently reading eight books at the moment seriously and another five that I dip in and out of. Anyway from what I have read it is well worth tracking down if you get the chance. I got my copy second hand via which is always worth a look for out of print or foreign published books. If you dont mind waiting five or more weeks, you can pick up some serious bargains.

I digress. I chose two wines for this, one from the hotel cellars and one from my personal stash. The first is a Canadian Icewine, made from Cabernet Franc. Pelee Island Cab Franc Icewine 2001. Pelee Island was founded in 1982 and can claim to be Ontarios first producer of icewine. Situated on the north shore of Lake Erie, the vineyards are situated on an island that lies closer to Ohio than Canada. It is managed by a German Walter Schmoranz who's brother is the winemaker for Rheingau winery Georg Breuer. It is claimed that they made the Cabernet Franc icewine so that they could show off an icewine made from a noble Vitis vinifera variety when they returned home to Germany.

The wine has a really light rosewater colour with some russet tones about the rim. It is quite viscous leaving lazy trails as the wine slowly settles back down in the glass. On the nose the wine presents a whitecurrant and cranberry aroma with a touch of turkish delight and charantais melon on the back. It isnt as sweet as I expected at first, but then the sweetness grows on the palate like a boiled sweetie disolving. The turkish delight flavours are quite strong with honey and a touch of nougatty nuts. Its a dessert on its own, but apparently this works marvelously well with Rocquefort and other similarly acidic blue cheeses. ( I hate cheese so I cant really verify this.) Ive served this with a vanilla parfait studded with glace fruits and a raspberry granite and its been very well recieved.

From my personal stash I tried a half-bottle of Bassermann-Jordan Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Icewine 1996. I got this a few years ago from a broking list for a ridiculously cheap price (£15 a half bottle). I got a few bottles thinking perhaps it was a mistake or perhaps iffy stock. Ive had two of the five bottles and they've both been fantastic. I usually bring one out when the father-in-law is over because he has a sweet-tooth and laps up these kind of wines. This apparently was the first vintage under a new winemaker Ulrich Mell and it has subsequently been regarded as a great start to his reign at Bassermann-Jordan. The colour is a deep orangy amber. On the nose it is quite floral with honeyed dried fruits - apricots and big peaches with some mango and papaya too. Its a bit like the dried fruit medley that my son takes to school for his mid morning snack. On the palate the sugar is a bit more restrained, again the honeyed fruit flavours come to the fore and there is a slight nuttiness about the wine. It kind of reminded me of a fruity baklava that I had once in Glasgow. Truth is I dont like sweet wines on their own. I have to have something to balance them with otherwise all that sugar gets my teeth twitching and I have visions of pain and expense down at the local sadist (dentist). But I think it would be sacreligous to drink this with anything. I suspect that the brokers maybe left a zero off the end of the price, but I wont tell if you dont!!!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Littorai "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2002

Based in the Black-Sears Winery on Howell Mountain, Littorai (derived from the latin for Coasts) is the efforts of Ted and Heidi Lemon. Founded in 1993 after an illustrious career including a number of years as the winemaker for Guy Roulot in Meursault (To the best of anyones knowledge the only time an American has held the top spot in a prestigous Burgundy Domaine.), to focus on Ted's passion for premium coastal pinot noir and chardonnay.

The Hirsch vineyard is run by David Hirsch in Sonoma Coast, just to the north of Jenner. Littorai have long sourced their fruit from there, using blocks 5, 6, 7 and 9, although these days they just source from blocks five and six. Block five is an east facing slope with slightly more mature vines than block six, which faces north and has a more gravel based soil. The vineyard blocks are planted to mainly Dijon clones on American rootstocks.

The fruit undergoes a rigorous selection process, before being destemmed and fermented in open topped steel fermentation tanks. The steel tanks allow for more control of temperature keeping the ferment going at about 10 degrees celsius for upto ten days in order to gain optimum extraction from the fruit. Then the ferment is allowed to build in temperature as the wild yeasts start to convert the sugars into alcohol. If the wines require it they will be punched down by hand, or if really necessary the juice from the bottom of the tank will be pumped over to further extract tannins and flavours from the cap. After the fermentation they may again spend a few days in maceration to gain additions tannins and flavours before being racked out into french oak. Roughly fifty percent of the barrels are new, with a medium toast to them. The wines will spend between a year and 18 months on the oak before being bottled without racking or fining.

I first tasted the wines of Littorai at the Wines of California tasting down in London two years ago. James Hocking of the Vineyard Cellars had invited me to their annual tasting at the Vineyard at Stockcross that weekend, so I took some time off to go down to London for the tasting before going to the Vineyard at Stockcross for the major tasting. Ted was there along with Justin Baldwin from Justin Vineyards, and Dave Miner from Miner Family vineyards. I tasted the range of Littorai wines - Thieriot Vineyard, Savoy Vineyard and Hirsch. The Hirsch stood out of the three, although I must say they were all fabulous, but the hirsch could have passed for a Burgundy. At the time I knew nothing of Littorai or of Teds background, but now it is easy to see where that comparison comes from.
It was impressive then tasted against a range of other more well known Pinots such as the Duckhorn Goldeneye, which is in itself a fantastic Pinot from Anderson Valley. But on the Sunday afternoon I got the chance to taste it again with Ted Lemon hosting a tutored tasting in one of the function suites of the Vineyard at Stockcross. It must have been tasted towards the end, because my notes are even less legible than usual, which suggests that I had had a few. The one note I have that is legible just says WOW!!!! underlined several times.

I got the chance to taste it again the other day. By now it has had an additional 18 months in bottle. The nose is very dominant with aromas of rose petals subdued by a dark cherry and foresty floor like scent. There are hints of spices - peppercorns and star anise with kaffir lime leaves and rich black tea - Kenyan or Russian Black tea spring to mind. On the palate it is very smooth, with the fruit playing a more dominant role - bing cherries and cranberry with a touch of Venezualan chocolate and a hint of licorice root. Amazingly long length on the palate with the spicier notes of the flavours fading into prominance. The tannins are perfectly balanced in the wine which leaves a silky touch across the gums. I would stick my neck out and say this is the best Pinot I have ever tasted outside of Burgundy, and it would give many top domaines a damned good run for their money. For a Californian Pinot it is quite reasonable at £105 on our list, compared to some London restaurants that charge nearly double that. But if you are looking to spend that kind of money on a halfway decent Vosne Romanee, then you wouldnt be too far off the mark with this wine.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

David Duband Nuits St Georges 1er Cru "les Proces"

David Duband is fast becoming a name to be reckoned with in Burgundy. Since his first vintage in 1991, while still studying Oenology at Beaune University, he has gained control of his family vineyards and now runs a thriving business as both a winemaker and negociant. The family held some serious vineyard holdings in some of the principle communes in the Cotes de Nuits - Nuits St Georges, Echezeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne Romanee. Until David took over in 1995 they sold their crops on to other negociants, but since then he has been crafting attention grabbing wines and also now runs a negociant business. Until I started here I had never heard of him, but at some stage my predecessor Phil Dougherty must have recognised some potential, because my cellar is chock a block with Duband wines.
The first time that I tasted a Duband burgundy (it was a Nuits 1er Cru "les Chaboeufs") I was struck by the depth of the wine, its power and grip on the palate. It was a very masculine wine, with a good deal of tannin to support the full bodied nature of it. It had an animal quality to it, that is, it was more gamey and meaty on the nose than light and fruity. But when you worked at the nose the fruit came forward - darker, more concentrated fruit with earthy tones of anise and mace. I wasnt used to it, and at first my mind turned towards faults, maybe this was Brettanomyces that I had heard about, but arent too sure whether Ive noticed it. But then when you taste the wine, all thoughts of faults vanish. This is a well crafted wine, solid structure with medium tannin holding the wine together. Again the fruit is darker, more concentrated and the spices come together on the finish, leaving a long intensely drawn out flavour on your palate. It is very moorish!! Ive since gone back to wines over and over and each time they weave a spell on you. These are wines that give Meo-Cazumet and Domaine de l'Arlot a run for their money and then some, yet wont rip the arse out of your credit limit. If I had the money I would invest in a few cases now, because when people realise the quality of wine that this guy is producing, the price is going to go through the roof. Luckily were sitting on enough stock to keep our prices sensable for the time being.
"Les Proces" is a small lieu-dit sitting south of the village of Nuits-St-Georges, just on the Route des Grands Crus. It is surrounded by the lieu-dits of Les Pruliers to the south, Rue de Chaux to the north and Les Crots to the west. The Route des Grands Crus forms the eastern border.
Nuits St Georges 1er Cru "les Proces" 1999.
The wine has a richly aromatic nose, with a touch of violets and gro-bag earthyness with dark concentrated fruit, strawberries and blackberries. On the palate it brings the fruit flavours more to the fore, with a "gravelly driveway" like minerality and a solid tannic presense, just beginning to soften. The finish falls a little bit flat for my liking, and Im wondering if this is maybe a bit closed. It is probably about eight months since I last had this wine, and this bottle was more forward on the nose, but not as vibrant on the palate. Might be interesting to taste another bottle in a few months and see what it is doing development wise. Weve only got about a half dozen bottles left. Otherwise a great wine. I must try and get hold of some more recent bottlings and see how the domaine is growing and developing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pinot I love you.

I work with a wine list of just over 600 bins. Thats an awful lot of wines. We have somewhere in the region of another thousand bins in the cellar that arent listed. If I had the time, the space and the sheer bloody mindedness to do it, I could put the Arkle list at nearly 2000 bins. I would have to be mental to do it though, and the sheer task of keeping up with that and maintaining vintages, bins etc would drive you mad in weeks. But working with such a big list means that you can often forget about certain wines until something reminds you about them.

This happened a few weeks ago when a customer expressed an interest in the two Oregon pinots that we have on the list. They are both from a fantastic producer - Ken Wright Cellars, but both are from different vineyards. One is the Nysa Vineyard Pinot Noir which is a more fruit forward style with berries and cherries on the nose with a touch of earthiness and nicely balanced acidity. The other is the Guadeloupe Vineyard which is more akin to a Gevrey, more masculine, dark foresty fruit with anise, chocolate and leather. It must have been over a year since I had tried either of them, and I have to confess that when I last tried them, I couldnt really get much of a difference between the two.

Well within a week I had managed to sell a bottle of each, and so I got the chance to retaste them after 11 months of bottle age (Both bottles are 2002 vintage). The differences are much more marked now. The Nysa has developed a more raspberryish nose with red fruits and seems to be lighter on the palate. The Guadeloupe is more brooding, bigger darker fruit flavours with a mixture of cocoa and liquorice this is big boy pinot. And by god I love it!!! Damned shame that Ive only got two bottles left and our supplier has stopped listing it, because the prices kept going up and up.

Sliding Doors

Im frequently asked by people what I drink at home. A lot of them seem surprised when I reply that I generally dont drink at home. In fact I drink very little. There are a number of reasons for this.

1) I spend most of the week immersed (not literally) in wine. I spend hours reading about wines, I nose about a dozen or more wines a day, I sample upto a dozen on some days. If I go to a big trade tasting (a sadly infrequent event for me) then I can be tasting upto a hundred or more wines in a day. I get home quite late at night, often after 1am, later at the weekends. The last thing that I want to drink is wine. Ive had enough of it during the day.

2) I spend all day surrounded by booze. Usually when that happens one of two things will happen. You become an alcoholic or a tee-totaller. I opted to go for the latter, after seeing way too many friends and colleagues travel down the wrong route. One of my colleagues from Gleneagles got sacked three months ago for stealing booze from the hotel. He had a drink problem. It cost him his livelihood, his dignity and most of his friends. I have the occassional beer with a meal, but the truth is that I can happily live without alcohol.

3) Good wine is an expensive habit. Once you've tasted great wines it is so much harder to drink mediocre wines. As Len Evans believed, you owe it to yourself to drink the best possible wines that you can afford. Alas, the hospitality industry isnt known for generous salaries. Factoring in the hours that I work, I usually end up falling a bit shy of the minimum wage. So its probably a good thing that I dont drink, because I couldnt really afford to if I wanted to.

Maybe I should lie and tell them that I drink exotic wines and first growth clarets. But then again Im a terrible liar, so its better to stick with the truth. But just because I dont really drink, doesnt mean to say that I cant appreciate a good wine.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mouton Rothschild Dinner Wednesday 6th December

This year we are planning on ending our gourmet calendar on a bit of a high. We are hosting a Mouton Rothschild dinner, and so far we have over 5o people booked, with another thirty or so on the waiting list. Not too shabby for £225 a head. But thats a pretty good price when you look at what we are going to be serving that night.

You will arrive to a champagne reception - R de Ruinart champagne. Then after an amuse bouche served in the Library you will move through to the Arkle where we will be pouring the Aile d'Argent Bordeaux Blanc 2003 for the first course. With the intermediate course we are pouring 1993 Chateau d'Armailhac from Jeroboems. D'Armailhac is the next door neighbour to Mouton Rothschild and is owned by the Baroness. For the main course we are serving the 1996 Mouton Rothschild from bottles, before moving on to the 1990 Mouton Rothschild from Magnums for the cheese course. We finish the evening off with Chateau Coutet 1998, which has some affiliations with the Baroness. Considering that a bottle of 1996 Mouton will set you back £250, for a fraction less than that you will get the chance to taste two pretty good vintages of Mouton, one of which is coming in a magnum, plus four other wines. I think thats a hell of a good deal.

I cant wait!!

New A la Carte menu

Next week we start our winter menu. This evening we had a run down of the new dishes with the chefs and tonight instead of being in service Ive been typing out the menu descriptions. The menu sounds really good, and weve had a preview of some of the dishes over the last few weeks with the gastronomic menu and the last gourmet dinner. Chef has even brought back a dish that he used for a gourmet dinner in March, the 24 hour Mutton.

On the subject of gourmet dinners today I finalised the wines for Decembers Mouton Rothschild dinner, and I cannot wait for December. It is going to be a stonking evening. While I wait for the menu descriptions to print out Im going to write a quick post about that!