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!

The Environmental Impact of wine.

There have been a few press mumblings about a winery in New Zealand attaining CarboNZero certification recently. If I understand it correctly, they have neutralised their carbon emissions presumably by planting a corresponding acreage of trees to balance the Co2 produced by fermentation. But I would question whether that is then the end of their Carbon responsability. If they sell all their wines at the cellar door, then I would say yes, it is. But what if they dont, what if they sell half their production in New Zealand and half gets exported between the US, UK and Japan. The wine will go from their bond to a central depot - most likely by lorry - producing CO2. From there it will be stored until being sent off to individual merchants in New Zealand - again by lorry again producing CO2. Or it gets exported in which case it is loaded onto a refridgerated container (which I would guess is in some way responsable for some CO2 emissions after all it is powered, as well as some other greenhouse gases - CFC's, PFC's etc), where it will be consequently loaded onto a container ship to cross at least one ocean. Im not sure what the figures are but Im sure that container ships are fairly big producers of CO2, and other hydrocarbon pollutants. Once it arrives in its destination country again onto a lorry for transportation to a central hub or bonded warehouse before being dis-seminated to its eventual merchant. All of which amounts to a fairly substantial amount of CO2 produced, particularly if the wine has travelled half way round the world. Which raises a few interesting thoughts for the environmentally friendly drinker.

One interesting idea which is being trialled in Canada at the moment, involves packaging wines in Tetra-paks rather than glass bottles. The average case of wine weighs about 18kg. Of that nearly 8kg is in the glass bottles. The average case of tetra-paked wine weighs a little over 10kg. As most shipping and transportation is measured by the weight, this means that you can carry nearly a third more wine (the reality of shape means it is actually closer to 25% more). Now consider that nearly 70% of wine sold in the UK is sold through supermarkets, and think of the impact that moving the majority of that stock over to Tetra-pak would have. You could, in theory, remove one in four containers from the roads, which is bound to have a fairly big impact in reducing CO2 emissions. Obviously there would then need to be some provision for recycling the tetra-paks, but it is an interesting thought. After all in Australia a lot of wine is sold bag-in-box, and the trial of tetra-pak wine in Canada seems to have had a favourable reponse. It would require a major change in consumer attitudes, but then most aspects of environmental change are going to require some radical thoughts and some often painful changes. I doubt that I will ever see the day when a first growth claret comes in a tetra pak, but if Jacobs Creek or Hardy's stamp or Gallo was sold in tetra-pak then the consequences could have an enormous positive impact on reducing the damage caused by CO2 emissions. Wouldn't it feel good to know that the glass of wine that you are drinking was less damaging to the environment.

I should point out that Im not a environmental activist or "hippy" but it was something that I got to talking about last night with a couple of customer and the thought was nagging at me all last night. It raises a few interesting thoughts and gives me some issues to ponder for the future. The threat of environmental catastrophe seems to be very real and is certainly gaining media attention. Governments also appear to be making the right noises about dealing with the issues although their typical response is to create a new tax. Perhaps if they offered tax breaks to more environmental schemes they might get a more positive response, but now we are delving into politics, and I havent had anywhere near enough to drink to start putting the world to rights (for the record I havent had a drop of alcohol today!).

Drinking a bit of history.

We had a couple in last night who took an interest in the old cognacs that we have on the list. The Massougnes 1810 and 1802 are two pre-phylloxera cognacs from what was the largest cognac house of its era. Unfortunately they were bankrupted by the phylloxera outbreak and forced to sell off the majority of their land and holdings, retaining only some more profitable cabbage fields. Back then the eaux-de-vies were distilled prinicipally from Folle Blanche, but since phylloxera Ugni Blanc and Columbard have become the dominant grapes partly due to Folle's resistance to grafting onto American rootstocks.

The 1802 is the oldest known cognac from Massougnes, and is considered to be their best. It is quite hazy and possesses a fine sediment. On the nose it is clean with quite a sharp raisin and floral pear aroma. On the palate is is quite rough with an unpleasant bitter earwax finish.

The 1810 however is much finer, and in my opinion the better of the two cognacs. It has a rich golden amber colour, sparklingly clear. On the nose there is a kind of walnut whip kind of aroma with dark chocolate and a hint of spicy orange. On the palate it is amazingly smooth, with a building warmth from the alcohol and a long lingering finish that slowly fades away.

It is quite difficult assigning a price to a glass of something so old and historical. This was made as Napoleon marched his armies across Europe, three years before the battle of Trafalgar. There is very little of it left, less that five bottles are known to exist. In theory it should get more expensive with each measure sold as it gets rarer. But if youve got £395 burning a hole in your pocket, you too can taste a bit of history with a 50ml glass of 1810 Massougnes. Not bad eh!!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jacquesson Cuvee 730 Champagne

Fantastic medium sized grower-producer based in Dizy. Jacquesson owns prime vineyards in the grand cru villages of Avize, Ay, Dizy and Hautvilliers, which makes a good percentage of their wines. Today the house is run by the Chiquet brothers - Jean Herve who controls the business and Laurent who manages the vinification. Their sights are set firmly on the top.

Cuvee 730 refers to the fact that this is the 730th cuvee (batch) in the house's 208 year history. Predominantly wines from the 2002 two vintage with 20% coming from reserve wines that have been well matures in oak barriques. A roughly equal blend of the two pinots and chardonnay the wine shows quite strong flavours of green apples and pears, with some woody elements and a touch of spice.On some bottles Ive found a touch of sherry on the nose, but Im not sure if that is a fault or not. It is still quite young really and as such the acidity is still quite sharp and attacking, making this wine a perfect aperitif wine. The mousse is really vibrant and the wine throws up a steady stream of really fine beads.

I think that over time the wine will settle down a bit and become a bit creamier and less acidic. It would be interesting maybe to track down a bottle of an older batch and see how the wine has matured.

Jacquesson have a fantastic range of champagnes including some mono-cru wines, including a pinot meunier mono cepage wine, which I must try and track down. All in all a great champagne from a serious house that seems to have a lot to offer.