Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Year End

Its coming up for the end of the fiscal year, so we are getting all geared up to completely stocktake everything in the building. This is made all the more taxing (pardon the pun) when we have auditors looking over our shoulders. Its not that we have anything to hide, but just being watched by anybody is unsettling.

So Im kind of stuck in limbo at the moment, unable to get any new wines, unable to purchase anything but the most essential stock, in order to keep the stockholding down under control. To add to the frustration, I have been drafted in to count stock as our cellar master is leaving on Friday. Not good news, because it means that we are going back to a scenario that caused all sorts of problems last year when we went for nearly six months without a cellarman. At its worst I was starting work at 8am then finishing at midnight or later six days a week for a month.

Im not doing that again without a huge payrise.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cellar Tours

Its a little known opportunity, but I do like taking people down into the cellar and showing off some of the great wines that we have down there. Its something that we used to do quite a bit of at Gleneagles, because it gave you a chance to try and upsell something to someone who obviously was interested in wine (they wouldnt be down there otherwise!). But also it was an opportunity to establish some rapport and bond with the guests, which often resulted in a generous tip. Now the cellars here at the Grosvenor are not as cavernous or photogenic as the cellars up at Gleneagles. But what we lack in location we more than make up for in stock and "story"-bottles. A "story" bottle is a bottle of wine that I can pick up on a cellar tour and tell a little story about. At the Glen my story bottle was a bottle of Chapoutier Hermitage with a braille label. This gave me an opportunity to spin a yarn about how he came to label his wines and literature in braille. (Ive since heard three different stories so Im not sure which is true and which is urban legend). Here Ive got my pick of lots - a 1921 d'Yquem which was re-corked in 1991, an 1961 Chateau Croizet-Bages with an ullage of below bottom shoulder that give me a chance to talk about storage of wines. Or theres a bottle of 1959 Dom Perignon Oenotheque, or any of a range of five grower champagnes that give me the opportunity to promote smaller producers over the large grand marques.

One reason I like doing cellar tours now is that it gives me a chance to show off a little bit, to tout my knowledge and experience of some of these wines, and hopefully encourage you to try something new, something different, something a bit more expensive than you originally planned to. I am a salesman after all. I offer them to someone that shows an interest in the wine-list, who i think would appreciate a look, or who just asks. So if you ever come into the hotel and fancy a look around the cellar, just ask and if im free I'll come and show you around.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Post-Gourmet Rush

Well the evening is nearly over, half of the guests have departed, its nearly 11:30 and the boys are getting the restaurant turned around for service tomorrow.

What a great night, mostly positive feedback, but its interesting for me to chat with the guests and see who likes what. I know its been a good night because on several scraps of paper in my pocket, I have orders for six cases of wine. An almost unprecedented level of orders.

The wines were on great form and not a single corked bottle tonight, yippee!!!! Although I check all the bottles for a gourmet evening, I still worry when i get a corked one, because often I only just have enough stock for the evening. If i get one corked bottle I can scrape by, if i get two then im in the poo. Touch wood, it hasnt happened yet (unless you count New Years eve last year when i had 26 bottles that were corked, maderized or just generally kack. Its a good thing that we checked them before service!!

Anyway Im off now for a couple of days, but before I go Ive got a ton of paperwork to catch up on, not least of which is typing the new menu descriptions for the new a la carte menu that goes live tomorrow. Good god im glad im not here for that.


Gourmet Evening - Italian Connection

Its another gourmet evening tonight, and Ive just finished glassing the restaurant up. We probably spend as much time on the mis-en-place of the gourmet nights as the actual event itself.

Tonight we have Nick Masters from Enotria wine cellars coming down to present a range of wines from their portfolio.

We are starting off with Ruggeri's Santo Stephano Prosecco which is a single vineyard prosecco from one of Veneto's better producers.

With the first course we are pouring a Fiano di Avellino from Feudi di San Grigorio. I first tasted this wine back when i worked at Amaryllis is Glasgow, so Im quite looking forward to tasting it again. Its a fantastically crisp, fresh style that works so well with seafood. Chefs paired that with a pave of cod with lobster.

The second course is going to be a Langhe Roero from Christina Ascheri. Slightly fuller flavour wine, with a bit more depth and body. Main course is a Barolo "Cerequio" from Roberto Voerzio 1996. That was outstanding when i opened it half an hour ago.

With the cheese course we are pouring Nino Negri's Sassella Valtellina Superiore. Another Nebbiolo, but slightly more rounded, a little softer in texture and not quite as aggressive.

Dessert is being paired with Anselmi's I Capitelli a recioto di soave style wine made from partially dried Garganega grapes. Roberto Anselmi used to be part of the Soave consorzio, until he felt that they werent doing enough to preserve the integrity of the region. He famous resigned from the D.O.C. in an open letter to the press. Now his wines have been granted I.G.T. status and he is happy, as this allows him to work the way he wants to.

To finish the guests off (literally) we are serving Nonino's Grappa di Moscato with coffee and biscotti.

Pass the nurofen please!!!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

In the cellar

Ive been down in the cellar today. We have our year end stocktake coming up the week after next, so i wanted to have a looksie at some of the stock we have in our holding areas, to see what i could bring into the main cellar. I ended up moving about ten cases altogether. Some Volnay, two different Gevrey Chambertins, three different vintages and producers of Nuits St George and some Katnook Odyssey. It mean that I can start to add some of the wines to the wine-list and flesh it out a bit in those areas.

I like working down in the cellar, its nice and quiet, apart from the fans, and it lets me see what we have in person. It one thing to look at the stocksheets and see that we have a case of gevrey chambertin, but its quite another to be in the cellar, looking at a case of Dennis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin Clos de la Bussieres 1996.

Anyway, Ive got a meeting now with the chef to go through the new menu descriptions, because the new menu starts on wednesday, after the gourmet evening on Tuesday. Busy, busy, busy.

tasting wines pt 2

So we've tasted the wines, and we've isolated out those wines that we felt had potential for listing. Now what I've got to do is to get on the phone or email to all the suppliers whose wines we are planning on listing to make sure that they have sufficient stock, the vintages are correct, get the prices pinned down and also just give them some feedback. Some of these guys have sent in maybe a dozen wines, and if they are lucky they will pick up two or three listings. I need to let them know how their wines faired and why I'm not going to list some of them. Its usually not very easy, because they all believe very strongly that their portfolio is the best in the business, and that their wines all ought to be on our list. Its one of the reasons that I prefer to get several people involved in the tasting, because it tries to reduce any bias.

Once we have all the details confirmed, we need to start working out prices, listing order, generate bin numbers and then instruct the printers of all the details they need for the list. All this takes place in about a week. Then we just need to proof read about two or three drafts then we are ready to rock and roll. In the week before the menu goes live we try and organise some staff training to introduce them to the new dishes and some of the new wines. Then the whole process starts all over again in about two months time.!!


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tasting wines

Yesterday we carried out a fairly large tasting to determine which wines we were going to list on the brasserie wine-list. Over-all we tasted 46 wines, over about an hour and a half. From that we isolated 16 wines that potentially might be listed (10 are dead certs, six we arent too certain off). This led me to thinking that many folks might not really know how we decide these things, so i figured i would write about it and let you all know how it happens.

About five weeks ago I sat down with two of the brasserie team to run through the wine list and see which wines sold, which didnt and try and work out which wines we needed to look at replacing. There are often many reasons why a wine doesnt sell well. Sometimes its a price thing, sometimes its an unknown entity, sometimes its just unpopular, or the staff arent really knowledgable about it and so it doesnt get sold. I have to try and figure out the reasons and then work out whether we need to replace it or just carry out some staff education.

So anyway the end result is that i now have a list of twenty wines that we are going to look at replacing. The next stage is to go to our suppliers, tell them that we are looking at replacing certain wines and start soliciting samples from them. Now I dont want to take the piss, so usually i will get them to submit a written proposal, and from that i will cherry pick samples. Then we sit back and wait a week or two until all the samples are in together. Once I have all the bottles clogging up my office, i try and sort them out into flights of similar styles. Sometimes i will eliminate a few bottles here and there if i feel that they dont look right. Image is important.

Now comes the hard part, co-ordinating five peoples schedules in order to get everyone to taste the wines. I try and get Ross (GM), Chef, Andre (F&B), a couple of guys from the brasserie and anyone else thats free and has a reasonably good palate involved. The wider the range of palates the more consensus is reached and (usually) the wider the appeal of the wine. It sometimes brings us down to earth a bit!!

So we get everyone together and we taste the wines, eliminating tainted bottles, and isolating those bottles we feel has potential. Yesterday we tasted 46 wines, of which 6 were tainted. Of the remaining bottles we picked out 15 bottles which will end up being listed.

Now comes the boring bit, but im going to save that for tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Im certified!!

Well now im certified, it's official, im a real live sommelier. Last weekend I was down at the Millenium hotel in Knightbridge for the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Certificate course. Three days of lectures, tasting and exams on all aspects of wine and beverage service.
It was pretty hard work, the lectures were done by Brian Julyan, Brian Dawes, Ronan Sayburn, Matt Wilkin and Nigel Wilkinson. They flew through the material at quite a pace, and interspersed throughout we tasted wines blind. The idea was that we would get used to using deductive tasting to work out a series of conclusions about the origins, variety and vintage of a wine. That was the one area that i really struggled with a bit, and it highlighted for me an area that i need to give a lot more focus to.

Anyway I passed the certificate course and the introductory course, so now I can progress onto the Advanced Sommelier course. But I think im going to wait until next year for that.

As a side note, I also sent off my application for the century club the other day. This is a club of people that have tasted 100 different grape varieties. Its taken me nearly a year to hit the magic 100 figure, but i sent off my application with 105 different grape varieties ticked off. Now quite a lot of these are never seen as single grape varieties, often they are blended together to creat very familiar wines - for example Cinsualt is a grape often grown in the southern regions of france, particularly the Rhone Valley. It is one of 13 different grape varieties that are allowed to be blended together to become Chateauneuf du Papes. Anyway if you are interested in joining check out www.winecentury.com for application forms.