Friday, April 28, 2006

Sidetracked pt 2

When looking at matching food to wine there are a number of factors that need to be considered. With desserts the principle "rule" is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert it is being paired with. If it isnt the end result is usually an unpleasant metallic taste on the palate. Creamy dishes need something with a reasonable amount of acidity to cleanse the fats off the palate. Other than that almost anything goes.
When im matching food and wine, I try to find flavours that complement each other. A classic example is chocolate and orange, a match for which Terry's chocolate companty have survived for decades. But there are many different types or grades of chocolate - milk, white, and varying degrees of dark with cocao contents varying from 30% to 80%. As well as this the sweetness of the chocolate varies with the darker higher cocao chocolates usually containing much less sugar than milk chocolate. So it all boils down to tasting combinations. The more bitter the chocolate the sweeter the wine can be to counterbalance the bitterness.
Currently we have a dessert on the gastro menu which is a dark chocolate collar with a bitter chocolate orange sorbet and caramelised orange sauce. Now you have two fairly bitter, unsweetened parts, with the caramel sauce providing the sweetener. So really the wine doesnt need to be megasweet. If im doing menu-matching with this then what I would do is offer two different glasses of wine per couple. The first is an Orange Muscat from a winemaker called Andrew Quady, who is based in Madera, California. Andrew used to be a pyrotechnician before turning his considerable talents to making wines. He only makes dessert wines, and some fortified port-style wines, which he calls Starboard. get it? Port - Starboard!! Anyway the wine is made from Muscat de Frontignon grape, and has a slightly orangey flavour which we know works well with chocolate. It is quite sweet, but so far the feedback has been good. The other wine that I serve is Boutielle Call from Bonny Doon Vineyards. This is a late harvest Syrah that is blended with Framboise made from three different raspberry breeds all grown in Washington State. Its a rich, unctious wine, with a fairly obvious raspberry flavour to it, which Im uncertain how it sits with the orangeyness of the dessert. The guests have been undecided with about 50% likey, 50% no likey. But its different, its unusual and if the raspberry wasnt so obvious I think it would work better. Which leads me to another wine that ought to work based on that conclusion.
Rosenblums Late Harvest Zinfandel - Rosie Rabbit vineyard. A rich deep red wine with a modicum of residual sugar. This goes really well with a chocolate fondant, or dark chocolate souffle.
Mas Amiel, Maury, a vin doux naturel from the Languedoc region of France is partially fermented Grenache that is then fortified with grape brandy to increase its alcoholic strength and halt the fermentation. The end result being that not all of the sugar has turned to alcohol, hence you have a sweet wine.
In a similar style a relatively young LBV port or port style wine would also work quite well. Weisse and Krohn do some great single colhieta aged tawnies in a multitude of vintages going back to the 50's. The 65 has a rich coffee/toffee'd nose that works well with heavy dark chocolate dishes - opera gateaux, sachertorte etc.
I havent really come across a good complement for white chocolate yet, but Im working on it!!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sidetracked pt 1

Ive been reading this fascinating book recently - Indulgence by Paul Richardson (

The guy is a chocophile and he traces the history of chocolate from the Ancient MesoAmerican civilizations across to Spain, France, Italy and throughout Europe. Its a really interesting read and it got me thinking about flavours and how tastes evolve across time and continents. Originally chocolate was taken as a beverage and it was often "flavoured" with spices such as chilli's, annato, cinnamon, vanilla, various indiginous flowers, etc. As it moved across europe these flavours were omitted or replaced and gradually the product evolved from a fairly bitter dark product to the milky sweet chocolate we know now. But the book has prompted me to start exploring darker chocolates, and especially single estate chocolates and chocolates from different countries. Names like Valrhona, Amadia, El Rey all produce single estate chocolates, often with very high cocao contents. Apparantly most commercial chocolate contains about 30% cocao, but to really experience the flavours you should try some 50% or even 70% cocao. Here in the kitchens at the Grosvenor we have some 98% cocao pistils. It's an interesting experience as there is virtually no fat the chocolate almost crumbles in the mouth and it's very, very bitter. But if you melt it down with hot water, add in some spices and a small amount of milk or cream, you can make a very very nice hot chocolate drink.

So what wines would you pair off with something like that? All will be revealed in pt 2, coming later tonight (all being well)


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Match made in Heaven

Well following on from my last post Ive paired the gourmande menu up with wines, and created a page in the wine-list for the pairings, with prices by the glass for the wines. So here goes;

Salad Riche,
with lobster vinaigrette and cold poached langoustines
paired with an Albarino from Pazo de Senorans.
the crisp acidity of the albarino will help to break down the flavours of the lobster vinaigrette and poached langoustine, while the aromatic peachy flavours of the wine, will balance the leafy greens.
Ross-shire Scallop
with bacon and pea risotto
paired with Bonny Doon Vineyards Pacific Rim Riesling
another Randall Grahm miracle in a bottle. This is a blend of German riesling from Johannes Selbach in the Mosel, carefully blended with Randall's riesling from Washington State. Now thats something you dont get happen.
Maxim of Landaise Duck
with fondant potato, chok sui and oriental spice reduction
paired with Lucien Boillot Volnay 1er Cru "Les Angles"
Cracking Volnay from one of many talented Boillot's in Burgundy. A 96 it has a decent bit of bottle age on it, and its earthy tones will balance out the duck and oriental spices well.
Dark Chocolate Collar
with bitter chocolate orange and caramel sauce
paired with Bonny Doon Vineyards Boutielle Call
Another far out wine from Randall Grahm. This is a late harvested syrah blended with some framboise made from three different raspberries grown in Washington State. Its surreal, its delicious, its very moreish!!
Well thats the menu, I guess we will have to see how it works out tonight. Just typing it out is making my mouth water. I'd best go and get something to eat before service starts!!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Trying new things

My plan to develop new flavours and ideas on the wine-list gets one step closer to happening today. Our Sake has arrived. I first tried sake down in London when I was doing the Court of Master Sommeliers course in March. Two of the guys on the course were part of a new company called They had brought along a sake for us to taste as part of the tasting exercise, and I have to admit it was pretty good.
Anyway it got me thinking about taking the whole tasting experience to a new dimension, especially when we look at the gastronomic menu. Why do I always have to stick with wine, when I could look at mixing up the whole experience and throwing all sorts of flavour experiences into the menu. Ive toyed with the idea of producing a page in the list with the Gastro menu and the complementary beverages, and charging a set price for it. Simple, everyone knows what they are going to get and how much its going to cost them. I get the chance to set it all out in simple terms and I can then be as bold and experimental as i want, although obviously if it is too far off the wall, then that might put people off a bit.
So Im going to do it, starting next week. And if im organised enough Im going to blog it on Tuesday afternoon with why Ive paired each beverage to its course.

wish me luck!


Friday, April 21, 2006

Meet Goliath

I need to start weight training. I need to develop my upper body strength and leg muscles. Why you might ask do i need to do this?

meet Goliath...

Goliath is our champagne trolley. Im supposed to push this behemoth to all the tables in some daft effort to persuade them to buy a glass of champagne. The things we do for money eh!!!


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Plans, training and the future

Over the last few weeks Ive been told about several of the plans for the future of the Arkle, wine-list and potentially my own future at the hotel. Which comes as a bit of a surprise to me really. I havent really given much serious thought to my future here. Initially I started here with the idea that after my first six months if things worked out I would probably stay for about five years. This would give me the chance to gain the stability that I wanted in order to go on and complete my WSET diploma course.
Two years later, I have to confess I still dont really know how much longer Im going to stay. Dont get me wrong here, I really enjoy my job, and feel that there is loads more for me to do here. BUT... the practical realities of earning less than your monthly outgoings are biting hard. I had really envisioned that I would be earning considerably more by this stage of my life. I guess Im facing up to the facts that Ive know all my working life, that this industry pays appalling poor wages for excruciatingly long working weeks. With my average week working out at around 56 hours, I actually earn an hourly rate barely above minimum wage. It wouldnt be too bad if I was single and still living with my folks, but Im not. Ive got a wife and three kids to support, a mortgage and utility bills to pay, and a monthly grocery bill that scares the bejeesus out of me, and I barely eat any of it, because Im always at work!!!

Ive been thinking a lot recently about changing my career slightly. I want to stay working with wine in some way, and at the end of the day I do enjoy my job, I just hate the hours and the crappy wages. All this has got me thinking about plans, plans for the future, plans for my personal development and after watching the 100 greatest war films last night on E4 my thoughts are very much on a great escape. Escaping this industry, the cycle of poor wages and long hours, of not seeing my family. So keep nix for the guards, i must get working on the escape plan!!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter - Yaay!!!

Its easter time already, amazing how quickly the year flies along. We are really busy right now with two guys short. Davide left to return to Italy and Greg has taken his girlfriend Anna home to meet mama & papa. But tonights already looking good. A four-top has ordered a bottle of 1983 Margaux, which at £650 a bottle gets my night off to a flying start, and Ive still got three hours till service!!

Ive just added another thirty wines to the list over the last week. Mostly burgundy with some nice mature vintages - some 1990's, mostly 1996's and a couple of 99's. Sold one of the 1990's last night, a Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, by Drouhin-Laroze. I must say that i thought the nose was a bit too earthy with what i think might be Brettanomyces contamination. This presented as a kind of horsey animal smell. Now theres a lot of debate over Brett spoilage, with some people crying foul and other feel that it adds a sense of character and dimension to the wine. I have to confess I really dont know where i stand on this one. In some cases, like last night it actually gave the wine a real depth of character on the nose and to me invoked a sense of place for the wine. But on the other hand i suppose if the aromas were too strong then it would detract from the fruit of the wine.
So faced with this dilema I offer the customer the chance to taste the wine and decide for themselves. Luckily they liked it, and the problem was shelved till the next time.

Anyway Im looking forward to gorging out on chocolate eggs tomorrow, and having an easter egg hunt with the kids. So happy holidays and I'll maybe post something more later.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gourmet Evening Again - Vallet Freres

My god how the months fly by! It hardly seems like last week we were having the last gourmet evening, and here's the next one already. Tonight Im very chuffed to have Bernard Vallet from Vallet freres here, to show his wines. All the more so, because all being well, Im going to France in October to Vallet freres to work a harvest. Its the first time that Ive done that, so Im really looking forward to it, although Im well aware its going to be hard work. But the thing is, its easy enough to read all about burgundy, to look at maps and see the villages - Volnay, pommard, meursault, gevrey-chambertin etc etc, but I think that to actually get out there, to physically see the land, the vines, to pick the grapes, work in the winery and really get my hands dirty will give me a much better feel for the region and its wines.

Many colleagues and peers have all told me that the best way to get an understanding of a region is to be there, to stand in the vineyards and feel the soil under their feet. To feel the heat/cool/wind/mist to experience the climate that the grapes are exposed to. To spend time in the wineries, smell the new oak casks as they are filled with wine fresh from the fermenters. All those wonderful experiences which I havent had yet. So Im really looking forward to it. Hopefully we will get some time to ourselves to go and explore the region a little bit as well.

Well tonights menu looks good, and Bernard and Ed have arrived, so I need to go and brief the man on what happens tonight. Hopefully if it isnt too late I will post something afterwards.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday

Ive been into blogs recently. It all started when i came across That guy has such an amazing narrative style, and he has a skill at storytelling that seems to know when to tell a funny story, a heartrending story, a moral story or a bitchy story. I can so relate to many of the blogs as obviously i work in the industry, and although for the most part the customers over here are much better behaved that their continental cousins in the US, I experience similar scenarios on a regular basis.
Anyway that blog got me into the whole scene, and from there I discovered a world of wineblogs which led me to Wine Blog Wednesday. If I understand the concept correctly, each month a blogger hosts WBW and gets to choose the subject. Then everyone writes a short blog about the experience on their own blogs, and the results are collated by the host blogger. It's sharing knowledge in a 21st century fashion, it's instant, topical and massively entertaining.
Which brings me to this post. This months topic is whites other than Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling. So the idea is to go out and taste something that fits the brief then write a short tasting note about the wine, post it on your blog then share it with everyone. So here goes.

The wine that i have chosen is Saxenburg's Guinea Fowl White 2005, which is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier from the Stellenbosch. The bottle has a really smart presentation of a long white label with a spotted guinea fowl feather on it.

On the nose its a very aromatic style of wine, tropical fruit with citrus, the viognier comes through with that kind of white peach aroma with a slightly candied edge to it. On the palate there is a hint of fruit sugar pushing the wine towards off dry, its very crisp and clean with vibrant fruity flavours, a slight spritz on the tongue and a lusciously long lingering finish that seems again to have a hint of sweetness about it.

This is a stonking summer quaffing wine, and it goes really well with all sorts of food as well. We had it paired with a mutton dish on a recent gourmet dinner we did with Adrian Buhrer from Saxenburg estate, and it went down a storm.

Well thats my contribution to WBW #20, and I look forward to reading more and hopefully finding a few new things to try.

Catching Up

Busy week last week. Its the end of the financial year, so that means year end stocktakes, auditors in the building, and bucketloads of stress. To add to the fun and games, our stock controller left on Friday, so we dont have anyone in charge in the cellar at the moment. Guess who ends up absorbing most of the responsability? Me. Sucks to be me sometimes.

Anyway tonight is Dining Club night. This is Mr Slaters little get together with some chums to enjoy a gourmet meal prepared by Simon, with wines selected from the cellar by me. I usually enjoy Dining Club nights, because it gives me the chance to use up some wines that we have very little chance of selling. This means that they get some very good wines with their meal, and tonight is no exception.
For aperitif they are starting with a 1989 Clos des Goisses from Philipponnat. This was the original single vineyard champagne. From Grand Cru vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Oger, this pinot dominated wine is truly outstanding. When it has had a bit of bottle age on it, then it becomes something quite spectacular.
They start the meal with a magnum of Didier Dageneau's Pur Sang, Blanc fume de pouilly 2003. Dageneau is regarded as the master of loire wines, and his wines are in short supply and high demand. Outside of Burgundy they are amongst the most expensive whites from France.
Then they move onto a New Zealand riesling, the Craighall Riesling from Dry River. I first tasted this wine when i worked for Malmaison back in the day. It was the first dry riesling that i had ever tasted and it was a revolation for me. Since then I have always had Dry River wines on my wine-list.
For main course Im serving a 1992 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Outstanding Cabernet from the Rutherford region of Napa. Ive only read about this wine, I havent had the chance to taste it yet, so tonights the night!!
Cheese is being served with a Bonnes Mares 1989 from George Roumier. The middle of a trio of excellent vintages, this one is always overshadowed by the slightly superior 88 and 90, but its the vintage that i feel has the most elegance and character.
Dessert is being served with a Moscato Bianco from the Two Hands Winery in the Barossa Valley. Its slightly sprinkly and really fruity, a cracking summery wine, that I could easily drink on its own in the garden just chillin'.
Now that im writing this I've just realised that Ive forgotten the brandy and port. I'd best shoot off and sort that out or my ass will be in a sling.