Saturday, May 27, 2006

Adding to the list.

Well last night I added about twelve wines to the wine-list. Its quite a long-winded process from start to finish. Heres a rundown on the process from the beginning.

Often I will encounter a new wine at a tasting, this may be here at the hotel with a sales rep and possibly a winemaker or winery marketing manager, or sometimes its one of those rare occasions that i get out of the hotel to a large trade tasting. Once I decide that the wine merits inclusion on our list, I have to negotiate a suitable price with the supplier. Usually we will just run with the listed price, but if we are looking at putting it on the list by the glass we will try and seek a better price. After all we are going to be purchasing the wine in some volume and so that helps make it more economical for both parties. Once I have my price, the next stage is to enter it into our stock computer and generate a bin number. When our cellar was first computerised many years ago, i dont think that they really thought about how big the list was going to be and so the numbering has become quite random. I would much prefer to have the numbers mean something. In other words allocate certain number orders to certain wines - 0 to 100 for champagne, 120 to 180 for Loire and Rhone, 200 to 400 for Bordeaux, 450 to 800 for burgundy etc etc. But to try and do that now would require a major reshuffle of the database and its not a task that i would relish doing myself.

Anyway, now we have the bin number we create a purchase order, get it signed off and order the stock. Once the stock is delivered it gets entered into the stock control system and the fun begins. Once I know that the stock is here, I have to start thinking about price. Now whether I like it or not, the margins that we are operating to are a bit higher than a stand-alone restaurant. We have considerable operating costs - we use Riedel stemware, flowers, payroll costs, linen, food costs, etc etc, but we are also contributing to supporting a whole hotel. So our margins are a bit higher than Im entirely comfortable with. Having said that, there are a few items that I can play around with, and so scattered around the wine-list there are some real bargains to be had, for those people with a bit of imagination, who take the time to read the list or ask for my support. We operate a floating margin, so that the wines at the upper spectrum of the list are marked up less than the house wines. (Insider advice - never order the house wine, as that is the most marked up wine on the wine-list. On my list you will find the best value for money between £50 and £90 on the wine-list). Once I have my selling price, I need to program it into our EPOS system. Then I find a space on the wine-list, type in the details, careful to make sure Ive spelt everything correctly (I copy the details exactly as they are on the wine labels. If the label is wrong, thats how it goes on the list), and paying careful attention to the vintage. Then I'm ready to rock and roll.

So what delights are on the list today?
a) Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2003. A stunning Pinot from one of the North Island of New Zealands best producers. 2003 was a great vintage, with very, very low yields and really intense fruit. This comes across with ultra ripe cherry flavours and and underpinning cedar/seasoned woody character. Really it needs a little more time in the bottle to get the best out of it, but its a stonking wine. Its not cheap at £85.00, but this was selling for nearly twice as much in Otago and sold out in days.

b)Matakana Estate, Matakana Moko 2000. Fantastic bordeaux blend wine from the northern most reaches of the North Island again. This is a maori produced wine, Moko being the traditional Moari facial tattoo's. Intense curranty berry fruit flavours with tightly integrated toasty oak characters. The tannins are starting to settle down and balancing the wine nicely. Still it needs a good half hour after decanting to really open out and show the forward fruity flavours.

c) A et P de Villaine, Mercurey Rouge "les Montots" 1996. Fantastic little Mercurey red from the principle name behind Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Aubert de Villaine. With a bit of bottle age on it this wine has really developed the distinctively earthy flavours that only Burgundy seems able to produce. This is simple red burgundy at its peak of perfection, and a wallet friendly £35 a bottle.

d)Domaine du Vissoux Fleurie "Poncie" 2004. Im not really a fan of Fleurie, personally I prefer Morgon and the deeper, darker Beaujolais cru's, but this wine makes me reconsider my tastes. A vibrant purple colour, with that classic beaujolais nose of strawberries and a hint of bubblegum. This wine takes a few moments to settle into character, but when it does it doesnt disappoint. Beaujolais is a sommelier "get out of jail free card". It seems to work really well with almost any food, and is usually a good crowd pleaser,suiting most palates and wallets at the same time.

Well thats about all for now, I need to get ready for service.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cellar work

The cellar is looking a bit of a mess at the moment, as there have been lots of new arrivals and we havent had a chance to rack them up yet. Ross has been really good recently and allowed me an almost free reign to get some new stock. Ive taken this opportunity to fill in some major gaps in the wine-list and bulk up some weaker regions. New Zealand has nearly tripled in size from seven wines to nearly 25 by the time Ive added the new wines. Im now working on Australia a bit. I aim to make the Aussie section upto three pages long. Five if you include the two special pages that Im planning on putting together (Charles Melton and Henschke). Then its South America and South Africa that need some TLC, and the Loire could do with a bit of a boost. Then I want to work on my next project which is a Wine Century - 100 different grape varieties. I posted earlier about managing to taste 100 different grape varieties and so gaining entry into the Wine Century club. So I figured it might be a really cool couple of pages in the winelist if i did a Wine Century. Ive got some really cool obscure ones that would work really well with the menu, so they would be saleable. For example I tasted a Cour-Cheverny from France which is made from the Romorantin grape. I reckon that I probably have about 40 varieties at the moment anyway, so Im not going to have to search too hard perhaps.

Anyway this afternoon Im going to spend most of the afternoon in the cellar like a troglodyte racking up the red wines that have come in. After all its stocktake this weekend so the more I can do now, the easier that will be.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Help Save Margaux

I got an email this afternoon from our J&B rep, asking me to help support the vignerons of Margaux fight the Ministry of Transport, who wish to build and autoroute through the middle of Margaux to help reduce congestion in the city of Bordeaux. After seeing a posting on Dr Vino's blog about how the estate of Haut-Brion is now almost completely surrounded by urbanisation ( it got me thinking. Over the latter half of the 1700's and into the 1800's the industrial revolution increasingly eroded away our agrarian lifestyle and as the cities expanded outwards the countryside disappeared at an alarming rate. Now having seen the effects of such urbanisation of the countryside and the ever spreading tentacles of concrete and tarmac, we wish to reduce or stop the growing network of roads. Especially if its going to mean less Margaux. Good god, the prices are expensive enough!! Can you imagine the negociants at the en primeur campaign in 2010?
Negoce: " so Monsieur Margaux winemaker, how much is your lovely wine this year?"
Winemaker: "Ah well you see, because the autoroute cut my vineyards in half, the yields have been reduced in half, the wind and vibration from the traffic caused most of my fruit to drop off early, further reducing the yields and what was left was heavily polluted with carbon emissions, petrol fumes and dust. All this cost me lots of money, so take what it cost last year and triple it!! "
Seriously though, help protect the winemakers of Margaux, protect their livelyhoods and stop this madness by adding your name to the petition online at

Im getting a commis!!

Not a hundred percent confirmed yet, but its looking likely that Im going to be getting a commis in the next couple of months. This is good news for me, as it means that I will have that bit of regular support on busy shifts. It also means that in the future, I might be able to get the occaisonal night off, or early night at least. But I think that its going to be good for me in the long run, because it means that Im going to have someone to mentor and develop. Thats means a lot more responsibility for me as well, but Im more than ready to handle that aspect of it. Its something that I havent really had since Gleneagles, so I relish the challenge.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The most famous vineyard in the world

Found this picture on the internet. It comes from, and is used without permission (but I am seeking permission). Follows on from my previous posting about La Romanee Conti. This is it folks.


It's over at last!!!

The May races ended yesterday on quite a high for us. We broke last years record daily total last night by a monster £4000. All thanks to one table and their purchase of the 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti, La Romanee Conti for a smooth £3500. I was chuffed when Paco told me they wanted the Romanee St Vivant 99 (£465) but when I presented the bottle, the guy said, "No! No! I want La Romanee Conti!". My heart started racing, my palms got sweaty, I felt elated, numb and more than a little scared.Paranoia set in and I started imagining what if it was corked, what if he says I don't like it. All sorts of nightmare scenarios start running through my mind. But I'm also excited at the prospect of tasting it .I've never tasted La Romanee Conti before.I've read plenty about it, Clive Coates, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe all heap praise and adoration upon it.
Before I start the tasting notes, perhaps I ought to explain why La Romanee Conti is so expensive. La Romanee Conti is a tiny little Grand Cru vineyard of about 1.8 hectares (a little over 4 acres). The vineyard has remained the same since it was first purchased by the monks of the St Vivant priory over 750 years ago. It is planted to Pinot Noir, with the average age of the vines being 52 years old. This means that the gnarly old vines will produce less than half the crop of younger more vigorous vines, but Mother Nature compensates for that by having the fruit more concentrated in flavours, sugars and all the necessary ingredients for making outstanding wines. Each patch of vineyard has its own dedicated worker, who will attend to their parcel of vines all year round. Early in the growing season the workers will severely prune the vines, and a practice called eclaircissage (green pruning) is used to further reduce the yields. As the grapes ripen and approach maturity the workers complete a passage de nettoyage to remove any substandard or malformed grapes. Once the grapes have reached their optimal ripeness they are hand harvested individually by the workers, supplemented with sixty pickers. The grapes are then sorted into small baskets and all are checked manually on a triage table before beginning the winemaking process.
Domaine de la Romanee Conti practice a minimal intervention style of winemaking. The grapes are not destalked, which combined with the long period of cuvaison (upto a month) gives the wines a deeply structured tannin backbone, which undoubtedly contributes to their cellaring ability. The fermentation is carried out a relatively low temperatures, never reaching above 33degrees, before the wine is transferred into is own supply of 100% new troncais oak casks. The wines are never filtered and rarely fined. If they require fining the maitre de chai Bernard Noblet is sent to acquire a few hundred fresh eggs. After between sixteen and twenty-two months in oak the wines are deemed ready to be bottled, which is carried out cask by cask, and done manually using gravity as the pumping agent.
After all this effort, care and attention the end result is less than 500 cases of wine, each bottle individually numbered. They are released annually on subscription and the UK allocation is managed by Corney and Barrow. Interested buyers are asked to submit their purchase requests, and stock is allocated by demand and based on previous purchasing from C&B, i.e. the more you have bought from them last year, the more likely you will get all that you want this year. It isn't cheap, typically a bottle of La Romanee Conti will set you back somewhere in the region of £800-£1200 on the primary market, depending on the vintage. But once you have been given your allocation and paid for it, the fun really begins.
The market for DRC is very buoyant, and it is widely regarded as the most stable of the "Blue Chip" wines. Every year come allocation time, the demand always exceeds the supply, more so in exceptional vintages. It is quite common for a wine to have been sold several times, before it is even in a bottle, and for its subsequent value to have risen to in excess of £2000 a bottle. So if you were fortunate to have been allocated 6 bottles, you could stand to make some serious return on your investment. And this is why DRC wines are so very popular with collectors and investors in wine, and consequently one reason why it fetches such high prices. Small production, high demand.
So, ultimately is it worth it? I cant answer that question for you, but what I would say is if you have to think about it, or even if you ask that question then I would say that the answer for you is no. Would I pay £3500 for it? If money wasn't an issue, then I suspect I would.It really depends on the circumstances. In case you were wondering the wine was outstanding! A really vibrant nose of fresh soft red fruits, with an undercurrent of earthiness and a kind of growbag aroma. On the palate it was amazing, layer after layer of flavour kept rolling back and revealing more and more flavour. Being quite young there was a lot of fruit flavours, but there was quite a soft tannic structure with a pleasantly acidic mouthfeel, with a lot more cherry red fruit flavours and wild strawberries. It was a very feminine wine, gentle on the palate, slowly revealing more flavour and depth. Very seductive. I have to say it was the most complex wine that I have ever tasted. By that I mean that there was something different with every moment, and it revealed more flavours and layers with each second it was on my tongue.
So that was May races 2006. I'm glad its over, and I can't wait until tonights service is over for two well deserved days off. It's been a hell of a long busy week, but the sales have been good, the service has gone really quite well, we havent had any serious trouble and all we need to do now, is get through the rest of the month and wait until the tips come!!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

May Races

Well its that time of the year again, May Races start tomorrow. Tomorrow is meant to be the start of our three busiest days of the year, but its looking a bit millenium tomorrow. Numbers for Wednesday are a bit poor, and its not just us. Seems most of the city is suffering tomorrow. Oh well, Im sure thursday and friday will make up for it.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Anticipating things to come

Im starting to get excited about some of the wines that are coming onto the wine-list. Its a combination of springtime turning into summer, and now that our audit and year end is out of the way, the pursestrings are relaxed a bit and I get to go wine shopping. Today we placed an order for about a grands worth of new wines, the majority of which are from New Zealand.
New Zealand is a country I'm getting quite excited about now. They've been producing some cracking wines there since the 80's when they turned their focus from really quite naff hybrid varieties like Muller-Thurgau to more noble varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. It was the seminal Cloudy Bay which brought New Zealand kicking and screaming to the forefront of our wine marketplace with their bright fruity Sauvignon blanc back in 1986. Since then Cloudy Bay has remained a firm icon, and it retains an air of cultishness with its allocated sales and the sheer difficulty that most people have getting any. But there are new kids on the block whose wines are set to eclipse those of Cloudy Bay. In some cases the teams behind them have been through the ranks and Cloudy Bay and learnt their craft from the master. Wines like Dogpoint Vineyards, which started life as a kind of afterwork project for James Healy and Ivan Sutherland when they both worked at Cloudy Bay. Their straight Sauvignon blanc is stainless steel fermented to give it that crisp fruity style we've come to expect of a NZ savvy, but for me their best wine is the sublime Section 94 Sauvignon. This wines undergoes partial fermentation under oak, with the grapes often being crushed in the barrels. James uses natural yeasts to ferment the wines which usually takes longer to ferment, resulting in a more powerful flavour, with autolytic characters, and the most amazing elderflower and jasmine aromas underpinned by the herbal citrus and tropical fruit flavours we often find in NZ savvy.
Anyway a good friend of mine Neil Taylor is working over in New Zealand at a wine shop in Otago, and he's putting together a parcel of rare and exclusive New Zealand wines - pinots, savvy's, some rieslings, some gewurzt and some pinot gris too. All of these wines are going to be from quality producers, some will be single vineyard offerings, others will be rare and most of them will be exclusive to us. Once I know whats coming I'll post it on here. But in the meantime Ive got some great Pinot coming from a winery called Mt Difficulty in Central Otago. Matt Dicey the winemaker, makes some great single vineyard Pinots (which I should be getting in about eight weeks) but his straight Pinot and Sauvignon are fantastic. Central Otago is the most southerly commercial wine region in the world, and it really only turned to viticulture in 1981 when Alan Brady established vineyards for Gibbston Valley Winery. Now it's regarded as one of the trendiest regions, an area perfect for cooler climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Riesling. With its cold winters and long dry summers, it presents climactic conditions similar to Europe. Now Brady owns Mt Edward which just makes Pinot Noir, and although it is expensive (all NZ wines are expensive, but Mt Eddie is nearly double the cost of Cloudy Bay!!) it is worth every penny and more.
Check out the following websites for more information about the wines:

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

New Gastro Menu

Well the Gastro menu changed yesterday, but i was kinda busy with a few things and so I couldnt update the blog.

Anyways, here it is, with a brief note of what wine Im pairing it with.

Scallop with anise jelly and fennel
the aniseed is very dominant in this dish so there are a couple of wines that i think this will work with. The first is a Picpoul de Pinet from Chtx St Martin de la Garrigue in the Languedoc. Its a sharp, acidic white with a citrus nose. Its name actually means lip stinger in french and you would see why.
The other wine i might pair this with is a Fiano di Avelino from Feudi di San Grigorio. A native italian grape variety, this is moderately to highly acidic, with a slightly nutty character to it.
Monkfish pan fried with truffled ox cheek and parsley
Ive paired this off with a premium Sake from Yamatagowa. Its Rashiku Ginjo Sake, it comes it at a hefty 15.6%ABV, so you are only .4% away from being classified as a fortified wine!! This is very similar in style and in some flavour characters to a viognier. But its high alcohol content helps cleanse the palate.
Main course
Chelford Beef, herb poached with a sweetbread ravioli and seared foie gras.
For this wine, Ive chosen to go classical, after the off the wall previous choice. Ive chosen a claret from Chateau Bauduc, "Clos des Quinze" 2001. This is a great easy drinking claret from a young english couple, Gavin and Angela Quinney. Dominated by Merlot this wine has lots of complementary flavours that accent the herb poached beef, and the earthyness of the sweetbreads.
Orange Sorbet and Champagne Granite
this is intended as a palate cleanser and as such i dont match anything with this.
Trio of Apricot - Tatin, sorbet and melba
Not too sure about this one just yet. At the moment Im experimenting with a Cabernet Franc icewine from Canada's Pelee Island. A rose red sticky sweet wine with a subtle hint of winterberries and rosehip. Ill have to report back during the week to see how i get on with this one.
Well the menu is delicious, although personally, the fennel and anise are just a bit too dominant for my liking, but hey its horses for courses. Speaking of horses, next week sees the start of the racing season at Chester, and its our busiest week of the year. Cant wait - NOT!