Sunday, July 30, 2006
So tonight they choose the gastonomic menu, Mr looks really chuffed with himself as he closes the wine-list and tells me his choice. A bottle of Jean-Noel Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet les Masures 2002 and...................
a bottle of 1999 Henschke Hill of Grace. The mack daddy of Aussie shiraz. Forget grange, Hill of Grace is the pinnacle of deep brooding shiraz. Produced from fruit grown on 140 year old vines in the heart of the Eden Valley, this is a big and bold as it gets.
On the nose it gave off very intense aromas of black plums, blackberries, with hints of prune and a blend of mint, anise, cinnamon and earthy spices. There was also an aroma that put me in mind of a rib of beef roasted with an english mustar rub. Absolutely amazing nose that just gave me something different everytime I went back to it. After half an hour in the glass the aromas melted into each other and the meaty/minty thing was still quite dominant, but with strong flavours of black jammy fruits. I also thought I could get a scent of good quality dark chocolate - kind of like a bar of Lindt 70% cocao. This was the first time I had tried the 99 Hill of Grace and it makes the third vintage that Ive tried. The first was a bottle of 1990 that one of the sommeliers at Amaryllis had opened by mistake, confusing it for the Mt Edelstone. Some lucky sod got to drink a bottle of Hill of Grace but paid for Mt Edelstone. I dont remember much about that one, except thinking that it was incredibly complex for a new world wine.
The next vintage was the 1996 which we poured at the second gourmet evening that I organised here. Oh my god what an amazing wine. Intense jammy fruit, menthol and eucalyptus with spicy undertones, exceptionally smooth on the palate with a crescendo finish that just lasted and lasted. If I was compiling my list of top ten wines, then the Hill of Grace would sit somewhere in the top five.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
In February of this year Cam Wheeler of Appelation Australia posted a piece on his blog about the wines of Graeme Miller Wines based in the Yarra Valley (http://www.camwheeler.com/wine/2006/exhibition-of-victorian-winemakers-2006-graeme-miller-wines/). Now the tone of the piece is very friendly and positive, but one of the wines is noted to be exceptionally faulty, and hence rates a score of 50/100. For those unfamiliar with the Parker scoring system*, fifty is about as low as you can get. Basically you get 50 points just for being a liquid in a bottle. Cam noted that he hoped this wasnt representative of the wines, rather than a fault in the bottle. However the winemaker at the show stood behind the bottle and didnt offer a further sample to check. So Cam confered with others whom had attended the tasting and their notes concured. So he went ahead and posted his notes online.
Cut forward three months and he gets an email purporting to be from Graeme Miller threatening him with legal action unless he removed his post from the internet. Not very wise council there then. Their continued attempts to bully and threaten Cam have meant that the story has now grown significantly bigger, much like that snowball, and has crossed the series of tubes we know and love as the Internet. I think it was William Randall Hearst that said "all publicity is good publicity" , but this is bad marketing for the winery. And if they continue this route they seem to have chosen they probably wont recover from it, because people wont focus on their wines rather than their response to this situation. I wish Cam all the success in this battle, and support his decision to publish the review. All to often we only see glowing positive reviews, and its equally important to read not so positive reviews, as long as those reviews are objective and truthful.
The whole scenario got me thinking about the dozens of wines a month that we taste here, but that never get a listing. I can honestly say that it is a long time since I have tasted a truly horrible wine. I would like to think that it is because there are fewer and fewer really bad wines on the market, but to be truthfull, I suspect that our suppliers filter some of the poorer wines out, and only supply samples of higher quality wines. When we do our tasting for the brasserie we will often taste about thirty wines at a time. Usually we will arrange them into flights, so that we are tasting all the sauvignons together, all the chards together etc etc. Often this means that we will try maybe five or six of each variety and the two that stick out will then go head to head on cost/presentation and availability. It has happened on a few occasions that the wine we have ultimately chosen to be listed perhaps was the second or even third best wine, but due to pricing considerations or supplier politics, we have rejected the better wine. Its not a comfortable decision, but sometimes it needs to be made.
So I guess Im lucky that I havent really come across a really bad wine, and I'll tell you what. I hope to goodness it stays that way.
(*The 100 point scale was introduced by Robert Parker Jnr the american lawyer turned wine critic in 1978 when he introduced his newsletter "The Wine Advocate". It was consequently adopted by the Wine Spectator magazine and has since become the de facto standard for many wine reviews. For a fuller explaination of the wine rating systems see Stephen De Longs post on the subject at http://www.delongwine.com/news/2006/05/09/how-we-rate-wines-and-other-things/)
Friday, July 28, 2006
So here are the champagnes we are planning to offer by the glass.
R de Ruinart Brut NV - our house pour, this pinot dominated wine has a rich elegance and creamyness that all our regulars just love.
R de Ruinart Brut Rose - orangey- rose petal pink with fruity nose and red berry flavours.
Aubry Brut NV - fantastic grower champagne from Jouy-les-Reims. The twins used to sell all their grapes to Veuve Clicquot, but now hold back enough to make their own fabulous wines. Also pinot dominated, there is a greater proportion of Meunier in this blend giving a kind of rye bread character to the wine. If youve never experienced a grower champagne then this is one of the best that you can start with.
de Venoge brut Millesime 1996 - small house based in Epernay, owned by Bruno Paillard. This kind of reminds me of fresh pain-au-chocolate you get in the patisseries in French villages first thing in the morning. That brioche style pastry with hits of good quality dark chocolate - vanilla, summer spices. One of the best vintage champagnes Ive had without costing an arm and a kidney.
Pommery Summertime Blanc de Blancs NV - part of Pommery's excellent seasonal range, this pure chardonnay has crisp bracing acidity, with a refreshing summertime lightness and clean pronounced flavours of citrus with fresh almond undernotes.
I will post the whites next week, once I have finalised my choice.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Customers like to identify with what is in a wine, and too many varieties is an off-putting factor. No-one wants to remember the 13 varieties that are permitted for use in a Chateauneuf*. The single biggest advantage that the New World has over the Old world is the use of varietal labelling. Customers ar familiar with the words Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet, Shiraz etc. They know what they are going to get. The most successful wines on supermarket shelves are single varietal wines. They have become so familiar that they can almost be considered as brands. So I will continue to seek out new and interesting wines, but I doubt that they will have too many varieties.
* for those that might be interested here are the 13 permitted varieties - Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Picardin, Vaccarese, Clairette, Roussane, and Bourboulenc
Monday, July 24, 2006
I would like to think that our list falls into the previous category. At fifty pages long, it is quite a challenge keeping it clean, up to date and informative. We are just in the process of evolving the list to the next stage by making it more dynamic and introducing an element of seasonal flexability into the list. Our first iteration was to move to an easier to read format, modelled on the Pied-a terre format that is also used in Gordon Ramsays restaurants. List 2.0 was to introduce colour into the list when we purchased a new colour laser printer. Now I am working on List 3.0.
When trying to plan how this was going to look, I gathered together a collection of wine-lists from some of the best restaurants in the world. El Bulli, Gordon Ramsay, Le Manior, Veritas NYC, the Herbfarm in Washington State, Alain Ducasse's many restaurants and many others. A team of Paco (Restaurant manager), Ross (GM), John (ex F&B Manager), and Greg (Head Waiter) discussed what elements of different lists we liked and why we liked them. From that we kind of established a template to work from. I liked the informal style of the Herbfarms, with nuggets of information about various wines and winemakers. We all liked the design aesthetics of Alain Ducasse at Essex House, with its clean lines and simple layout. We liked the little graphic logos scattered about El Bullis list as page headers. The next stage is to look at the paper we print the lists on. Currently we are using Conqueror Oyster 120gsm to print on. I looked at some really different papers from Arjo, with speckles, flecks of metal, degrees of transparency, cotton papers, banknote grade papers (more expensive than the money itself!!!) and loads of funky colours. The price is the crucial element here. It looks like it will be too expensive to use them for the entire list, but Im hoping to be able to use them for certain seasonal pages.
Now that have decided these things, comes the really hard part. Sitting down and typing it all out. Sounds easy, but believe me its not. After and hour of solid typing your eyeballs start to dry out, you start getting hypnotised by the movement of the curser, and your wrists start to swell up. The worst thing is that if you are lucky you have probably only done about four or five pages. There are currently fifty pages in the wine-list. Pass the icepacks!!!
So Ive been given a deadline. By the 1st September List 3.0 must be ready. Best get working then.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Tonight we've sold a bottle of 1917 Climens. The wine was a light golden brown colour when the bottle was opened (miraculously the cork came out intact!!) but I'd swear it actually got darker as I decanted it. With hindsight Im not too sure that was the wisest of moves, but there was quite a lot of sediment in the bottle. On the nose it was quite stunning - candied orange peels and honeyed fruit flavour. I have to say that Im not a fan of dessert wines - I find them too sweet, and they just make me cringe when I taste them. This one was no exception, but it had an amazing depth of flavour and the taste remained on my palate for ages. The guy who bought the bottle is having dinner upstairs in the function suites tomorrow, and they are chosing some clarets for a tasting over dinner. So I offered them an impromptu cellar tour. Im glad I did, because it gave me a chance to find out what kinds of wines they want to look at tomorrow, and then it gave me the opportunity to help steer their selection. It seems that they are keen to try some great wines, and theres a small possibility that the 95 Double magnum of Petrus might be one of them.
In the mean time, Ive got all my digits crossed!!
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I was caught kind of unawares by an unassuming table of two, casually dressed and lounging in the armchairs in the Library. Paco told me they wanted to speak to me before they ordered their meals. Usually that means they want to ask some questions about the menu matching that we offer in the gourmand menu. So a brief look at the gourmand to refresh my memory (aint what it used to be - old age creeping up on me!!) and I approach the table. The guys greet me, and the "host" launches into what he's looking for. He holds no punches either "Im toying with the idea of the La Tache or a first growth". My mind thinks bingo, and I keep a poker face going as I start thinking through my options - Mouton 90 or 96, Latour 1950 (almost knackered), Lafite 1970, HautBrion 85 or 96, or Margaux 49 or 83. Then you could start looking at Cheval Blanc 49 or 96, then theres Pomerol - Petrus 81, 97 or 98 (the latter two really a bit young), then theres the big yin - 1986 Le Pin. As I vocalise my thoughts and dismiss the younger vintages and the Latour I casually throw the Le Pin in almost making a joke about needing a mortgage for it. Bugger me if he doesnt go and decide on it after all. I nearly fell over.
(I know the label image is the wrong vintage but I could find the right one)
My confidence wavers a bit, this bottle is on the list at £2200. Im kind of reluctant to endorse it or encourage him to take it, because if its knackered or he doesnt like it, Ive got a major problem on my hands. I waffle the facts I know about the wine, small production, owned by the Thienpoint family who also own Vieux Chateau Certan, once scored 100 points from Robert Parker and consequently went through the roof. As I fetch the bottle from the cellar I pop into my office and sneak a peak at Michael Broadbent to see what he thought of the wine. He rates it quite highly, higher than most of the 1st growths of the vintage, Mouton excepting. So armed with a few more titbits of conversation I present the wine. As I present it, I regale my customers with my newly found information and mentally cross everything I can that the wine isnt corked.
As I cut down the foil and gently remove it, my heartbeat starts to increase. Paranoia sets in, and I start working through horror scenes in my mind. The damn cork snaps, and I end up fishing out my butlers thief to fetch the last remaining third of the cork. It comes out without further trauma. I eagerly pour a small measure into a glass. So far so good, there is a distinct absence of TCA. As I swirl it round in the glass, the fruit flavours jump forward and assualt my nasal passages. The wine smells outstanding. For a twenty year old wine, there is loads of fruit evident on the nose. There is none of the greenness that I found the last time I served a Le Pin up at Gleneagles. But then this bottle has at least another 12 years of bottle age on that one.
Cursing the sore throat that has been building up all day, I cant really taste much, which is a shame, who knows when I will next get the chance to taste this wine again. I decant it carefully and then we are good to go. After finishing their pre-dinner drinks the gentlemen move through to the restaurant, and its showtime. As the guest swirls the wine in his glass his nasal passages are assualted with flavour and a huge grin breaks out on his face. Relief washes over me and a smile breaks out on my face. A new personal best for the most expensive single bottle of wine Ive sold, and also the most expensive bottle Ive sold here at the Grosvenor.
I went on to have a cracking night, selling some great old clarets and loads of really good (and expensive) Armagnacs and whiskies. Good sales snowball into other good sales, and Im on fire tonight. Bring on tomorrow!!
Friday, July 14, 2006
The Nez du Vin is a funky big red binder full of little bottles of aromas. It has 54 reference samples of various aromas associated with wine. The idea is that you can train your nose to recognise aromas, and hence begin to build up the knowledge and experience to identify wines in blind tastings. There are several different versions of the kit, including wine faults, which we got last year, red wines, white wines, bordeaux wines, and new to the range is the Nez du Cafe and Nez du Cigare with the various aromas that you find in coffee and cigars respectively.
So now that we have the kit, the idea is to start doing some nosing exercises with Danny to build up both our proficiency in nosing. Should be fun.
More information can be found at www.lenez.com.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
As is usually the case for event such as these, the numbers were all over the place. When restauranteurs and hoteliers get invited out, it is often difficult to know for sure if they are going to turn up. Ive lost track of the number of events that Ive been invited to then had to pull out at the last minute because of a work commitment. It's frustrating for me as an attendee to have to pull out, it's more so for the hosts as they inevitably end up paying for all those missing covers. Especially so with the last minute no-shows and cancellations.
Anyway, for the lunch today we started off with the Taittinger Brut NV. A nice lightly sparkling, easy drinking champagne. Predominantly chardonnay followed by Meunier then Pinot Noir this was a crisp fruity wine, with three years of age during the secondary fermentation.
For the starter we went straight to the tete de cuvee, the Comte de Champagne 1995. A blanc de blancs from six grand cru villages - Cramant, Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil, Chouilly and Pierry. Fruity, buttery, nutty, vibrantly perfumed. Of all the prestige cuvees, it is one of my favourites.
For the main course we poured the 1998 Vintage. Predominantly chardonnay, this has a much fruitier character than the Comte, due to the inclusion of the Pinots Noir and Meunier. I have to say I liked this wine a lot. When I was checking the bottles there was a lot of bottle variation, with one bottle being corked (good thing I checked them!!) and one bottle was borderline. Justin told the assembled diners that he felt it was a shame this wine was often overlooked as people jumped from the brut tradition to the Comte. I have to agree, if you miss this, then you really are missing out on a superb champagne.
For dessert we poured the Rose, which was quite surprising in a number of ways. First of all, it is in a clear bottle, which is quite unusual for any champagne much less a rose. It has quite a dark colour, which comes from its process of blending red wine from Bouzy with the vins clair. Apparently the percentage is 13% red wine, which enables Taittinger to maintain a consistent colour. Ultimately for the Grande Marques consistency is their aim.
So all in all, some really quite nice champagnes, and a fantastic meal was enjoyed by all.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
So I got my recipe, which was a roasted loin of rabbit, with prune, belly and langoustines, from Jun Tanaka of Pearl restaurant. Its an interesting recipe and it is similar to a dish that Chef produces here. So my suggestion for the wine is a New Zealand Pinot Noir from Mount Edward, based in Gibbston, Central Otago. The current vintage is 2003, but we are still pouring the 2001. Its a big, fairly full bodied red, unusual for a pinot. On the nose, it has dense black fruity flavours with hints of spice and a touch of white pepper. Being quite young it retains its youthful acidity which will help break down the flavours of the langoustine, and its tannic backbone with cut through the fattyness of the rabbit belly and streaky bacon the loin is wrapped in.
So the judges are tasting the wines against the dish next friday, Im not sure when it is being published, but I would imagine that it will be fairly soon. Im quite looking forward to reading it and seeing what else is recommended. This will be the third time that Ive done the challenge, lets hope I get a better score than last time, and hence show some progression.
Well Ive completed my sabrage and been invested into the Confrere du Sabre d'Or as a Sabreur. Here you can see that I had a small audience, what you dont see is that I made an arse of the first attempt. Despite having done it many many times before, whenever I have an audience I always seem to not quite apply enough pressure on the first shot. Call it my practice swing if you will.
Anyway the next step is to perform a sabrage in front of the Ambassador Julian White to become a Chevalier. Hopefully I will get an opportunity to do that quite soon.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Hopefully I'll be able to get a picture of the event and post it online tomorrow.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Now I dont like whisky, but a bit part of my role is to know about these products, and to be able to sell them, I have to know them. So I was prepared to sacrifice myself for the furtherment of my education. Now after many years of doing this, Ive kind of developed a method to tasting spirits, that allows me to get the flavour, without to much alcohol burn, and that usually involves me allowing the minutest amount of spirit into my mouth. But today I got a pleasant surprise, I actually found that I enjoyed some of the whiskies, and I even found two that I could drink (alas their price means that I wont be able to!!). It got me thinking about how my palate is maturing, and how a product that even five years ago I couldnt possibly drink, now starts to appeal to me. The one whisky that really caught my attention was the Glenmorangie 30year old. Its distinctive packaging - a solid brown box with leather straps - together with the undestated label give it the air of something a bit different. The whisky itself has a slightly rose tint to it, and a really vibrant nose of dried fruits, spices and soft nutty - kind of walnut whip like aroma. On the palate it is amazingly smooth, with an opening flavour similar to biting into a fresh peachskin, with more typical fruit cake flavours and a dundee marmalade character underneath. The Oloroso cask aging lends a sultana, baked spiced apple sort of flavour. So smooth and rich I could still taste it five minutes later. I actually was reluctant to pour the last drop out in order to try the next bottle.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
For summer glugging, I absolutely love a Moscato d'Asti. Light fruity white wine, from Italy. One of my favourites is the Prunotto Moscato d'Asti which is a DOCG. This is a light fruity white, only about 9% alcohol, so you can swig a few bottles and still walk. For sitting in the summer sun, with a bowl of strawberries and melon you cant beat it. Lightly sparkling, with a fruity sweetness - that kind of unmistakable grapey flavour that only moscato seems to have.
Bonny Doon Vineyards, Clos de Gilroy Grenache. I first tried this wine last year when we did a Rhone Rangers Dinner in the Arkle. Alex Krause from BDV vineyards came over and presented their wines. We started with the Vin gris de Cigare, before having the Cigare Blanc, then the Clos de Gilroy with the intermediate. Wow, what a cracking red wine, rich purple fruit flavours, a modicum of tannins, enough to cut through red meats and smokey flavours (it works really well with a Duke of Berkshire smoked pork belly that we serve right now.), but not too much that its a heavy red. I'd class this as a medium bodied red, with all the flavour and intensity of a full bodied red. Apparently Randall Grahm is trying to position it as something in the style of a Grenache Nouveau, and seems to be getting closer to this aim, as the 2004 was harvested early enough to have the wine released by the 18th November. With its funky label which at first looks a bit like Oscar Wilde, to the frankly bizarre notes on the rear label, this is a wine that is set to challenge your conceptions and expand your horizons.
So thats my take on wine blog wednesday 23. If Im lucky the weather will hold out to the weekend and I might get the opportunity to try out the wines on Sunday.