Saturday, August 26, 2006

Petrus 1981

Table of four, the name looks familiar, I hope it is one of our regulars. They drink decent burgundy and are nice easy folks to keep happy. On a busy saturday night the more easy table the better. Especially as Danny is away on holiday. Anyway as the guests roll in, they look familiar, but it isnt who I hoped it was. Pre-dinner drinks, canapes, Paco takes their food order and all seems well. I glance over at the "host" who's immersed deep in the wine-list oblivious to all around him. So I give him some time and approach the table.

"Whats this like?" he asks pointing to the Latour 1950. I compose my thoughts and tell him the truth. Its a mature claret with remnants of fruit flavour and character, but its not a wine to linger over. The last two bottles I served were flat by the time I had poured them into the glass. "Is that the only Latour you have?". Im afraid so, although I missed the boat this afternoon getting my purchase order for £2502 worth of claret. Didnt order any Latour because I couldnt afford it. So he flicks through a few more pages and settles for a Petrus 1981. Not a bad start to the night at £700 a bottle.

The wine was a bit hazy with a fine suspension of sediment (it was transported from the cellar in a dumb waiter). Not the best start. The nose was a bit restrained with elderberry, old leather and a hint of prune. I didnt actually taste it, because I had a mouthfull of Dry River Pinot noir 2004 just minutes earlier and the flavours were still doing the tango on my tastebuds. But truth be told, if I was paying £700 for it, I would be a bit disappointed. Other than that, a pretty vanilla night. Everything went quite smoothly and Ive just got about six hours to do tomorrow with the stocktake then Im off for nine days. Bliss.

Best Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy

In anticipation of the new wine list we've done a bit of shopping. As part of that Ive managed to get my hands on six bottles of one of the most expensive pinots outside of Burgundy - Dry River Pinot Noir. Coming from Martinborough on the North Island of New Zealand, Dry River has an excellent reputation for its wines. Headed by Dr Neil McCallum their wines are almost all sold on allocation with about 40% being exported. Top of the range is the Pinot Noir. This is a beastie of a wine - black tea and sticky bun aromas round out with violets and alpine strawberries, with the same flavours on the palate and an undercurrent of red berries and cassis. There's also a sort of roasted cashew nut flavour that comes in and out of focus with fairly firm tannins. Really the 04 should be resting in a cellar somewhere for another few years before being listed, but it will drink well now with a decanting and at least an hour or so to open up.

Im led to believe that only six dozen bottles a year are imported into the UK, so we were very fortunate to lay our hands on six of them. But with the price tag of £115 a bottle, I doubt they will fly off the shelves. But then again if the price of the La Tache is too much for you, then I reckon this would make a reasonable alternative from the new world.


As a sommelier I have to walk a fine line between between helpful and being percieved as a smart-ass know-it-all. ( I would like to state here that I have never, nor would ever claim to know it all. It really scares me how little I do know in the grand scale of things.)People get scared when they see me approach them. They think (again wrongly) that Im going to try and sell them that monster £5000 grand bottle they saw on the wine-list. Or that Im going to lord it over them making them look stupid in front of their dining companion(s). If I ever do any of the above please feel free to slap me!

I often find myself confronted with the dilemma of when to correct peoples misconceptions or enlighten their ignorance. When somebody tells me they dont like chardonnay then goes and orders a chablis, what am I supposed to do? Personally I feel obliged to point out to them somehow, that what they are really trying to say is that they dont like oaked chardonnay. Its a tricky thing to do without sounding patronising or being condescending. But I must point it out to them, if for no other reason than to allow them the opportunity to expand their knowledge of wine and try new things. After many years doing this, I think that I have managed to do it now without offending anyone, without being patronising, and without ever being condescending. And for the most part, people are happier that they now know a little bit more about wine, and feel that little bit more confidant when ordering wine in a restaurant.

See we not only provide food and wine, but education too. Isnt it a wonderful experience.

The Circus is in town.

I feel like one of those plate spinners at the moment, with four or five plates spinning on a pole, and trying to keep up with them all and making sure that I dont drop one. My first day back after five days off, and you spend the first hour or so catching up with the gossip, whats happened, any problems, any wines missing, have all the orders come in, are my new wines in yet etc etc. With it being Chester Races, the afternoon wasnt anticipated to be busy, although the Library was full. Now Ive only got two more days and Im off for nine days in total. But Ive got a ton of stuff still to do. The Brasserie wine list has been tasted and the new wines agreed. Ive costed them out and priced up the new wines. Now we need to confirm availability with the suppliers, vintages and try to manouvre the price down on those wines we want to offer by the glass.

Wine-list 3.0 has now evolved into 3.2, and is ready for the next approval, checking and proof-reading. We've tweaked the colouring a bit, added some underlining to highlight the headers and just made a few more cosmetic changes. Ive still got about twelve wines that havent made an appearance yet, so they need to be chased, and if neccessary re-ordered from alternative suppliers. Ive also been given £5000 to spend. £2500 on old claret and £2500 on other wines of my choice. The catch is the clarets need to be on Ross's desk for signature by the 31st (middle of my holiday) and the other £2500 gets signed off in a one-er too. So Im in the middle of trawling through broking lists and compiling my wish-list of one-off wines that will add a bit of fun to the list.

The cellar is a mess, and although technically that isnt really my responsability to sort out, I feel compelled to do it. Ultimately it is my cellar, so I need to be the guide when it gets organised so that when I take people on a cellar tour I know where stuff is. Thats the bugger of it, it's going to take a few days of concentrated effort to lick the place into shape, and I suspect that I'm going to have to draft in some help for that too. Well you cant have an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

On the subject of messes, the office is getting a bit dishevelled at the moment. The real pisser is that Ive been off for a week, and although Im the first to admit it wasnt sparkling clean when I left it was a hell of a lot better than it is now. I know Im gonnae get the blame for it being a dump as well, so Im gonna have tae clean her up on Sunday after we've finished the stocktake.

And Joy of Joys weve got our monthly chore of Stocktake to do on Sunday. This is going to be Mike's first solo stocktake, although he's going to have Will there as well. Im quite apprehensive about this one as theres been a lot of transition down there, and I got a bad feeling about the impending result. Of course that impacts where it really hurts - my paycheck.

So the plates are spinning, and I'd better get going and keep my eye on them.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Normal service might resume on Friday

Im off now for a few days R&R (with three kids I'll be bloody lucky {R & R ought to stand for riots and ruckus}). Back on Friday for the jamboree that we know and love as Chester Races starts to wind down the season. Im off up to Glasgow for a few days, and hopefully I'll get a chance to nip up the road to Gleneagles and catch up with a few mates.


A Few Good Wines

Tonight got off to a bad start. With a relay of six already sitting on the books, before we had even opened the doors at seven we had picked up another resit for two, the ceiling started dripping water onto table twelve and then we pick up another table of two, who didnt like their booking in the Brasserie. Ten resits was set to be a new record for us, and one that we would rather not set. Resits have the potential to really screw up our evening, if the first tables are late then the likelihood of us getting the table back in time to turn it around for a 9:00pm resit are pissed out the window. But we get our heads down and make the best of a bad situation. Service starts and the flow soon picks up. Ive got a pre-order in for a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1990, which is a great start to the evening. I have a soft spot for Mouton, more so than any other claret. I must have tried about seven or eight different vintages of Mouton and I can honestly say I havent had a poor one yet, even in marginal vintages it still shines. Of the first growths, the ninety Mouton has probably been the slowest to blossom, but its starting to really open out now, and with another decade or two ahead of it, by good this wine is going to be good.

The label image was one of Francis Bacon's last pieces of work before his death in 1992.

The wine has a brooding spicy note to the aromas of sweet black fruit with jammy plums and xmas spices in there too. Each sniff brings different smells and characters - oaky spicy notes mingle with the fruit and suggest a full flavoured, rich wine. On the palate it is deceivingly soft and feminine with fine tannins supporting rich black fruit flavours, with oaky toasted characters weaving through the flavours. If possible I would say this tastes expensive. It would be interesting to see if I could distinguish it from a cheaper Pauillac tasted blind. An exercise perhaps for when I win the lottery!! I was pleasantly surprised when I opened a bottle of 1995 Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux-St-Jacques 1er Cru by Denis Mortet and found similarities in the nose.

Just over a hectare in size, the Lavaux St Jacques vineyard is a premier cru vineyard just next to the Clos St Jacques. Using old vines and a meticulous vineyard management which includes ruthless de-stemming, debudding and pruning to reduce the yields down to the bare minimum. The fields are all deep ploughed in order to force the vines to dig deep to find nourishment. The end result from this is a very small quantity of super premium fruit, rich concentrated flavours with intensity. This is reduced even further with a severe triage in the vineyard then a further triage at the winery. Only the very best and ripest fruit is used. It is de-stemmed before vinification in concrete cuves of various sizes. With the pigeage being done as many as four times a day at the peak of the cuvaison, that is as much intervention as the wine will recieve. A period of maturation in predominantly new oak, the wines are allowed to undergo malo-lactic fermentation to soften out the acids and then bottles unfiltered and often unfined. That means these are not clear wines, there is often a fine sediment suspended in there, and personally I feel that adds to the character of the wine.

At first the wine presented similarly spicy notes on the nose with plummy fruits in the background and a hint of ripened raspberries. There was a deep aroma of dark chocolate with raw beetroot flavours in there too. Bloody marvelous wine from a dedicated and passionate producer. Tragically he took his own life earlier this year for reasons that are unclear. The legacy of his wines continues.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wine-list 3.0 ready for beta testing

Finished the first draft of the new wine-list. Initial response from Paco and Greg is very good. Some small adjustments to make, underlining headers to distinguish them from the main body of the list, tweaking some of the empty spaces by adding some graphics - label images etc. But over all the response is good. Im very happy with it, although I know there will be a couple of weeks of proof-reading - checking bottles against the description to make sure everything matches up. All being well, and subject to the approval of the MD we go live at the beginning of September.

Now to get working on version 3.1.

Mmm the force is strong in him.

Whilst out at a beer tasting on Monday night, I got a text from young Daniel, my apprentice/commis/bitch, telling me that he'd just sold two bottles of Petrus 1997 in La Brasserie. Obviously he was rather excited about this, and quite rightly too. It was a good sale, and he got a chance to perform for himself the rituals of service, not to mention he got the opportunity to taste it. Good effort young jedi, I can see you are learning what I teach you!!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Helping Out

Working in a hotel, it is inevitable that you will recieve many calls for help from other departments. They need help covering someone who just phoned in sick, they're getting hammered with walk-ins, there's just been a huge delivery, etc etc. I always try to help if I am able, and usually end up helping even if Im not. After all the more you help others, the more likely they are to help you when you need it. Thats the situation I found myself in this morning.

Henning, the Brasserie manager, asked if there was anybody free to help out for a short while with breakfast. Those words strike fear into the hearts of the bravest of men and women. Breakfast is the combat zone - full scale conflict, its never pretty, but less so on a Sunday morning, staring down the back of a full house on Saturday. There is just something about mornings that makes people cranky and irritable. Im speaking from experience here, because I hate mornings, Im a night owl kind of person. Needless to say my two co-workers this morning didnt volunteer, so I felt obliged to help. Now I really hate helping out in an environment where I know nothing, and the brasserie falls fair and square right into that category. I dont know table plans, layouts, where the mis-en-place is, the menu, anything. I dont work in there so why would I? So I volunteered to clear tables - thats almost always a safe bet, and its fairly straightforward. Besides that also the one crucial job on a sunday morning scrimmage - clearing tables - because there are always loads of relays.

So armed with my squirt bottle of cleaner and a couple of cloths, I set about polishing the empty tables so they can be relayed. Then I start clearing the dirty tables that people have left. I've had some bad experiences doing that, where I've accidently cleared someones table while they have been up at the buffet. That didnt go down too well!!! And all the while Im doing this I start recalling some of the nightmares that I experienced at Gleneagles working the breakfast shift until I refused to do it anymore. For the six months that I stayed in staff accomodation up at the Glen, the sommeliers were regularly rostered on for Sunday breakfast. Now that truly was a combat zone. Breakfast was served then from 7am until 10:30am. Guess what time 70% of residents chose to come down for breakfast. 10am. The first three hours were dead, the odd guest who happens to be an early riser, or have a longe return home ahead of them, then come 10am BANG - you get slaughtered. The queue ran from the restaurant doors all the way up the long corridor until it got to the bar, then it snaked round the corner and got tangled up with reception. People start off grumpy, then they get frustrated then anger sets in, then they get really stroppy and start mouthing off. We used to have a couple of guys run up and down the corridor fetching them muffins, juice and tea or coffee to try and ease the pain a bit (for them and us!!). Then the carnage begins as they get seated and set about demolishing the buffet. The buffet was staffed by six people (I always insisted on working the hot buffet) and three runners who just constantly replenish the trays. Those poor buggers run miles each and every morning backwards and forwards from the kitchen. Then as soon as it all started, its all over. Its 11:30 and youve got one hour to completely reset the restaurant for lunch. That is why I hate sundays, or more specifically working on a sunday. Luckily the Arkle is closed on sundays so I dont have to suffer the pain. But today has brought back some unpleasant memories, and thankfully it is only once in a blue moon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Quality Control

Last night we had a VIP dinner upstairs in one of the function rooms. The group finance director was dining with what seemed to be all the main accountants within Grosvenor. The host is a very powerful man, after all he effectively controls the Duke's money. Needless to say everyone was stressing about the dinner, from the MD down to the M&PD boys and girls who were serving it. I got dragged into the pre-event panic and ended up performing a spot of quality control. I had to open and check every bottle of wine that was due to be served that evening.

Now normally I like this part of the job, after all I get to taste the wine. But yesterday I had the headache from hell. Nurofen was powerless against it, even the old faithful standby of a piece of dark chocolate 70% cocao mass, didnt get through. So when you feel like that, its a bit more of a challenge to motivate yourself to taste twenty bottles of wine. I also had the challenge that almost immediately afterwards I was intending to drive home. Im always cautious about this. Im a responsable person, and if Im driving I dont drink. On an evening service I wont taste anything after 10pm, which usually gives me two hours until I go home. More than enough time to remove any alcohol from my system. After all I probably consume less than 10ml of wine in an evening, which in real terms is less alcohol than you would absorb into your bloodstream after using mouthwash.

So what were the wines - the white was a very nice Arneis from Ascheri, the "Christina" which is named in honour of the winemakers mother. Coming from the Langhe hills of Piedmont it has crisp green apple aromas on the nose, with a hint of pear and I think it is possibly thyme - mediterranean herb. One the palate it is very fresh with a good crisp acidity, medium light body, with the same green apple flavours but with a finish that reminds me of quince paste.

We dragged out one of the big boys for the red - a Chambertin grand cru - "Clos de Beze" from Drouhin-Laroze. An intensely flavoured pinot, with dark red fruit flavours - morello cherry, blackberry, with a gamey surrounding aroma and earthy notes. This one had a really intense flavour on the palate, but the layers dissolved away gently revealing more, over all a very complex wine. Initially the cherrys and blackberries were quite strong, then redcurrents and raspberries, then it became more meaty, like a well aged fillet, succulent and tender. I thought I got a smokey edge on the palate, but it might have been a slight fault, as it only came up on two of the ten bottles. Surprisingly there wasnt much bottle variation, as they were 99's they've only really had about four or five years in bottle, so thats about right. The good news was, no corked bottles, all fit for serving. So I squiggle my initials in the top left hand corner of each label, and we're all ready to rock and roll. Of I trot, as confidant as I can be that all is well with the wines.

PS - the red wine was very well recieved, and for another day Im in the good books.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Holidays for most - Yay, but not for me - boo!!!

The Arkle is now closed for a week so that the chefs and all can get some holiday time in. But someone has to stay and keep an eye on things in the Library, so Im still working (boo!!!). But it should give me a bit of a chance to do some more work on Wine-list 3.0, which is about a third of the way through. Hopefully I ought to get some time to do a bit of training with young Danny as well. And I know that Im probably going to spend more than a few hours down in the cellar helping Mike to get it sorted out. So that week is going to disappear in no time, and then its only a week left till I go on holiday (yay!!!!!!)

Nasal Pollution

Tonight Ive had my sense of smell assaulted by people (women) wearing way too much perfume. Now I love the smell of most perfumes, and its something that I find very erotic. Certain perfumes really light my fire, and two of the offending aromas tonight fall into that bracket. But its a real turn-off when the person is wearing so much perfume that the alcohol is burning the membranes of your nose, and in one case tonight my eyes actually started watering due to the alcohol fumes. She must have bathed in the damn stuff!!! Less is more people, please!!!

Why is this a problem you might think, apart from the prospect of horny waiters running around the restaurant. Well for me my sense of smell is an important tool in my role. I need to be able to assess the state of a wine by its smell and if my nasal passages are overwhelmed by the smell is Issay Miyake, or Chanel then the subtle aromas of a 1985 Corton Bressandes are just lost. So please, for my sake, go easy on the perfume.

On the subject of smells, Ive been doing some training with young Daniel this week using the Nez du Vin kit. I pull out ten random aroma bottles and we both nose them and try to deduce the scents. The little swine has been better at it than me, with a higher success rate. But its quite an interesting exercise. Its amazing how certain scents trigger memories, but you cant quite place where you recognise the aroma from. We had one particular scent which I knew I recognised, but couldnt quite place it. For some reason I associated it as a sweet flavour, which is strange because you cannot actually smell sweet. I was also aware that I didnt particularly like the object that it reminded me of. Not really sure how I knew that but I did. Then it dawned on me - my little girl had been given a roll of parma violets recently and that was the aroma that I recognised. Sure enough when we checked the crib sheet, the aroma in question was violets. Funny the tricks that you mind plays on you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday 24 - Loire Whites

Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday dear Wine Blog Wednesday, Happy Birthday to youououououou!!!!

Two years old, and growing. This is my fourth entry into the gathering that is WBW. This anniversary theme is Loire Valley whites, chosen by Alder at Vinography.

This is a bit easier to choose than the last two. Ive gone for a classic Loire white, that used to be immensely popular, but then became kind of naff. Back in the day, when I first really got "into" wine one of the first food and wine matches that I learnt about was seafood and Muscadet. More specifically mussels and muscadet. I quite liked the muscadet but wild horses wouldnt get me to choke down another moule (or for that matter oyster). But Muscadet suffered from a bad rep in the early nineties as demand for it encouraged lower quality wines to flood into the UK market. It also suffered under the onslaught of New Zealand savvy's and other wines from the new world.

About two years ago, I revisited the wine, when Geoffroy the wine rep from a small french company turned up here with a bag full of samples. There were some great wines there, including a Cour Cheverny which is made from the Romorantin grape which was quite unusual, but the one that stood out for me was the Domaine R de la Grange Muscadet "Vielle Vignes". With an average age of 60 years the vines produce less fruit but more flavoursome and concentrated berries. Crisp, clean, and with the autolytic character that comes from its resting "sur lies" . Served cold this wine is a perfect summer quaffer.

Appearance: Pale straw colour, with light watery rim.

Nose: Clean pronounced aromas of Mr Kiplings apple pies - pastry yeastiness and green apple aromas, with undertones of citrus.

Palate: Crisp acidity and dryness. Appley flavours masked with pastry/yeasty taste following into a ruby grapefruit kind of flavour. Mouthwateringly acidic, with no sweetness at all on the palate. Medium short length with clean finish.

Check out Remy's website (in French) for more information.