Saturday, September 30, 2006

The learning never ends

Found out that one of the best wine books to be printed over the last few years has just published it latest annual version. Edited by Tom Stevenson, the Wine Report 2007 is without any doubt the most comprehensive report on what has happened in the wine world over the last year and trends that will affect the upcoming year. All this insider information comes from the leading experts in their fields, Clive Coates, Serena Sutcliffe, David Peppercorn, Tom Stevenson, John Radford, John & Erica Platter, Huon Hooke, Tom Cannavan and the list goes on. Best of all , it will only set you back a tenner. Im picking up my copy tomorrow on the way to the airport, for a bit of plane reading.

Twelve hours to go.

Well in just slightly over twelve hours time, I will be in a jet plane flying off to Geneva before driving up to Gevrey-Chambertin for the harvest with Bernard Vallet. My case is almost packed, I think that Ive tied up the most important loose ends here, and all thats left to do is come in at 8am tomorrow and start off the stocktake. Hopefully I might get access to a computer and the internet over the next week and I will be able to post some pictures and updates on what Im up to, if not it will have to wait until Friday.

The Bells, the Bells.

Well it was more like the sirens actually, last night the fire alarms sounded half-way through a busy friday night service. Every chefs worst nightmare, luckily for us most of the guests were between courses or finishing them off. You see these days most kitchens have safety valves that shut the gas off when the alarms sound. Quite sensible really, as you dont want the kitchen blowing the building into matchsticks as the gas mains goes all Buncefield on us. So after persuading everyone to evacuate the restaurant and hotel (not really all that difficult when people realise that the kitchen with its gas main is next door), we spend the next ten minutes standing in the cold watching pissed up folks meandering up to the chefs with their inevitable "funny" comments - " Hey Gordon (Ramsay) did ya burn the toast again!!". After getting the all clear from the Snr Fire Officer we can re-enter the building and try to get the service back on track. Three things worked in our favour last night. 1) It wasnt too cold - the ladies that stood outside in their fancy dresses didnt freeze too much. 2) It wasnt raining 3) We had a really nice crowd of folks in last night, who were understanding, patient and didnt try to screw us for "compensation". That said we did a bit of pre-emptive striking and offered everyone a wee glass of champagne on the house to apologise for the inconvenience and disturbance to their meals. The kitchen got their groove back quite quickly and all was well that ended well. I love it when it all comes together nicely.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Close, but maybe a biscuit.

I was down in London yesterday attending the Academy of Food and Wine Service's annual academy awards. By virtue of me applying for a travel bursary with Kendall-Jackson, I was on tenderhooks waiting to see if I had been successful. As I met up with Robin Tookey from Kendall-Jackson, who was the person who ultimately decided who got the bursary, I found out that I had come a close second. So close in fact that he had decided to try and organise me a runner-up prize. It was good to get such feedback and for a chance to do some networking and meet some previous acquaintances and some new faces. I even got a veiled job offer!! Food for thought.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stop press!! Dom Perignon 1959 Oenotheque

The neck just got brassier!!

Young Danny was showing the group of golfers round the cellar when he showed them the Dom Perignon Oenotheque wines. As we are a depositaire for the Oenotheque range we have a wide range of Oenotheque from 1959 to the latest release 1992. Bugger me if he hasnt gone and sold a bottle of the 1959 at £1500 a bottle. That makes out total sales of that vintage to five bottles. Pretty impressive.

I havent tasted it this time, but tomorrow I'll get young Danny to write a tasting note to post here himself. He deserves some major credit for that. Good arrows Dannyboy!!

This time next week...

Im gonnae be in Gevrey Chambertin up to my nuts in a vat of grapes crushing them with my feets the old fashioned way. But dont worry, my feet are really clean, no athlete's foot or verucca's on my feet. Being in a job that will often involve me being on my feet for the better part of the day, I do actually take good care of my feet. Each night after a short soak, I scrub the dead skin off with a pumice board, before rubbing Boot's Botanics overnight foot treatment into them. The lavender revitalises them and the witchhazel is an antiseptic which keeps them nice and healthy. My feet feel nice and refreshed in the morning. Wear proper cotton socks and not cheap nylon and wearing real leather uppers so that they can breathe also helps. Keeping them cooped up in plastic shoes or nylon socks encourages the feet to sweat and the materials just ensure that the sweat pools and gathers leading to athletes foot and other fungal nasties.

And on that pleasant note, its time I went home and washed my poor aching feet.

The force is strong in him.

Young Danny has been particularly impressive tonight. He's got some brass neck on him, but it seems to have paid off as he's just sold two bottles of d'Yquem to a group of eight golfers. One bottle of 1967 at £850 and one bottle of 76 at £530. Got to give him credit for the fact that he tried to get the geezer to go for the 1921 at £3950. But I suppose that sometimes that youthful exhuberance does indeed pay-off.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

New Beers on the menu

On thursday next week we are changing the beers in the Library and Brasserie. This is the result of nearly two years worth of tasting and discussions with Wyn Reece of Fantone distribution. About a month or so ago, Andre, Henning and myself drove down to Altrincham to visit their HQ and taste a few beers. The visit was very educational for me, as beer is something that I havent really gotten into since my student days visiting the Camra beer festivals (a reasonably cheap way to get trolleyed!!).

So for me the beers that really stood out and excited my palate were these:

Little Creatures Pale Ale - a fantastic pale ale from Freemantle in Australia that is made by a consortium of winemakers including Janice McDonald of Stella Bella/Suckfizzle and Phil Sexton of Devils Lair and Giant Steps Winery. The bitter elements of the flavour come from their use of the whole hop flowers, and this is kept in balance with crisp grapefruity flavours with a touch of honeyed sweetness.

Orval - genuine Trappist beer from the Vallee d'Or in Luxembourg. Their use of wild natural yeasts results in a slightly sour edge to the otherwise hoppy, and autolytic yeasty flavours.

Mort Subite Kriek - one of my favourite beers of the tastings - a Lambic beer, that is one that is allowed to begin fermentation spontaneously from wild airborne yeasts. Cherries are added to the beer during fermentation to sweeten the otherwise sour flavour, giving the beer a bright reddish colour and a fine fruity flavour with real smoothness to it.

I must try and find a way of integrating some of these into the gastronomic menu, to create a wider tasting experience.

To London I must go

Im off down to London on thursday for the Academy of Food and Wine Service's annual awards luncheon. Ive applied for a travel bursary with Kendall-Jackson and the lucky recipient is being announced and awarded on Thursday at the lunch. So fingers crossed.

Then Ive got to rush back up here and get into work for about 7pm, as we have a few tables in that night. Gonna be a long day!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Say what???!!

One of the things that most of us who work here love about our jobs is dealing with people. One of the things that most of us hate is dealing with people. Naturally being actively involved in the service of alcohol, we get to see people at their very best and sometimes at their very worst. Generally speaking we aim not to see them in that state, but alas some people just shouldnt be out in adult company.

Anyway, one of the joys of dealing with people is the number of insane questions that we face on a daily basis. Some are comical, many are interesting, more than a few are bizarre and some are just downright daft. We always try to respond in an appropriate manner, but sometimes it is hard. When the customer asks you if the pigeons are caught locally, what are we supposed to say?? I swear sometimes it is hard to keep a straight face.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tempranillo Joven

Had a visit today from Duncan Ferguson and Susana Fernandez of Cascabel winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia. They had been showing their wines at a dinner last night at Establishment, and as I had been unable to attend they wanted me to see their wines, so they came to me. Im glad they did, for the wines that they showed me were fantastic and Im planning on putting one of them on by the glass in the Library.

The first red that I tasted from them was the Tempranillo Joven, which is a kind of spanish take on beaujolais nouveau. The idea is that the wine undergoes minimal oak and is usually released as soon after the vintage as possible. This is a bit easier in Australia were the grapes are often harvested from April onwards. The nose had loads of fruit character with no perceptable oak flavours. I wouldnt have guessed it was a tempranillo blind because Ive never tried a tempranillo without the more dominant oak characters. This wine has seen some oak though, three months in used french oak, just enough to take the edge off the fruit and add a bit of depth and a touch of tannin. Only 13% alcohol which is great. A good easy drinking red with loads of fruit character and some depth to it, I reckon this would make a good replacement for the Julienas we are selling by the glass just now.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Down to Earth kind of wine

We hosted a lunch this afternoon in the Arkle for a _______ of hoteliers. (What is the collective noun for that?). For the starter they had a superb little bordeaux blanc from Chateau Bauduc. I first came across this wine when I worked at Amaryllis, as it is Gordon Ramsay's "house" wine. Back then Gavin and Angela had only been making the wine for about three vintages, and it was a good little wine, quite easy drinking, very pleasant and at a bargain basement price. Since then, they have invested huge amounts of time, and I suspect money into the estate, and the wines are seriously good, but they pretty much maintain that bargain basement price point. The 2005 Blanc is a blend of 90% Sauvignon and 10% Semillon to add a bit of body. It is crisp and fresh, with a refreshingly tangy acidity which worked really well with the cured scallop ravioli, and pea shoot bisque.

Gavin is coming over next year to do a gourmet evening in the Arkle, on Tuesday the 27th February. It is an interesting story that someday soon I ought to tell here.

PS a quick google search fails to enlighten me as to the collective noun for hoteliers, but it has thrown up these posibilities - an asylim of hoteliers (promising), a bed of hoteliers (appropriate) but my favourite - a charm of hoteliers.

Mouton Again!!!

I had an interesting conversation last night with one of the guests at Dining Club. The fellow is a regular at our gourmet evenings, and usually hosts a large table at almost all of the dinners. We were discussing the particularly fine red wine that I had selected to go with the main course. A 1994 Tenuta dell'Onellaia Masseto, 100% merlot, regarded as the Italian Petrus. Somehow we got to talking about other fine wines, and he told me a fantastic description for an 82 Mouton.

While dining at a friends house in Maryland, USA, they chose a bottle of 82 Mouton from his hosts extensively stocked cellar. While enjoying the wine, they got to talking about how you would describe such a divine wine, and Mr M. chose to describe it thus: "Imagine the most fantastically sexy pair of legs, clad in the finest, silkiest stockings. This mouton is like stroking the upper thigh of those legs" How cool is that!!!! I totally understood what he meant by that description, and so did many of the other gentlemen in the room last night!! So now Ive just got to get some 82 Mouton, so when someone asks me what it is like, well you know what Im going to say, dont you!

Coming back to earth.

I had a slightly humbling experience last night after work. I decided to just have a quick read through some of the postings on this blog, and I noticed a worrying trend. Almost all the wines that I have mentioned have been wallet-busters, three fugure plus wines. I almost convinced myself that I could justify them as exceptional experiences, but the fact is that it presents a very skewed perception of what our wine list at the Arkle is all about. I believe I have mentioned several times that we have high operating margins, and hence our prices are a bit higher that I would find ideal, but having said that there are some great bargains to be had on the wine-list, and now more than ever the list is starting to even itself out in the price brackets, with more wines now under £50. I still think that I have some ground to make up with this, but we are making real progress. So later today (time permitting) I plan to blog about a few of these bargains on the list, and try to create a bit more balance in the wines that I present. But forgive me for the odd indulgence when I get the opportunity to sell a blockbuster wine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday - Champagne pt 2

Ran out of time, and had to go into service, so here is the remainder of my champagne selection for WBW. (

L Aubry fils, Brut Tradition, Premier Cru de Jouy-les-Reims, NV.
Meunier dominated champagne from a pair of twins, Pierre and Phillipe Aubry. They used to sell the majority of their fruit to Veuve Clicquot before branching out into their own production. They are fortunate to be in a position of farming vineyards planted to several little known varieties that due to vagaries in the Champagne AOC regs are still legal, such as Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris (known locally as Fromonteau). While the Champenois have shunned these varieties in favour of the more noble Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir, the brothers feel that they must have been grown for a reason, and that they contribute immeasurably to the overall blend of the wine.

Anyway I digress, for this wine is a blend of 40% Meunier and 30% each of Pinot Noir and chardonnay. The wine has a rich golden yellow colour to it, with a persistence of fine bubbles, and an impressive mousse. Very herbaceous on the nose with rye grass, cereal grains and germanic pumpernickel bread, followed by more fruity aromas. There are subtle aromas of whitecurrants and greengages with a hint of a floral character that I just can't pin down. These flavours are quite evident on the palate with a crisp green apple acidity that makes this a great aperitif wine. I would even be tempted to decant the wine, because it improves with opening, and the flavours become more pronounced and integrated with time in the glass. A great grower champagne for a few quid less than a grand marque!! We are selling this for £13.50 a flute at the moment, and the response has been very positive. I find this accents the flavours of a goats cheese tarte fine with roasted fig dressing quite well. (sorry no food porn to go with this. The files we have are enormous (5mb+ professional shots).

They do a wine which has the previously mentioned rarer varieties, which is called Le Nombre d'Or - Campanae Veteres Vites - which roughly translates as the Old vines of the country. It's a fantastic wine, that should be experienced at least once by anyone who loves champagne.

Wine Blog Wednesday - Champagne pt 1

Goodness gracious, thats another month flown by, and now its time for the next installment of WBW!! The host(ess) this month ( has chosen a fantastic subject - Champagne, with extra brownie points for chosing a smaller producer. Ive got no end of ideas for what I wanted to show here, as this is a subject that I got really into quite recently, and boosted the wine-list by quite a few grower champagnes. Ive just added another four champagnes in the last three weeks, including three wines from Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet. So Im gonnae start off with one of his wines.

Based around the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay, the house of Egly-Ouriet farms a modest 9 hectares of vineyards, 7 of which are devoted to Pinot Noir. With the majority of the wines sitting the right side of 30 years old, and a careful yield management which includes a vendage vert if neccessary, the production is kept to around 5 thousand cases, of which surpisingly little gets across to the UK. I was told by the merchant that supplied me, that his allocation of the brut nv is less than a dozen cases, he gets two or three cases of the rose, two cases of the blancs de noir, and about a half dozen bottles of the vintage. I guess Im lucky to have managed to get three bottles of the blancs de noir and rose then!! With this scarecity in mind, I made these notes last week, after selling a bottle (with the guests approval) to share them here today.

Egly-Ouriet Blancs de Noirs Grand Cru, Brut NV - Vielle Vigne de Pinot Noir Lieu-dit "Les Crayeres" a Ambonnay. Degorged July 2005.

It is a dark straw colour with very fine bubbles and a medium persistance of the mousse. On the nose I found an aroma of braeburn apples - those crisp greeny red efforts with a hint of sweetness to the fruit - with an exotic mushroomy character coming behind it. Almost like when the kitchen are prepping the cepes - more foresty wild mushrooms. The aromas were really quite dense with a rye bread aroma coming forward quite frequently. On the palate the bubbles dissolved effortlessly leaving flavours of wild fruits and slightly underipe pears with hints of cocao. The flavours seemed to remain on the palate for over a minute before slowly fading to more autolytic characters. As the back label states this has had 49 months on the lees, and with Egly's practice of minimal intervention in the winery and no filtration or fining of the base wines, the autolytic flavours are expected to be quite dominant, although they were never overbearing. Damn this is a great champagne and quite a bit beyond my means, so I was grateful to the generous customer who allowed me to sample their champagne. Bummer that Ive only got two bottles left!!
PS Im supposed to give some idea of what food this would go with, Sam's website being predominantly foodie, so I would put this wine with something like - Loin of Rabbit, with sweetbreads, seasonal mushrooms (Ceps, Girolles and shi-take) with a redcurrant reduction.

Time isnt in my hands

Busy week this week. Tonight we had a gourmet evening, (more about that tomorrow), tomorrow is Wine Blog Wednesday and this months theme is Champagne. Then on Thursday weve got Dining Club again, and Friday we have a function in the Arkle. Ive got loads going on in the cellar to get sorted out, and the paperwork mounts up. Wine suggestions, menu costings, wines by the glass to sort out, shopping lists to compile, gourmet events to finalise, and the list goes on. But its nearly twenty past one in the morning, and Ive got to be up early in the morning to take the wee man to playgroup. Also got to nip into Tesco's on my way home and get some bread, tights for the missus, and some other odds and sods. No rest for the wicked, and man I must have been a bad ass in my past life, cos this one's a bitch!! Karma baby!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I started looking into chocolate, and the whole single plantation thing a little while ago. The whole thing started off while I was reading Indulgence by Paul Richardson, all about his passion for chocolate and his consequent travels around the world exploring its history, origins and passage across the continent. I found a great website ( that sells all these artisan chocolates from serious producers who source their cocoa pods from various estates around the developing world. Producers like amedei, michel cluizel, domori, Valrhona and El Rey, producing high cocoa content (65-90% cocoa mass). Then I found a shop in Alderley Edge which sells most of these products (Chocolate trading company). So I decided to drive out there yesterday and pay them a visit. It was a small little shop with a tiny little reception with about seven display cases laden with the various bars that are available. The woman was really helpful and obviously quite knowledgable about the products. I left nearly twenty quid poorer with a small selection box of Michel Cluizel chocolate squares from different estates around the world, a 50g bar of Amedei Chuao 70%, a bar of Amedei white chocolate and a bar of 62% madagascar chocolate, as well as a couple of little chocolate chicks for my wee boy Joshua who came with me!! I havent tried the Michel Cluizel chocs yet, but today I had a couple of pieces of the Chuao bar. Oh My God!! It is absolutely fantastic. Slowly letting the square melt on my tongue I was amazed at the really vibrant fruity character of the chocolate - plums, red berries, with a slightly spicy finish and touch of bitterness at the back. The chocolate was really fine and melted to a fine liquid with none of the grainyness you get from commercially produced mass market chocolate. It wasnt cheap at nearly a fiver for a 50g bar, but it is in a different league to the chocolate that I would normally eat. It has also ignited a desire to try more and learn more about chocolate as a product. After all it isnt a million miles away from wine in tasting terms.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Truly madly Mouton!

We sold another bottle of Mouton 90 tonight. Each time I smell that wine, it casts its spell on me. There is something about Mouton that bewitches you. It's layers of aromas that come undone like a pass the parcel present, each time something different comes in. Red fruit and forest berries, old port pipe tobacco and well seasoned leather, hints of xmas spices, breakfast prunes,mulberries and so many other flavours and aromas that it is hard to isolate them. Well now I need to source some more Mouton, because there isnt enough for the Gourmet Dinner in December. I might try and see if I can get some large format bottles. That would be so cool, pouring Mouton 1990 from an Imperial. They weigh a bloody ton, but it doesnt half look the part.


I read the other day in Decanter that a prominent American collector of wine has recently discovered that a prize bottle within his collection has been outed as a fake. The bottle in question was sold as a 1784 Chateau Lafite said to belong to Thomas Jefferson. Now at the time of the purchase (late eighties) the bottles were authenticated by Christies experts. But when the owner lent them to a museum in Boston, the museum asked for authentication to prove the provenance of the bottles. It appears that at this stage the experts decided that the tools used to engrave the initials Th J on the bottles are not from the 18th century. Which raises an interesting point. It is likely that the engraving was added later, which obviously casts suspicion on them belonging to Thomas Jefferson. But Im unsure if the bottles actually date from the date stated. So technically are they fake? Im sure that the details that will emerge from this will make fascinating reading.

The issue of fakes is a very serious one that is on a massive increase. Serena Sutcliffe apparently commented last year that nearly twice as many 1945's were sold than were actually produced. However the bottles that they reject as suspected fakes often end up being sold through less diligent merchants and auction houses. With the hammer prices reaching four and five figures per bottle for some of these wines, it can represent some serious investment for the criminal gangs that perpetrate the counterfieting.

All of this gives me some cause for concern when we purchase our stock. This is why we use reputable merchants and only buy from recognised sources. The old adage that if it sounds too good to be true it usually is, holds especially true here. If it means that we pay a higher price for the products I would rather do that and be secure in its provenance than score a bargain that is a bit dodgy. Apparantly a lot of the fakes are seriously contaminated with methanol, which can result in blindness and serious liver damage and even death.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wine-list 3.1 and counting

Well I got a bit of a body blow yesterday when Andre told me the MD didnt like the new wine-list. I had put a fair amount of thought and effort into it, and was quite pleased with the end result. Last night I had to strip it right back to basics, and I managed to keep the essense of the new look to it, so its a compromise that I can accept. The good news is the boss loves the new revised version 3.1 so we can go with the new list tomorrow.

The Harvest approaches.

The word is coming back from France that we are all set for the harvest visit at the begining of October. All I need to do now is get the boss to sign off on the visit. As I will be back in time for the weekend I dont think they will have any issues, and they owe me for ruining my holiday anyway, but I cant take anything for granted. Im really looking forward to going as it will be an amazingly educational visit. To actually be out in the vineyards, to be involved in the process of harvesting, processing the grapes and then actually turning it into wine will stick in my mind for many years to come. Many of my peers and colleagues have told me it is an invaluable experience that just brings to life all the theory and prose in the numerous text books we have studied during our careers.

Im hoping that we will have a bit of time to explore the region a little bit and I especially want to visit Beaune because there is a bookshop there that I plan to hammer the credit card in!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Re-living the eighties.

As I walked round York the other day I noticed a lot of eighties style fashion on the young-uns (Oh my god!!! Im no longer a young-un myself). Even as you walk round the shops the muzak the store play seems to have a lot of eighties tunes or be in the style of. So tonight for my premature return from my holidays (NOT a happy bunny, neither is the missus!!) I though I would have a kind of eighties thing going on.

Philiponnat Clos des Goisses 1980 Champagne. - the original walled vineyard (Clos) in champagne, some thirty plus years before Krugs Clos de Mesnil, Clos des Goisses is as rare as hens teeth. Pinot dominated the fruit comes from a steep walled vineyard on the banks of the canal at Mareuil-sur-Ay. The wine has a beautiful straw gold colour with quite a vibrant mousse for a wine that is 26 years old. On the nose there is hazelnut latte with a hint of that seaweed that they wrap sushi with. Full flavoured with a slate like mineral flavour and an amazingly long length.

Opus One 1980. Second vintage made, and the first to be made available in the UK. When it was opened it seemed a bit dirty on the nose with an earthy farmyardy kind of aroma. Thankfully that soon cleared and we were left with quite fruity aromas of dark soft berry fruit with a mulberry and cedarwood overtone. The earthyness remained a bit, and I wonder if it maybe was a slight fault - perhaps Brett? But a good clear wine with quite a lot of fruit character considering it is over 20 years old.

La Fleur Petrus 1982. My favourite of the night. Tobacco and leather notes over a blackberry and redcurrant flavour with hints of granny's xmas pudding in for good measure!! One of my last two bottles, I reckon that I might have to try and source some more. It may well have been half the price of the La Tache that he was originally leaning towards, but this bottle would have knocked six bells out of the la tache and barely broken a sweat. Perfect complement to the duck.

Not too bad a night, considering.

And the winner is...............ME!!!!!!

I mentioned earlier that I had entered the Wine and Spirits magazine Sommelier Challenge ( Well its published in this months edition (September 2006) available from all good newsagents. And the good news is that I won!!! Out of four contestants, including Alan Holmes of Chewton Glen (ex Petrus) and Allessandro Marchesan from Zuma in Knightbridge I came top, how cool is that. I could do with the good news after the shitty week this is turning out to be. Maybe I will post about that later, depending on how certain things work out.

By the way the awful mug shot was about the best that I could do at short notice. I comes from a publicity shot taken when I had just started working here. We cropped in real tight to remove the cringeworthy pose with a bottle of Opus One.