Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gourmet 2007 - here we go again.

Tonight marks the start of our 2007 Gourmet Calendar with a dinner celebrating the wines of LVMH. For those unfamiliar with LVMH it stands for Louis Vitton Moet Hennessy and currently it stands as the world's largest luxury goods company. Their portfolio comprises of many designer goods, perfumes, luxury clothing companies and several of the worlds largest and most well know wines and drinks brands. Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Krug, Dom Perignon, Mercier, Cloudy Bay, Cape Mentelle, Hennessy Cognac, Glenmorangie whisky and many others.

Tonights dinner is mostly focussing on the Champagnes - we start tonight with Veuve Clicquot NV poured from magnums, followed by Moet Brut Imperial for the starter. With the intermediate we are pouring Veuve Clicquot Rose NV. For main course there is an Argentine malbec from Terrazes des los Andes, and with the cheese we are pouring Cloudy Bay Pinot 2004 (screwcap). We finish the meal with Moet vintage 1999.

Victor Lewis Smith revisted

In my career as a sommelier Ive been specifically named in restaurant reviews three times. Thankfully all of them positively, but none more glowing than the review we got from Victor Lewis Smith published in the Independant on New Years day back in 2005. It was a tense time for us, because I managed to identify him when he turned up for his reservation on a quiet night back in October, we then anxiouly read review after review that was published as he slated his way across the country savaging several restaurants in the process. After a while self-doubt kicks in and you wonder what trauma will befall us. When the review came out, we couldnt have asked for a better write up, and my name came out quite glowing (ego alert!!).

Skip forward nearly two years and he returns, this time he is staying in the hotel. This time we are prepared, but this time its a busy saturday night, a totally different circumstance to his last visit. The thing with journalists/reviewers/critics, is that you can never be too sure if they are on business or pleasure. After all they are people just like us, they have anniversaries, birthdays, hell sometimes they just dont want to cook. But I think that where a lot of people sometimes go wrong is to focus all your attention on them at the expense of everyone else. Classic mistake, because a good inspector/critic/reviewer will notice that and although they wont find any fault with the service that they recieved, they will note that it was at the expense of the paying customers who are forking out their own hard earned money to dine there. I guess thats why a lot of food critics prefer their anonymity.

So its fair to say that Mr Lewis Smith and his partner recieved good service on Saturday (Im confidant the review if it appears would confirm that!!??) but so did everyone else on Saturday. After all thats what we do. And what a great return to the daily grind we had. Service went really smoothly despite the large table booked smack bang in the middle of service. No rest now until January 1st 2008!!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A joke for tonight.

The Queen is opening a new hospital and is being shown around by a matron and a doctor in a white lab coat. As she approaches the first bed and asks the young man what ails him he responds - " Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the pudding-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place. Painch, tripe or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o'a grace as lang's ma arm". Bemused, her majesty moves on to the next bed and asks the young man the same question. He replies - "The deil cam fiddlin' thro' the town, And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman, And ilka wife cries, "Auld Mahoun, I wish you luck o' the prize, man." The deil's awa, the deil's awa, The deil's awa wi' the Exciseman, He's danc'd awa, he's danc'd awa, He's danc'd awa wi' the Exciseman. ". By now somewhat confused, her majesty nonetheless continues onto the next bed. Again asking what ails him she gets the response - "O my Luve's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Luve's like the melodie, That's sweetly play'd in tune. " The Queen then turns to the doctor and asks if this is some kind of mental ward, at which the doctor replies " No ma'am its the serious Burns ward!". Tonight is Burns night, and all across Scotland there will be "hunnerds" of gadgies tucking into Haggis "Neeps an tatties" and imbibing a dram or two in honour of the great bard. So with the first verse of the Selkirk grace I bid you a happy burns night.

Robbie Burns

Im back!

Well after what amounts to an entire month off work I finally returned to work today. About bloody time too!! Apart from my now bulging waistline (and neck - I can hardly breathe), there seems to have been a few changes, but nothing too major. The cellar has been tidied up somewhat, and not a minute too soon!! My office however hasnt, and was quite shocking, particularly since I havent occupied it since the 24th December. Im not saying that I left it spotless, far from it, but it became a dumping ground, that Im getting the blame for. Anyway its been squared away now, all that remains is for it to be kept tidied! (New Years resolution number 103!). Danny has been a busy little squirrel over the last few weeks, and it seems that there are a number of deletions from the wine-list that have occupied a large chunk of today. Alas his sale of my last two bottles of Hill of Grace have placed me in bit of a pickle, as my favourite guests have booked themselves in for the weekend on the spur of the moment. So they are in tonight, tomorrow night and saturday night. Oh well, it gives me the chance to let them try something else. Spent the afternoon in a tasting session with Justin Llwellyn of Champagne Taittinger, tasting our way through the new range of champagnes that have become our house pour. Must say that I was quite impressed with the Brut Reserve, the Comte was its usual high standard, just a touch young still at 98. The Prelude was different, not a big fan really. We got the chance to try the Folies de la Marquetterrie which is a single vineyard champagne which is the only Taittinger champagne to undergo oak treatment. There was a touch of corkiness to the wine, slight, but enough to taint the flavours which seemed to be bigger more brutish that the Taittinger Brut. The two roses didnt do anything to inspire me, the brut nv lacked depth of flavour and just seemed very one-dimensional. The Comte rose was ok, but failed to live up to the hype it got before we tasted it, and at the price it isnt anywhere in the same league as the DP rose. It didnt help that this wine also had a touch of cork taint to it. The 2000 vintage raised an interesting discussion on the poor performance of vintage champagne in general over the commercial success of prestige brands that carry vintages - Krug, DP, Cristal, Comte etc. It was fairly bland with not much to make it stick out. The final wine was a favourite, the Taittinger Nocturne. Released two years ago to fill a percieved gap in the market, Nocturne positions itself as a night-time champagne, to be drunk through the night or with a meal. Carrying about 18g sugar per litre, compared to the 10g/l of the brut, this is classed as a sec champagne. This was smooth, refreshing and kept you wanting more. Perfect!

Mind you now the post tasting hangover seems to be coming in to play. Oh well, no pleasure without pain.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hills of Grace

The Arkle is closed at the moment for our annual holiday, three weeks of pure bliss with no dinner service, evenings off and generally we do a bit of spring cleaning during this time. This year, we arent doing so much, because for two weeks La Brasserie is moving into the Arkle and Library while they have their floor replaced. Besides which, this year Ive taken my holidays in January to avoid a repeat of the debacle we had over summer when I was forced to return prematurely from my holidays. So it is that young Danny is holding the fort in the "Arkerie". This morning I wake up to a text from young Danny, not to mention a voicemail evidently left last night at about 9pm ish. It seems that he had an adventurous guest in who wanted a big Aussie red. Danny being young, impetuous and with balls of steel goes straight for the jugular with Henschke Hill of Grace. Damn me if the fish doesnt bite, not only once with the 1997 Hill of Grace at a wince inducing £425, but a second time with the insanely young 1999 Hill of Grace at a slightly more palateable £340. Dannys parting message - he (Danny) prefers the 97, the 99 was too strong!!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 29 - Biodynamic Wines

As Im on holiday this week, Im raiding my own "stash" for this edition of WBW. Luckily I have several bottles that qualify, probably more so than were I to raid the hotel cellars. Biodynamic wines are almost like the ultimate in niche wines. There is a lot of debate around the "effects" of biodynamic production, which follows the principles of agriculture laid down by Rudolf Steiner (of Steiner Schools "fame") in the 1800's. In a nutshell Biodynamic farming follows the cycles of the moon and hence the tidal flow of water to dictate when certain practices are carried out, planting, pruning, cropping etc. There is also a fairly strict set of dictates as to what treatments the plants may recieve, and that which comes from the soil is all returned to the soil. Practitioners of the method include the great and glorious of the wine industry across the world - Jacques Selosse, Didier Dageneau, Nicholas Joly, Ron Laughton, Jacques Seysses, Sybille Kuntz, Lalou Bize-Leroy, Aubert de Villaine, Alvario Palacios and many many more. A comprehensive list can be found at http://www.forkandbottle.com/wine/biodynamic_producers.htm which is quite fortutious as fork and bottle are the hosts of this months WBW. http://www.forkandbottle.com/wine/wblogwed/wbw_biodynamic_wine.htm
A quick look down that list shows that many of these wines are fairly expensive. They command high prices, and they regularly get them, with great reviews to boot. So maybe there is something to Biodynamic farming.

The wine that I chose for WBW is a Chambolle Musigny from Domaine Dujac. Its a premier cru from the lieu-dit of "les Gruenchers", from the 1985 vintage. I first came across the wines of Dujac when I was working at Amaryllis in Glasgow. One of our regulars was a "Parker-chaser", regularly seeking out high scoring wines. I was tipped off to this fact by one of my suppliers who also happened to supply him. From then on, Francis would give me advance information on the wines that Mr R. wanted, and I would then snap them up. It worked for everybody, except Mr R who had to pay restaurant prices instead of retail for the wines that he wanted.

As the wines are unfiltered it has a fine suspension of particles and there is quite a bit of sediment down the side of the bottle. Looking through the bottle the colour seems light and I can easily see through the bottle, possibly suggesting some colour loss. The ullage is about half an inch short of a full bottle, which is not great news, but not neccessarily bad news either. Ive got a bad feeling about this after taking the foil off, as there is quite a strong aroma of tca coming off the top of the cork. Phewwwwww, ewwwww!!!!!!!! I dont even have to pour any from the bottle to tell its corked. I havent had a stinker like that for a while, but man that is really bad.

Plan B - Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume En Chailloux 1997. Yup nearly nine years old. Dagueneau is considered the wild man of the Loire Valley. Apparently standing over six foot tall, with a mane of shocking red hair, he cuts an impressive figure so Im led to believe. I have a friend who met him once who told me he ploughs his vineyards with a horse drawn plough! In the seven years now that Ive been doing this Ive watched his wines increase in price enormously. But they are worth it. Silex, his top cuvee from the Loire, now retails at about £50 a bottle. On a restaurant wine list it come in at over £100. For a white wine from the Loire thats really expensive. En Chailloux is/was his entry level pouilly fume. He stopped making it in around 2001/2. The colour is a light straw colour, bright and clear. On the nose there is a strong green apple aroma with gooseberry and an unusual, aroma that reminds me of the lemon fairy liquid that we use at home. The fruit is still quite dominant on the flavour, although it isnt very acidic any more. There is a wet slate minerality to the wine that shows nicely without the searing acidity that youthful vintages show. A damned fine wine, that drinks really well on its own now. Not sure it would be as good with food, without the acidity to freshen the palate, but nice easy drinking on its own.

Bit gutted about the Dujac, after just going back to it, the cork-taint is still way strong, but there is an animal character behind the wine, that smells like sweaty horse. Not sure that if it wasnt tainted it would be any good anyway.

Well that wraps up my contribution for this months WBW. Looking forward to the round up and cant wait for the next one!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Looking ahead

Ive had plenty of time to think about things recently. Its weird to think that the Arkle opens again next Tuesday, thats my holidays gone and disappeared in no time. Which is a bit of a cheek really, because Im not actually returning to work until the 25th, as Im going to be in Edinburgh for the Australia Day tastings. And by the time I actually return to work on the 25th, I will in fact have had a whole month off. Yes the last day that I actually worked was the 24th December. (Not strictly true as I went in to help count the cellar for the stocktake.) A whole month! I can hadly believe it. But the truth is that I cant wait to get back to work. There are so many things that I want to do this year, and it seems that Ive had so long off, I need to get my head back into the game.

This month off has given me some time to read some of my wine magazines that had been building up neglected in the corner of my room. Ive had a chance to trawl around some websites and reading up on the latest wines to hit the shelves from Australia, New Zealand, California, Washington, British Columbia, Oregon, South Africa, France, Italy etc etc. Ive had a chance to start thinking about really taking control of the wine-list and marking my territory with it. Taking it forward to match with what the customers are asking for and what is selling well. How I want to present the list, categories, sommeliers selections, producer profiles, monthly newsletters that can highlight new wines, special offers etc.

We are making some progress in the cellar too. Quotes have been sought out to replace the wooden shelving in the cold room with proper wine racking, this will enable us to rack up much more wine in a more efficient manner that should also help shave nearly half an hour off the stocktake. Might even improve the accuracy of the count with some of the wines. As soon as thats done we will be able to move a lot of stock out of the holding cage and bring them onto the list. By the middle of the year, we ought to have somewhere in the region of 1500 bins on the wine-list. I want to bring in more funky wines - smaller grower producers, quirkily named wines, bring in some more obscure regions and countries - greece, british columbia, oregon, washington state.

I plan to progress further within the court of master sommeliers too this year, hopefully getting a place on the Advanced Sommelier course. As well as this, for my own personal development I plan to concentrate on Italy, as it is my achilles heel. Next year I want to arrange a sommelier trip to Tuscany or Piedmonte with one of our suppliers, so I ought to be better informed on the wines of Italy before I make a fool of myself.

Im now in my third year of my initial five year plan with the Grosvenor and about halfway through my own goals and objectives that I had set myself within that plan. There are still some key issues that need some attention, notably salary and hours, but progress comes slowly. Looking back at 2006 it was quite successful in many ways and hopefully we can continue to build on that and make 2007 a great year.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Appreciation.

I think it must be human nature to want to be appreciated. We all crave recognition for our efforts, our endevours, our achievements, whether it be a "well done!" from the boss, or a token of thanks from a client or a hug from a loved one, even a fiscal reward in the form of a bonus or pay-rise. Ive been really lucky working here, for the most part it is made clear that my efforts are appreciated. With the season of giving having finished recently, Ive also been able to see how much Im appreciated by both our suppliers and our customers. Ive had a very good xmas on that score. The crowning glory came with the gift of a bottle of 1996 Hill of Grace from one of our regular customers. To say that I was gobsmacked is a slight understatement. It is a truly gratifying experience to think that I have made such an impact on this persons experiences at the Grosvenor that he felt comfortable to go out an buy me a £160 bottle of wine as a xmas gift. I kind of glad that I didnt open it in front of him, and that I saved it for xmas. Well, its been added to my humble collection of wines and I plan to open it later in the year with some good friends and colleagues over a nice meal.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Australia Day Tastings

The thing that I love about January is the Australia Day Tastings. Now I havent been for a few years - since I moved down to Chester actually, but this year Im going to both tastings. Ive usually just gone to the Edinburgh tastings held at Prestonfield House in the huge round stable building in the grounds of the hotel. The last time I went there was a bunch of us from Gleneagles and we went for a jolly for the day. The wife and I got the train over from Glasgow and the guys met us there having got the train down from Auchterarder.

The event is one of the biggest tastings of the calender, and the Edinburgh event is the biggest tasting held in Scotland. There are usually about eighty stands each carrying about a dozen or more wines from some of the best companies and wineries in Australia. Thats a hell of a lot of wine to get through. Usually I take it in two parts. In the morning I scoot around and taste the white wines. Then I break for about an hour and a half for lunch to try and sober up a bit and give the palate a bit of a rest. Then in the afternoon I go back and start on the roses, then the reds until you cant taste anything else. You know it is time to quit when a big bad barossa shiraz starts to smell and taste like an oaky hunter semillon!! You have to be a bit prepared for the tastings, cause there is a lot of chaff, volume driven supermarket wines that I want to avoid. There are certain stands that it is essential to visit, the Villeneuve wines stand is one of those. Kenny, Alistair, Naird and the gang have one of the finest selections of Aussie wines in Scotland, including the wines of Charles Melton. In fact it was Kenny who introduced me to Charlies wines.
Im looking forward to the Edinburgh tastings because Im hoping to catch up with my friends still at Gleneagles while Im there. It will also be good to catch up with some contacts from up that way too.

The Edinburgh tastings, while big, are nowt compared to the London tasting. Ive not had the chance to go to the London tastings yet, but this year will be my first time. Apparently it is huge! A lot of the guys show stuff that doesnt get up to Scotland because they dont rate it as a significant market (they are so wrong!), and there are usually many more winemakers at the London event than Edinburgh. It runs for two days, during the day I believe it is open to trade and journalists, and the evening is a ticketed event for the general public. Im looking forward to going as it will be a new experience, and as a kind of new years resolution Im going to make more of a concerted effort to get to more of the important tastings. After all it is an excellent opportunity to taste some stonking wines, meet up with winemakers and reps from the various wineries and agencies and get some networking done.