Wednesday, October 17, 2007

James and Oz big wine adventure

One advantage of my new working hours is that I get to actually watch many of the programs that customers used to talk to me about. One such program is the new series of James & Oz's wine adventures, this time set in the sunny climes of California. I only got to see one episode of the first series, set in France, but I quite liked what I saw. I also enjoyed last nights episode and will be sure to watch the whole series.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Judging Waiters

Ive just got back from London where Ive been judging the finals of the young waiter young chef competition. It was quite an amazing experience really, and I was only judging!! I cant imagine the feeling of the contestants, who, judging by the number of shaking hands, were quite nervous at the start of the event.

Organised by Jeremy Rata, ex Devonshire Arms and now ensconsed at the DeVere Brighton Grand, and Stephen Mannock from Darlington College, the event comprised of a whole days testing, split into two parts. Part one took place in the morning and consisted of a series of interviews and tasks such as correcting mistakes on a menu, and a wine list, an interview with Peter Birnie, Chief Inspector for the AA and Joe Durrant the last winner of the event. The afternoon portion of the competition was a practical event. The competitors had been paired with a chef, who had compiled a menu based on a basket of known ingredients, and then a mystery basket to be given on the day. So by liaising with the chef, the waiters had to get an understanding of the menu they would be serving to their table. They had to lay up their table using their choice of materials to hand and including their own floral centre-piece. Then their guests arrived and they had the task of serving them pre-lunch drinks and canapes then bringing them through to their tables and serving their lunch and wines. We were to judge them on a variety of tasks and criteria and award them a score of 1 to 4, one being poor, two being the average, three being a bit beyond average and four being excellent.

As we did this, I can to think about how I am judged by customers on a daily basis. What criteria do they measure me by? I find it especially pertinent just now, as Im up for a Hotel Catey for Food and Wine Service. Now Im not sure how they determine who will win, and by what criteria it is assessed. Now the assessments have probably already taken place, I find out at the award ceremony on the 13th November if I win (fingers crossed!!).

In an effort to ensure impartiality and to try and create and even scoring system, each judge was allocated one waiter. They were then paired up with the idea being that each judge would cross-reference their scoring with their partner and try to reach concensus. Then each pair would cross-reference with their neighbouring pair and so on. The eventual result was that we were pretty much all scoring in the same way. So at the end of the event we all sat down and discussed out scoring and three winners emerged. The eventual winner was pretty much clear winner - his score was a good few points ahead of the rest. The number two scoring candidate was felt, while they were technically good, there was just something missing from their service, it was clinical and lacking in personality, whereas the third scoring candidate had a much more personable style of service and we all felt we would much rather be served by number three than number two, so we switched their positions around.

So it was an enjoyable day, and I think i was quite surprised to look back on it and think that I actually learnt a few things that day myself, besides which it was a great networking experience.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

After Paco, where we are now.

Its been nearly six months since Paco left. Hard to believe, so much seems to have happened since then. The place is almost unrecognisable now, we've re-arranged the furniture in the Library, the table layout has changed in the restaurant, the staff are all different, and many of the regulars have now gone elsewhere. About a month ago our new manager Mark started, and he seems to be settling in quite well. The honeymoon period is over and the pressure is now on to meet various challenges we face going into the second half of the financial year. Obviously with chrimbo coming up we are getting busier and busier, and its kind of scary to think that in 73 days time, father xmas will be magically coming down our chimneys and leavings tons of loot under our trees. Then six days after that, its hogmanay, time to get absolutely trolleyed on bubbles (and thats just the staff Im talking about!!!) before snogging the arse off some random stranger on the dancefloor (I wish!!).

Pacos coming back in a couple of weeks to visit us, the hotel closes for a couple of weeks for a short holiday, so it will be good to see him again, as well as Greg and Anna. I wonder what they will think of the changes?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 38 - Portugal.

My how quickly a month goes by. So much has happened in the last month, that my posting rate has declined slightly, but Im going to try and post more frequently this month. What better way to start than with our monthly on-line festival of wine that is Wine Blog Wednesday.

Ryan and Gabrielle Opaz of Catavino have selected a theme, that is very close to their hearts, vineously and of course geographically. I really like the geography themed WBW because they encourage us to explore new regions and Im sure in many cases unfamilar regions. Now most peoples experience of Portugese wines will be limited to the occasional glass of port after dinner (and many of them will consequently blame the horrendous hangover the following morning to that single glass of port!!).

The wine Ive selected for this WBW is Quinta dos Roques Reserva 1999 from Dao. Its a Denominacao de Origem Controlada, which is the highest quality rating in Portugal. Quinta dos Roques is a relatively new estate, the vineyards were replanted in the 80's and they made their own wine from then. It is a curious blend of traditional grapes and wines, made in a modern winery, to a fairly modern style. Ive always considered the wines of Portugal to be very rustic, more food orientated than drinking on their own kind of wines, but I think that reflects the whole cultural impact of wine and cuisine that you find on the continent, and that seems to be missing from the new world.

The Reserva is a blend (as it would seem most Portugese reds are), predominantly Touriga Nacional, with a bit of Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao, some Alfrocheiro and a dash of Jaen. All thats missing is the high alcohol content and it could probably pass off as a half decent port! The fruit comes from a single vineyard, the Peach Tree (Pessegueiro) vineyard. It spent about 14 months in barrel before being bottled.

On the nose it has spicy dark fruit aromas, it kind of reminds me a bit of xmas pudding, you have a touch of spice to it, raisins, cherries, there are even hints of chocolate here too. There is something almost feral in there too, cant quite pin it down, but it isnt off putting. From the nose I would have to say that I think this wine has seen better days, dont get me wrong its still drinkable, but I reckon its glory days were maybe a year or two ago.
On the palate the dark fruit comes through bathed in spices, more cinnamon with hints of ginger spices too. The tannins are still quite firm, and the wine follows through with a rich chocolatey finish which almost contradicts my earlier thoughts about being past its prime. I dont think this is the kind of wine to drink on its own. It needs food. But it isnt going to complement my ham and cheese sandwich very well, this needs something a bit meatier. I would serve this with something like the pork belly, rubbed in spices and glazed with honey. Some green beans and crushed new potatoes would finish that off nicely. As the wine sits with an ABV of 12.5%, its not going to send you senseless either. Overall Im quite happy with the wine, given the choice I would have prefered a slightly younger vintage, but this older bottle has actually distinguised itself well. Ive got 9 bottles left kicking around the cellar, so maybe I ought to re-list it as a curiousity, perhaps the sommeliers selection for the month.

Many thanks to Ryan and Gabrielle for the great theme, cant wait for next months theme, and I must make the effort to keep on blogging!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mouton Rothschild 2006 Barrel Sample.

Tasted as part of the tour of Mouton Rothschild with Edouard Thouvenot. The wine has seen just less than a year in oak, yet it really was quite stunning. It is only the second time that I have tasted wine from barrel before it is ready (the first was at Vallet freres in Gevrey). It was hard to judge it really, because it still has a number of years to go before it would be considered "drinkable", but damn if it wasnt exceptionally drinkable. There was lots of forward fruit flavours - cassis, brambles and other berry fruit. I even thought I was getting a hit of blueberry. But then the earthier tones came forward, tobacco, chocolate and just a touch of something more animal in origin. The tannins werent soft, but they werent aggressive either, coating the mouth in quite a pleasant manner. I suspect that the acidity of the wine was probably helping to keep that in check. Now there is still at least 6 months more oak ageing to go before it will be sent off for bottling, and then they told us theu believe it will require five years or more of cellaring to approach its drinking period. But I didnt want to leave this wine, in fact I actually held everyone up slightly in my efforts to finish my glass. I didnt spit this one out, oh no!!!

It was tasted alongside samples of Clerc-Milon and d'Armailhac, and not for the first time, have I found the former to be quite green and moody, while the d'Armailhac was much more fruity and approachable. I could have quite happily sat down to a bottle of either the d'Armailhac or the Mouton, but would have gone without had the Clerc-Milon been placed in front of me. I find it strange that all three share everything together, winery, vineyards, fruit, winemaker, oak barrels, cellar etc, yet the Clerc-Milon, to me, is almost completely alien to the other two. There obviously is something different in the way it is made, but I possibly wasnt listening to that part of the tour!!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mouton Rothschild 1989 en Magnum

Tasted as part of a plethora of wines at Chateau Mouton Rothschild on the vendageurs trip. All the stock came from the cellars underneath the chateau, kept in immaculate condition.

The wine was poured from the bottle, whether it had been double decanted was hard to tell, but there was no evidence of sediment, so I would surmise that it probably was. The nose was pleasantly earthy, with tobacco and forest floor aromas, undertones of berry fruits, ripe and succulent. On the palate, the berry flavours were quite evident along with the tobacco/cedar/humidor like flavours coming from the oak. The tannins were soft and elegant, and the wine had a pleasantly long length, the flavours gently disappearing from the mouth. I reckon I must have had about four or five glasses of this wine, it was simply divine!!!