Thursday, December 04, 2008
Bodegas Altanza was one of the wineries visited on my recent visit to Rioja with Wines of Spain. It was the last of the wineries we were visiting and we werent sure what to expect really. We had seen the full spectrum of styles from the old school style of Remelluri, to the ultra-modern Baigorri and somewhere in the middle of those two extremes sat Altanza. The winery itself was pretty state of the art, lots of polished steel, temperature controlled tanks, a huge, clean barrel hall with loads of french oak barrels (including a few from Demptos!), with the odd transylvanian, russian and american oak barrels kicking around too, a throwback from when they experimented with different oaks to see what impact it would have on the wines. But when you taste their wines, there is a sense of tradition about them, they seem to sit in the middle of the two "camps" - fresh and fruity characters but structured and complex, with well integrated oak flavours and a touch of the raw meaty essense that I tend to find in old school rioja.
Twice now, Altanza has produced a wine of such complexity, intensity and sheer character, that they have felt it deserved a special treatment. So they decided to honour the great spanish artists, the first to be honoured was Miro, in 2001 followed three years later by Dali. The Miro was bottled in a dense, incredably heavy burgundy bottle, Dali is in a monsterously heavy bordeaux bottle. It is sold in packs of three, each bottle adorned with a label depicting one of Dali's lesser known works (the sheer cost of licensing the images from the Dali estate precludes using the more famous images, besides which the estate controls which images they are allowed to choose from). It would be fair to say that having tasted the wine, if it was given to me blind and I was asked to pair it with an artist, then I dont doubt that Dali would be my first choice. It is an intense experience, rich concentrated flavours seem to jumble across your palate - dark red soft fruits mixed with a touch of spice, vanilla and other oaky influenced flavours all with a definate savoury edge to them. The wine stays with you, working away at your brain, continually assaulting your tastebuds with flavour long after you have put the glass down. Its intense, much in the same was as standing underneath Dali's Christ of St John on the Cross, currently residing at the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow. Even as an athiest, the immenseness of the canvas (roughly a metre wide by two metres tall) and the perspective of the painting all seem to prey on you long after you have moved on to the next piece. It is easy to see why Dali was chosen for this wine.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Im a big fan of the white that they make, an amazing blend of about nine varieties - Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia, Moscatel, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Chardonnay and Viognier and finally Sauvignon. So I was really looking forward to this, and the good news was the sun was out, we were having lunch here and the reds were every bit as good as the white. They make four wines - the Blanco, a Reserva, a Gran Reserva and a Reserva Especial - the Coleccion Jaime Rodriguez, named in honour of the owner. All were astoundingly good, but for me the two standout wines were the blanco and the gran reserva. The gran reserva is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 12% Garnacha and 3% Graciano, richly spiced and concentrated it seemed to last forever on the palate, its flavour greatly complementing the lamb chops grilled over a flame from vine trimmings. After a delicious lunch served in the winery, we took a stroll around the vineyards in the late summer sun, down to an ancient cemetary carved out of stone in the earlier life of the farm as part of an old monastery, the remains of which survive at the top of the mountain looming over us. Looking at the carved shapes in the stone, we got to thinking either the indiginous peoples were very small or the infant mortality rate was exceptionally high. They were tiny.
We left Remelluri as a tv crew was setting up to film a celebrity chefs program as he strolled through the vineyards of Remelluri discussing ingredients and picking fruit. Our destination was the Bodegas de la MarquesA in Villabuena. This was a smaller, family run bodegas trading under the name of Valserrano in the UK. Now in the hands of two brothers, Pablo and Jaime de Simon, one the oenologist and the other in charge of marketing/sales. The winery was probably the smallest of the six that we visited, but had one of the largest ranges of wines to offer. Jaime, the oenologist, proudly makes use of many of the traditional varieties and as such they offer a range of single varietal wines - mazuelo and graciano which were both amazingly different from what one would expect. The Mazuelo had a dark inky colour with a strong violet character on the nose. There was a licorice root element to the finish and a rounded warm spicy end note. With a year in a mixture of mainly french oak, the wine has a well balanced oak influence - vanillin, cedarwood and nutmeg like flavours, and well drawn out silky smooth tannins.
The Graciano by comparison had a much more herbaceous character with dark black tea and green leafy aromas, a touch of roasted nuts and defined dark soft fruit flavours. The tannins seemed bolder than the mazuelo, a little harsher on the gums, but the length was longer, more intense and a touch smoky on the finish.
Then it was time to leave and move on to our next winery. This was such a cool winery I want to give it a seperate post.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Which kinds of leads to the point of this posting.
Last night we were host to the Champagne Academy's Northern Dinner. The last time we hosted the dinner was in 2005, and much has changed in the meantime. The Westminster suite has had a complete refurbishment, Ross has been through the Academy's program and is now an Old Boy, and weve all grown a few years older, a few inches wider and experienced many hundreds of wines in the time that passed. This years dinner was presided over by Krug - the current presidential house, with Lanson the incoming (and hence Vice-presidential) house and Veuve the departing (and also Vice-presidential) house. At one time they all fell under the LVMH stable, (for the four months that it took LVMH to strip Lanson of its premium vineyards before being sold to the Mora family.)but now only Krug and Veuve are stable mates, Lanson being a family owned business. And it is here that the expectations come into play, but before that I guess I ought to divulge the wines that we served.
The starter wine was Lansons Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 1998. My expectation of this wine was quite low, because, well, it was Lanson. Thankfully, for me anyway, it exceded that expectation and was actually pretty good. Considering its youth it was pretty damned good, the acidity levels were high enough to suit the dish it was paired with (a crab meat press with cucumber jelly and caviar dentelle).
For the intermediate course we poured Krug Grande Cuvee. There were a lot of folks disappointed with this wine. I think it was because their expectations are higher than the wine could deliver. Krug is a league apart from most other champagnes - not only in price, but in every little thing that they do. They ferment the wines in french oak barrels. They vinify the parcels of wines individually. They mature the wines for six years on the lees (the mandated minimum is three years. Many houses do not mature beyond that minimum). This gives the wines an incredible richness of flavour, depth of character and a whopping price tag. But I guess it also sets them up to be knocked down.
The main course was paired with an Argentine Malbec from Terrazas de los Andes - LVMH's pet winery in South America.
The Cheese course was paired with a Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame 1998. This was a bit of a disappointment for me. It didnt distinguish itself enough apart from Yellow Label to justify the price difference. I reckon it was too young, personally, Im assured that this wine comes into its element after about 10 years of additional ageing, so I would expect it to be reaching its peak from about 2015. But a few people raved about it, so it just goes to show its all horses for courses.
The meal concluded with the Krug Rose. I have mixed feelings about this wine. Having first tasted it when we served the Champagne Academy menu tasting back in July, I was impressed but un-enamoured of it. Then in August I had the chance to visit Krug and got to sample the rose with a dessert at lunch in the middle of the Clos de Mesnil Vineyard. The wine was divine, from the amazingly oxidized looking copper brown colour of the wine, to the rich densely flavoured nose with soft red fruit, floral tones and a touch of membrillo jelly, this was one serious, serious rose. We discovered from our hostess, that the bottle we were being served was probably in excess of 12 years old. So having spend 6 years maturing on the lees before it was disgorged and labeled, it then spent another six in the cellars of Krug before being served to us with lunch. I was hooked. I became determined to procure a few bottles and lavishly lay them down with strict instructions not to open until 2014! And then reality came home to roost, when I realised that Krug Rose isnt cheap. Now I realise that there are cost implications with Rose - there is a finite amount of red wine available to blend with the white to create the rose style of wines favoured in champagne. This scarcity often means that Rose champagnes cost a fair bit more than their white counterparts. But Krug Rose is extortionately expensive. Eyewateringly expensive. Way more expensive than DP Rose, and thats a rip to start with!! So, barring a lottery win, it aint going to happen. And that is why I think most people felt that the Krug Rose was a let down for them. Yes it was good, and yes it paired well with the dessert - an autumn carpaccio of orchard fruits with blackberry fool and coconut macaroon. But is it good value? I dont think so.
So our expectations obviously shape the way we percieve a wine. For me thats quite important. I sell wines by creating a link between the wine and the food. I make them more attractive to people by personalising them, creating something that the customer can relate to, giving them some little nugget of information that identifies that wine is some small way to something they can understand. And in doing so, I will often, perhaps unwittingly, raise their expections of the wines. Which means that if I get it wrong, the effect can be far more disasterous than it needs to be.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I plan to try and do a lot more on the blog now. Not because i need to vent again, but I want to try and prepare an "escape plan". Much as i still love my job, Im slowly coming to a realisation that I dont want to do this for the next ten years or so of my life. I figure that I want to spend no more than three more years on the floor, and if my wife had her way it would be about three more months! But I have targets that I want to achieve before I can move forward to different pastures. I would seriously like to achieve the next step on the Court of Master Sommeliers program which would be to pass my advanced course. I would like to build on this blog, and maybe take the writing to another level, perhaps get some freelance articles done. After seeing this years winners for the AA winelist awards, I want to win that. Ive got the Hotel Cateys awards dinner coming up next month, and Ive been shortlisted again for the Food and Beverage Service award (fingers crossed!!). Then in January the Michelin Guide is released and we are all hoping that we will find ourselves promoted to Two michelin stars. God knows cheffie deserves it, the menu is as good as it has ever been, and I think the whole front of house team has put every effort in to ensure that we deliver the best possible experience to all our diners. So much happening, and I want to try and keep on top of it all and continue to grow in my knowledge and experiences.
The Cometa is a 100% Fiano, a grape normally native to Campania on the mainland of Italy, but Planeta have taken it to their hearts and have produced this wonderfully aromatic - citrus and cream - almost fresh lemon curd, crisp wine that packs a punch of flavours including a herbal/floral finish that puts me in mind of a herbal tissane. This proved to be one of the more popular wines last night, but that was before people found out about the price. Its bloody expensive!! Id love to get some more in, but I doubt it would sell very well. Shame though cause it was a bloody good wine.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Now when we plan these dinners I have a spreadsheet where I plot out the wines that I would like to show, and cost them all out, breaking it down into the usual consumption etc, finally arriving at a cost per person for the wines. From this we can calculate our selling price for the dinners by adding on how much the menu would be (£60) then working on a reduced margin we multiply out the cost giving us a selling price. This is where we hit our first hurdle. Browsing through my supplier catalogues it became evident that there were few Pac-NW wines available in the UK, and those that are are expensive. VERY expensive. So we were faced with the choice of doing a dinner for a relatively unknown region in this country for the princely sum of £160 per person. It doesnt take a genius to know that you wont sell many tables for that one. So we dropped the price down to £120 per person, which was just breaking even. And in the end, it was a very good evening with a total of 23 people there, a little less that I would have liked, but still a good atmosphere and really pleasant service.
Anyway the highlight of the reds for me was the Andrew Will Two Blondes Vineyard blend from the Yakima Valley in Washington. A bordeaux blend with 36% Cab Franc, 35% Cab Sauv and 29% Merlot it was bursting with blackberry flavour and cassis, with a touch of green vegetation at the back. This was served with a cannon of herdwick mutton on smoked aubergine with ewe's curd and olive praline. Everyone raved about it. Job done!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
We were told how the Maison came into being, the history of the family and their philosophy for champagne before being taken down into the cellars to see for ourselves.
We were in heaven, millions of bottles of Krug all stacked up where they wait patiently for six years to reach a level of maturity that Krug feels is essential to its being. We get the full tour of the cellars, walking past racks of bottles, the chalk boards written in a code identifying which wines they are. I keep my eyes peeled for the Clos d'Ambonnay, but fail to spot any, or its sister vineyard Clos de Mesnil. We did however find magnums of vintage 98 and even a few jeros. As we descend deeper beneath Riems we come to the vault holding the reserve wines. Specially designed double decker steel tanks hold the reserve wines going back to a 1996 Bouzy which we are told was the oldest wine blended in this years "batch" of Grande Cuvee. In six years time when the wine reaches the market, that component will be 20 years old! We struggle to get our heads round the idea that someone can select a blend of so many different vintage wines and somehow seem to know how it will turn out after six years of maturation. And while the main selection of the blend is done by a core team, that many other people at Krug are involved on the periphery.
While in the cellars we get the chance to watch their cellarmaster riddling the bottles, and Mark takes the opportunity to have a go himself.
As the cellar tour ended we wandered upstairs for a spot of elevenses - a cheeky wee (wee being the operative word) glass of Grande Cuvee before we departed for a tour of the vineyards, more specifically the vineyard of Clos de Mesnil.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Mark, Penny and myself flew out from Manchester on Monday afternoon after nearly two hours delay and were met at Charles de Gaule airport by a chauffer carrying a Krug sign - cool!! We were whisked from the airport in a swanky new merc to the Hotel Les Crayeres where we were staying overnight. After a quick shower we met down in the lounge for a crafty pre-prandial flute of something before heading into Riems to Brasserie Flo for something to eat. Being the beginning of August and actually sunny somewhere we got to eat outside on the terrace, although I think they stuck us in the tourist corner as we seemed to be surrounded by English people. Penny got the trip off to a good start with a cheeky little bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc (despite our effort to get her off of choosing LVMH products she wouldnt budge!) Still cant complain, it is one of the best value Blanc de Blancs on the market., and a damned fine drop of fizz. We all started with something fishy, myself with 6 langos and Mark and Penny opted for the Hommard (Lobster) with fresh mayonnaise. We had all opted for the classic brasserie dish of Steak frites for out main course, although we underjudged the size of the meat a bit and all ended up a bit stuffed. That was washed down with a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee, the richness of the wine coping admirably with the tender rare meat. Its a little know fact that Krug Grande Cuvee works magnificently well with Fish and chips!! Penny was now full to the gills and it was left to me and mark to sample the creme brulee. That was my mistake, finishing it was even worse. I was so full my stomach felt like it was going to burst. I havent felt that full ever! I couldnt even take another drink I was that full. So after a brief walk up the main road we settled down in a bar and I watched them two chugging G&T's while I slowly digested my dinner. Then we headed back to the hotel and onto Penny's balcony where we caned three bottles of champagne we had cleverly brought along, while playing silly drinking games and watching the stars. A bottle of Pol Roger Vintage 96, a bottle of Dom Perignon 99 and a rather disappointing bottle of Veuve Rose. Guess which one Penny brought! Penny also pitched in a bottle of Hennessy XO, but I knew when my limit had been reached and at 4:30am I sloped off to bed determined to get at least three hours of kip before the morning.
Friday, August 01, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Thursday, July 03, 2008
So here briefly is the run down on the new wines by the glass.
Basserman Jordan, Estate Dry Riesling. Bone dry classic german riesling, of the sort that the UK has been missing out on for years.
Quinta da Murta, Vale da Murta Arinto. Crisp dry citrus notes with a tangy herbal finish make this the perfect partner to fish.
Chateau Lamothe de Haux, Cuvee Valentine Blanc, Lovely bordeaux blanc made in the town of Haux in the Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux. Made predominantly from Sauvignon Gris this has a richer flavour than most bordeaux blancs.
Il Cascinone, Belvedere Moscato d'Asti. Perfect summer sipper, light fruity, a touch fizzy and a dash of sweetness. Best of all, at only 5%abv, its not going to send you loopy!
Charles Schleret Gewurztraminer Reserve. Off dry, lovely aromatic white wine, tropical fruits and a touch of oilyness.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon 2007. iconic savvy blanc that is just starting to develop towards its potential. As the acidity starts to balance down, the ripe lushness of the fruit is able to show. Well made, incredibly well marketed.
Pierre Bouree Bourgogne Blanc. From Louis and Bernard Vallet in Gevrey Chambertin, this is classic bourgogne blanc. Barrel fermented with natural yeasts in a mixture of new and second fill oak. This is the vintage that I was working on when I did the vendage there.
Feudi di San Gregorio Ros'Aura Irpinia. Made from Aglianico grown in their vineyards in Taurasi, Peternopoli, Pietradefusi and Castelvetere, this is a fresh vibrant rose, wild alpine berries with a hint of sweet cherries. Pure summer indulgence.
Verdad Rose - made by Louise Saywer Lindquist (wife of Bob Lindquist of Qupe wines) this is a delicious blend of Grenache and Mourvedre from the Arroyo Grande Valley. Raspberry and strawberries with a hint of watermelon(?) and a slight nippy spicyness too. She makes a damned good Albarino too!!
Bodegas Palacios Remondo, La Vendimia, Rioja. Extra-ordinary rioja from Alvaro Palacios of l'Ermita fame. A 50/50 blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo this is their interpretation of a joven style, having spend a mere four months in second fill oak (mainly french) before being fined and bottled. Meant to be drunk young, this is quite expressive of blackberry jam, scrubby herbs and a touch of greengage.
Tabali Pinot Noir. From Chile's Limari Valley. Soft fruity red with typical pinot character - soft red fruits - raspberry and cherry with a touch of strawberry after time.
Ascheri Dolcetto d'Alba. 100% Dolcetto from the Nirane vineyard in Verduno. Small red berries with cherry fruit and a touch of violets on the nose. Smooth and silky on the palate.
Escudo Rojo. Mouton Rothschilds estate red from the Maipo in Chile. A bordeaux inspired blend of Cabernets Sauv and Franc, and Carmenere. (Im sure theres some syrah in there too, but there seems to be a lot of diverse information on the interwebs. Big chocolatey red fruit flavours, wrapped up in a nice bundle of oakyness.
Henry Dugat, Morgon Cote de Py. Beaujolais cru - bubblegummy soft red fruits with cherries and touch of smokyness.
Suggestion no 1 - Reserve da la Comtesse 99, second wine of Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. I think its pretty good value for £67 on the list.
Not enough money they say, go higher. (Talbot would be around £75-90 on the list depending on the vintage)
Suggestion no 2 - Les Pagodes de Cos 1996, second wine of Cos d'Estournel. £95.
Still too little, they say, go higher.
Suggestion no 3 - Chateau Gruaud-Larose 1996 £130.
Nowhere near high enough they say, higher still.
Suggestion no 4 - Les Forts de Latour 1985 £280
At this point one of the fellas points to the wine underneath it, thats more like it, he bellows, well have that one there.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1988 £560.
The colour was a ruby red with a definite brick red tinge about the rim. On the nose it was vibrant, smoky with peppers, soft black fruits and a cedary almost tobacco finish. On the palate it was silky soft, the flavours of currants and brambles mixed with a woody spicyness and a touch of peppery salsa. It had a pretty long length to it, with the flavours gradually fading. My last bottle for now, but we are stocking up with some stock ex-chateau. I cant wait until its all here.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The estate is one that wasnt really held in much regard in the wine industry, but that is all changing under the new owners the Cathaird family. They have invested heavily in the estate, including building a new 2000 barrel cellar and the heart of the estate is the Source des Caudalies Spa and hotel. For a short while I entertained the idea of maybe taking my better half there for a short weekend break over the october half terms break, but then I saw the prices. Perhaps not! Especially on my salary!!
Friday, June 27, 2008
Its an area that Ive given a lot of thought to over the last few years and the conclusion that Ive pretty much reached is, although we like to think we are a modern restaurant, we have a very traditional outlook and a traditional wine cellar. So for now, I think we will stick with the "old fashioned" presentation of listing the wines by country with the old world first, but try to modernise it a little bit, by having narrative sections highlighting stunning examples of each grape variety - allowing folks to choose by grape if they wish. Id be interested to know what you think.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
We then went on to a Reuilly, which was possibly the most popular wine of the night. Much more aromatic and packed with flavour it certainly seemed to be going down well. The first red was a St Nicholas de Bourgeil which wasnt very well recieved when it was poured, but with the food (Lamb with spiced aubergine) everyone raved about it. The second red was a Menetou Rouge which we served slightly chilled (half an hour on ice, ten minutes off the ice) which it seemed people didnt get. We had some interesting debate about the temperature red wines should be served at. Again I wonder at the perception of temperature issue, and I feel that we did the right thing there, I was happy with the temperature it was served at. Then we come to the dilemma.
When we worked out the wines for tonight, I had a choice for the dessert wine of a Vouvray Molleux or a Jasnieres. I chose the Jasnieres as it was that bit more obscure and I thought it was something people wouldnt really get the chance to try. The variation between bottles was quite alarming, and Hannah wasnt very helpful when she said that the producer was a bit of a maverick who pretty much did his own thing and wasnt really bothered about the fact that there was so much variation. Nice to know AFTER it was poured!!! Perhaps it would have been more helpful to know BEFORE we chose the bloody wine!!! But then its always easy when you have 20/20 hindsight. Next time I shouldnt try and be the smartarse, and just stick to the conventional.
Friday, June 20, 2008
But the good news was the guests only got to see the good wines, and in the end they all really enjoyed them. Ive got until September now to sort out the next dinner!!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Now Andrew Barns looked more like an Aussie surfer dude than a South African winemaker, but there is no mistaking the accent. They started off by showing us their Viognier. On the nose it is recognisable Viognier - peaches and cream, a touch of floral character - white flowers and honeysuckle. There is a subtle hint of spice on the nose too, which put me in mind of a good aged Condrieu. On the palate it delivers the same fruity character, fresh and lighter than many viogniers, not at all thick and oily. The acidity is so well balanced that it finishes quite dryly and made me want to drink more. After the first spit, I didnt want to waste anymore and ended up swallowing it!! We liked this one so much, were going to list it by the glass.
We moved on to the reds next, looking first at the Eventide Cabernet 2006. There wasnt a single hint of smokyness that Mark would characterise as typical SA red. There was ample red fruit character - currants and blackberries with a spiced note of cinnamon and licorice root. The woody characters are there in a background support role, and as Andrew (the winemaker) put it, the fruit has to do the talking, not the barrel. The oak is to be used as the canvas over which the fruit character will paint the picture. I liked that, and its true, the oak presence (2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th fill french oak) is very much in the shadows, letting the essense of the grapes be the dominant character. It had a great length and we like this one as well, enough to give it a listing.
We moved on to the Mischa Estate Cabernet 2003. Andrew explained that when they vinify the individual parcels of vines they select those that shine out for the Mischa label. This was his forth vintage, and it was easy to see the difference between the eventide and mischa wines. There was much more going on in the glass of the mischa cab, currants, cloves and cacoa, again the oak taking the backstage. On the palate the tannins were more structured, finer and there was more substance to the length and the finish. We really liked this one.
We finished off with the Mischa Shiraz, and again there was none of the typical smoky, burnt rubber character, instead there was vibrant berry fruit flavours, with hints of white pepper and maybe some cacoa too. I had commented that this was completely different to a Barossa style shiraz which hits you with the big menthol notes up front, when I went back to the glass and started to find small aromas of menthol. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but the menthol was restrained and fitted together nicely with the flavours. We liked this one too, enough to decide to list all the wines and explore the possibilities of doing a Gourmet Dinner with them next year.
Monday, June 02, 2008
The dish - Herb poached fillet of Welsh Black beef, crispy corned fritters, new season morels and a pea and feve reduction.
The wine - Domaine de l'Arlot Nuits st Georges, 1er Cru Cuvee Jeune Vignes de Clos des Forets st Georges 1997.
On the nose the wine presents with a wonderfully ripe medley of flavours including ripe soft red fruits, forest floor, tobacco, earth, a gamey mushroom like aroma and a tantalising hint of spices. On the palate it is as soft as can be, silky smooth flavours of strawberries and ripe red cherry, with a slightly smoked finish. The wine together with the herb encrusted fillet was divine, the bay leaf and oregano mixed with the thyme seemed to bring out the gamey character of the wine. Everybody loved it, including those folks who wouldnt really call themselves wine drinkers. Good choice me!!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
St Clair release several different single vineyard sauvignons under the Pioneer Block line extension. Presumably when they vinify the individual parcels of vines they can identify certain vineyard parcels that stand out as exceptional wines, and I havent been disappointed with the two that Ive tried so far. Block 2 from the Swamp Vineyard, Im guessing the vineyard location was once a swamp, has everything the Block 7 had but with more finesse to it. The tropical fruit aromas are more restrained, not as aggresively in your face, but dominant none-the-less. There is more of a pink grapefruit character with lime and kiwi fruit flavours coming through too. The acidity seems more in harmony with the wine that Block 7, like a good soundtrack to a film, enhancing the flavours and aromas but not jarring out of place. The wine just seems to last forever on the palate, wicked long length with zesty fruit finish and an almost sherbetty dib-dab kind of spritz on the end, tickling the tip of my tongue. I only got the case last wednesday and already Im down to my last three bottles, its going out faster than a fast thing. But Im liking that because it has regenerated my interest in New Zealand again, I was getting bored of one dimensional kiwi savvys, all tropical fruit and no backbone. I miss the Dry River Savvy (R.I.P.) but theres a new daddy on the list, and Im going to sell the shit out of it!!!
Saturday, May 17, 2008
The cork was covered in a bright red plume of mould, and coloured all the way through with red wine. I wasnt too hopeful of the wine. But it opened up really well, the nose was surprisingly complex still with a richly flavoured fruit layer and mature burgundy aromas - a combination of leather, dark tea, tobacco and earth with a slight hint of exotic truffle/mushroom. On the palate the wine was smooth and silky, soft red fruit flavours wrapped up with a hint of licorice root, mulberry and soft eastern spices. The length just kept on going and the finish was a touch spicy with a gamey edge. Unbelievably it kept on improving in the glass over time, and seemed to show no sign of fading over the next two hours. I was slightly gobsmacked and sad that it was my last bottle. I suspect that were I to ask Bernard for some more, I could get some if he had any, but I think that I would much rather go out on a high with that bottle. Just goes to show though, that you never can tell what its like till you pull the cork.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Well this is a situation that I faced tonight. A table of four, amongst them a fairly prominent young chef, with a michelin star to his name. Am I being tested to see if I will pick up on the fact that the wine is a bit on the young side, or perhaps the customer is a wine pedo, he likes his wine young, tannic and under-developed. Im not in the business of correcting customers, and I dont want to offend the guy who ordered the wine, so my tactic is to present the bottle and then offer this gem - " Bearing in mind the youth of the wine, I think it might be prudent to double decant the wine in order to open it up a little bit" The guy shrugs ok and somehow I still dont quite feel absolved of any responsability for serving something so strikingly young. It doesnt get much better when we open the wine and it comes across as green as a green thing. Tight on the nose with hints of fruit behind a shield of greenness that the green lantern might use. Decanting it seemed to release some fruit on the nose and make the wine seem a bit more expressive ( possibly more due to the warming influence of being decanted from a cellar cold bottle into a warm decanter). On the palate it was still fairly tight and unforgiving, the fruit tantalisingly close but still seemingly locked up in a tightly bound tannic structure than threatened to strip the enamel off my teeth.
I give it a swirl and pour it over into a second decanter, trying to give it as much motion as I can without it being spilt everywhere. The smell coming from the wine is truly delicious, generous red fruit character with a touch of green wood character, still raw and fresh. On the palate it seemed to have softened a little bit, but at least I still had about an hour in the decanter until it would be needed. It was going to need every possible minute to soften and open up enough.
Pichon is one of my favourite wines from Pauillac, if somewhat out of my budget. One of my top ten wines that Ive tried was the 89 Pichon Lalande when I was working at Amaryllis. This wine has the potential to be as good, but in about ten more years perhaps. Hopefully I will still have some left by then!
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Generally most restaurants will operate using a standard margin, either gross profit or cost of sales. The two figures are related - a 30% cost of sales = 70% gross profit. In other words 30% of the selling price is represented by the cost of the item, therefore 70% is profit (gross profit because things like operating costs have yet to be removed). Now a restaurant with a large and extensive winelist ought to operate a floating margin, that is the margin will vary according to the cost of the bottle. Hence the most expensive wines are usually operating on the lowest gp/highest cost of sales. So at the bottom end of the wine list will be the house wine, which is the least value of all, as it carries the highest margin, figures of 80% are not uncommon. Then the middle of the list will sit with a slightly lower margin 70% and the wines at the very top of the list will sit with 50-60% gp. After all, you probably arent going to sell loads each month, so the impact on your gross profit will be negligable. So those wines under £50 are typically going to sit with a 70% margin, compared with slightly more expensive wines which will have a lower margin.
Now the Arkle wine list operates a floating margin, with the wines at the bottom of the list carrying the highest mark-ups, and those between £40 and £90 representing the best value for money. We have some cracking wines under £50 that have a slightly lower margin, because they are something out of the ordinary, something slightly special that were I to put the prescribed margin on it, would make it too expensive to try out. So there are some bargains to be found.
Bin 313 - Itsas Mendi - Txakoli from Bizkaiko Txakolina in the Basque region of Spain. An unusual aromatic white wine made from Hondorrabi Zuri. A reasonable inexpensive spanish white at £34.
Bin 391 Planeta - Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a Frappato, Nero d'Avola blend from the only DOCG vineyard in Sicily. Rich cherry fruit flavour with a beaujolais style lushness and accessability, a positive steal at £35.
Bin 411 Bodegas Fernandez Rivera - Dehesa La Granja, from the stable of Alejandro Fernandez, a crianza tempranillo from the tiny region of Zamora. His home estate. Dense brooding fruit, richly concentrated flavours with none of the sunburnt oaky characters associated with spanish reds. £37.
So there are some good value wines to be had, if you are prepared to spend a little bit of time to look at the list, or if you ask for my advice. At the end of the day, my job is to help you to find a wine that you will enjoy, at a price that you are comfortable with, to enhance your dining experience. Im not in the business to screwing people over, ripping them off or trying to flog them overly expensive wines. More often than not, I will recommend something under the customers budget. For after all, its all about establishing the rapport with the guests and encouraging them to return again.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
They wont lose my business though, because I applaud their choice, their integrity and their courage to take the decision they did. Perhaps it might work in their favour, because if they had released a substandard rose then they definately would have lost business the following year. So unfortunately we wont have their delicious rose this summer, but that makes the anticipation of the 2008 vintage all the more delicious. Good luck to them.
(Gavin and Angela Quinneys wines can be found at Bauduc.com.)
The nose was quite feral, musky at first with woody notes, earthy mushrooms followed by fruits, a mixture of prunes, figs and stone fruits. They were taking on a stewed character, but the wine still showed some backbone. On the palate the red fruit flavours were more dominant with elements of the musky earth notes still showing through and a softly silky finish. The flavours seemed to linger on the palate for an age, which was quite pleasant.
The wine went down a treat, all in we opened 20 bottles, and managed to get 18 pourable bottles which were lapped up by the customers. I confess to being slightly anxious when I recommended it as they usually have Claret, but next year will be more confidant to recommend a good burgundy. We cut them a deal on the wine, only charging £100 a bottle (it ought to be on the list at £160 a bottle) so I think everyone was a winner.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The vineyards are in Gratallops in Priorato, sitting in an area no-one except Alvaro thought manageable. At an altitude of about 290 metres above sea level, the soil is a punishing layer of slate which Alvaro works over with a mule and tiller. Despite the seemingly unhospitable nature of the region, the vines have an average age of about 50 years (between 18 and 100 years old). The blend is a mixture of approximately 60% Garnacha, with the remainder being split of Cabernet Sauv, Merlot, Carinena and a touch of Syrah.
The colour is a deep lustrous purple colour with a fresh purple rim. On the nose it displays a complex range of aromas with garrigue herbs being fairly dominant, then dried stone fruit, spices, warming tobacco notes and a touch of cinnamon all vie for attention. As the wine settles in the glass it seems to rejuvinate the fruit and the aromas become more red berry, cherry like than dried fruits. There is no sense of oxidation that often shows in Spanish reds. On the palate it presents the same fruit and secondary flavours with the tannins coming together quite smoothly, despite its youth. This is a wine that would definately benifit from at least another five years in the cellar, but given the opportunity to be decanted an hour or so before dinner, actually is very drinkable. This was a lovely complement to a dish of venison with a juniper reduction and choucroute canneloni.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I first heard about the wine in February when we were visited by Charles-Edouard from LVMH who is the Krug Brand manager. We were planning the Krug gourmet dinner that we are having in December and it was then that he dropped the information that Krug would be releasing a brand new wine later in the year. He teasingly offered us the run down on the wine and we were generously offered an allocation. The mere thought of a blanc de noirs from Krug set my want glands into overdrive and I knew that I wanted to list it, no matter how much it cost. I knew the prices of the Krug Collection and their crowning glory the Clos de Mesnil were expensive, but cost be damned I wanted it. All I had to do was persuade my GM that we needed it and that I could sell it at some stage. So imagine my surprise when coming in to work earlier today to discover that an order has been placed and confirmed for 3, yes three bottles of Clos d'Ambonnay 1995. I had to pinch myself! Then I found out the price. Stunned is about the only way to describe it. The Krug Clos d'Ambonnay is now going to be the most expensive wine on our wine-list at around £4000 a bottle (we sold the £5000 La Romanee Conti 1985 at the weekend!). With May races coming up Im desperate to sell a bottle so that I might hopefully get the chance to taste it. But one thing is for sure, with articles in the Financial Times and all the hype surrounding its release, the first vintage is going to be an instant collectors item, and when that happens the prices can start getting very silly indeed.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Friday, April 04, 2008
Well the day started at about 10am in the rather lovely atrium of the Royal Society of Medicine. We kick started the competition with a very challenging questionaire and blind tasting of five wines. The quiz was hard, very very hard. I could see peoples faces drop as they opened it up an saw the first page. The first question was an easy one just to set us up , then bam!! Naming the DO's of the Balearic islands, naming the regions of greece that four wineries were situated in, eastern european regions and which countries they were in, were all some of the more challenging questions. In fact Gerrard Basset MS, MW, who wrote the questions acknowledged that the quiz was very challenging and more in line with the european and world championship level that ever before. The blind tasting was quite straightforward, and in some respects the training i had been doing with mark had paid off. The first wine i was only a bit off on the vintage, the second white i was way off the ball, the third wine i got pretty much on the ball, the fourth i swithered between italy of spain and in the end plumped for spain (should have gone for italy, my bad!) and the last wine i only got the grape variety right, everything else was off the mark.
The last part of the morning was the quick fire question - two minutes to answer, which wasnt anywhere near enought time. The question was - how would you go about organising a wine dinner? There was a lot to cover and it seemed like i had only got started when my time was up. Everyone else said the same thing. And that was the morning over. We enjoyed lunch, some champagne and waited to find out which three competitiors would be competing in the afternoons finals.
So it was that we were all lined up on stage in front of an audience of about 150 people as they introduced us all and we were given our certificates by Jeremy Rata, current chairman of the Academy. Then one by one we were eliminated until there were three candidates left - Isa Bal from the Fat Duck, Gearoid Devaney from Tom Aikins and Cyril Thevenet from Hotel du Vin. In truth I felt a sense of relief that I wouldnt be competing in the final, but at the same time slight disappointment. The finals were about to begin.
The final consists of four tasks. The first task is the restaurant scenario. The stage is set up as a restaurant with two tables. The candidate is given his briefing which is to serve the table of two guests a bottle of Vega Sicilia Unico Especial Reserva (alas not a real one, they used a bottle of Craggy Range red, i couldnt see which one). Then the other table will enter the restaurant and chose the cheese menu. You are expected to deal with them and help them select their wines to complement their choice. So this is a test of how you handle yourself in a restaurant scenario. The guests are previous winners, so they know how you feel and what you are going through. In order to make it completely fair they are given a script to follow. The judges are looking at how you handle the guests, your service skills - decanting, upselling oportunities, drinks knowledge, attitude, wine knowledge and food matching skills. All of this must be done in under ten minutes. Cyril was first and I must say that his performance was very polished, and set the bar quite high. Gearoid was second and was also very good, if a bit more relaxed and Isa, for me, caught a few of the opportunities that the other two missed.
Task two was a blind tasting - five beverages, the first of which had to be described in detail and then a matching food dish to be suggested. The other four beverages only had to be identified. All three handled this quite well, although we later found out only Isa identified them all correctly.
Task three was correcting the mistakes on a menu. This was the hardest task of the three as the time allowed was quite short, and they all seemed to waste time reading out each wine in order. There were ten mistakes and I think that I myself managed to find about six.
Task four was wine and food matching. The candidates are given a table of six guests with a selected menu, an unlimited budget and limo organised to take them home. They have to make recommendations of sparkling wines to meet the guests requirements. The only rule is that they can only use wines from the same country no more than twice.
The fifth and final task was the champagne pour. The candidates are given a magnum of champagne and sixteen glasses, they have to pour all the glasses to equal measures, emptying the bottle. They cant go back to a glass once they finish it. This is really hard when you dont know which glasses you are going to be using. In the end Gearoid was the only one who managed to pour sixteen glasses, even if they werent all the same level.
The competition was over, it was time to retire to Chandos House for the reception, and await the results. Much champagne flowed and eventually the winner was announced. Gearoid took first place, Isa came in second and Cyril placed third. Well done to them all. So with my two magnums in hand, me and Ian set off for some food to line our stomachs. A great experience, and its made me determined to give it a good shot for next year.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Benjamin Wolf - Summerlodge - Regional Winner
Yohann Jousselin - Hotel du Vin Winchester - Regional Winner
Andrew Connor - Lanesborough - Regional Winner
David Borwick - Jesmond Dene - Regional Winner
Garry Clark (me!!) - The Chester Grosvenor and Spa - Regional Winner
Then the highest qualifying runners up -
Isa Bal - The Fat Duck
Remi Cousin - HdV York
Laura Rhys - Hotel Terravina (Gerrard Basset's new hotel)
Franck Gerome - Sharrow Bay
Ian McEvoy - Bishopstrow House
Francois Bourde - HdV Birmingham
Nicolas Charriere - HdV Tunbridge Wells
Jan Konetzi - Maze, London
And of course last years runners up who gain automatic qualification -
Gearoid Devanay - Tom Aikins
Cyril Thevenet - HdV group sommelier
Some pretty hardcore guys and girls to go up against. Training is going reasonably well at the moment, there has been some improvement in my blind tasting, but still I must learn to trust my instincts and not try and make the rest of the assesments "fit" a conclusion. Just trying to brush up on my knowledge by taking as many past papers as possible in the remaining week before the competition.
Wish me luck!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The colour was a deep purple core with a slightly redder rim. On the nose the aromas were very plummy, mulberry fruit, totally different to the Margaux. I would have to say that the nose was quite youthful, certainly not what I would have expected from a wine that is about 18 years old. On the palate there was certainly bags of fruit flavour, again plummy, mulberry, almost mixed fruit jammy kind of flavours. But wrapped around those flavours was a layer of earthy tones- cedar wood and tobacco, almost musky - like an eighties "macho" aftershave. On the palate it is a smooth as the proverbial babys bottom, soft silky tannins wrapped around the flavours of ripe victoria plums and greengages with the underlying essense of a fine cuban cigar. Over time this really opened up nicely. Pricey at £600 a bottle, but bloody good, I must seek out another bottle.
The colour was a deep cerise core with a slightly browning rim. On the nose the wine had a marvelous medley of aromas, predominantly forest fruits with cassis, a slightly vegetal tone and quite strong aromas of cedar wood, dark earth and mature tobacco. On the palate the wine was more red fruit flavours, soft and elegant with fine tannins, and a great long length which seemed to finish with smokier earthy tones. Very very good.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
There is a knack to blind tasting that involves looking at all the clues available and then making a series of judgements to help you arrive at a logical and sensible conclusion. I have discovered that often my first instinct is quite close, but I must teach myself to follow the pattern of observations, to gather all the available clues and then make that informed judgement. Sometimes it is easy to try and make the clues fit the wine that I think it might be, and hence ignore the clues that are there.
So far my success rate in training isnt great, but Ive got over a week to go, so hopefully there will be some improvement before the semi's.
I also found out yesterday that my mate Ian from Bishopstrow house has got through, so at least there will be one friendly face there.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The wine is a blend of mostly grenache (70%) with rest being syrah. The town of Collioure nestles on the cusp of the Spanish border in the heart of the Basque region of France and it seems to have a very Spanish influence to its flavours. The wine exhibits strong bramble fruit flavours with a savoury influence, quite sun baked in character. The alcohol sits at 14.5% and it is quite evident on the nose with a prickly tingling on the old nostril hairs, but on the palate the wine is perfectly balanced, the medium tannins holding the flavours together and seemingly keeping the alcohol in check. The length is quite long with summery black berry flavours giving way to an almost savoury garrigue-y herbal finish of thyme and peppercorns. While it certainly worked quite well with the cheese, this would be a cracker of a wine for something like a roasted leg of lamb with plenty of rosemary and thyme. While as an 05 it was certainly drinkable it would definately benefit from a year or two of slumber in the cellar.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
This is the third time that Ive competed in the competition, each time that Ive entered Ive qualified for the regional final, but last year as I had fallen down the stairs a week earlier and knackered my back I was unable to compete. The competition consists of a questionaire - about 30 questions and a blind tasting of four wines. For each wine the aim is to identify the grape variety, the country and region of origin and the vintage. Finally you must declare whether there is any oak influence to the wine. The last part of the first round is a verbal question in which you are given a scenario to which you must give a verbal answer in under two minutes. This year the scenario was how would you promote the sales of dessert wines in the restaurant.
After lunch we filed into the room to have our photos taken and be given our bottle of champagne for getting this far. Then the moment we were waiting for - we find out who will be competing this afternoon for the place at the national final. The top three scoring candidates complete a practical challenge in the afternoon with the highest perfoming candidate being selected as the regional winner. Well bugger me I wasnt one of the three top scoring candidates! Gobsmacked!! Some of those questions this morning were bloody hard, and although I didnt score well with the first wine, I reckon that I didnt fair too badly in the blind tasting. So after drawing numbered corks to determine the order of competition I drew last, so retired to the lobby to wait anxiously my turn. Eventually it was my turn, and while I had been sat there waiting I tried to remember watching the three candidates competing when i last attended two years ago. As I stood there nervously awaiting my briefing I tried to relax and just enjoy the experience. My brief was quite a good one, I had a table of four who were attending a conference on Health and safety and were having lunch before driving home. Their menu was a starter of Leek and seafood terrine and then a main course of Venison with pan roasted potatoes and wild mushrooms before a light dessert. I suggested a Loire White - something like a Menetou Salon, around about 13% alcohol - a small glass perhaps then another Loire wine - a Chinon again around 12% alcohol. Then they start testing your ability to think on your feet and they throw you a few curveballs. One guest doesnt drink red wines, he will have a dessert instead what would i suggest - Moscato d'Asti from Italy, light fruity, slightly fizzy and only 5% abv. Then another guest tells me he doesnt drink, but he wants to have something more than water, what would I suggest with the Venison. Its a bit more challenging that one, but I went with something like a Virgin mary - spicy tommy juice. Part one over, the next task is the service of a bottle of red wine. Here you have to decant the bottle of wine as if you were serving in a restaurant. The key element here is that you are decanting the bottle in front of the guest, so it is a good idea to engage them in some conversation. Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it. Aparently I was the only candidate to do this. Finally you are given a bottle of champagne, and eight glasses and asked to pour the eight glasses. The key to this part is to open the bottle safely, then pour evenly and consistently. Perfect is pouring eight equal glasses with nothing left in the bottle. The next best thing is to have a teeny tiny bit left in the bottle. Disaster is only pouring seven or less and running out.
Competition over we retired to the lobby to await the deliberations. As we each debriefed ourselves and the audience gave us their opinions the stress of the situation bleeds away nicely. A good cup of tea helps immensely as well!! Once they had tallied all the scores we were called back in and given the results in reverse order.
3rd Place went to Francois from the Hotel de Vin in Brum.
2nd Place to Guillaume(?) from Hotel de Vin in York
1st place was yours truly!! Double Gobsmacked!!
So I got a glass trophy, two magnums of champagne and I get to compete in London at the National Finals. Id best get studying!!
Friday, February 29, 2008
On the palate it has a definate red fruit character, an intertwined blend of cassis, redcurrant and morello cherry with quite a savoury, almost leaf-like finish. The surprising element about the wine is the strength of acidity remaining, very cleansing making the wine feel remarkably youthfull despite its 19 years of age. Really stunningly good wine, almost wasted on its purchaser (no actually truly wasted on its purchaser, and I mean that in a totally non disrespectful way, but the dude was half cut and only drank about a glass and a half, leaving the rest to us), shame it was the last one.
And on the subject of DRC, we got the news this afternoon that we didnt recieve any this year in our allocation, which is a bit of a disappointment, given our long term purchase history of the wine. I appreciate it can be difficult deciding allocations, especially when the wines are produced in such small quantities and demand is becoming stratospheric especially with emerging new markets who are cash rich and eager to appropriate the "right" labels, but it would seem that loyalty is a dying commodity, as it doesnt pay the bills.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
As a sommelier we have a ritual that we like to run through when someone orders a bottle of wine, any wine whether it is £15 or £5000. The first is to verbally repeat back the order to the guest to confirm that we have not misheard or misunderstood. Thats the first check. Then we will retrieve the bottle from our stock, we will check that the wine and the vintage match the wine-list - doesnt always happen but thats why we check. If the vintage doesnt match we will notify the guest that the vintage has changed and offer them the opportunity to accept or change the wine. The wine is then presented to the person who ordered it, the name of the wine and the vintage being specially highlighted verbally. This is the third check. It is incumbent then to the guest to confirm the wine is indeed the wine they ordered. Once they have accepted the wine, then the "contract" is sealed, they have agreed to it it has undergone three checks and they are obliged to pay for it. We would then open the wine and check the condition of it, if it is fine we take it back to the guest and offer them a sample. This is check number five. All being well we would now serve the wine and the customers would enjoy it. Should they wish to order another bottle, the process is pretty much repeated verbatim. At the end of their meal when they ask for the bill, we print out their bill, it is then checked by the sommelier, the head waiter and sometimes the restaurant manager before it is given to the guest to check. At this point all being well they will check their bill and pay before leaving to wherever they may be going. So there are quite a few checkpoints along the way before any nasty surprises come with the bill. But despite that, I have to say that I had customers who when they have recieved the bill have had an unpleasant surprise (although nowhere near the two grand for the screaming eagle.). Who is at fault? My view is that they are at fault as long as we have followed the prescribed proceedures. If they have chosen to ignore me when I repeat back their order and when I present the wine then really they havent got a leg to stand on. But this being the hospitality industry, we will try to reach an amicable solution to the situation, which sometimes might mean we suck it up, sometimes it might mean you suck it up! The moral of the story boys and girls is to check very carefully what you are ordering, especially in restaurants with very expensive wine-lists.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The wine that I have selected is Planeta Cerasuelo di Vittoria 2006, which unless I am mistaken is Sicily's only D.O.C.G. wine. The wine is a blend of two native varieties - Nero d'Avola and Frappato. So seven words -
Reminds me of Vimto and Wham bars.
Tastes like summer berries and ginger beer.
For those that dont know what a Wham bar is, it was a sweet very popular in the eighties. A flat chewy bar with rainbow drops of cystalised sugar and popping candy on the top of it. The flavour was a mixed fruit flavour that had hints of red berries and rhubarb. They used to cost about 10p each and were so chewy they had the power to extract fillings!! I havent seen one for years but you can get them from A Quarter of (http://www.aquarterof.co.uk/wham-bars-p-363.html).
Well that was quite easy really, good theme Andrew and Im looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Now price increases are almost inevitable. Transport costs alone have risen astronomically over the last twelve months, couple that with the exchange rate against the Euro and Australian dollar and the news is gloomy. But also add in the fact that glass is getting more expensive, cork is becoming astronomical, labour costs have risen dramatically and the huge increases become expected. Perhaps we have been spoilt by a tidal wave of cheap wine, brought to our shores by Tesco, Sainsburys et al. All I know is that wine-drinkers are going to suffer soon in their wallets, as the costs go through the roof. Shortages of fruit in champagne are said to be driving the price higher, the drought in parts of Australia has seriously affected production there and is also driving prices up. Were doomed Im telling you!
Friday, February 08, 2008
The new venue was quite good, lots of natural light, plenty of space, and a circular layout which seems to make the place bigger on first impression. We started out with the whites, and managed to taste a few good whites on the Alliance wines stand with Giles their MW. The Tassie rieslings and Pinot Gris' were pretty good and may be worth a few listings. Further round the room we spend a bit of time with Francis from OW Loeb who was there with Phil Sexton from Giant Steps. Phil is an interesting character, a brewer by trade they started making wine in the Margaret River with a winery called Devils Lair and a beer called Little Creatures. When they sold up, they moved over to the Yarra valley where they set up Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander. The two labels share many outstanding qualities but their defining characters would be that Innocent Bystander wines are winemaker wines, whereas Giant Steps wines are Vineyard wines. By that I mean that IB wines are the product of winemaker "manipulation" in the winery to create consistent products - good well made wines that use cultured yeasts to produce certain characteristics in the wines. Whereas the GS wines are the products of the fruit grown in the vineyard. Minimum intervention, wild yeast fermentation, they will show marked differences from vineyard to vineyard, vintage to vintage. For me the two standout wines where the Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay and the Tarraford Vineyard Pinot, both showing really complex layers of flavours, with soft fruits layered with defining earthy characteristics. Then we had the muscat!!! OMFG it was divine!!!!!!! Cheeky little half bottles of heaven - light, slightly sticky, just sweet enough with a hint of petillance. The guests are gonna love this one. Phil and his marketing guy were there telling us the first vintage they made of this they made some 600 cases. It sold out. The second vintage they made about 40000 cases, it also sold out. The next vintage comes of the vines in about three weeks. They are planning on making some 600000 cases of it, and it looks like it is already all sold out. It should be on the shelves about five weeks after the harvest, which is a pretty impressive turnaround.
By now we'd done about all the whites we were interested in and so we cycled round again and hit the reds. We spent some time again with the Giant Steps guys before we moved on over to the Cult and Boutique stall and spend a bit of time there with the guys. They had some fabulous big reds, including a stonking grenache, with a seriously wallet unfriendly price!!! But they had a few wines that Im interested in, so hopefully we will be able to do something with them.
Overall it was quite a productive day, I got to see a few old friends and faces, and despite the dominance of the supermarket brands, there were some great little wines there and I reckon that a few will end up on the list over the next few months. We had several hundred miles to go home, so after a brief dinner at the nearby Pizza Express we headed home. Not a bad little jolly.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
The tasting was held in the private dining room of Delfina on the Bermondsey Road, out in what I will assume is quite a trendy up and coming area of London. The room itself was pretty big and very white and blank, which I suppose is ideal if you are selling it as a space. We were organised into four groups - each group having a team leader who role was just to co-ordinate the proceedings and prod us along. There were seven of us in the group, and we tasted five flights of between ten and twenty wines.
The first flight was white burgs and the prices ranged from £5-50. I felt out of my league at first as I tasted my way through each wine, trying to jot down some notes and then rating each wine with a yes, no or maybe. I started out looking at the wine from the point of view that I was tasting it with a view to listing it here. So I looked at the whole range of factors - the style, quality and overall balance of the wine, but was the price right. It isnt as easy as it sounds. Once we had all tasted our way through the wines we then discussed which wines we felt would make it through to the next stage. There were some wines that we almost all agreed with, there were some that we didnt, but overall it was fairly well balanced with some active debate promoting or demoting the merit of disputed wines.
I must admit that by the end of the afternoon I struggled through the last two flights - Italian reds - other and Rhone. The last three wines were quite hellish really, I felt like I wanted to chuck! But overall the experience was a really good one, I got to meet a few really interesting contacts, and its an experience that I would love to expand on a bit over the next year or so, hopefully gaining myself and consequently the hotel a slightly higher profile.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
For me, Ive re-evaluating the stock, taking a look at certain wines that for some reason or another have failed to meet expectations, that havent delivered what was expected of them. We had quite a few over xmas, mostly burgs, roughly half white and half red. It is something of a disappointment when you open a bottle that really ought to be pretty good, to find it lacking, falling short, just missing the mark. It puts me in a difficult position, especially if I have "sold" the customer on selecting this wine. On the one hand, such is wine, thats the gamble you take, but on the other hand, our whole raison d'etre is customer satisfaction. Now while I dont believe all that bullshit that the customer is always right, I do believe that our purpose is to create a satisfying environment where the customers can enjoy their meal to the fullest extent. And these days wine is an integral part of that experience. So when chef has gone to the effort to source the best produce, expertly prepared it, delicately presented it, then it really deserves the best wine to complement it. So how to handle such a scenario?
Ultimately it is all down to balancing everyones needs. It boils down to communicating with the customer, gauging their response to the wine and in the end it may involve adding a "sommeliers discount" to the wine to make it a more reasonable value. There are a few wines on the list that are relative steals because I feel that they just arent shining in the way that they ought to and so Ive underpriced them a bit to compensate. So get shopping, read the list and you might be getting a bargain you werent expecting.