Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lealtanza Rioja Reserva Dali Label 2004

Many years ago I went through a phase of being really into art - impressionist (mostly monet), pop-art (lichtenstein and warhol) and of course the surrealist movement spearheaded by Dali. I kind of got into Dali by way of rave flyers, promotional leaflets for all night dance events, for which Dali was ideal material. Works like the persistance of memory and the great masturbator were frequently used for flyers due to their striking imagery and allusions to the underlying drug culture of the day. So when I was recently shown a wine labelled in homage to Dali I was quite interested.

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

Rioja - Palacios, Remelluri and de la Marquesa

I was fortunate enough to be taken to Rioja at the beginning of the week for a brief visit. Organised by Wines of Spain and the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja a small group of sommeliers and wine buyers from the UK and one from Sweden were shown around six bodegas across Rioja.

I wasnt sure what to expect at first, when I saw the itinerary for the trip. I decided to not research the wineries in order to go with an open mind to them and not form any pre-judgements. Im glad that I did, for they each had something unique to offer, whether it be in their physical wineries and their methodology, or in their wines that we tasted, and after visiting six different bodegas and tasting something like 50 wines over the two days, its fair to say that its opened my eyes to Rioja as a wine and a region.

We started off with Bodegas Palacios in Laguardia. After being shown around the winery and its cellars, we were given a tasting of eight wines, all quite good, if rather average. The whites were certainly fresh and vibrant, and the reds all starting off with a slightly milky aroma - its the lactic acid our host proudly proclaimed, typical of tempranillo. From that we can deduce that their wines all undergo malo-lactic fermentation in the barrels. Off the six wineries we visited this was possibly the least inspiring, but it was interesting to see their perspective on the methods of production and it certainly is a winery with a long history.

From their we headed up to Labastida up in the Cantabria hills to visit Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri. This was certainly the most beautiful of the bodegas we visited.

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


I got to thinking about some wines last night, wines that had exceeded my expectations and consequently became more prominant in my recommendations, and wines that had failed to meet my expectations and therefore been a disappointment. There have been all too many of the later over the years - one of the most prominant being Krug's Clos de Mesnil when I first tried it several years ago for a Krug Dinner that we hosted. It had been so exhalted and placed on such a big pedestal, that when I tried it, angels failed to sing praises on my tastebuds and I felt let down, and disappointed. I guess I was a bit niave about it too, because at the time I wasnt conscious of its cost. When I found out how exhorbitantly expensive it was that only added to the sense of disappointment. Anyway several years have passed and having recently had the chance to taste the new vintage of Clos de Mesnil Im glad to say that my opinion has been slightly revised.
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

So much happening.

Ive been neglecting my blog of late. There are a few reasons for this, some are personal, but the main reasons are a lack of inspiration, a lack of opportunity to some extent, but primarily I havent felt the need to vent as much, and that was one of the primary reasons I started the blog. It was a cheap alternative to psychotherapy.
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.

Planeta Cometa 2007

Last night was the second gourmet evening in the newly re-opened Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor (henceforth known as Radder's).We were showing the wines of Planeta, based in Menfi in Sicily. Unfortunately we couldnt get any of the Planeta's over, so Stephen, our account manager from Enotria played host for the evening. The evening was a great success, the guests were very happy with the food, the service and of course the wonderful wines. For me the highlight was the Cometa.
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

Andrew Will - Two Blondes Vineyard Blend, Yakima Valley, Washington 2005

Ive been on the Andrew Will mailing list for a number of years, and despite never being able to order anything from it, it is a useful source of information about the region and vintage. In fact for the last three years or so, Ive been desperate to order something from it, but have had neither the money nor the American address to get it sent to. But that shouldnt have stopped me really, because for a number of years, Morris and Verdun have had a small selection of the wines on offer in the UK. And again lack of fiscal resources has stopped me. So earlier this year when I was trying to find a theme for a gourmet dinner to replace a rejected idea, I decided to try and put on a Pacific Northwest dinner. After all it is an area that I have a considerable interest in, it is also an area that you dont see very often coming up on wine-lists in this country, for reasons of which I would discover as I tried to source the wines for the dinner. I was pleasantly surprised when the boss said yes, and lo and behold we were doing a Pac-NW dinner.

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

Didier Dagueneau RIP

I found out this afternoon that Didier Dagueneau died yesterday afternoon in an accident. It seems he was in a paraglider that stalled and dropped to the earth, killing him and injuring one other person. He was only 52. A tragic loss for the wine world, and especially the Loire.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Visiting Krug - in the cellars.

So with eyes like pissholes in the snow, I woke up a silly o clock in the morning, showered and made it down for a lovely breakfast in the morning. The sun was shining, the gardener was out raking the gardens and clearing up the corks we had fired off the balcony the previous night. Mine was the winner, out on the grass, while mark managed to hit the patio and penny barely made if further than the end of the balcony sill. After indulging on fresh croissants and pastries we were met at the front by our genial chauffer and whisked off to the maison. The Krug domaine is rather discretely placed off the main roads behind a set of imposing black gates. As we entered the courtyard the place was filled with oak barrels being washed down and soaked with water, preparing them for impending use.

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

Like a pilgrimage to Mecca - the visit to Krug. Day one.

Ive had my pilgrimage, got to see two of the most precious vineyards in the whole of Champagne and Im one seriously happy camper!
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

Krug minus 2

Just two more days until I go to Krug. Well technically its three as we dont actually visit Krug until Tuesday morning, but by this time on Monday we will be in Riems at the Hotel Crayeres and I cant wait. Ive been looking forward to this jolly for six months. We have a tasting on tuesday at 10am followed by a tour of the Clos de Mesnil. Hopefully we can persuade them to take us to the Clos d'Ambonnay as well, before lunch and then returning home. Short and sweet. Then Im off for three weeks while the refurb happens and the Arkle is turned into Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Losing an old friend.

Tonight I lost my buddy, my companion for the past seven years. Weve shared some tough times, and some fun times, seen some great wines and many many good wines. And through all those bottles hes been there beside me, my faithful pulltap wine-knive. But tonight his spine snapped, and he lies at the bottom of my locker now, in two pieces. Im gutted, not least because it was a damned good wine-knife, but its been with me for so long. Originally it was black, but all those years of use have worn the blacking off of it and it is now a shiny metal colour. Luckily for me, I have plenty of back-up wine-knives, including a Laguiole given to me one night by an appreciative customer, but they just dont feel the same as my lucky black pulltap.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Providing Options

I have an ambitious plan. Perhaps a touch too ambitious, but sod it, Im going to go ahead and do it anyway. I plan to offer 100 wines by the carafe. Yes thats One Hundred wines in a 350ml carafe. Im going to offer Dolcetto, Fiano, Txakoli, Viognier, Alvarinho and Albarino, Romorintin, Arinto, Loureiro, Nero d'Avola, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, and loads of obscure grapes, as well as the classic styles of wine - german riesling, alsace pinot blanc, loire sauvignon, beaujolais cru and many other wonderful wines, that people might be reluctant to spend for a full bottle. We're going to have some fun with the wine-list, give people the opportunity to try some new things, discover some new wines and explore some new regions. Now its up to the customers to think outside the box and take the chance to try something different.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

En Primeur 2007

The en primeur 2007 is nearly at an end. Pretty much all thats left to declare their prices is Petrus, and they usually wait until about the middle of July. We have bought quite a bit this year, about £15k altogether including two cases of Mouton for £5200. Weve mostly gone for the good stuff, Palmer, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Pichon-Lalande Comtesse, Rauzan Segla, La Fleur Petrus, La Grave a Pomerol and Cos d'Estournel. The 2007's arent going to be a keeping vintage by all accounts, at least according to the reporting from the mass of tasters, buyers and journalists who were part of the en primeur tastings earlier in the year. But perhaps thats a good thing. Certainly in most cases the prices were down on last year, still expensive, but as far as fine is concerned it seems to be a sellers market just now. Were just starting to see the 2005's arrive just now, Ive already had the Mouton, Lascombes and Pichon delivered, Im sure there will be more to come over the next few months.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wines by the glass.

With only the most terrible sense of timing imaginable, Im changing the wines we pour by the glass. As part of my proposed plan to widen the range of wines that we offer by the glass, the first stage is to change the wines on offer. Once they have bedded in, I plan to gradually offer a wide range of wines by the carafe - 250ml. Hopefully this will offer people a safer option to try some more esoteric grape varieties without risking too much. Things like Albarino, Txakoli, Arinto de Bucelas, Greco di Tufo, Mencia and many other wierd and wonderful varieties can now be explored without breaking the bank, and it should allow me much more fun when menu matching.

So here briefly is the run down on the new wines by the glass.

Whites -
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.

Another Mouton Post.

Two guys in the brasserie ask about Chateau Talbot. Currently we only have the 2005 in the cellar, which is way too young. So they ask me for a suggestion.
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

Smith Haut-Lafitte Blanc 1998

I must say that I do like a good white bordeaux. The crisp freshness of Chateau La Freynelles bordeaux blanc is a marvelous summer sipper and great with a wide variety of food. But spend a lot more and the result is heaven in a glass. For me there is no better bordeaux blanc that Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, and I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of cases of the 98 from a broking list the other week. Ive been itching to try it, and last night I got my chance. It has quite an aromatic nose, slightly more exotic that Mark was expecting with a defining aroma of dried apricots or peaches. I was getting a bit of dried white fruits, but perhaps more of golden sultanas. I didnt taste it as I had a funny slightly metallic taste in my mouth at the time. The customers loved it though, so thats what counts. Now I plan to sell the hell out of it tonight!!

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

Working on a new design.

With the refurb approaching at an alarming rate, less than five weeks until we close now, we are trying to finalise the new design of the winelist. The current iteration has been in place for nearly two years now, and its time for a refresh. For a while now, Ive always fancied the idea of a landscape winelist, and it looks like this might well be the direction that we are heading in. In order to make the best use of the pages I want to present the winelist in two columns to a page. We are now working out the smaller details - font, font sizes, colours, paper type, weight and colour, not to mention the most important consideration of the lot - how do we present the wines. Currently we use the "old fashioned" concept of listing by country, with the commonly used convention of the old world first, new world second. In many ways I'm loath to move away from that format, because it is easy - both for me and the customers. But Im conscious that many people now choose their wines by style rather than country. So perhaps we ought to consider listing the whites first then the reds? Maybe by grape variety? Or we could use funky descriptive terms like Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale Arizona ( (though Im not sure the boss would like that one!!).
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

Maybe I made the wrong choice?

Tonight was the Loire Gourmet dinner, and I must say that Im not really very happy about it. To start with I have a stinking cold, so I have generally been unable to smell anything other than the thick green snot that is cloging my aching sinus's (sinii?). Last year when we planned this calendar, I had costed the dinner based on a preliminary selection of the wines from Yapps list. I always try to overcost the dinners, that way Im allowing for any price increases, tax changes etc that come in to play, especially when you consider that these events are planned nearly a year in advance. In fact Im working on next years calendar now. About a month ago I first discussed the wines that I had considered showing with our account manager from Yapp, and we made a few tweaks, adding a new wine that they had sourced to the line-up and swapping out one of the reds that she felt wouldnt do justice to the evening. Now overall I was quite happy with the selection. We started out with a Cremant de Loire Rose which went down quite well with most of the folks. The first wine with the meal was a Muscadet, which overall got a good reaction, except from the "foodies", the folks who I know are quite into their food and wine. Part of me wonders whether this is a snobbery/perception issue, because certainly Muscadet had its boom in the eighties before becoming naff and unfashionable, not to mention that the market was flooded with some quite poor examples. Have the foodies dismissed it based on its history? It seemed to me that those people who were experiencing it for the first time really seemed to enjoy it. Who knows for sure.
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

The good, the bad and the truly awful.

Last night was Dining Club and as usual the choice of wines was mine to make. I plumped for a Puligny-Montrachet from Gerard Chavy for the intermediate course (I ought to have checked what I served last time, because that was a Puligny 97 too, although it was a different Lieu-dit and producer). The 1997 Puligny-Montrachet "les Folatieres" has always been good for me, but it is a wine that Ive neglected of late, and that has meant Ive missed its evolution from a cracking good burgundy into one that seems now to be in decline. Last night we had to open eight bottles to find five that were fit for service, and the variation between them was quite large. There were two bottles that were sublime - hazelnuts and vanilla on the nose with a citrussy finish, fresh and lively, three bottles were slightly duller on the nose, not quite as fresh but still rich and nutty with a slightly more buttery character, and the rest were quite horrible. The good ones had a golden yellow colour, with a clear watery rim, the bad ones were browning with a colour verging on amber. Now an attrition rate of approaching 50% is not good, and it was to get worse with the cheese wine. An 83 Bonnes Mares from Drouhin-Laroze. Their wines often have a more feral character, almost brettish, with good earthy tones and vibrant fruit in the background waiting to come forward. I knew it was on the mature side of life, but was quite surprised at the fragility of the wine, and the remarkably short space of time it took to tip over the edge into stewed fruit and then vinegar. It got the stage when we opened the bottles minutes before they were due to be served in order to ensure they were fit for consumption.
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

Mischa Estate Wines.

Had an interesting tasting yesterday with Roger, one of our main suppliers and the winemaker and his fiancee from Mischa Estate down in Wellington South Africa. Now Ive been trying to do a bit more South African for a little while now, because I think there is a lot going on down there and the quality of wine coming out of South Africa seems to be getting better and better. Thankfully more of the farmers are moving away from the Co-ops and starting to produce their own fantastic wines. The big problem for both them and UK sommelier and customers is that at the moment many of these wines dont yet have a route to market. But that is changing and as time goes on, they will find UK importers knocking on their doors trying to get them to sell to them.

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

A match made in heaven.

For a retirement function tonight -

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 Pioneer Block 2 (Swamp Block) Sauvignon 2007.

I took Kenny from Villeneuve Wines advice and took a case of the Pioneer Block 2 to replace the Block 7 that we had purchased earlier from a different supplier. I loved the block 7 because it had a really confectioned tropical fruit nose with strong citrus character, particularly lime and grapefruit. The block 2 however is way better.

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

oeneous geriophilia - Vallet freres Vosne Romanee "Malconsorts" 1952

Wowsers, after last nights super young claret, comes tonights geriatric burgundy in the form of a 52 Vosne Romanee. I had been given the responsability of choosing the red between a 59 Bonnes Mares, a 52 Vosne or a 58 Romanee St Vivant. I chose the Vosne because it had the safest ullage level (equivalent to top shoulder in a burg bottle) whereas the other two were a rather alarming 2 to 3 inches short of the cork!!
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

Oenoeous Pedophilia? 2004 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.

In an effort to live up to our marketing departments claims of a 1000 bins on the wine list, I was put in a position where Ive had to list some really quite young wines on the list. Particularly prominent amongst them are the 2003, 2004 and now 2005 clarets that we have in stock. They are causing me something of a dilemma. Do I keep them off the list until they are ready to drink (my prefered option) or do we list them and hope that people will perhaps have enough knowledge to realise that really the wines are not anywhere near ready to drink. Well I kind of lost the arguement and they ended up being listed. So now what do I do when a customer order the wine?
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!

Passing of a Legend.

The interwebs are blazing with the news that Robert Mondavi has passed away at the fairly ripe old age of 94. Few figures in the industry have been as influential and prominent as Robert Mondavi and his passing is truly a great loss to the wine industry as a whole. Condolences to his family.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is there value to be had under £50?

There is a comment that has been left on one of my earlier posts which has had me cogitating over the last few days. ( Is there any value to be had on a restaurant winelist for less than £50. The short answer is not much. Let me explain why.
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

Chateau Bauduc Rose.

I got some disappointing news the other day from Angela at Bauduc. It seems that they have run out of the Rose 2006 and are in the awful position of having rejected the 2007 rose as unsuitable for bottling they are now without a rose until 2008 vintage is ready sometime in 2009. Now that puts us in a spot, it sells really well, we are about to enter summer, and hopefully the weather will be really hot, meaning we are potentially loosing out on a bit opportunity. My boss is pretty pissed off about it. I on the other hand am kind of proud of them. By rejecting the vintage they are showing a commitment to quality and a pride in their wines. Now I dont know what happens to the wine. Perhaps it gets blended into the red (though I doubt it, surely it would lighten the wine), maybe they will keep it for their personal consumption (again doubtful but likely) or perhaps they pour it away (costly!!) but whatever happens they have lost that revenue stream. All the time and effort in the vineyard growing the fruit, the time in the winery turning the fruit into wine, and the time in the tanks waiting, wasted. They arent Mouton-Rothschild or Lafite, they are a small family winery so thats got to hurt them financially. And the scary thing for them is that all those customers who would have bought their rose will now find an alternative. And perhaps they might not buy Bauduc rose again. So not only have they lost this years business, but potentially they have lost next years too.
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

Drouhin-Laroze Clos de Vougeot 1992

Served last night for an exclusive use function. We had a bit of a drama at about 4pm when i discovered that the two cases we had of this wine both had different vintages in them, eight bottles of 1992 and twelve bottles of 1997. To make matters worse the bottle of 92 we opened to check it was rank, really nasty. Things were starting to look grim when the 97 wasnt any better. Plan C was 9 magnums of 95, but then as luck would have it, I found 12 bottles of the 92 racked up in the cellar and a quick check opening them revealed them to be quite glorious. It seemed we'd fluked upon the duffer when we checked them.
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.

AA wine list of year award.

It would seem that we have been shortlisted for the AA wine-list of the year award. Fingers crossed. Actually we had a meeting this afternoon to discuss the current state of the wine-list and how we want to progress it from here. I have lots of ideas that I want to develop for it, its all a case of planning and checking out whats selling, what works with the menu and building on those core elements. So Ive got a lot of work to do on it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi 2005

Sold a bottle tonight to someone who was going to spend just £50 on a bottle, but I guess my enthusiasm won them over. I think the wine is still a bit young, but with decanting it opened out quite nicely and seemed to grow into the glass a bit.

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

Krug Clos d'Ambonnay 1995

This year Krug are releasing a new cuvee, a blanc de noirs, which is already causing a stir on the wine market. The 1995 Krug Clos d'Ambonnay is on track to become the world's most expensive bottle of wine on release, with a retail price tag of between £1500 and £2000. That puts it slightly beyond the realms of DRC La Romanee Conti, Petrus and Le Pin. A microscopic 14 barrels of the wine were produced, and it is estimated that a mere 2,000 bottles will be available upon its release sometime in May. A few lucky Krug collectors were given a VIP tour and tasting and were offered the opportunity to purchase two cases (12 bottles) of the wine at £12000 per case in bond. Needless to say they all took the golden opportunity and one case has already seeped onto the secondary market being sold at auction in Las Vegas for a mammoth $26000.

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


Ive been off for a couple of weeks while I visited my folks in Oslo (my old man works for the Foreign Office). Had a great time just chillin and visiting a few museums. We didnt eat out much because its very expensive in Oslo and I would hazard a guess to say in the rest of Norway as well. Sales tax equates to about 25% (compared to 17.5% in the UK) so thats surely a part of it. Whilst on a trip to the local supermarket with my mum, we passed the Vinmonopolet which is the state off-license. Like the rest of the Scandanavian countries Norway operates a state controlled liquor monopoly. Folks can buy beer from the supermarkets but anything stronger must be bought through the Vinmonopolet. So me being me, we had a quick shuftie around. I must say that the selection was quite poor compared to what is on offer here in the UK. The range was heavily favoured to Europe, with a supermarket selection of Aussie and American wines (ie huge conglomerated brands - Hardys, Gallo, Lindemans, etc etc). The prices seemed quite steep, on a par with what I charge in the restaurant, so thats a reasonably steep price for a retail outlet. When you consider that being a monopoly they should have quite some purchase power I kind of found it really strange. I wonder if there is a reason the booze is so expensive, perhaps anyone from Norway might be able to answer.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sommelier of the year 2008

Well wednesday was the finals of the Heidsieck Champagne Sommelier of the Year competition organised by the Academy of Food and wine service. Im grateful to the hotel for flying me back from Oslo in order to compete.

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

Stiff Competition

Over the weekend I managed to track down a list of who has made it through to the Sommelier of the Year semi's being held on the 2nd April. Whats hardly surprising is the number of Hotel du Vin guys, past and present, that have qualified. The list reads like a who's who of British Sommelierie, and Im kind of humbled that my name is on it.

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

La Conseillante 1989

First time Id tried it, but it has been recommended to me by many previous customers all of which seem to like big expensive claret.

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.

Chateau Margaux 1983

Sold as a pair of wines with a La Conseillante 1989.

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

In Training.

Well having qualified for the semi-finals of the Sommelier of the Year competition I have decided to give it my best shot. As it falls in the middle of my holiday, the hotel has very generously paid for my flights back from Oslo in order to compete on the 2nd April. So Mark and I have arranged a training schedule to try and improve on my blind tasting skills. Each day he has been selecting four wines, two reds and two whites to try and test me, and yesterday we looked at spirits as well.
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

Domaine de la Tour Vieille, Collioure "puig oriol" 2005

Served as part of the Wines of Southern France gourmet evening last night. Simon paired a lovely little date, raisin and mature cheddar "burger" with this as the cheese course. It was following a 2000 Domaine de Trevaillon, so I was slightly dubious as to whether it would have the strength to follow it, but it coped really well and drew a lot of positive comments.

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

Bodegas Borsao, Tres Picos Garnacha 2006

Coming from the Campo de Borja D.O. region, this is a relatively new winery comprising of three co-operatives in the region amounting to some 600 growers!! The Campo de Borja is slightly southeast of Rioja, getting into the foothills of the Moncayo mountain. In fact the name of the wine - Tres Picos roughly translates as three mountains.

This is a deep purple inky wine, with an amazing nose of almost candied fruits - wham bars and vimto and a dense undertone of something feral. On the palate it starts with a slight spritz, almost a touch fizzy, which combined with the confectioned fruity flavours could almost convince you you are drinking fizzy vimto. But then after you swallow, the wine finishes with the most amazingly intense flavour of chocolate coated coffee beans. The length is phenominal!!!!! I am seriously loving this wine!! So much awsum!!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Academy of Food and Wine Service Sommelier of the Year competition.

I was down in Birmingham today for the Sommelier of the Year competition, formerly known as the Trophy Ruinart Sommelier Competition. Ruinart pulled out of Sponsorship late last year leaving the competition hanging a bit by a thread. However it seems the Academy has managed to secure new sponsorship from Heidsieck Champagnes - Piper and Charles. So having sent of my completed questionaire earlier last month, I was notified that I had qualified for the regional final held at the Birmingham Malmaison. So braving the impending hurricane force winds I travelled down to Birmingham on Sunday night to get rested up and ready for the competition on Monday morning.
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

DRC La Tache 1988

On the nose the overall character is raspberry with quite a feral edge to it, there is something distinctly animal about it, more than just earthy. Its a very complex nose, evolving over minutes and half hours to take on a deeper earthy character- black soil with tobacco and hints of vegetal rotting - think deciduous forest floor - mushroom and decay.
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

An expensive mistake?

I was alerted to an article in the New York times a few weeks ago by their food critic Frank Bruni. The crux of the article was a letter Mr Bruni had recieved from a gentleman who had been dining at one of New Yorks upmarket restaurants. In the letter the gent tells Mr Bruni of an experience where as part of a group dining out, one of the guests ordered (inadvertantly apparently) a rather expensive bottle or red wine - Screaming Eagle no less, with a price tag of $2000. The price of the wine wasnt raised until the bill came, upon which the party were rather surprised. That said they paid their bill, left a tip and left, never to return again. Now the diners primary issue with the experience was that at no point after the wine was ordered were the group made aware of the expense of the wine, and they felt that the restaurant had an obligation to highlight the cost before it was served. The article has attracted a huge number of comments online ( - mine included! So are they right, should the restaurant have made an issue about the cost of the wine? Heres my thoughts on the matter.

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

WBW 42 - Just Seven Words

Andrew of Spitoon has come up with a blinding idea for this months edition of WBW - describing a wine in just seven words. ( In these abreviated days of txtspk and slang, I suppose it is becoming more common to shorten everything. Personally I think there are times when it is useful, Im not sure that describing wine is one of them, but then again I have seen many wine reviews that run towards the verbal diarrhea so I happy to give it a shot.
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 (

Well that was quite easy really, good theme Andrew and Im looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"We are facing a perfect storm"

That was a quote directly from one of our main suppliers this afternoon as we discussed the impending price increases. Some of our suppliers have already sent us the bad news, and my god, some of it terrible. We are facing increases of upto £1 a bottle, and this is before the Chancellor drops whatever bombshell he plans to next month. The rumours are that there could be an increase of as much as 30p on a bottle of wine!!!
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

Australia Day Tasting

Danny and I went up to Edinburgh over the weekend to attend the Australia Day tasting at Our Dynamic Earth. We spend the sunday night in Glasgow, where I tried to find some of my old haunts (unsuccessfully, most of them it would seem have changed, closed or even been demolished) and ended up a bit pissed in Subway scoffing a 12" meatball sub at about midnight (on a sunday!!!!!). We drove over on monday morning after a quick detour to stock up on Square Sausage (a scottish delicacy!) then proceeded to take nearly twice as long to find the bloody place, once we were in Edinburgh, as it took to drive over from Glasgow!! But eventually we got there and we got down to some tasting.

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

Back to .......

This week marks my last week as a cellar monkey, for officially from next week, I return to the Arkle full-time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Imbibe Magazine - Sommelier Wine Awards

I was in London today for the second tasting of the Sommelier Wine Awards organised by Imbibe magazine. It was a really good experience, and in some ways showed me that I have a long way to go if I want to pass the tasting part of my Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced course.

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

Falling short of expectations.

January it would seem is becoming the month for re-evaluating things. In the post-christmas carnage that is the sales season, we are gradually slowing down, and now we look back on the xmas festivities with a critical eye to see where we can improve, what changes are needed and believe it or not, begin to put together our 2008 package.
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.