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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wine Blog Wednesday 41 - Friuli Wines.

For this edition of Wine Blog Wednesday, hosted by Jack and Joanne at Fork and Bottle (
I had hoped to find something a bit more exciting to write about than the wine that I eventually settled for. I say settled for, because I couldnt find anything better or more interesting to use, so I went back to the wine Im going to write about as an only resort. Now Italy is something of an achilles heel for me, its a region that Ive never really had much affinity for, and so Ive really struggled to get to know it very well. In the past, Ive never really had the imperative to get to know it, and so it has always languished somewhat in my knowledge, with occasional reminders that I really ought to be doing more about it. Working in Scotland for many years, there was never a great need to study the Italian wines as, surrounded by so many phenominal restaurants (Italian of course!) with amazing wine-lists chock full of the very best Italian wines (because the owner is cousin to.., uncle of.., nephew of... etc etc they are all related!!) there really was no point in even attempting to compete with them. As long as you had the required Chianti, the occasional supertuscan - Sassicaia, Tignanello, Ornellaia, Pergole Torte and perhaps a cheeky wee Orvieto then you had all your bases covered. And so it is that Ive been able to "get away with it" so to speak. Now I want to try and correct that, I need to focus on Italy, certainly if I want to progress further within the Court of Master Sommeliers, and I do, but more importantly because it is a weak area in my knowledge, and my pride in what i do requires that I action that. So I plan to invest some time, lots of money on books - Gamberro Rosso Guide, Vino Italiano (which happens to be the book on this month newly started wine bloggers book club) and Im hoping to track down an old copy of Burton Andersons Wine Atlas of Italy (currently about £150 on Call it a new years resolution if you will. Anyway, thats kind of why I was hoping to find something a bit better than the wine Ive ended up with, but despite looking, I failed in my quest, which is why the wine Im going to blog about is: Angoris Pinot Grigio from Isonzo del Fruili.

Now over the last year, Pinot Grigio seems to have been the must drink white wine in the UK. Over 2007 we shifted over 2,000 bottles of the stuff, compared to 4,000 bottles of the "house" white. Ive never really understood the appeal, personally, because I find Pinot Grigio generally to be thin, insipid and just completely lacking, and hence I kind of came to the conclusion that it was drunk by people who felt they ought to be drinking wine, but in actual fact DIDNT LIKE wine. By the time it is chilled down, you are drinking what seems like vaguely alcoholic water. There just isnt any flavour there!! Yet when you compare it to something like an Alsace Pinot Gris they are chalk and cheese - despite being made from the same grape! Now maybe its the fermenting tanks - often huge ancient oak barrels in Alsace compared to huge stainless steel tanks in Italy. Maybe its something else. I dont know for sure, but I know that I just dont get it. But the customers are obviously seeing something Ive maybe missed so heres my chance to give it a shot and see.
The Angoris estate can trace its history back over 300 years. Its original owners were the noble Locatelli family, and over the last three hundred years it has swapped hands three times, lately to the Locatelli family (not sure if they are related) in the late 60's. Their vineyards are quite extensive and the Pinot Grigio comes from vineyards in the heart of the Isonzo del Fruili D.o.C region. A few years ago they changed their packaging to a more streamlined bordeaux style bottle which I must say looks very good. So whats it like? The colour is quite a pale lemon, bright and clear with a watery rim. On the nose there really isnt very much, a hint of light white flowers, some citrus fruit and thats about it. Even at cellar temp the nose doesnt really pick up. On the palate there is more flavour than the aromas, but not much. Again citrus seems quite dominant with lemons and a touch of grapefruit - possibly ruby grapefruit. There isnt much length to the wine, the flavours seem to dissapate very soon, but i guess that is why people tend to scoop it down and drink another bottle!! This wine would retail for about £9, and I think I would be a bit disappointed paying that. I have to say it was a bit better than I had expected it to be, but it hasnt really changed my opinion of Pinot Grigio especially. Perhaps Im being a wine snob, but I really cant see why we sell so much of this, but as long as the customers are loving it, then maybe I am missing something.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The Arkle re-opens tomorrow night after a brief January break. Normally we would be closed for three weeks, but due to the potential refurb in August, they are opening early this January. There is still a lot to do before tomorrow night. I need to reprint the entire wine-list having de-listed something like twenty bins over the festive season. Over the course of January there are another 40 bins to be added to the list as well. And now is the time that I start planning our purchasing for the year as well. I put together a shopping list for the wines that we want to buy come April, assuming weve achieved our fiscal targets, which we seem to be ontrack to doing. So its all guns blazing for now, and we look to have a busy weekend ahead of us.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Three tiers of Burgundy

Today I had a cellar tour with two lovely young Americans, over experiencing our city. Friends of Becca's they had come over for a short holiday, and knowing Billy's interest in wine, and the fact that he is about to open up a wine bar in Delaware(?), Becca offered them a cellar tour with me. Having met them the previous evening in Bar Lounge and spent some time chatting to Billy about wine I decided to prepare a small tasting for them. Billy is really knowledgeable about American wines, so I decided to go for something that he probably wont come across too much of over in Delaware - Red Burgundy. I set up a three tier tasting of Burgundy to illustrate a little bit the diversity of the region and the three tiers of "quality" - Village wine, Premier Cru and Grand Cru.

Tier One - Village wine - Pierre Bouree Gevrey Chambertin 2005.
I first tasted this when I went to Vallet freres for the harvest in 2006. Bernard took us round the cellars and this was one of the wines tasted from barrels. Yields were quite low that year and the quality was good. The wine was young, quite richly flavoured with dark red fruit some greenness around the edge and the tannins were quite agressive still. Vallet tend to ferment with whole stalks and favour manual pigeage upto twice a day for the first ten days. They have some good holdings in Gevrey, including a monopole vineyard - the Clos de la Justice. Good wine, bit young, will develop quite nicely.

Tier Two - Premier Cru - Domaine de l'Arlot, Nuits St Georges, Cuvee Jeaune Vignes du Clos des Forets St Georges 1er Cru 1993.
Becca's favourite - this is much more mature - the rim has started to develop the brick red colours while the core of the wine still maintains its purple quality. On the nose it is softer, more soft red fruit flavours with quite a defined earthyness and a touch of animal like character. There are more defined layers to this wine, each sniff brings something else, each mouthful brings more flavour. I have to say I really really like this wine. Considering that it comes from the younger vines, Id love to taste the straight Clos des Forets next to it, to get an idea of the difference that a more mature vine can make.

Top Tier - Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Musigny Grand Cru 1997.
Mine and Billy's Favourite. Not quite as mature as the Nuits, but definately much more going on in the wine. This takes more getting into, and it didnt really help that it was served at cellar temp. This was the wine we served at NYE with the main course and the feedback then was amazing. It showed a huge amount of bottle variation on NYE, each of the dozen bottles opened showing differently. This one had a much more feral character than either of the two other wines, the fruit seemingly hidden under several layers. There is a slightly smokey touch to this wine, and a much earthier nose - black compost type of aroma. But once the smokyness dies down, then the fruit is more prominent. There is definately a flavour of dark cherries there, but also a good dose of tobacco, aged tobacco particularly. Im totally loving this wine, although I think it would definately benefit from a) a few more years cellarage b) something to eat with it!!.

So that pretty much covered the tasting.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A year in wine pt1

With xmas approaching quickly, then hogmanay I thought i would have a quick look back at some of the wines that have made their mark on me this year. About this time of the year Tom Cannavan has his readers picks of 2007, where visitors to his site ( pick the wines that made 2007 memorable for them. Ive submitted my wines and Tom tells me he's hoping to have them online by the 2nd or 3rd of January. Its quite hard to look back on twelve months and pick out just eight wines. So I thought that I would have a look back on the year from my perspective and trace some of the memorable moments.

Duds - its been quite a heavy year for dud wines here. Partly that is due to the fact that after having new racking fitted we brought about two hundred bins onto the wine-list, wines that we had sitting in our holding stores until it was ready. As we were soon to discover, with many of them we had held them too long. Weve lost something in the region of £3k worth of wines this year, a huge value, that comes straight off the bottom line. Of those a good few were to TCA, but in many cases, especially the older white burgs, it was oxidation that was the cause of destruction. A situation that was highlighted earlier in the year by Clive Coates in an article in Decanter magazine. We were especially hard hit it top end whites from the late eighties to nineties, from names such as Sauzet, Ramonet, Blain-Gagnard, Tollot-Beaut, Chanson, Leflaive, Chavy, Rollin the list goes on. It hurt, to see wines that really ought to be in their prime, completely bolloxed.
Other noteworthy duds include an 81 Petrus - lifeless and dull, two magnums of Drouhin-Laroze Bonnes Mares 1990 - damned corks had fallen into the bottle and only a horrendous plug of mould was preventing the wine from leaking out. The corks subsequently were extracted from the bottles and found to have shrivelled up to the width of a large crayon.

Highlights - many many highlights this year. It has been a year of some truly great wines. A 96 Henschke Hill of Grace tasted at Pacos leaving do, a xmas gift from Mr B. A 1986 Dujac Chambolle outstandingly soft and elegant, with vibrant soft red fruit on the nose. So many different bottles of DRC - La Tache 88, Richebourg 88 tasted together, La Tache 98 and Romanee St Vivant 98 also tasted together, and numerous bottles in between. Some cracking clarets too - including a stunning 85 Forts de Latour, second wine of Chateau Latour which has been cross posted to Chateau Petrogasm!!

Fizz - weve had quite an interesting year with Fizz this year. In January we formally ended our 18 year relationship with Ruinart when Taittinger became our new house champagne. The changeover was difficult for customers and staff alike, Ruinart Rose was a hard act to follow, and now a year after the change we still get comments lamenting the Rose being changed. The Brut has however been quite well recieved. We had several successful gourmet dinners focussing on Fizz, starting with the grower fizz dinner at the beginning of the year which turned out very well, Taittinger was "introduced" at their first gourmet as our house pour in September and we finished with de Venoge, a dinner that was excellent, the wines were amazing and the response was amongst the most positive we have recieved! In a somewhat ironic twist it turns out that de Venoge was the house champagne 20+ years ago when Mr Slater first came to the Grosvenor.

Sweeties and Stickies - its been a bit of a poor year really in dessert wines. Sales dipped off quite drastically over the summer, and while they have recouped slightly, they are no-where near what they used to be. However what we seem to have lost out in dessert wine sales, has been recouped in Port sales, a category that seems to have had a small revival. We have tanned though half a dozen cases of vintage ports in the last few months, including a rather tasty 1994 Quinta do Noval. But using all of that has allowed me to bring out the 1997 Quinta do Vesuvio, which I got to try for the first time a few weeks ago - majorly delicious!!! And yes it is a touch young, but after a nights rest in a decanter it is marvelous, besides Im only bringing out one case for now, the other three can have a few more years in the cellar.