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.