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 Bauduc.com.)

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.