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!!