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!!