Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My Favourite Grapes - Riesling

Its almost something of a cliche, ask any sommelier what their favourite grape is and I can almost guarantee the answer will be either Riesling or Gruner Veltliner for the white. Its kind of a badge of honour, to distinguish the real sommeliers from the wannabe's. And if you press them as to why they named that grape, the answer will include such treasures as versability, diversity, compatability.

So I guess im going to stick to the cliche, because Riesling is one of my favourite white grapes. Im a sucker for the aromatic whites, and for me a good riesling fills all the criteria I look for. I do tend to prefer the drier styles typical of the new world, but I love the rich aromas it develops with maturity in the germanic style. I have a very dear friend who also loves riesling, and Im hoping to get her to bring me some Long Island Rieslings from New York when she comes home in december.

Two reasons I love riesling:
1) Dry River Craighall Riesling, Martinborough, New Zealand - Dr Neil McCallums Dry River winery has been making world class Riesling for a number of years. His wines are produced in tiny quantities, 2-3000 cases a year, and they frequently sell out their tiny allocations. The Craighall Riesling is a late harvest riesling that shows intense citrus/lime aromas on the nose in its youth, but with carefull cellaring develops the wonderfull secondary aromas of kerosene, candied peel and spicy notes. Its style could best be described as off dry, in its youth, the acidity keeps the sweetness at bay, but as it matures it gains an added richness and robust flavour. Truly a marvelous example of the potential of Riesling.

2) Max Ferdinand Richter "Brauneberger Juffer" Riesling Kabinnet, Mosel, Germany - with a 300 year history of winemaking, the Richter family can be sure that they know what they are doing. I think that this wine is a prime example of a good quality Mosel Kabinett riesling, juicy fruit sweetness upfront, well balanced acidity following leaving a crisp dry finish to the wine. Reasonably priced and with the potential to age well over a decade or so, these are an ideal addition to any wine cellar.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Henschke Keyneton "Euphonium" 2003

The wines of Henschke always seem to have an intensity and richness that is much like an Aston Martin - sleek and elegant on the outside, but packing a fair punch underneath. Dense jammy red fruits, insane menthol aromas, with subtle hints of cedarwood and tobacco. A wonderfully long length (oh-er) and its not ridiculously expensive either.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Been on my holidays.

Not been posting recently because i only got back from my holidays a few days ago and it been mad trying to catch up on everything.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Many thanks to anyone who voted for me in the imbibe taste sommelier of the year awards, and thanks to anyone who voted for anyone else too! Im chuffed to bits that I was runner up to Andrea Briccarello from London (Bentleys Oyster Bar?) alongside Joris Beijn from 1901 at Andaz.

Something for the weekend?

Ive started a new initiative in an effort to move some top-end burgundies. Only available on a friday and saturday night, we have two burgundies on offer at cost price plus vat. Yes we are giving away (virtually giving away) Grand Cru burgundy. (The figure is rounded up to the nearest pound, so quite literaly we are making pennies on some of these wines.)

This week we have a Batard-Montrachet from Blain Gagnard, 1999 at £60 and a Drouhin-Laroze Bonnes Mares 1997 also at £60. I sold two bottles of the latter tonight and I must say that the table got a steal of a deal. The wine had a rich feral character with violets, dark earth and red berries on the nose, with a rich underpinning of medium soft tannins. The length was quite astounding, with a rich warming, almost spicy finish to the wine. What a great value wine at £60 , its normally on the list at over £100.

I also sold three bottles of Drouhin-Laroze Chambertin Clos de Beze 1997 at considerably lower selling price than listed. This was a lot more elegant and refined than the Bonnes Mares, less animalistic, more softer red fruit flavours with less violet aromas and perhaps a touch of rosewater about the finish. The tannins were much softer than the BM as well, lighter on the palate, with quite a long finish, but perhaps a touch drier and cleaner.

So the next few months its open season on Grand Cru burgundy, come along, see what there is and make me an offer. If its sensible then you might just get yourself a great value burgundy with your meal!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Me Old Mucca!

This morning I got a strange letter from one of our suppliers informing me that our trade rep - Noel was leaving the company effective tomorrow. It all seemed a bit strangely worded and it made we wonder a bit what was happening. Turns out hes being made redundant. I'll miss Noel, and wish him every success in whatever he turns his hand to when the festival season is over. I dont doubt that I will see him again in whatever capacity he ends up, and Im sure we will keep in touch through facebook!!

The strange thing about the whole affair is the way it seems to have been done. The company in question seems to be surviving the current financial state of affairs reasonable well. They have quite a strong portfolio of popular wines at the right price points. They have even managed to poach a MW from another company to join their board and buying team. So why have they laid off their sales team for the north of england. They dont have anyone covering from Scotland down to London. Now while I can accept that they probably dont have as much business in this part of the country as they do in London, surely the last thing you ought to do in a recession is lay off the folks who are knocking on doors drumming up your business. While times are hard, we may not be buying as much, but we are careful in what we buy. Getting a call from these guys alerting us to bin-ends, good deals on lower priced wines and highlighting some great deals that can be had will endear them to us more. Then when the good times come back, we will give our loyalty more so to those who kept in touch. We repay the faith. By getting rid of these guys, you risk losing the business through a lack of attention.

Well I understand from Noel that he plans to visit Peru and visit Macchu Picchu and follow the inca trail. Good luck buddy and keep in touch.

Support your sommelier.

Imbibe magazine, the trade arm of Square Meal magazine, are holding a competition to recognise the talents of the sommeliers in this country. I ask you to do your bit to help support our role and vote for your favourite sommelier. It doesnt have to be me, although if you would like to use one of your votes for me that would be gratefully recieved!! Ive used mine to recognise some of the UK finest sommeliers - Laura Rhys- winner of this years Academy of Food and Wine Service Sommelier of the Year competition, Franck Gerome of Sharrow Bay - a jolly decent guy and very modest and my old pal Remi Fischer from Gleneagles. I urge you to use your three votes and promote the wealth of talent that is out there, encourage them and make them feel appreciated.

Link is


Friday, May 22, 2009

Dalmore 40 year old whisky

I was sat in the office earlier on, working on the wines for New Years Eve, when our F&B director asked me to join him in the drawing room. He was there meeting with a rep from Whyte & Mackay who was introducing a range of malts to him from Isle of Jura and Dalmore. Now Dalmore is a whisky that I havent really seen much of, except for a really rare and exclusive bottle of 50 year old that we had when I was at Gleneagles. A ludicrously expensive cut glass decanter with an eyewatering price (off the top of my head I think it was over £300 a glass). So it was interesting to see the range and have the opportunity to taste a few of them. The one that stood out was a 40 year old Dalmore. The sample was quite dark in colour, almost mahogany in tint with a most amazing nose of spicy chocolate. It reminded me of the hot chocolate that they make in Peru from Maya Gold chocolate bars - dark cocao, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, rich warming spices. The strange thing about the whisky was it was a cask strength one, coming in at a surprising 40%abv. The whisky was as smooth as a smooth thing on the palate, lingering spicy tones on the finish and the most amazing length. It kind of spoilt the rest of the tasting, because the flavours seemed to linger, even after trying three or four of the others.
Im not really a whisky drinker, in fact Im not a whisky drinker at all, but truthfully, I wouldnt be upset if someone gave me a glass of this.

The presentation of the whisky is quite superb, the bottle is quite plain and understated, with a metallic stags head emblem attached to it, and a very discreet label indicating what it is. It comes in a fabulously decadent leather trimmed box, with the usual tasting notes etc. By now you can probably imagine that the price is going to be somewhat scary. You would be right, it goes for over a £1000. So I wont be buying one for myself, but Id still like to list it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Crappy Websites

What is it with crappy websites for wines/wineries? As a sommelier I live for information - I want to know how the wine was made, was it steel fermented or barrel fermented, cultured yeasts or natural, has malo-lactic fermentation taken place or not, new oak or old oak, the list of questions goes on and on. Yet finding this information from websites is incredibly difficult. Ive just spent the last ten minutes waiting on a winery website loading an excruciatingly slow flash presentation that presented me with no option whatsoever to bypass it. And the end result after waiting so long, was that Im still no more knowledgable about the wine than I was before. I gave up trying to navigate the ridiculous menu that was more about being cutting edge and less about providing me with what I wanted - ie info.

To any wineries/pr people etc who might still read this, or may well come across it, here are a few suggestions to keep you on the right path.
1) make your webiste easy to navigate. Sounds simple, but so many seem to get it wrong. Going back to a home page is one thing that is most often negected.
2) Flash is a pain in the arse to navigate, slow to load (Im working here on a dedicated high-speed networked system and its still dead slow, feel sorry for the poor suckers on crappy broadband packages!)
3) Provide pdf files of information on your wines, sommeliers love this!!!!!!
4) Dont try too hard to be the next Bonny Doon website - be creative but remember why people are visiting the site - to find out more about your wines.
5) WTF is up with the bullshit about having to be 18/21 to access the website??? You hosting hard-core pron or something? Since when did licenscing laws prevent access to information about alcohol? I dont get id'd when I buy a copy of Robert Parkers wine guide or the latest Decanter magazine. You can encourage responsable drinking by being more open about alcohol, teaching people about what it is, how it affects your body/behaviour etc, not hiding behind some ridiculous restrictive access.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Champagne is the one drink that seems to signify celebration, it makes most of its appearances at happy moments in our lives, engagements, weddings, birthdays, promotions, new jobs, new houses, lottery wins, the list is almost endless. And despite the best efforts of the champagne houses to convince us that champagne is a versatile wine that be served throughout a meal, it remains almost exclusively an aperitif, drunk before a meal.

Of course now that we seem to be stuck at the beginning of what could turn out to be a major financial econopocalypse there are fewer and fewer reasons to celebrate. The major champagne houses are starting to shit themselves, their caves sit full of wine, the orders from the UK have almost halved, and the next "batch" of NV is ready to be bottled. As last years vintage is ready to go to bottle, the cellarmasters are wondering where it will go, with their cellars backlogged with previous vintages no-one wants. Apparently one major house has decided to put the whole of the 2008 vintage into NV as they are sitting on a backlog of four vintages they cant sell. When you consider that by law, champagne must mature in the bottle for a period of 36 months, they are working on wines that will appear on the market in 2012.

Champagne is quite interesting in that they have the almost unique safety net of being allowed to blend the wines of multiple vintages together to create NV champagne. So in years when the weather conditions provide a challenging vintage they can blend away any challenges with reserve wines from other vintages to create a homogenised wine. Each house has its own style that defines it and for many people they will quite happy provide a loyal following. I personally prefer the more Pinot orientated styles of champagne - Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouet, Bolly and Im a sucker for a grower champagne too - Aubry, Egly-Ouriet and Jacquesson being amongst my absolute favourites. For NV I think one of the best is the Perrier-Jouet Brut, and I was fortunate enough to visit the house earlier this year and had an amazing vertical tasting of the Belle Epoque with the winemaker Herve Deschampes.

While at Perrier-Jouet we had quite an interesting discussion over dinner one night with Pierre-Aymeric du Cray, who holds the wonderful title of Marketing director for Pernod-Ricard/Perrier-Jouet. We were discussing the challenges of selling Vintage champagne over NV and what a customers perception of the differences were. From my own experiences, we find it quite difficult to sell vintage champagne unless it is a prestige cuvee - by which I would define a pc as Dom Perignon, Cristal, Belle Epoque, Krug, Comte de Champagne, Cuvee Louise etc. I know from speaking to my peers and colleagues in the industry that I am not alone in this. Many of them struggle to sell a vintage champagne outside of the top cuvees. Im not sure, but I am starting to believe it is down to the relative inconsistancy of the vintage compared to the individual house style. One bottle of PJ Grand Brut is pretty much the same as any other bottle of PJGB but there is a world of difference between a bottle of PJ 96 and 98. I dont think that your average customer can get their heads round that. But maybe im wrong, and its purely a price driven issue. It was an interesting discussion, alas one that alcohol and time have erased most of the salient points from my memory.

Recently I began to think about it again though. I must try and conduct some research amongst our customers and see what they come up with. Who knows maybe it could become the focus of my dissertation one day should I ever decide to go for the WSET diploma.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Champy, Beaune 1er Cru "les Greves" 1972

By all accounts this wine should be bolloxed. I mean it is 37 years old, only a year younger than I am. Champy pere & cie are fairly consistent and reliable producers, but by no means at the top of the league. So it is fair to say that it kind of took us a bit by surprise to find out that the wine is simply stunning just now. And not just one random bottle. Weve knocked out over a dozen of these bad boys in the last three months, and we have yet to come across a stinker. The corks are really soft and crumbly, so it aint going to cellar for a great deal longer. Without a butlers thief, they are real bastards to remove from the bottle. Once pulled the wine is a very pale, almost rose hue with a rusty brown colour to the rim. The nose has a faint aroma of soft red fruit, mainly strawberries with some redcurrant too. But surprisingly the aromas grow, and develop strength over a period of minutes in the glass. There is a touch of brambly vegetation to the nose and a hint of blackcurrant leaf. With game birds, especially squab, its quite a lovely combination. Only 40 more bottles to shift now!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

This month I am loving....

bin ends. We are in the process of streamlining the stock and using up all the odds and sods downstairs. In part it has enabled me to bring in my carafe idea, albeit on a smaller scale. Ive incorporated a page into the wine-list with a suggestion to complement the tasting menu by the 250ml carafe. Luckily, cheffie is playing along so far and has been designing a menu which is very conducive to me removing a lot of stock from the cellar. Unluckily, we are also running a special invitation menu at £45 for three course including coffee and petit fours, and bugger me if it isnt filling the restaurant through the week. The end result is that we are doing an average of 25 covers a night tuesday to thursday (full as usual friday and saturday) but everyone is taking the £45 menu. Its great to get all these bums on seats, especially during a recession, and even better is that is seems to be new faces for us. Hopefully we can convert some of them to new customers.

Hallmark Holidays

Tomorrow marks the motherlode of Hallmark Holidays, St Valentines Day. My loathing of HH's is, I would think fairly evident. Quite hypocritical, Im sure you might think, given that I work somewhere that will benefit considerably from the "festivities" tomorrow. But there is a reason that I hate them, passionately. For tomorrow night (and indeed tonight) we will generally be full of people that wouldnt normally dine here. Normally that would be a good thing, after all it is exposing the restaurant to the potential customer of the future. But Hallmark Holidays bring a different sort of person out into restaurants. Over the last few days the phones have been ringing frantically with all sorts of people DESPERATE to secure a table tomorrow night. In some cases so desperate that they are willing to resort to threats, begging and all kinds of measures in order to get what they want (except of course the obvious one of being organised enough to get a table booked more than the day before!). I find it a sad reflection on the state of modern humanity that people rarely resort to niceness. If they cant get what they want they start namedropping (I know xx or Im best friends with Gerald - yes right!), or they threaten to go over your head ( I want to speak to the manager/owner/managing director/whatever).

As a restaurant, we love Hallmark Holidays because they give us a guaranteed fill. We are charging £180 per person for tomorrow night for a five course set menu with wines to complement, a red rose and small gift from Space NK for the lady. £360 per table. In a recession!! And yes we are full, with five relays. But it is fair to say that we wont see many of those faces back in the restaurant again until the next HH - Mothers Day. Happy Valentines!!