Mike Brought His Own Bottle

Working in my industry I see the sharp end of mark ups, which often puts me off buying wine in a restaurant or a pub. Why on earth would I spend £20 on a bottle of wine I know I could sell in my shop at £6 a bottle? So I was absolutely delighted to discover that one of my favourite restaurants allowed customers to bring in their own wines for a corkage fee.


The restaurant in question is Hawksmoor. They charge a corkage fee of £25 a bottle from Tuesday to Sunday and this is then reduced to £5 a bottle on Monday. With this in mind I picked out a bottle of aged St Emilion Grand Cru, the Barde Haut 2001 (£35 a bottle in Majestic, for any serious Bordeaux fan this is a bottle you must try) and took it with me. I was a little apprehensive at first, a mixture of fearing rejection or that bringing my own bottle would earn me the derision and scorn of the staff inside. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. Even down to disposing the bag I brought it in, the staff did everything they could to look after me and my wine.
They noticed the bottle was cold (see the current weather!), so offered alternative refreshments whilst the bottle was allowed to chambré. Once this had occurred they uncorked the wine, let us taste it and then gave us the option of a decanter. This offer particularly impressed me, full bodied reds benefit from time in a decanter as it exposes the wine to oxygen thus releasing the aromas and flavours. This style of  wine and steak are natural bed fellows, so this is something other steak restaurants should take note of, allow the wine to show itself at its best, and offer us a decanter! We made our way steadily through the bottle over lunch and once finished, it was disposed of. The process of BYOB was as easy as ordering off the menu and all we had to pay on the day was the small corkage fee.
HawksmoorIt was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a rewarding one, as it was great to enjoy a prized bottle of wine with food that was of its equal in quality. This is the true merit of being able to BYOB. Being able to match good food with good wine is important. Too often I have been eating food which over powers bland house wines. BYOB allows this to be a thing of the past. My experience at Hawksmoor was great and one I will be repeating many times, especially on a Monday. The attention to detail and the particular wine were impressive. I would like to go back with a different style of wine and see if or how the service varies. The experience of BYOB is also one that I enjoyed, it allows you to personalise and enhance your meal as well as saving you money. What more could you want?
I was due to finish my article there, however, another dining experience the day after has forced me to add a final note. I went to Barrafinna, a great Tapas bar in Soho, and whilst enjoying a few dishes, a friend and I decided to share a bottle of red having both over indulged in beer over the past week. I sighed at this, worrying about what overpriced wine I would have to drink, however when I looked down the wine list I was delighted. Instead of a selection of bland Riojas and Verdejos, I was greeted with a cornucopia of unique wines from all over Spain, including some grapes and styles I had never even heard of. In the end, after much deliberation, I went for an old vine Graciano from Navarra. Stunning. A touch of spice, a hit of perfume, plenty of fruit and only £24 a bottle. That is £1 less than corkage at Hawksmoor, let alone the cost of the Barde Haut. It reminded me, that more often than not, a top restaurant has a well chosen and interesting wine list that should be ignored at your peril.
BYOB is great and hopefully something that will become more prominent in other restaurants. However maybe it is time we revised our cynicism towards the price of wine in restaurants. There is great value out there and some great wine too! Nothing can beat the excitement of an interesting wine list or the pleasure of discovering a new favourite. So I urge you, enjoy the delights of both options. A balanced wine diet is a good wine diet!

Mike on The Joy Of Riesling



In my opinion there are fewer greater pleasures in life than drinking a chilled glass of Riesling. Whether it is an aged one from the Mosel, giving off notes of honey and petroleum(yes, that is correct!) or a young spicy one from Alsace, it is a wine that rarely ever disappoints. Sadly, however, the joys of this grape are often lost on people. Due to its German origins, it is often confused with Liebfraumilch and instantly dismissed as a sweet, cloying and flavourless wine. Whilst it is sometimes sweet, it is never cloying and rarely flavourless. Quite simply it is the best value white wine in the world, and let me tell you why.

Riesling buds late (saving it from winter frosts) and ripens early, meaning it can be grown in many cool climates. The perfect example of this is in the Mosel, where arguably the greatest Rieslings are grown, which is on the northernmost border of wine cultivation in Europe in Western Germany. However Riesling is grown in a wide variety of places, from Alsace to Australia, this is a grape that has popped up all over the world.

Due to its appearance in many locations it has meant a variety of styles of Riesling have grown up. The dominant style is that of a dry style. Characterised by intense flavours of lime and stone fruit as well as a taut acidity, these are excellent summer wines. Australia probably makes the driest examples, with the vineyards of Clare and Eden valleys being the prominent areas of Riesling production. However if you are after dry Riesling I would either recommend Austrian ones (in particular from the Wachau), or Alsace ones. In both of these the aromas are a little more perfumed than those of Australia. Producers in particular to look out for are FX Pichler (Austria) ,Trimbach (France) or Zind Humbrecht (France).


Look for “Spatlese” for high sugar content

Riesling also makes both wonderful off dry and sweet wines. Ice wine, from Canada and Germany, is one of the worlds great dessert wines for example. These styles are just as rewarding as the dry ones. Especially as off dry and sweet styles have the ability to age and develop for long periods of time due to high levels of acidity and residual sugar. For me the flavours of aged Riesling are unbeatable, with the trademark smell of petrol being the most prized aroma. You may think that this is strange, but I can assure you once you have smelt it in a wine you will seek it out in others! If looking for off dry Riesling then the wines of Germany are the best place to start, look for words such as Halb-Trocken , Spatlese and Auslese. All of these words indicate that there is a certain level of residual sugar in the wine.

Trimbach cuvée Emile

Trimbach cuvée Emile

That is just a quick run through of a subject I could talk about for hours, however I am going to make one more point before I let you dive into the wonderful world of Riesling. It is exceptional value! Due to being unfashionable, £10-20 will buy exceptional Riesling. Zind Humbrecht Riesling is around £14 a bottle and this is from Grand Cru vineyards! Whilst Trimbach’s top cuvée, Fredereich Emile, is only £35. When you compare this with the top Chardonnay’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s in the world it is an absolute bargain.

So, I implore you to go out and give Riesling a chance. I promise you, it is a risk you will be glad you took as after trying it, and you may even start to wonder how you ever survived without it!

Mike talks birthday wine

1987 Mike
Whilst at work we were informed that we would be receiving a parcel of old Rioja vintages. I was not very interested at the time, but had a look through what was available to see if there were any bargains to be had. To my delight I discovered there was Gran Reserva Rioja from 1987, my birth year, and I promptly bought a case. Thus fulfilling a wish that I have had for a long time, it also got me thinking…

The act of buying a case of wine to lay down when someone is born is a well worn tradition. Phill was lucky enough to be born in an excellent vintage port year, and had a case of Cockburns Crusted Port laid down for him to enjoy when he was of age. This tradition is something I feel everyone should take part in, but unfortunately is one fraught with danger. No one wants to treasure something for 18 years only to open it and find a bottle full of vinegar. So here my thoughts on what make great options for laying down when your offspring enter this world! Or what will make a good present to yourself if you decide to buy a wine from your birth year.

Bordeaux – this is the classic option. Laying down a case of Claret is something truly special and will reap rewards if properly stored (consistent temperature and out of sunlight). The use of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and new oak barrels mean that this is a wine that benefits from age. In theory after 18 years in the bottle it will be in peak drinking condition, especially if it is from a top vintage. The only downside of this is the price. Top age worthy Bordeaux is expensive. Chances are you are looking at £30 plus a bottle, if it is a good vintage, for a case of six or twelve you can do the maths.

I recommend buying a case of Bordeaux from the following years – 2010,2009,2005,2000,1998,1990,1989,1986

Sauternes: this is a slightly unconventional choice but one I believe should be explored more often. Firstly desert wine offers great value for money at the moment. This means you can get a case of something truly special for a reasonable sum of money. The other great thing about Sauternes is that it is not likely to get spoilt whilst ageing. Due to the high acidity and sugar levels in the wine this acts as a preservative which means you can rest easy for those 18 years knowing that the wine will not ruin, which unfortunately can happen with any red. So take a punt on Sauternes for something interesting to pass on.

I would recommend buying a case of Sauternes from the following years – 2009,2008,2007,2006,2005,1989,1983

Port: much like Bordeaux this is a traditional option, unlike Bordeaux it is great value. Like Sauternes it benefits from high sugar levels which ensure that the ageing process is unlikely to spoil the Port, however there are a few things that must be noted. Vintage Port is a style of port and it is only Vintage Port that benefits from ageing. Whilst LBV is lovely, it is made in a manner to be drunk immediately and will not benefit from any ageing. The same is true of Tawny and Ruby Port. However with its durability, any Vintage Port will make a great gift to lay down. One further point to add though, Vintage Port throws a lot of sediment. Make sure you decant it before drinking. You will experience a very bad hangover if you do not!

I would recommend buying a case of Port from the following years – 2007,2003,2000,1997,1994,1992,1991,1985

Rioja: like Sauternes, this is a bit of a left field choice, but it offers great value for money and the potential to age. Well at least I hope so, given my recent purchase! Like good red Bordeaux, Rioja is aged for significant periods in oak barrels. This allows the wine to age for long periods of time. What is also great about Rioja is you are able to buy top wines at a reasonable price. For example the Vina Ardanza from the 2001 vintage (a great Rioja vintage) scored 94 Parker points and is £20 a bottle. An equivalent bottle from Bordeaux, from a top vintage with the same Parker score would likely cost in the region of around £100 a bottle. This just goes to show what value can be had in Rioja and Spanish wine in general.

I would recommend buying a case of Rioja from the following years – 2005,2001,1995,1994,1991,1987

I should add that the above are merely suggestions, as there are many other things you could lay down that would be just as good. From Champagne, to Sherry, to German Riesling these are all wines with the capacity to benefit from a little age. Hopefully I have inspired you to set aside some money to either treat yourself or to buy for your children. A drink is something you will both benefit from on their 18th birthday!

PS – I have just had the first bottle of my case of 1987 Gran Reserva Rioja. I am pleased to report that the wine has lasted beautifully. A wonderful garnet colour in the glass, aromas of clove, tobacco and dried fruits abounded in the wine. It is everything great about aged Rioja and it showed just how brilliant aged wine can be. There are five more bottles to come and I cannot wait to open each of them if they are like this!