Michael Broadbent September 2011 column
- Friday 19 August 2011
It was our 57th wedding anniversary. Searching for a restaurant worthy of the occasion, preferably within reasonable distance of our weekend cottage, I went with a map to the shelf housing our restaurant guides, forgetting that only the previous week I’d thrown them away, as uselessly out of date. All, except one – a 2005 English Michelin Guide with an elegant leather cover, gratis Louis Roederer.
In the old days, on our regular tours de France (not on bicycle), Daphne and I always looked out for restaurants with at least one, preferably two, stars, but only a couple of ‘forks and spoons’ – a reflection of the overall comfort and quality of the restaurant. In short we chose places that promised a decent, affordable meal in relatively modest surroundings.
The Vineyard at Stockcross, just outside Newbury, is quite the opposite. while it lost its two Michelin stars in 2010, after the departure of former head chef John Campbell in 2009, this hotel and spa has five stars from both the AA and RAC.
New chef Daniel Galmiche, who has held a Michelin star for 22 years at other restaurants in the uK, won Relais & Châteaux’s 2011 Rising Chef Award.
It was a Sunday; sunshine, and the possibility of showers. An impressive entrance and comfortable seats near the bar. Summoned, the waiter suggested a glass of Champagne, but I try to avoid Champagne before lunch.
Instead we both opted for a dry Sherry. The best – and best presented – fino I frequently recall was Valdespino’s Inocente, served chilled in an elegant Riedel glass at The Square in London some time ago.
I remember the Sherry but cannot recall the name of my lovely guest. But, alas, a disappointing start at The Vineyard. The Sherry served, Herederos de Argüeso’s Las Medallas Manzanilla, was too deep yellow; an unrefreshing, slightly maderised nose with drab flavour to match.
I asked to see the bottle which, I was assured, was newly opened. Not my idea of flor-fresh. Daphne and I both agreed, and after the first sip we ordered another, this time Lustau’s Papirusa Manzanilla.
To be frank, though Lustau is renowned for its Sherries, I have never liked them. Probably best with turtle soup at a Guildhall banquet. Just not my style.
Sherry is undeservedly unpopular. Could these have been on the shelf too long? why not my favourite Tio Pepe, or is this brand considered too hackneyed?
After battling with the seriously extensive wine list, which opened with an impressive range of Peter Michael Napa Valley wines, I spotted something familiar, Château de Fuissé’s Vieilles Vignes, Pouilly-Fuissé; a half bottle of the 2005 vintage. And after this somewhat sluggish start I am happy to report on one of the most exquisite meals I have had for many a year. And, to cap it all, an equally exquisite wine.
For this, I’d asked our sommelier, Chiara Daniele, for advice. Quite clearly, she had mastered the huge list (I had floundered) and without hesitation, she recommended a wine which would never have crossed my mind.
I’d never tasted a Grüner Veltliner of such entrancing fragrance. Nor any from Schloss Göbelsburg. It was a 2009, so fresh and youthful, yet with an extraordinary uplift of fragrance and delicacy, despite its 13.5% alcohol.
Its pale colour gave no indication of what was to come: a flowery, scented aroma which tantalised even before the glass reached the nose. on the palate, medium-dry with a delicious, slightly spicy flavour and, from start to finish, entrancing. The most attractive Austrian wine I can ever recall.
It was also a perfect foil for a delicate scallop mousse and the excellent fish dish that followed. I thanked the sommelier profusely for a perfect choice.
The story is not yet over. With a miraculous chef’s confection – equally exquisite and beyond description – Miss Daniele presented us with a small glass of Schloss Göbelsburg Grüner Veltliner Eiswein. It was almost colourless, but out of which sprouted a floral, honeyed bouquet; sweet, delectable – its flavour reminding me of Jurançon: sensuous, with perfect acidity and yet with only 11% alcohol. Miraculous.
Despite a pretty hefty bill (after all, it was a special occasion) we had wallowed in a range of beguiling scents and flavours.
Two days later, with guests from a neighbouring flat in London, I opened a bottle of Pol Roger 2000: mature perfection. we then decamped to our nearby pub, The Crabtree. we were looked after, not by the graceful Ellie (who I’ve mentioned in previous columns) but by Lisa.
After two courses we then returned to the flat to gorge ourselves with a mound of raspberries stolen from my daughter and son-in-law’s garden. Even more delectable with fresh double cream from a Dorset farm.
what did we have as an accompaniment?
Regular readers will guess: Moscato d’Asti – but not the familiar Michele Chiarlo’s, rather La Spinetta’s Bricco Quaglia. Pale; half sparkling, with the usual dependable Muscatelle aroma and flavour. Sweet, light (5.5% alcohol); lively, prickly, perfect.