Decanter/Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2012: The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury
Top, far left: there are some 3,000 wines on the list. Below, far left: looking through the glass wine cellar. Near left: chef Daniel Galmiche. Above: the room set aside for informal lunches and wine tastings. Above right: Galmiche’s dishes are modern-classic French
Back when wine by the glass in restaurants consisted of house white and red (rosé was beneath notice), I was part of a group charged with evaluating research into consumers’ attitudes to wine. There was a lot of give-and-take on the panel; when consumers complained about the need for ‘hardware’, for example, we had to explain to the older members that this meant corkscrews. ‘Well, what do they want?’ they scoffed. ‘Screwcaps? For decent wine? Crazy!’ When the idea of expanding the selection of wines by the glass came up, the restaurateurs in the group immediately protested: ‘What would we do with the leftover wine?’ It may seem quaint now, but these were the majority views, and for a long time they seemed immovable.
But then, and finally, thanks to a few independentminded wineries and restaurateurs, they were tossed away with other crusty notions, liberating both us and wine; unsurprisingly, it turned out to be easy – they did what they thought would work, and they were right, and more innovations followed. High on the list of these optimistic achievers, and a candidate for any wine lover’s hall of fame, is the team at The Vineyard at Stockcross, in Newbury, Berkshire, easily the Decanter/Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year for 2012.
The Vineyard is a restaurant with rooms (which happen to be luxury suites) and a lavish spa attached – the brainchild and property of Sir Peter Michael CBE, a serial entrepreneur who founded several successful high-tech businesses before going on to create a winery in California’s Sonoma County, the Classic FM radio station, a wineimporting business and a fabulous art collection, a great deal of which went on public display in 1998 when he took over a small country-house hotel and turned it into a much larger, quietly splendid retreat.
From the beginning, the restaurant had an extensive and well-chosen wine list, and it has grown, not only in size but in importance. The recently remodelled reception area makes the point boldly. It features a glass-walled-and-floored two-storey wine cellar extending down to the basement level, along a corridor leading to an informal dining room. This room is set aside for casual lunches and wine-tastings, and dominated by an impudently bravura mural celebrating the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting organised by Decanter’s Steven Spurrier.
The Vineyard’s wine cellar was for years simply a splendid collection; now it’s the platform for a splendid wine programme as well. ‘Wine is what we do,’ is The Vineyard’s motto, and it does it with enthusiasm, drawing on an inventory of 3,000 selections deployed in a variety of presentations, from well-organised tasting menus, wine-matching offers, tasting classes, discounts on featured wines, and a by-the-glass-and-carafe list of 100 wines, which is also subdivided into a selection of especially good-value wines, another thoughtful touch.
‘On a weekend night, we can go through 500 glasses,’ said Master Sommelier Yohann Jousselin. ‘We always have a four-course “discovery” menu featuring wines from lesser-known areas, a sixcourse “Judgment” menu – sort of a tribute to the Judgment of Paris, comparing Californian and
In detail: the menu and wine list
Aside from a deftness with sauces, Daniel Galmiche’s cooking features bracing touches of acidity and bite that balance flavours beautifully. Carpaccio of rose veal is garnished with beads of basil purée and a scattering of pistachio, enlivened with lime; scallops, cauliflower and walnuts are lifted by slices of crisp apple; a suave halibut fillet is boosted by the asperity of a contrast with cucumber, endive, and watercress. An informal touch comes with a daily brasserie dish (from his very good cookbook French Brasserie Cooking), such as pork steaks with mustard-gherkin sauce.
The wine list has the UK’s largest selection of Californian wine (owner Sir Peter Michael has said his interest in California began with ‘two corked bottles of Burgundy and Peggy Lee’ back in the early 1970s). There are several hundred bottles from there, including vertical selections from wineries like Ridge, Phelps, Chateau Montelena and Diamond Creek, as well as stellar international ventures such as Hyde de Villaine, Dominus, Opus One and Domaine de la Terre Rouge. There is also, unsurprisingly, a full complement of Peter Michael wines.
The rest of the world is similarly wellrepresented, again with verticals and fully mature wines abounding. Of particular note, aside from the usual suspects from Bordeaux and Burgundy, are arrays of Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace (hundreds of choices), Barolos, verticals of Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Chateau Musar, Henschke, and many more from all over the world. Calling the collection eclectic would be understating the case. Aladdin comes to mind.
The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 8JU.
Tel: +44 (0)1635 898327;
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Restaurants Reviewed by Brian St Pierre