By Sean Arthur, Food and Beverage Manager, Holland and Holland Shooting Grounds
Throughout my own career I have approached my guests with my 72 page wine list, been guided to the host of the table for the wine selection and been asked loud and proud “We need a good red for the mains, do you have any Bordeaux?” as if that is the most logical choice for any occasion.
Of course, why not?
But I have always been an advocate of expanding the guest’s repertoire of go-to styles. There are occasionally those more worldly guests that are aware quality wines exist outside of the obvious suspects, but I always felt they were too few and far between, especially when working in a classic fine dining atmosphere.
So how do we change this habit and broaden the horizons without compromising on selling “THAT” big bottle of high-earning 1er Grand Cru in favour of a mid-range Zin?
Now, I don’t mean we should over-stock ourselves or force sales upon people. But there’s definitely a case for showing a passion for other styles and broadening the mix of sales in the room each service.
For myself and my sommelier team this brought about a lot of discussion in the room, amongst the team and even across tables between guests. And with the diversity in sales my Junior Somms became much more confident.
Each time we were presented with the request for a robust French red – for this purpose lets suppose its right bank Bordeaux – I would bring up the selection and point out favourites, but before leaving the table for them to peruse and discuss I would flick forward to the Californians and give some comparatives.
For example, if the host’s eyes widened at the sight of a vertical of Léoville Barton from 1988 forwards then I would mention the new and exciting styles I added from Orin Swift. The prices would be comparable (maybe a bit cheaper) and I’d particularly point out the “Abstract” Cabernet Sauvignon, “Mercury head” Cabernet Sauvignon or “Papillon” listed as Bordeaux Blend.
Some customers might wonder about the lack of back-vintage variety, but I’d just tell them that that’s not Orin Swift’s ethos. They are about putting out well-made and explosive wines to be enjoyed when released. You can age them if you want, but… you know, drink it.
Rather than focusing on comparing grapes and terroir, it’s the story that gets me each time and is something I love presenting in the dining room.
Yes, of course the Old World have stories, but often I found the newer wineries’ stories to be more diverse and more relatable.
Orin Swift began when David Swift Finney bunked off Uni for a year to go drinking in Italy (I’m paraphrasing slightly). He fell in love with wine, and when he came back he trained at the Robert Mondavi Winery before eventually setting up his own venture.
As a story, that’s more fun than ‘handed down from aristocrat to aristocrat through the generations’.
Your guests come for the food and ambience, but they will forever remember that something new, or that wild story that led to their occasion being truly amazing. For me, it’s the exploration and the story that creates the stand-out experience. Wines like this can help to do that.
A few facts on Orin Swift to get you started
David Swift Finny inspired in Italy, trained at Robert Mondavi Wineries and founded his winery in 1998.
His Palermo is a good place to start.
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Aging: 12 months, 39% new oak
Notes: Deep dark crimson colour, powerful aroma of currants, vanilla and cedar wood. Explodes onto the palate with powerful blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, luscious and smooth.
Stockist: Enotria & Coe, £28-£35
At a time when everyone is looking at what they eat, where its from and how it’s made there is still quite a big gap in choosing what we drink. When you go to most retail sellers the shelves will be filled with co-operative productions, own-brand labels and recognisable names.
I admit I shamelessly enjoy the 19 Crimes range (don’t judge!) despite the headache the next day. But really I find the more artisanal low-interference wines more interesting – my sommelier team and I have really come to enjoy them.
So the question is, how do we get our guests to experience them and discover more upon each visit?
My view here is that we aren’t necessarily trying to convince everyone that this style of wine is the future, just to be brave enough to mix them in every now and then.
A big challenge I had when expanding the “natural wines” part of the list was that committing to a bottle was a bit tough for many people, especially given the ethos of some producers.
For example when away on holiday my number two decided to buy six wines from a producer in Austria, all low sulphur and unfiltered, one of which was amphora aged and bottled in ceramic. He meant well but my god it was awful.
In order to expand the view of our clientele we introduced two wine pairings. But we didn’t take the usual approach of offering four/six glasses or a normal/premium version. Instead we gave them a choice of Classics or Weird and Wonderful. This gave the guest the option of experimenting or playing safe. I expected most diners to play safe, but in fact it was about 60/40 in favour of weird.
There is, of course weird and WEIRD, and we kept it relatively tame. So no Jura wines or whacking on a flight of Gravner Breg Bianco (although it did feature once). Rather, we used the ethos of low maintenance production and intervention in wines that still expressed freshness and had some level of familiarity.
Success rate of the weird pairing was fairly high, if people were not getting it after the first/second wine I would always suggest we swapped to classic. After all, it’s their money.
But the majority of my patrons who experienced this selection of “healthy” alternative wines were surprised with the overall quality and diverse flavours as well as the fact they were still able to speak after eight wines in a row (I pour generously).
They even came to me at breakfast the next morning, surprised and delighted that their head was clear and pain free! Often the wines I used were natural yeast ferments and therefore low alcohol as well as low sulphur.
Some of our best matchings from the ‘weird and wonderful’ wine flight
Don’t be feared of the weird. It shows that people can be encouraged to go outside their comfort zone if you make it easy for them.
Occhipinti SP68 Bianco, Sicily
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£17
Served with a fresh crab dish.
Aromatic fresh and lively style.
Pheasants Tears Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£15
Paired with venison during the season.
Bold flavours, leather, spice, mushroom earthy and autumnal but not overbearing.
Akashi-tai Ginjo Yuzushu Sake
Stockist: Wine Service £15-£20
Served with earl grey sorbet pre dessert.
Basically a lemon punch in the face, completely resets the palate before moving on. It woke people up pretty good too!