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Fine Dining

Lawrence Bowden, our Majestic Leith Walk Manager, tells us of the social pitfalls of working in the wine trade!

Whenever I’m out dining or drinking with my friends I, unsurprisingly, end up having the wine list thrust in my direction. I always get burdened with the task of choosing suitable bottles of wine for the evening’s entertainment. It’s a big responsibility – but as my friends point out, if I need my car fixing, some shelves erecting or a lawyer to bust me out of jail, then they’ve all got my back covered. So I accept the responsibility, each time with some trepidation, knowing that the success of an evening may in part hinge on my wine knowledge – and if I order a stinker – I might end up walking, breaking my fingers with a hammer or being left to rot in prison.

After choosing a bottle or two, I’ll attract murmurs of scepticism and distrust as I order a pint of whatever the local ale may be. I am a huge wine enthusiast but you’ll not often see me drinking it in public for exactly the same reason that I don’t go to a restaurant and order a boiled egg. I can have that at home. Whilst the food offering normally induces salivation (I couldn’t ever attempt to cook anything of a similar ilk using my own George Foreman), wine menus rarely excite. Great food deserves great wine and if the government stipulate 21/14 units per week then I’m not going to waste them drinking a bottle which needs to be ordered by number just so the bar staff can understand me: “We’ll have the ‘Chateau Average’ 2004, thanks. The one with the beige label. Number 14 please”.

I’d much rather have a well-pulled pint of ale.

At home though it’s different. Boiled eggs, spaghetti hoops and tinned carrots are all on the menu and I can get stuck into some quality wines. It always surprises me that people are willing to spend £20+ on a bottle of ‘Middle of the Road Creek’ when eating out but won’t treat themselves to something from our fine wine shelves when stocking up at Majestic. The difference in quality between a £20+ restaurant wine and a similarly priced wine from Majestic is the same as two weeks in Val d’Isere, waist deep in snow and chalet girls, or an evening at Milton Keynes snowdome…on a toboggan. You get what you pay for. My advice is to experiment and add one or two bottles that are a bit special next time you’re stocking up.

If you’re a fan of the gooseberry and citrus infused Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc then try the Sancerre Cuvee Edmond Alphonse Mellot for £25 and see how an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc offers a greater number of complex flavours. Pears, lemon, grass, raw green pepper and a hint of flint are all interwoven seamlessly through this viscous and mouth-filling wine. Maybe the lemon and butter hints of Louis Latour’s Macon Lugny is more your thing? Then try the Meursault 1er Cru ‘Chateau-Blagny’ 2004, Louis Latour. For £19.99 you find that the lemon and butter hints are much more pronounced and hang off a wine with greater body, depth and concentration. Aromas of ripe gala melon and nutty undertones join the lemon and butter hints. For 1er Cru white Burgundy, the 2004 vintage is just starting to open up to reveal their full array of flavours.  A wine of this calibre would leave a mighty fine dent in your wallet if you where dining out.

Red wine drinkers, think restaurant prices. How much would you expect to pay for a mature Rioja from the highly commended 1978 vintage? If I had a local tapas bar and if they had one listed, I dare say it would be about a weeks rent. No joke. At Majestic, the Monte Real 1978 Gran Reserva is just £25. Buy two of these tobacco, leather, and Christmas spiced wines and save the price of a starter (save £10). I could go on. But I won’t. The staff at your local Majestic will all have their own recommendations for you to try. Let them select a fine wine for you based on the wines you normally put in your trolley.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking cheaper wines. I’m more than happy to drink a £5 wine so long as I’ve not paid more than £5 for it.  Most of the time, a night tobogganing in a big fridge in Milton Keynes is just the ticket. Nine times out of ten, a reasonably priced bottle of wine will hit the spot and provide me with as much pleasure as trying to break my bones on any one of our country’s wonderful artificial ski slopes. And without the cost of a French lift pass. But once in a while it’s a good idea to spend £20+ on a bottle of wine without £15 being the restaurant’s mark up. Treat yourself to a fine wine at Majestic and you’ll get something truly wonderful. Pay that in a restaurant and you’ll just be making up for a table of students in the corner who are sharing starters and drinking tap water.

Great food deserves great wine, which does leave me kind of stuck as to which bottle I should have tonight with my lightly sautéed turkey twisters, on a bed of potato waffles, covered with a baked bean jus.  Red burgundy I think.

  • Laurence Measey

    Thank you for such a well written and cogently argument for treating yourself to a great bottle now and again. It all goes to show the depth of knowledge that most Majestic staff have particularly the manager.
    This morning my wife and I, having recently rteturned from a trip to South Africa, were impressed by the knowledge and honest appraisal of the South African selection. We picked up some which we look forward to savouring over the next few weeks and in particular those which cost a bit more but we hope will prove to be very good drinking.

  • Asher Cashdan

    What an entertaining article! Well-written and full of good sense. Reminded me that we are going out for a special meal soon, to a restaurant that will give us really good food at an acceptable price, but charges around £50 for a pretty basic wine. Lawrence certainly tempts me to go for some Monte Real. A bottle of that with almost any solid meat dish (a game casserole?) and I could provide myself and wife with a quality home-cooked 3-course meal for under £50. Naughtily, of course, neither Lawrence nor I bothers about overheads!

  • David

    Whilst I am happy to pay an overhead to cover the cost of the chef cooking my food, waiting staff to serve it etc, I do begrudge paying a 200% mark-up on restaurant wine. I know all the arguments about how wine mark-up offsets other costs, but I still feel it’s unfair and usually order a modest wine when eating out.

    My advice is to learn to cook a few good meals at home, or befriend a decent cook, and eat in, with some good wine.

  • Edwina

    I increasingly share Malcolm Gluck’s (albeit column inches-grabbing) views on beer. Paying the 300% markup can be galling in a restaurant, especially if you know The True Price Of Things. But a great night out with great food, great wine and (if you’re amazingly lucky) great company? You can’t put a price on that. And let’s face it, there are plenty of disppointing £20+ wines out there, it’s just that many people don’t have the guts to stand up and say it for fear of seeming ignorant.

    PS Loz have you taken to wearing a belt yet or are your trousers still battling gravity’s pull?!

    • Lawrence

      Belts? I own enough to call it a collection! I’ve even been known to pull off the skinny jean look – but I don’t think I’ll ever out grow the baggy jeans.