The obvious solution to the match-making problem is to order by the glass. Obvious, that is, to customers. Restaurateurs, as a race, do not greatly like the idea: many of them confine their glassy selection to house wines.
If you want to drink something good, you have to have a bottle. Which means that hopes of serious food-wine matching are blown out of the water.
These thoughts are on my mind because of a recent letter from 1837, the newish restaurant at Brown's Hotel, London W1 (0171 408 1837). 1837 is a restaurant in the old-fashioned style of grand hotel dining. And expensive, too: the cheapest three-course dinner will set you back pounds 38. But it is good. And, get this, 1837 offers around 110 wines by the glass. No, that is not a misprint. When I went there, we did all our drinking that way and had a great time doing it - and that was when there were a mere 20 available by the glass. They keep them fresh with Winesaver (inert gas pumped into the bottle), and sommelier John Gilchrist reports that the policy is tremendously popular with punters.
I want every restaurant in the country to follow 1837's example, and in aid of that cause I am compiling a list of what I'll call the Dozen Club: restaurants offering at least 12 good wines by the glass. Do you have a nominee for me? Drop me a line.
In the meantime, I'm highlighting 1837 because they're taking their glassy policy to extremes (until the end of July) with an "Emphasis on Riesling" festival. Around 40 examples of this under-appreciated grape are being sold by the glass, with prices ranging from pounds 4.50 for Palliser Estate Late Harvest Riesling 1995, Martinborough, New Zealand to Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg Riesling Eiswein 1993 von Schubert for a terrifying pounds 60. In the lower-to-middle range (pounds 6-35), there's a fine group of Alsace wines from the likes of Zind Humbrecht, Schlumberger and Weinbach. Lovers of this greatest of white grapes should take note. And take money.
Since we're on the subject of restaurant wines, I can't resist mentioning the major celebration I enjoyed with my wife at my favourite grand-luxe restaurant, Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane. (Please don't get the impression that I eat this way all the time; I don't.) The wine list Chez Nico is mostly aimed at the seriously wealthy. But since we were celebrating something important, we splashed out (by our standards) on the wine.
We drank two great wines, the second of which I am researching further before reporting on it. The first was a half of Chablis Premier Cru Cote de Lechet 1992, Daniel Defaix, a Chablis of pulse-raising sublimity. It is fully mature and with a dimension of richness which will change your view of what Chablis can achieve. What's more, it's available retail at Berry Bros & Rudd (0171 396 9669) for pounds 17.95 or at Tanners (01743 234500) for pounds 15.80 a bottle. This seems a lot of money, but it's a lot less than Nico charges. More to the point, compare that money with what you'd pay for a bottle of NV Champagne from a grande marque. In the spirit of hedonistic celebration, you can drink the champagne almost without noticing it.
The Chablis, by contrast, compels complete attention from the moment the cork is pulled. It is unforgettable. What's more, it is perfect for current drinking; comparable Chablis from 1995 and 1996 won't be at their best for several years - and can cost as much. I think it's worth the money. The vintage will not be there forever. So you owe it to yourself to buy just the one, and to drink it by yourself over a couple of nights - using Winesaver to keep the second half fresh.Reuse content