Living just over a mile away I really have no excuse (except my bank balance) not to visit 5 star hotel The Vineyard more often. As the name suggests it’s a wine inspired hotel with an extensive list of 3,000 wines available including 100 served by the glass.
Owned by panama-wearing Sir Peter Michael who made his fortune in the tech industry, the link to the USA is strong. Frustrated that he couldn’t afford vineyard land in Burgundy he was inspired to buy in the US through the 1976 ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting – a landmark playoff between the traditional wines of France and the relatively unknown wines of California.
With the judging panel being almost exclusively French the outcome seemed virtually assured but, as history tells us, the US wines won on the day much to the critic’s chagrin. Purchased in 1982 he now owns the eponymously named Peter Michael Winery in California and roughly 27% of The Vineyard’s wine list hails from the USA, naturally including many bottles from his own vineyards.
A recent significant birthday provided the catalyst I needed and I booked in to the hotel and on to their ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting menu, pairing up seven specially devised courses with both a French and American wine (more of that in a separate post).
Upon arrival the exposure to wine begins almost immediately with the imposing and impressive tunnel that greets you as you enter reception. Aiming to contain at least one bottle of everything on the menu (so that bottles can be quickly located when ordered by guests) the low lit and temperature controlled ‘floor to ceiling’ perspex walls house hundreds of bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
What becomes noticeable when you enter the tunnel is that, whilst the central portion of the floor displays the rocky and stony vineyard soils transported from the Peter Michael Winery, the other half of the floor is transparent and looks down to a lower cellar containing bottles from around the rest of the world.
A welcoming glass of wine is provided when checking in (which is surely how every hotel should be!) and can be drunk whilst enjoying the huge ‘Judgement of Paris’ fresco that adorns one whole wall.
Commissioned by Sir Peter and titled ‘After the Upset’, the fateful day is immortalized in the artistic style of Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. Although not present at the original tasting, Sir Peter cheekily sneaks in on the left-hand side to oversee proceedings.
To make the most of the experience I booked myself in for a chat and tour with sommelier Milena. Hailing from France, and clearly relishing the wider UK availability of bottles from all over the world and the exposure that comes from working at such an esteemed establishment, she was happy to answer any number of questions that I had. The inevitable question of her favourite bottle was immediately met with “Sassicaia 1990”.
Of the many tour highlights, the first was the visit to their ‘bottle graveyard’, a vast collection of all the wonderful empty vessels enjoyed by numerous diners over the years. Many classic labels were present and it was awesome to drink in (pun intended) the wonderful memories and nights these bottles had produced.
From these ‘front-of-house’ cellars we worked our way up to the third floor and, with ‘cellar’ being a complete contradiction in term, visited what would qualify as their wine ‘vault’. Under lock and key the huge ‘floor to ceiling’ wine racks housed the deeper parts of their 30,000 bottle collection, including mostly duplicate bottles as well as those of different size formats.
It was a real treat to get up close and personal with their older Champagnes, but no tour would have been complete without seeing the jewel of their collection; the most expensive bottle on their wine list.
It was definitely no surprise to find out that it was Pétrus, but this was a double magnum of the lauded 1982 vintage listed at £20,000, which Milena believed had been there since the hotel opened.
Alas I didn’t have a big enough wallet for the Pétrus but I did join in with a tasting of their monthly ‘Icon’ wine. A good reason for the added extravagance would have been the old saying of ‘when-in-Rome…’, but we were firmly placed in Umbria for the Italian wine Patrizia Lamborghini Campoleone 1999 (£205 per bottle).
Comprised of a 50/50 mix of Merlot and Sangiovese from vines planted in the 1970’s, the very small yields of one kilo of grapes per vine are fermented in new French oak for 12 months followed by blending and another 6 months in the cellar.
The outstanding wine, blending fig, chocolate, tobacco and truffle was the precursor to an equally outstanding dinner, which you can read about here.