GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: fine wine at the right price

PUBLISHED: 16:23 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:31 07 September 2010

A recession-busting initiative that prompts the drinking of finer wine: surely that can t make commercial sense? But for restaurateur Ian Davies it does. And it must be leaving his customers smiling. The scheme is this: wines normally listed at £75 or £40

A recession-busting initiative that prompts the drinking of finer wine: surely that can't make commercial sense? But for restaurateur Ian Davies it does. And it must be leaving his customers smiling.

The scheme is this: wines normally listed at £75 or £40 are now on offer (if you have the right voucher) at £25 or £15, levels of mark-up which would make most in the trade weep.

Davies, who runs The Rotisserie chain - two restaurants in the heart of Ham&Highland, in Fortune Green Road, West Hampstead, and Allitsen Road, St John's Wood, plus others in Whetstone and Hatch End - is as imaginative as his cuisine is simple.

For much of the year, he has been putting bums on all available seats with a variety of discounts. When simple reductions palled, he had the summery idea of offering a percentage off the bill equal to the day's 3pm temperature. Fortunately for him, July was cool...

But this is a wine column, so let's look at the current offer, which runs until the end of November. The wines come from Bibendum in Primrose Hill and I had the chance to taste five of them at the B Festival late last month (I hope lots of Ham&High readers were at the sell-out consumer session because there were some splendid bottles there).

For me, the red star was Gigondas Domaine Font-Sane 2006 (£15), perfumed, balanced, fresh, an edge of something flowery to its dark fruit, herb and spice flavours - a perfect partner to a decent steak.

If Bordeaux rather than the Rhone appeals, Les Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac 2006 (£25) is a classic, smooth and complex, needing food to mellow its robust tannins. Laid-back Californian more your style? Soft red fruit dominates in the serious but very easy-drinking Marmesa Cabrillo Peak pinot noir 2007 (£15). Other reds should be as good: a Margaret River shiraz from Howard Park (£15) and peak Argentine malbec from Catena (£25).

My favourite of the whites was also a Rhone-style blend - but from Michelton in Victoria's Goulburn Valley. Airstrip (£15) is the sort of wine you need a sommelier to describe: its fragrant mix of marsanne, roussanne and viognier has so much going on, from green fruits to tropical voluptuousness. Definitely a wine for tiger prawns grilled with no fussy accompaniments.

I found the Californian white, Morgan Monterey sauvignon blanc 2006 (£15) pleasant but far less interesting; better pay £10 more for Meursault Villages from Michelot.

Davies admits that until now most of his customers haven't been wine adventurers, making house wines by far the biggest sellers. "This is getting our customers to enjoy a better quality wine at a very good price," he says. And he hopes the enjoyment will prompt a longer-term effect on wine choices in his restaurants.

It's an approach which delights Bibendum director Michael Saunders, who told me he was laughed off the platform at a recent trade conference when he suggested restaurateurs should consider reducing their sometimes eye-wateringly greedy margins on wine.

A final word: I'm not writing this column because Davies is advertising in the Ham&High (for the discounted wines you must have a printed voucher from the paper, or download one from www.the rotisserie.co.uk, and it's wise to book). It is simply far too good an opportunity to miss.

Liz Sagues

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