Tag Archives: The Fat Duck

Some of 2013’s top wine moments

There seems to have been a lot of talk lately on twitter and on other blogs about people’s wine of the year. I have to admit to always being slightly amazed that anyone can take a year’s worth of tasting, sipping, slurping and drinking and distill it all down into one wine. One wine to rule them all. How can you begin to compare between any number of completely different wine styles and decide which is best? I certainly can’t. For me, wine is as much about the situation, the people you enjoy it with and possibly the food you eat with it as much as the wine itself. So rather than picking just one wine, here instead are some of my favourite vinous moments of the past year:

The lifestyle of the rich and the famous moment –

A couple of contenders for this. Lunch at Chateau Margaux in February as part of our MW bootcamp week would certainly be up there. Drinking Margaux 1999 with Côte de Veau followed by blinged-up Tarte Tatin in the exquisite dining room at Margaux was something special. But the truly incredible pinch-myself-am-I-really-here? moment was taking a lunchtime cruise on Sydney Harbour in the blazing sunshine on the Robert Oatley super yacht whilst eating canapés and sipping a variety of Robert Oatley wines. James Bond, eat your heart out.

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The When Harry met Sally moment –

I am generally of the opinion that most good wine will go with most good food and that sometimes it is easy to get too worried about creating the perfect match. However, I do have to admit that the combination during our epic lunch at The Fat Duck of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party mock turtle soup with La Bota Amontillado was sublime. The nutty, savoury Amontillado perfectly matched the complex soup and lifted the whole dish to another level. I’ll have what she’s having.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The disappointing moment –

This would have to be finally tasting my very own Purley wine. After such high hopes of creating amazing wine in what is surely the fabulous terroir of Purley, it seems that even when fermenting a thimbleful of grape juice things can go wrong. A stuck ferment plus some stinky reduction problems certainly didn’t result in the greatest wine of the year. Lets hope the 2014 vintage is better.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The double take moment –

Probably a bottle of Turkish wine I had at my brother’s just a few weeks ago. I have to admit to not having tasted a great amount of Turkish wine before and I was really surprised by how pretty and delicate this one was- medium bodied and full of sour red cherry flavours giving a pleasing crunchiness. The variety was Kalecik Karasi and this wine at under £10 from the Wine Society was a real bargain.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The raiding the cellar moment –

This year I turned 30 and so the top raiding the cellar moment has to go to when I took a small collection of 1983 wines over to Portugal to enjoy with some friends (many of whom share the same birth year). None of the wines were what you would call ‘top wines’, and certainly some of them should have been drunk quite some time ago, but celebrating our 30th birthdays with birth year wines was pretty special.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The eye-opening winery visit moment –

Whilst visiting Orange in Australia was eye-opening due to the unexpectedly (for Australia) cool climate, it was Haut Bailly in Bordeaux that was really unanticipated. I don’t count myself quite as Bordeaux-phobic as Lenka, but its not a region thats normally high on my shopping list. We monkeys had a couple of days visiting wineries in Bordeaux back in February before our MW bootcamp started, and whilst the wineries we went to were fascinating, the wines themselves weren’t hugely memorable. That is until we got to Haut Bailly. The combination of almost spiritual-like serenity in the vineyards and wines that sent shivers up my spine with their poise and beauty is something I won’t forget in a while.

Some of 2013's top wine moments

The you only live once moment –

Definitely the bottle of Selosse Initiale I bought to celebrate passing my MW exams. Worth every single penny.

I’ve got a feeling that 2014 will bring some more memorable moments but for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Emma


Back down the rabbit hole – lunch at The Fat Duck

Seven years ago, not long after I started working in the wine trade, my then-Manager of the Oddbins shop I worked at announced she was leaving to head back to her native New Zealand. And before she left England, she said, she wanted to visit the Fat Duck. Now, I have to confess that at the time the name itself meant little to me other than vaguely knowing that it was meant to be Very Good and Very Expensive. But as I had few responsibilities to spend my rather minimal wages on and (lets be honest) have always enjoyed a good meal out, I said I would go with her. As it turns out one of our other colleagues decided to come along too so it was the three of us that hopped on the train from Paddington one morning bound for Maidenhead, and beyond there – Bray.

And suffice to say, it was simply magical. Actually going there with no preconceptions – or indeed any real idea of what expect – made the whole theatrical experience so much more thrilling. It was easily the best meal I had ever had, both in terms of the food and the overall experience – and is a meal that has stayed with me ever since then. I fear I may have mentioned it rather more times than I possibly should have over the last 7 years to my friends and family, but such was its impact.

Fast forward 7 years to a room where we three monkeys were heads bent, pens scribbling, studying as hard as we could for our forthcoming exams. Then up came an idea – we needed something to look forward to post-exams, a big treat, something to work towards. “The Fat Duck!” one of us said. And so we decided to save our pennies, eat Pret sandwiches during our study evenings rather than visit Planet of the Grapes (our favourite study night location) and look forward to a decadent lunch at the Fat Duck. And of course, for Alex and I, the fact that Rémi who we got to know and had so much fun with on our Australia trip is Assistant Head Sommelier there was just the icing on the cake.

This Saturday the day we had been waiting for came around. And there I was back at Paddington station with two good friends heading back to Bray. I have to admit to a slight nagging worry – would this trip live up to my earlier visit – which surely has been viewed through rose-tinted spectacles for the past few years? And within those seven years the price of the tasting menu had doubled – would it still be worth it?

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The winemonkeys and the Fat Duck

I should not have worried. Once again, on entering through the discreet wooden door, you step – not into a normal restaurant, but instead fall down the rabbit hole into the world of the Fat Duck. A world where your gin and tonic isn’t served in a glass but is frozen with liquid nitrogen and given to you as a spoon-sized ball, perfect to pop in your mouth where it sublimes to leave an incredible freshness of flavour: the perfect palate cleanser. A world where you are given a gold watch to put into a teapot of hot water where it dissolves into a gold-flecked consommé ready to be eaten. A world where candles can be lit and then eaten and where even Lenka eats snails. I won’t go into detail about the many courses we ate, for I fear I could not do them the justice they require – but have a look through the photos below, and if you want to know more then you’ll have to make a booking and go down the rabbit hole yourself.

Making nitro G&T

Making nitro G&T

However, I do feel that I should touch on the wines we drank as we are the winemonkeys afterall. “Would you like a glass of champagne?” – one of those questions that has just the one answer: yes. And so Rémi presented us with our first wine of the lunch – Moët 2002 – which was just perfect as we perused the tome that is their wine list. When you are wine geeks like us choosing from a wine list like that is a lot of fun but also takes quite a long time. We were nearing the last drops of our Moët when we finally came to a decision on two bottles that would fit both our budget and also (hopefully) give a good crack at matching some of the many and diverse dishes ahead.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

First up was the Smaragd Riesling Steinertal 2002 from F.X. Pichler in Wachau, Austria. ‘Smaragd’ refers to the top level of the local classification system in Wachau, where the grapes are picked late so the wines tend to be quite rich and deep in style but also dry. It proved to be a real star, matching many of our first few dishes – and particularly with the savoury edge to the wine beautifully complementing the dish of jelly of quail and crayfish cream served with truffle toast and oak moss.

Oak moss, truffle toast, jelly of quail and crayfish cream with Pichler Riesling

Oak moss, truffle toast, jelly of quail and crayfish cream with Pichler Riesling

Following the Riesling we were due to move on to our red wine, Jasmin Côte Rôtie 1999, but Isa – the Head Sommelier – kindly presented us with a wine specifically to match the ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ mock turtle soup instead. This turned out to be a sherry, La Bota Amontillado, and for me it was the best match of the meal. The nutty, savoury Amontillado coped tremendously with the varying flavours and textures of the mock turtle soup and accompanying toast sandwiches. It also proved that the right wine match can really lift a dish up to another level: the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Sherry is so wonderfully food-friendly, and for all you sherry-phobics out there, I challenge you to try this match and not get it.

The gold-flecked mock turtle soup, amazing with Amontillado

The gold-flecked mock turtle soup, amazing with Amontillado

The Côte Rôtie had a hard act to follow after that sherry but proved a lovely, if rather more predictable, match to the beautifully tender lamb dish. And then – just when we were thinking that maybe we should have also considered a sweet wine – Rémi appeared with a half bottle of Simčič Leonardo – a sweet wine from Slovenia made from the Ribolla grape variety where the grapes were dried for 6 months to concentrate them before pressing and fermentation (this is the passito meth od of sweet wine production). A delectably sweet wine to end on, and a particularly lovely

Verjus in egg with Simcic Leonardo

Verjus in egg with Simcic Leonardo

Whilst this is getting on to be quite a long blog, I don’t think it right to end without mentioning the other star of the meal beyond the food and wine: the staff. I cannot emphasise enough how fantastic they all were, the service was so slick and everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic. Julien, the junior assistant restaurant manager who served us, was particularly fun and knew just the right way to banter with us – variously convincing Alex that they grow tiny mushrooms by planting seeds directly in the mock egg in the turtle soup dish, and persuading Lenka to eat a snail. So, thank you to the whole team at The Fat Duck for making our lunch one we will surely never forget. I hope its less than 7 years before I get to go again!

Emma

The monkeys with our friend Remi

The monkeys with our friend Remi