Don't be scared off by a big wine list

AMONG the hundreds of bottles carefully stacked up in the wine cellar under Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens is a £2200 bottle of La Tache and a £900 bottle of Chateau Latour.

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One Devonshire's head sommelier Alan Brady in the wine cellar. Picture: Mark Gibson
One Devonshire's head sommelier Alan Brady in the wine cellar. Picture: Mark Gibson

I gingerly step around them as the five-star hotel's new head sommelier Alan Brady describes how the number and range of wines on offer has grown in recent years.

"This is nearly 10 times bigger than the cellar was when Gordon Ramsay was here 10 years ago," he explains.

"We have about 450 wines just now in the cellar. The wine list is about 30 pages long, so yes, it is quite scary."

The former head sommelier at the Old Course Hotel, St Andrews, is just a few weeks into his new job in Glasgow but he already has ideas to make the expansive wine list more accessible to diners and staff alike.

"I remember when I was younger, going into a restaurant and looking at a wine list that was massive and frightening, the thing was like a Bible, it was two inches thick and there were 2000 wines on the list, you just can't look through that.

"So that's why we give people the opportunity of five or 10 minutes to look through the list and then it's a case of approaching and asking, is there anything you've got your eye on or is there something I can help you with?

"It's not about pushing them towards something they are not comfortable with. It's probably nine times out of 10 guiding them towards something that will work better with the food, and it's also going to be a more attractive price point for them as well.

"You don't have to come and spend £100 on food and £50 on a bottle of wine; come in and enjoy a really nice bottle of wine for £20 to £30."

He says his job is also about coaching and mentoring the team, increasing their knowledge and confidence.

"It can be a bit dull when you start waitering and all you are doing is carrying plates and resetting cutlery," he admits.

"There are only so many times you can visit a table without it becoming a bit obtrusive.

"If one person puts down the cutlery and one person puts down the plate and another puts down bread, then I go in with the wine list, it can be too many people at the table.

" So if we can have staff knowing a few wines each that covers a fairly broad spectrum of the list and we can make it a bit more specialised and customers can then speak to me if they want to."

Taking the stuffy and unobtainable image out of fine dining, Alan says it is important that diners come in and enjoy themselves.

"The days of stiff and formal service have gone, I hope, because that's not what it's about any more. It needs to be more open and conversational."

So what wines does Alan recommend?

THE non-vintage Little James Basket, which costs less than £30 a bottle, is a favourite at the moment.

"It's about having value for money throughout the list and it depends on your interpretation of what value for money is," reasons Alan.

"I have served people who have thought £500 is value for money, for me it's £40 to £50, that's my top-end budget."

There's another breath of fresh air sweeping through the kitchen, in the shape of new head chef Barry Duff.

Appointed at the start of the year, he was senior sous chef and took over after the departure of Darin Campbell for country house hotel Cromlix House, being opened by tennis world No 3 Andy Murray.

Barry, who started his career at Turnberry, takes over the reins - or should that be ranges - after seven years at the West End hotel.

"I have already put some new dishes on the menu, and in time I'll get my signature on it," he smiles.

"I have put a new halibut dish on with crab crushed potato with a shellfish broth which is popular, and Iberico steaks."

As well as developing changes in the layout of the menus, he explains that it is a team effort to introduce a new dish, it only makes the final cut after hours of painstaking work.

"We come up with the idea and try it altogether, then try it individually to see what works best," he says.

"It's a group effort, we all put in our input. All the boys put their knowledge into it."

With a team of nine in the kitchen, Barry is tasked with keeping the menu fresh and seasonal, without losing favourites.

"The daube of beef, pulled Scottish beef, is a long-time favourite," he adds. "We change the garnish and adapt it. It is popular and customers would really miss it if it were to disappear from the menu."

Although the hotel is part of a chain it maintains its own identity and Barry has the freedom to create his own menus. A season of wine dinners will perfectly blend the expertise of Alan and Barry and open up the possibilities of the wine cellars to new customers, whatever their budget.

angela.mcmanus@eveningtimes.co.uk

Food and drink

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