As hospitality venues continue to reopen, Peter Ranscombe visits Hotel du Vin in St Andrews to run the rule over its paired-back wine list.
I’LL always have a soft spot for St Andrews – it’s where I studied physics, where I met some special people, and where I developed an obsession with Janetta’s ice cream.
It’s also where I put all those years of Scottish country dancing lessons from primary school to good use at various dinner dances, ceilidhs, and balls.
And many of those dances took place in The Golf Hotel on The Scores, which has since morphed into the Hotel du Vin chain’s St Andrews outpost.
It was great fun exploring its wine list for The Grape & The Grain back in 2014 and, when the opportunity came up to review the hotel last month for the September issue of Scottish Field magazine, I jumped at the chance to return.
The hotel’s bistro has paired back its food menu to allow for social distancing in the kitchen and the drinks selection has similarly been trimmed.
So, what does a covid compliant wine list look like?
Well, with its emphasis on French food, the chain’s bistros have always had a strong focus on French and other old world wines and that’s reflected in the paired back wine list, with just under half of the bottles hailing from France.
That’s not a criticism by any means – the old adage of “what grows together goes together” has never been more true than when it comes to French cuisine, so if you’re going to serve French dishes then it makes sense to have accompanying bottles from the same regions as the food.
I asked Daniel, the sommelier at Hotel du Vin in St Andrews, to select some glasses for me to try and the highlights from his French selections were the Château de Belleverne Chenas (£8.15 for a 175ml glass, £22 for a 500ml carafe, £32.75 for a bottle) and the Alain Jaume Les Travèes Cairanne (£9, £25.50, £38).
The Chenas was quite smoky and earthy on the nose for a Beaujolais but had plenty of those characteristic red fruit flavours on the palate, along with a well-integrated lick of vanilla and a surprising amount of tannin – enough to take on steak frites.
The Cairanne – one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages – was filled with black fruit aromas on the nose, alongside more roast meat and clove notes, and moved the tannins up a notch on the palate into ribeye steak territory.
Among the new world reds, there was a very grown-up, smoky nose on the Tomero Malbec Reserva (£11.25, £31.25, £46) – clearly a level above standard supermarket malbecs from Mendoza in Argentina – with rounder and sweeter black cherry on the palate.
My pick among the reds was the Omero Cellars Pinot Noir (£56 for a bottle) from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, which demonstrated California-esque ripe red plum, red cherry and raspberry flavours among its sweeter vanilla, and cinnamon notes, with enough tannic grip to handle food.
Two reliable old favourites appeared among the whites on the stripped-down wine list – Le Versant Viognier (£6.50, £18.25, £27) from the Foncalieu co-operative in the Languedoc is great value, delivering plenty of peach and lemon on the nose and then more savoury and textured lemon rind to balance its acidity on the palate, while the Ramón Bilbao Verdejo (£7.50, £21, £31) demonstrates why the Rioja producer is equally skilled at making whites as reds, with creamy notes among the apricot and lemon rind flavours that would sing alongside salty roast chicken.
Daniel also slipped in a bottle from his native Portugal; the Quinta Da Lixa Pouco-Comun Alvarinho (£34.50) has all the crisp acidity you could ever want to go with seafood, balanced by fresh lemon juice and lemon rind flavours.
One of the surprises on the wine list was the Citari Conchiglia (£40 for a bottle), an Italian white made from a grape called “turbiana”, previously known as “trebbiano di Lugana” and not related to trebbiano from Tuscany.
While a sniff could lead to the wine being dismissed as plain, it came into its own on the palate, with lots of peach and apricot flavours to balance its crisp acidity.
I sneakily ordered a glass of the Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Reserve (£8.25, £23, £34) to extend my tasting into dinner, with the South African white’s crisp acidity slicing through the richness of the giant cheese crouton that enveloped my French onion soup.
I returned to the Cairanne to accompany my main course of steak and those more-assertive tannins came into their own to help slice through the meat.
I can’t wait until we can get back to meals without social distancing, with a full selection of dishes and accompanying wines.
But, if restaurant lists can match the standard set by Hotel du Vin, then we’re in safe hands until that time comes.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, whisky, gin and beer reviews in his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.