Laurence Jordan is a man on a mission. The sommelier at Number One, the flagship restaurant at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, has been busy compiling a selection of tipples made by Scottish winemakers working around the world.
“Ideally I would love to have all of my house wines made by Scottish winemakers – if the quality is right,” explains Laurence, 25. “So far I haven’t found enough. But we’re getting there. Similarly, I’d love to have a page on my wine list that is just made up of Scottish winemakers.”
His love of wine came about more through luck than judgement, despite receiving an expensive bottle of Claret as a birthday present.
“Like most people working in wine, it was purely accidental,” he laughs. “I’m originally from the south-west of Scotland, near Dumfries. My dad did like wine and had a collection of wine, but I went off to university not liking wine.
“For my eighteenth birthday he served me a bottle of Chateau Montrose 1989 and I didn’t treat it with the respect it deserved.”
After sticking at his history course for 18 months Laurence dropped out, but worked at The Witchery, the high-class restaurant that sits next to Edinburgh Castle.
“It has a thousand-bin wine list, it’s an institution when it comes to wine,” smiles Laurence. “The head sommelier, John Power, buys more fine wines than any other buyer in the city. I fell in love with the restaurant industry and with wine.”
His spell at The Witchery led on to his current role at the Balmoral, which in turn brought him into contact with the Number One restaurant’s head chef, Brian Grigor.
“It was chef who sparked my interest in wines made by Scots around the world,” explains Laurence. “We do something called ‘A Taste of Scotland’ – instead of just having cheese at the end of a meal, we have cheeses served with Scotch whiskies.
“They are always hard cheeses and blue cheeses. The hard cheeses work really well with whiskies finished in sherry or port casks, while the blue cheeses work with smoked and peated whiskies.”
Laurence suggested putting together a “Taste of England” using a smoked English vodka from William Chase and a damson vodka from Sipsmith, to give smokiness and sweetness. Brian didn’t fancy the idea of an English menu in his most Scottish of Michelin-starred restaurants – unless it was called the “Auld Enemy” – but instead he suggested trying wines made by Scots.
Since then the idea has grown arms and legs, with Laurence sourcing wines from around the world. Two winemakers in particular have been real highlights on his travels.
In Spain, Scottish Master of Wine Norrell Robertson – known as “el Escocés volante”, or “the flying Scotsman” for his globe-trotting wine consultancy – has been winning plaudits for his creations after putting his roots down in Aragon.
On the nose, Norrell’s 2009 El Puno Blanco gives all the familiar floral and peach aromas you would expect from a Viognier. On the palate, it’s rounded, with plenty of body and acidity to stand up to food.
But it was Norrell’s 2009 La Multa Old Vines Garnacha that really impressed me. Made from fruit harvested from vines that are 45 years old on average, the wine has a complex nose, with aromas of dark fruits like brambles and blackcurrants, intertwined with notes of all-spice, wood smoke and violets. It’s full-bodied, with meaty tannins and plenty of structure to work well with food.
“When we serve grouse, you would think that something French would work best, something gamey from Burgundy perhaps,” muses Laurence. “But Norrell’s spicy, fruit-forward hot climate Grenache really works, particularly with the fruity sauce that chef uses with his grouse.”
Up in the Swiss Alps meanwhile, Jamie McCulloch’s wines have also been catching Laurence’s eye. And it’s easy to see why.
Jamie’s 2013 Les Deux Cimes Chasselas is full of honeysuckle aromas that lead into apricot and white peach flavours, with a hit of lemon. Laurence helpfully draws out the similarities with Gewürztraminer and Albariño – light white wines with bags of acidity to match food and get the juices flowing as an aperitif.
His 2012 Les Deux Cimes Pinot Noir Barrique is, similarly, very impressive. There are aromas of all-spice, cumin seeds and vanilla on the nose and then plenty of red fruit flavours on the palate, with raspberries, redcurrants and strawberries all present and correct. The wine has silky smooth tannins, with a good level of acidity, as you would expect from a Pinot Noir from a cooler climate.
Laurence was an excellent tour guide for his Scottish wines. He may be just 25, but he is clearly one to watch – especially if he carries on picking Scottish wines as good as these.
His talents have not gone unrecognised either. He was selected as one of ten young sommeliers to take part in the 2014 Ateliers Ruinart training and mentoring programme.