1821: A new number for wine in Edinburgh

Peter Ranscombe joins one of Italy’s venerable wine families in Edinburgh for the launch of its inaugural ‘wine hotel’.

EDINBURGH last night became home to The Wine House Hotel 1821, the first in a chain of hostelries being opened by the Zonin family.

Zonin is best known for its prosecco, Italy’s most-famous sparkling wine, but also has nine other wineries in its native land, as well as Barboursville in Virginia in the United States, and the recently-unveiled Dos Almos in Chile.

As well as four bedrooms, the boutique hotel also has a ground floor bar and “wine library”, where guests can try the company’s full range of wines by the glass and buy bottles to take home too.

Sitting on Picardy Place opposite the Edinburgh Playhouse, it’s easy to imagine the bar and the library – complete with books on everything from cars to Kate Moss, as well as bottles of wine – becoming a popular destination on nights out.

Downstairs, the hotel has a second bar and upstairs there’s a flexible events space on the first floor, which comfortably seated 70 for dinner.

The hotel was designed by architect Claudio Silvestrin and has been opened in partnership with Sep Marini, the restauranteur behind the Toni Macaroni chain.

‘Unusual suspects’

Zonin opened the hotel with a “unusual suspects” wine tasting, designed to show off the broad range of styles and varieties produced by the company.

Although the family may have made its name in prosecco, one of the most-impressive wines last night was its Oltrenero Brut Nature (£9 for a 125ml glass, £33.50 for a bottle, or £23.50 for a bottle to take away), a sparkling wine from Lombardy made using the traditional method, in which the second fermentation – the one that creates the bubbles – takes place in a bottle instead of in a tank under pressure, as it does with prosecco.

The Oltrenero is made using pinot noir grapes, which gives it concentrated raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavours, and the wine spends some 38 months on its lees – the dead yeast cells left over after the fermentation – which imparts a richer, buttery feeling in the mouth and flavours of crumbling shortbread.

Italy is proud of its incredibly-wide range of indigenous grapes, but that hasn’t stopped wine producers from using more-familiar international varieties, like the 2016 Ca’ Bolani Sauvignon Blanc (£6.50 for a 175ml glass, £23.50 for a bottle or £13.50 for a bottle to take away), which had more lemon and lemon rind flavours than its Loire equivalent, with plenty of green pepper flavours to balance the acidity.

Across the pond

Perhaps the most “unusual” of the “unusual suspects” was the 2014 Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve (£13.50 for a 175ml glass, £33.50 for a bottle or £23.50 for a bottle to take away), another grape more familiar in the Loire Valley in France than in the US, but here showing tonnes of raspberry aromas and flavours, along with smoky smells and vanilla tastes from its 14 months in French oak barriques.

What impressed me most about the cabernet franc was the twist of mint flavour; often I find this variety can be just too vegetal or earthy for me, but the Barboursville example avoided that pitfall.

What’s equally impressive is the affordability – the off-sale prices at the hotel are very reasonable for central Edinburgh, in effect charging only £10 corkage to enjoy a bottle in the library, and add to the range available from nearby Contini on George Street.

And 1821? It was the year the Zonin family entered the wine trade – it may make for a mouthful in terms of the hotel’s name, but it’s encouraging to see the pride that a large family business still takes in its roots.