Unlike the guy in the really quite bad film The Riot Club, I cannot accurately identify a glass of defiled Petrus while blindfolded. This doesn’t stop my “hidden expert” from emerging after one fine bottle or six. A wine tasting is a beauty pageant judged by mouth: I know I should sip, swirl and expectorate. Instead, it seems a terrible waste not swallow every gulp and quip, “insouciant little number, isn’t it?” So my instant insufferable “authority” appears because, in my tiny mind, I am an as yet undiscovered genius oenologist – a noun so easily confused with the name of that rude dude in the Bible.
The Judgement of Paris (aka the Paris Wine Tasting of May 24, 1976) – as seen in the Alan Rickman movie Bottle Shock – is one of the moments of truth in the wine world
This is why any place known for exceptional vintages had better be better than good. To endure in the wine game relies not only on the actual liquid itself but also the deft handling of people like me alongside actual real living experts. Miraculously, there’s a little place at Stockcross near Newbury called The Vineyard that’s good at that. It’s a Relais & Chateaux property with a 3 AA Rosette restaurant. Having recently celebrated it’s 40th anniversary, the Vineyard has managed to keep a very English sense of humour while perennially refreshing the unique quirks and qualities for which it became famous in the 70s.
This is serious wine drinking with a knowing wink, including a man-sized wooden corkscrew in the foyer. Behind the reception area lurks a two-storey wine cellar encased in glass that holds over 30,000 new and old world wines and owner Sir Peter Michael’s Sonoma County taste-tested champions. The Judgement of Paris (aka the Paris Wine Tasting of May 24, 1976) – as seen in the Alan Rickman movie Bottle Shock – is one of the moments of truth in the wine world. A lineup of famous judges from France and America tasted blind a selection of wines from America and France – and determined that America was just as good. One of the key pleasures of The Vineyard is that you too can experience the Judgment of Paris via the restaurant’s new tasting menu and wine pairings. The Vineyard’s recently acquired Head Chef, Robby Jenks, is one of the country’s rising young culinary stars (an Acorn Award already, given to the exceptional “30 under 30” in the industry). His Modern British menu matches the staggering selection of wines available.
Enter The Vineyard’s Head Sommelier, Romain Bourger. Winner of the UK Young Sommelier of the Year in 2016, he’s the kind of man you want to chain to your table and blast dumb wine questions at. If you can handle some of the sexier wines, such as an Alsace Riesling Grand Cru, 2012 Californian reds, Estate Argyros from Santorini and some arresting numbers from Hungary, Portugal and Luxembourg, you’re doing better than me. If, however, you’re smitten with more pedestrian champagnes or English Sparkling – what may be called in the future ‘Britfizz’ – he’s right there with you.
Fine wine is also applied topically on purpose. The Vineyard Spa makes use of wine byproducts for its Red Grape Body Wrap means a body mask, head massage and red grape body finishing cream. For more stimulation, go for the sandy body polish that sloughs off past disappointments and reveals you anew, suited for a better future.
The only flaw with The Vineyard is in the maze-like long winding corridors which lead to rooms named (you guessed it) after famous wines. After a few good glasses, the hallways seem to lengthen further and further from the action. If you, like me go the wrong way, you’ll see the large corkscrew again, a reassuring reminder that while the ancient art of the grape is serious business, it’s also really quite silly. C
The Vineyard, Stockcross, Newbury, West Berkshire RG20 8JU, United Kingdom
01635 528770; the-vineyard.co.uk