UK wine offer falls short26th November, 2012 by Gabriel Savage
The CEO of London’s newest steak house has criticised the UK’s wine offer as being unnecessarily expensive and limited in scope.
Jesper Boelskifte, who founded Danish chain MASH – Modern American Steak House – three years ago and has just launched its first international branch in London, told the drinks business that he had struggled to find many of the wines he wanted for the venue’s US-weighted wine list.
“We found wines over here are extremely expensive and you can’t get a lot of good labels,” he reported, offering additional criticism of the prices charged in the UK.
“We bring in a lot from Denmark because we get good allocations and prices there – and we’re one of the most taxed countries in the world,” Boelskifte pointed out.
As a sommelier by training and former director of the Danish Sommelier Association, Boelskifte stressed his desire to make MASH as much a destination for wine lovers as carnivores.
Although the MASH wine list covers many of the world’s key regions and producers, he explained: “We are emphasising not only California but US wines in general”, adding: “We’re trying to create the best list in Europe on that level.”
Citing Sonoma producers Williams Selyem and DuMOL as examples of high profile wines he failed to find in the UK, Boelskifte suggested that this poor representation of US wines had created a knock-on effect in UK consumer attitudes.
From his own experience working on the floor since MASH opened in Soho earlier this month, Boelskifte concluded: “London isn’t really used to the great American wines.”
Nor does he feel this shortcoming is restricted to the US section of the list. Drawing a comparison with their Danish counterparts, Boelskifte described London restaurant-goers as “not as open minded yet; they’re a little bit narrow in their outlook on wine, but we’ll try to influence that.”
Outlining his own view of major recent improvements in the quality and diversity of US wine, Boelskifte said: “I’m impressed with what’s happened in the US in the last 10 years.
“The quality has always been good with certain producers, but from the 70s to the mid-90s it was all about big production. Now they’ve gone back to smaller facilities, emphasising smaller growers and cleaner wines, which are fruit driven and well balanced.”
As for the most exciting recent development at the fine wine end of the US spectrum, Boelskifte remarked: “It’s great that you are beginning to see different terroirs in California now. The greatest evolution has happened with Pinot Noir, which has gone from being really heavy and potent to some very elegant wines.”
Despite this absence of many top US wines in the UK, there are signs of a strengthening offer. Established US specialist importers such as The Wine Treasury and Fields, Morris & Verdin have been joined in recent years by a number of new arrivals. These include California Fine Wine, which has set up a tie-in with London wine bar Dalla Terra, and the Sheffield-based Zinstream.
With MASH adding its weight to other upmarket London steak houses such as Hawksmoor, Cut and Goodman, all of which boast a strong Californian wine offer, Boelskift is hopeful that combined demand may help improve the offer still further.
“I hope we can influence importers here,” he remarked, noting: “It was the same case in Denmark and we helped to change the entire market.”
A full version of this interview will appear in December’s issue of the drinks business.