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What to drink at Claridge’s Wine Cellar

Louis Thomas undertakes a ‘What to drink at…’ with a difference as he ventures into the underground Claridge’s wine shop to select a bottle for dinner in the famed Mayfair hotel’s restaurant.

Opened in late 2021, the Claridge’s Wine Cellar is, as head sommelier Emma Denney put it, a demonstration of Claridge’s “trying to show how ‘accessible’ it is”.

Of course, Claridge’s is hardly a name synonymous with budget living, but the wine shop does certainly mark a shift in a rather new direction. Guests can source a bottle from the shop, and enjoy it in Claridge’s Restaurant for the retail price (with a 15% service charge). Indeed, the Wine Cellar, situated on the lower ground floor, is en route to the spa, making it a critical wellness stop.

It’s certainly snug, and it would probably quite hard to miss it as you stampede towards the sauna, but inside this small space is a treasure trove of rare allocations. Indeed, Denney shared that there are a number of regulars who drop by to pick their bottle for dinners.

“Claridge’s has always welcomed guests from all walks of life, and although it’s a very traditional and historic hotel, it’s very friendly and not as stuffy as some people might at first assume,” she explained. “We are lucky to have an incredible selection of wine available throughout the hotel, and this is one way of us trying to showcase some of the rare, classic and also hidden gems that are available.”

Denney revealed that most guests just opt for the one bottle with dinner, and start with an aperitif of something by-the-glass, or a cocktail.

Describing the selection of bottles, which is overseen by the hotel’s director of wine Lupo Thoenes and Wine Cellar retail manager Radharani Franza, Denney summarised it as “very classic” with “a lot of French – particularly Burgundy and Bordeaux.”

“They are classics for a reason,” she argued, “and although their popularity may dip in and out of fashion, they will always be solid, reliable wines that diners can trust. Price points have certainly risen in years, but often it’s comforting to know what you can expect from a wine when you are paying a certain price point.”

Though she dubbed Claridge’s as “very much a Laurent-Perrier hotel”, Denney mentioned that she is pushing to expand the range of Grower Champagnes available. English sparklers available include Rathfinny, Gusbourne, and Hundred Hills.

Asked to select a bottle of interesting red that she felt might work well with the suitably rich dinner we were due to have upstairs in the art deco delight of Claridge’s Restaurant, Denney had two contenders: Côte-Rôtie Domaine Rene Rostaing Ampodium 2014 (£70), or Ridge Lytton Spring 2011 (£90).

While the former was summed up as still having “a lot of freshness and fruit, but earthiness and softer meatiness coming through”, the latter, a blend of 82% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignan from California’s Dry Creek Valley, offered, in Denney’s words, “softer, lusher fruit” and, thanks to the Zinfandel, “acidity that helps it to avoid flabbiness”.

Denney with the winning bottle.

Plumping for the New World option, it served as an excellent match for the oxtail and foie gras pithivier for two (£90) – a pastry-encased dish as decadent as it sounds, but reined in a bit by the freshness of the 14.4% ABV Californian. The wine also had enough tannic bite to stand up to such intensity of flavour.

As for what bottle Denney would choose from the shop, and which dish to complement, she said: “Plateau de fruits de mer (£45 for one) with Domaine Vincent Dauvissat Chablis 2018 (£185). A classic pairing of Chablis with our seafood platter, but it’s a classic pairing for a reason and just works so well. Vincent Dauvissat is an absolute master of Chablis wines, making some of the most complex and long-lasting examples from this region. The zippy citrus, fresh mineral backbone and textured finish sit so well against the various aspects of the platter.”

For a more surprising wine to pair with a classic dish, Denney suggested a bottle from Martinborough: “Kusuda Syrah 2016 (£125) with our Saturday plat du jour of Beef Wellington with pomme purée and sauce Périgord. Most people will classically look towards a Bordeaux style wine to pair with a Beef Wellington, but I think Syrah works even better, especially this example from Kusuda. It’s my favourite Syrah from outside of the Rhône Valley and from one of my favourite New Zealand producers.”

“The sauce Périgord is savoury and deep in flavour and this example of Syrah has enough power and complexity to stand up to it, but still enough freshness and finesse to help cut through the dish,” she added.

Other wines stocked in the shop singled out by Denney included Sussex sparkling Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs 2018 (£50), with notes of “warm and ripe orchard fruit, redcurrants, mulberry, lively florals and toasted hazelnuts”, and the Vassalitis ‘Nassitis’ White Blend 2020 (£37), a triple ‘A’ blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri offering “citrus aromas, white flowers and a fresh salty finish”.

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