It is not every week that we get invited to go to one of the 5 AA Star Dorchester Collection. So when asked to have a chat with the Head Sommelier and Director of Restaurant Jonathan Ellson, we jumped at it.
Set in 240 acres of prime Berkshire parkland on the borders of Windsor Great Park this Country House Hotel has an eccentric spirit which sets to ‘re-write the rules’. As you drive in that eccentricity is immediately visible as the speed limit sign dictates 9.5MPH – 9.5 not 10 or for that matter 5?
It is the speed of a horse trotting. With a polo field on site and an equestrian theme throughout then we now have a view of the back drop of Coworth Park – a luxury hotel of the highest standard, and with a quirky touch that once discovered makes one smile.
Jonathan is the quintessential British sommelier. He is schooled in the world’s wine through the Wine & Spirit Trust’s Diploma of Wines and Spirits, one step away from the height of wine education the Master of Wine. He is courteous to a tee and has the air of our country’s trait of being appropriately reserved. So you might say that the Grade 2 listed Georgian Dower House is an ideal fit.
Whilst the Dorchester has 3 distinct UK properties, The Dorchester, 45 Park Lane and Coworth Park, the latter is the ‘resort’ of the collection or at least that is the feeling that my host has about the guests general approach. It is the height of luxury, and contained within in it is more leisure than, say, the more business oriented The Dorchester. As such the wine list has to reflect not just the very best of what wine has to offer from the classic regions but a broad collection of excellent wines, with Coworth’s eclectic touches.
Jonathan has led the charge introducing the Coravin system of preservation allowing for a broadening of the range of wines by the glass. He is at pains to point out that this wine list has something for everyone or maybe, as the brief lounge menu highlights, ‘perfection just happens’. This system allows for more grape varieties to be offered; for no longer is the market just about 2 or 3 different grape varieties. Jonathan points out the customer is moving on from New Zealand Sauvignon to a more eclectic choice of grapes Alsace Riesling, Albarino from N.W Spain and so on.
As we continue to discuss the market, consumers seem more open and interested than ever before, he makes further observations on the reasons behind this new and exciting development. The programmes such as Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef are highlighting, talking about and demonstrating food and wine matching on a regular basis, which in turn is influencing the consumers to get into these ideas and enjoy them. At the same time the national trend of drinking less but better is quite apparent – back to the wine by the glass.
When it comes to looking deeper into the list and all the way up to Richebourg Grand Cru 1996 from Domaine La Romanee-Conti (a snip at £3,600 per bottle) then the classics are well documented, however those off beat difference sparkle throughout. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Homage a Jaucqes Perrin 2009 is a legend of a wine for those that know of it, and rarely seen, which may not be surprising at £900 per bottle. However Jonathan has his feet placed closer to the ground than mine and picks out the Gigondas Clos du Joncuas 2005 at a much less heady £89.
This relatively unknown appellation in the Rhone cluster is often great value and this one is even more eclectic – organic since 1980, whole bunch ferments of fruits from 40-90 year old vines in cement tanks and old oak barrels. This typifies the profound value to be had, even though you may require Jonathan to gently lead you to it. Interestingly value is still important in this place of unashamed height of luxury.
When we talk about trends for 2017 then the subject of value still hovers. Replacements forever increasing prices of expensive Burgundy Villages and Cru may include the American regions of Oregon and Washington State or producers of reds from the Alto Adige in Northern Italy. Or in white wines Bourgogne Blanc alternatives from outstanding producers as the historic names scale the price heights and become less affordable.
The Head-Chef of Coworth Park is former Roux scholar and multi-award winner Adam Smith and the style of the menus is unashamedly British dishes with a modern outlook. Jonathan matches the wines with fantastic gourmet menus. An example of that eclectic style comes out again in his favoured food and wine pairing. Exmoor Caviar Tart with Cornish crab, yuzu and cucumber matched with the English Digby Leander Pink a delicious and excellent value English Rose Sparkler about as close as you can get to Champagne as you can get.
As is befitting of this establishment they have a good representation of English sparkling wines and a little coup announces that they have secured a small parcel of the now sold out Windsor Great Park Sparkling wine made by the wine mail order gurus the Laithwaites. This first release of just 3,000 bottles is made from a small vineyard in Windsor Great Park itself and is sure to become much sought after.
Alternatively there is the Ice Cider, a good deal more sophisticated that the mass market simplistic serving option, this is made from the juice of frozen apples in a similar way to ice-wine. Harvested late then pressed the juice is then left to freeze naturally and cold ferment. It is another of Jonathan’s favoured and quirky partners to duck liver replacing the classic Sauternes accompaniment.
Wine tasting and gourmet dinner events begin in a month or so’s time with a Champagne Dinner hosted with their house Champagne Laurent Perrier and a further 5 planned for the year – dates to be confirmed.
So with all this focus and activity you can understand when Jonathan pulls it all together by identifying the strategy that is about really asserting the different identities of the eating venues in house in their separate ways, establishing Coworth Park as a destination for those seeking a luxurious UK resort.
I am not sure whether Coworth Park breaks the rules or makes them however that touch of British eccentric spirit certainly runs throughout and helps create the marvellous spirit typified by Jonathan and his restaurant team.
Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor