The Gannet, like most diners, usually follows the same procedure in a restaurant: sit down, look at the menu, decide what I want to eat, then choose something rather nice to drink with it. In places that approach wine with evangelical zeal, however, the process might happily be reversed. I will look at the wine list, choose something delicious and then construct my meal around it.
Take Andrew Edmunds (first picture), for example, the splendid little Soho restaurant that its eponymous owner has run for nearly 30 years. Elbowroom in the romantic Georgian premises is necessarily limited, but there’s still space to raise a glass or two of something special. You might – as I did – come across a bottle of JJ Prüm’s wonderful Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2001 (the name is quite a mouthful, but so is the wine, all honeyed peaches and slate-like minerality) for a laughably reasonable £45, and then proceed to the menu.
I chose slow-cooked octopus, with chorizo, capers, tomato and olives; and impeccably fresh skate wing, on earthy Puy lentils, perked up with a perfect salsa verde. The Riesling sailed through it all with serene elegance.
Or I might have chosen the dense, cherry-scented Vieux Château Certan 2004 (a superb Pomerol, £100), then feasted on British charcuterie, followed by rabbit leg braised with pancetta, served with mash and Brussels tops: for me, it is a restaurant in which wine always comes first.
The Vineyard (second picture), the luxury Berkshire hotel and restaurant owned by California-wine producer Sir Peter Michael, is a rather different proposition, but the wines still prevail, even ahead of Michelin-starred chef Daniel Galmiche’s menu. Bonnes bouches before dinner, for instance, are not the customary bijoux from the kitchen, but small glasses of something interesting from its magnificent 3,000-bin cellars.
And the Judgment Menu is based on the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, a blind tasting in which a panel of wine experts chose Californian wines over their French counterparts. A dozen wines are served with seven small courses; a 2012 Rully from JB Ponsot and a Californian Talley Chardonnay 2011, for example, paired – again – with skate, this time with capers, cime di rapa and parsnip purée, and glasses of Château Monbousquet 2000 and Buccella Merlot 2007, from Napa, offered alongside duck with butternut squash, kale and wild rice.
For what it is worth, I marginally preferred the Californian wines, but that is not really the point: the menu stimulated much thought and discussion, especially over the two “blind wines”, served in black glasses. I guessed one correctly. The other? I missed it by a mere 6,000 miles.