Just read Max Davidson’s bit in the weekend Telegraph. I’m in two minds about whether to agree with him. I know restaurants have to make money, but they shouldn’t do it by ripping people off. If you’re an ambitious restaurant that aims to inspire, tantalise, invigorate diners with your food, surely you should be seeking to do the same with your wine list. Let’s be honest – 90% of most nobby restaurant lists consist of the same old trophy wines. Perversely, the bottles on which the sommelier/wine buyer/whatever has actually used a little grey matter tend to be the most keenly priced on the list.
Put it this way. Heston Blumenthal probably makes a mean steak-frites, but you go to The Fat Duck to see him transform everyday ingredients into something other-worldly. Switch to the domain of wine. Tonight I’m drinking where ordinary ingredients – grapes – have been made extraordinary. It’s a white Arbois Pupillin 1999 from Overnoy (from Les Caves de Pyrene 01483 538820), and it’s a concoction that ticks the same weirdness boxes as snail porridge. Not everyone will like it’s funky attitude – it’s like a cross between fino sherry and Pouilly-Fuissé – but so what? It’s wines like this that should have the highest mark-ups, not me-too, big name Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy that a dog could buy, even though it might cost a lot of bones.
I’m not sure I like agreeing with Martin Isark, a man for whom the word ‘humble’ was not invented. But much as I enjoyed Max Davidson’s whimsical pricing policies for various London restaurants – with the coda that these places are only ‘well-known’ to that tiny body of people (someone once said less than 500) who regularly frequent London’s top eateries – I still resent paying three times the retail price for a well-known wine.