We drove the McLaren 570S Spider to the Vineyard Hotel, a 5 star Relais & Chateaux hotel in Berkshire, an ideal stopover on any luxury tour, particularly designed to appeal to wine lovers everywhere.
The Vineyard Hotel celebrates the “Judgement of Paris” (not the contest between the three most beautiful goddesses of Olympos--Aphrodite, Hera and Athena) opening on the very day that this explosive event brought a new perception of wine to the world. This blind tasting was organised in 1976 by Stephen Spurrier for the leading wine aficionados in Paris and many California wines were chosen over big established French names. Sir Peter Michael also happens to own some very fine wine estates in Knights Valley Sonoma, so the hotel will never be short of a decent drop or two. This world shattering event is commemorated with a large painting commissioned for the hotel hall, depicting the protagonists including Sir Peter.
The entrance is adorned with a dizzying variety of bottles, from Magnums to Methuselahs. Once through the doors the eye is immediately drawn to the glass vault where thousands of bottles of wine are beautifully displayed. The reception area is calm and comfortable, with the ubiquitous wine memorabilia, such as a particularly large corkscrew by the entrance.
A brief and welcoming check in, where we are offered a lovely glass of champagne to ease us in gently. Then a quick tour of the hotel whilst trying to juggle cases and glasses, and pay attention to all the amazing art adorning the walls, but soon we are shown to our suite (all 49 bedrooms are named after iconic wines), which was modern and well appointed with a luxurious bathroom stocked with gorgeous REN goodies. Classic FM is playing gently in our room, a nod no doubt to the owner Sir Peter Michael who not only founded the Peter Michael Winery in California, but also the radio station in 1992.
We headed over to the spa and lounged by the circular pool for a while, before hopping in and trying out the swan massage jets. There was a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna to keep you occupied whilst waiting for your grape themed treatments, as well as a welcome glass of wine.
We ambled down to the bar, allowing ourselves to be distracted by the eclectic collection of art along the way, and started the evening with a glass of English sparkling, Coates and Seely, nice and light and fruity with notes of apple, lemon and sherbet. The pre dinner nibbles were a promise of things to come, almonds, large juicy olives and crispy mushroom amuse bouches.
Dinner was a truly delicious tasting menu, all our favourite meals in miniature. A pleasant change from so many tasting menus where each course is a fusion of swirls and shapes - all delicious but not readily identifiable. This came with a rather superb wine pairing which as you would expect from the place called the Vineyard was considerably well imagined and skilfully brought out the flavours of the freshly prepared ingredients. We had the usual discussion as to which course was our favourite, which inevitably changed as each new delight was produced.
First came an exquisite Loch Duart salmon, Daurenki caviar, wasabi, cucumber and dill. This was accompanied by a Bolgheri, Guadiana al Tasso Vermentino, Italy 2016 that was fruity, soft, fresh and delicate. Probably my favourite as it was sublime in its proportions and subtle in taste.
Then the Pan-fried foie gras, grape, hazelnut and pain d'épices. This was paired with a Cambria, Viognier California 2016 served in a black glass as it’s a white wine that tastes like a light red with a well rounded body, both soft and velvety.
Followed by the Devonshire cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut mixed wth a Fleurie, Clos de la Roulette France 2015, a full bodied Beaujolais, with a fine texture, good depth and a little spice.
Last and not least the Lamb, with fondant potato, peas, girolles mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. The lamb was so soft and full of flavour, it was a triumph, even overtaking the salmon from earlier. This came with a Matassa, Coume de l’Olla, France, 2016. This is a genuine organic wine in the new tradition based on old classical methods, where no chemicals at all are used in the wine making process. A wine that has to be considered differently to the usual highly processed fare we are used to. It is raw, light to medium body and smells of the farm, with a piquant raspberry flavour. An acquired taste but, as with anything that demands a reeducation of a palate abused by processed goods, it rewards you over time with an increased awareness of natural ingredients and a wide range of flavours.
The final course consisted of a salted caramel, manjari, tonka bean and coffee dessert. It looked fabulous and did not disappoint, hitting the taste buds with such a powerful contrast of flavours. Sweetly complimented by the wine, a Jurancon, chateau Jolys Cuvee Jean, France 2015, that was a supreme finish to the evening. Well, apart from the selection of divine chocolates that came as a final surprise!
My partner drank more conservatively than I sticking with the Taittinger Champagne and a light and delicious Blanc de Blancs from California.
The next morning we took breakfast in our room, with the terrace doors open and the gentle whoosh and thud from the golf course accompanying our morning meal. Fresh fruit salad and juices to start, followed by a bagel, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and a muffin, with poached eggs, avocado salsa and hollandaise sauce. Delicious, and we even managed to polish off a pastry too.
We toured the wine cellar with Vasilis and even managed to bag a double Magnum of chateau Pétrus Pomerol 1982, well not really but at least I got to hold it, very carefully. The wine cellar has a long list of pretty amazing wines collected over many years, close to around 30,000 bottles in fact. A temple to Californian wines indeed, without neglecting the other various parts of the world that revere wines just as much. The Vineyard’s owner Sir Peter Michael is a renowned wine lover and this is the perfect place to come and share that worship in luxurious and entertaining surroundings.
The Vineyard Hotel looks a little architecturally dated from the outside, though the Mclaren looked scintillating in front of the round portico, but this merely enhances your delight as you enter. Once inside it is a tastefully decorated haven for wine connoisseurs in the heart of Berkshire with a relaxing spa and pool. This is one for epicureans looking for a regular luxury retreat from the world. The Vineyard offers quite exceptional dining with a fine cellar that encourages you to explore different wines and expand your oenological knowledge. The staff are professional, friendly and passionate about your experience, definitely somewhere you would want to go back to, especially to see what the chef and the sommelier can come up with next.