California vs France: Reenact the Judgement of Paris at The Vineyard
By LAURA TOOGOOD
It is not often that a menu really catches my attention but when I came across the ‘Judgement Menu’, my eyes widened with excitement. This fine-dining experience is offered at The Vineyard, which is a luxury five star hotel that boasts a distinctive American feel.
It champions Californian wine and celebrates the actual ‘Judgement of Paris’ event that took place in France in the 1970s. The occasion saw a collection of wine experts from both sides of the pond indulge in a blind tasting. Californian vintages were put in direct competition with some of France’s best produce. To the shock and surprise of many, the Californian wines outscored the French in many of the rounds and The Vineyard marks this triumph with a dramatic piece of artwork that greets guests as they arrive at the venue.
Peter Michael owns the hotel and following a highly successful media career, he now produces wine in the West Coast of America. He is passionate about exploring the different grape varieties and encouraging diners to taste vintages from outside of Europe. With this in mind, The Vineyard has created a unique concept that combines a fine-dining experience with a blind wine tasting. It also includes a private tour of the hotel’s cellars, which incorporate some of the best fine wines on the market.
The dining facilities are impressive and the silver service restaurant even offers a private balcony area, which is perfect for a couple or small group of friends on a special occasion. It overlooks the entire dining area and you can also catch a glimpse of the grand piano that stands in the wings.
Each of the seven courses that are presented during the extravagant experience is paired with one wine from France and one wine from California. The challenge is to identify which wine is from each area and also to decide upon your preferred option.
I visited The Vineyard well prepared. Not only had I run a half marathon in the morning to earn my indulgence, but I also brought a secret weapon; my dining partner. He has a longstanding background in the food and beverage industry, with a particular interest in wine. Therefore, I assumed it would be a relatively easy task to spot the difference. However, I was proved wrong and many of the traditional favourites faced tough competition from contemporary or less obvious choices. It was challenging to tell the difference in location and region, and there were also some surprises during the rivalry.
We began the evening with a pre-dinner glass of champagne, relaxing in the comfortable sofas by the fireplace. As we progressed to the restaurant, we acknowledged the sophisticated atmosphere and highly attentive waiters.
Rather than take you through the menu step-by-step and spoil the surprises in store, it is probably more apt to mention the highlights and also provide some insight into the dishes.
The seven courses were presented in perfect portions that were rich, yet not overpowering. The guinea fowl and parsley terrine was excellent and the Lyme Bay skate wing was a real treat, especially considering that fish is normally my first choice of dish.
Other highlights included the South Coast brill, which was presented with celeriac, chow chow and watercress. My dining partner also really enjoyed the duck breast, which came with butternut squash, curly kale and wild rice.
The main appeal of the experience lies with the wine and the 2000 Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Chateau Monbousquet was exceptional. However, it was actually slightly outshone by its partner wine, a 1997 Harrison Merlot Millennium from Napa Valley. The whites also impressed and it was a tough choice deciding between the 2012 Menetou Salon, Les Blanchais Domaine Henri Pelle from the Loire Valley and its match, which was a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc produced at the Peter Michael Winery.
Although Peter Michael has produced wines that certainly rival the French vintages, for us, our friends across the English Channel won the overall contest. However, some of the Californian wines were outstanding and I certainly feel tempted to visit Napa Valley in the near future to learn even more about the wineries in that part of the world.
Regardless of how much you know about wine, dining at The Vineyard is a brilliant experience. With luxury hotel rooms aplenty, staying the night is worthwhile and this means you can make the most of all of the five star facilities. More importantly, it also means you can simply roll yourself towards bed once you have finished the ‘Judgement Menu’. After a superb seven course dinner and fourteen wines to sample, it will definitely seem like a satisfied roll rather than a walk, believe you me.
The Vineyard Hotel is located at Stockcross, Newbury, West Berkshire RG20 8JU. For bookings telephone 01635 528770 or visit www.the-vineyard.co.uk
COMING SOON: Read more about The Vineyard in our Travel Section