I don’t think many would disagree that the wine trade largely revolves around London. We have any number of excellent restaurants, wine shops and merchants where you can find the world’s finest wines. Primarily, I am a wine enthusiast. I believe that these wines are made to be enjoyed and discussed with friends over a good meal. I have never been a trophy hunter, I just like finding exciting wines. The problem for those of us that love drinking top wine is that they have become so expensive to buy, even more so in restaurants. This problem is compounded further for those of us who have a soft spot for Burgundy (with me, this is an understatement!). Finding mature bottles from good producers in restaurants without having to remortgage almost never happens. A little trip out of town this weekend resulted in a pleasant surprise.
A relative from America is currently in Oxford so when my family suggested meeting her for lunch I asked a few friends in the trade for recommendations on where to eat. They all came back with the same response: Cherwell Boathouse. The location is peaceful, on the River Cherwell, away from the centre of Oxford. I imagine that it’s glorious in the Summer but it still looked lovely on a chilly November Saturday. The menu was full of traditional English dishes featuring lamb, venison and Oxfordshire pork. But it wasn’t the idyllic location or the menu that excited me most. The wine list is something to behold. Not just for variety but for value. Yes, they have the blue-chip claret that you will see on good restaurants in the capital (albeit at a much cheaper price), but the real surprise was the selection of mature bottles from Burgundy and Germany. After testing the patience of my co-diners by taking my time with the list, I picked a bottle of 2010 Pouilly-Fumé Charnoie from Coulbois and a bottle of Rene Engel Grands Echezeaux 1995 to follow. Granted, the latter was a bit of an extravagance at £150, but for me it was a no-brainer. You would be hard-pushed to find a bottle of this in the market. If you did, my guess is it would set you back upwards of £300. The waiter also offered me a bottle of 1996 Clos de Vougeot from the same estate. He didn’t say how much it was, only that it was “less than the Grands Echezeaux”. I regretted driving! The value of these wines is further highlighted if you know the story of the Rene Engel domaine. Sadly, due to Philippe Engel’s tragic death, the 2004 vintage was the last from this great Domaine. Every bottle that is opened is historic and the worldwide stocks of these great wines move ever closer towards their inevitable extinction. I was happy with my selection but other names like Roumier, Rion and Dujac made the choice difficult. German fans would be like a pig in the proverbial with choices from JJ Prum, Heymann-Lowenstein, von Kesselstatt and Wollenweider. I don’t even know where to start with the choice of Lafon wines…. For those of you that have been, it is like England’s answer to Ma Cuisine in Beaune.