It’s always the little details that make the biggest difference. At a 5 Star Relais & Châteaux hotel, The Vineyard in Berkshire, it’s all about the little details.
The Vineyard is famed as a wine oasis. With over 30,000 bottles in their cellars (yes, 30,000 bottles), the hotel and spa is owned by the Michael family who also own the highly regarded Peter Michael Winery in California. The hotel is a love-letter to wine and the sense of comfort, luxury and a fantastic food offering makes it a love-letter to life.
With a warm greeting at the entrance, the first thing you’ll notice entering the main lobby is the electric blue wine cellar tantalising you into a wine-hungry hypnosis. You feel immediately impressed.
What lies beyond this blue-cave is a painting that has become synonymous with the hotel. “After the Upset” by Gary Myatt was commissioned by Sir Peter Michael for the hotel and was unveiled in 2012. The story behind the painting is quite fascinating and not told very often in Britain but was famed in France and America.
It depicts the moment in the mid 1970s when wine shop owner Steven Spurrier had gathered an exceptional panel of wine experts at his Paris shop in order to carry out a blind tasting of the best French and Californian wines. The result… the Californian wines came out top – an unthinkable outcome in France at that time. The event itself is known as The Judgement of Paris (more on that later). So controversial, it has since been made into a Hollywood film, Bottle Shock, starring Alan Rickman as Spurrier, and is the subject of numerous books.
The entire hotel is an ode to wine. Each of the 49 bedrooms is named after an iconic bottle with names like ‘Cain’, ‘Krug’ and ‘Margaux’. Just another little touch from the designers of the hotel to let you know you’re in wine-land now. At check in, a glass of wine is handed to you so that god forbid your journey to your room is a dry one. Rare bottles adorn the corridor walls along with a very impressive private art collection. You feel a sense that this is a place for serious people looking to have a great time.
Our bedroom door is opened for us (all the staff at this hotel are beyond charming and always happy to go above and beyond to help), and we are greeted by a large, airy, champagne coloured room complete with a ‘jump on me immediately’ bed, large television, sofa, and small balcony overlooking the golf grounds. On the desk is a beautiful platter of fruit, and a bottle of wine with a tag reading ‘Unwined’ *giggle giggle*. They even provide you with a USB stick inside a wine cork. You see? The little things!
Before we go on to the spa and then dinner, let me tell you about the bathroom. Oh… the bathroom. I’d move in tomorrow if I could. In fact, I even forewent extra spa time just so that I could languish for longer in the bathroom. The deepest of baths filled brilliantly quickly which I of course topped up with all the bubbles.
The Vineyard boasts a private spa available only to hotel guests. In keeping with the theme, some of the treatments are also wine-centric. There’s the Red Grape Blissful Back Treatment and The Shimmering Gold Indulgent Face and Body Experience that contains champagne extracts. Indeed sir, sign me up for both! We enjoyed the private indoor pool, the sauna and steam room before hurriedly running back to our room to get maybe just one more bath before dinner time.
And now, for the main event… The Judgement of Paris tasting menu. Seven heavenly courses designed by Chef Tom Scade are paired with two wines per course (yes, that’s 14 glasses of wine in total) – one French and one Californian. Similarly to the Judgement of Paris event which took place in 1974, you as the diner blind taste each of the wines before making a decision on which you think is French and which is Californian.
For those who might feel this is an intimidating process, have no fear, there is no personal judgment here. We were looked after by the sweetest and most charming sommelier who guided us through each of the wines. If you know nothing about wine, don’t worry. This isn’t a test, it’s a fun and informative experience. For those who have a plethora of wine knowledge you can go a little more advanced and not only guess where you think the wines are from but also what grape variety you think might have been used.
Our table on the second floor of the AA Rosette restaurant overlooked the dining room below us where we were able to do some excellent people watching throughout dinner.
With such a focus on wine, you may think food takes second place but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Expertly cooked, crafted and thought out dishes with a focus on quality British ingredients with often global influences.
We began with oak-smoked Loch Duart salmon with textures of sweet and acidic beetroot, the crunch walnut to balance the silkiness of the salmon and complete with the subtle heat of wasabi. White wines are paired with this course, I guessed which was French and which was Californian correctly and my partner didn’t. Game on!
The dinner is continued with soy and treacle tuna with creamy avocado, sharp coriander and warm ginger. Really interesting dish and quite delicious. My favourite of the courses was pan-fired foie-gras which burst in the mouth, served with grapes, sweet and crunch hazelnut which I so often love to eat with foie gras and pain d’epices.
The wine competition, I mean the wine tasting, continues and I am still winning… This goes on for a while with excellent dish after excellent dish. My partner and I cannot get over the quality of the food and the wine and as we taste, taste, taste, taste I find myself entering an almost hallucinogenic state of languid euphoria nicely finished off with a dessert of dark chocolate, passion and mango with luxurious warm caramel. What an evening. I daren’t have another bath for fear I may not make it back out…
To book and find out more about The Vineyard, visit: www.the-vineyard.co.uk
By Jessica Goldstein