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Published:  23 July, 2008

Malcolm Duck, Owner, Duck's at Le March Noir, Edinburgh. Interview: Josie Butchart

Duck's at Le March Noir 2/4 Eyre Place Edinburgh EH3 5EP

Tel: 0131 558 1608

After 11 years in The Royal Marines, Malcolm Duck went into the restaurant business, taking sole control of Duck's at Le March Noir in 1991. The wine list has won Les Routiers Wine List of the Year and won a Wine Spectator Award for Excellence in 2004. Suppliers: Adnams Wine Merchants, Bibendum Wine Ltd, Irvine Robertson Wines Ltd, TM Robertson Wine Cellars (Berkmann Wine Cellars Ltd), Wine Importers of Edinburgh Ltd.

Tell me about the MD' symbols on your list.

We don't have house wines as such, because house wines have generally become the cheapest wines in a restaurant, rather than the wines the house recommends. Instead we recommend certain wines by marking them MD' (Malcolm Duck recommends'). It gives people the comfort factor they would usually get from a house wine, and it also gives the staff a reference point when advising customers. At the end of the day the customers have to feel confident with what they are drinking. For some reason we are all more scared of wine than of food, although I think food is much more complicated.

Why do you think people are scared of wine?

The UK has a beer-drinking culture and, as a result, we've never quite understood wine. Rioja goes beautifully with fatty lamb because the tannins in the wine wrap up the fats, but [in the UK] we invented mint sauce to do the same job and wash it down with beer. The New World was invaded by Germanic cultures, so New World wine is very approachable and great to drink down the pub, but Old World wine generally goes better with food.

You've got some screwcap wines on your list. Are you a fan?

I am a fan of screwcaps for wines that are not going to age, because they maintain the freshness. But cork has a place for wines that need to mature. I think cork is probably right for Bordeaux and Burgundy, because the wines usually need more time in the bottle. As long as the wine producers use screwcaps that look good, there is no problem with presentation in the restaurant, and you get wine that actually tastes good in the glass.

What sells best on your list?

The list moves reasonably well right across the board. Some restaurateurs say that you shouldn't have the same brands that are available in the supermarket, but I would never put together a list without a Sancerre, a Chablis and a Fleurie, and now I would probably also include a Rosemount. Why? Because people know them, and the known names will always sell. But the rest of the list also turns over reasonably well. We don't sell millions of bottles of wine at 3,000, but we sell the odd one. We do sell a lot of claret at 100-300 and I need some more of it.

You've got please bid' written beside some of your wines, rather than a price. How does that work?

How it often works is that people phone me up before they come in and we agree a price for a particular wine. What also happens sometimes is that Happy Joe comes in and says, Ha-ha, I'll bid you 5.' So I say, Absolutely. I bid 5.50. We could be here for some time.' The wine becomes a laugh and a talking point. It's all about the purpose of wine in a restaurant. We've got a lot of business customers and also a lot of good private customers. I could have a regular customer coming in looking for a bottle of '61 Lafite or '82 Gruaud-Larose and, as Edinburgh is a claret city, people who love their wine will offer a sensible price. The same customer might come in on another occasion with a business client, and it will be really quite important that the client sees the price of the wine, sees the vintage and recognises the greatness. The better the vintage and the higher the price, the greater the effect. On a restaurant list wine has got to do different jobs.

Why did you get into the restaurant business?

As an ex-Marine, I was fed up eating ration packs and wanted some decent food! I mistakenly thought the restaurant trade was an easy thing to get into. At the start I didn't know Edinburgh and I didn't know the business of wine and food, but after living in an officers' mess I was used to proper dining. The parade ground is very similar to a restaurant in terms of the attention to detail and observation required, so it was very good training for this.

What are your personal wine passions?

I like opening bottles of old wine and seeing what genie will jump out - or what devil. There are a lot of odd bottles lying through the back and it is quite a fun to pull out something that could be interesting when winemakers are visiting. The reason we have such a big cellar downstairs is that no one else will age the wine any longer. One of my big complaints about the wine industry is the infanticide. Why bother making great wine if you are going to sell it when it is a baby? We should be drinking it when it's mature. But then the accountants don't allow that.

A couple of your MD wines are from Whistling Duck. Was that a coincidence?

Yes! They are a great pair of wines because they are lower in alcohol than a lot of New World wines, so they fit very well into the profile of Old World-style wines with a New World cachet. We use Whistling Duck a lot for weddings because you can quaff it happily but it also goes well with food. We've also got Duck Muck from Wild Duck Creek Estate, Duckhorn Vineyard and Canard-Duchne Champagne. There are some really good winemakers making duck' wines!