Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

HOT: The analyst

Published:  18 January, 2007

Neil Beckett heads to not one but two recently opened London restaurants run by brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, and finds two very different wine lists, in terms of individuality and margin

Long the stars behind the Michelin stars at several of London's top restaurants, brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin are now enjoying well-deserved success in their own right. With combined experience from The Ritz, L'Escargot, The Orrery and The Wolseley (Chris), The Savoy, The Capital, The Greenhouse, Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White at The Oak Room (Jeff), they opened Galvin Bistrot de Luxe on Baker Street in London in September last year, and Galvin at Windows in the London Hilton on Park Lane in May 2006. Accolades have been pouring in. But what about the wine?

Chris Galvin, together with food and beverage manager Jeremy Cowan, and restaurant manager Emilie Gentils, has done a great job of putting the vin into Galvin (the Bistrot). The 13-page list is cleverly selected and written, and a model of how to match a list to a menu - not only in terms of particular food and wine pairings, but in terms of the general style and tone of the restaurant. The emphasis is on authenticity, generosity, originality and value. And the eccentricity is genuine rather than studied, as emerges in the very first heading: Wines by the glass & Pots Lyonnais (47.5cl)'. Mas de Daumas Gassac's NV Ros Frizant froths alongside Billecart-Salmon NV Ros and Ruinart NV Blanc de Blancs. The seven whites (not a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio among them) range from 2005 Le Lesc Vin de Pays du Gers (at 3.25 per 175ml glass) to 2002 Clos Lapeyre Juranon (7.50); the seven reds from 2005 St-Cirice Syrah/Grenache Vin de Pays du Gard (3.25) to 2003 Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge (11.90).

From here on the arrangement of the list is slightly unusual, in that the headings are a mix of regions and varieties. Whites come under Southern White from the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean', Sauvignon/Riesling', Eastern France and Neighbouring Countries' and Chenin/Chardonnay/Melon'; reds under Loire Valley and Light Reds', Rhne Valley and Spicy Mediterranean Reds', Pinot Noir' and South West Corner: Bordeaux and Wines from the Pyrenees'. But such is the abundance of carefully chosen wines under each heading that this strange progression somehow works. Ross, Sweet Wines, the Rserve List and Magnums round things off well.

Many of the wines here are from the east or south-west of France, or Italy, and the normally surprisingly successful tactic of taking a punt on the wine with the most difficult name would be pretty useless here for those who were wavering. Arbois Savagnin or Petite Arvine, Gringet or Roussette de Savoie, Fiano di Avelino or Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (from cult producer Edoardo Valentini), Frappato or Teroldego, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh or Passito di Pantelleria? Domaine de l'Hortus Grande Cuve Pic Saint Loup or Clos du Gravillas Vous-en-Voulez-en-Voil? So one of the list's great strengths is the notes, at once practical and quirky, that accompany almost every wine. The following, for Chteau de la Mirande's 2005 Picpoul de Pinet, is typical: The sea! The sea! Spicy aniseed bouquet, green fruits and herbs, quite resinous, with an ample mouthfeel and briny-savoury flavours of iodine and yellow plum, finishing with a peppery prickle. Traditionally consumed with oysters.' The notes seem to have been inspired by the big-hearted, long-legged, sharp-nosed pioneers at Cave de Pyrene, who supply many of the wines.

Those less willing to run naked through the more remote and rugged vineyards can always wrap themselves in reassuringly weighty classics, especially among the Reserve' wines. Here are the likes of 1990 Dom Ruinart (115) and 1990 Dom Ruinart Ros (130), 1999 Leflaive Premier Cru Clavoillon (115) and 2001 Gagnard-Delagrange Btard-Montrachet (163), 1982 Clos du Marquis (117) and 1982 Chteau Pichon-Lalande (365), and 2004 Dnnhoff Oberhauser Brcke Riesling Eiswein (155 per half-bottle). Most of the wines, however, are priced at well under 50 a bottle, and even these grander wines are quite reasonable by London standards.

At least as far as the wines go, the new restaurant at Windows seems to be less Galvin and more Hilton. Associated with a glamorous international hotel group, this list, managed by head sommelier Ken Muspratt, was always going to be more predictable and recognisable. And it's no easy matter getting a new wine list up and running in such a short space of time (the small mistakes can quickly be put right). There is, however, a sense of tokenism, with many a large country or region heading for only one or two wines. And despite the attempt to tick most of the boxes, at least two have been missed - Sherry and Madeira.

Most of the producers are reputable, and some are the best of their type, from Krug to Yquem (the 1983 at 830, the 1975 at 1,200, the 1955 at 1,500). In between are the likes of Henri Giraud's 1995 Ft de Chne (166), Didier Dagueneau's 2004 Pouilly-Fum Silex (125) and Franois Jobard's 2001 Meursault Premier Cru Blagny (135); Jean-Louis Chave's 1995 Hermitage (245), 2001 Domaine du Vieux Tlgraphe (86), Giuseppe Mascarello's 1999 Barolo Monprivato (165) and 1990 Vega Sicilia (898).

But the vintages are normally very young, while some of the prices are, like the 28th-floor restaurant, sky-high. The 1993 Latour at 700, and 1997 Margaux at 745, are both available on the secondary market for not much more than 100. By comparison, the Bistrot's margins seem carpaccio thin, and Windows' foie-gras fat.

Although Galvin appears in the name of both of these highly rated restaurants, they are catering, of course, for different markets. And the sad fact is that the Windows' list may, in its swanky way, be as well targeted as the Bistrot's. But at least at the moment it's clear which list has greater individuality and greater interest for the canny, savvy wine lover.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

66 Baker Street,

London W1U 8EP

Tel: 020 7935 4007

Galvin at Windows

28th Floor, London Hilton

on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London W1K 1BE

Tel: 020 7208 4021