Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seriously Special: A Tour Around the Le Gavroche Cellar

A couple of weeks ago I was able to cross off one of the restaurants that has been right at the top of my "List" for some time - Le Gavroche, a veritable gastronomic institution and run by the inimitable Michel Roux Junior. This is one of those restaurants that you don't get to visit very often (unless you are very rich) and as such is certainly a special occasion restaurant. 

Now I won't go into all the details here of exactly what I ate and what we drank (this will be the subject of another blog on my other website). This blog is because the wonderful people at Le Gavroche were so kind as to give me access to their cellars and one of their top sommeliers (Elio), to explain exactly how a two Michelin starred bastion of gastronomy goes about selecting, storing and serving its wine and making sure that its discerning guests get an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Elio explained that he was originally training to become a Maître D but as he was undertaking his training, he realised that his true passion lay in wine. The cellar is run by David Galetti who is the Head Sommelier and is responsible for deciding exactly what goes in to the hallowed vaults; the restaurant currently stocks over 2,500 different wines - clearly an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine is required! 95% of the wine stocked is French (which is not surprising given the culinary style of the restaurant), with exceptions being made for some Italian wines. 

The first cellar that I was shown to was the ageing cellar. This was where they stocked the wines that were being cellared to maturity. A kindergarten for wine, if you like. 

The cellar was chock full of crates of wine from some of the most illustrious names around. In one small corner I found Mouton-Rothschild, Château Haut-Brion and Château D'Yquem - wines that I have dreamed of trying, but never had the means or the opportunity. 

The wines would be kept here whilst they got to the appropriate age for serving to customers and then would be moved to the next cellars.

The next cellars that Elio took me along to were cellars grouped into types; there was a Bordeaux cellar, a Burgundy cellar, a Champagne cellar, a South West and magnum cellar, and a Rhone cellar. 

Each one of these not-so-little caves was packed full of wines that were crying out to me to be drunk. Trouble is I wouldn't have known where to start, there were so many different wines there. 

Each wine was carefully noted in terms of bin number, vineyard, region, year and how many are in stock. It is important to the restaurant that this happens for stock integrity and also (I imagine) for insurance. The wines in these cellars are all on the restaurant's current wine list and as such, could be called up to the restaurant's day cellar. This is a cellar inside the main restaurant where they store several of each of the wines from the list so that they can be called on at a moment's notice.

One of the highlights for me was when Elio showed me two bottles of Mouton-Rothschild (see left!). The bottle on the left was from 1887! Unfortunately due to evaporation over the years the level on this bottle has receded to a level too low for the restaurant to sell it. As a result, it is being saved for a special occasion when it will be opened by the staff! Elio said that should this bottle have been in perfect condition it would probably be able to be sold for £10,000! 

This is not even the oldest wine that the restaurant stocks - they do have an 1849 Château D'Yquem that one day some very lucky person will order. You would really want to be the Sommelier on that day!

After this great tour of the cellars I was able to ask Elio a little about his experiences of working in such a salubrious environment. I was keen to know what it is that he most enjoys about his day, to which his reply was that simply no two days are ever the same; the customers are different, the wine list evolves and the menu changes. 

In terms of dealing with customers, Elio was honest enough to say that often he is able to learn a lot from his patrons as they often are extremely knowledgeable about wines and he will be able to test the fine wines that they order, which aids him in his quest to expand his wine knowledge. 

Customers that don't know anything about wine are enjoyable too, as he can explain to them about the mysteries and enchantment of wine, and they will usually take his recommendations. His bugbear is customers that pretend to know what they are talking about, but clearly don't - still, it's their money, and they are free to ignore his advice!

It was fantastic to see the workings of such a fine wine cellar and at such a prestigious restaurant. I must record my heartfelt thanks to Elio for taking the time to show me around (and doing an excellent job in serving me during the meal itself) and to Noemi for facilitating.      

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