For years, French wine was considered to be the best wine in the world, while its Californian equivalents were neglected outside of the US; until a high-profile blind tasting transformed the industry.
The year was 1976 and the city was Paris. Wine experts gathered for a blind tasting, now known as the Judgement of Paris, where, for the first time, Californian wines outranked French wines.
Industrialist Sir Peter Michael was a knowledgeable wine enthusiast, who was particularly fond of Californian wine. The Judgement of Paris, which he attended, inspired him to establish a vineyard on a rocky volcanic ridge in the Sonoma Valley, California in 1982. His vineyard in turn was later on the inspiration for the Vineyard Hotel in Berkshire, England. This “Californian wine temple”, holds over 30,000 bottles from around the world and more than 800 Californian wines, as well as a special collection from Sir Peter’s own vineyard.
Among the hotel’s 49 lavishly decorated suites and rooms, all named after wines, the feel is all about refined modern luxury. Stylish fabrics, contemporary designs, views of the garden, and huge marble bathrooms – the rooms are sleek, well-designed and very elegant. The spa in the Relais & Chateaux hotel is also oenophile-oriented, boasting grape-themed treatments combined with a heated pool and a Jacuzzi in a smoothly sumptuous room flooded with natural light.
However, as lovely as the décor and facilities are, the true charm of The Vineyard Hotel lies in the wining and dining experience that its 3 AA Rosette restaurant offers. My partner and I were very excited about trying all the different wines, but the food made it very difficult to focus solely on admiring them. Put simply, every dish was out of this world!
We began our gastronomic experience with a glass of sparkling wine in the garden, making the most of the fact that the British weather was kind to us, and were then taken to our private corner of a softly lit dining room.
We opted for the five-course Discovery tasting menu, and since I’m pescatarian, the restaurant manager thoughtfully proposed a few vegetarian alternatives to replace the meat courses in the menu. And they did not disappoint – I never thought that I’d enjoy a broccoli-based dish as much as I did in The Vineyard Hotel’s restaurant.
But for us, the most impressive dish of the night was the lobster ravioli starter which came in impossibly flavoursome, yet very delicate lobster bisque. Another highlight of the night was the cooked-to-perfection halibut and mussels dish, which was a vibrant celebration of sea food.
Although the food nearly stole the show, our dining experience in The Vineyard was naturally enhanced by the plethora of matching wines that came with each course. Every glass brought by the sommelier was accompanied by a tiny paper ring revealing the provenance of the wine, and complemented each course perfectly. A personal favourite was the Californian Mandolin Riesling that features fresh peach and apricot notes, framed by firm acidity.
The following morning, we were taken on a tour around the hotel’s wine cellars and vaults where we got to learn more about the different wines, the Judgement of Paris, as well as Sir Peter Michael’s vineyard and love for Californian wine.
I’ve always dreamt of visiting the Wine Country in California where I can spend a few days filled with wine tours and tastings, and learning about the science and magic of wine-making. After a visit at the Vineyard Hotel in Berkshire, I feel like I’m one step closer to this dream.