"The sum total of my knowledge of wine is...I like it" was a famous line spoken by yours truly as a young sales rep in the 1990s in conversation with a hotel chain's national wine manager during a gourmet dinner.
Indeed as a young man in the 1990s, the world of wine can be a daunting and often conflicting one, especially with a lot less information and exposure at our fingertips. Countless bottles of the good stuff since, I have certainly made up for this! Picking up the odd bit of advice from wine lists, chatty sommeliers and weekly columns in the newspaper.
A little longer in the tooth then, the chance to review the Hotel du Vin Newcastle was a welcome one – a great choice for all residents but wine lovers especially. The hotel is a magnificently refurbished Edwardian building which sits on the banks of the river Tyne overlooking the Ouseburn. Translating from French, the hotel is literally “The Wine Hotel” so unsurprisingly offers unique, wine-led overnight stays and dining experiences. The hotel embraces various different influences from French brasserie chic to nods to the building’s maritime past with ship ropes in the courtyard and porthole windows.
At the heart of the hotel is the hotel’s French-styled Bistro du Vin, a stylish light-filled room which nicely contrasts with its dark-stained floorboards and exposed brickwork. The restaurant offers a relaxed, all day dining offering from breakfast through afternoon whilst of an evening aims to provide an authentic French bistro experience. This of course lends itself nicely to the hotel’s impressive glasswindowed wine cellar which stocks some of the best from France and beyond and creates a real sense of spectacle for diners.
This then seemed like the perfect place for my wife Lisa and I’s 30th wedding anniversary celebrations with our children, Jack and Holly. On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Abi the hotel’s young wine expert who looked after us superbly well for the duration of our meal. A Durham university graduate, Abi is incredibly knowledgeable about wine and applies herself with great enthusiasm. After enquiring as to our preferences, Abi sagely recommended a summery Greek Savatiano white along with a Portuguese Douro red which had a great structure without being too heavy for a Summer’s evening.
Starters were very good too. Three slices of shimmering amber sea trout were served on a bed of cucumber salad with yoghurt and dill. Lisa meanwhile enjoyed the roasted garlic soup with sourdough croutons whilst Tiger Prawns were nicely sauteed in garlic and pastis butter for Jack and Holly. Shells were left on in the true French style. Main courses are divided into from-the-grill specialities and ‘plats principaux’ main plates. Holly and Lisa tucked into the grilled escalope of Normandy chicken with petit salad whilst Jack opted for the confit duck leg parisenne with pancetta, peas, broad beans and frisee lettuce. I was swayed by the 250g sirloin steak with red wine just, grass fed and 50 day aged for maximum flavour served with pomme frites. A glass of port has long been an after dinner staple, however we were surprised when Abi suggested one of the white port variety for our final act.
The hotel chain has recently partnered with bespoke port makers Graham’s whose No. 5 blend is a modern alternative to the old seadog tipple. Abi was keen to know our thoughts so brought us four snifters of the wood-aged, dry fruity port which packed floral aromas and a long, crisp finish. The girls even enjoyed theirs served with a Mediterranean tonic over ice with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of mint. This rounded off what had been a superb meal – high quality and even a little educational. If you want to do an anniversary meal right, do it with du Vin