July 22, 2010

My New Expense Account Rocks

It is a tough transition from owner to employee, but having sold the Lab I am managing to struggle through.

I have discovered one sensational silver-lining: My corporate expense account.

I was told by the new ownership that I should not be shy about food and entertainment expenses where, in my judgement, the prestige of the Lab would benefit.

So I went to lunch in Melbourne, Australia and expensed the whole thing.

Foul-mouthed, fire-breathing celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has opened a new outlet for his Maze restaurant in the Metropol annex of the Crown Casino. I'm not sure it justifies the Hell's Kitchen bullying, but the food is sensational. I don't even like cauliflower and am still jonesing for more of the velouté. But the quality of the food is almost beside the point, because the wine list is... I'm afraid my own refined sense of hyperbole may fail me here... the wine list is perhaps the best I've ever seen.

Which is not what you would expect in the opulent decadence of a casino-adjacent, hotel bistro. But there it was, a leather-clad binder sitting on my lap.

Page 1, sparkling by the glass: André Clouet, Rosé, NV. That must be a misprint.

But I turned through the pages of the list, I found each a revelation. Outstanding local wines from Ocean Eight and Punch. Grower Champagnes. Interesting examples from small producers in the Jurancon and from Provence.

How does this happen? In a casino no less? We're definitely not in Vegas, Toto. Or Macau for that matter.

The list has been painstakingly assembled by Lincoln Riley, an award-winning sommelier who has apparently been given some latitude to build a list that's a little unusual and well worth raving about.
Lincoln is an unpretentious, amiable fellow. He possesses that rare combination of being deeply knowledgeable about wine without being boring. Lincoln gets really excited about the wines he pours and his enthusiasm is contagious. I mentioned in passing that I thought the Mornington Peninsula was, thanks to global warming, emerging as a top-flight wine region. He started bouncing in his shoes, then disappeared into the cellar to emerge quickly with a Chardonnay from Allies, an indie producing team, that I'd not previously known.

From a single vineyard, Garagiste, Chardonnay 2008, has amazing depth and structure. It's linear in a way that implies walking up a staircase. The mandarine acidity on the finish literally feels like it happens on a different level of your palate. Pear fruit and ginger spice play tug-o-war with your tongue. It probably needs 12 months for the oak to settle, but this was a remarkable and intriguing stretch of the standard definition of Chardonnay. And confirms my global warming theory.

Under Riley's stewardship (get it?), Maze is launching a series of Sommelier tasting menus and a private Sommelier's dining area. So my only concern now is how many times can I come back here before accounting starts to kick back the receipts?

Mh goi (means thanks) to Alicia for organizing and for sending the top photo of the Sommelier's room.

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