Gordon's tonic

23 October 2001 by
Gordon's tonic

Who, or what, are the Providores?
It's an old Kiwi word for "providers". And that's us - or rather, myself, Anna Hansen, Jeremy Leeming and Michael McGrath.

Tell us about your wine list

We have a heavy New World bias. And we're very patriotic here - we wanted loads of New Zealand wines on the list. But I'm also excited about wines from Italy and Spain. And Portugal - I love Portuguese wines. A favourite is the Touriga Nacional from Grand'Arte in the Estremadura (£30, £8.50 a glass).

How did your love affair with wine begin?

We didn't drink wine much when I was growing up in the North Island, in Wanganui. My parents were divorced and my mum's taste in wine was pretty dreadful. She drank cask wine - Müller Thurgau, that sort of thing. Or Black Tower - and she would turn the bottles into lampshades.

When I was 17 years old, I went off to do a degree in Horticultural Science with the thought that I might one day become a winemaker. It seemed quite glamorous at the time, and I pictured myself living on the slopes of a mountain in Switzerland with a vineyard, a wife and two kids. But I couldn't stand campus life so I took myself off to Australia to learn more about wine.

The best winemaking course at the time was at Rutherglen College, and that's were I was heading - but I got as far as a restaurant in Melbourne and then decided that I wanted to be a chef, so that was the end of my wine career. I've been cooking ever since.

But did you still keep up your interest in wine?

You can't help it, working in restaurants. I first worked for an Italian restaurant in Melbourne with a great cellar. They had sommeliers - it was a real eye-opener. At the Providores, I get the chefs involved with wine as much as the food. I did that at the Sugar Club, too. Not enough is done, generally, on that score. And I keep my palate up by going to as many tastings as possible.

[Gordon first opened the Sugar Club in 1986 in Wellington, New Zealand, with partners Vivienne Hayman and Ashley Sumner. They then moved it, lock, stock and barrel, to London's Notting Hill, opening in 1996 to rave reviews, relocating it to the West End a couple of years later.]

Do your customers know much about New Zealand wines beyond Sauvignon Blanc?

Not really. They're particularly surprised by New Zealand's reds, but people are willing to try them. My favourite New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is Aotea, from Nelson (£16.50 a bottle, £5 for a 175ml glass for the 2001) - it's really good value. In fact, some of the wines I love at the moment are the cheapest on the list.

What else?

Seresin Estate Reserve Chardonnay (£31). I love it because it's so full-on. It's like eating caramel, but you can't have too much of it. Another of my absolute favourites is Ata Rangi's Célèbre - a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet France (£34, 1997). I used to go to Coast all the time just to drink this wine. Te Motu (£52, 1997) is another one of my top wines, a Cabernet Merlot blend from Waiheke Island.

Do you hang out with Kiwi winemakers when you go home?

I know a few - I know Michael Seresin pretty well. I'm always amazed every time I go back to New Zealand and see a paddock turned into yet another vineyard.

How did you go about putting the Providores list together?

We've started with 55 wines, but I plan to have 100 wines in all. I put the list together with my bar manager, Josh Gliksten. At one point we were seeing up to four wine merchants a day, tasting through about 18 wines each - absolutely fascinating.

You use chillies and other wine-challenging ingredients. How do you get around pairing them?

If you're doing a citrussy chilli dish, then go for a rich Chardonnay. For earthier chilli dishes, like a black bean stew, I would serve a Pinot Noir or a Shiraz. I do a salad of poached guinea fowl that's served with lemon-roasted fennel, which goes perfectly with Sauvignon Blanc.

I use yuzu [a Japanese citrus fruit] in a dressing on roast halibut with Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot and green beans - Riesling works really well, as it doesn't overpower. Yes, the flavours are all over the place, but we get round that by offering loads of different wines by the glass, and we try and encourage people to go for them.

Look for the full story on the Providores in Caterer's 15 November issue

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