You just know you're going to get a good glass of wine at Hotel TerraVina, the new venture from Hotel du Vin co-founder Gerard Basset. He snapped up Busketts Lawn hotel in the New Forest for £1.2m earlier this year and doubled that on refurbishment before reopening it at the end of August as Hotel TerraVina - his first new hotel since selling the wine-themed boutique chain.
The first room to be finished, of course, was the cellar. On Caterer's visit, Basset leads the way through the maze of beautifully organised wine storage which sits underneath the main dining room. "It was very important that I had a nice cellar to work with - I want to make a feature of it," he explains. A Master of Wine, Basset is also a recent MBA graduate, whose dissertation, unsurprisingly, was on the restaurant wine list.
There's a bit of the cellar that appears above ground - at the end of the dining room. That night it was lit in a cool shade of blue, but Basset disappears for a minute and it turns shocking pink. "There are 14,000 different permutations of colour," he says, "but I'll keep it looking natural most of the time."
Party tricks aside, Hotel TerraVina is about having fun and being relaxed, he adds. Indeed, the dining room already had a buzz about it only two weeks in. The open kitchen helps in this regard, and this is where Jamaica-born chef Rory Duncan turns out modern British dishes.
Nico Ladenis-trained Duncan, who was last seen at London's One Aldwych, is pretty wine-savvy, as are the majority of the staff here (Basset's wine training is legendary). And while the list is written largely to sell itself, Basset is always on hand to advise, as are his two sommeliers, assistant manager Anke Hartmann and Laura Rhys, formerly of the Hotel du Vin Winchester.
Basset's dissertation, in a nutshell, was about a wine list with the same wines written three different ways and tested in the same place - a top gastropub.
The 90 wines Basset chose for the exercise were first presented by country and region - the classic list, if you like the second concept was sold by wine style while the third was offered by food style. Punters were interviewed and analysts consulted, and Basset found that most preferred their wine lists offered by style. "But that's only one sector of the market, and one demographic," he warns.
The upshot is that the list at Hotel TerraVina is a mix of both the classic and wines-by-style lists. There are already more than 300 wines to choose from - too many to list by style alone, so each section is also split by region and country. "It takes a lot of the pressure off me doing it this way," Basset explains. "It's easy for the customer and it's much easier for the sommelier to find her way around."
Predictably, the list is packed with gems. Basset says: "I guess most people who come here know me, and are confident choosing something new or different."
On the sticky issue of mark-ups, he goes for a softly-softly approach. "In general, the mark-ups are low, but I still have to make a living," he says. "Ideally, I'd like to go even lower, but I have a £30,000 wage bill to pay and I need to be careful - I need to make money somewhere." The trick is to understand the wine. Some you can put more on, others less - you have to know what people are prepared to pay for a wine."
For wine preservation, he has two Enomatic machines which allow him to offer 10 varieties by the glass. Best sellers include an Albariño from Lagar de Pintos (£25.50) and a red Burgundy from Pierre Naigeon "Vielles Vignes" (£27.50 - about the average spend on a bottle here). "Most of the list is selling very well, except maybe the more esoteric Italian grapes," Basset says.
Sweet wine sales are up, too - each of the 11 bedrooms in the hotel is named after a sweet or fortified wine, such as Recioto or Ausbruch.
The size of the list will creep up, of course - Basset is thinking of around 500 bins, with a total of about 10,000 bottles stashed away in his cellar. "But," he says, "I don't want to run before I can walk."
What's on the list
î¬ 2005 Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Sokol Blosser, Oregon, USA, £27.50
î¬ 2006 Vermintino di Maremma, Litorale, Cecchi, Tuscany, Italy, £19.50
î¬ 2006 Collioure, Cuvée Trémadoc, Domaine Madeloc, P Gaillard, Roussillon, France, £27.50
î¬ 2006 GrÁ¼ner Veltliner Smaragd, Axpoint, Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau, Austria, £38.50
î¬ 2005 Verdelho, Zilzie Estate, South Eastern Australia, £23.50
î¬ 2006 Bacchus Dry, Camel Valley, Cornwall, England, £27.50
î¬ 2005 Faugères, Domaine Leon Barral, France, £23.50
î¬ 2005 Crozes Hermitage, Alain Graillot, Rhône, France, £39.50
î¬ 2003 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Marina Cvetic, Masciarelli, Abruzzo, Italy, £29.50
î¬ 2005 Brunus, Portal del Montsant, Montsant, Spain, £26
î¬ 2006 Pinotage, The Ruins, Bon Cap Organic Estate, Robertson, South Africa, £16.50
î¬ 2003 Monastrell Dulce, Olivares, Jumilla, Spain, £35.50 (50cl)
î¬ 1996 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Champagne, France, £136
Gerard Basset will be speaking at Wine+, the UK's only event exclusively for the on-trade, on 16-17 January 2008 at London's Olympia.
If you are responsible for buying or selecting wines, spirits, stemware or water for your restaurant, hotel, pub, club, bar or catering company, Wine+ will help you to increase your profitability and keep abreast of consumer trends.
For more details go to www.wineplus.co.uk.