Chef Alan Burns couldn't wait to do his wine list. The proprietor of the 22-seat Wild Bergamot in Glasgow had to wait ages (three and a half years) before he could even get a licence, and when he finally did, he changed everything - even the name.
Once known as the Gingerhill restaurant, it has been feeding the well-heeled residents of Milngavie for many years. Burns bought the place five years ago, but didn't reckon on the council being so slow with his booze licence (the area isn't exactly brimming with bars). He finally got the licence two years ago and has been gradually changing things around ever since, but decided to really go for it in June this year, with a new name, menu and wine list.
The focus is on contemporary Scottish cuisine, using ingredients such as lamb and beef from the Shetland Islands and dishes such as peat-smoked haddock with haddock panna cotta, spring onion and fennel salad. The well-sourced produce applies to the wine, too, which he reckons suits his food perfectly. "When I'm tasting wine, I always think about what dishes they go with," says Burns. The 90-bin list jumps the wine globe, offering a mix of top producers, cult names and well-picked unknowns.
Burns developed a love of wine from his 10 years as an army chef - port is a particular passion. He offers six from top producer Quinta do Noval, alongside a decent line-up of dessert wines, including a late-harvest Furmint from Disznoko in Hungary, and a Grner Veltliner Eiswein from Hopler in Austria. Favourites include Louis Roederer Brut Premier, at £45. He sells a lot
of Champagne: he lists 12, plus a Pinot Blanc from Prieler in Austria, at £25, which is one of the restaurant's best-sellers. "It's a great food wine," he adds.
Burns is also a bit of a Riesling boy - with a penchant for those from Oz. "I was never a big fan of Australia until I discovered Clare Valley Rieslings. They have such a delicate touch and go with a number of foods," he says. He also likes Aussie Pinot Noirs and singles out one from Mudgee, from Tinja (£26), which also sells well.
Burns's enthusiasm for food and wine matching means that his tasting menu (£45) always has a wine match with each dish, which comes in the form of a wine flight (£25 for four wines), chosen by 95% of diners. A pavé of tomato and goats' cheese and crispy shallots gets a Pouilly Fumé from Patrice Moreux, while the Prieler Pinot Blanc gets a boudin of scallops and langoustines with a leek and saffron tart, and the duo of Angus beef with honey-roasted turnip, Anna potatoes, girolles and roasted onions gets that Mudgee Pinot. For a plum shortcake with anise iced parfait and Sangiovese mousse, there's the Disnoko Tokaji.
"The flights work really well as I can offer wines that customers aren't familiar with and they order them the next time they come in," reports Burns.
On the sticky issue of mark-ups, Burns has a straightforward approach. "It's anywhere between 60% and 70%, with the lower mark-ups on the more expensive wines. But generally I just taste the wine and decide what I think people will be happy paying for it," he says.
On the question of staff wine training, Burns sees to some of it himself - with a little help from his four suppliers (Inverarity Vaults has the lion's share of business). Burns also does a lot of the wine selling himself. "I take the canaps out to people and have a wee chat to folks about the wine," he says.
And then there are the regular wine dinners, which educate both staff and customers. "That's why I organised my wine list by grape variety - it's educational, and that's how I like to choose wine myself," reasons Burns.
What's on the list
- 2003 Sauvignon Blanc, Francesca Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand, £22
- 2001 Chardonnay, Carneros Reserve, Beaulieu Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, £36
- 2001 Chenin Blanc, Forrester Meinert, Icon, Stellenbosch, South Africa, £
- 1997 Savennières Grand Cru Roche, Aux Moines, Château de Chamboreau, Loire, £26
- 2002 Fleur d'Alsace, Hugel, Alsace, France, £23
- 1995 Riesling Spätlese, Prum, Mosel, Germany, £34
- 1998 Riesling, Wakefield St Andrews, Clare Valley, Australia, £38
- 1997 Château Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, £30
- 2002 Shiraz, Ceravolo, Adelaide Plains, Australia, £25
- 1998 Viña Valduero Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain, £28
- 2000 Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, Burgundy, France, £95
- 1998 Late Harvest Riesling, Château des Charmes, Ontario, Canada, £25
The Wild Bergamot restaurant,
1 Hillhead Street, Milngavie, Glasgow G62 8AF
Tel: 0141-956 6515