A classic looking palace hotel The Ritz, near London’s Green Park, boasts a vigorous, modern wine list matched with precision to colourful, pristine plates.
On my last visit, Etna born head sommelier and Master of Culinary Arts, Giovanni Ferlito brought lunch to a close by opening a 1978 Colheita Port (Barros) with a feather. Ferlito is one of the most inquisitive wine minds in the capital, zealously having added nearly 150 new listings to his already globe-trotting and discrimination-free, 93-page ‘Livre du Vin’ in the past year, including wines from China, Croatia, Japan and Uruguay, two new collections from Château Lafite and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and scarce sweet wines ‘served by the spoon’ (10ml) such as the pre-phylloxera Pio X 1903 ancient Moscatel (Gonzalez-Byass).
Both list and menus prices sensibly include the service charge, meaning the £40 starting point for a breezy bottle of Narince Diren from Tokat in Northern Turkey feels particularly bargainous in the context of the gilded Michelin-starred, Mayfair dining room. And there is abundant interest often well below £100 per bottle, be it Barolo, aged Madiran, Priorat, Pinot Noir from the USA, or a homegrown bottle of sparkling Gusbourne.
Around 100 wines are now available by the glass, including the new page of Contemporary Wines, featuring a wine from Etna; indeed, Ferlito also tends his own volcanic crater proximate vineyard, ‘Monte Rosso’ with two friends, Monte Rosso, 600m above sea level, though he is too humble to list it at his own workplace.
Orange wines appeared on the list post Ferlito’s visit to Georgia’s Imereti region where he learnt about the role of qvevris, and a young incarnation by the producer, Iago Bitarishvili was the favoured, earthy match with truffle dusted salt baked celeriac with goats cheese. Also, a fan of sherry, Ferlito, a past winner of the Copa Jerez with senior sous chef, Michael Nizzero, matches 30-year-old Apóstoles Palo Cortado with this dish from the ‘Menu Surprise’. Other intriguing matches could include almost 10-year-old Galician Albariño with langoustine and bronze fennel, and winning Cabernet, ‘Jia Bei Lan’ from Ningxia winery, Helan Qingxue with venison, parsnip and pear.
Hence, Ferlito and his far from robotic team of seven sommeliers, relishes being able to positively challenge guests to discover such wines, alongside dishes testament to the legacy of Auguste Escoffier, pristinely realised by ‘a Geordie from hard, working-class background’, turned Chairman of the Academy of Culinary Arts, and mind behind The Ritz cookbook, executive chef, John Williams MBE.
“We feel very lucky to work in such a dynamic city as London to develop our own knowledge and discover new wines,” says Ferlito, whose cellar and service is exemplary.