Looking for a special mini-break to celebrate my mum’s birthday, I set forth on a Google search involving the words ‘luxury hotel’, ‘wine’ and ‘not far from London’. The Vineyard Hotel and Spa near Newbury in Berkshire ticked all those boxes and without further ado the booking was made.
The entire experience at the hotel is centred around unique moments in wine. Guests are welcomed by a vast wine vault spread over two floors, home to 30,000 bottles of wine. Each of the 49 bedrooms are named after an iconic international wine. There are five sommeliers from around the world at the hotel and guests can select a wine from the 3,000 on the long wine list, including 100 served by the glass. Even the fussiest of palates catered for.
We are here for a tasting dinner and wine pairing, but we have time to check out the hotel’s luxurious spa area first. After a swift train journey from Paddington we arrive on a sunny afternoon. Our room is a charmingly decorated suite overlooking the main garden and terrace. We head to the spa and relax on loungers by the pool, choosing from a good range of magazines and sipping herbal teas. A dip in the pool and jacuzzi followed by visits to the steam room and sauna and we feel we’ve built enough of an appetite for a good dinner!
The bar area is lovely with doors opening out onto the terrace. We begin with a glass of English sparkling wine and some delicious nibbles; mini arancini and some toasted almonds. When we move through to the restaurant we are impressed by the layout; it’s a fairly large space but cleverly sectioned so that it feels cosy and intimate, with areas that would suit couples or larger groups respectively.
Our very knowledgeable and friendly Sommelier for the evening is Diego and (as one would hope) he really knows his wines. We are about to enjoy ‘The Judgement of Paris’ (or the Paris Wine Tasting of May 24, 1976) which is seen as one of the most pivotal moments in wine history. A blind wine tasting of French and Californian wines, nearly forty years ago, that forever changed the future of winemaking when unknown Californian wines were chosen over some of France’s finest by some of France’s top wine aficionados. For Californian winemakers, and for winemakers around the world, the event transformed the industry. From then on Sir Peter Michael, owner of The Vineyard, was inspired. In an atmosphere devoted to fine dining, guests can recreate their very own blind tasting with wines matched to each of seven delicious courses prepared by British chef Robby Jenks.
Our first glasses arrive; with each course a French and Californian wine are served and we decide our preference and have a guess about which is which, with about a fifty-fifty success rate! Our first dish is oak-smoked salmon with beetroot and toasted walnuts served with an unusual yet delicious wasabi ice cream. The sharpness of the wasabi cuts through the cream in a way that confuses the taste buds in the most positive way. This is followed by dish after dish of some of the best food I have ever eaten (and I don’t say this lightly): Tuna seared in soy and treacle with an avocado and wasabi mousse and black sesame seeds, pan-fried foie gras, loin and pressed shoulder of lamb with black garlic… We are amazed by each dish and there is not a morsel left as each plate is taken away by our charming waitress, Viki.
The wine keeps coming too and considering we have a different wine with our seven courses it’s probably a good thing we’re eating as much as we are. It’s great fun trying all the wines and learning about where they come from and we are very proud of ourselves when we do manage to guess their provenance correctly.
After a palate cleanser of a refreshing and zingy lime, pineapple and basil panna cotta we somehow manage to find room for dessert. A mango-mousse centre surrounded by a dark chocolate shell topped with a warm caramel sauce that melts the chocolate. Heaven on a plate.
After such a feast it takes all our energy to get back to our room to have a mint tea in our pyjamas (elasticated waists are our friend at this point) and settle down for a good night’s sleep. By some miracle, come breakfast the next morning we have regained our appetite and tuck into a full English before heading back to London. A mini-break in terms of time spent at the hotel but we ate and drank to the max and can’t wait for a return visit.
Seven course tasting menu: £89 pp. Wine pairing: £95 per person.
the-vineyard.co.uk B&B is priced from £255 per room per night.