Oxford is a vibrant city, characterised by its tradition, grandeur and architecture. Surprisingly, its restaurant scene is limited to only a handful of fine dining establishments, making it difficult to identify reasonable wine lists.
Thank goodness for the Cherwell Boathouse. This restaurant, set on the banks of the Cherwell River, boasts an impressive list of boutique rarities and expensive greats (note the love poem to, and 7 listed wines from Domaine des Comtes Lafon).
The list is impressive not only because of its variety, but because of the pricing. Usually, I despair when paying £25 for a bottle of distinctly average Chianti at the local Italian trattoria. However the Cherwell appears to make a policy of limiting price ups to twice the retail value. So, I was tempted to pay a little extra for a lot more.
We started with an aperitif of English sparkling wine and Champagne. We tasted these semi-blind (we knew which wines were present but not which was which). My tasting notes are below:
Pol Roger (NV)
Pretty nose, lightly floral with baked apple. Great acidity on the attack, some white fruit and a little honey on the finish. Not long, but pleasing. 89 points. (Note: I guessed this was the English sparkling wine)
Gusbourne Brut, Kent 2009
Baked apple again, but more open on the nose, with richness and brioche. Great acidity, developing into white fruit and some nuttiness on the finish. 90 points.
There were only 2 of us at the dinner, so we decided to choose 2 half bottles. To go with octopus carpaccio we chose Chablis:
Domaine du Colombier, Chablis, 2012
Good entry level Chablis. Focussed, balanced minerality with peachy white fruit. 88 points
Tempted by the passionate sommelier, we chose an Oregon Pinot noir to pair with lamb:
Domaine Drouhin, Dundee hills, pinot noir 2013
Burgundian start, delicious ripe red fruit. Cherry and raspberry in particular. Some complexity from 10 months in barrel and the transition to mellow vanilla-tasting American oak on the finish was lovely. Very pure and not over-extracted. 93 points.
This was a delightful experience; good wine at an affordable price. Learning point: I need to drink more Oregon Pinot.