Graze & Wine Spectator’s ‘Award of Excellence’

graze1a.jpg When the management team led by F&B Manager Suman Sharma was given the task of revamping the old favourite Jockey Club at the Taj Residency hotel in Bangalore, their brief to the designers was simple, writes Alok Chandra. Create the best contemporary fine-dining restaurant in the city, with the largest wine list.

The outcome was a radical change and Graze opened to a lot of incredulity from the old-timers. The management must have had some anxious moments as their traditional customers deserted the place.

Some of the misgivings have hopefully been laid to rest with Graze receiving the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2008 for “having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world”.
Wine Spectator magazine’s restaurant awards programme hands out three levels of certificates annually: the Award of Excellence, given to restaurants with at least 100 wines from well-known producers (and a food menu to match); the Best of Award of Excellence for restaurants having 500 wines or more; and the Grand Award, given only to restaurants carrying at least 1,500 wines. To-date 3,254 restaurants worldwide have qualified for the first award, 802 for the sacond, and only 73 for the Grand Award.
In India 26 restaurants have been awarded the Award of Excellence, with the bulk of the Awards going to restaurants in Taj hotels – Diva in Delhi and Indigo in Mumbai are the only free-standing restaurants in the list, and the only other hotel figuring is Grand Hyatt Mumbai with an award to two of its restaurants. It may be that Taj is the only major hotel group to have submitted entries for 2008, and it would be interesting to see how other hotel chains fare if they, too, were to enter the fray.
It is unfortunate that there has been a flurry of articles in the media criticising the WS awards as merely a money-making venture (eg “The Great Wine Scam” – Vir Sanghvi, HT Delhi) alleging that practically anyone who pays the entry fee of US$ 250 receives an award. Consequently the credibility of the awards has been somewhat eroded.
Whatever the truth, there’s no denying that Graze has reinvented itself in putting together a most impressive wine list for what was formerly ‘only’ a business hotel. While French wines predominate (60 wines out of the 206 labels carried) there are wines from 11 countries (including 18 Indian wines) and the only major wine type I was unable to find on their list were fortified wines (sherries, ports or vermouths).
Graze carries 14 wines by the glass (including Champagne Pommery at Rs.1000 per glass) and promotes wine tasting through the innovative ‘Flights of Wine’ – 90-ml pours of three different horizontally-matched wines (eg ‘French Fancies’ – Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages 2005 + Maison Louis Jadot Pinot Noir 2004 + Baron Philippe de Rothschild 2004 – all for Rs. 850!).
Most of the wines are excellently priced, and it’s only with the premiere crus from the Medoc that one needs oxygen: the Chateau Lafite-Rothschilde Ier grand cru classe 1997 at Rs. 49,000 is the most expensive wine on the list, but the Escudo Rojo Baron Philippe de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2003 from the Maipo Valley of Chile is a snap at Rs. 1600, and the bulk of wines listed fall under Rs. 3000. While Graze does not yet boast of a sommelier, the affable and knowledgeable restaurant manager Raman Sood is generally there to help out with the wine selection.

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