A prominent aspect and integral part of the décor of a restaurant, a wine library takes the experience of exclusivity to another level altogether. Here, LIVING catalogues the plush fine dining restaurants that showcase shelves of their exclusive selection of wines.
Wine lists aren’t exotic anymore. Almost every restaurant with a bar menu will have at least one Indian red and white wine on its list. Higher up the ladder, fine dining restaurants across the country offer a reasonably representative international selection of wines. Five-star hotels have always had the best collection of wines with each of their restaurants, even the basic coffee shop, having a fairly generous choice of internationally recognisable labels. Speciality restaurants, which aim at offering a unique dining experience, will always have the best wine list, usually featuring a carefully chosen portfolio of the most highly rated and expensive wines. The wines are chosen based on how well they pair with the food or in the case of cuisine-specific restaurants a large selection of the wines will be from the same country as the food.
While wine lists are plebeian in their ubiquity, wine libraries by their rarity take the experience of exclusivity to another level altogether. You won’t find them at any stand-alone fine dining restaurant in the country and even amongst five-stars only a very select few will have restaurants showcasing a wine library.
Unlike wine lists which are a catalogue of wines that may or may not be available in the hotel’s cellars, the wine library is a prominent aspect of the restaurant. Not only does it form an integral part of the décor of the restaurant but, like a library of books, the wines in a library are arranged on shelves in clear view of the guests.
Guests can either choose their wines from the list or walk up to the library to make their selection and even read the labels before ordering. In most cases, the wines are placed within temperature controlled units which ensure that they are being stored in optimum conditions to prevent damage.
Not all hotels have wine libraries, and in those that do, the library will normally be found only in the plush fine dining restaurant. The selection is usually exclusive to the restaurant with many of the wines not being available in the casual dining restaurants. The specially crafted menu maintains a balance between offering a premium international selection and a signature range that pairs well with the food.
Golden Dragon, Taj Mahal Palace & Tower
In all fairness, Zodiac Grill with 450 labels has the best wine list. But the wine library which offers half the number of wines has been introduced into the recently renovated Golden Dragon. At 300 wines, this popular Chinese restaurant still has one of the best collections in the city, especially for an Oriental restaurant. Unlike most other restaurants, the library at Golden Dragon is unique. Instead of the usual gleaming glass and metal, the wines are arranged in pristine white wine racks designed in a very modern honeycomb style.
Golden Dragon itself has a very contemporary minimalist look, and the latticed wall which encloses a private dining area gives it a nice elegant touch. The wines are mostly for display as the serving wines are stored in wine coolers under the sideboards along the side of the restaurant.
- Dragon Chicken / Dragon Crab / Dragon Vegetables with Chardonnay, Cloudy Bay, New Zealand or Sauvignon Blanc, Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley.
- Water Chestnuts Garlic Pepper or Steamed Dim Sums with Riesling, Hugel & Fils, Alsace.
- Chicken Supreme in a Chilli Oyster Sauce with a chilled Pinot Noir, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, California.
China House, Grand Hyatt
While M, the recently shut down fine dining restaurant, had one of the most well-stocked libraries in the city, China House, the Sichuan-influenced Chinese speciality restaurant at the Grand Hyatt is no pushover. One of the few recipients of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, which is awarded to restaurants that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers in the country, along with a thematic match with the menu in both price and style, the wine list here boasts of an impressive collection of 180 wines.
Situated near the entrance of the restaurant, opposite the open bar, the walls of the wine library separate the private dining room from the rest of the restaurant. While the international range is focused largely on Italian wines with a touch of American, China House is the first, and so far the only restaurant to offer French-style Chinese wines.
- Peking Duck with a Pinot Noir from America or Burgundy.
- Soft Shell Crab with Chilli Sauce with a French or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
- Beggar’s Chicken with an Italian Pinot Grigio.
022/Botticino, Trident, Bandra-Kurla
One-storey high, the wine wall stretches from 022, the all-day dining world cuisine restaurant below, to Botticino, the Italian speciality restaurant above. Glass encased and temperature controlled like most other wine libraries, the 1,500 wines placed in the wall however uniquely sit on custom-made glass racks and not on steel racks. Comprising 117 labels, 31 of which are Italian, spread over 23 varietals, this is unquestionably the most reasonably priced wine collection in the city. A bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne usually available between Rs 11,000 to 11,500 at any other five-star hotel is available for just Rs 9,200 at the Trident.
One of the unique features of the library is the attached tasting room where a few reds and whites are arranged on a table for guests to try for free. If they like the wines, they can order it by the bottle or by the glass.
In order to offer a great selection of value-for-money wines, the collection includes a number of Bordeaux second growths. These are wines like Alter Ego de Palmer from Chateau Palmer, which while only marginally inferior to the prestigious first growths are available at close to half the price.
- Rosemary Baked Chicken with Australian Mount Pleasant Hunter Valley Shiraz Viognier.
- Grilled Malabar Prawns with Californian Jordan, Russian River Valley.
- Pepperoni pizza with Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Escudo Rojo, Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
- Carpaccio or Prosciutto with melon with spumante Prosecco Special Cuvée.
- Seafood grill of clams, prawns, scallops, salmon, tuna, garoupa, lobster and crab in a Sicilian caper sauce with Garganega, Calvarino, Soave Classico Pieropan.
- Chargrilled tenderloin fillet with Ornellaia, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Tuscany.
Thai Pavilion, Taj President
A series of broad wine cabinets running along one arm of the L-shaped restaurant at the side of the open kitchen serve a dual purpose. They offer the tables behind a sense of privacy from the guests entering the restaurant, as well as separate them from the central hub of activity whilst creating a sense of proximity.
Stacked on the shelves is a 175-strong assortment of wines starting from whites and ending with reds. Matching wine with complex Thai flavours can be a bit of a challenge and the collection which offers many Old World labels does also lean towards New World wines. Rieslings and Merlots have been found to pair most successfully with Thai food, which is why most of the Merlots are available by the glass and the restaurant has a good selection of fruity Rieslings. The new menu will have the widest range of Indian wines amongst five-star hotels.
- Steamed fish with lemongrass and basil with a young Merlot or Riesling.
- Stir fried fish in soy sauce spiced with Thai chilli with a chilled German Riesling or Shiraz.
Fratelli Fresh, Renaissance Mumbai Hotel & Convention Centre
It is difficult to miss the wines in this restaurant. Almost all the walls of this Italian restaurant, whose constantly changing menu revolves around fresh, seasonal ingredients, are made up of wine racks. Around 2,500 bottles fill up the walls on either side of the entrance, with most of the columns separating the various seating areas of the private dining room. Of the 103 different wines stocked here, nearly 83 are from Italy. Very tightly focused, the library includes not just big names like Gaja and Antinori, but also many boutique Italian wineries. Interestingly with wines made by winemakers of Italian origin but settled in other wine regions of the world, this portfolio is probably one of the most genuine repertoires of Italian wines in the city.
Fratelli Fresh is the only restaurant in the city to offer different vintages of two Italian wines that are very highly rated by the Wine Spectator. It has six vintages of the Super Tuscan Il Blu from the boutique winery Brancaia and four vintages of Amarone from the well-respected winemaker Bertani.
It was also the first restaurant to serve wines from the Tuscan Ferragamo range.
- Carpaccio di manzo (Cured beef tenderloin with Parmigiano Reggiano and rocket) with Umani Ronchi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
- Linguine all’aragosta (Home-made angel hair pasta, lobster, chillies and tomato sauce) with Tenuta di Salviano Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC.
- Branzino al Cartoccio (Oven-baked sea bass with tomato, eggplant and olives) with Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC.
Stella, The Leela Kempinski
Gleaming rows of wine bottles in glass encased steel racks line either side of the passage leading into the fine dining Italian restaurant. The restaurant which opened in 2006 was amongst the first in the city to have a wine library.
Of the 300 labels that are available to choose from, around 160, over half, are Italian. Stella is the only restaurant in the hotel where all the wines are stored in the restaurant itself. Though they have an amazing collection of Tuscan and New World wines, you won’t find a single great wine missing from their list.
- Terrina Di Fegato Grasso Con Port Wine Cipolla Marmalade (Goose-liver terrine with port wine onion marmalade and Belgian endive) with Batar, Querciabella 2005, Tuscany.
- Ravioli Di Branzino Con Ragout Di Capesante, Broccoli E Zenzero (Sea bass ravioli with roasted Scallops, broccoli and ginger ragout) with Chardonnay, Pouilly Fuisse, Louis Latour 2007, Burgundy
- Porchetta, Spinaci All’aglio, Lenticchie E Vincotto (Slow roasted pork, garlic spinach, crunchy lentils and spiced cooked wine) with Barolo, Elio Altare 2001, Piedmont.
Published Hi! Living Jan-Feb 2010