If you're devising a wine list at a steakhouse, surely it's just a case of throwing in heavy reds to go with the bloody muscle tissue and sitting back? Not according to sommelier Laure Patry, who is selling her customers a range of flavours amid all the macho munching at Gordon Ramsay's Maze Grill. Fiona Sims reports
Laure Patry has turned many heads. Not just for her looks - she's pretty, petite and French - but also for her ability to pair at two very different restaurants. She's already proved herself with the tapas fine dining at Maze in London. Now, as head sommelier of the new next-door Grill restaurant, she's drastically changed tack to pair with chunky chops and cuts.
Maze has won head chef Jason Atherton a Michelin star, and makes him hotly tipped for two. The formula, a little simplified, has been repeated in two more Maze restaurants around the world, New York and Prague, and there are more in the pipeline. But now there's a Grill too. With its raised butcher's block, chef's table and tall windows looking out on to leafy Grosvenor Square, this site has already become one of the poshest for a burger in town.
Choice of sauces
Then there are the 15 different steaks. All are cooked over coals and finished at 650°C in a specially imported broiler. They range from Casterbridge grain-fed 10oz sirloin aged for 21 days (£17.50) to wagyu ninth-grade gold-style 8oz rib-eye (about £110). The meat arrives at the table on a wooden board, with a choice of sauces, which comes mixed by the waiter at the table.
Displays of meat in the glass chiller cabinets are visible in the open kitchen, and as a result, customers are experimenting. They're simply spurred on by this special attention. "Only one woman baulked. The rest are loving it," says Patry. "A table of four often orders a different steak each," she says.
But with so much chunky animal protein on the plate, how are Patry and her team of 11 sommeliers finding the right wines? About 80% of diners are choosing red meat for their main, so three-quarters of the wines sold at Maze Grill, not surprisingly, are red. Much has been written about great steak wine, but claret is not as big a seller here as you might expect. "I think that's because our customers are less traditional," ponders Patry. Malbec from Salta in Argentina (Colomé) is one of those doing well instead.
Patry's parents must be proud of her. Wine is a love of theirs, and Patry jacked in a degree studying literature to go to catering college - she loved anything to do with food and entertaining - followed by sommelier school in Angers, Loire. "I wasn't that into wine to begin with - I just saw it as an opportunity to learn about something in more depth. It was only when we started visiting vineyards as part of the course work that I got hooked," she recalls.
Patry studied hard, becoming one of the school's best students. The sommelier school in Angers packed her off to a restaurant in Yorkshire - even though she really wanted to work in London. "They told me it was best to head up north if I wanted to learn English properly," she says. Well, it worked - and two years later she found herself another job - a little nearer to London - near Bath, at a hotel and country club.
The wine list wasn't up to much, but Patry had a good position as restaurant manager - impressive for a 23-year-old - and she stuck it out for a year. London was still calling, so she contacted her former employer in Yorkshire who put her in touch with Ronan Sayburn, then Gordon Ramsay's head wine buyer and sommelier. Sayburn placed Patry in Claridge's as an assistant sommelier and she's never looked back.
Claridge's is her favourite London hotel. "It's such a beautiful place. The customers were great - good people who knew a fair bit about wine and wanted to spend a fair amount," she says. "I loved the glamour of it, and all the famous people staying there." Patry proved herself. When Ramsay announced he was opening a new restaurant called Maze, headed up by chef Jason Atherton in the Marriott, Grosvenor Square, she was appointed to lead the wine.
The first Maze selection was a collaboration between Sayburn and Patry, at 300 bins. Now there are 1,300 wines there, all devised by Patry, with a little help from her sizeable band of sommeliers. The Maze list is recognised as one of the best in the capital, and average bottle spend is between £50 and £80, without too much encouragement, according to Patry. Now, surprisingly, the average spend for both food and drink is slightly higher at Maze Grill than at Maze.
Men dominate Maze Grill. And men like to show off with a bottle of big wine or two, which has helped push those spends upwards. There's a more equal split in Maze across the way, with women often dominating the room on Thursdays and Fridays. "There are smaller portions there, and the style of the food suits women," suggests Patry.
Patry's way of encouraging larger spends on wine at Maze Grill is the well-worn upselling technique of offering three choices of wines with three different prices to a customer who asks for help on the list. "That way, if he chooses the cheapest wine I know that he isn't in the market for something a lot more pricey. But if he chooses the most expensive wine, then I might get into a discussion with him about it, then offer him the Maze wine list, which has many more wines to choose from," she explains. More than half the customers ask the sommeliers to choose something.
But what about matching with all that meat? "When it comes to steak, you should go for a red wine with more tannins - it works with the richness of the steak," Patry declares. "You need to consider the cut you've ordered, too." With the wagyu, for example, a tannic wine is the better option, she suggests. "You need something to cut through all that fat," she advises, favouring a Pauillac, or even a Californian Cabernet (she can't get her hands on enough). Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon is proving popular at £135.
Another popular drop is 2005 Gimblett Gravels Syrah made by Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. "It's going down a storm with those who like wagyu," says Patry.
Then there are those bottles that Patry recommends. A southern French wine, 2003 Côtes du Roussillon Villages from Domaine Seguela "Les Candalières", a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah (from Wine Story, £8.35, ex-VAT, 07921 770691), is matching Casterbridge rib-eye and Hereford sirloin steaks well, so she's pushing this, along with 2006 Le Volte, from Tuscany, Italy - a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Whites that work well are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a richer style of white Burgundy, or a Roussanne from California. And a surprising number of Maze Grill customers are choosing a cocktail to see them through a meal here - yes, even to wash down a steak, trying to capture that New York steakhouse vibe.
Patry and her team tasted through a huge line-up of bottles to arrive at her final list at the Grill. Ideally, she would have sat down with each dish, and tasted through a meat marathon to get the listings just right. But in practice, "that would have been far too time-consuming, so a lot of it was guesswork," she admits. Patry has been guessing well for 10 years now, eight of those as a sommelier in the UK, so she's got a good idea of what works best.
She's also helped by her staff, most of whom are trained up to Wine & Spirit Education Trust advanced certificate, with one sommelier - Stephanie Doering - currently studying for her diploma. Anyone new on board gets a written test from Patry to assess their knowledge, backed up by regular tasting sessions. Along with her team she looks at the specific steaks - the cut, how they're cooked - and also the accompanying sauces when recommending wines. And usually a table of four, say, will choose different combinations of these, so making the wine selection - especially if they want just one bottle - a tad tricky. "Though we already know which wines work best as all-rounders," she declares.
Meanwhile, beer is the most popular aperitif, in the form of Peroni, Budvar, Cruzcampo and Innis & Gunn. "I want 15 beers," shouts Atherton from behind the pass. "We'll have more when we've settled," he insists. Patry is truly a woman in a man's mini-world.
Surprisingly, the average spend for both food and drink is slightly higher at Maze Grill than at Maze
Matching at maze grill
English asparagus, egg mimosa, prosciutto, mushroom vinaigrette (£11.50) with:
Fiona Sims's view
"The Riesling works well, but tails off on the palate after the egg enters the equation the acidity of the Grüner Veltliner proves too much, but the Sauvignon Blanc from the Alto Adige (from Astrum Wine Cellars, £15.75, ex-VAT, 020 8870 5253) comes up trumps."
Grilled lobster with chips, mixed salad and ginger ketchup (£27.50) with:
Fiona Sims's view
"Springfield Wild Yeast Chardonnay (from Bibendum, £7.90, ex-VAT, 020 7722 5577) gets all the votes in the end - it even copes with the ginger ketchup. If the lobster had been served straight up, without its hat of maître d'hôtel butter, and without spicy ketchup, then the Gaillac would have won. This brings us back to a basic pairing rule - remember to consider what accompaniments and sauces are being served with a dish when you're working on that perfect match."
Casterbridge rib-eye and the Hereford sirloin, both cooked medium-rare - the most popular request at Maze Grill - with:
Fiona Sims's view
"The Roussillon stands up best to both steaks (from Wine Story, £8.35, ex-VAT, 07921 770691), with grippy, dry tannins softening out when combined with the meat. Its herbaceous, gamey and bloody characters work well with the caramelised flavours of both steaks - the Hereford has a more pronounced meaty flavour, though the Casterbridge is a tad juicier."
Chocolate praline délice, peanut and olive oil ice-cream with:
Fiona Sims's view
"The big, nutty hit of the délice partners the tawny port beautifully (from Georges Barbier, £18.95, ex-VAT, 020 8852 5801), though the I Capitelli wasn't far off with exotic fruit flavours."
For more on wine go to www.caterersearch.com/wine
Maze Grill, 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London, www.gordonramsay.com/mazegrill/