Sally Hales checks into The Vineyard to sample the myriad glories of the grape
The elegant, five-star Vineyard hotel, set in the beautiful west Berkshire countryside, is a wine-lover’s paradise. Its commitment to the glories of the grape is in evidence as soon as you walk through the door: you’re confronted with the dazzling wine vault, which, beautifully lit behind glass on the walls and under-foot, leaves you in no doubt about this hotel’s passion. Privately owned by the highly regarded Peter Michael Winery in California, the hotel’s love of good wine emanates through the building.
While the Vineyard is the epitome of exclusivity and luxury, it’s this commitment to providing an extraordinary food and wine experience that makes it something special. It boasts an award-winning wine list, a 30,000-bottle cellar and employs the talents of multi-awarding chef Daniel Galmiche in its three AA Rosette restaurant so, with every need catered for, you can lose yourself in the finer things in life. And, if the food and drink isn’t stimulating enough, there’s also an impressive collection of fine art to ponder.
The Vineyard has 32 suites and 17 bedrooms all named after iconic wines from around the world. Our deluxe suite was a picture of understated country elegance. On arrival, the rooms were filled with relaxing classical music and two freshly poured glasses of wine waited to welcome us. With a super soft bed, separate lounge and a marble bathroom packed with luxury products, it was the perfect place to unwind and prepare for the main event of our stay.
Food and drink
Pride of place in the hotel’s art collection goes to a huge painting called The Judgement of Paris – in this case not the mythical Greek playboy judging the beauty of a trio of goddesses, but a record of a dramatic piece of wine history. In 1976, in small room in a Paris hotel, a blind tasting with some of the leading French wine aficionados of the day, saw Californian wines chosen over France’s very best.
This major upset transformed the playing fielding for Californian wines and inspired our “Judgement of Paris” food and wine experience: a seven-course tasting menu, with each course matched with two wines – one Californian and French – and two blind tastings (served in black glasses for authenticity). A knowledgeable sommelier beautifully explained the differences and similarities throughout, as we were invited to create our own Judgement of Paris.
A creature of habit, the French Sauvignon Blanc still won the day for me, but there were plenty of surprises along the way including a California Riesling that had us licking our lips. Wine aficionados would feel right at home here, but the experience is equally accessible to those who a enjoy a tipple and are interested in finding out a little more in a practical and fun way.
Among the highlights of an all-round exceptional meal were a gorgeous butternut squash velouté, the delightful line-caught halibut and some sensational Tidenham duck. The service and hosting made us feel special, while also resisting the formal stuffiness that fine dining sometimes attracts, even down to the pianist who handled our endless requests with good humour and charm.
Breakfast kept up the quality. I tackled the yummy Eggs Benedict with gusto but was sadly much too replete to be tempted by the Continental buffet, which in itself looked like a work of art.
I topped off all the relaxing and indulging with a visit to the Vineyard’s spa, which is one of the most highly rated in the UK. It’s an oasis of tranquillity, where there’s no need to clock watch as someone is always on hand to keep tabs on you. My Darphin Facial did a great job of perking up city-stressed skin and, along with the neck, arm and hand massage included, it was fabulously relaxing treat. I’d love to have had time to try the Vineyard Massage or the Red Grape Body Polish, and wealth of other treats on offer.
In a nutshell
Easily accessible from the M4 or Newbury train station, and just a short trot from Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey), the Vineyard is ideal for a weekend getaway or as a base to explore the surrounding area. And its international wine reputation is the perfect excuse to go ahead and indulge your tastebuds.