The annual Australia Day tastings that take place in London in January always draw a crowd from the on-trade, but one sommelier was showing more than just a casual interest this year - Ronan Sayburn, of Gordon Ramsay Restaurants. He had a new challenge to face, buying the wine for Pengelley's, the pan-Asian restaurant in London's Knightsbridge.
It's the brainchild of chef Ian Pengelley, who made his name at Notting Hill restaurant E&O but had always wanted to open his own place (Caterer, 24 February, page 24).
Well, the opportunity came in the form of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which sourced the site, provided some of the financing, and set the place up on Pengelley's behalf - and that included compiling the wine list.
Pengelley is more of a beer man - sake, too (sake now makes up 15% of wet sales). You can blame, and celebrate, his years growing up in non-wine-drinking Hong Kong. His time in Asia has shaped his cuisine, which draws from China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - not flavours that Sayburn knew too much about.
"I had to think about it in a different way," he declares. "The hardest thing was matching up the wines with the food. Asian food is just not designed for wine."
So which ingredients were the trickiest for Sayburn? "Chillies are the worst - a real killer. Wasabi was hard, too. And soy sauce - it's very strong, and you never know how much people are going to use. I found some fabulous matches for sushi, but as soon as you use soy, you change the match totally."
Sayburn has kept the list concise, at 65 bins, arranged by price order with grape variety declared up at the front. Wine consumption isn't as big as in Ramsay's other restaurants; here it makes up 70% of wet sales, with sake, beer and cocktails making up the rest.
An off-dry German Riesling from Egon Mller (Scharzhofberg, Saar, 32) takes the top spot as most-popular glug, while a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc follows closely on its heels (Whalesback, Koura Bay, 28). "New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has such great acidity but sweet, ripe, characterful fruit - perfect for this food," says Sayburn.
Austrian Grner Veltliner, too, is a popular match for Pengelley's food. There are four on the list, with the 2003 Schloss Gobelsburg, at 24, a best-seller and a particular favourite with staff.
Unlike Ramsay's other restaurants, Pengelley's doesn't have a sommelier, but Sayburn trains up the staff with manager Walter Lecoq - and the menu layout helps, too.
There's an introduction at the top of the list that explains Sayburn's choices: weighted towards off-dry wines with a bit of residual sugar. He gives each wine an indication of style, from 1-5 for whites (1 being the most dry), and A-E for reds (E is the heaviest).
Other varietals that have gone down well include Gewurztraminer, Malvasia, Verdicchio and Pinot Gris. It was the Pinot Gris, blended with Viognier, from Heartland in the south of Barossa (19), that Sayburn was spotted getting rather excited about at the Australia Day tastings.
Predictably, more white than red wine is quaffed at Pengelley's, and the wine list reflects that with two-thirds white to one-third red wine. So which reds work best?
"You're looking at wines with less tannin," says Sayburn. "They should be soft, with pretty rounded fruit, and have a high acidity - Gamay, Pinot Noir, that kind of thing." Proving a huge hit with the chargrilled rib-eye with wasabi soy is a dense, fruit-cakey Californian Mourvdre from Klein.
Sayburn's favourite overall match, though, is a 2001 Viognier from Ascheri in the Piedmont (69) with a coconut and lemon grass-infused seafood broth.
Pengelley's, 164 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9QB. Tel: 020 7750 5000