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The Analyst

Published:  18 January, 2007

A good test of any expanding restaurant group is how different each venue manages to be. Is the latest member a clone, produced according to the same tried-and-tested formula, or does it offer something different? The consensus regarding Maze, Gordon Ramsay's biggest London opening last year, and Square Meal's Restaurant of the Year 2005, is that he has managed to pull another rabbit out of the hat, not least by appointing Jason Atherton as chef. His creations reflect the time he spent at El Bulli in Spain, and he specialises in small dishes, with customers encouraged to choose six, eight or 11 from a selection of 20. Does the wine list manage to be as different, or is it a smaller version of the tome Ronan Sayburn has put together for Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road?

Happily, it is indeed different, and in positive ways. To start with, the appearance and organisation are quite distinct, that at Maze being much more modern in its styling. There aren't many restaurant wine lists that could physically reflect the name of their restaurants - Aubergine, maybe, the Green House or The Square; definitely not The Glass House, The Fat Duck or Nobu. At Maze I found an echo of the name, though not, I suspect, in a way that was intended. I imagine the aim of the broadly alphabetical list is to appear less hierarchical, less divisive in terms of Old and New Worlds. But so unusual is this apparently sensible sequence that, at first, I found myself wandering around, as in a maze, without being quite sure where I was going, turning the corner from Austria and ending up in Australia. Admittedly, it was all very entertaining - much more Hampton Court maze than Cretan labyrinth. I could always peek over the hedge (or refer to the table of contents), and instead of a minotaur there would be a sommelier. One advantage of this arrangement is that it does encourage readers to explore sections of the world where they might not normally venture. And in all they will find something worthwhile.

The running order is as follows, with two facing pages devoted to most regions, whites on the left, reds on the right: Alsace, Austria, Australia, Bordeaux (four pages), Burgundy (eight pages - four white, four red), North America, South America, Europe, Germany, Italy, Loire, Regional France, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhne, Spain, Sweet Wines, Half-bottles, Magnums, Port and Sherry.

At the beginning of the list are Wines by the Glass and Wines by Flight - an admirable feature perhaps encouraged by the focus here on a large number of small dishes. Normally this option is only offered by enlightened sommeliers at the cheese or dessert stage.

All 30 or so by-the-glass wines are well chosen, with a good mix of regions and styles, the classic and the more unusual. Champagnes include 1996 Henriot and Franois Hmart Ros; whites, Gagnard's 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet Masures and David Traeger's 2003 Verdelho; reds, 2001 Sgla and Domaine St Prix 2003 Irancy; sweet wines, 1996 Rieussec and Domaine de Souch 2002 Juranon; Ports, Warre's 1997 and Otima Tawny, as well as an anonymous 1995 Colheita (Krohn in the main list). There are even two sakes.

The six suggested flights, most themed around a region or variety, are equally adventurous, and at 20-35 for three 125ml glasses represent good value. The Sauvignon flight (20) comes from Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. There are three Austrian Grner Veltliners (30), including Schloss Gobelsburg 2005 Grub (though one identified only as 2005 Wachau Smaragd, needs a name); and three Nebbiolos (35), from Barolo, Barbaresco and the Langhe. Even Sherry (20) finds its rightful place, still in 125ml glasses, though the Puerto Fino, Amontillado and Pedro Ximnez should also be fully identified, especially when the house is as distinguished as Lustau. As if all this were not enough, there is the promise that alternatively, our sommelier can choose a flight of wines to match your chosen dishes'.

The rest of the list is equally well selected, and displays a remarkable balance and depth, especially for such a recent venture. Great wine lists, like great vineyards, normally need years to take shape, but this is already fully formed. The Champagnes include not only almost all of the leading houses, but several of the most successful growers - Paul Bara, Henri Guiraud and Larmandier-Bernier, whose 2000 Cramant Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes is almost the same price as Pol Roger's NV White Foil (expensive at 75). Alsace would deserve its prominent position even if the order were not alphabetical, and Austria is equally well represented, with Polz's 2003 Grassnitzberg Grauburgunder (38), five Rieslings, six Grner Veltliners and three reds. Australia's range is much better reflected than normal, as are those of North and South America, the latter with more than 20 listings from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Among the Bordeaux are recognised or rising stars from less well-known appellations, such as Roc de Cambes (Ctes de Bourg) and Clos Puy Arnaud (Ctes de Castillon), as well as good second wines like 1996 Clos du Marquis. But the classics from great vintages are here aplenty, if at high prices, all the way up to 1989 Haut-Brion (2,300) and 1985 Ptrus (2,350). Burgundy is also star-studded, though a little lighter at the top end (four DRCs notwithstanding), and while the vintages are good or great, they are inevitably a little young. German and Italian whites are more representative than usual, and among the Italian reds it is refreshing to see more Barbaresco than Barolo, and more wines from Alto Adige and the Veneto, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily, than SuperTuscans. There is the same refusal to follow fashion for the sake of it in Spain, where there is still plenty of Rioja as well as Priorat and Ribera del Duero.

Devotees of the Loire, Rhne and Regional France will not be disappointed, and Europe' (including England's Three Choirs' Siegerrebe, Greece, Hungary and Portugal) is the only section with the slight whiff of tokenism. Sweet wines, Port and Sherry are treated with respect, and only Madeira, sadly, is overlooked. While mark-ups are fairly standard for London, and the prices of fine wines reflect the strength of the market, there are still many smart choices in the 20-40 range, as well as the six flights, so customers won't be looking for a house red thread to help them find their way out. Well done head sommelier Laure Patry, and all who have played a hand in this impressive list.

Maze, 10-13 Grosvenor Square

London W1K 6JP