I don’t know much about wine. My choices tend to be dictated using a tried and tested criterion; is it flat or fizzy? If it’s flat then is it Sauvignon Blanc and under a tenner a bottle? If it’s fizzy then stop wasting time and just pour it. Like the rest of the UK, I love my bubbles. As a country we drank a third of all Prosecco made last year – I only claim to be responsible for half of that! – so, depending on how you look at it, I was perhaps the perfect or the worst choice from the dluxe office to attend an evening of wine education at Harvey Nichols’ rather smart in-store restaurant and bar writes Jonathan Fraser.
I’m already a big fan of the restaurant at Harvey Nichols but this was the first time that I’d be sitting down for a full-on dining experience here and although the Wine Shop at Harvey Nichols host regular wine tasting events, tonight was to be a bit special; seven courses accompanied by six wines –and English wines at that!
Even with my distinct lack of wine education, I know that the idea of English wine is an unusual one, yet wine specialist Siofra O’Brien explained that not only was it a growing industry in the country but, what these fledging vineyards and wine producers are selling is top-quality quaff.
Production of wine in the UK began in the 1950s but it’s only over the last twenty years that it has really taken off. With vineyards predominantly located in the limestone rich soils of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent, it’s sparkling wine that is really gaining ground with critics and consumers alike. Incredibly fashionable in New York and Japan, English sparkling wines have been beating the pants off traditional champagnes in blind tastings, so it’s little wonder that the champagne house Tattinger is at present buying land in England for grape growing.
The other benefit of English wines is that, as these wineries are all relatively new, they’ve been able to employ the very latest in energy saving techniques and equipment making English wine the tipple of choice for the eco-conscious. See, I’m drinking my way to saving the planet. #superhero
All of this is explained to our table of 12, seated family-style in Harvey Nichols’ private dining suite. The event is led by in-house wine specialist, Siofra; a lady with such warmth, knowledge and passion for her subject that it’s hard to not be drawn in. Already my wine choosing criteria is being expanded and we’ve not had the first course!
The menu was specifically created for the night with Siofra working with head chef, Mark Walsh. We start with Harvey Nichols’ own-label Sparkling English wine; it’s crisp, light, appley and very much easy drinking and my glass was topped up more than once. This was accompanied by an amuse bouche of homemade miniature crumpets with cream and raspberry jam and braised little gem lettuce leaves stuffed with truffled egg yolk, pancetta and slithered radish. Perfect for summer, both wine and canape made me think of picnics in the park and high teas.
Being a non-fish eater, I skipped the smoke mackerel being enjoyed by my dining partners and instead enjoyed whipped brie, cucumber, rhubarb and mint pate with a glass of London Cru Albemarle St Albarino, 2015. Based in an old gin distillery, London Cru make half a dozen wines using grapes sourced from all around Europe and shipped to their UK works within eight to ten hours. Soft and creamy with a definite peach overtone, the St Albarino is named after a street in the region where the grapes were produced as they are not allowed to put the grape variety on the bottle.
Next to come out of the kitchen was a scrumptious tempura courgette flower stuffed with sundried tomato and goats cheese with polenta chip and pea puree accompanied by a glass of Hattingley Valley Rose 2013. Created by a husband and wife team in Hampshire, Hattingley Valley only use pesticides and herbicides when needed. The rose colour is achieved by adding a small amount of red wine to the base and gives the wine a vibrancy when combined with the sugar and yeast used to ferment it.
With quarter finished glasses beginning to overtake us, our only red of the evening was presented to us accompanied by a trio of duck cooked three ways. Another wine from London Cru, the Gresham St Grenache, 2015 was made using grapes from ninety-year-old vines to create an elegant wine with a real depth of flavour. Aged vines means less grapes and with only eight cases produced each year, the Gresham St Grenache was a real treat to taste.
Having caught up on those unfinished glasses of wine around us it was on to desert and with it a desert wine. I’ve never had an overly sweet tooth and have previously shied away from desert wines but when drunk with custard tart and a miniature strawberry arctic roll, the iconic Nyetimber Demi Sec, from a wine estate originally recorded in the Doomsday Book, worked wonderfully well and didn’t seem sweet at all. That’s the beauty of an expert challenging your tastebuds on a night like this.
It has to be said that at this point both my note taking and my ability to focus had started to falter, but I do remember we enjoyed a much-needed coffee and the round table discussion as to our favourite wines and surprises of the evening continued long after the plates and the last of the now empty glasses were cleared away.
Despite the limitations as to my wine knowledge, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening of wine tasting and not only learnt a huge amount but enjoyed fabulous food and some truly wonderful wines. I would thoroughly recommend it. It was also a great way of meeting new, like-minded people.
For details of the next wine tasting event and to book your place visit harveynichols.com