LONDON – Rarely do I get excited about meeting requests, but a recent message in my inbox served to turn that idea on its head. Clare Harris, director and chief imbiber of Special Events, invited me, along with Charles Pashby-Taylor, head Sommelier at Dabbous, to choose the wine to be served at Ollie Dabbous’s pop-up restaurant at Sotheby’s on 10–12 June – Book Here


The menu (somewhat under wraps for now) is inspired by the upcoming Modern and Post War British Art Sale and whilst we clearly want to show fabulous wine, we have to be sympathetic to the food and, if possible, with the theme of the evening.  Alas, the UK isn’t renowned for making a huge variety of world class wines so our hands were tied somewhat. But we love a challenge. And a glass or two.

The obvious choice as opener is an English Sparkling Wine. Nyetimber have been producing arguably the greatest example since the mid-1990s and the quality continues to improve. Made from the three Champagne varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (in roughly equal measure), the nose is complex with toasty, honeyed aromas which continue onto the palate along with what I’m beginning to recognise as the signature English character of baked apples. Complex, poised and precise, with fine bubbles and that magic combination of power and elegance, this is world class fizz and deserves to be showcased at this Best of British event.

A super fresh, pea focused starter needs a wine that compliments its freshness without dominating the dish or, for that matter, setting the bar too high for the subsequent wines. Northern Italian whites fit the bill so we looked at Pieropan’s La Rocca Soave. This is not your usual Soave and demonstrates what can be done with older vines, low yields (number of grapes per vine) and grown on limestone and clay soils. It’s a fabulous, turbo-charged version of the ubiquitous Soave, so readily pigeonholed as dilute, thin quaffing wine but, too much for our starter. We settled instead on another English wine, produced just a few miles from the Nyetimber vineyard in West Sussex, Stopham Estate Pinot Gris. This wonderfully aromatic, fresh, zesty white is the perfect partner to the pea starter and at 11.5% alcohol, this will ease the diner into the evening without threatening to finish them off before the third course.


Scallop, Buckwheat and Samphire require something with a little more weight and concentration but again, it is easy to overdo it. Chablis is the natural choice and we tried two. A 2012 Grand Cru Vaudésir from Billaud Simon was an intensely ripe, tightly woven example that could easily stand up to more powerful dishes. These Grand Crus are built for the long haul and I feel this needs another year or two more in the bottle to calm down and assimilate all its component parts. A Premier Cru would probably be more suitable so I purloined one from the boardroom kitchen to demonstrate my theory. Thankfully, Clare and Charles were in agreement and we’ve managed to find some 2014 Chablis 1er Cru, Mont de Milieu, from Samuel Billaud. Not quite as dense or rich as the Vaudesir, this is what we’re after. Steely, racy, mineral Chablis, made with precision and has a tension running through it which will cut through the scallop and not overpower any of the other ingredients.  

We head into the reds for the first meat dish. I can’t say more about the first dish (sworn to secrecy) but for the wine we had to take into account what was to follow and that was red Burgundy (see later).  There’s no point at this stage throwing in a massively concentrated, bulky red that you can stand a spoon up in. Anything that follows will pale into insignificance. The wine should complement the food as well as preparing your palate for what’s coming next. We wanted a ‘hit’ of fruit but also lift and freshness. In red wines, this comes from acidity and certain northern Italian wines have fruit and acidity in abundance. The 2013 Barbera d’Alba Superiore  from G.D.Vajra is a striking example of what can be done with this variety  (Barbera more often than not plays second fiddle to Nebbiolo). This powerful, rich wine, with sweet red fruits and liquorice was just lovely, but too much for our dish. Likewise the fabulous 2009 Barolo Bussia from Aldo Conterno. Benchmark Nebbiolo that would be welcome on my table anytime with its brambly, floral fruit, powerful body and seamlessly interwoven tannins. However, with a relatively lightweight Pinot Noir to follow, we opted for a wine that showed a little less intensity, but nonetheless purred with class, Bruno Rocca’s 2012 Barbaresco.  Produced from younger fruit than other wines in his stable, this had a lovely, almost pale, garnet colour (showing a touch of bottle age and reminiscent of Pinot Noir), blackberries, cherries and violets on the nose with a lovely fleshy, elegant mouthfeel. Gosh, I’m getting thirsty just writing about these!


Meat dish number two has a distinctly gamey feel which any of the previous wines could have handled with aplomb. But the three of us agreed that this is where Pinot Noir really shines. I’m a self-confessed Pinot snob. Pinot Noir is a noble variety that can produce sublime wine given the correct conditions. Its thin skins make for delicately coloured wines, filigree fine tannins and a wonderful dance between lively young red fruit and the more complex, earthy characters that come with a little bottle age.  My first dalliance with new world Pinot Noir was back in the 1990s with this brilliant example from New Zealand. Ata Rangi, from Martinborough, was a revelation (not the thin, weedy Pinot I was drinking from Romania at the time). The 2013 had intense, crushed cherry fruit, rich pure and concentrated with great length, this is a serious wine that requires a few years in bottle to reach its best but at this stage of its evolution is simply too dense and powerful for our needs.  So, to Burgundy we head and having tried a very well made and pretty mature 2006 Volnay from Domaine de la Pousse D’Or, we settled on a 2008 Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Clos Prieur from Rossignol-Trapet. A pure, charming example of Gevrey, beautifully balanced fruit and acidity producing a silky, seamless mouthfeel. This wine has that clever trick of holding on to its youthful exuberance whilst at the same time showing a more mature, elegant character without the two fighting it out on your palate.

Finally, something sweet. Sweet wines vary in style enormously, from the off-dry wines of the Mosel in Germany to the unctuous, super concentrated Tokaji of Hungary and everything in between. It is the natural acidity in these wines that give them freshness and drive, preventing them from being too cloying and this differs from wine to wine. The desserts being shown in this tasting menu are typically British with apple and rhubarb flavours leading the way. A 2010 Château Rieussec from Sauternes was an extremely rich and youthful example of this brilliant Château. For sheer intensity it was a real winner but needs some time in the bottle to bring the oak and fruit together. Chateau de Fesles from the tiny village of Bonnezeaux in the Loire Valley is perhaps the oldest producer of this fabulous, sweet Chenin Blanc derived wine. The 2010 is an intense, honeyed and baked apple flavoured wine with zip and freshness from the Chenin’s naturally high acidity. However, we’ve gone for a wine produced just a little further down the Loire River in Jean-Claude et Didier Aubert’s Vouvray Moelleux 2014. The volcanic limestone soil from this area add a minerality, almost chalkiness, which further off-sets the sweetness of the wine and will finish off this unique tasting event with a little glass of sunshine.

Damian Tillson is a specialist in the Sotheby's Wine department

The Ollie Dabbous pop-up restaurant is at Sotheby’s in London from 10–12 June – Book here