I have not previously been the biggest fan of wine subscription services. After dabbling with these kind of services over the years, I always got the feeling I was being fed bin ends and the wine equivalent of padding to bulk up the numbers. However, the relatively recently launched ‘Corkk English Wine Box‘ is a subscription service with a difference. Firstly, it’s all about English wine – so that had me interested already. Secondly, after talking with co-founder, Jonathan Piggins, I learnt that Corkk was anything but a by-numbers service. Instead, they focus on a concise selection of quality English wines from exceptional producers.
Corkk hasn’t rushed to add waves of producers and samey wines to their offering, but have instead, helped by the guiding hand of Master of Wine, Clive Barlow, handpicked each wine to demonstrate the very best the country has to offer.
So what of the wines that Corkk provide? As most readers will know, I’ve tried a lot of English wine in my five years of running Great British Wine, so I challenged Jonathan to put together a selection of three bottles to impress the seasoned English wine specialist. Not only did he put together three bottles that I had little prior experience of, but all three were absolute benchmark wines to demonstrate what is great about English wine.
The service was prompt and well-executed, with the wines arriving incredibly well-packaged and each wine accompanied by detailed background information, tasting notes and suggested food pairings. Most importantly, the three wines I received were exceptional, which is saying something.
I caught up with Jonathan about his experiences so far in the industry, and what he hopes that Corkk will bring as a consumer offering. His insights follow the special reader offer below.
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Hi Jonathan. Please give us a little insight as to why you decided to launch an English wine subscription service.
Jonathan: I live in the beautiful Kentish Downs and all around more and more vineyards are being planted. As I like drinking wine, I wanted to get to know about English wine – a journey of discovery so to speak. It wasn’t long before I was hooked – it is a tremendously exciting and passionate industry – and it struck me that other people might want to come on this journey. Knowing where to find quality English wines isn’t always easy and we felt we could really offer a service – hence Corkk was born.
What about English wine specifically attracted you in the first place?
Jonathan: A friend of mine is a grower, and the passion, pride and excitement he has is infectious, so I was naturally drawn towards it – and I witness this every time I meet and speak to vineyard owners, winemakers and growers. You can’t help but feel the excitement.
Also, we are in the midst of a viticultural revolution – our countryside hasn’t seen a change like this for decades, if not centuries, so it is exhilarating to be involved at the early stages of an industry.
But most importantly, the wine is delicious. We know how well-regarded the sparkling wines are, but the still wines are really coming into their own, including grape varieties such as Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay.
In short, it is fantastic to be a very small part of this great new industry – the genuine delight in discovering and trying new wines is such a privilege.
What are your three most memorable English wines?
Jonathan: Ah, this is a difficult question. There are so many I love but I have chosen those which really made an impact at the start of our journey.
Oxney Sparkling Rosé NV – wow, what a lovely wine and one which confirmed the excitement I felt. An early customer, when drinking it, described the sensation as “floating towards heaven on a cloud of pink bubbles”.
Simpsons Pinot Meunier 2018 – a slightly sceptical early customer bought a bottle and then exclaimed, “I am an English wine convert”. Ever since he has been singing the praises of our home-grown produce.
Biddenham Gamay 2018 – proved we can make great red wines. Unfortunately there’s none left!
What do you think makes Corkk different from other wine subscription services?
Jonathan: Firstly, we are just English wines, and secondly, our approach.
I am a great believer in slow living and savouring the good things in life. I wanted to create a service to reflect this by gradually introducing the charming and varied nature of English wines to the wider consumer market. We don’t see ourselves as a marketplace, rather a curator of wine. We aim to take our customers on a journey of discovery, surprise, knowledge and, of course, pleasure.
As well as being a subscription service, we sell the wines individually in our online shop. When a wine is truly liked, our customers do come back and re-stock. Additionally, we provide personalised gift boxes; they make wonderful and unusual presents.
With so many English wines out there, and new producers launching new wines all the time, how does Corkk go about selecting which wines to add to your range?
Jonathan: I think by now you have gathered I like wine but I recognize that I’m an amateur. Corrk has partnered with Clive Barlow, MW, to step into that breach! We were always clear that our collection would be curated for quality and interest, and needed a wine expert and industry guru to guide the Corkk wine collection.
Clive Barlow MW, who is based in Canterbury, is not only a jolly nice man and great to work with but has great wine pedigree too. Clive was an early adopter of English wine, having started his career at a Hampshire vineyard. He has been a Master of Wine for 20 years, and amongst many other things, is a panel judge at the International Wine Challenge and founded the Canterbury Wine Festival. Our customer are benefiting from Clive’s great expertise. This is one of the things that really sets us apart.
Do subscribers get different wines with every box?
Jonathan: Yes, each box is an exciting new collection of wines and to add to our subscribers’ experience we provide tasting notes, information on the wine, the vineyard and the wine makers.
How has the consumer response been to Corrk so far?
Jonathan: Overwhelmingly positive, with many customers coming back to buy more. The encouraging aspect is we have had buyers from all over the UK, including Edinburgh, Devon, Durham and Cheshire, so a glass of English wine is regularly been raised up and down the country.
As one customer put it: “the wine is absolutely delicious…I could live on it”.
Ambriel Rosé 2014
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Planted in 2006, Ambriel’s Redford Vineyard is home to 9.5 hectares of vines from the familiar Champagne trio of varieties. This 100% Pinot Noir rosé is quite special, and was fermented as a still rosé on the skins.
The resulting wine has a proud pink hue, fine delicate bubbles and a lot of charm thanks to the Burgundian clones of Pinot that went into it. On the nose there are cherry blossom, raspberry and wild strawberry aromas.
To taste, there’s a vibrant citrus and cranberry burst up front, with expansive red fruit flavours. There’s a generosity to the mid-taste, where cherry and strawberry flavours take centre stage. There’s a hint of spice and nuttiness, almost like toasted coconut, which is welcome, while a long, drawn-out finish of tangy red berries is most satisfying.
Kingscote Bacchus 2017
With Kingscote Estate having a history dating back to the 14th century, it wasn’t until 2010 when the first vines were planted by Christen Monge, who sadly passed away in 2015. The estate has since been taken over, and seen extensive investment and planting both inside and outside of the home county Sussex.
The Kingscote Bacchus is quite a distinctive take on this grape, eschewing the signature tropics and elderflower notes and favouring a more grassy, textured and considered approach. The nose is really herbaceous with a mixture of fresh and dried grasses, green herbs and fresh, crisp green fruits.
To taste, it has got a really crisp, fresh bite up front, with green apple, lime and grapefruit. There are hints of peach and red apple on the fuller mid-taste, with white pepper, mineral and nettled textures on the lengthy finish.
Westwell Pelegrim NV
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
This was my third and final wine from my Corkk box, and what a wine to end on! Again, this is a wine I have potentially overlooked. Although I’m quite partial to a good few of Westwell’s wines, this is possibly the finest I’ve had from the Kent producer. It’s a blend of the big three Champagne grapes and takes its name from the Pilgrim’s Way, which runs along the top of the vineyard on the way to Canterbury.
The Pelegrim’s light golden tones are matched by an immensely appealing nose of toasted biscuit, preserved fruits and crisp apples, with appealing suggestions of red berries and toasted nuts.
The palate is where this really sings, as while present, it doesn’t get too bogged down with yeasty, autolytic development. Instead, sapid minerality, crisp, crunchy orchard fruit and zippy citrus evoke all of the senses one could wish for in a wine. Corkk’s tasting notes recommended a pairing with chicken or salmon. I took things further by pairing with home-made nigiri sushi of salmon and scallop. This wine’s energetic purity made it an exceptional accompaniment.