Whoever came up with the idea of a pop-up restaurant hosted inside the winery of one of England’s top sparkling wine producers is a genius. Last month saw the first collaboration between Hampshire’s Hambledon Vineyard and former Ritz sous-chef and Masterchef The Professionals finalist Sven-Hanson Britt. With plans for a restaurant of his own, Sven-Hanson is a proud supporter of British produce, having before worked with Hattingley Valley to produce pop-ups for the Great Britain Campaign on the run-up to the Rio Olympics.
The evening began with rain, lots of rain! A scene that typified a rather cold and miserable September in England, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits! With some 30 or so guests taking shelter in a large marquee, the evening began with panoramic views over the vineyard accompanied by generous servings of Meon Hill Chardonnay paired with delicious canapes of crisp-bread with greengage. The crisp richness of the local Old Winchester cheese with the acidity of the greengage proved to be a delicious pairing with the baked apple and apricot notes in the wine.
Sven gave a short introduction about what the evening was all about; embracing the best of British produce in partnership with the fantastic local wines from Hambledon. Tour & education manager Katrina and owner Ian Kellett also introduced themselves and gave some background on Hambledon, which is the oldest commercial vineyard in England having been established in 1952 (read our previous article for more on Hambledon). Katrina also explained how the food choices would help guests to understand the difference between lactic and malic acid. For example, the malic acid found in the citrus and fruit elements to the lactic from the yoghurt and ice-cream elements. It was a great aid to help guests understand winemaking terms such as malolactic fermentation, where tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid.
As we made our way to the winery, we were about to experience a fascinatingly unique dinner that physically followed the journey of the grapes (and resulting wine) through the unique three floor gravity-fed winery. The first full course was served on the top floor, the location where the grapes are loaded into the presses after harvest. We arrived to see Sven and his team putting the finishing touches to a beautifully plated steamed South Coast crab with sorrel, sweet apple and yoghurt. This fresh and delicious dish was bursting with vibrant acidity from the sorrel and green apple and stimulated lively conversation amongst diners. The crab dish was paired with the Classic Cuvée, the freshest of all wines from Hambledon and thus a sublime pairing.
It was then a short trip down on the middle winery floor, where we heard passionate insights from owner Ian Kellett throughout the evening. He spoke in his typically intricate and no-holds-barred style, explaining the significance of cool climate sparkling wines, the importance of the gentle pressing of the Coquards press.It felt somewhat appropriate to hear the rain beating down on the winery roof while we heard Ian talk about the joys of cool climate winemaking. Ian commanded the crowd as he described his hands-on approach, which I felt helped the room to connect with the Hambledon ethos.
Now at the bottom of the winery, we see an atmospherically set long table sitting amongst rows of shining stainless steel fermentation tanks, where the grape juice ends its gravity-driven journey before bottling and secondary fermentation. Ahead of us where two joyful main courses with exquisite wine pairings. First to be served in the elegantly candle-lit space was turbot that had been grilled on the barbecue over vine cuttings with flavours of ham fat, wild garlic seed and roasted rye sourdough. To pair with the turbot was the wonderfully rich and unctuous Meon Hill Grande Reserve. While there was a risk that the Meon Hill's maturity could potentially overwhelm the delicate fish, the silky buttery sauce that accompanied the dish proved to be an exceptional partner to the wine's richness.
The next course was the standout of the evening; an indulgent Scottish free-range duck breast served with shredded leg meat, wild mushroom, chestnut and crunchy cobnut. The duck had been flavoured with honey, pink and Sichuan peppercorns and apricot before being cooked on the barbecue and served with a Pinot Noir reduction. The depth of flavour on the duck was stunning – the classic gamey flavours of the meat with all those smoky barbecue hints. But the real highlight of the course was the textural delight that was the mushroom and duck leg mix – so vibrant and full of savoury umami, further elevated by the presence of the sweet roasted chestnut and crunchy cobnuts. It was a dish that met with universal praise.
The duck dish was both a testament to Sven’s excellent touch in the kitchen, but also to the jewel in Hambledon’s English sparkling crown: the remarkable Premier Cuvée. An English wine with an almost unparalleled depth, reminiscent of a Grande Marque Champagne both in and out of its Krug-inspired bottle. The fact that the sensory journey of the wine takes you through savoury, fruit, nuts and texture made it the absolute perfect pairing to Sven’s duck. Such an impressive feat considering the prospect of pairing sparkling wine with duck could be a daunting task to the most skilled of chefs. But Sven pulled it off with style!
Still buzzing from the foodie vibes that were evoked during the two main courses, we took a culinary respite with an explanation and demonstration of the final riddling and disgorging process that sparkling wine goes through before release. At this point, guests were served to a glass of Hambledon's Classic Cuvée Rosé before the dessert of autumn raspberries in elderflower syrup, verbena meringue and burnt butter ice cream.
The structure of the evening, with the food being broken up with impromptu winemaking explanation flowed as freely as the sparkling wines. It was indeed an unparalleled meeting of winemaking, of fine food and the celebration of our fine home-grown fizz! Many thanks to Sven-Hanson Britt and to Ian and Katrina for their exceptional food and hospitality throughout the evening.
- 25 Hectares
- By Appointment