Excuse my lack of restraint in using another musical reference, but the words seem apt here. The roots bring to mind the wonderful fallen oak at Tim Phillips’ winery on a brief visit there, a couple of weekends ago. This rather beautiful piece of chainsaw art was made by well known tree carver, Richard Austin. It now provides outdoor seating and somewhere to rest your glass, beside the pond and copse which Tim is lucky to have out the back of the winery. By coincidence, Roots is also the name of the surprisingly good restaurant we went to that evening.
Poet is possibly not a word Tim Phillips would use to describe himself. This is a man who, after all, is building his own motorbike from the ground up, as well as tending one of England’s smallest yet most beautiful vineyards, and its attached orchard which he has literally uncovered from an acre-or-so of brambles over the past couple of years. Yet poet he is, for the expression his English wines pour from the bottle. This time was just a visit to the winery, near Pennington (Lymington, Hampshire). If you want to see Tim’s “Clos du Paradis” walled garden, there’s a link to a previous article here. Tim’s English wines are bottled under the Charlie Herring label, under which he made wines in South Africa (Tim’s winemaking experience also extends to Australia and Italy, but if you want to know more, follow that link).
We began by tasting Tim’s sensational “cider”. I don’t use the word lightly, although it’s not technically a pure apple cider. The apples Tim uses are his own dessert varieties from the orchard, but to give it a bit of acidity, not to mention colour and a little something extra, Tim adds a splash of his South African Syrah. The only other person I know who does something similar is Tom Shobbrook in South Australia, who makes a pear cider and adds a little Mourvèdre. It might not be a coincidence that Tom and Tim got to know each other in Tuscany, at Riecine, under Sean O’Callaghan.
No disrespect to Tom, but Tim’s cider is absolutely gorgeous. The colour is like that of a light red natural wine. The bubbles are super small and hectic, the cider having a real palate cleansing freshness and a nice crystalline spine. eighteen months on lees gives it a little texture too. The dessert apples add a floating fragrance. All this, sealed under crown cap (at just about two-bar pressure, around a third of that for Champagne) in a clear, heavy, sparkling wine bottle with one of Tim’s exquisite “a humument“-style labels. Alcohol comes in at 7.5% and a bottle costs around £15 when there is any available for sale.
We were then able to look at some of Tim’s wines which are currently undergoing their élevage. Tim won’t release wines before they are ready. It might smack of perfectionism, and to be sure Tim is a bit of a perfectionist. But for a very small scale producer it does make sense that people try the wines for the first time when they are at, or close to, their best.
So we began with two Sparkling Rieslings, as far as I know the only sparkling version of this grape in England (not that I recall having drunk any English Riesling, come to think of it). Before you wonder how he ripens Riesling, don’t forget that the vineyard is walled. In fact I’d guess that the brick wall which surrounds the “clos” is nine or ten feet high, and it soaks up the sun into its orange-red clay, releasing it slowly to create a warm but well aired micro-climate. Tim has probably been right in his decision to hold these 2014 and 2015 wines back. They have very immediate freshness and a sort of apple crispness. The fruit is very appley too. By all accounts the 2013 is ready to drink, and I shall pop my bottle of Promised Land Riesling Brut Nature 2013 some time this summer. Just waiting for the right company.
Tim’s sparkling Chardonnay goes by the name of The Bookkeeper. I drank a 2013 last year, which was rather good after four years on lees. Despite the autolytic character and complexity that lees ageing brings, it was still as fresh as you imagine it was on the day on which it was bottled. The 2018 we tasted was ripe and at the same time, quite floral at this stage, a mixture of stone fruit and pear flavours coating the palate. Good as the 2013 has become, I can’t wait to try this 2018 when it’s eventually released.
We ended our tasting with a couple of 2018 Sauvignon Blancs. It’s fair to say that I think, for both of us, SB needs to be special to excite us, and there’s no way Tim was going to do anything ordinary with his. The first version saw five days on skins. That had already imparted a nice texture, and some good bass note phenolics which don’t normally come hand-in-hand with this variety.
Ever the experimenter, Tim then wanted us to taste another level of Sauvignon Blanc. He drew off the darker liquid which had seen three months maceration on skins. This was a lovely textured herbal wine, the like of which I’m sure has not been attempted in Southern England before. Whilst Tim has not gone down the buried qvevri route of Ben Walgate, he’s just as fascinated by texture and mouthfeel. What he will do with his Sauvignon Blanc, I’m not sure? He might decide to blend the two together. After all, quantities here are so tiny. But even if he does, I’d love him to bottle a little of this latter cuvée for a few aficionados to savour at some future lunch.
Tim’s walled vineyard is rather beautiful, and any wine trade members who have the chance to visit should grab it if Tim can find time to show you around. But the winery is also in an idyllic location. As we chatted outside before leaving, amid the sound of bird song, a deer wandered out of Tim’s copse, around fifty metres from us. It gave us a glance but, being used to Tim, it paid little attention and remained there for some minutes before ambling away. He told us she was one of four that pay him no heed when he’s there alone.
Spot the deer
Richard Austin’s work – chainsaw on oak and what were once deep roots
The Charlie Herring labels are exquisite. A man after my own heart, the winery is wallpapered with maps (all hygienically sealed for the food standards regs).
That evening four of us headed out to dinner, and taking advantage of one of us not drinking and being happy to drive, we went a little beyond taxi distance this time, to Southbourne (on the outskirts of Bournemouth). This eighteen cover only restaurant is the kind of place you rarely find. It’s hardly unknown, as evidenced by the waiting list of several weeks to get a table, but I really did not expect somewhere this good to be found in a quiet neighbourhood near a Co-op store and a bed shop on the edge of one of Southern England’s fabled retirement towns. We were able to benefit from a cancellation, and the other two empty tables were the result of no-shows. It’s sad when this happens, even more sad for a small restaurant like this serving excellent food. Food that is probably the best for many miles around.
The deal is simple. There are two tasting menus (£56 and £66, IIRC) plus a vegan menu which is a variant on the first of the above with some modifications and substitutions. There are also added optional extras, like a cheese course. As far as the food itself goes, I’d put the meal we ate up there with most “one star” establishments, although we know that Michelin requirements go beyond the kitchen.
We were lucky to be able to arrange corkage, at a mighty reasonable £10/bottle (we tried to leave a tip which not only reflected the quality of the food and the friendly service, but also that generosity of spirit (not always seen in London)). The wine list at Roots is certainly adequate, from what one can deduce. The wines may be comfortably beyond the ordinary and dull, but there’s not the detail on the list one might wish for (producer names?), and neither would the selection satisfy someone for whom wine is a hobby or a profession. Saying that, if the food outplays the wines, then I think most diners would enjoy the wines well enough. There is a “sommelier-style” wine selection to accompany each dish, which one can take as an added extra.
We began with an aperitif before driving to Bournemouth, which I guess younger readers might better recognise as “pre-loading”. Philippe Bornard Tant-Mieux is an 8.5% petnat made from Poulsard grown in the Côtes du Jura vineyards just outside of Pupillin. It has a genuine lightness of touch from one of the masters of “Ploussard” (in my humble opinion), Tony Bornard. A lovely light red, fragrantly red-fruited with a lovely cranberry twist. It comes adorned with a new label too (see photo), one which perhaps suggests that the devil has all the best tunes.
The first (BYO) wine at Roots was a bit of a revelation. Florent Giboulot Bourgogne Aligoté 2005 (check the vintage) was an Aligoté of real depth. Fresh for its age, but equally rounded out, it has retained just the right amount of acidity to suppose that it is currently at its peak. That suggestion might surprise anyone for whom the variety has always been consumed young, with acids to the fore. Imagine Aligoté with an injection of plumpness, so that you could easily imagine it was a blend containing 50% Chardonnay. Domaine Florent Giboulot is based at Auxey-Duresses.
The second wine was no less pleasurable, with the added bonus that it is a bit of a unicorn for me. Although I consider myself reasonably au fait with all things Jura, our friends had managed to achieve what I have not yet done – a tasting with Catherine Hannoun at Domaine de la Loue, in the far north of the Jura Region at Port-Lesney.
Catherine farms a tiny area, probably no more than 1.5 hectares after giving up a site in Arbois, with vines as far apart as Pupillin and Salins-les-Bains (the latter being once a large viticultural area now diminished to a few hectares). Domaine de la Loue Cuvée Clémence 2017 is a Pinot Noir, just 12% abv, and showing quite a bit of dissolved CO2 (though it was not sparkling). It’s a fascinating wine.
Apparently Catherine said you have to drink it within two hours. We didn’t get the chance to find out whether it turns from a princess back into a pumpkin after that time because, let’s face it, wines as sappy and thirst quenching as this don’t hang around that long, even when opened (by the waiter) twenty minutes before we began emptying the bottle. It was just gorgeous and summery, and as a lighter red it suited the food very well.
All of Catherine’s wines are biodynamic, and she was originally mentored by Emmanuel Houillon. I am closely guarding a bottle of her petnat, awaiting very possibly the same people who would be keener to try Tim’s Sparkling Riesling than yet another Comtes or Dom.
Goats Curd, Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Raspberry…
“Berlin Supper” (with exceptional rye bread, mutton coppa, pickled herring, spiced cream cheese and duck Schmalz)
Winter Truffle Ice Cream, Hazelnut, Grapes, Truffle Shavings, Celeriac and Warmed Celeriac Juice
Confit of Salmon, Peas, Shiso and Lemongrass
Tasting of British Lamb, Aubergine Cannelloni, Bell Pepper and Black Garlic (note the small souvlaki, top left and the spiced lamb and tomato ragu, top right)
Strawberry Soufflé, Yuzu Ice Cream and Elderflower Custard
…and from the vegan menu…
Roots is at 141 Belle Vue Road, Southbourne, Bournemouth BH6 3EN, Tel 01202 430005