A recent lunch at Tate Britain had me thinking about English wine, so I got in touch with Tate’s sommelier Hamish Anderson, who kindly agreed to be interviewed for English Wine Lovers.
I asked if he thought it important that Tate Britain, in particular, should serve English wines. He agreed that “It is hugely important to serve English wine as The Tate is a British art gallery and should, where possible support high quality British products (for example we only sell British beer throughout all the four galleries). It is equally important at Tate Modern where the large proportion of overseas visitors are keen to taste the best of Britain whether that be beer, fish and chips, cider or wine. Having said that I do not believe in listing British for British sake.”
Tate Catering aims to provide exceptional quality and value and returns all profits to the gallery; in that way it is an important source of funding so wine choices have to make commercial sense. Not surprisingly, Hamish has found it much easier over the last few years to source good quality sparkling English wine to meet his brief – “high quality, but equally important competitive when compared to similar fizz from around the world.” He finds it much harder to find still wine that delivers for the price. It was interesting to hear, though, that “Ten years ago I had to sell English wine, it now sells itself”.
The main restaurant at Tate Britain is currently closed as part of a major refurbishment and when it re-opens in November 2013, they hope to provide an English offering as the House Fizz. The existing list shows Herbert Hall Brut 2009 & Astley Kerner ‘Veritas’ 2009 at Tate Britain and Henners 2009, East Sussex, England & Limney ‘Horsmonden’ 2011 from Davenport Vineyards at Tate Modern. Not surprisingly, Tate St Ives serves Camel Valley wines. Tate Liverpool is not currently serving an English wine (might we suggest something from Leventhorpe Vineyard if the locals don’t mind something from over the Pennines?)
I was particularly keen to understand the differences between the audiences at the two London galleries and how that has been interpreted in the choice of wines. “The clientele at the Rex Whistler restaurant at Tate Britain is diverse; tourists, locals through to the wine lover who is visiting the gallery solely to eat and drink. I try and choose what I think are some of the finest examples of British wine; quality rather than price is the main driver.” said Hamish. “Price is more of a factor at Tate Modern. Henners would simply not sell if I had to retail it at more than Champagne. Will Davenport’s Limney is in my view pound for pound one of the best English wines. We have worked with him for a number of vintages and its fresh, grassy style is ideally suited to the more casual dining environment of Tate Modern.”
I think it’s particularly good that the Henners is served by the glass at Tate Modern and have also spotted a fabulous sounding cocktail – the Night Flowering consisting of Coates and Seeley Blanc de Blanc, jasmine and elderflower on their list. So I think the least supporters of English wine can do is head down to Tate Modern and check these out – it’s our duty!
We at English Wine Lovers are already big fans of Astley wines, and in fact have plans to head back there before the week is out. Unfortunately none of the other vineyards represented at the Tate is open to the public, so it won’t be easy for us to visit them for you, but we’ll do our best and when we do, we’ll report straight back.
Update November 2013: The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain has now re-opened after extensive refurbishment. The new wine list includes Gusborne Blanc de Blancs 2009 by the glass and the bottle, Herbert Hall Brut 2009 by the bottle and just one still white: Gusborne’s Chardonnay ‘Guinevere’ 2011 by the bottle.