In 2020, as I am sure is the case for many of us, catch-up phone calls with friends have become more important than ever. We all have a fair amount of stress in our lives at the moment and these chats are buoyancy-aides of honest, open, human communication. I pepper my working day with them. I have literally always been in the hospitality trade, I still am, and therefore am lucky that my work and friendships are eternally entangled. So, it’s rare that a work call is too far from a friendly open chinwag. I make that my mission.
One such call a few months ago, with my pal, and exceptional Cheese writer, Patrick McGuigan – check him out – was a bolt of pure joy and we propped each other up between ‘proper’ meetings as comrades in food and drink. A tangent led to Patrick asking if I’d tried Heppington’s wines. I hadn’t. He fixed it for me. The brilliant Alice dropped a bottle round – they are not THAT far from me. I got distracted by things, the bottle patiently waited for me to get my act together, then this week I finally opened it.
The bottle is Heppington’s debut still wine; Pinot Gris 2019. Grown on the edge of the Downs in East Kent near Canterbury, by the Blaxland family. They have a great family connection to wine, via Gregory Blaxland, the Kentish Farmer who, in the early 1800’s, became one of the first European settlers in Australia to plant vines for winemaking. It is beautifully labelled – really, it’s incredibly beautiful. But more importantly it tastes phenomenal.
The wine is incredibly light in the glass, a very pale gold. As you swirl it a little to impress your family and friends it releases a fine orchard-fruit aromatic character. It’s elegant and subtle, rather than screaming at you. Really fine. Your family continue to ignore you. There are crisp green apples, lemon citruses and unripe pear aromas – none of it bruised, all fresh picked. There’s a lovely tangerine and really subtle lychee aromatic note to it too, just a tiny bit but enough to lift it and make it fun.
The palate is dry, light and properly fresh with English zippy acid, balanced perfectly by that concentrated lemon, apple and pear fruit and just enough soft texture. There’s a tiny little pink grapefruit on the finish too. It’s a lean, clean, pretty white with great balance and a sense of finesse. One of the best English whites I’ve had this year, without question.
You could throw oysters at this and be in absolute ecstasy with the pairing of salty brine and electric lemon. A natural choice, as the vines at Heppington are practically family with Whitstable’s famous natives nearby. If you don’t live nearby and require your regular dose of zinc, as I do, I heartily recommend Wright Brothers’s home delivery seafood – including a range of incredible oysters to shuck yourself, a skill none of us know we have until the challenge is upon us. This could be your time.
More by accident than design, I actually drank this with thai soft rolls, filled with salmon fillet tossed about in a wok with fish sauce and soy, and thinly shredded carrot, spring onion, beansprouts and fresh thai basil. The thin rice paper rolls that you dip in water to soften, fill and wrap are easily found in any Asian food shop or market. It’s a fun, interactive light dinner that’s been a favourite of mine ever since my gap yaar, when my Aunt Jennie served them to me on arrival in Brisbane as I stepped through the front door fresh off the plane, so they hail to my own Australia family connections too! The bone dry acidity of the wine cuts through the salty soy and the elegant, zippy fruit works well with the crunchy fresh vegetables and basil.
Heppington Pinot Gris 2019 is available from www.heppingtonvineyard.co.uk for £16.50
15th November 2020
Tom’s body of work is extensive: he is one of the Three Wine Men, lead presenter for the Pingza wine app, a BBC Sussex wine expert and presenter of British Airways’ wine events.