The Sussex Cellar: a new subterranean space

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Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

As the ribbon is cut and our newest cellar declared open, Demetri Walters MW – Sales Manager of our Private Wine Events team – ducks out of the sun and into the Sussex Cellar, exploring the space and its history.

After more than three years in the making, we revealed our long-anticipated Sussex Cellar last week. The wait has not been in vain. Situated beneath our historic premises in St James’s, the Sussex Cellar is a treat for the eyes. It was specially created to meet the increasing demand for the more than 800 wine events hitherto held each year in our Townhouse, Pickering and Napoleon Cellars.

The cellar itself is of a completely new design, combining the feel of one of our traditional wine cellars with the exciting architecture, modern convenience and state-of-the-art gadgetry that you would expect of a purpose-built venue. Created by Short & Associates and MJP Architects, the design was inspired by Spanish wine cellars or bodegas, and employs handmade London tiles to create archways and columns that extend through both levels of the space. Following the build, Nicola Crawley, of the celebrated decorators Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, styled the interior with an eye to retaining the feel of one of our existing cellars, but with a contemporary elegance.

The result is a beautiful, visually impressive, and functionally versatile cellar arranged over two floors and accessed via its own discreet entrance in Pickering Place. The Sussex Cellar will sit between the Townhouse and the Napoleon Cellar in terms of capacity, offering a reception, a tutored wine tasting, followed by either lunch or dinner for up to 36, or a reception followed by either lunch or dinner for up to 40 guests.

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

So why the name? The Duke of Sussex, Augustus Frederick, was the sixth of seven Royal Dukes (sons of George III), who were regular customers of Berry Bros. & Rudd in the early 19th century. The Duke seems to have been the closest to the Berry family, who affectionately referred to him as ‘Uncle Sus’.

Before the construction of this, our latest venue, the site was home to our Cutty Sark whisky business. Prior to that use, and in the final year of World War II, a doodle-bug flying bomb demolished the previous building and damaged many of its neighbours. During construction of the Sussex Cellar, it became apparent that the aged and higgledy-piggledy buildings adjoining the site could play their part in the story of the new construction. Thus, as you enter the Sussex Cellar via a secret door in one of our 17th century houses in Pickering Place, you will immediately notice the juxtaposition of new and old; the impact underlined by the texture and shadow of the ancient brick rear elevations of our older buildings.

Despite our 317 years on this site, the Sussex cellar is our first ever purpose-built venue for hosting wine events, and we are thrilled with both its visual impact and the potential it offers us to do what we do best, even better, in the years ahead. We hope that you will be equally impressed.

From Wednesday 8th July you will be able to book for the first events being hosted in the Sussex Cellar by our Wine School, or you can book the space now for Private Wine Events.

Category: Miscellaneous,Wine School

A wine’s worth

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1985-Taylor

Following a dinner littered with wines from the world’s greatest producers, Gareth Birchley – Fine Wine Buyer for Asia – discusses the value of the bottles cherished by wine-lovers.

As a wine merchant it is easy to become disillusioned with the value of wine. We are a fortunate breed that is often privileged enough to “drink well beyond our means”, be it the generosity of a great collector or perhaps the producer themselves, it is possible to lose sight of what wine really costs and what its true value is. Of course, by value I am not referring to the hard cash exchanged at the till, but more the significance and context of a bottle or vintage, and more importantly the company in which we share them.

This year is a significant vintage in our family, as in April I turned 30, and a month later my father turned 60. In celebration, we organised a small gathering of close friends and family, booked the private dining room at The Square in Mayfair (probably the finest cooking in London at the moment, in my view) and pulled the corks on a range of bottles from our respective birth-years, 1985 and 1955.

We began with possibly the rarest bottle of all, a Campari “21” from 1955. Vintage spirits have become more than fashionable over the last few years and this bottle really showed why. Fresh, elegant and complex, more like a fine wine. This cuvée was produced at a lower-alcohol (21 percent) alternative to Campari that was legal to be served on public holidays in the first half of the 20th century. It was discontinued shortly after the 1950s.

While it would be laborious to provide detail on all of the wines served during the meal the highlights were:

1985 Ch. Laville Haut-Brion: This is now labelled as La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, costs an arm and a leg, and (depending on vintage) a further leg is required to obtain an allocation. You can see why though… a beautiful aged white Bordeaux that flirted with perfection.

1985 Ch. Mouton Rothschild: Is there a more consistent Bordeaux vintage in the decade than 1985? Not in my opinion. This Mouton was singing and with time on its side.

1955 Ch. Pichon Baron and Ch. Palmer: A beautiful pair of 1955s bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd; if you have never experienced mature examples of Berry Bros. & Rudd-bottled wines, then waste not a second more. These were every bit as outstanding as the château bottlings.

1985 Krug: Just wonderful mature Krug; everything Champagne should be.

1955 Ch. d’Yquem: A rich, powerful, masculine Yquem that will sure continue to age for another 60 years.

1985 Taylor: This was the first bottle from the case my father bought me at birth, probably the first thing I ever owned. I may be biased, but what a wine; it will continue to improve for another half century.

Some of these wines we sourced for the evening, some we had historically cellared. It would be churlish to claim that it was not an extravagance, but as I said we can easily lose sight of why we love this business; to drink great wines, with great friends. The value of these bottles, in this context, was unquestionably priceless – and they tasted all the sweeter.

What we drank:
  • 1955 Campari 21 (21%)
  • 1985 Ch. Laville Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
  • 1985 Erdener Prälat, Riesling Spätlese, Dr Loosen, Mosel, Germany
  • 1985 Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Spätlese, Dr Loosen, Mosel, Germany
  • 1985 Bernkasteler Alte Badstube am Doctorberg, Riesling Spätlese, Dr Loosen, Mosel, Germany
  • 1955 Ch. Phélan Ségur, St Estèphe, Bordeaux
  • 1985 Château Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
  • 1985 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux
  • 1985 Ch. Gruaud Larose, St Julien, Bordeaux
  • 1955 Ch. Pichon Baron, Pauillac, Bordeaux (bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd)
  • 1985 Ch. Pichon Baron, Pauillac, Bordeaux
  • 1955 Ch. Palmer, Margaux, Bordeaux (bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd)
  • 1985 Ch. Palmer, Margaux, Bordeaux
  • 1985 Champagne Krug (in magnum)
  • 1955 Ch. d’Yquem, Sauternes, Bordeaux
  • 1985 Taylor, Vintage Port
  • 1985 Dow, Vintage Port
  • Chartreuse, Cuvée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Sommeliers (45%)

Browse for older vintages on our wine broking exchange, BBX.

Category: Miscellaneous

Best Industry Wine Blog

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Voting for the 2015 Wine Blog Awards closed on Friday, the results are in and we are proud to have been named the Best Industry Blog.

Thank you to all who took the time to vote for us in the awards, we are over the moon about winning. You can see the full list of winners on the Wine Blog Awards website.

Of course, one shouldn’t rest on one’s laurels, so please do let us know if you have any ideas on how we could improve the Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine Blog, or if there are any topics in particular you would like us to address.

Category: Miscellaneous

On the table: Medlar

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Medlar Interior

Food writer Victoria Stewart continues her exploration of London’s culinary scene with an impeccable lunch at the elegant Medlar, a pristine spot on the King’s Road that punches above its Chelsea peers.

What do two suited young men, a fabulous pensioner in a multi-coloured spotty dress coat and London’s wine crowd all have in common? They all dine at Medlar.

This exquisite little restaurant was opened by two friends in 2011 on a non-descript part of the King’s Road – the section that houses an array of charity and bike repair shops and is set between the fashionable Bluebird restaurant and the dusty World’s End. On opening, national restaurant critics fell over themselves to praise its dining room: now, with owners Joe Mercer Nairne and David O’Connor still in the kitchen and on the floor respectively, and Medlar’s award-winning sommelier Clément Robert still delivering his quiet wine expertise, things are as excellent as ever.

We were sad not to be able to sit outside for lunch on a sunny afternoon – there was space a-plenty but then everything would have come with a side order of exhaust fumes. Inside is wholly different – a quiet zone with light grey canvas walls, a minimalist flower mural stretching across the entrance, bright green light fixtures and canvasses plastered with bright paint splashes. The best seats –booked often – are two bright green booths set in a light-filled plot at the back. Meanwhile tables are white clothed, and squidgy dining chairs elegantly fitted in mottled grey leather. So far so elegant.

Duck egg tart with red wine sauce, turnip purée lardons and sautéed duck heart

Duck egg tart with red wine sauce, turnip purée, lardons and sautéed duck heart

At 1pm there are six tables of people, some of whom look like regulars. On ours there is butter – plain, not voguishly whipped or smoked – and bites of yielding herby focaccia. But it is two signature dishes that lift us to unexpected heights of joy and comfort. Crab raviolo is a glut of textures and reminders of the sea – strands of salty, crunchy samphire, leeks, and endless brown shrimps dancing through a rich bisque sauce. When it arrives the next dish looks like something from a breakfast menu but it delivers so much more: a chemistry of crisp, salt, earth and rich meatiness. We suck on small pieces of gently sautéed duck hearts, these sitting in thick red wine sauce and neighboured by blobs of turnip purée and lardons. The tart, topped with a single fried duck egg, has pastry so skilfully made that we decide it is surely the lightest and crispest in the area.

Cornish hake is a happy marriage of delicate fish with borlotti and runner beans, morceau sausage and pistou, while beautifully cooked pieces of Anjou pigeon are quenched with a bright mint and coriander pesto, king oyster mushroom, chargrilled broccoli and endive – worth the £4 supplement.

We choose well, too, with puddings – is it possible not to at Medlar? – which are a silky lemon curd ice cream with blueberry compôte and langue de chat, and super English strawberries with a sparkling array of side pieces – Prosecco jelly, mint and lime granita, strawberry sorbet, and the occasional light crumble of meringue. Petits fours are further reminder of the keen pastry work at play – gleeful passion fruit marshmallows and melt-in-the-mouth chocolate truffles.

If I lived nearby I would eat here once a week. I suspect some locals actually do.

What we drank: 2010 Le Soula, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes

Medlar, 438 King’s Rd, Chelsea, SW10 0LJ

Medlar is just one of the extraordinary restaurants who will be taking over our Sussex Cellar for one night only, creating an exclusive feast for just 40 people as part of our Cellar Series.

Category: Food & Wine