It has always surprised me that chefs who make their living from creating delicious food seem, by and large, uninterested in what to drink with it. There are exceptions, of course – always have been. Mark Hix, Mitch Tonks and Rowley Leigh immediately spring to mind, as does the team at St John – though that’s as much due to its ebullient co-owner Trevor Gulliver, who has built a range of own-label wines worthy of any small merchant’s list, as the kitchen itself.
That said, there’s lately been a bit of a trend for chefs to bring out their own wines, either as an extension of their brand – who doesn’t love a bit of merch? – or in planting actual vineyards, as Michael Caines has in Devon and Robin Hutson (admittedly a restaurateur rather than a chef) at The Pig in the South Downs. Most are pretty mainstream, though the Banks brothers in Yorkshire have made innovative use of cans, and Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein are both long-term collaborators with the British-owned Chateau Bauduc in Bordeaux. Nuno Mendes, meanwhile, has just launched a range of wines with Portuguese producer Niepoort, and José Pizarro recently put his name to a really excellent cava (see today’s pick).
And with many lists now focused on natural wine, it seems that wackier wines are not off-limits, either. Luke French of Jöro and his wife, Stacey, have bottled a Spanish wine they call F*ck 2020 (previously known as F*ck Boris), which they sell from their new Sheffield shop, as well as online and in the restaurant. It’s an exuberant natural wine that French says goes with everything, including a flame-grilled Whopper.
Of course, you’ll pay more for a bottle of these chef-endorsed wines than you would for a bog-standard bottle at Aldi or Lidl (of which more next week). Caines’ newly released Triassic Pinot Noir, for example, while sumptuously rich and delicious, is £110 on his wine list, but put that in the context of the investment involved in planting his 11-hectare vineyard (about a quarter of a million pounds) and the time involved before a bottle even hits the table (at least three years for a still wine, and five for a sparkling one), you can see how they came to that figure.
With the hiatus of Covid, combined with the recent pressure on fuel and food costs, restaurants need all the extra income streams they can devise right now, and customers are not unwilling, it seems, to support them. “People are always asking us, ‘Where can I buy this wine?’ when they taste our pairings,” says Stacey French, who has just opened the couple’s first bricks-and-mortar shop in the Cutlery Works food hall in Sheffield. “A chef’s seal of approval works wonders in retail.”
Five wines endorsed by chefs
Boulevard Napoléon Le Pal Grenache Gris Hérault 2018 £30, or £32 Noble Green Wines (or £29 on a mix-six deal), 14.5%. Rich, luscious, full-bodied white – mature, but with further ageing potential. Drink with a properly fatty pork chop of the type they’d serve at St John.