Pictured: Beef Part One
A good sommelier can add so much to a meal, and Brighton fine-dining restaurant Isaac At sure has one in Alex. I was offered a review of their latest tasting menu recently (for Brighton Source magazine, click here to read it), and of course I couldn’t wait to smash a fork into the locally sourced food. But, being the big wino I am, I was also salivating over their spectrum of Sussex wines.
The thing is, Alex just loves talking about wine; it’s a level of enthusiasm you can’t fake. Presumably unaware of my covert identity as a Wine Ninja, he at one point apologises for rambling, but there’s no need — I feel like I’m getting a complimentary wine course.
He’s already won me over when he suggests a gin and tonic aperitif. But this is no ordinary G&T; it’s Brighton born and bred. It’s the David Van Day of gin and tonics — made from Brighton Gin (naturally) but also Regency Tonic, which is a new one on me. It’s not as sweet and cloying as most tonics, injecting the mix with an extra level of refreshing sharpness.
Wine-wise, we start off light, with a Sedlescombe Estate 2015 First Release biodynamic white (apologies for he image quality. It was dark and I’d just had a gin and tonic).
Made from Rivaner (50%), Madelene Angevine (27%) and Solaris (23%) grapes (none of which I’ve had before, but I do like the idea of a grape named after a Russian existential sci-fi movie), it has a hint of creaminess to complement the blue-cheese mousse starter. I tell Alex it reminds me of a French Sauvignon Blanc, but he says they prefer to take their English wines on their own merits rather than comparing them to other varieties. It’s a fair point, although I can’t help equating wine-writing with music journalism; sometimes the best way to describe a taste/sound/emotion to the uninitiated is to refer to its influences. (Sedlescombe Estate 2015 First Release. 11%, £31 per bottle).
The next white, a 100 per cent Bacchus from Albourne Estate, stands in stark contrast to the first. I half-reluctantly tell Alex I reckon it smells of smokey bacon. Not in a bad way, but perhaps like the “brett” often associated with Lebanese wine (click here for more about that). He tries it and agrees. “I hadn’t noticed that before,” he says, triggering a victorious fist-pump in my deluded brain. (Albourne Estate Bacchus. (12%, £25 per bottle).
I sense we’re gradually increasing in body (although perhaps decreasing in mind) as we progress through the courses. And part one of the beef main is accompanied by an organic Pinot Noir, grown in sandy clay soil at Davenport Vineyards’ Diamond Fields. Sounds exotic; the result is a light but earthy, cherry-flavoured red. Like a metaphorical golden retriever let off the leash, I roll around in the carpet of “forest floor” flavours that are often described in reference to good Pinot Noir. Then I brush the wet leaves off my coat and return to reality in time for the next course. (Davenport Vineyards’ Diamond Fields Pinot Noir. 11%, £36 per bottle).
By far the boldest glass of the night accompanies the densest dish, which I’ve dubbed Beef Part Two: hearty chunks of sirloin served with smoked broccoli. The wine’s a winner too, from Bolney Estate, one of Sussex’s best-known producers. Alex promises me hits of goat’s cheese and hay here. Not sure I can detect those, but I do get plenty of dark fruits, subtle leathery oak, and a lick of tannin that complements the beef. (Bolney Estates Lychgate Red. 2014. 12%. £29 per bottle).
I’m ashamed to admit that my experience of Sussex wines had been limited up to this point. But I couldn’t have asked for a better intro than this. Cheers Alex; I’ll stick your honorary Wine Ninja badge, membership certificate and grappling hook in the post this afternoon.
Isaac At, 2 Gloucester Place, Brighton, BN1 4EW