The plan was to take a helicopter from Battersea to Overton, Hampshire, but thanks to unusually strong winds the previous day and at least one slightly skittish flyer in the party, we found ourselves heading out of London on a Sunday morning in a gleaming Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II and stately extended wheelbase Phantom (third picture) – a longer but more comfortable journey. Arriving at Northington House, the bright morning sun still drying the dew on the rose beds, we were greeted by Nick and Virginia Coates, our hosts.
Former banker Nick Coates, together with his old pal Christian Seely, head of AXA Millésimes’ portfolio of wine properties, had embarked on a project to create a top English sparkling wine in the north Hampshire Downs (first picture), drawing on Seely’s expertise and his own local knowledge. As Coates points out, the chalk-rich soils of the Downs underpin the region’s architecture and agriculture, informing the character of the wines, the best of which he suggests resemble English apples: “Like a great Cox or Russet, they have the perfect and unique balance between acidity and sweetness.”
I had first met Coates a few years previously when he was presenting his brut and brut rosé at an English wine showcase and had been immediately impressed, especially by the latter wine, which was definitely best in show at the event. I was keen therefore to introduce to my guests his brand-new very limited production cuvée “La Perfide” 2009 rosé, the UK’s most exclusive and expensive pink, which had previously only been tried by a handful of wine writers. As Coates explained, the name comes from the disparaging French term for the English: “La Perfide Albion” – an enmity that nevertheless holds a grudging amount of respect and mutual appreciation, as evidenced by the wine’s favourable reception at an ambassadorial event at the Four Seasons George V hotel in Paris earlier in the year. Our bottle having been sabraged with a first world war bayonet, we enjoyed the contents – a rich Pinot Noir/Meunier blend, which allied Coates & Seely’s hallmark elegance and deftness with an opulence and intensity – partly from the ripeness of the vintage, but also the extended lees ageing (it was only disgorged in March 2014), the wine showing a palate of wild cherries, cranberries and hedgerow strawberries, some pain grillé and wild herb notes and a vivifying autolytic spicy tang.
Suitably impressed and refreshed, we hopped back in the Rollers for the 15-minute drive to Cottonworth Farm, where James Liddell and his son Tom were waiting to take us truffle hunting with their champion Lagotto Romagnolo hound Rudi, who has never failed to unearth the much-sought-after tubers. Originally hunting dogs and retrievers of lake-based game birds from Italy’s Romagna subregion, the breed is now more commonly prized for its ability to sniff out truffles, and the Liddells have encouraged Rudi’s prodigious talents since early successes at just 14 weeks old. Summer truffles (Tuber aestivum) naturally form along the root systems of the beach and hazel trees in the high pH limestone soils of certain areas of the Liddells’ farm, but they have experimented recently, impregnating a copse of beech with white truffle spores (potentially worth 10 times the price of black truffles). Within 20 minutes we had several hundred grams of truffle – and Rudi the respect of the whole party.
Now it’s time to head back to London with the truffle haul (second picture) to drink like Bond. Check back on August 3…
Oenophiles may enjoy reading about the opportunity to create their own bespoke cuvée with champagne house Duval-Leroy, or mastering the legendary art of sabraging to pop your corks in style.