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Fizz and sparkle: Alyn Williams on wine

Fizz and sparkle: Alyn Williams on wine

by Great British Chefs 02 August 2016

Michelin-starred chef Alyn Williams tells us about his relationship with English sparkling wine, and how he gets involved with the matching side of things at his restaurant.

The world of food and wine matching can seem like alchemy at times. With all the thousands of different wines available and the infinite combinations of flavours found in dishes both in restaurants and at home, it’s always incredibly impressive when an expert intuitively pours a glass of something that complements a particular food perfectly. And it’s in the Michelin-starred restaurants of the UK that you can find wine lists and flights that have been meticulously curated by world-class sommeliers. But how involved do chefs become with the world of drink?

Alyn Williams has held a Michelin star at his eponymous restaurant at The Westbury in Mayfair for four years, and one of the main attractions is the extensive wine list. While he leaves the list itself to The Westbury’s sommelier, he certainly has a hand in wine pairings. ‘I’m very involved whenever we write a new tasting menu,’ he says. ‘I’ll sit down with the sommelier and we’ll develop the wine flight together by eating all of the dishes which appear on the menu and coming up with wines or beers that go best with the flavours.’

Because so many wines are purposefully created to work with food, Alyn believes a good chef should have at least a basic understanding of how certain styles can be paired with dishes. ‘Wine and food go hand in hand,’ he explains. ‘You have to have at least some sort of interest in wine to work with it. As a chef my knowledge is never going to be as in-depth as a sommelier, but I suppose if I was to talk to someone about wine at length then I could hold quite a decent conversation. I know I wouldn’t be able to write my own wine list, but I could talk in quite a lot of detail about the wines on there and what dishes they’d go with.’

Made in England

Any good wine list will include both Old and New World bottles, as well as several from slightly more unusual countries. English sparkling wine was perhaps seen as one of these oddities a few decades ago, but nowadays it is a must-have on any list and easily holds its own against the world’s finest Champagne. However, Alyn’s first experience of English wine in the 1970s wasn’t quite as positive.

‘I first heard about English wine a good few years ago, when I was a teenager,’ he explains. ‘There was a company called Coleman’s (which was eventually taken over by Colman’s in Norwich – the mustard company) that started to bottle wine in England. It was sniffed at because no one saw England as a winemaking country back then and it was pretty widely regarded as being poor quality. But then when I was in my twenties – around the same time Nyetimber was beginning to make a name for itself in the late 1980s – I found out about English sparkling wine, which was actually very good, unlike the still wines I’d encountered before.’

English sparkling wine was a completely different beast to the poor quality whites and reds Alyn had come across beforehand. ‘I was very surprised when I first tasted English sparkling wine,’ he says. ‘Nyetimber in particular was very special for me because I think the company’s whole package is great – it’s as good as Champagne and marketed as such. Everything from the bottling to the labelling exudes quality, and what’s in the bottle substantiates that.’

That’s why Alyn has had Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs 2007 on the wine list since he opened in 2011. He’s also tasted his way around half a dozen of the winery’s vintages, and was surprised to discover how different they all are. ‘They range from very, very light and crisp with an apple and grassy flavour all the way through to deep, rich, golden and oaky,’ he says. ‘They run across the board, which means you can pair them with nice light shellfish dishes all the way through to more robust meat.’ The connection between food and wine has always been watertight, but ever since English sparkling wines have come to the fore many British chefs are eager to promote it – after all, it’s the first time they’ve had the chance to match their food with a locally-made vintage.

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Fizz and sparkle: Alyn Williams on wine


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