Uncorked: Jonathan Ellson

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Jonathan Ellson director of food and beverage Woven by Adam Smith

Related tags Jonathan Ellson Woven by Adam Smith Adam Smith Dorchester collection Coworth park Wine Uncorked Sommelier

The director of food and beverage at Berkshire's Woven by Adam Smith on Sussex winery Rathfinny, the late great Sean Thackrey and over-enthusiastic sales people.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine...
My grandparents used to go on wine tours all over Europe and come back with stories I found fascinating. As a child growing up, I spent time with them on their farm and alongside their love of cooking, this piqued an interest from an early age. This curiosity followed me into later life. 

Tell us about your wine list at Woven by Adam Smith
With the wine list at Woven, we now have over 400 references which are displayed in our two stunning wine rooms as you enter the restaurant. From the moment you walk in, there are many labels that catch our guests eye as they walk through the door. We wanted to create a selection that appeals to all and showcases the best in class – from some outstanding world-class producers to those from our very own shores with our British wines. We are confident there is something for everyone.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
A sommelier of ours once let a cold bottle of Champagne slip in his hands and in his attempt to recover, placed his thumb over the muzzle. This only had the undesired effect of recreating the F1 podium, and showering a few understanding guests with a little spray of bubbles. Reviewing the CCTV afterwards was comical, but at the time there were few laughs to be heard.

Name your top three restaurant wine lists
Maison François, Oxeye and Noble Rot (all in London).

Who do you most respect in the wine world?
Having the pleasure of hearing the story of Rathfinny from founder, Mark Driver, was quite awe inspiring. It wasn’t so much about the wines in the bottle or the latest vintage, it was the passion, drive and commitment to creating a long term, sustainable business rooted in the East Sussex hills. Their determination to found an estate combining vineyards, a winery, accommodation and restaurants, talking of being custodians of the land with a 100-year business plan certainly takes a huge amount of foresight.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across? 
Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades (from California). I remember the first time I was ever introduced to the notion there was a gentleman that had taken the process of blending vineyards and vintages to make a red wine, similar to that of non-vintage Champagne, my mind was blown. His wines were always so different and eclectic every year and it is sad that he has now passed.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Crisp, fruity and full-bodied.

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?
We currently have Terre Rouge Les Côtes de L’Ouest Syrah 2011 priced at £69. A lovely wine from  California, showing plum, raspberry, thyme and rosemary, there is wonderful evolution for such a well-priced wine. There always has to be a few hidden gems on any list that aren’t your typical go to bottles.

What is your ultimate food and drink match?
There is nothing more satisfying than beautiful Chardonnay with roast chicken, cauliflower cheese, crips roast potatoes and gravy.

Old World or New World?
Where does one world start and the other end? Should English wine be classed as New World or Old World? Amazing wines from across the world offer so much dependent on the style, budget and occasion it seems too simplistic, and lazy, to label as such.

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
Empty glasses and over-enthusiastic sales people.

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?
When we launched Woven, we partnered with Danbury Ridge, based in Essex and the flag they are flying in particular for still wines in England sets them apart and the wines they are producing are fantastic. We know they have a few more projects in the pipeline which makes us even more excited to see what they can produce in the future.

As a director of food and beverage, what question do you most get asked by customers?
What’s your favourite wine? Having had the pleasure of trying a fair few over the years, there is a wine for any occasion. Depending on the setting, weather, celebration or occasion determines what I would be likely to pull from the fridge or cellar.

Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment and why?
We may have only scratched the surface of the potential for wines produced in Britain. There are some brilliant individuals pushing the boundaries further than ever and the world is their oyster as word continues to travel as to the quality being produced.

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?
Wine for me is about the memories conjured and the individuals you shared that bottle with. I remember a brilliant group of friends, enjoying too much steak in Hawkmoor drinking Leoville Poyferre 1996 and would go back to that bottle time and time and again.

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