Uncorked: Alex Preston

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Alex Preston sommelier Isaac At and Embers

Related tags Alex Preston Sommelier Uncorked Wine Isaac At

The well-known Brighton sommelier that now oversees the list at Embers on Koshu, Artelium and creating the country’s first exclusively-English wine list at Isaac At.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
In my final year studying at Brighton MET, those of us pursuing hospitality had a wine tasting from Henry Butler (a local wine merchant). Throughout my college career he kindly supplied his wines for us to use in a training environment, so I had some familiarity with them before the tasting, however on that morning something changed and clicked.

Describe your wine list at Embers
The wine list at Embers is very different to that of my previous restaurant (Isaac At, which is set to close at the end of this month),​ which only sold English wine. One of the core ideas at our new place is ‘fire and friendship’. The list is largely made up of the sort of wines I’d take to a barbecue with friends and family - bottles that complement but don’t crowd the conversation. But every bottle has a story and a reason to be on the list. The list is currently focused on Italian wines but we also have a few choices from Japan, South Africa, Argentina, France and Chile as well as some great English wines. 

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 
The vineyard will remain unnamed for obvious reasons, but in my first year at Issac At we ordered a fantastic wine from them to complement one of the dishes on our tasting menu. After a few weeks, however, a secondary fermentation happened in the bottle. I hadn’t dealt with something like that before and didn’t know the protocol. Luckily, what it had become made it perfect for use in the kitchen. 

Name your top three restaurant wine lists
Wild Flor in Hove, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London and Noma in Copenhagen. I’ve learnt a lot from all three of these wine lists, from being unabashedly yourself and offering a touch of class, to the fun of making a cellar where you can pull the same wine from different vintages at the same time.

Who do you most respect in the wine world?
Small independents providing impeccable service and also the small merchants that make everything I do possible. Without them, I know I would have not found quite a few gems. 

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve come across recently? 
It would have to be the Koshu (a white variety from Japan) on our list now - think yuzu shortbread on a summer’s day. For the longest time I only knew Japan for its Sake but, having stepped outside of my English bubble for the first time, I’ve found some unique and relatively unknown wines. 

What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Raspberry, apple and brioche. 

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment? 
A Western Cape Chenin Blanc from Wild House. Young and vibrant with a touch of lees aging, it’s is exactly what I wanted our house wine to be. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 
A slightly-chilled red with some chorizo and brassicas cooked on a fire pit. 

Old World or New World?
New World. 

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 
When they take the order and it somehow takes half an hour for the bottle to arrive, then it’s put on the other side of the restaurant for no reason. 

Who is your favourite producer right now? 
Artelium (in East Sussex). Everyone there is a pleasure to chat with. Over the years I’ve found that if I can’t get along with the vineyard there is no point having their wines on the list. I’ve enjoyed seeing their rise over the past few years, it’s well deserved.

As a co-owner and sommelier, what questions do you most get asked by customers?
“Are you a chef too?” is one I get a lot but I think that’s just because I’ve lost my stiff-upper-back service posture and also “what should I get?”. 

Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment?
Bulgaria. I’ve been enjoying their wine since 2015 on and off and haven’t had a bad bottle (that wasn’t corked). Both the quality and respective price point really rival the rest of Europe. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 
I’m going to be a bit cheeky here, I would open the impossible - a 1961 vintage English still white. Regardless of the outcome, it would be a great way to see things off.

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