Uncorked: Harry Cooper

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Harry Cooper General Manager Counter 71 restaurant London

Related tags Harry Cooper Counter 71 Uncorked Sommelier Wine

The general manager of Shoreditch restaurant Counter 71 on Oastbrook Pinot Blanc, matching roast lamb with Schioppetino and why the concept of the Old World should be retired.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
My grandmother always put on a spread for us when we visited and bottles of Riesling (Niersteiner normally) were always served, I remember being allowed a small glass so I guess I got an early taste for Riesling. Following graduation from UCB in Birmingham, I went to work in a well-known west London gastropub which had a fine wine list. They were very generous with training sessions and sometimes regular guests left us a taste.

Describe your wine list at Counter 71 
We opened Counter 71 in June last year so we started from scratch, the cellar and list is slowly generating a personality. I would say, petit, inclusive and highly personal. We sell a lot of wine pairings and I enjoy rotating lists so I purchase small, often and from a range of suppliers which I find works best with the menu and our storage. The list sometimes changes daily but I quietly have my favourites and bottles I am almost sad to see go. I am a keen supporter of British wines and hope to continue to develop this on the list at Counter 71.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 
Most memorably, I was stocktaking a cellar for the first time and a bottle of Cristal fell out of a solid door fridge when I opened it, fortunately I caught the bottle before it fell and broke. I’ve experienced plenty of mishaps opening sparkling wines, a good deal of crumbly corks and sadly faulty bottles of aged wines, the worst is when it’s a bottle bought in by the guest.

Name your top three restaurant wine lists 
The Wilderness in Birmingham because Sonal (Clare, GM) is a class act and the list is perfectly bonkers. And in London Andrew Edmunds, which is a regular of mine and offers genuine value, and Humo, because I love Merlin’s approach to his list and he’s also a top bloke.

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 
Winemakers in general for putting themselves out there every vintage, there is no guarantees of success. I would also like to mention Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson as I have read plenty of their books and Jimmy Smith as I’ve watched countless hours of his YouTube channel.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve come across recently? 
I’ve just served my last bottle of Pinot Blanc from Oastbrook in East Sussex, but I am very tempted to reorder a few more. The 2022 vintage was warm and so the wine is rich, ripe and bottled with 7.8 gpl of residual sugar. It’s aged for five months in tanks, on fine lees whilst avoiding malolactic fermentation which from the UK brings big potential for a bitey, snappy, acidic mess, yet everything seems to be working in unison and is drinking so well right now. Fantastic.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?
I’m not overly bothered with tasting notes, I write my own on our list but suggest them as a guide rather than gospel. A lack of information is much more of an issue to me, when details on the elevage are not supplied or clear I find this most frustrating. It can be an important part of understanding the wine before you taste it for the first time and useful to communicate to guests regarding the wine’s aromatics.    

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment? 
Kooyong’s 2019 Faultline Chardonnay from Mornington Peninsula. A wonderful alternative to Burgundian Chardonnay which is priced sympathetically. On paper it ticks all the boxes for me; appropriate climate for the grape, a prime single plot, pressed directly into barrique, limited new French oak (15%), matured conservatively (11 months) and bottled with no finings and minimal filtration.

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 
Roasted lamb shoulder with all the trimmings paired with a nicely aged Schioppetino from Bressan in Friuli.

Old World or New World?
This doesn’t really matter to me, it’s all about the contents of the bottle. Personally I think this term could be retired. 

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 
When your bottle of wine is held out of reach on a side table so you have to wait for it to be served. I once served a well known food critic, after the initial pour they requested to leave the bottle on the table to pour themselves thereafter. If I didn’t feel so uncomfortable I would like to do this myself when dining out.  

Who is your favourite producer right now?​ 
This changes regularly but looking back at the past few months I would pick either Hundred Hills. Their Oxfordshire vineyards are as close to perfect as possible for producing English sparkling and their determination to be the best they can is tangible in the quality of the wines, very pure, clean and well defined. Or Bodega Chacra from Patagonia. I love their wine, especially their Chardonnays and the 55 Pinot Noir, it’s priced just about right, premium yet still affordable. I hope to get Piero (Incisa della Rocchetta, the vineyard’s owner) over to Counter 71 later this year for a winemaker’s dinner. 

As a general manager, what question do you most get asked by customers?  
Serving over a counter I get plenty of time to chat to guests during and after the service. Lots of questions on how I choose the pairings, then generally about when to decant, the glassware and how/where to buy. Being close to east London also brings a variety of questions regarding natural wines, what makes a wine natural, if it’s better for you or reduces hangovers. 

Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment 
I am starting to see a lot more restaurant quality wines coming from Poland and Bulgaria. I work with native suppliers for both countries who are importing fantastic wines an helping to improve the reputation of their respective homelands. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 
I love it when producers blend their premium crus or special vintages together for a limited release so when I tasted Vinedos Sierra Cantabria’s CVC 88 it became a bottle I wanted to someday revisit. This is a tribute released in 2019 by two sons for their fathers 88th birthday. Guillermo Eguren planted these Tempranillo vines in San Vicente de la Sonsierra (Rioja) in the 1960s and his sons selected to blend 2007 (cool) with 2010 (rated exceptional) and 2012 (warm and dry). The vintages were aged separately in new French oak totalling 98 months. Unquestionably right up there in my top five wine experiences ever, it’s a super premium bottle with just over 2000 bottles produced.

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