Simon Leigh-Jones, owner of English’s of Brighton, talks wine
Simon Leigh-Jones has been running English’s of Brighton since the 1980s, and since then he’s taken the wine list from a measly 20 options to choose from, to over 100. Here Simon talks about how he chooses what makes the list, what gets dropped, and what his personal favourites are.
How important is the wine menu to you and your restaurant?
Wine and drink sales, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, represent around 30% of our sales, so they are enormously important to English’s.
When did you start to see the value and importance of taking time over the list?
Over the past 25 years wine drinking has become far more significant in the UK, especially when dining. People have become much more knowledgeable about wine, and like to try new styles from different countries. Our wine list has grown with this trend.
Has the list got longer over the years?
When I first started at English’s in the 1980’s there were only about 20 wines on the list, and most of those were fairly uninspiring. We now have over one hundred wines on the list, and serve around 20 by the glass. Unusually, 14 of these are also available by the carafe as well.
Do you ever refresh the entire wine list, or simply cut and replace wine as and when you find a new bottle or brand that you particularly like?
Typically the main list is reviewed twice a year and around 25% to 30% of the wines will be replaced by something that’s different in style, or just interesting. Our fine wines change more regularly as we buy very small quantities, which often cannot be reordered. Our new wine list (July 2014) will feature one of our biggest changes for many years – we are all very pleased that English’s has been chosen to be one of only a few restaurants in the UK to have Grande Marque Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Brut NV as our house Champagne. We’ll be writing more about our partnership in a couple of weeks, but for now take a look at their website: http://www.laurent-perrier.com/en/.
What percentage of the list have you personally tasted?
We’ve tasted all the wines on the main list and never add a wine without having tasted it. We attend two or three large tastings every year, and a number of smaller ones. We regularly hold tastings at English’s as well. I would estimate that we try around 200-300 wines a year, and of course many of those never get near English’s!
How many of your suppliers have you met?
We’ve met many of our wine principals and winemakers, and many have been to visit us at English’s. The major tastings we attend usually have many of the winemakers who talk us through their wines whilst we are tasting.
Is meeting a supplier and tasting each wine very important to you?
Tasting each wine is imperative. There’s lots of it out there and it isn’t all a suitable style or quality for English’s! We do like to use smaller wine makers, who take time and have a little passion in their wine making but that is not to say that larger producers don’t make some great wines, too.
Do you select wine with the current menu in mind?
Generally, we choose wines with an eye to upcoming menus, but as the list changes less frequently than the menu, and we have such a large selection, there is always more than one suitable match for a dish.
Do you have a particular favourite?
Anything from Burgundy, especially whites, like our St Veran by Nadine & Maurice Guerrin, although I’m partial to a glass of fizz as well, especially our Portuguese sparkling albarino – Semsum Laxas!