Once upon a time, pubs were just boozers: male-dominated drinking dens where a lager-top was considered a cocktail. The gastropub movement has changed all that, replacing bitter with Barolo, pork scratchings with line-caught hake. The best of the breed even have impressive wine lists, with extensive cellars, polished glassware and sommeliers to match.
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn in Wiltshire, an hour’s train ride from London, has long been a favourite destination for wine insiders, and has won more gongs than Sir Chris Hoy. Roger and Sue Jones have assembled a diverse, well-priced 900-bin selection that covers the globe from Canada to Portugal, Austria to South Africa, but focuses on Australia and New Zealand.
The Antipodean focus was born of necessity. When the Joneses took over this failing pub in 1998, they couldn’t afford the big French and Italian names. "But Aussie wines were cheap, and we realised they matured well," Sue says. "We loved them, and bought more and more."
If you want to drink an older Aussie red—a 1985 Penfolds Grange, 1991 Moss Wood Cabernet or 1995 Henschke Hill of Grace—without taking out a loan, this is the place to do it. The depth of the list is unmatched outside Australia. It includes up-and-coming estates such as Ocean Eight and William Downie as well as established ones, and has 30 Aussie Rieslings, which may be a record.
The food is every bit as good as the wines. To partner the inventive "modern British" tasting menu (the emphasis is on local ingredients), we had a juicy, lime-scented 2008 Craggy Range Riesling from Central Otago in New Zealand with sashimi of tuna, before moving on to the leafy, savoury 2005 Merricks Creek Close Planted Pinot Noir from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula. The Pinot wouldn’t look out of place in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy’s most famous village, and was delicious with Northumberland roe venison and umami-rich mushrooms, as well as a plate of English and Welsh cheeses.
The mini-dessert platter would arguably work best with a sweet Riesling, but Sue Jones challenged us to drink a plum-infused Akashi-Tai Shiraume Umeshu sake instead—and it worked. Halfway through its second decade, The Harrow is clearly continuing to take risks.
theharrowatlittlebedwyn.com, tasting menu, £75pp including wine
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