The Pig South Downs – the eighth Pig – opens in a week, and I attended the preview dinner last night, designed to showcase what’s on offer, but also to act as a soft opening for the team. ‘This is the first party with real people,’ says owner Robin Hutson. As well as the restaurant and hotel, this Pig also comes with a vineyard of 0.8 hectares (with 4000 vines) planted two years ago – next year will be the first crop, and it’s planted to the three main Champagne varieties. This Pig is located near Arundel in a village called Madehurst.
The various Pigs describe themselves as restaurants with rooms, and they have a strong wine focus. As well as the new sommelier for the Pig South Downs, Luke Harbor (who is just 24), also present were two other Pig sommeliers, Greg Turner (Harlyn Bay in Cornwall) and Ed Osborne (Bath). I spent quite a bit of time chatting with them: they’re really good.
Hutson gives his sommeliers autonomy over their lists, which is a great thing: there’s no central buyer foisting wines onto them. But he’s made a strong emphasis on listing English wines, saying that the commitment is to have 25 English wines on every list. ‘We started suppressing Champagne in favour of English sparkling wine back in 2014,’ says Hutson. ‘In a 12 month period we’ve sold 30 000 bottles of English wine.’
One of the challenges of a new opening like this is recruiting a good team. ‘Our industry has been hard hit with recruitment,’ says Hutson. He’s pulled together a young team of mostly raw recruits, and they performed brilliantly. ‘We’ve managed to find 100 young staff, mostly from the area,’ he says.
In keeping with the English emphasis, seven of the eight wines we were served were English, with seven of them sparkling. These are my notes:
Artelium Curator’s Cuvée 2014 England
This is made from Sussex grapes by Dermot Sugrue, and it spent five years on lees. Appley and bright with some toasty notes, and keen acidity. Linear and bright, showing juiciness and precision, and finishing nicely fresh. Lots of flavour here. 92/100
Ridgeview Blanc de Noirs 2015 England
Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from Sussex. Lively with some bright cherry notes, a bit of citrus and also some spice. Has subtle toastiness and also a touch of apple and fennel. 92/100
Bluebell Barrel-Aged Blanc de Blancs 2016 England
Base wine fermented in used oak. This has a distinctive character. Almond and toast, with a slight creaminess. Nicely textured with some slight weedy notes, but also nice fruit. 90/100
Wiston Estate Sparkling Rosé 2015 England
This has lovely red fruits: rhubarb, cherry and a touch of cranberry. Shows lovely depth and richness with a sour cherry edge and some spiciness. Really impressive. 93/100
Digby Leander Pink NV England
Dosage of 9 g/l. Fine cherries and spice on the nose with nice raspberry hints. This is pure and really expressive with lovely fruit brightness. Impressive. 91/100
Rathfinny Blanc de Noir 2016 England
Fresh and pure with some apricot and cherry richness, as well as lemon and mandarin. I really like the focus of this wine, and the crystalline texture to the citrus fruit core. 92/100
Bolney Pinot Noir 2019 England
15% in oak, the rest in stainless steel. Lots of small ferments here, some as small as 300 kg. Sweet black cherry nose with some sappy green notes. Juicy palate with really nice sweet fruit and some appealing green herbal notes in the mix. 90/100
Antinori Guado al Tasso 2010 Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
This is classic Bolgheri: ripe and generous with a tarry, spicy edge to the sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Ripe and smooth, and mellowed out with some bottle age, it tastes of luxury. Stylish effort, offering a wall of sweet fruit, but avoiding excess. 94/100
The food was really good, and not what I was expecting. It was a modern take on some quite old-school dishes, and it worked.
Langford 1960s Lobster Cocktail
Sunblushed Apero Cherry Tomato Tart
Goodwood Overnight Braised Lamb Shoulder
Strawberry Bunny Blancmange
‘How nice it is to see a party with lovely smiley people,’ said Hutson. I agree.