Great Country Pubs Serving Local English Wines

Long before I developed an interest in English wine I already had a love of historic pubs. While wine in this environment may at first seem slightly at odds with my desire for an authentic and traditional English inn experience - perhaps more typically associated with the tankard of foaming ale - it would be wrong to think of pubs serving wine as a purely modern phenomenon. Pepys frequently recounts drinking wine in pubs, and the term tavern, now synonymous with pub, has its roots in the Latin taberna, and would originally have been more of a wine bar.

Pubs were champions of local produce long before it became fashionable in contemporary restaurants. Partly this was out of necessity - traditional ales did not travel well - but I'm pleased to see this kind of regionality still at least partly preserved today. It is gratifying that it's the norm for pubs in different parts of the country to offer beers that reflect the local region. Harvey's to me is emblematic of pubs in Sussex, but is rarely encountered further afield.

It seems natural, therefore, that when a pub happens to also be in a wine producing part of the UK that this sense of regionality would also translate to the wine offering.

So, below, I've listed a few pubs I've discovered, which in terms of the interior and atmosphere are still proper "pubby" pubs, but have the added benefit of offering some local wines. In no particular order (other than the order I discovered them!):

The Rising Sun, Nutbourne, West Sussex

I first discovered the Rising Sun in September 2016 when we visited Nyetimber. It was conveniently located - so the theory went - for a bit of a country walk either side of lunch before the vineyard visit later in the afternoon. Although owing to a wrong turn, a miscalculated distance, and, if I'm honest, the fact we enjoyed our lunch a bit too much, we ended up quite late for the vineyard tour.

I think it's fair to say in places the decor at the Rising Sun errs a little on the side of the quirky and eclectic rather than the staunchly traditional, but despite the fact they serve excellent food (perhaps most memorable were the heritage tomatoes, grown in the village) it still felt like a pubby pub.

...and in terms of the wine list, it doesn't get much more local than this. How many pubs in the UK can boast not just one, but two vineyards within a mile? At the time (and still now it appears, looking at their current wine list) they offered both of these - Nutbourne, barely a stone's throw away, and just a little further afield Nyetimber.

We tried the Nutbourne Blush and their Sussex Reserve. Alas it seems I didn't take down any tasting notes but given our tardiness at Nyetimber I think it's fairly obvious we enjoyed them.

The Harrow Inn, Steep, Hampshire

This is an absolutely magical pub, which is so perfectly unspoilt that I have chosen to include it even though I haven't actually (to date at least) tried the wine here. Somehow the local Meon Valley Cider felt more appropriate, but I did spot that they also serve wine from local Priors Dean Vineyard.

The public bar room is tiny, dominated by a large inglenook fireplace to the left, and a small servery at the back. There are just two tables which tends to lead to a convivial atmosphere. I have seen it at both extremes - when full (about 15 people is all it takes!) and I've also had the privilege of being the only person in there. It feels timeless and other worldy either way, and this makes a very special environment to enjoy any drink - English wine or otherwise.

There's also a second bar room (referred to as the tap room) and plenty of outdoor seating.

Much like the beautifully preserved interior, the food also positions the Harrow Inn at the absolute opposite end of the scale to the dreaded gastropub - just simple, rustic fare (Ploughman's lunches and the like) using good quality local ingredients and in generous quantities. Not a hint of cheffy pretentiousness in sight!

The Fountain Inn, Ashurst, West Sussex

"The Fountain of Ashurst runs, by God's Grace, with better stuff than water."

So wrote Hilaire Belloc in The Four Men. In fact it was the book which brought me here - I had decided to do a walk to retrace part of the route The Four Men had taken.

I was delighted to discover inside a pub interior which one could believe was largely the same as it would have been when Belloc was here, over a century ago. A flagstone floor and a large inglenook fireplace with the lintel beam decorated with horse brasses and a shepherd's crook. Exposed beams on the ceiling and simple wooden furniture.

Moreover Belloc's observation about the superior nature of the pub's drinks offering still very much rang true. Not just an excellent pint of Harvey's, but I was also pleased to see they offered local wines from Wiston, Nutbourne and Poynings Grange - a tiny vineyard of just a quarter of an acre. I tried the Poynings Grange Bacchus which had a fair amount of tropical fruit character and a hint of crisp minerality.

The Royal Oak, Wineham, West Sussex

The Royal Oak, in the fittingly named Wineham is another absolute gem of a pub. Like the Rising Sun, it is one I discovered because I needed somewhere to have lunch before a vineyard visit (in this case nearby Bolney Estate). However, nice though the visit to Bolney was, the pub ended up rather stealing the limelight of that particular day out, and I was instantly smitten as soon as I set foot through the door.

Again, an inglenook fireplace - a theme is definitely emerging here! This one even has seating immediately beside the fire, within the recess (mind your head). Perhaps most striking though here is the complete absence of modern paraphernalia - as at the Harrow Inn there are no hand pumps on the bar counter, and beer is dispensed directly from the barrels in a room behind the servery. On my first visit they didn't even have an electric till - although I subsequently heard they have finally caved in and installed one.

Given the excellent serving conditions for the beer, it would be very tempting to just stick to the Harvey's, but they also have a few very enticing local English wines on their wine list. I spotted wines from nearby Albourne (I think both a still and a sparkling) and Wiston. The latter seemed particularly appropriate as it turns out this is a favourite pub of their winemaker, Dermot Surgue. At £41 for a bottle of the Blanc de Blancs NV in this spectacular setting this seemed like an absolute bargain - I'm used to seeing 2x or even 3x markups on wine in some pubs and restaurants, and I believe this typically retails for around the £30 mark. This had wonderful purity, and was vibrant, fresh and exciting - and somehow rather incongruously really complimented the smell of wood smoke from the fire we were sat next to.


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