If Nick Borst-Smith is involved in something new, then I'm interested. The wine-savvy publican of the Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh, Devon, launched a wine business last year, called the Wine Company, in addition to his healthy mail-order wine business, busy pub (which has won more awards for its wine list than you can shake a stick at) and constantly booked bedrooms. Now he's gone and opened a wine bar.
Called Thirty 8, it's located in the heart of Exeter, at 38 Southernhay, about five miles as the crow flies from the Nobody Inn. Actually, he took on the lease at the end of January, but he's been quietly building up the business since.
The area is packed with suits. "We're surrounded by solicitors - we're only 50 yards from the new courthouse," beams Borst-Smith. And don't lawyers like their bubbly? He can't sell enough Gardet (at £28 a bottle) and Veuve Clicquot (at £35); they even have Cristal on there in anticipation (the 1993 is £140). "We've only sold one bottle of it so far, but we were pretty chuffed when we did," says Borst-Smith's 23-year-old daughter, Clare, who co-owns the place.
In fact, it's very much a family affair, with Clare's husband, John, and another Borst-Smith offspring's boyfriend behind the scenes looking after the 60-seat wine bar, with a further 70 seats in the garden outside - complete with a former chapel of rest, which they plan to turn into a take-away wine shop and coffee stop - which leaves dad Nick to manage his 600-bin-plus wine list at the Nobody Inn.
There's plenty of crossover, though. Borst-Smith's latest finds, which end up on the "taste before you buy" section displayed on both bars, include two Mendoza wines from producer Benegas (one a red blend, the other a Sangiovese), Fournier's snappily titled A-Crux and B-Crux, and Urban Oak, a Tempranillo-Malbec blend, also from Mendoza, that is going down a storm in both bars, at £3.25 for a 175ml glass or £13 a bottle - slightly less at the Nobody Inn.
You see, Borst-Smith is famous for his mark-ups - or rather lack of mark-up. This is the man who sells New Zealand cult Sauvignon Cloudy Bay at £16 a bottle (unsurprisingly, the wine trade flock here). "Clare and John are in charge of mark-ups at Thirty 8, and they feel they can charge a bit more as they're in the city," he explains. That said, prices are still modest.
Other finds include a Uruguyan Cabernet Franc from Vieja Parcela, and their new English house white from the Three Choirs Vineyard that they've blended themselves, made from an experimental variety called Phoenix.
Their first wine dinner takes place next week (3 June) with Aussie producers Bremerton, from Langhorne Creek, in attendance; and the first food and wine matching event takes place soon after.
Victory for Zwiebel A very belated pat on the back for Eric Zwiebel, head sommelier at Cliveden in Berkshire, this year's Champagne Ruinart UK Sommelier of the Year. I know, I know, he's been reigning champion for more than a month now - our apologies, the news lost its way. The competition, organised by the Academy of Food and Wine Service, identifies and rewards those sommeliers who show exceptional skill, knowledge and enthusiasm in their profession; and from more than 200 initial entries, only 14 sommeliers from five regional finals went through to the semi-finals, then the final, which were held in London last month.
Tasks - performed in front of a 200-strong audience, I might add - included spotting errors on a wine list; food and wine matching; and the wrist-bending agony of pouring a magnum of Ruinart accurately with one hand. Zwiebel, who has been in the final several times before, gets a VIP visit to the Champagne region, while runners-up Isa Bal, from the Vineyard, Stockcross, and Matthew Wilkin, from the Capital hotel, London, each receive a case of the sponsoring bubbly.
Chile sales soar Wines of Chile report a surge in sales in the period from January to March. Exports of bottled wine increased by 25.2% in volume over the same period last year, with value rising by 30.6%. Says its buoyant director, Michael Cox: "There is a growing confidence in the market and in Chile's ability to produce premium wines that sell at sensible prices."
Lees, schmees Do you confuse l'âgouttage with le dâbourbage? Worry no more, with The Winemaker's Essential Phrasebook, published by Mitchell Beazley in July (£25). Featuring more than 2,000 phrases, it's the first specialist manual devoted entirely to viticulture and winemaking in six languages. With contributions from six of the world's top winemakers, it's a compilation of the most commonly used, practical winemaking terms and phrases.