Uncorked: Ben McVeigh

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ben McVeigh sommelier and co-founder of Peckham Cellars on wine

Related tags: Uncorked, Sommelier, Wine, London, Ben McVeigh

The sommelier and co-founder of Peckham Cellars on Hardy's Crest Shiraz, Alsace's André Ostertag and why we should all raise a glass to independent wine importers.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine

There was no fancy Damascus moment in front of a great bottle of Burgundy for me, it was a bottle of Hardy’s Crest Shiraz which got me hooked! It was served at a family get-together while I was at university. I remember seeing it at Tesco the next week and bought a case with the last dregs of my student overdraft. I absolutely loved it at the time. I distinctly remember the bold flavours that I hadn’t had come across before.

Tell us about your wine list at Peckham Cellars

I hope that it's eclectic and accessible. We have a wide demographic in our local area in South East London across Peckham, Camberwell and Nunhead, and we aim for a diverse list with something to whet all appetites. We focus on by the glass, with lots of Coravin use, so there’s always lots to try, both on-and-off the list. We actively encourage people to try new things, and there’s always tasters flying about during service – it helps us to sell wines we’re passionate about, and it delivers a sense of generosity too, which is what we are all about at Peckham Cellars. Much of our work is focussed on the value end of things to ensure that our list is packed with tasty, accessible bangers.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?

Thankfully no major service disasters (yet). In my account manager days I had a very good customer in the form of an online retailer. I won a major listing to be sent direct from the winery and the winery sent the wrong wine! That was a bad call to receive, and there was a lot of grovelling to be done….

Name your top three restaurant wine lists

In London, Andrew Edmunds every time for the value-classics. Noble Rot for the insane by the glass options. Also, I love Peckham Bazaar’s list, it’s short, concise and focussed on Greece. I always find something new there to excite me along with the brilliant food – one of my all-time favourite restaurants, and it's local in Peckham, of course.

Who do you most respect in the wine world?

The people running independent importers. The London wine scene is unique, exciting and  dynamic, and it's thanks to them. We sommeliers and buyers would be nothing without the importers (and winemakers), and we are truly spoilt for choice, with seemingly all the world’s wine on offer here in the UK. With all the trials and tribulations of the last two years, we should take a moment and give them a cheer. Can you imagine being a small importer trying to plan what you’re bringing over months in advance, getting past the logistical hurdles, dealing with the inevitable business failures. In terms of who we work with at Peckham Cellars - I’m thinking of Modal, Clark Foyster, Natural Born Wine, Uncharted, and Under the Bonnet - but there’s plenty more out there and I salute each and every one of them. 

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?

2005 Arbois Vin de Paille, Jacques Puffeney. This was mind-blowing. I never I’ve had a wine like it since. The length was endless, it just went on and on and on with layer upon layer of interest and intrigue.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Clean, fresh, mineral. Guilty on all the above. I guess that’s how I like my wines. 

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?

2016 Collio Merlot, Venica (from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region). I found this deep in the Flint list, I guess it went unnoticed after the Domaine Direct acquisition as it’s a total bargain. Perfect Merlot with plummy fruit that’s not overripe, a hint of savoury spice, soft velvety tannin and in a great spot at the moment.

What is your ultimate food and drink match?

Depends on the mood: For an opulent dinner – Turbot and top-shelf Burgundy. For a hungover Sunday Croque Monsieur and Marcillac (from south-west France). I love the spicy, rustic nature of Fer (the grape with which the wine is made) with the Dijon mustard.

Old World or New World?

Can I rephrase the question? It’s France versus the rest of the world, isn’t it? And France wins.

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?

Warm red wines.

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?

I’ve been obsessed with André Ostertag (a biodynamic winemaker from Alsace)  this last year, I keep coming back to the wines, and always find more and more interest. There’s a real sense of vitality and energy there, always combined with a richness on the palate and a unique textural quality that stands the wines apart in my opinion.

What question do you most get asked by customers at Peckham Cellars?

What is natural wine?

Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment?

Portugal. The country is well known for good-value commercial production, but there’s a whole host of smaller-scale producers working with native grape varieties and unique terroirs who deserve to be better known. Antonio Madeira and Vale de Capucha are two producers that spring to mind - their wines are under-valued to me.

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?

2016 Palmer. I did the 2016 Primeurs in Bordeaux and this wine stopped me in my tracks. Bordeaux can get a rep for being a little boring I guess, but this Palmer was jaw-dropping and confounded all my expectations for what a top-growth Bordeaux should and could be. There was so much energy in the wine, the silkiness, the freshness, the ‘mineralité’. I think it would be a spectacular way to go out. 

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