Explore the potential of English fine wine, as we speak with Davy Żyw, fine wine buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd, about Fifty One Degrees North, the secondary market and his hopes for what’s to come.
Davy Żyw may just have the best job in wine. For the past seven years, he’s been the fine wine buyer for Italy, Champagne and England at London-based merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd. His passion – and there really is no better word for it – for each of these regions is effervescent.
When we speak, Davy’s freshly off a flight from Torino. He’s been tasting the latest vintage from Barolo and it takes a beat for him to switch from the hills of Piedmont to the rolling downs of Sussex and levels of Kent.
Despite what you’d assume on hearing Davy’s rich Scottish accent, he’s a long-standing advocate of English wine. When he was studying the wine trade at Plumpton almost 15 years ago, his was plunged – welly-boot first – into this burgeoning industry.
“Living around the vineyards, and doing the harvest? Well, it was cold and wet. I knew the potential was there, but you certainly wouldn’t have said that the English cool-climate wine region was one of the most exciting places in the world to be making wine. But you look at it now. The transformation has been incredible.”
Launching Fifty One for collectors
Fast forward more than a decade, and this spring, Davy was part of the team who launched the new vintage of Fifty One Degrees North to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s fine wine customers. This is the first time that Fifty One has been offered In Bond and is a clear signal of direction of travel for this level of prestige bottling.
“At the launch, when we tasted the new vintage with customers, it went down incredibly well. Likewise, the fine wine team were absolutely spellbound by it. And, you know, these are guys who taste amazing wines every day of the week,” says Davy. “The really exciting thing is, we’re just at the start of its journey.”
Davy, who is every bit as well-versed in the pleasures of vintage Champagne as he is the joys of fresh English sparkling, is perfectly placed to offer a view on where Fifty One ranks in the fine wine conversation. Is the market ready to place an English sparkling wine on par with a top vintage Champagne?
“Yes, there’s been a dramatic change in terms of perception and appreciation of English sparkling wine. But we have to be mindful,” he says. “For a lot of consumers, there still needs to be a shift in view to be on board with these top-level, amazing wines. I think it’s so important that people understand that we’re now toe-to-toe with some of the best Champagne houses.”
Davy goes on to explain that we should look at wines such as Fifty One not simply through the English wine lens. Instead, it needs to be seen on a global stage.
“I think it’s really interesting to have such quality English sparkling at this level – because now you can’t just talk about English wine, or your Sussex or Kent neighbours. You’ve got to talk about the wines you’re really competing with.
“That means top Champagnes and wines around the world which sit at that price point. You have to be able to justify your place at the table. And to my mind Fifty One absolutely can.”
It’s gratifying to hear, of course. But it’s also fascinating to understand why Davy reaches this view. For him, the true test of quality and calibre comes from his appreciation of what’s in the glass.
“I've tasted the two vintages, the 2014 and the 2016. And the wine is extraordinary. The very fact that it’s a celebration of a vintage year – it’s a brave move – is incredible and it just shows the dedication and confidence and ambition of great English sparkling wine.
“It’s complex, it’s age worthy. It’s collectible. It's beautiful. And it’s a wine which I think encapsulates everything that the Gusbourne range is about and channels it. It’s a celebration of great English winemaking.”
Collecting prestige English sparkling
What is Davy’s view on the role of prestige English sparkling wines in a collector’s portfolio? Is there a place for them in cellars – and on the secondary market? To answer this, we look at two things: the presence and potential of Fifty One on platforms such as BBX and Liv-Ex, and its cellar-worthiness.
“Champagne has been absolutely booming in the secondary and tertiary markets for the last few years,” says Davy. “It’s been incredible and I can’t help but think that some of that halo effect will spread over the channel and into the English wine category.
“Fifty One Degrees North is one of the few top, top English wines in the secondary market right now. It’s going to take a little time before they’re being bought or traded in the same way as vintage Champagne – but I think the future is going to be incredibly bright.”
Then we come to the question of ageing potential – one of the true hallmarks of a collectable wine.
While wine buyers are rarely fond of defining a drinking window, Davy is hugely experienced in predicting the future of vintage Champagne. It’s this experience he turns to when we ask about the cellar potential of Fifty One Degrees North.
“Sparkling wines have the greatest longevity of almost any wine. The way they’re made, the bubbles, the dosage, the acid. Fifty One Degrees North has all the ingredients to age in spades. Its drinking window is going to be awfully long, and it will be incredibly exciting to see how it develops and matures.
“The wine is incredible now; it has this skeleton of structure, the acid profile and the tension, which is going to develop in bottle and on cork. I think, realistically, the drinking window for this will be the next 25 years. As it matures, it’ll move away from that bright effervescent character into something savoury and vinous – but I have great hopes for how it will develop and its longevity.”
With Davy, there is always more to say – more enthusiasm to draw on and more expertise to glean. We race through his views on the potential of English still wines (“I love those wines which celebrate fruit rather than rely on the winemaker too much.”) We dive into the world of single-vineyard Gusbourne. (“Commanders, Down Field, Selhurst Park and Boot Hill – I love the Sussex chalky tension, the salinity and minerality. The energy. And then you look at the clay and they have this totally different character – breadth, richness. Make more of these wines,” he pleads. “There is never enough…”)
But the last word must go to Fifty One. “It’s wines like this which will stand the test of time,” says Davy. “Fifty One Degrees North will be a lighthouse for all other English sparkling wines.
“Top sommeliers, collectors and drinkers should be reaching for wines such as their Pierre Péters, their Taittinger Comtes de Champagnes and, of course, their prestige English sparkling. Wines like Fifty One Degrees North.”
Berry Bros. & Rudd's customers have the opportunity to purchase Fifty One Degrees North 2016 In Bond: you'll find more information here. You can learn more about Davy and his current fundraising efforts for MND here.
Fifty One Degrees North 2016 will be on general release from 25th September; you can purchase it by the bottle or case here.