Unfiltered: Charles Lowther
Charles Lowther describes his wine collection at his old family home at Cumbria’s Askham Hall as a real labour of love, “curated to be of considerable interest to wine connoisseurs…”
What is your vintage?
Born and brought up in the British countryside on an historic family estate. 1978. I’ve been lucky to have drunk well from my birth year but the next big one for me is Château Margaux 1978 en Magnum, that will be a special day!
How have you amassed such a depthful and historic wine collection at Askham Hall?
Was part of it acquired by your father, the Seventh Earl of Lonsdale? My late father had a decent cellar of claret, which gave us a good start to the collection. My grandfather on my mother’s side also started a cellar for me which I am very grateful for. But the entire Burgundy section is of our own creation, born out of Nico’s burning and infectious passion for investment wines, most notably the late great Henri Jayer.
When did Askham Hall become a restaurant with rooms?
How many covers are there at the restaurant Allium?
What are examples of standout producers/collections?
La Romanée, Henri Jayer, Rene Engel, Leroy, and many other wonderful Burgundy legends.
What is your guiding ethos in curating the list?
Our passion for Old World classics that best match head chef, Richard Swale’s style of food, and a nice balance of new world interest.
Have you tried the 1893 Cos d’Estournel on your list or anything else from its era?
No, but we were very lucky to try Château Gazin 1893 about five years ago. A very good guest picked it and it was sensational, had years and years left. We were lucky to be given a small glass each.
How do you keep prices so “sane”?
We try to buy well. The investment wines we have to keep moving up to keep up with the market though, and some are moving very quickly at the moment.
What wines are you likely to be adding in the future?
We’d like to strengthen our English Sparkling and English Still wine section in the next year or two as they continue to improve.
How does a wine charm you?
When it has perfect balance, whatever wine it is, you just want to keep engaging with it, exploring its complexities. Last night we had a wonderful Meo Camuzet Clos Vougeot and what I love about great Burgundy is what it can evolve into. You are then looking for the nuances of that evolution and it is captivating. This one was from 1998 and with knowledge, you can really appreciate a wine’s journey and it can be mesmerising.
What grape or style of wine could you happily do without?
The Jura oxidative style is almost unsaleable if the guest doesn’t know what it is and appreciates it already.
What has been a standout wine pairing with a dish by your head chef, Richard Swale, and why did it work?
Duck/game and red Burgundy! Last week the highlight was Lowther Estate Red Deer Tartare with truffle egg yolk and Clos de la Roche 2002, Dominique Laurent. This is a classic pairing and elevates both food and wine to a level greater than the sum total of its parts!
How much of the larder is sourced from within the grounds of Askham Hall and the surrounding area?
Virtually all of it.
Are you a keen gardener?
Yes, but more a passionate farmer and explorer of wild spaces for foraging.
Who has been your mentor?
My mother. Now she has passed and I have achieved what I wanted to achieve in my work life, my wife Juno – to keep me from getting caught up in the pursuit of unnecessary avenues of distraction and keeping me grounded.
What is your life motto?
How does the setting of the dining room at Askham Hall, close to the river and gardens, enhance the enjoyment of wine?
The ambience is a hugely important part of my consideration of a sympathetic dining experience. The dining room is set in a tranquil space overlooking a formal cherry tree and box hedge parterre with woodland and the river Lowther as the backdrop. Askham Hall is a very relaxing space where one’s focus is channelled to the evening ahead of you. We call it a restaurant with rooms so people subconsciously are thinking about the evening meal as the main reason for being there. The wine collection is presented in a beautiful handmade tome, designed by my wife, Juno. The ambience encourages thorough consideration of it in the lead up to dinner, setting the scene for a magnificent evening.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
I love to suffer through hard exercise in harsh weather for some reason, it is eminently invigorating and is my offset for imbibing fine wine!
Who should prospective sommeliers contact if they want to join your team?
Maître de Maison, Nico Chieze.
Askham Hall – Askham, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2PF; 01931 712350; firstname.lastname@example.org; askhamhall.co.uk