Wine List Confidential: Wild Carrot at Four Seasons Hampshire
Douglas Blyde heads to Hampshire to visit Wild Carrot at the Four Seasons hotel and find out whether a taste of local producer Hattingley Valley’s rare late harvest Bacchus is worth the trip.
“An 18th-century manor surrounded by 500 acres of parkland on the site of a medieval palace once used by the Bishop of Bath and Wells” appraised Victoria Marston, the dressage editor of Horse & Hound turned deputy features editor of Country Life, of Four Seasons’ Hampshire outpost at Dogmersfield Park, while Martin Robinson of Evening Standard/founder of The Book Of Man, praised the “indulgent comfort eating” to be found at principal restaurant, Wild Carrot.
The undulating Dogmersfield Park was listed in England’s first public record, the Domesday Book, its formal gardens being the fateful location where Katherine of Aragon met not just one, but two future husbands, first Arthur, Prince of Wales, who perished from the “sweating disease” so popular amongst the gentry, after a mere five months of marriage. Seven years on, she married Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII, in part to avoid the need to return a ducat dowry. However, according to a display at Hampton Court, “the superstitious King became convinced that God was displeased that he had married his brother’s widow, punishing him by denying them a son.” A lack of broods is not something evident at Four Seasons Hampshire today, however, where an abundance of children, often up to 60 on any given day, is highly catered for.
Abutting Hampshire’s oldest, sixteenth-century dovecote, built to house birds for meat and feathers, but which now resourcefully conceals a gas meter, the main mansion also served as a haven for Polish pilots and as a girls’ school. Taking the name of the filigree-like wildflower sprouting in surrounding fields come the summer, best eaten raw or deep fried, Wild Carrot was envisioned by Ivy Collection designer, Martin Brudnizki. The spacious scheme is illuminated, appropriately, by ivy-tangled lanterns. Banquettes sit upon parquet floors with views over the large open marble pass and, outside, bronzes of rutting stags, and clay pigeon shooting bays. Abstract art includes a picture of a telescope-clutching monkey riding a crane – a scene which commands a punchline.
Balinese head sommelier, Kadek Swijana, who believes each bottle of wine has its own story, “and a wine list reflects the personality of the sommelier”, began his hospitality journey at The Westin, Nusa Dua as a waiter. Other positions on “the Island of the Gods” included Grand Hyatt and W Retreat & Spa, then Four Seasons at Sayan, which features working rice paddies. Perhaps explaining his notable grace, Swijana subsequently spent six-and-a-half years perfecting his sea legs with Viking Cruises, underway “into the midnight sun” which is where he embarked on his career as a sommelier.
Representing circa 30% of his list, Swijana lists 20 English wines, including the Chardonnay-led King’s Cuvée 2015 “which has 30 years ahead of it” he says, from Hattingley Valley, 16 miles to the south of Dogmersfield Park, as well as the contract winery’s rare Entice, a late harvest Bacchus from 2022. The latter costs £17 per 75ml, being £1 more than Dorgo Tokaji Szamorodni, which has seven years under its belt. In fact, so strong is the relationship with the Hampshire producer, that Hattingley is obtainable on free pour as part of the breakfast buffet.
Given a moneyed clientele has frequented this estate for centuries, mark-ups display confidence. Via Coravin, Swijana’s pours include Antinori’s famous Umbrian Chardonnay tempered with Grechetto, Cervaro della Sala from 2018 at £50 per 175ml. By the bottle, options range from Umani Ronchi Verdicchio, Villa Bianchi at a benign £40, ranging to Château Latour 1999 at £2,350, while Sociando-Mallet’s Jean Gautreau 2015 is £220. Other icons displayed in the vestibule, include Opus One 2006 at £1,755, Penfolds Grange 1999 at £1,800, and Solaia 2009 at £1,150 which looks equitable when compared to Sassicaia from another warm year, 2011 at £1,390. Relative value, meanwhile, may be found from the Rhône, with Delas Frères’ Châteauneuf du Pape Haute Pierre 2019 costing £125.
Although there is much to do at the property, from axe throwing to horse riding, a visit to the Library Bar is strongly advised. Preceded by a cabinet of curiosities containing gifted bottles from Highgrove to as far as Ukraine, bar manager, Surinder Virk, formerly of Four Seasons Langkawi, with its mile-long private beech, realises cocktails, such as the clay aged Negroni, or one of several “boiler makers” at a bar flanked by lions, featuring Macallan barrel staves. Pegged to the timeline of Dogmersfield Park – come here for a history lesson – drinks must be “imaginative, inventive, gastronomic, poetic and bucolic” he says.
Wild Carrot’s substantial kitchen brigade is led by executive chef, Talha Barkin, who began his culinary career at the age of fifteen in swanky hotels in native Turkey, before heading to Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, then onto Hangzhou and Chiang Mai with Shangri-La Hotels, followed by Hilton in the Maldives. Before joining Four Seasons, Hampshire, Barkin worked at the operator’s be-domed property in Baku overlooking the Caspian Sea.
The prescribed wine journey tonight represented a Hattingley sandwich. Clean-cut Classic Reserve, alas corseted in a flute, brought blithe citrus notes to a starter of impeccably fresh Devonshire white crabmeat with Granny Smith apple. This was finished with bright, supple, gently peppery, Hampshire watercress sauce. Our visit within the first week of 2024, the dish happened to be the most delightful thing eaten thus far, this year.
Next, Swijana chose not white, but red with tender tiger prawns. Via Coravin, Louis Latour’s initially angular Nuits-Saint-Georges 2017 which broadened as it warmed, easily stood up to the freshness of the cherry tomato, garlic, and basil sauce, although a Pinot Noir-specific glass could have helped amplify its attributes. The dish of the night, however, starred close-grained, wild sea bass, its skin perfectly seasoned, with brown shrimps, slow-cooked leeks, and turnip beneath. Alongside, Swijana poured a beguiling Sicilian, Tenuta Regaleali Nozze D’Oro 2020, as an “alternative to Sancerre”. This united oak matured Inzolia and century-old clone, Sauvignon Tasca, leading to hints of jasmine within the luscious palate.
And with a somewhat solid, braised bar of Cornish lamb shoulder, with compensating rich truffle jus, fresh truffle, and excellent baby carrots – a dish which Barkin automatically refreshed when he realised conversation had hindered our immediate tasting of – Swijana opened classic Saint-Estèphe, Château de Pez 2018.
Finally, with a fluffy, world-class Brazilian coffee mousse on a slender Muscovado biscuit base, topped with hibiscus-infused orange ice cream, Swijana shared Hattingley’s elderflower-scented Entice 2022, made from deliberately frozen grapes, being arguably the producer’s best wine. So fascinated is he by this sweeter (145g per litre of sugar) taste of England, that Swijana visited the Bacchus vines during the last harvest in December.
Perhaps on account of the landscape in which he grew up, being the town of Koycegiz, Mugla, poised on a vast coastal lake, Barkin demonstrated a particular aptitude with nautical ingredients, while Swijana, himself no stranger to water, paired wines alongside such dishes with flair. Given the duo’s combined talents, and the overall team’s ability to make guests of every age and sometimes ill-disciplined conduct feel like they are wearing crowns, it is tempting to speculate whether this substantial, destination property might one day include a small, meaningful, dedicated, fine dining restaurant, tailored to grown-up diners, alongside the chirpy, all-day Wild Carrot. This would ensure appreciation of the ingredients, cookery and wine pairings would be absolute.
- Local produce
- Historical parkland in proximity to the capital
- Bins from England, Bordeaux, and Italy
- Cocktails by Surinder Virk at Gleneagles-esque bar
- High-quality service
Value: 89, Size: 88, Range: 89, Originality: 90, Experience: 94; Total: 90
Wild Carrot – Four Seasons Hotel, Dogmersfield Park, Chalky Lane, Hampshire, RG27 8TD; 01252 853033; fourseasons.com