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Visiting Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton

PUBLISHED: 15:08 18 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:08 18 April 2016

Henry Butler (Photo by Julia Claxton)

Henry Butler (Photo by Julia Claxton)

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Jilly Goolden finds out how the Butlers did it, visiting the family wine shop in Brighton

When Butlers Wine Cellar opened in Brighton in 1979, my tastebuds were just waking up to the multi-faceted world of wine. Well, I say “multif-aceted”, but way back then the wine world was an impoverished, pitifully narrow peninsula and Butlers reflected that, concentrating just on Bordeaux, Germany and the occasional bottle of Tokai. I know, because I was there.

Nonetheless, Butlers was pioneering. Geoffrey Butler, founder of the Sussex Wine Appreciation Society no less, needed a space from which he could sell wines and found a little corner shop in Queen’s Park Road which was cheap to rent and had a large basement to store stock.

And the shop is still there. The neighbouring shops have all gone, so in obscure isolation this trailblazing wine business (small, but with a big reputation), stands as a beacon of brilliance in a gastronomic desert. “We are a destination shop,” explains Henry Butler who is now in charge. “Free parking, complimentary dog biscuits...”. People visit from far and wide and shop from all over the country – an order for the Isle of Mull was being packaged when I was there.

The range now extends to 2,500 wines. If you visit, wear a coat, because the shop is kept at cellar temperature. There’s no heating and there never has been. Friday’s a good day to choose, by the way, as there’s always something interesting open for customers to taste. There are racks all around the walls of the shop, but on the floor in the middle are boxes and boxes of wines all at under £10 (the most affordable is only £5.99). Butlers is part of a group of independent wine businesses who use their collective clout to drive bargains with wine suppliers. And in the racks are gems such as Peter Michael’s pinot noir from Sonoma Coast at £95, and wines with helter skelter price tags such as Chateaux Mouton Rothschild. It is an unusual, eclectic and exciting mix.

Henry is innovative and trend-setting. As many wine enthusiasts weary of wines with liver-shrivelling levels of alcohol, he’s discovering more lissom delights such as an unusual vinho verde, Raza 2014 (£8.99) at 11.5%, with its slight petillance, blossomy in character and faintly evocative of sugared almonds (though dry). Henry and I share a great enthusiasm for Portugal, home to many of Europe’s hidden treasures. And Austria too – another of our mutual passions. His Johanneshof Reinish Rotgipfler 2014 at 12.5% alcohol (£15.49) was a big surprise: it has the weight and mouthfeel of chardonnay, but is totally original with a petally floral quality and a delightful zip of fresh acidity. Totally delicious.

There’s now another branch of Butlers in Brighton too at St George’s Road, Kemptown and Butlers has a half share in the wine bar/shop Fourth and Church in Hove.

www.jillygoolden.com

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