This month’s article is wholly inspired by one man and an off-the-cuff comment at a wine tasting a couple of months ago. That man is Gareth Maxwell, self-titled Chief Hustler at the eponymous House of Maxwell. You cannot miss Gareth – he is an extremely snappy dresser. In fact, he pushes his look all the way to the edge, just stopping short of what one might call bespoke urban dandy, and he does it with genuine style and élan. He let me into a secret, which sits on this double page spread.

It is a wine that has been pushed all the way to the edge, just stopping short of what? I don’t know because this wine has not been made before. I have called this month’s column ’a design for life’. This is, of course, shameless pilfering from one of the greatest rock bands of our time, the Manic Street Preachers. I love this tune, and I play it a lot. I imagine that Gareth does, too, because he lives life like a rock star, bringing his brand of anthemic design to every project he undertakes.

The heretics is his most recent conception, which has bolted way past the concept stage and now sits in a spectacularly beautiful and daringly designed bottle whose external packaging will read, ‘all the heroes of tomorrow are the heretics today’. This is incendiary stuff. It pushes our leaden-footed industry forward a decade in the blink of an eye.

It also made me think of a couple more wines and wineries with spectacularly eye-catching bottles and brands whose contents stand up to forensic scrutiny. It goes without saying that Gareth’s wine would not grace this hyper-critical collection if it didn’t add up from a vinous perspective. It does. And this makes his particular vinous assault on our business all the more relevant.

I have yet to meet Jimmy Hunter, Gareth’s partner in this project, but if his creative credentials are anything to go by, he is a font of all design knowledge – Nicky Wire to Maxwell’s James Dean Bradfield, if you will. So, enough about these brave souls. Let me entertain you with this month’s trio – great taste, epic design, and devastating vision make these and just a handful of others the leaders of the pack!

2023 the heretics, Pale Rosé


If you can take your eyes off the packaging for a moment, which is hard, I know, consider just how ballsy the contents of this bottle are!

This is an elite quality, 100% barrel-fermented Pinot Noir Rosé that tastes so invigorating and elemental that I nearly dropped my glass. What makes it even more credible is that five days later, with no preservation system whatsoever, it was still blossoming and shapeshifting in the glass.

This is not an easy wine to glug, nor is it meant to be. It is stunningly intense, bordering on the severe, and it will bring tears of both joy and, admittedly, some pain to everyone lucky enough to fall under its spell.

Delicately floral and dangerously raw, infinitesimally layered and fragilely crystalline, unnervingly stern and fleetingly exotic, this is a kaleidoscopically fascinating wine, and the finish alone takes you into next week. It probably won’t be at its peak for a couple of years, but that won’t stop like-minded heretics from plundering its contents on release.

I commend this wine to you. It is the most shocking and convincing debut launch of any English wine in my entire wine career.

2018 Sugrue South Downs, Rosé Ex Machina



Ex Machina now slumbers in a gorgeous dark green bottle. I nearly did a backflip when I saw it.

I have been moaning about my hatred of clear glass bottles for decades and there are only a couple left to convert. That said, the augmented packaging and labels on Dermot and Ana’s range of wines are jaw-droppingly elegant. It’s strange because I feel that each label now ‘tastes’ like the wine inside the bottle – is this just me?

2018 Ex Machina is a shimmeringly beautiful 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Meunier and 10% Chardonnay blend with a 20% Pinot Noir red wine addition drawn from the Coldharbour Vineyard in West Sussex.

Dermot imbues a sense of occasion in his wines, matched only by the glorious vivacity in the glass. He wants you to work as hard as he has done, so the ride is not always straightforward. For example, I cannot imagine drinking a bottle in a park, and I am sure that the stern acid would make many blush.

This is wine design at its apogee, with a stern, genuinely pink palate standing tall under an expansive perfume. The finish rolls on for minutes, hoovering up moisture on your palate and planting wild strawberry plants in every empty taste bud. I love it!

2022 Gusbourne, Guinevere Chardonnay

£40 Gusbourne Cellar Door and Nest members

If you want to line up a range of wines and then marvel at their uniqueness, apparent simplicity, and jaw-droppingly beautiful design, the Gusbourne range is the one to choose.

Timeless, elegant, and yet loaded with gravitas, these wines taste as incredible as they look. The current flight of new releases is tremendous, led by Guinevere’s extraordinary class and breeding.

This wine has long been the standard bearer for English Chardonnay, and even though new creations flood my tasting table, none come close.

2022 Pinot Noir (£40) shows trademark, smoky, hedgerow notes, with autumn leaves and lip-smacking red cherry bitterness. It’s lean, mineral-soaked, active and erudite. 2022 Pinot Meunier Mill Hill East Single Vineyard (£35) is a ripper with mulberries, blood and beetroot in enchanting harmony hints, and it reminds me of an unhinged Freisa with a rakish finish and accompanying rose petals and moments of Turkish Delight. Finally, 2019 Blanc de Blancs (£65) is as elegant and distinguished as any English Chardonnay, and this vintage is sleek, cool, ripe and flirtatiously forward behind the formal façade! As the back label notes, Gusbourne is on a continuing quest for perfection. It feels like it is nearing this destination.