The first Wine Pairing Weekend of 2016 is about trying new things. Right up my alley, as they say, since if anything I can be markedly experimental when it comes to food and wine, with predictably sundry results of course. But, hey, it is a New Year, so I start from a clean slate.

The final season of Downton Abbey weighs heavily on my thoughts these days. So I decided to go with an English theme for this week’s Wine Pairing Weekend. Last year I noticed a surge in wine articles about English wines. In June 2015, I was sent a video about Steven Spurrier’s new vineyard venture in England, called Bride Valley, and tried to track down his sparkling wine to no avail. And just this December, Taittinger announced its intention to produce sparkling wine in England under the estate name Domaine Evremond, the first French champagne house to do so. But don’t hold your palate since the first vintage from Domaine Evremond won’t be until 2021. Nevertheless, it is time to pay attention to today’s English sparkling wines and just hope to be around for comparison when Taittinger releases its first English grown and produced sparkling wine.

Gusbourne Sparkling Wine

2008 Gusbourne Sparkling Wine

I was able to locate two English sparkling wine labels at K & L Wine Merchant during my last visit. One is Gusbourne Estate, an award winning sparkling wine producer since its first vintages were released in 2010 from vineyards planted in 2004 in Appledore, Kent. They follow the traditional method of making sparkling wine, with additional aging on the lees as in Champagne. The 2008 Gusbourne Brut Reserve is a blend of 37% pinot noir, 36% chardonnay, and 27% pinot meunier and was aged 39 months on the lees.* I got hits of hazelnut, toast – brioche, tangerine, peach and pear. The bubbles were tiny and the color a pale gold. The ABV is 12%. It paired delightfully with my rendition of Mussels with Leek and Pancetta, and also served admirably for quaffing on its own. Retail is $29.99 at K & L Wine Merchant. I was very impressed with this sparkling wine and will order more when it is back in stock.

2008 Gusbourne Sparkling Wine with Mussels, Leeks & Pancetta

2008 Gusbourne Sparkling Wine with Mussels, Leeks & Pancetta

I have made Mussels with Leek and Pancetta a few times and love how the flavors meld together. The mussels are cooked in hard cider with leeks, pancetta, Dijon mustard, and a little cream. This dish is easy to make and adapt to ingredients on hand. It’s light, but satiating. There is always something comforting about a bowl of steaming mussels, a crusty loaf of bread, and an appropriate libation. A few guidelines when serving mussels: 1 pound person; don’t eat mussels that do not open; and the mussel shell can be used as a dining utensil – no forks necessary.

Mussel as a utensil

Using the mussel as a utensil

This combination of mussels and English sparkling wine is definitely a Downton Abbey to do! And if Lord Crawley had shown sufficient foresight to embrace growing Champagne grapes on his property, he would have served his own sparkling wine rather than Veuve Cliquot to celebrate Anna and John’s freedom from the horrible Green affair.

*(For an excellent explanation of lees and its effect on sparkling and other wines, see the article published by Sally Easton on October 22, 2009 at

Make 2016 your year to try new wines. The Wine Pairing Weekend Group has a few new wine explorations to get you started, make sure to check out their posts:


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Mussells with Leeks & Pancetta
Prep time

Cook time

Total time


Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: English
Serves: 2

  • 2 pounds of mussels
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces chopped pancetta
  • 2 small leeks, halved and slivered
  • 6 fresh thyme stalks – can use whole or just leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup hard cider
  • 1 tablespoon grain Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh chopped parsley for garnish

  1. Scrub the mussels and remove any beards that are attached to the shells. Discard any open mussels that don’t close when given a sharp tap.
  2. Place a large saucepan or braising pan over medium heat and melt the butter into the olive oil. When this mixture is foaming add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in leek, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for 3 minutes more until the leek softens.
  3. Turn the heat up to high, pour in the cider and bring to a boil. Add the mustard and stir. Add mussels and cover the pan with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes, giving the pan a good shake a couple times. When most of the mussels are open, stir in the cream. and season with salt & pepper.
  4. Place in a deep dish bowl with the mussels and the cooking liquid. Accompany with frites or a crusty loaf of bread.