Thursday, September 29, 2011

Duck Soup, Soho: London's newest natural wine bar

The moment I heard that Duck Soup had a natural wine list I was in there. Two days after opening which was speedy, you have to admit.

Not that they bill themselves as a natural wine bar. In fact they told me they intended to list a few natural wines but as chef Julian Biggs (above) put it "once you start drinking natural wine you can't drink anything else."

It's a tiny no-reservations place with a few tables and a long bar, not unlike the hugely popular Spuntino. There's an interview here with Julian about their philosophy which is (sensibly) to create the kind of place they like to eat in themselves.

I like the way the menu's written on a scruffy piece of paper. I had a gorgeous umami-rich open sandwich topped with fresh girolles (rather than the advertised ceps), lardo and Berkswell cheese which went down nicely with a glass of Frantz Saumon Mineral +.

You can see some of their other wines on the handwritten board.

There was also an amazing earthenware pot of pappa al pomodoro which I got to taste as it cooled, drizzled with olive oil and topped with a couple of shavings of parmesan.

Apparently you can also bring along your own vinyl and they'll play it in the bar.

Another recent addition to the London natural wine scene is Antidote which has opened on the site of the former La Trouvaille in Newburgh Street just off Carnaby Street, under the same management, I think. My husband went along last night and said it was just like a Parisian natural wine bar.

He had some charcuterie and a couple of glasses of wine - La Grange Tiphaine, Bel Air Touraine Amboise and Chateau La Coste 2007, Version Nature, a Cab Merlot blend "not like Bordeaux, but with a southern warmth to it, reminiscent of Bandol". The winemaker is Mathieu Cosse of Cahors.

He was full of praise for the bar which I was slight miffed he managed to get to before me. Ah well, can't be everywhere . . .

Monday, September 26, 2011

The extremes of natural winemaking

One of the problems of talking about natural wine, as I've said before, is what exactly 'natural' means. Particularly when you have wines as disparate as these two.

On the one hand you have the simply sumptuous Burn Cottage Sauvage Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 (above, £28.50 Les Caves de Pyrène) which tastes exactly like any other Central Otago pinot noir but for, perhaps, an incredible purity of fruit that belies its biodynamic roots. I can't see anyone failing to be won over - unless, perhaps, they find New World wines like this just too opulent and scented. I'd love to taste it in 2-3 years time.

On the other Thierry Puzelat's Le Brin de Chèvre 2009 (£13.80 RS Wines, £13.99 Les Caves de Pyrène) which is one of the weirdest wines I've tasted for a while. When the bottle was first opened the nose was frankly appalling, smelling of shoe polish and slightly rotten fruit and that slightly cidery character that some natural wines get on the palate. We decanted it a couple of times and it improved marginally but took a couple of days to resemble anything vaguely drinkable.

It's possible that it hadn't been kept at a low enough temperature* but it's not the first time I've been underwhelmed by a Puzelat wine. You had to work hard at it to get anything out of it. We certainly wouldn't have served it to friends.

Your whole attitude towards natural wine could be formed by this experience. If the Brin de Chèvre, which is made from the little known Menu Pineau, was the first natural wine you tasted you'd probably never knowingly drink it again. If it was the Burn Cottage you'd never drink anything else but natural. (If you could afford to, that is . . . )

* It came direct from the importer Les Caves de Pyrène but had been hanging around, unrefrigerated, in our flat for a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good news and sad news

I can't claim to know much about US wine importer Joe Dressner who sadly died of cancer this week but I do know that he did almost more than anyone else to raise the profile of natural wines in the states.

There have been a number of fine tributes* by US wine writers and bloggers including this intensely personal post from Alice Feiring, and affectionate reminiscences from Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and Eric Asimov of the New York Times who also wrote a more formal obituary here. He sounded like quite a guy.

And the good news? That two natural wine champions were honoured in last night's Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards. Alice as Online Wine Writer of the Year for her posts on Alice Feiring and Max Allen for his marvellous book The Future Makers: Australian Wines for the 21st century which my husband is currently reading - and so am I when I can prise it away from him. Congratulations to both of them.

*there's also another eloquent one here on Wine Terroirs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Dirty Dozen: tasting of the year?

Wine tastings aren't half as much fun as they seem from the outside. They're usually huge, overheated, crowded and full of dull wines. Or, at least, most of them are dull.

The Dirty Dozen tasting was only guilty of one of those crimes - it was ridiculously cramped due, apparently, to the fact that the ceiling of the room it had been booked to take place in at the English Speaking Union had collapsed so it was held in a conservatory at the side whose wooden floor creaked ominously as the several hundred members of the press and wine trade milled around it.

The wines, however, were just thrilling. I started with a selection to which each merchant had contributed 2 bottles and there wasn't a dud one among them.

So who are the (surely misnamed) Dirty Dozen? A group of wine merchants who specialise in artisanal producers including a fair number of organic, biodynamic and natural winemakers. They included some familiar ones to me - Aubert & Mascoli (hardcore natural), Burgundy specialists Flint Wines, Indigo Wines (largely Spain) , London-based Roberson, Bristol-based Vine Trail (very well sourced wines from France) and German specialist The WineBarn, so having a limited amount of time I concentrated on a few I wasn't so familiar with.

The highlight was fortyfive10° which imports Italian wines from family-owned domains, the idea being to deal with estates that have form when it comes to winemaking. The owner Massimiliano Jacobacci states that he looks for "wines that express the history of a region through traditional wine making techniques as opposed to the current trend for wines of immediate accessibility at the expense of complexity and longevity." Or, as he put it to me more simply "We don't do entry level wines. I don't like them and I don't want to sell them."

So their wines obviously don't come cheap but if you want to be blown away dig deep in your pockets and buy a bottle of the stunning Sodi di San Niccolo from Chianti producer Castellare di Castellina, a beautifully crafted blend of Sangioveto and Malvasia Nera and one of the most delicious reds I've tasted this year. (My tasting note says 'heaven'!) The vintage I tried was the 2005 which doesn't seem to be in the market but you can find the 2004 from a wine and events company called A Moveable Feast in which Jacobacci also seems to be involved.

They (fortyfive10°) also supply a number of high profile London restaurants including Chez Bruce, The Ledbury, Polpo, Roka and the River Café.

Anyway I suggest you get yourself on the mailing list of all these importers and make sure, if you're in the trade, that you get to The Dirty Dozen tasting next year. Which I hope will be in a larger room.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saint-Véran and Syrah

We had friends over last night who are beginning to take an interest in natural wine so pulled out a couple of good bottles for them.

First off a Saint-Véran La Barnaudière 2007 (above) from Arnaud Combier who we visited in Burgundy roughly this time last year. It has that lovely pure acidity and minerality you get in natural wine, not unlike a premier cru Chablis, despite being so much further south in the Maçonnais. We drank it with a pasta bake made with ceps we brought back from the Auvergne and it was perfect.

Then a 2009 Syrah Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche from Hervé Souhaut we picked up from Chais Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. Souhaut, a bit of a cult winemaker whose wines we've been meaning to try for some time, worked with Dard et Ribo but now makes his own wine at Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in Arlebosc in the Ardèche.

Although just 12.19% (I love the ironic precision of that ABV) it was full of flavour with the violetty, smoky character that makes young syrah so seductive. And that syrah pepperiness of course.

Great bottles to convince someone why natural wine is worth drinking. And frankly, pure pleasure for us to drink too.

Both producers are stocked by Les Caves de Pyrène.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loirette blonde: a natural beer

One of the many appealing things about the Auberge de Chassignolles, about which I've been raving recently, is the fact that they stock a really good beer, alongside their natural wines - the Loirette Blonde from Brasserie de la Pigeonelle in Touraine.

According to the label it's made from organic ingredients, unfiltered and unpasteurised without any additives although I see it does contain sugar.

That makes it taste quite sweet though not nearly as sweet as Leffe, say. And oddly the 75cl bottle isn't as rich as the 33cl one though there is some variation between bottles. (Yes, I tried a number of them.) There's also something of a wheat beer about it though it's made from malted barley.

Apparently it's the favourite beer of the Loire's natural winemakers which I suppose makes it a natural beer. Anyway, it's delicious - look out for it.