Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Domaine Bernhard & Reibel Sylvaner 2010

If I told you the grape variety that had made the most impression on me during last year's trip to Alsace was sylvaner you'd probably say I was nuts. Maybe, but it struck me as crazy that Alsace producers don't do more to promote their perfect introductory wine, a variety that they could call their own. It could be Alsace's answer to grüner veltliner.

The very charming PR for the CIVA, Foulques Aulagnon obviously thought I was slightly bonkers too but indulged my eccentricity by sending me a case of six sylvaners to try at the end of last year. Most have been enjoyable but the one we had last night from Domaine Bernhard & Reibel was in a different league - a crisp, fruity wine with a lovely lingering minerality.

I have to admit it gave me no small pleasure to discover the domaine was certified organic and follows biodynamic practices.

It's an indication of how little people rate sylvaner that you can't find it in the UK but only the domaine's riesling (from Stone, Vine & Sun). Maybe - who knows - this will make SVS think about bringing over a bit of sylvaner too. It's the perfect summer aperitif and great with delicately spiced food.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Real wine vs RAW wine

Those of you who attended the UK’s first natural wine fair last May might have spotted that this year there are not one but two events: RAW, aka the Artisan Wine Fair fronted by MW Isabelle Legeron and The Real Wine Fair which is being co-ordinated by the UK’s largest natural wine importer Les Caves de Pyrène.

Both parties are taking care not to slag each other off but the truth appears to be that a messy divorce has taken place due to the main protagonists inability to work together.

Legeron who styles herself That Crazy Frenchwoman maintains that hers is the real successor to the Natural Wine Fair (though both parties have agreed not to use the N word) in that it’s independent of any importers and open to producers who are not represented in the UK. She also claims that her conditions for entry are more transparent. As well as meeting a number of conditions (e.g. no fining, no filtering, only natural yeasts) exhibitors must indicate how much sulphur, if any has been added in their wines. She has also succeeded in getting the backing of two European bodies, La Renaissance des Appellations and Vin Natur.

Douglas Wregg the front man for Les Caves suggests that because consumers will be able to buy wine, their event is more consumer friendly (though Legeron counters that her fair will have a pop-up wine shop too). He also points out that because it is funded by the importers (several other leading wine retailers and distributors such as Vine Trail, Indigo Wines and Roberson are involved) it’s free to producers and that they take a less draconian line than RAW about the wines that can be submitted.

Given that event will take place over the same May weekend (20th/21st although the Real Wine Fair goes on for a third day) the situation must be pretty confusing for the natural winemakers out there. Which do they attend? Les Caves de Pyrène can presumably pull rank with their producers and members of Renaissance and VinNatur will, I imagine, throw their lot in with Legeron but if a producer falls into both camps as I guess several will, which way will they jump?

In the end I suspect it will come down to who can win the public relations war. Legeron, an energetic self-publicist, has hit the ground running with a fully fledged website and Facebook page whereas The Real Wine Fair only has a holding page to date though they are apparently due to publish more details next week. They've also taken on one of London’s most journalist-friendly PR companies, R & R teamwork.

Given the intense rivalry between the two camps it should be a pretty good couple of days for natural winelovers in London. But feathers will be ruffled, mark my words.

The Real Wine Fair is taking place at B1, 6 Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4DA (nearest tube Holborn) and RAW at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane,
London E1 6QL

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Natural wine bar Artisan & Vine closes

Sad news today that one of London's best natural wine bars has closed its doors. Kathyrn O'Mara the owner of Artisan and Vine in Battersea attributes the situation to the recession. According to the wine industry magazine Harpers she said "Sticking to my principles on natural and local wines and food may have been what cost me my business, but changing to a more generic option would have cost us Artisan & Vine."

O'Mara a popular figure in the trade put a great deal into the business, attracting many of the top natural winemakers to her bar and restaurant. I went to a great dinner there with Sicilian winemaker Frank Cornelissen last year and the food (see above) was as good as the wine.

Ironically I was just thinking this week that the natural wine movement was flourishing despite criticism from leading industry figures such as Michel Chapoutier. Antidote just off Carnaby Street in the West End was packed when we ate there the other night and more and more conventional restaurants and merchants seem to be listing organic and biodynamic wines.

Maybe it was the location that did for Artisan & Vine but it can't have helped that the fashionable Soif, sister restaurant to Terroirs and Brawn opened up not that far away.

It's a real shame but I'm sure with her energy, drive and passion Kathryn will go on to do great things elsewhere.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why I can't write about the Raeburn tasting

Given I haven't posted for over a month I didn't intend to start with a rant but having been blackballed from the Raeburn Fine Wines tasting today I think the matter deserves an airing.

The problem appears to be a somewhat critical review I wrote of Hedone six months ago - the restaurant where the tasting was taking place. Having been urged to come along (and even bring a chef friend) I suddenly got a frantic email this morning asking me "not to attend today under any circumstances" as my presence "would probably result in a disagreement in public, which he [the presumably mortally wounded chef] and we would prefer to avoid."

There are several issues here:

* I would have been there to taste wine not to review the restaurant so it doesn't really matter what I thought of the food and the ambience.

* Why should the fact I've written a critical review result in a 'public disagreement'? I certainly wouldn't have mentioned it.

* In any case why should he care? I'm not a restaurant critic and there are plenty of critics and bloggers who think his restaurant is the bees knees. (And a few who agree with me.)

* Isn't this a bit of a slippery slope? If only people who write glowing reviews - of restaurants or wines - are allowed to tastings that seems to me a pretty unhealthy state of affairs. Granted if I incessantly went to Hedone and banged on about how awful it was the chef might reasonably ask me to leave. But just the one visit when I was by no means critical of all the food and said I should probably go back and eat there again? A bit extreme, surely?

OK. Let's look at it from Mikael's point of view. Some customer comes in, writes an unfavourable review and it's up there on the internet in perpetuity. He obviously cares passionately about what he does. But if it rankles that much (and I'm still at a loss to see why) why not simply get in touch and say 'you ought to take another look at what we do'.

Should I have turned up anyway? Well there's an argument for that but at the end of the day a restaurant is someone's private property. You can't insist on being admitted and Chiswick is a fair way to go on the off-chance.

The outcome is I've missed what by all accounts sounds a fascinating tasting featuring exactly the sort of wines that interest me most. I'm sure I'll write about them in the future - assuming I'm ever allowed to taste them. In the meantime I suggest both Raeburn and Hedone devote a little more attention to PR.