Monday, 19 December 2016

The Greatest Wine Bar in Town?

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created

Seasonal words, appropriately after a seasonal drink – a schooner of a very dark and rich Madeira. Why the reference to the carol? Gordon’s Wine Bar (London’s oldest wine bar, established 1890) is more like a progeny that has grown and developed, and less like an entity created by design. Situated on Villiers Street on the way down from Charing Cross railway station to Embankment tube station, one could easily miss the (now disused) somewhat tatty brown door, which until relatively recently opened to a downward leading staircase. Access now is via an alley to the side, which is also home to a file of outdoor seating.

The bar itself is dark, dingy, cramped, musty and usually extremely busy. Sound enticing? I didn’t think so. But think of being near the front of a rock concert. How would you describe that? Probably in adjectives that would make it sound like the seventh level of Hell, yet many, many people pawn their grandparents just to achieve such a thing. It’s down to the uniqueness of what’s on offer, the artistic ambience and the X-Factor, which cannot easily be defined and which is so eagerly sought by talentless buffoons for our amusement (or, more likely, avoidance) on Saturday nights.

As previously hinted, Gordon’s has this X-Factor. You can’t set out to assemble it from an identikit construction kit. You can’t buy it in and you can’t fake it. This is something that has matured over the last 126 years, rounding off the tannins and mellowing the sharpness, and yes, there is bricking around the edges. In every sense. In a building that has known occupants including Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling, the odd ooze of charisma should not be unexpected. The fact the current owner (Mr Gordon) is unrelated to its founder (also Mr Gordon) is just a pleasing twist and a reminder that there is a titbit of interest around every corner, and corners there are aplenty.

At least part of the reason for the success of this place must be that they have stuck to their guns. The only drink they sell is wine, including fortified varieties. No selling out to meet the latest here today, gone tomorrow fad, just a steadfast commitment to what they know best. So come prepared, come quickly, and, definitely do, come all ye faithful.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Tesco Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a lesson in humility

Remember the slightly awkward kid at school who was actually very good at sport, the scruff who seemed to somehow get all the girls or the party animal who, to the shock of everyone, aced all his exams? You probably do – perhaps you even were one of these ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ characters. We’ve all heard the expression, and no doubt disregarded it from time to time, resulting in a slightly awkward back-tracking not too long afterwards. Life is full of little lessons like this, lessons which have to be relearnt with sometimes alarming regularity.

I’ve already discussed one supermarket wine – Sainsbury’s Grenache Rosé – and how impressed I was with its overall presence and its ability to complement one of my home-brewed Indian feasts. Yet I managed to catch myself out again! Tesco Châteauneuf-du-Pape this time, the 2012 vintage; a snip at £10 per bottle. Clearly this wasn’t the bargain basement end of the wine shelf, so I would have been extremely surprised if it drank like rancid strainings, but Mr Tesco, you’ve surpassed yourself with this selection. Pierre Martin, the producer has obviously found the Holy Grail of quality at sensible production costs, despite using what we are told are traditional methods. Beautiful is not a bad word to describe this wine. Perhaps not the most effective word for conveying the Middle-Eastern spices, the body, the fruitiness and the finish, or even the delightful nose of stewing rhubarb, but an efficacious word nonetheless. This wine is beautiful.

Why do we so often make the wrong assumptions based on appearances? Conditioning, prejudice, experience and many other reasons I’m sure, but we need to challenge these preconceptions occasionally and watch the spindly boy score the try, then do it again just to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. This wine is just that, causing the raising of that single eyebrow, Roger Moore style, as its full-bodied rubiness caresses your taste buds.

Friday, 2 December 2016

California Rosé Winemakers Selection Grenache 2012

Some things just feel right, despite appearances to the contrary; that slightly tatty, war-torn and threadbare armchair that just doesn’t fit in with any design scheme yet you couldn’t live without it, the comfortable yet scruffy overcoat that your wife can’t abide or the slightly daft mug you use in the office that your child bought you as a gift. It’s not essential for things to feel right, or for them to adhere to social conventions. Sometimes they just work.

I’d never really thought of trying a rosé wine with a curry before – this particular Indian feast was home-made, right down to roasting and grinding the spices in exquisitely perfect proportions. Or at least in the proportions that were available at the time of roasting and grinding, anyway. Not a particularly hot curry; the need for others to be able to eat it was given due consideration and heat was kept at a crowd-pleasingly moderate level. So here we were – a rosé chilling in the fridge and a curry being served. Why not? Life is for new discoveries, venturing out of the rut even crossing Rubicons from time to time. Although comparing the trying of a new wine pairing to Julius Caesar’s army committing mass insurrection may trivialise major historic events, to me at least this was a pretty major departure.

Sainsbury’s Californian Rosé, made from the Grenache grape (best known for Southern Rhône wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape), proved to be a real eye-opener. It is beautifully plummy, rich in fruitiness and berry flavours. It’s slightly sweet, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but trust me, this worked well with a bitter Indian dish. Quite a lot like a mango chutney or similar in fact. This wine is that well-loved item that sticks out as not quite belonging, yet you know that it is perfect at a time when little else will do. The chair, the overcoat or the mug; eyebrows may occasionally be raised but you just won’t care as your happiness has already been assured.

Buy this wine