What's New at artisan & vine?

This blog site includes news on latest wines, food, events, offers and happenings at artisan & vine. It also includes stories of my wine adventures in and outside the bar, wine facts and wine profiles.

Friday, 17 September 2010

St John's Hill Festival - What a Day!

What a cracking day we had last Sunday on St John’s Hill! The weather could not have been better and the neighbourhood spirit in full force reminded me a thousand times over how lucky we are to be a part of the St John’s Hill community.

The Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Piers McCausland (pictured above) said: “It is heartening to have this newborn event, pulsing with ‘can do’ and fun at such a strategic location within the local community.” Of course, Piers came by Artisan & Vine to say hello and congratulate us on Artisan & Vine’s recent International Wine Challenge (IWC) award.

Jane Ellison, MP for Battersea also came by Artisan & Vine with some friends to enjoy a bottle of Camel Valley Sparkling Brut, which of course was a massive hit! English sparkling wine continues to be the drink of choice on a sunny day on St John’s Hill!
Images: Top: artisan & vine on festival day, almost all of our seats and tables were outside! Middle: Wandsworth Mayor Piers McCausland (right) and I with the IWC Trophy.

Friday, 10 September 2010

We won the International Wine Challenge Small Independent Merchant of the Year Award!

Last Tuesday Artisan & Vine won the International Wine Challenge (IWC) Award for Small Independent Merchant of the Year. The IWC is the world’s most prestigious and influential wine awards and winemakers and retailers celebrated alike as they received the industry’s highest accolades at the ceremony which took place at the Hilton, Park Lane in London.

Other award winners included Marks & Spencer for Supermarket of the Year, Sainbury's for Environmental Initiative of the Year, and Majestic Wine Warehouses for High Street Chain of the Year.

Artisan & Vine were also shortlisted for English Wine Specialist of the Year, which was won by Waitrose, and Innovator of the Year.

Click here to see the full list of Merchant Award Winners at the International Wine Challenge.

Image: me receiving the incredible trophy from Tim Atkin MW.

Friday, 3 September 2010

St John’s Hill Community Raffle

Hurrah next Sunday, 12 September, is the St John’s Hill Street Festival! A brilliant day out with a surprising amount of things to do. At artisan & vine we’re setting up a whole wine making simulation, complete with the opportunity for you to foot press your own grapes :)

We’re also doing a St John’s Hill Community Raffle. The prize will be drawn on the festival day, 12 September at 4pm outside of the Beehive Pub. All of the businesses on the street will be selling raffle tickets from now up until the draw.

There are around 20 prizes, all donated from businesses on the street including: Helicopter ride around London for 4 people, multi course meals at various St John’s Hill restaurants, beauty treatments and vouchers, wine tasting sessions (at artisan & vine) and more! Tickets are only £1 each and all proceeds go to the St John’s Hill Community Project, aimed at maintaining and enhancing safety, aesthetics and spirit of St John’s Hill.

Click here for more information.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Now open for lunch, leaf teas and espresso coffees!

I have loved sleeping in these last two years, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, since French Head Chef Jeremie took over our kitchen in March this year, I’ve been getting more and more requests for us to do a lunch as well as dinner service. So, roll on the day time opening…
As of next week, 31 August, we’ll be serving lunch, from £5, Tuesday – Sunday, 12noon – 3pm, at artisan & vine. Here’s what’s cooking:

Mussels in a white wine sauceSalad Lyonnaise: poached egg, bacon, croutons
Omelette – with ham, cheese and/or mushroom with a side salad
Tomato, mozarella and pesto on toasted ciabatta with a side salad (V)
Goats cheese tart with French dressed salad (V)
Dolcelatté stuffed mushrooms with garlic mayonnaise (V)
Croque monsieur – cheddar, béchamel and ham with a side salad
Smooth chicken liver pate with toasted bread with a side salad Bruscetta with fresh tomato, basil with a side salad (V)
Plus daily specials

10oz gourmet beef burger
Classic chicken Caesar salad
Salmon fishcake with poached egg, hollandaise sauce & side salad
Seasoned lamb kofta with tzatzki, pita bread and side salad
Vegetable pasta with creamy tomato sauce

Our full dinner, snacks and sweets menus will also be available during lunch time opening hours.

Our new lunch menu and day time opening hours bring with them the need for some exciting new non-alcoholic beverages at artisan & vine.

Firstly, we’re finally getting that espresso machine in. You’ll soon be able to drink fresh Illy cappuccinos, lattes and espressos in our comfy sofas with great music.

Secondly, having conducted some extensive taste testing we’ve selected some gorgeous, natural leaf teas that we’ll now be serving at artisan & vine. The black tea I’ve selected is from one of the last few tea gardens in Kenya to produce leaf teas (others supply teabags grades). Our chai whole leaf tea is infused with cinnamon, aniseed, ginger, black pepper, cloves, chicory roots, cardamom seeds and cardamom pods. We have whole leaf earl grey and peppermint, as well as a special balancing infusion made of cinnamon pieces, cardamom, liquorice roots, coriander, fennel, ginger roots, and rose petals. Your favourite leaf tea will be served with an individual filter (pictured), for you to control exactly how much infusion you’d like.Of course our new teas and coffees will be available whenever we’re open, so are also perfect for a relaxing evening out.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Screw vs Cork

Frustratingly, I recently opened a bottle of Le Grand Prebois Blanc, and it was faulty. Instead of smelling like peaches, almonds and marzipan, it smelt much like dirty wet socks. The surprising thing about this was: Le Grand Prebois Blanc is sealed by a screw cap, shouldn’t it be more immune to bottle faults?

Wines stoppered under screw caps will not be “corked”, that musty effect that occurs when chlorine, mould and cork meet to ruin an otherwise lovely beverage. Screw caps have their own, if less common, flaws. Because screw caps offer a tighter closure than cork, there is a greater chance of a wine being “reduced”, ie, not having enough oxygen in the bottle. A reduced wine can smell of cabbage or rubber, not great for enjoying!

That said, there have been enough studies now that seem to point to screw caps as a superior preservative of wine, both over time and as a resistance to shorter term faults (see Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak site for more). On account of the newness of screw caps, we don’t have anything other than laboratory simulation of very long term bottle ageing under caps, though premium wine producers like Bonny Doon in California are optimistic and pleased with early results.

The largest complaints against screw caps seem to be customer perception, followed by adherence to tradition. Personally, I’d rather increase the chances that my wine comes without stopper fault, and to that end my preference must be for screw caps. In the least case, it is worth noting that, increasingly, screw caps are not necessarily a sign of a lower quality wine.

Friday, 13 August 2010

St John's Hill Festival 2010

After last year’s massively successful street festival, the community on St John’s Hill has got together to build an even bigger event this year. Even if you don’t live local, make the trip over to the Hill: it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a traditional village fair in London.

Here are a few of the things going on:
· Live music at the BeeHive pub and a Real Ale festival, which will be running in the pub throughout the weekend
· Children's pizza making classes at Tutti Tucci
· Wine making workshop at Artisan & Vine
· The Gold Fish Gala at the Fish Club
· Village Stocks at Potter Perrin
· Books and prints at Regent House Gallery
· BBQ at YumYum and ACE Fusion
· Instant, outdoor spray tans at Facial Attraction
· 'Guess the weight of the Cake' at Lollipop
· Launch of the "Blow Bar" at Alan Foster's hair salon
· The Human Fruit machine at Admiral Carpets
· Face painting at Doodlebug
· A troupe of stilt walking characters
· Huge selection of fresh food & drinks from cuisines around the world, provided by the delicious collection of eateries on the hill.

We also have St John's Hill Festival Raffle - the list of prizes is enormous and tickets are just £1 each - buy yours at any of the shops and businesses on the Hill, in the weeks running up to the festival and on the day itself. Full list of prizes will be published HERE and the draw will take place at 4pm on the festival day, outside the Beehive pub.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

July’s 3 Most Interesting Wine Stories

As August 2010 launches into our lives, I thought it worth a little look back at July 2010. Here are what I reckon are the 3 most interesting wine stories for last month:

1. A Spanish ice wine was given official Denominacions (DO) status for the first time ever. This is particularly scandalous because it is the first European ice wine to allow artificial freezing of grapes. The traditional ice wine regions – Germany, Austria and Canada – only allow natural freezing of grapes on the vines. As you may guess, artisan & vine will be boycotting artificied Spanish ice wine.

2. Automated wine dispensers launched in the US. Brilliant. A vending machine for wine in a supermarket. You need to insert an age ID card and pass the breathalyzer installed on the machine then push a button.

3. Momentum grows for “Vins de France”, an alternative to the arguably outdated French appellation controllee (AOC) system. Vins de France will allow wines to be blended across regions for “more consistent” flavours. The wines will be labelled by grape variety, to compete with New World wines. This is the opposite of creating wines with a sense of place; register Boycott #2 for artisan & vine this month.

Image: amidst news stories and innovations, wine at it's best continues to originate from simple, healthy grape vines.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Our 2 Year Birthday Party!

Tonight is our big 2 Year Birthday party, to which all of our regulars and enthusiasts are invited!
Celebrations will start as soon as we open, at 6pm and continue on till late.
As a thank you for all of your support, we’ll be giving you 2 free glasses of wine on the night. Friends of artisan & vine need only show your membership card on the night. For all others on this mailing list, please print out the voucher attached here and bring it along to redeem your two free drinks on the night.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

International Wine Challenge Merchant Awards

This is really exciting. artisan & vine has been shortlisted for three incredible awards in the 2010 International Wine Challenge Merchant Awards. artisan & vine has been nominated for:
· Small Independent Merchant of the Year;
· Innovator of the Year; and,
· Specialist Merchant of the Year - English Wine,
I’m so stoked for us simply to be shortlisted for the awards. We find out winners in September. Thanks to all of you for your support and enthusiasm over the past 2 years that has made us the sort of place so many people enjoy great wine at.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cocktails are here!

I did a lot of soul searching about this. Should a specialist wine bar sell cocktails?
Do the cocktails interfere with the wine? No
Do the cocktails prevent people from experiencing our wines? No
Do I have any moral or philosophical objection to cocktails? Not at all!
Does having cocktails on our menu open up a whole new way for people to enjoy the atmosphere and ambience of artisan & vine? Yes
Well let's do it then!
We're starting small... to make certain we can get it right, I think there are few things worse than a badly made cocktail and few things better than a well made one!

Here's our list:

Bloody Mary, Classic Champagne Cocktail, Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Pimms Cocktail

Long Island Iced Tea, Melon Ball, Pimms Cocktail, Pomegranate Margarita, Woo Woo

We look forward to seeing you for an ice cold refreshing cocktail at artisan & vine soon!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Chateau La Coste Rose 2008

My choice of wine on my sunny day off yesterday? Bellugue, Coteaux d'aix en Provence
from Chateau La Coste. A pleasing blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 20% Cabernet.

This is a gorgeous, delicate rose wine. Provence is famous for rose wines for a reason: this wine demonstrates exactly what that is. Forget ideas of sweetness or elementary flavours; this wine is as divine as any high end white – a triumph in natural wine making.

I first tasted Bellugue at Chateau La Coste, with wine maker Mattheiu Cosse. It's a fairy tale landscape, with the most modern and sophisticated winery I've ever seen on a natural vineyard.

You can buy it, with all of our other wines, on the artisan & vine online shop. This classic Provence rose sells on artisan & vine online for £17.90.

Image: me at Chateau La Coste, with my first wonderful encounter with Bellugue

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Kaitlyn and the Magic Bottles (or, Why I opened London’s first natural wine bar and shop)

[This story is a post I wrote for the 32 Natural Days of Wine series ]

Kaitlyn was lucky to live in a city where magic bottles were shipped in from places as far as Australia and as foreign as France. Although she was a curious girl, she'd left it until the very day on which this story begins to first taste wine. Kaitlyn knew from her dictionary that wine was “an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice”, which pleased her because it sounded like a healthy fruit-based way to consume alcohol.

Kaitlyn was curious but not rash and was nervous about spending too much money on something she might not like. So she bought three bottles of wine for £10 and went home. To her dismay the three bottles all tasted very much the same despite their different origins. “Why write the name of a place on a bottle if what is inside doesn’t give a sense of that place?” Kaitlyn wondered in frustration.

For thirty two times thirty two days following Kaitlyn drank only cocktails or alcho-pops – which also came in magic looking bottles – whenever she wanted a magic drink. At least these drinks described what flavours they were meant to have, rather than listing different countries or regions on a bottle while tasting very non-different inside.

One day more than that, Kaitlyn was walking down the street and up a hill when a terrible storm broke out. She ran for cover into what she quickly realised was another of these wine shops. “Oh drat and bother” she frowned.

The wall of the wine shop was lined with one hundred different bottles and on the counter sat two fishbowls. A silver herring swam around the fishbowl on the left and a red herring swam around the fishbowl on the right.

“But there’s no such thing as a red herring” Kaitlyn petitioned, wondering if the world of wine could seem any more implausible.
“There’s no such thing as talking herring either” the Silver Herring replied, “but here you have both”

The little wine shop Kaitlyn entered. Images of the herrings are absent because the talking herrings are not real.

“Would you like to try my wine?” cooed the Red Herring
“Or would you like to try my wine?” perked the Silver Herring
Kaitlyn yearned for a cocktail bar where good looking people rather than talking non-existent fish might serve her.
She looked at the bottles lined up behind the Silver Herring.
“Contadino?” questioned Kaitlyn, reading the label of an odd clear bottle with an even odder bright red liquid inside.
“It means ‘farmer’ in Italian” said the Silver Herring “It’s from a grape farm on the slopes of Mt Etna in Sicily”
Kaitlyn opened the bottle and took a drink of the Contadino.

Instantly Kaitlyn was transported to Mt Etna. She appeared to be in the grassy backyard of someone’s home. The sky was dark and the air had a slight chill to it. In front of her were nearly a dozen large plastic tubs with bright red grapes bobbing inside.

“Ciao!” beamed a bearded man with electric eyes, emerging from his home behind her “I’m Frank Cornelissen, welcome to my winery!”

I, Kathryn, stand in for Kaitlyn in photos with wine makers because she is not real. Here Frank Cornelissen shows me his fabulous grapes fermenting in giant plastic tubs.

“A winery?” questioned Kaitlyn, looking around the backyard.
“Yes! This is where we take those beautiful Mt Etna grapes and ferment them to create wine!” He scooped a wine glass into the vibrant plastic tub and handed it to Kaitlyn to taste, “Try some!”

Kaitlyn swished the wine around her mouth and tried to describe what she tasted, “intense red berry flavours, something minerally, like the wine was sprung from stone."
"Hardened magma to be precise" Frank smiled, “you taste that I’ve added nothing to the wine – this is 100% pure Mt Etna fruit”
It tasted delicious and not at all like those wines she’d had thirty two times thirty two days earlier.
Before she knew it, Kaitlyn had drunk all of the wine in her glass and was transported back to the wine shop.

Curiosity overcame confusion. She looked at the wines behind the Red Herring. Rather than describing a specific address or village, the Red Herring’s wines described large regions like ‘Central Valley’.

“Surely a wine made from a wider region must encompass even more flavours!” Kaitlyn remarked and eagerly took a drink from one of the Red Herring’s wines.

Again, she was instantly transported, this time, to what seemed like a factory. She gazed up at a massive steel tank that towered above her.

A winery I went to with tanks that dwarf people. This is not the worst thing that can happen to a person but dwarfing is not generally considered to be favourable.

"Where are we?" she asked the tidily dressed man standing beside her.
"In the winery" he replied, looking up from his clipboard.
Kaitlyn looked around her, seeking clues of where in the world she was. "Where are the grapes from?"
"All over” the winery man smiled proudly, "It doesn’t matter too much, we have the technology to acidify, de-acidify, chapetalise, micro-oxidise or extract as required."
Kaitlyn reflected on the dictionary definition of wine and her only other winery experience, “Don’t you only need to leave grapes bobbing in their juices to ferment and make wine?”
“Well you could – but that’s quite risky!” laughed the man, as if Kaitlyn had suggested something completely ludicrous, “Using modern technology we can produce consistent flavours, for a competitive price, on a mass-scale, year after year.”
Kaitlyn tasted the wine, “it tastes very woody”, she said hesitantly; confused about how something that comes from fruit, in a room full of steel, could taste like wood.
“Yes. For this wine we added tannin syrup and woodchips. This way we can make a very young wine taste like a great aged wine without the cost of oak aging or risky grape ripening.” The winery man explained enthusiastically.
Kaitlyn didn’t much like this additive-laden wine. She poured the drink out on to the sterile winery floor and was transported again back to the little wine shop.

She looked at the wines behind the Silver Herring and the Red Herring and blinked. There was nothing obvious to distinguish the two groups of wines.
“All wines are ‘made’, Kaitlyn. There is no wine plant, there are only grape vines.” Said the Silver Herring, “the difference is whether a wine tastes like it comes from somewhere or something.”
Kaitlyn felt betrayed and confused, “These manufactured wines seem to have more in common with my alcho-pops than fermented grape juice.”
“And they can be priced as good as alcho-pops too!” chirped the Red Herring
“I don’t know.” Kaitlyn said, remaining curious but not rash, “Let me try again”, Kaitlyn reached for another bottle behind the Silver Herring and took a sip.

Instantly she was transported to a beautiful sun kissed field. She could smell lavender and thyme and hear bees buzzing and birds singing. Ahead of her lay a vineyard, and beside it, a lovely two storey house, upon the balcony of which stood a man, singing out to his vines:
“I love you! I love you all!” he was saying to his vines. Kaitlyn walked to below the balcony.
“Bonjour!” the man gave a lively smile, “I’m Henri Milan, welcome to my beautiful vineyards of St Remy de Provence!”
Henri came downstairs and took her out amongst the vines. There were a wide range of colourful plants and insects living in the vineyard.

I stand in for Kaitlyn again, with Henri Milan, showing me is fantastically healthy biodynamic vineyard in Provence.

“The vines cannot live alone. They are part of an ecosystem, with lots of other plants and animals, they keep each other strong.” explained Henri “The flavour in the wines comes from the life in the vineyard and the soils. Because everything in the vineyard is natural, I make minimal intervention in the winery. What you taste is 100% Provencal fruit!”
Kaitlyn drank some more of Henri’s wine; “it tastes like lavender and thyme” she smiled contently.
“Of course – you are in Provence! These flavours are everywhere!” Henri exclaimed.
All too quickly Kaitlyn again had drunk all of the wine in her glass and was transported back to the little wine shop.

“It’s true! These magic bottles do have the potential to give a sense of the place that they’re from. But how do I find the magic wines from amongst these manufactured wines?” Kaitlyn questioned.

“The great dilemma of today’s wine world is not that there are so many ways of getting from fruit to wine but that the consumer has no reliable means of knowing which way a given wine maker has chosen” said the Silver Herring wisely.

Kaitlyn felt frustrated that all of the bottles in front of her were denying her the ability to make an informed choice about what she tasted and consumed. She turned scornfully to the Red Herring, “I do believe that your wines are as produced and preserved as an actual red herring and as distracting from the truth as the ideological red herring!”

She turned to the Silver Herring “The wines you’ve shown me…”
“We call them ‘natural wines’” interjected the Silver Herring helpfully.
“These natural wines are so very different to one another and so very like where they’re from. I do believe that each time I drink them I’m transported to where their grapes are grown.”

Kaitlyn felt resolve growing, “I may not have the ability to instantly change all bottle labelling to be more transparent, but I could help people find a lovely wine shop like this where there is transparency about what is being sold.”

The Silver Herring smiled, “There are no natural wine shops in our lucky city, but it needs only a beast with arms greater than a fish’s to open our first natural wine bar and shop.”

Kaitlyn looked down at her arms. They were a little lanky, but certainly capable of opening a shop “I could do it!” declared Kaitlyn excitedly, “But how will we let people to know that natural wine even exists as a choice?”

“32 days is a good start…”

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Natural wine definition

It’s occurred to me today that this is probably the only Natural wine blog site without a natural wine definition. This is partly because I find definitional debates, in general, too often rooted in pedantics and anecdotes when life seems to me to exist more organically in the realm of principle.

That said, as the home of London (indeed the UK's) first natural wine bar and shop, I feel obliged to define what exactly that means, at least my interpretation of it, which we are entirely transparent about thoughout our wine list and website.

At artisan & vine, all of our wines are either local (English) wines or natural (only the Davenport wines are both). “Natural wines” are not yet legally defined within the EU.


At artisan & vine, a natural wine is one made in a biodynamically or organically farmed vineyard, with indigenous (wild) yeasts, and minimal or no added sulphites or flavour enhancers.

The principle is to make wines that demonstrate a clear Sense of Place. They taste like they come from somewhere rather than something.

Why are organic wines not enough? Organic wines are not what they seem. Within the EU, a certified “organic wine” only guarantees you organically grown grapes; the winemaker may add flavours (such as wood chips or caramel), stabilisers (such as sulphur dioxide), and preservatives during the wine making production. This is how mass produced cheaper wines can be created.

Natural wines are wines created with minimal intervention from the wine maker. Natural wine making requires the artisan to carefully attend to all steps of the growing, fermenting, and blending processes, knowing that additives cannot be used to correct the imperfections of nature. As Tim Atkin MW concluded in his May 2010 article in The Times, “Natural wines are the opposite of mass-produced wines, of “spoofulated”, personality-free beverages that could come from almost anywhere. These are hand-crafted products”. Often this makes natural wines commercially unviable on a mass, low cost scale. Vintages can vary significantly from year to year based on climate conditions, and personal attention means very low yielding vineyards. I reckon you’ll taste this difference.

Image: Pierre Breton's fantastically healthy natural vineyards in Bourgueil, Loire Valley.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

July events at artisan & vine

Cool! A new month of activity – I love the Summer season! Here’s what’s happening, click here for more information on any of these great events:

Thur 8 - Speed Dating, usually 12-18 dates per person, £14.95/person

Sun 11 - Speed Dating, a Sunday session for busy professionals, £10/person

Wed 14 - Wine Tasting: Introduction to Southwest France, £20/person includes 5 wines and matched canapés

Sun 18 - Speed Dating, meet someone or come again free, £10/person

Wed 21 - Wine Tasting: How to taste wine, £10/person includes 5 wines +canapes

Thur 22 - Speed Dating, 4 minutes per date, meet lots of people, £14.95/person

Sat 24 - 1 Day Wine Workshop, Wine Unearthed Introduction to World of Wine

Sun 25 - Speed Dating, meet someone or come again free, £10/person

Wed 28 - Wine Tasting: Where wine flavour comes from, £10/person

Click here for more information on any of these great events.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Burgundy: an Introduction

I didn’t get Pinot Noir until I went to Burgundy. Now I find I can’t drink Pinot Noir from anywhere else. Burgundy is like that. Entirely captivating.

If you’re drink red wine from Burgundy, you’re probably drinking 100% Pinot Noir. If you’re drinking white wine from Burgundy, you’re most likely drinking 100% Chardonnay. If at some point in your life you’d decided to become an “ABC” drinker (Anything But Chardonnay), please consider reversing the decision, you may have made a mistake. Burgundian Chardonnay is one of the best things that any wine glass will ever have the honour of carrying.

So, now I’ve made my absolute lack of bias clear… clearly absent… let’s talk names and geography.

The Cote d’Or is the North-South stretch of land where the most important Burgundian vineyards are located. It is divided in two: the Cote de Beaune, which roughly stretches from Beaune south to Chagny and the Cote de Nuits, which stretches from Beaune north to Dijon. The other important Burgundy regions are Chablis, producing fresh Chardonnay way up north; Maconnais, producing more buttery Chardonnay down south; and Beaujolais, producing fresh Gamay wines even further south than Maconnais, near Lyon.

Burgundy is a star studded line up of regions and wines. Despite that, it maintains a much more rustic, homely feel than other similarly famous regions such as Bordeaux or Champagne. Off the back of my love for Burgundy, we’re getting some exciting new Burgundian wines in with our 2010-11 wine list. Get ready to fall in love.

Image: in the cellars of Domaine D'Arlot

Friday, 2 July 2010

Eat Out Manifesto continues on

The Eat Out Manifesto we started as a part of election fever back in April continues on. We like to keep our election promises :)

To recap:

1. We believe that all Londoners should be able to eat out any day of the week, regardless of occasion or cause for celebration.

2. We believe that Monday through Thursday should provide the same, if not better, opportunities for eating out as over-crowded week ends.

3. We believe that outstanding wine should be available with every eating experience, and enjoyed without compromise.

To fulfil these ideologies, we pledge to offer all customers the opportunity to enjoy a Prix Fixe menu of £11 for two courses or £13 for three courses, any day of the week.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Visit to Bourgueil, Loire Valley

Andy & I visited a number of vineyards during our recent trip to the Loire Valley. Two that really stood out are those of Sebastien Riffault in Sancerre, which I wrote about a few days back, and that of Catherine and Pierre Breton, in Bourgueil.

Visiting Pierre is a pretty cool experience. His vineyards are scattered around his very French country house. The tasting cellar, where a number of barrels are kept, is below his house, and this is where we commenced our experience.

The day's tasting would be dominated by his range of electrifying Cabernet Franc wines. The grape variety is often accused of being harsh or bitter. At Domaine Breton it is only bright red berry fruits, striking minerality and rounded plum tones to finish. We loved every wine and were particularly impressed by how elegantly some of the wines had aged.

After the tasting we took a short drive to what is probably the coolest natural underground cellar I've ever been in. A limestone cave to rival those of Aladin. It was all as fairy tale as the idea of an elegant Cabernet Franc!

We're stocking a few of my favourite of Pierre's wines at artisan & vine. Come by for a taste of fantasy!

Image: Pierre and I at the entrance to his most awesome natural limestone cave.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Wine serving temperatures

The final onset of Summer seems to me a very good time to talk about the temperature at which wines should be served.

Let’s start with talking about why it makes a difference to serve wine at the right temperature and why the right temperature is different for different wines.

1. Our sense of smell operates on the perception of vapours. Red wines generally have a higher molecular weight than white wines, and so they need warmer temperatures for their aromatic vapours to be released. In general, the darker the colour of a wine, the heavier its weight, and the warmer it should be served.
2. Our perception of tannins are effected by temperature too. In general, the colder a wine is served, the more its tannins will be exposed; the warmer a wine is served, the softer its tannins may be perceived. For mature, soft tannins like those present in a Burgundian Pinot Noir, serving wine a little colder will show off the fabulously refined tannins better than ‘smoothing them over’ with warm serving temperature.

3. Sweeter wines are generally served better cold. The coldness emphasises the acidity, which is needed to balance the sweetness in the wine for freshness rather than syrupy-ness.

So what is the summation?

Sweet wines should be served between 4 and 7 degrees Celsius. Dry whites between 6 and 11. Very fine white wines (best Burgundy, German, Australian and Californian whites) between 10 an 12 degrees Celsius. Light reds should be served between 10 and 14 degrees. Heavier reds should be served between 14 and 18 degrees.

Now, if you get an ice bucket with your red wine this summer: you’ll know why!

Image: glasses lined up and ready to be drunk at artisan & vine

Friday, 25 June 2010

Visit to Sancerre

Last week Andy and I had the lovely privelege of some days in the Loire Valley.

We started in Tours, and went to a fabulous little wine bar to "orientate" ourselves with the local wine scene.

Day 2 was a trip out to Sancerre to visit the fabulous Sebastien Riffault. His Sancerre wines are out of this world - full of fruits and minerals - DESPITE being 100% Sauvignon Blanc.

Sebastien doesn't add an sulphites at all to his wines (since 2007), using the natural acidity and health of his grapes to preserve his wines. Horses rather than tractors are used in the vineyards, for the most part, and it was clear the soil was grateful for this.

In addition to rows of lovely weed-infested vineyards, Sebastien also grows his own biodynamic vegetables, which we took part in harvesting, before a wonderful sunshine BBQ.
We stock my favourite of Sebastien's wines, Sancerre Akmenine, at artisan & vine. Not your average Sancerre and a great example of how different natural wines can be from the norm.

Image: Andy (left) and Sebastien check out the beautiful vineyards on the rolling hills of Sancerre.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A new favourite? Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc

1 June 2010 saw the introduction of the new 2010-11 artisan & vine wine list. It heralded a lot of new exciting wines. It's fabulous to see how people are reacting to the new wines, and I reckon we already are starting to see a new favourite amongst our regulars.

Is it a big surprise that it's a Marlborough Sauvignon? Perhaps not. Though this wine is surprisingly good. We're selling it at only £12.90 take home, which makes it absolutely worth a try!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A visit to Davenport Vineyards, Kent

All of the wines at artisan & vine are either Local (English) or Natural. A natural wine is one that not only uses organic or biodynamic practices in the vineyard, but also uses minimal intervention in the winery. Most English vineyards are very low intervention but they are rarely organic and rarely ferment using wild yeasts indigenous to the grapes harvested. It’s a relatively minor point of distinction but it has factions of the wine world hot in debate. For me, the most important element is transparency: as consumers we should know what exactly is in our bottle of wine. Sadly, obtuse bottle labeling means that often we don’t.

Of the 100 wines on the artisan & vine wine list only one is both Local and Natural. This is the Limney Sparkling wine from Will Davenport. Ideally I would have two wines on the list but as usual, Mr Davenport is completely sold out of his outstanding still white wine… back in stock and on our lists in a few weeks (I hope!) His wines are in such hot demand that when the artisan & vine team and I went to visit his gorgeous vineyards in Kent last week, we had to help label bottles ourselves just to get them on the shelves!

Will makes two sparkling wines, a white and a red. He has two vineyard sites over Kent and Sussex. The wine is delicious – absolutely worth coming by for a try! The still white wine in particular is extremely exciting for the overtly local AND natural qualities it displays.

Image: courageous English wine maker Will Davenport risked organic farming in wet England and has succeeded. Here he shows our Karlee how to pack wines for us to take home and put on the shelf!

Monday, 21 June 2010

How to (finally!) taste wine

This is Part Three of a Three Part series on how to taste wine. There are three elements to tasting wine: seeing, smelling and tasting. Counterintuitive but true. Today I’m finally going to address what happens when wine is in your mouth.

Take a swig and swish.

Five main things we’re looking for:

1. Tannins. Tannins come from the grape skins or barrels that wines are fermented or aged in. You can assess how tannic a wine is by how it dries your mouth. Think of that sensation you get when you leave your tea bag in tea for too long – that is too much tannin.

2. Acidity. Acidity sounds bad. Interpret it as “freshness”. You can assess the acidity in a wine by how your mouth waters. Now you start to build a picture: a balanced wine is one where the refreshing acidity of the wine balances the drying tannins in a wine.

3. Alcohol. In a good wine, you shouldn’t taste or smell alcohol. The flavour and aroma molecules in the wine should be more prevalent than the alcohol molecules. A wine that is too alcoholic can be detected by that burning feeling at the entrance to your throat.

4. Sweetness & bitterness both take a little more practice to detect. Your best guide is that if you feel you detect too much of either: it’s probably not a great wine.

5. Length. Length is one of the most reliable indicators of a quality wine. How long does the taste of the wine stay in your mouth? The longer the better.

Image: this time last year I was tasting wine with Alain Chabanon at his domaine in Languedoc. We’re stocking his rose this Spring – it’s a real winner!

Friday, 18 June 2010

How to taste (smell) wine

This is Part Two of a Three Part series on how to taste wine. There are three elements to tasting wine: seeing, smelling and tasting. Counterintuitive but true. Today I'm addressing how to assess a wine’s nose (how it smells).

You’ve probably already consumed whatever wine you were working with yesterday, so, we start again: First, pour a small amount of wine into the glass – around 50 – 75mls, or a quarter full. This is not pretentious custom. We need room in the glass for swivelling (aeration), and also so that we can keep precious aroma molecules in the glass.

Before we swivel, take a sniff of the wine fresh poured. Older wines are unlikely to give off too much aroma without agitation. Ironically, more mass produced wines are likely to give an intense aroma from the outset. After your first sniff, swivel the glass. The aim is to let air into the wine and aromas out. Swivel for a few seconds and take another sniff. The character of the wine should now start to show itself.

The aroma of a wine is a strong indicator of the flavour to follow. Becoming familiar with the aromas and flavours you enjoy most, and being able to describe them, will help you select more wines you enjoy in future. Do you smell more fruit or more oak? Is the smell apparent with one sniff or do you need to concentrate to pick up aromas? Neither end of these spectrums is necessarily a sign of quality: you’re trying to get in tune with your preferences.

Here is a sign of quality we get from aroma: how does the aroma change as you work your way through a bottle? Excellent wines will evolve once opened and often the aroma becomes stronger or more interesting with time. Un-excellent wines (a technical term :) ) will loose flashy fragrances after opening. It’s an indicator of how well integrated flavour and aroma molecules are.

Image: large oak barrels, like the ones I’m shown at Comte Lafon in Burgundy, enrich the fruit aromas within the chardonnay; there is no need to mask inferior fruit with distracting oak

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Randall Grahm quotes from his visit to artisan & vine

On Monday 7 June, we had a wine superstar at artisan & vine, Randall Grahm, owner and wine maker of Bonny Doon Vineyards in California.

I've been asked several times now for my write up of events... as it is nearly two weeks ago now. Here's the problem... I was so busy talking and tasting - as usual - that my notes are well... non-existent. My memories are great, but not necessarily great reading.

Time to rely on a more reliable source. Luckily for me, a more avid note taker, Jamie Goode, was on hand for the evening taking fantastic notes.

The following quotes from Randall are from Jamie's brilliant wine blog:

"On Cigare Volant, his flagship wine: ‘I started out trying to make Châteauneuf du Pape. I don’t even like Châteauneuf du Pape, but I do like Burgundy.’

On reduction: ‘One way I think of reduction in wine is like horniness in guys. It can be a little off-putting at times but it is a sign that they system is working the way it should.’

On cool climate viticulture: ‘A cool climate for me is also an appropriate climate. The grapes come in balanced. You don’t need to acidulate or dealcoholize the wine. If you have to manipulate the wine, this suggests that you are not growing the grape in the right places.’
‘Not all vineyard sites are created equal. Not all vineyard sites are good for grapes!’
On terroir: ‘The notion of terroir is the most beautiful idea in wine lore. A true vin de terroir needs a good rooting system. Terroir is a radio signal, and it is a question of the signal to noise ratio. We want to amplify the signal without distorting it. For example, if you restrict yields in a deeply rooted vineyard, you amplify the signal. Drip irrigation dilutes the signal. The ratio of roots to fruit is probably the single greatest determinant of wine quality.’
On the California wine industry: ‘The wine industry is a sort of disaster now – a victim of its success. When I got started, people did it because they loved it. It’s now a business, and too much money is invested in it. It has given the business a loss of self confidence. Everyone needs a consultant, and even the consultants need consultants. The era of cooperation and goodwill has largely gone.’"

Image: Randall Grahm at artisan & vine. I don't know why this image refuses to sit straight...

How to taste (see) wine

Given that I just spent the best part of the last week tasting tasting tasting in the Loire Valley (stories from that to follow!)… I thought it was a good topic to get into for this week’s Wine Facts. (less a fact than a tip but I know you’ll grant me that leeway).

There are three elements to tasting wine: seeing, smelling and tasting. Counterintuitive but true. Today I’m going to address assessing a wine’s appearance; we’ll cover nose and palate over the next days blog entries.

Firstly, pour a small amount of wine into the glass – around 50 – 75mls, or a quarter full. This is not pretentious custom. We need room in the glass for swivelling (aeration), and also so that we can keep precious aroma molecules in the glass.

Under normal circumstances, you will know the grape, region and vintage of the wine you’re drinking. That all the case, there are wines who lose their fruit quickly (age fast) or show characteristics atypical of their region or grape. We can judge some of these elements by sight.

Look at the colour of your wine: white wine becomes deeper with age; red wine becomes paler. All wines become browner with age. When you tilt your wine glass at an angle, older reds will be almost completely transparent at the rim: it’s not a lack of quality… it’s just age J Depth of colour – in red or white wine – will indicate how thick the skins of the grapes were and/or how long the grape juices were left in contact with their skins during maceration.

When your glass is tilted to the side: wines with a single, consistent colour gradient, are general “drink now” wines that are unlikely to evolve. Wines with a glossy appearance and subtle gradations in the wine colour are superstars – you must be drinking an artisan & vine wine J

Image: last July I tasted Catherine Massioneuve’s outstanding Cahor Malbecs across vintages and cuvees. The rich berry darkness of the wines a certain indicator of the rich flavours and aging potential.

Friday, 11 June 2010

My pièce de résistance: the new artisan & vine wine list

The last few months I’ve been tasting and talking and tasting some more. Here are the results, my pièce de résistance: the 2010-11 artisan & vine wine list.

What’s new?
· More Italian wines including Barolo, Chianti, Brunello and Barbaresco
· Some classic premium New World wines including New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Shiraz and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon
· Twelve English vineyards and twenty English wines
· Ten wines under £20
· Maps, icons and explanations of key world wine regions
· A printed off-licence price list, available whenever we’re open

Check it out the new wine list online here. We have a new range of exciting wines on by the glass also, so get tasting now!

Image: the artisan & vine wine list, so so exciting inside!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Sunday Speed Dating at a&v

The sun comes out and suddenly everyone is feeling that little more up for fun. Is it all of the sun-kissed skin? Simply the appearance of skin? That extra glass of rose? That additional round of pints? Whatever it is – the effects are everywhere!! And we’re keen to support all of that fun!

So, if you’ve been looking at our Thursday night speed dating but not been able to get here after a day at your high powered job, we have just the avenue of adventure for you!

New to the London dating scene is Sunday afternoon speed dating.

Click here to find out more and book your place. At only £10 / person, it’s time to give it a go!

Speed dating is fun, and it works. Here's an excerpt from an email the Original Dating guys (who run the events at artisan & vine) received last week regarding our Thurs night speed dating:
"Hi there, I just wanted to email some feedback that I met someone at one of your events, at the Artisan and Vine pub in November of last year, and that we have been seeing each other ever since. So thank you! I had come along with friends to try something different and never expected anything serious to come out of it, so was pleasantly surprised, and would recommend it to friends!"

Image: yeah, that's the front door to the bar.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

World Cup at artisan & vine

We’ve had so much fun thinking about ideas for the World Cup at artisan & vine. We have our fab new beers on tap – Peroni and Erdinger – and bar stools ready for swivelling.

We’ve also introduced a few special promotions… here’s the deal:

AUSSIE PROMO: a free can of Fosters for everyone at the bar each time Australia score a goal*

WORLD CUP WIDOWS PROMO: half price wine for groups of 4 or more ladies during each game of the World Cup*

GROUP GAME PROMOS: listed on our World Cup Wall Chart here*

That’s right, we have an artisan & vine World Cup Wall Chart, showing which games are on when, which we’ll be showing, and what additional deals we have on for each match.

Relax, sit back, come to your local female friendly, family friendly bar to watch the World Cup live.

*terms and conditions apply

Image: the completely awesome artisan & vine World Cup Wall Chart

Friday, 4 June 2010

Another perspective on English Wine

Looking for another perspective on English wine for this English Wine Week?

Click below to read what Tim Atkins MW had to say in today's issue of The Times.

I'm in enthusiastic agreement with Tim's Top Six English Sparkling Wines (as you could guess, we stock half of them!) and of course his praise of English sparkling wines and the tremendous progress that the industry has made in recent years.

I have a little more time for the English still wines from "non-noble" grapes than Tim seems to. Seyval, Bacchus, et al may not currently be producing the most complex or world changing wines, but they do reflect our fresh English terroir, creating fresh easy-drinking wines. Come by a&v sometime to try.

Image: grapes getting ready to be wine at Bolney Wine Estate, Sussex

What happened at the English Wine Open Bottle Session

This Wednesday gone saw our first ever English Wine Open Bottle Session. It was a fabulous night with 29 different English Sparkling, White, Rose and Red wines all on show.

Most popular wines on the night? It was a very close call but I reckon the Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2001 was probably the overall favourite; Camel Valley and Biddenden were also extremely popular producers.

Over forty people came along to take part in the two hour whirlwind wine tasting. And there were not a small number of curious Australians and Americans among them! The French contingency respectfully declined.

Image: a new wine to artisan & vine, the Warden Abbot from Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire was also popular, and has become one of my favourite English white wines.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

12 Vineyards English wine case

At artisan & vine we stock no lesse than 12 English vineyards in our wine bar and shop. 12 English vineyards and at least 25 English wines. artisan & vine has London's longest and best English wine list.

Featuring 12 vineyards is a rather convenient number to create a special 12 Vineyards Wine Case, which is exactly what we've done!

Curious about English wine? We've collected the best to create 12 Vineyards Case. Here you can taste a signature wine from 12 of our favourite English vineyards. This is the ultimate way to taste wines from all over England in the comfort of your own home or with friends for your own comprehensive English wine tasting.

Included in the pack are:
Limney Sparkling, Davenport Vineyards, Kent
Sirius Rose, Bolney Wine Estate, East Sussex
Classic Cuvee, Nyetimber Wine Estate, West Sussex
Knightsbridge, Ridgeview Wine Estate, West Sussex

Warden Abbot, Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire
Coleridge Hill, Three Choirs Vineyard, Gloucestershire
Organic Orion, Quoins Organic Vineyard, Wiltshire
Bacchus Dry, Camel Valley Vineyards, Cornwall

Rose, a'Becketts Vineyards, Wiltshire

Gamay, Biddenden Vineyards, Kent
Oxford Regatta, Brightwell Vineyards, Oxfordshire
Tyrannosaurus Red, Furleigh Estate, Dorset

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Why does artisan & vine specialise in English wine?

Hurrah! English Wine Week is upon us and, of course, as the owner of London's first wine bar and shop to specialise in English wine, every blog entry I make this week will be about English wine. Let's start at the beginning: Why English wine?

Why would an Aussie (me), reared on belting Shiraz and sun-scorched Chardonnay choose to open a wine bar and shop that would specialise in English wine?

Yes, I think English wine tastes good. I'm a wine lover, there is wine from pretty much every country that tastes good to me. Good taste gets you over a hurdle, but it doesn't warrant investing your entire life savings to open a specialist wine bar.

The beauty of English wine is that it is almost exclusively made by such small producers, with no significant budget for flavour manipulation or artificial vineyard treatments, that the wine cannot help but reflect the Sense of Place of where it's from. Most English wine is extremely distinctly English, which in a modern age of mass-production and global knowledge sharing, is no small feat.

I’ve travelled a lot and lived in a few different countries. One of my favourite ways of coming to know a country or region is through indulging in the wines of that region. It’s that same old speech from me: Sense of Place, Sense of Place! There is no question in my mind that English wines are underexposed in their own, let alone in the global, market. At the same time as local food production in England is enjoying a celebrity chef inspired renaissance, English wines sit on the shelves of local community markets or the homes of wine maker’s relatives; it’s a fascinating contrast.

In order to bring the English wine experience into artisan & vine, I insisted on only working with winemakers who would deal with me directly – no distributors or wholesalers. I visited a wide range of English vineyards and tasted over 300 English wines to come to the 25 or so we have on our list at any one time. The wines are generally fresh, low alcohol and easy drinking – and they’re getting better with every vintage! English wine making may be in something of an infancy - I view this as an exciting thing.

After nearly two years of serving English wines to our customers I am proud to report a very positive response. The feedback we get often is that people are happy simply to be given the option to have a taste of home. The Bacchus from our friends Bob and Carol of Brightwell Vineyard in Oxfordshire remains one of our best selling wines in the bar while three of the five best selling wines (at time of writing) on the artisan & vine online shop are English (Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, Camel Valley Bacchus Dry and Biddenden Ortega). It’s clear that the demand is there. So how is supply? Well... I have to save something to blog about tomorrow...

Image: artisan & vine's vineyard day trip to the quaint Bolney Wine Estate in East Sussex in June 2009.

Friday, 28 May 2010

English Wine Week 29 May – 6 June

Tomorrow sees the beginning of English Wine Week. As usual, we’ll have at least one English sparkly, white and red available for you to try by the glass and a couple of English wines on Happy Hour (5pm-7pm) for you to experiment with too!

The pinnacle of artisan & vine’s English Wine Week celebrations is our Open Bottle Session this Wednesday, 2 June.

What is an Open Bottle Session?

We have an open bottle of every English wine that we stock at artisan & vine – around 25 bottles. For £10/person, you get a glass & the ability to taste as many of those English wines as you can. All the bottles on tasting will be available for sale to take home or drink in the bar.

The Open Bottle Session will run from 7pm until 9pm - enough to let you taste a new wine every 5 minutes!

It's a fabulous opportunity to taste London's best range of English wines at a fantastic price.
Vineyards on show will include: Davenport Vineyards (Kent), Camel Valley Vineyards (Cornwall), Nyetimber Wine Estate (West Sussex), Biddenden Vineyards (Kent), Brightwell Vineyards (Oxfordshire), Bolney Wine Estate (East Sussex), Ridgeview Wine Estate (West Sussex), Three Choirs Vineyards (Gloucestershire), a’Becketts Vinetard (Wiltshire), Warden Abbey (Bedfordshire), Quoins Organic Vineyard, (Wiltshire) and Furleigh Estate (Dorset)

Image: Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

News and reviews of artisan & vine

It's probably true that we're a little easily excited at artisan & vine. Can you think of a better way to live life?

One thing that excites us most is seeing reviews or news about us. We're always delighted when others get involved in the dream we're trying to make a reality.

Image: we made The Times in London just this month and are still on a high! Yes... re-remark it if we must... we are rather often excited.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Wine Facts: How Wine Ages

Not all wine improves with age. Some wine is more alcoholic vinegar than wine within years of bottling. How can you know which wines will improve with age and which will collapse?

In general, wines that are designed to be enjoyed for freshness and youthful fruitiness should be drunk young. Include within this category most white and rose wines and any lighter style reds, Beaujolais for example. These are wines whose fresh fruit flavours are likely to die within 2-4 years of bottling and which do not have the tannins or structure within the bottle to develop further.

Wines that taste better with aging are wines where a more complex combination of acids, sugars, minerals, pigments, tannins and flavour compounds need longer to integrate. High quality reds and whites will fall into this category.

As a general - if crude - rule, the more expensive a wine is, the more likely it is to improve with age.

The unlucky truth is that even the wine maker cannot know when exactly is the best time to drink any one wine. The best we can do is ask the person selling us a wine; they should know the story of a given wine in their shop and should taste it regularly enough to know it’s current condition.
Image: I asked Olivier from Domaine D’Arlot in Burgundy when I should drink some of his aging Pinot Noirs. He told me to call him when I was ready to open the bottle and he would let me know if it was ok or not. It’s all that exact :)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Randall Grahm at artisan & vine

at artisan & vine

Join us for a great evening with Randall, the Wines, the Book (and good food for good measure!)
Randall Grahm is the visionary, irreverent winemaker and President-for-Life of Bonny Doon Vineyard. His goal is to produce wines in a natural, un-manipulated manner, imbued with life force! Cosmic wines for Cosmic times. Often described in the same breath as a genius, madman, and philosopher, the original Rhone Deranger has been at the vanguard of all that has been exciting (and controversial) in the American wine world in the last 2 decades. A champion of screwcaps , a convert to Biodynamics, he has now taken the bold step to list all of his ingredients on the back labels of his wines and is now experimenting with ageing his wines in amphorae and glass jars.

Monday 7th June 7.30pm £35

The Wine Tasting
To kick things off we'll start the evening with an apéritif and some canapes (hopefully outside if the weather is good!) before moving onto the main event.
In his own inimitable way Randall will take you on a guided tour of his new streamlined range of wines. On his quest to make only ‘Vins de terroir’ I am sure Randall hopes that the wines will speak for themselves, but never short of a word or five Randall will be on hand to talk about his wines, the universe and everything in between. Food will be served throughout the event.

If you have ever read the back label of a bottle of Bonny Doon, you will realise that Randall likes to write ! His first book, or ‘Vinthology’ Been Doon So Long won the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for best drinks book, and takes readers on a rollercoaster ride from wine to philosophy to rock opera to literary parody and back again.

“Randall Grahm is the Willy Wonka of the wine world and Been Doon So Long is intelligent, insightful and mischievous. It is a work of Genius” - Jamie Goode
Get your first edition copy signed by the man himself on the night pre-order online now at special price£19.50(rrp £24.95)

How often do you get the chance to meet a man who has an asteroid named after him?

You’d be mad to miss it, but don’t just take our word for it, here’s what Jancis Robinson has to say:“Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California is truly an exception in almost every way. His wine names, labels, packaging and news[?]letters [aka streams of consciousness] have injected more fun into the self-conscious world of wine than all other wine producers put together..”
Image: biodynamic wine making legend Randall Grahm

Friday, 21 May 2010

New beers on tap: what and why

I write to you this week in something of a state of shock. Oddly, it is shock without surprise. I knew what was coming. I didn’t realise it would be so big, or so illuminated or so… well… so darn attractive. And we’re only two-thirds into the journey!

Some big boys arrived at artisan & vine this week and they’ve certainly made their presence felt. 3ft high Peroni and Erdinger beer taps now tower above our bar; as if to challenge the rows of little artisan wine bottles lined up across the way on our back-bar.

We tried working with organic English beer at artisan & vine, in keeping with the theme for wines. I come to the conclusion that one can only be niche when one offers choice within a niche. We can be niche in local and natural wines because we have over 100 of them for you to choose from. I conclude that when there are only 1 or 2 options, best make it something that most people are likely to know and like. Enter the big beer brands. With Peroni, Erdinger and Moretti, we’ve maintained our commitment to quality and taste.

These new beer taps are more shrines to their hop-fathers than simple drink dispensers. According to beer lovers (of which I apologetically cannot confess to be one), these beers taste as good as the aesthetically outstanding taps and glassware look. Maybe these new beers will even convert me.

Peroni and Erdinger are available on tap at artisan & vine from today. Birra Moretti will be available on tap from Tuesday.

We still have 1 keg of Freedom lager which we’ll be serving on tap all week end if you’d like to have one last taste of England!

Image: our new very ornate pieces of bar equipment

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee & Blanc de Blanc

As you'd expect, our best selling wines on the artisan & vine Online Shop tends to move around a bit. I've previously written about the wines that are currently sitting at #1, #2, #4 and #5 within this blog. Recently, Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee 2003 climbed our charts to take the #3 position. How exciting!

I first tasted the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee at a friend's dinner party. It is immediately evident why Nyetimber has earned it's sterling reputation in sparkling wine making. Gorgeous depth and complexity of flavours, lasting finish, soft toasty notes. We're currently stocking the 2003 vintage, though 2005 is just around the corner and will be with us by Summer.

In particularly exciting news, the Classic Cuvee's sister wine, the Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2001, won a Gold Medal in this year's International Wine Challenge (IWC), of which I was a judge (check out my previous blog entry on judging at IWC 2010 here). We're selling the Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2001 both in store and online now too... best grab a bottle before it sells out!

Image: artisan & vine online shop #3 on the best seller list: Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2003

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Precious Metals: The Art of Alice Cescatti

We have some genuinely exciting new art up at artisan & vine. The most exciting thing is that it is all created by one of our fabulous customers, Alice Cescatti. And how lucky we are to have Alice! Her past commissions include: The Curator of Sculpture, The Louvre, Paris; Cartier, Paris; The Sultan of Brunei; Alberto Pinto Agency, Paris; Grosvenor House Hotel, London and Claridges, London. Blatantly, this is a list that artisan & vine belongs on :)

Alice’s expertise is in blending precious metals with water gilding and painting techniques to create incredible landscape paintings. All of Alice’s work on show at artisan & vine is for sale, please ask at the bar for pricing.

I think Alice’s art has added a very beautiful and very personal touch to our very personal wine bar.

Image: Alice’s work is inspired by time she’s spent living in New Zealand, Vietnam, the South Pacific and… London!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Wine Facts: How Wine is Made

As you’re reading this blog, you are probably already aware that there are a lot of variations in the important little steps to how a wine is made. This little article is aimed at giving you a summary of the key steps in making wine. By analogy, this guide is like saying the way to get from London to Edinburgh is to go North; options of train vs car vs stopovers vs B-roads vs etc etc are the sorts of “details” we’re skimming over.

The overview remains of import: there’s a lot to be said for knowing which way is North! The steps:

1. Grapes are picked and collected.

2. For white wines, the grapes are pressed so that the skins are left behind and just the grape juice ferments. For red wines, the grapes are left with their skin on to ferment, and then after the colour and flavours have been extracted, the red grapes are pressed to leave behind skin. (Fermentation is the process by which sugars in the grape are converted to alcohol).

3. Wines – whether red or white – may be aged in some kind of holding device – a bottle, a barrel, a tank. Wines can be aged for months or years or not at all.

4. Wines are bottled and labeled for distribution and sale.
Seems as simple as travelling North… the art is navigating the traffic jams, road works and then optimising lovely scenery and local peculiarities along the way!

Image: renowned winemaker Matthieu Cosse shows me some of the incredible new infrastructure they have in place at Domain La Coste in Provence where they are refining the science of natural wine making.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Visit to a'Becketts Vineyard, Wiltshire

What seems a stone age ago (I had to get some kind of pun in here some where), I went to visit a'Beckett's Vineyard by Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It was actually last week end, late at night on the way back from a week end with Andrew's parents in Devon.

I was delighted to see that Paul, the owner and winemaker at the vineyard, has decided to label his white wines with the grape variety. We're now stocking his Pinot Auxerrois - a grape variety often used in England but rarely labelled as such due to it's unfriendly pronunciation prospects. I think it's great.

It's an incredibly beautiful little vineyard of 6 acres of vines and 6 acres of orchards. A'Becketts produce apple juice & cider along with their range of white, rose, red and sparkling wine.

I picked up a case of their full throttle rose as well as the Pinot Auxerrois, for us all to enjoy over the Summer. Come by & have a taste of Wiltshire!

Image: wine maker and owner, Paul Langham, shows me his range of deliciously light and fruity wines. I seem pretty happy about it :)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tim Atkin MW in The Times on Natural Wine

Today was a good day for natural wine. Natural wine has a lot of good days, but I reckon today was particularly good.

Tim Atkin MW, renowned wine writer and TV presenter, put together his thoughts on Natural Wine, published in today's issue of The Times. The article, entitled "Let the grapes express themselves naturally" summarises some of the commercial issues facing natural wines, commenting that "Natural wines are the opposite of mass-produced wines, of “spoofulated”, personality-free beverages that could come from almost anywhere".

At artisan & vine, we couldn't agree with Tim more!

The article also included a selection of Tim's six top Natural Wines. Among these were two that are available from artisan & vine. Here are Tim's picks, as well as his insightful tasting notes:

2009 Verd Albera, Emporda (£9.90, 13 per cent, http://www.artisanandvine.com/) From the area of Emporda in northern Catalonia, this is a very Mediterranean blend of garnacha blanca, garnacha gris and muscat. It’s perfumed and unoaked with citrus and orange peel flavours and crisp acidity.

2008 Clos Ouvert Huasa, Maule (£23, 14 per cent, http://www.artisanandvine.com/) It doesn’t happen very often, but once or twice a year, I taste a wine that blows my mind. This old vine, unirrigated Chilean red, made from the local país grape by a Burgundian ex-pat is silky and fine with incredible complexity.

It doesn't get much better than that!

Come by to taste Tim's picks. I've put together a special mixed case based on some of the other wines he particularly enjoyed while at artisan & vine here.

Image: the good old fashioned Times newspaper article; click the image to see the online version

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Wednesday wine tasting: Chilean wine

We try to mix things up from week to week at artisan & vine's Wednesday evening wine tastings. So, while last week we were in the Alsace and next week we're in Australia, today we're in Chile. The idea is that you could come to the bar every Wednesday and get a broad mix of flavours, stories and facts.

Before we zoom in on Chile, let's talk a little about South America, which, like most of the New World, is something we don't have a lot of at artisan & vine. This is not a deliberate choice. There are simply more natural wines from Europe available in London than there are from other regions.

South America is pretty exciting for the wine world because, although it's had wine grapes longer than any other part of the New World (since 1531), it's in its relative infancy on the global wine scene. Chile, although producing less wine than Argentina, was the first of the South American countries to make a meaningful entrance onto the world wine stage.

Isolated by the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Andes on the East, Chile produces pretty reliably healthy grapes. It's a good place for organic and biodynamic vineyards. This is a place where the days are particularly hot and the nights particularly cold, which is great for allowing a long, mature ripening of grapes - & so those fab fruity flavours!

Tonight we're going to be tasting wines from two Chilean producers. The first is Vina Von Siebenthal, headed by a former Swiss Lawyer now producing indulgently fruity wines in the Aconcagua Valley. We'll taste a pure Carmenere - a Bordeaux grape that has become almost synonymous with Chilean red wine; as well as a Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Franc, Melot and Cabernet Sauvignon). Bordeaux grapes have long been popular in Chile, though we're now starting to see other grapes such as Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling make their way down.

The second producer we'll be tasting is Clos Ouvert, headed by Burgundian wine maker Louis-Antoine Luyt. These wines are really exciting. In his recent visit to artisan & vine, Tim Atkin MW felt the same: "Just discovered Clos Ouvert from Maule at Artisan and Vine. The most exciting Chilean wines I have tasted in years. Wow!"

By way of contrast, we're going to taste a pure Carmenere from Clos Ouvert, as well as a Bordeaux blend, and then, most exciting I think, a 100% Pais wine. Pais is Chile's indigenous "peasant's grape"... you're going to love it!

We still have some spaces available at tonight's Chilean wine tasting. Email welcome@artisanandvine.com to sign up!

Image: the incredible Huasa 2008 from Clos Ouvert is 100% Pais and certainly worth a taste at artisan & vine!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

London Wine and Travel meetup Group

Have you seen these meetup groups online? They have meetups groups for all sorts of interests and hobbies. This Sunday gone we hosted the London Wine and Travel Meetup for a three course meal and wine tasting game.

I was stoked to read the reviews that participants had written up:

Amanda: 'very good!!! many thanks I wanted to rate it 10 stars but only 5 were available so :-) '

Maggie: ‘I loved the restaurant; the food was simply delicious, and a good range of different range of wines. I loved the fact we were encouraged to guess the right wine. This taught me quite a lot. Great afternoon, all round’

Stephanie: 'A fantastic way to have Sunday lunch. Meeting new people over good food and wine. It was well organised and was well planned to help everyone mingle.’

Michael: ‘Really excellent event! Terrific wines, great food and really good company!’

Amanda: ‘Great food, interesting wines and a chance to meet new people with similar interests, perfect!’

Image: this is the photo icon of the London Wine and Travel Meetup Group. I don't have a lot else to say about that.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Wine profile: Camel Valley Bacchus Dry

Today's blog post: a wine profile on what is currently the 2nd Best Selling wine on the artisan & vine online shop. All my bloggy wine profiles are found by the tag "wine profiles" - who'd've thunk?

Long long ago when Andrew was trying to romance me, he bought be a bottle of Camel Valley Bacchus Dry (a former vintage) so, this wine has I suppose unlikely romantic connotations for me.

Can we call this a Love Potion? As things have panned out, I'd say yes. Can I guarantee it will win the heart of the one you're courting? As I a former Management Consultant, I'm not in the habit of guaranteeing a lot :)

That said, I will guarantee that this is one of England's most pleasing still white wines. Floral, fruity, a surprising depth and length of finish.

Seems other people like it too. The Times 21 April 2009 said: ‘Best Value English Still Wine': ‘Young, aromatic, fresh and zesty, England's answer to Sancerre. A bright accompaniment to seafood, full of zip and fruit. They like it in The House Of Commons.'

Take a taste of Cornwall's version of now classic Bacchus grape today!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Natural wine & English wine tastings every Wednesday

It's about time I gave a plug to some of our upcoming wine tasting events.

Because they're awesome.

Here's what's coming up:

Wed, 12 May Chilean wine (including wines that Tim Atkin declares as the most exciting Chilean wines he's tasted in years) £20 / person
Wed, 19 May New World Wine (Australia, New Zealand, USA) £20 / person
Wed, 26 May Italian Wine £20 / person
Wed, 2 June English Wine Week: Open Bottle Session £10 / person
Wed, 9 June Food and wine matching £20 / person

As you see, every Wednesday at artisan & vine we run a wine tasting on a specific theme of English wine or natural wine. These are genuinely fascinating events and a lot of fun. For £20/person, you’ll taste 5 incredible wines (last Wednesday we tasted a Grand Cru Riesling worth £60) and have some matched canapes, as well as all of my thoughts – fact and editorial – on that week’s theme.

A wonderful night out for catching up with friends or a different kind of date.
Click here for more information or email welcome@artisanandvine.com or call 0207 228 4997 to book your place now!

Image: me tasting at Comte Lafon in Burgundy. Researching to bring you guys the best wines and information is tough tough work.