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, 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.