None of Grandma's porcelain figurines here; the event (tagline "Taste Your Way Out Of The Supermarket") is a chance for independent wine merchants to show that, for a few extra pounds, a trip through their doors can offer a lot more than a bemused wander down Sainsburys' wine aisle. My general impression was that the average RRP of the bottles on sale this time was a shade lower than last time, with an average price of just under £13, which seems about right.
Living close to Bottle Apostle and a couple of Borough Wine's outlets, we opted to taste some things from some more unfamiliar merchants. We found the big reds quite difficult at times as the wines were down at around 13-14C, so there are some wines that I think are better than they tasted at the time. To me, oak and sweet floral/confected aromas can seem over-obvious in reds at low temperatures as their true fruit quality doesn't really jump out until they're a bit warmer.
Here are notes on everything I tasted.
The hit here was actually the Adami Garbel Prosecco NV, at £16.50 from Planet of the Grapes (who pitched their wines at a slightly higher price-bracket, accordingly offering up three of our favourite wines). Full of sprightly red apple, delicate and sweet enough to be comforting without being floozy, I'd drink this over cheap champagne any day. That said, there were a couple of good grower champagnes on offer; we preferred the elegant texture, touch of pastry richness and spring-like pear and apple fruit of the Clos de La Chapelle 1er Cru, £23.50 from The Sampler to the quite primary citrus-driven Veuve Borodin Brut NV (£19.95 from Roberson). Both good value for the C-word, though I'd spend the £4 more on the first. There was also a quite wacky petillant Riesling from New Zealand - the Pyramid Valley 'The Body Electric' Sparkling Riesling at £15 from D Vine Cellars. A winemaking oddity from a very 'in' producer (and magicians with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), this was a bit out of kilter as a reasonable amount of the residual sugar left at bottling had fermented under the screwcaps. It needed a bit of that sugar back as the acidity was now pretty prominent, and it was reductive to the point of verging on rubberiness. The trouble with this kind of re-fermentation in bottle is that it is highly unpredictable, so there could be good bottles and bad bottles.
Holly's Garden Pinot Gris, £12.50, from D Vine Cellars, was highly expressive wine from Victoria with very ripe apple and papaya coming to the fore, dustings of fennel and spice and a generous slug of vanilla and toast. The new oak element surprised me, but the wine can handle it. Recommended. Another good 'roast chicken' buy would be the Painted Wolf Cape Hunting White "Lekanyane' 2012, a Chenin/Viogner/Verdehlo blend that, at £11 from Last Drop, was full of refined grapefruit fruit, tropical pineapple touches and a very pleasing suave texture touched by subtle oaking. The wackiest find here was the L'Estranger-Virgile Joly Grenache Blanc "Bois Du Blanc Et Tais Toi", an unusual non-vintage Langeudoc white from that was definitely on the 'natural' spectrum but proved a rare example of a wine exhibiting a cidery character that I ended up really quite liking. Usually I find it a put-off, but here it seemed clean, playing off the pithiness of the bitter herbs and savoury touches on the palate. It's an intense wine, but it knows exactly what it is and goes and pulls it off. Drink your white and shut up indeed!
We didn't try as many reds as we might have liked - as I said it was all a bit chilly. The Villabelvedere Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 from Last Drop was a straightforward strawberry/red cherry and green peppercorn red that, on the crunchy/green side of the Valpolicella style, offered pretty decent value at £9. There were some good Pinots about too. I'd wholeheartedly recommend the Chauvenet-Chopin Cotes du Nuits Villages 2010, £22 from Planet of the Grapes. I didn't write anything about this, but it was delicious; my accomplice simply scribbled "the nicest one!!" on my list so I'll leave it at that. My favourite (and the most expensive) wine of the day was not to be found on the list. The nice chap from Vinoteca had got his hands on a parcel of Bourgougne Rouge from Gevrey that he was selling for about £26 as I recall; all elegant autumn strawberry, liqourice and woodland aromas and really very delicious. I didn't make of a note of the producer but if you're into sub £30 Pinot I'd get in touch sharpish as it was the business.
The Juan Gill Silver Label Monastrell 2012, from Jumila and priced at £16 from The Good Wine Shop didn't enjoy being so cold; it seemed to offer slightly confected red cherry, ribena and toffee, with the sweetness evident on the palate too. I did like the Chateau Ferreau Bel Air Bordeaux 2009 at £11.20 from The Sampler - a juicy, finely-textured wine that is a rare example of a wholesome, enjoyable wine that tastes of Bordeaux at a great price. Also suffering from being a bit cold was the Malbec Vista Carmelita 2012 at £19 from Planet of the Grapes. However you could tell that this was a very good wine indeed - an inky blueberry and blackberry mashup, with a touch of treacle-y charr and clear concentration and length on the palate. Not cheap but it's not going to disappoint when you just want...well, you know, a Malbec with bit of class and some hair on its chest.
I'm sure there were lots of great things there that I didn't get to try. I had to save a little energy for a trip to Sager and Wilde on Hackney Road, you see. Now, this is a wine bar. I like that. It's not a restaurant. There are things to eat, of course, but the atmosphere and design of the place is very much geared towards a civilised glass or two. It's great to have a place like this in Hackney; there are others, but not really anywhere where you won't be competing for a table with diners. Thankfully It's NOT shabby-chic like everywhere else, but done up like a real evening place with clever lighting, excellent glasses (take note certain other Hackney wine establishments!) and top-notch service. Reasonable markups too. We started with the piercingly delicious Sugrue-Pierre Brut 2010, a top-notch champagne blend from the South Downs made by ex-Nyetimber winemaker Dermot Sugrue. It flirts dangerously with being too direct in its youth but wins out with supreme delicacy and focus. Leave it for a little while if you can. Real quality though. I had a delicious gamey/wild strawberry red Arbois, and my accomplice a cleverly-sourced 1997 Rioja Crianza that was a real old leather armchair/fireside wine. Good value at £7 a glass too. I noticed that Vieux Telegraphie 2000 was available for £12.50 a glass, but by that time we had to make our way to dinner. First thing I ordered was a Campari, which went down very well indeed.