London’s Pint-Sized Wine BarsLondoners consider themselves at the center of the wine world and for a week this spring, they were. The Natural Wine Fair brought 114 producers—including Ron Laughton from Australia’s Heathcote, Thierry Puzelat from the Loire and Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily—to a tasting outside Borough Market. They were piggybacking on the much larger London International Wine Fair, where hundreds of winemakers descended on the ExCeL center at the eastern edge of town.
Together, the two events threw a spotlight on the latest wine bars, new openings that are worth a visit if you’re headed to town. Terroirs, the natural wine bar near Trafalgar Square, has opened Brawn, a smaller, more rustic sibling in Shoreditch, about a half–hour hike from the nearest tube stop. The place was packed with the naturalists of wine, Madame Lapierre of Morgon holding court at a table by the window while manager Christi Hodge poured Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois to guests clamoring for one of the five seats at the bar.
On a quieter night, dinner included a globe artichoke of astonishing proportions and meaty flavor to match, as well as several exceptional preparations of pig, the house specialty. Other dishes were indifferent, such as a slightly overcooked plaice, the fish of the day. But there’s nothing indifferent about the wine list. It’s segmented into categories that exist only in nature—“Stones, Shells & Sea” (Pierre Luneau Clos de Allées Muscadet); “Sunbaked, cicada–loud, ageless country of scrub and terraced hills” (Côte Vermeille La Luna from Bruno Duchêne); and “Volcano” (Cornelissen’s Munjebel Bianco)—and also by style: “Chenin and Orange Friends,” “Oxidative and/or Yellow…” and “Vins de Soif.”
Hodge offered a taste of Argeno from Emilia and that La Luna from the Pyrenees coast—reds that need a lot of air to get past their initial funk. “You’re not allowed to be gentle with natural wines,” Hodge said. “If customers taste a wine and don’t like it, I’ll take it away, decant it and shake it up. When they taste it again, they say, ‘Is this the same wine? I can often convert them if I decant it.” The cheese at Brawn comes from Androuet, a sibling of the Paris fromagerie, the London outpost opened by two young Frenchmen, brothers Léo and Alex Guarneri. When Brawn is packed, Hodges often sends guests on a short walk to Spitalfields, where Androuet seats them under umbrellas at the edge of the outdoor market. When the Guarneris are overbooked, they return the favor.
Order a bottle of Champalou Vouvray with a housemade terrine of foie gras, figs and Porto chutney, and it will carry right through to match a rich tartifletteof potato, Reblochon and lardons. Then finish the meal with a visit to the cheese cave, where Léo might offer a taste of perfectly ripened Montgomery Cheddar, or an intensely green-veined Roquefort from Jacques Carles, one of the artisanal producers that supplies the shop. The eclectic wine list ranges far beyond France to include Lebanon (Musar’s 2003) and Chile (Matetic’s ’08 EQ Chardonnay). There’s also a page of Off-Piste Wines, including Ganevat’s Poulsard L’Enfant Terrible from the Côtes du Jura. Before heading out, don’t miss the Loire Valley yogurt from Le Fierbois Tradition to carry back to your hotel for breakfast. It’s one of the most soothing and satisfying fermentations you’ll come across.
Jamie Goode (wineanorak.com) had recommended Brawn and also recommended 28-50, as did Julia Harding (jancisrobinson.com), who was spotted there over a charcuterie plate and a bottle of Huet Clos du Bourg from 1993. The focus at this downstairs dining room off Fleet Street is on education (in the Wine Workshop upstairs), and on the range of wines that Master Sommelier and partner Xavier Rousset has assembled on his Collector’s List—bottles on consignment from notable cellars, sold at only a sliver of a markup on his cost. The short list makes classics from Bordeaux and Burgundy affordable to mere mortals, but what sets 28–50 apart is their service. The Vouvray in question, from a not-so-famous vintage that dates back to Gaston Huet’s era, had come to the table in somewhat frail condition. Though not clearly affected by TCA, it tasted stripped of flavor. Rather than leave his guests in a quandary, Rousset immediately offered to taste it, agreed it was not a proper bottle and opened another. It turned out to be the ideal match for the kitchen’s duck rillettes. Rousset had been less interested in the financial transaction than in participating in the evaluation of the wine, a refreshing attitude to find in a chic dining room.
His list by the glass is also worth a stop in: During the London International Wine Fair, it featured 30 wines spanning ten countries with a bounty in Austria—like a 2006 Steinmassel Riesling from Bründlmayer. All the wines are available by the taste (75 ml), glass (125 ml), carafe (250 ml) and bottle. There’s plenty of esoterica from France (Tissot’s chardonnay from Arbois, a Montus Madiran) and Italy (barbera from Colli Piacentini). Rousset also showcases a Winemaker of the Month, the May selection his first California producer: Jackson Family Estate. Was it to commemorate Jess Jackson, who recently passed away? Rousset said the timing was coincidence; they had planned the list months ago.