Natural wine bar in London: Artisan and Vine
It's a bit soon to be calling it a 'movement', but London currently has two natural wine* bars. Last year it had none. Paris is chock full of them, and they're just brilliant places to drink delicious natural wines, usually accompanied by simple, honest food.
I've blogged here about one of the new natural wine bars, Terroirs, but it wasn't until Monday that I finally got to visit the second, Artisan & Vine. And the good news is that it's really great!
Just a short walk up the hill from Clapham Junction Station, until last year this was a Cuban-themed cocktail joint. Now, new owner Kathryn O'Mara has transformed it into an attractive wine bar with a really interesting list of wines. I met up with her to see how she was getting on.
Born and raised in Sydney, Kathryn (above) has a business background. She was a successful management consultant with Price Waterhouse, with an Audi TT convertible as a company car. But she wasn't excited by the work. 'I decided that if I wasn't excited by this job, then I wouldn't be excited by any corporate job', she recalls. Kathryn had been cultivating an interest in wine, and after positive experiences visiting English vineyards she decided she'd like to run a wine bar where 'everyone could try things'.
So she did a WSET intermediate certificate, but at the time had no thoughts about specializing in natural wine. It was a tasting of biodynamic wines at Green & Blue that sparked her interest in all things natural, and led her in the direction of what she's now doing at Artisan & Vine, which she opened in July 2008.
The wine list is really interesting, combining natural wines from a range of different suppliers with a selection of English wines. At any one time there are four reds and five whites for sale by the glass, and also any odd bottles that happen to be open. Kathryn has some very attractibe small carafes that take a single glass - these are popular with customers who might want to tackle a small tasting flight together. There are also regular wine tastings, which start at £12 a head for five wines.
Kathryn recently switched to a cash mark-up from a percentage mark-up for bottles over £26. 'It was pretty obvious that wines over this price sold rarely', she reports. You can also buy any of the wines at retail prices to take home. With only a small kitchen area, food is largely cheese and meat plates, with a small selection of mains, most of which are under £10.
We tried one of the wines, a Provencal red.
Clos Milan 'Duo' 2000 Les Baux de Provence, France
Made without any added SO2, a Grenache-dominated blend. Really aromatic with sweet plum and cherry fruit, as well as a delicious earthy spiciness. Smooth, pure, earthy and sweet on the palate, showing lovely complexity and some earthy notes. Utterly delicious: a beguiling, warm red wine. 92/100 (£42 from the bar)
Kathryn says that on Friday and Saturday nights Artisan & Vine is a bar that could be 'like any nice bar'. But I think it's just great that people are being given the chance to try such an interesting bunch of wines, even if that's not why they're drinking here. I also find it really encouraging that wine (and particularly natural wine) has enough intrinsic interest to encourage people like Kathryn to lay aside successful, lucrative careers to pursue their dreams.
*I realise that I haven't defined the term 'natural wine' here. It's a complex sort of definition, but in short these are wines made in a traditional way, with the only permitted additive being sulfur dioxide, and usually this is only added at bottling in small amounts. The growers work sustainably in the vineyards: many are organic or biodynamic.
Labels: natural wine