Natural wine – it may not be what you expect

Published on Yahoo Lifestyle UK & Ireland on 5th May 2014:

What is natural wine?

That is a topic of discussion which has plagued the wine industry for some time.

The advocates say that natural wines offer more flavour and, with fewer additives, it’s better for us. The naysayers, meanwhile, claim that there is no such thing as a natural wine and it’s a poor excuse for bad winemaking resulting in, more often than not, faulty wines.

The truth is, there is currently no legal definition of what natural wine is.

Read more at Yahoo!

South for Soif

Published on BespokeRSVP on 9th July 2012:

In South West London, we enjoy a slower sort of life. Not quite on Caribbean time but certainly noticeably less hurried than anywhere else in London. This translates to our restaurants too – more laid back, less formal. And that’s perhaps why it’s the perfect location for a delightful wine-centric restaurant by the name of Soif.

I chose a funny sort of day to visit Soif; inadvertently, I had booked in for lunch when I already had a long-standing reservation for dinner at The Waterside Inn. In the back of my mind, I was thinking how they were a world apart; where one had maintained 25 years of three Michelin stars, the other was still in its relative infancy. Having visited its sister restaurant in Covent Garden, Terroirs, I was expecting some very good things though.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Their handful of dishes were loosely split into starters, mains and desserts. Not quite tapas but certainly great for sharing over a glass of wine, or indeed several bottles if the mood takes you. And that’s really what Soif is all about, their wines.

The list, extending to six pages plus sweet/fortified and digestifs, offers some very affordable and, more importantly, interesting natural wine options. Indeed, when I later showed the list to a grape geneticist friend, he was very tempted by the varietals on show and even more intrigued by the mock offer of an ’82 Petrus at £1m.

But back to the food.

Duck rillette with toast and buffalo mozzarella, broad beans and savoury made contrasting starters where one said comforting winter and the other colourful summer. A sparkling something seemed apt and glasses of Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Rosato Frizzante and Benoit Courault Le P’tit Chemin Pet Nat were sunk. Needing some contrast in texture too, half a dozen well-shucked Maldon rocks followed as a palate cleanser.

Slightly more heavy set mains of turbot with samphire and Jersey Royals and loin of pork with roasted potatoes buttered cabbage and apple sauce arrived accompanied by Adegas Sameiras Blanco 2010 and AA Denavolvo Dinavolino Bianco 2010. There is a sense of Sunday brunch about the lunch. Perhaps much of it is down to the fact that the lunch rush seem to start from about 2pm with families and groups of friends.

A rather seasonal strawberries and cream was on the menu though I took on the bitter chocolate mousse and hazelnut sablé instead, keen to sample their pastry offering. Its intensity on the palate begged something even sweeter to tame. Happily, the staff recommended something mysterious that did the trick.

Satisfyingly filled with wine and food, I leave reflective. How interesting was the assault on my palate from the wine where, for once, the food took more of a back seat. How well adapted this little gem was to South West London living without being in any way inefficient. And how perfect a place it would be for long discussions late into the night. There aren’t many places that will tempt North Londoners south of the river. Soif is surely one.

Modern Pantry, Naturally

Published on BespokeRSVP on 18th May 2012:

Natural wine finds itself a happy home at Modern Pantry where for the month of May, it is all about minimal intervention. Collaborating with natural wine importers, Les Caves de Pyrene, chef Anna Hansen has created a light tasting menu with matching natural wines as part of Real Wine Month. For a food fanatic like me, there really is no better way of exploring wines than with great food.

Hansen, a Canadian by way of New Zealand, has certainly taken her culinary journey and put it on a plate. Interesting ingredients (verjus, cassava, monksbeard) is seasoned with Asian fusion (curry leaves, tamarind, pomegranate molasses). Though the flavours seemed strangely juxtaposed at times, they some how worked. Rather like natural wines, the food, while not appearing radically different, offered a surprising blend of vibrant and refreshing on the palate.

Modern Pantry’s well lit table made wine tasting really rather simple too – crisp white linen, natural light and window box in sight. Well that last bit is a bit irrelevant to the tasting but it does make the atmosphere a whole lot more pleasant. Just like, perhaps, the clean cut but not sterile décor and their high ceilings.

In this setting, rendang mince with deep fried quail egg and garlic briq tart with tomato and miso dressing made unusual canapé starters, paired with a mellow Domaine Belluard Haute Savoie Gringet Les Alpes 2010. Then came the cuttlefish ink laksa with grilled cuttlefish, a medley of textures and colours that played havoc with the table cloth. The intense monk’s beard was happily appeased by the Antoine Arena Patrimonio Grotta di Sole Blanc 2010.

Beef and lamb followed in the two meat courses. The pink peppercorn dusted beef fillet, tinted with the vanilla verjus dressing, was well rested and perfectly flavoured – easily the best I’ve ever had. The Masala roast lamb rump, with its smoked cassava and fenugreek croquette, wild garlic and coconut labneh as sides, provided quite a flavour map to explore. The pair was matched with Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan Trequilemu 2010 and Dard et Ribo Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2010 respectively.

Rounding off the evening was Madeira cake, vanilla cream and sloe gin sorbet on a bed of poached rhubarb. The creamy, tangy mix prepared the palate well for the Jurancon La Magendia de Lapeyre 2008. By the time fresh mint tea and chocolate truffles rolled round, a feline purr is about all you would be able to manage under the weight of satisfaction.