Great places to buy wine: Dvine Cellars

Dept stores have changing rooms, why shouldn't wine shops have tasting rooms?

Dept stores have changing rooms, why shouldn’t wine shops have tasting rooms?

Something rather wonderful is happening with wine retailing in the UK.

It didn’t begin well: Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen virtually all our mainstream wine merchants go bust – something catalogued by Tim Atkin in his recent article “The Fall of the British Wine Empire“. It’s been goodbye Unwins and Peter Dominic, adieu Thresher and Winerack, and on at least two occasions very nearly hasta luego Oddbins.

The almost total takeover of wine retailing by the supermarkets (Only Majestic remains as a serious challenger) has not been positive for choice and excitement on our shelves. However, the gaping chasm left on the high-street is slowly but surely being filled by a new breed of small, independent wine merchants. Generally, these establishments are opened, run and staffed by enthusiasts, and feature small-production, artisanal wines of the sort that will never be found on the shelves of Tesburys or Sainsda.

Olly who shall be known as Olly

Olly who shall be known as Olly

Last June, I wrote about Market Row Wines opening in my spiritual home, Brixton. I’m delighted to see Market Row going from strength to strength – I’ll be posting a full update shortly. But only months after that historic opening (the first time Brixton has ever had a wine merchant, as far as I’m aware), a second wine shop opened in what is technically a Brixton postcode (SW9). OK, to locals, Landor Road is Clapham North, but that’s splitting hairs.

I’ve been to Dvine cellars (the name is the weakest part of the proposition) on a few occasions. It’s a great place to buy wine, and drink it – The big secret being a comfortable enoteca-like basement where staff will happily serve you a bottle of anything on the shelves, for a miniscule mark-up. And with decent glasses too.

Dvine is the brainchild of ozzie Greg Andrews, a man with fire in his belly and pride in the wines of his home country. And why not. He is ably assisted by Olly (who shall be known only as “Olly” because I still don’t know his surname. Sorry, Olly), who provides the perfect foil to Greg’s New World passion. If you talk to Greg, you might just go home with a chunk of the Barossa Valley in your bag. If Olly’s on duty, you may find yourself purchasing Poulsard from the Jura or even a rather fine bubbly from Wales.

Luckily it wasn't crowded upstairs . . .

Luckily it wasn’t crowded upstairs . . .

First of the summer wine

Not only do these guys know about wine, they can really organise a party portfolio tasting. Last Wednesday’s event, to showcase their summer range, was one of the most unstuffy and enjoyable I’ve attended this year.

Dvine not only packed out their two floors with some 60 loyal customers, but also invited along some globe trotting winemakers and importers who were in town for Raw fair and LIWF. Notably, the irrepressible Tom Shobbrook was showing his wares, whilst dishing out hugs and kisses to all and sundry. The man’s enthusiasm for his wines (which are produced biodynamically, with the minimum intervention possible), and life in general, was infectious.

What really impressed me was the very high quality of Dvine’s range, across all price levels. Here are three picks which, bang for buck, I found particularly outstanding:

Tour de Belfort White 2011 (Lot, France) £11

This South of France blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris packs a punch way beyond its price, with an attractive green pepper note and creamy texture. Bone dry, characterful and refreshing. Organically produced.

Quinta Da Pammirinha Mica 2012 (Vinho Verde, Portugal) £13.50

Nervy and vibrant, with a hint of Granny Smith and a lick of wet stones on the finish. A wine that’s so alive, it could wake the dead.

Los Espinos Old Vine Carignan 2011 (Chile) £11.50

Muscular, leathery fruit, great structure – so nice to see a Chilean red which strives for elegance, over new oak or in-your-face ripeness.

Tom Shobrook shares the love at Dvine

Tom Shobrook shares the love at Dvine

And whilst Tom Shobbrook’s wines may require a little more outlay, they are unquestionably worth it. My notes are brief, I was tired and emotional.

Shobbrook Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley, Australia) £29

Ripe, but without sacrificing freshness. Super elegant, hint of lime leaves and a refined mineral finish.

Shobbrook Ebenezer Mourvedre 2010 (Barossa, Australia) £39

Very focused, pure dark fruit. Gorgeous texture and finesse, with just a soupçon of Mourvedre’s “animal” character.

Dvine offer 10% off the above prices, if you order at least 12 bottles online.

 

It’s great to see a small, local wine merchant turning their customers onto great wines, with such enthusiasm and unbridled joy. Cheers!

Dvine can be found at 74 Landor Road, London SW9 9PH – a short walk from Clapham North tube.

 

Market Row Wines – no more Gallo’s Creek for Brixton!

Market Row Wines - Dave Simpson

A small, ever changing selection is chalked up on the board

It could be seen as a sign of encroaching gentrification: as of May 2012, Brixton has its first ever independent wine shop, Market Row Wines. I don’t see it that way – sure, Brixton may be changing, but the regeneration of the covered markets (originally kicked off by the flawed but brilliantly successful spacemakers project) has stirred new life into the old dog – and has quite dramatically increased the variety of what’s on offer in the arcades. Market Row Wines is part of this ongoing development, and a very welcome one. How have I  lived somewhere for 16 years which didn’t even boast a branch of Thresher – let alone an Oddbins?

Talking of which, Market Row Wine’s owner David Simpson used to work for Oddbins, so I reckon he knows a thing or to about how to make good wine approachable. Indeed, his new venture is unpretentious and down to earth – rather like him, rather like Brixton.

A small, frequently changing selection is chalked up on the blackboard. Mostly old world (France, Italy and Spain are well represented), the list is clustered around the eminently sensible price point of £8-12. (Why sensible I hear you cry? I’ll let Juel Mahoney explain it brilliantly clearly here). Dave can also furnish you with a good “house wine” for around £6 – the Albizu Tempranillo is serviceable, if unremarkable – and there are one or two choices closer to £15 a bottle.

The wines are mostly from small “artisan” producers, and the focus is on quality, without slavishly adhering to any particular fad or fashion. A good proportion of the wines happen to be organically or bio-dynamically produced, and fans of “natural” wines won’t be disappointed. Most bases are covered – there’s a decent Argentinian Malbec, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, and a splendid sherry – the En rama “I think” Manzanilla. And there are usually 3-4 wines to try before you buy.

Look out for future tastings and “bring your own food” evenings (the opposite of bring your own bottle!) – Dave’s twitter account is his sole contact with the online world so far . . .

Here are my top selections from the current list:

2010 Gran Cerdo (Rioja, Spain)

A declassified Rioja, 100% tempranillo, organically produced and bursting with strawberry and cherry fruit. Quite charming, approachable and great value for £8.99. There’s a also a good back label/story – the name translates as “big pig” and is a finger to the bankers who refused to invest in the Gonzalo Gonzalo estate.

2011 Gavi “La Fornace” Bergaglio Cinzia (Piedmont, Italy)

Market Row Wines interior

Looking out onto Market Row

Ripe pear fruit, a floral nose and a lovely mineral finish – elegant and ever so slightly more full bodied than your average Gavi. £11.99

2008 Cuvée Constance (Rousillon, France)

A collaborative venture between St. Emilion garagiste legend Jean-Luc Thunevin (of Chateau Valandraud fame) and Jean-Roger Calvet, this blend of Grenache and Carignan is full of brooding dark blackberry and plum fruit, with a whiff of graphite on the nose. The 15% alcohol makes itself felt, but this still seems quite elegant, long and not overdone. No oak was used, so there’s just bags of primary fruit. An absolute steal at £12.49

I also tried a delicate Cotes du Ventoux, Domaine La Ferme Saint Martin “La Gerine”, which is now sadly sold out.

 

A very sparkling bottom

Breaky Bottom Cuvee John Inglis 2006To some, the idea of English wine is a bit of a joke, wrongly associated with those sickly sweet concoctions labelled as “British Wine”. It’s an unfortunate and confusing quirk of our labelling laws that “British Wine” is made from imported grape must, which often has sugar and other additives thrown in. English wine, however, is a different matter entirely.

There are now some 400 vineyards producing what is known as “quality wine” in the UK. Whilst all of red, white, rose and sparkling wines are produced, it’s generally accepted that the whites and bubblies are where it’s at.  In particular, English sparklers are now regularly giving their French equivalents a run for their money, with Nyetimber’s 2003 classic cuvee taking the top spot at the 2010 World Sparkling Wine Championships in Verona. I would certainly agree that the Nyetimber is a superlative effort, as are the Camel Valley sparkling cuvees, however last week (thanks to Brixton Cornercopia) I tried a slightly lesser known English bubbly that really stole the show.

Breaky Bottom is located in East Sussex, not far from Lewes. The modern day vineyard was planted here in 1974, and “traditional method” sparkling wines have been produced since 1994. What sets them apart is the choice of grape – Nyetimber and Camel Valley use traditional Champagne blends, that is to say Pinots Noir and Meunier, and Chardonnay. Breaky Bottom’s sparkling wines are 100% Seyval Blanc. This is a hybrid grape which is well suited to the UK climate, but sadly less so to EU wine laws. These state that only wine produced from Vitis Vinifera vines can bear a “quality wine” moniker on the bottle. This has lead to many fine Seyval Blanc varietal wines being marketed as “table wine”. This should not put you off – the wines are often delicious, the pejorative categorisation purely bureaucratic nonsense.

The Breaky Bottom “Cuvée John Inglis Hall” 2006 had an assertive toasty aroma, with bready, almost brioche-like flavours in the glass. What I particularly liked was the well-rounded apple fruit character. Some English sparklers can be on the nervy side, with elegance and piercing acidity, but precious little weight. In comparison this was positively full and fat, generous yet fresh and perfectly balanced. The floral Seyval Blanc character made it quite obvious that this was not Champagne, however the complexity and the elegance would easily be a match for a much pricier French “millesime”.

Lunch at Brixton Cornercopia (Obscure white grapes, Part 2)

Gribble Bridge Ortega Dry 2009, at brixton cornercopia

An empty bottle is all that remains of a wonderful lunch!

Brixton Village used to be a forgotten corner of the market, depopulated and unloved, until 18 months ago when the spacemakers project started persuading artists, philosophers, foodies and other madmen into the once empty units. Fast forward to March 2011, and it’s crammed full of interesting new eateries and shops, and in danger of becoming almost painfully trendy – albeit still with that typical Brixton grittiness. Some of the experiments have failed, others have prospered. Ian Riley and Anne Fairbrother’s imaginative take on a truly local corner shop and bistro (most produce is sourced from the market) is definitely one of the survivors, having been there since the start of the project.

Brixton Cornercopia seems to go from strength to strength every time I visit – what started as Saturday lunch at a few ramshackle tables outside the shop has now blossomed into a 30 cover restaurant with a charming dining room (complete with wood burning stove). Ian is one of those rare chefs who can take almost any set of ingredients and weave some magic to render them delicious and exciting. He seems to understand innately how to do just enough to the raw materials to show them in their best and freshest light, whilst never crowding the plate with unnecessary flavours or filigree. This Saturday, we particularly enthused about a creamy cauliflower and blue cheese soup, the pea and mint frittata (so fresh tasting), and a divine piece of Cornish brill: perfectly crisped skin offset nicely by anchovy, pea shoots and a kind of salsa verde. In conclusion, the egg custard accompanying the rhubarb desert was thrillingly spiced and utterly delectable.

To wash it all down, we tried the newly available Gribble Bridge Ortega Dry 2009 from Biddenden vineyard in Kent. I’m always keen to give English wines a try, although some are still “work in progress”. Happily, Gribble Bridge is fully formed – Ortega can be fairly dull when grown on its home territory in Germany, but our slightly cooler climate seems to allow it to express its florality better. This was a fine example, a nicely balanced mouthful of gooseberry/green-gauge scented fruit and plenty of the trademark Ortega floral notes, with none of the thinness that can sometimes plague our native wines. It’s also very well priced at only £12 in the restaurant, and a few pennies under £9 retail. Many English wines are produced in such tiny quantities that prices can be a little out of perspective with the ambitions of what’s in the bottle.

Talking of price, Brixton Cornercopia is also some bargain (three courses with wine, around £25). The cooking really is first rate, punching far above its weight. And who cannot love an establishment where the chef and co-owner pops into the dining room to have an impromptu rant every now and then? It’s all part of Cornercopia’s complete lack of pretension and unnecessary airs and graces. Did somebody say “Brixton”?