As mentioned in a previous blog, I like the Bottle Apostle in Hackney because it represents what is good in the world of wine retail i.e. an independent retailer sourcing interesting bottles directly from producers. So I was lured out for a tasting on a World Cup night and missed the humiliation of France by Mexico. Having spent a lot of time time in both countries I am fond of each but given the way France qualified I was fine with the result.
The tasting of Von Buhl Estate wines was led by the enthusiastic Christoph Graf (pictured right). It was the promise of Forster Pechstein Riesling Eiswein 2007 being opened that persuaded me to attend. I had not tasted this previously (in any vintage) but had been told, by a critic I rate highly, that it should be on my ‘to drink list’. I wasn’t disappointed and its intense finish was still resonating when I got home and checked on the sleeping kids. In fact it sustained through the highlights of the world cup games and if I hadn’t felt the need to clean my teeth before bed would probably have still been there when I woke up. A really wonderful example of noble rot that is becoming rarer due to climate change. I hope to live long enough to try it when it is in its prime and will look out for older vintages in the interim.
It was good to see the room full as these type of events are often loss leaders (although it gets quite hot for storage in the basement and they should find a better home for the wines that are there). The manager Tom has told me that they can sell out cheese and wine evenings but anything more specific tends to be more difficult. I hope they persevere because tastings like this are a public service as well as good marketing.
Three hours of tasting and discussion followed. I had already eaten but everyone else appeared more than happy with a succession of Vietnamese dishes to accompany the wines. I like to drink Riesling with South East Asian food and have had some great bottles at David Thompson’s Nahm at the Halkin. It was interesting to see the demographic profile of tasters, (young couples embodying the gentrification of Victoria Park and the increasing interest in wines among this age group). At times I found myself as intrigued by body language and social displays as I was by the wine.
I enjoyed comparing the Forster Pechstein Riesling Grosse Gewachs 2008 with’ its joined-at -the-hip’ sister Grand Cru, Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Grosse Gewachs 2008. The former, edgy when young with nice apricot notes and an underlying saltiness attributed to the black basalt (pitch stone) that gives it its name. The Ungeheuer, more traditional, fruit forward and intense floral notes, but for me less precise than the Pechstein.
A 2005 Ungeheuer was decanted but remained tight and is likely to become more approachable and relaxed over the next 5 years. I would like to try it in its tertiary stage because I am intrigued by the complexity and subtlety these wines have towards the end of their life. Many of the wines at this tasting were enjoyable but I constantly found myself thinking of a decade ahead when they are in full song.
For future tastings and workshops check out the website here.
The Bottle Apostle, Victoria Park Village, 95 Lauriston Road, Hackney, London E9 7HJ Tel. 020 8985 154
It is really good to see new independent retailers like The Bottle Apostle opening (website here). This is especially true when they are in the East End and therefore easily accessible for me. The Apostle is clearly at home in ‘Hackney Village’, just along from the excellent Ginger Pig butchers and opposite the Empress of India ‘gastropub’. Those seeking an old style Hackney experience can still wander through Victoria Park to ‘The Top of the Morning’ pub in Hackney Wick (as I sometime do with friends) but this area is also gentrifying at a swift pace following the influx of artists fleeing Hoxton in the hope of finding affordable studio space .
Anyway, whatever your view of gentrification, the Bottle Apostle is an attractive space with welcoming staff (all of whom seem to be called Tom) and most importantly a good range of the kind of wines you don’t tend to see on supermarket shelves. I plumped for; 2007 Riesling Kabinett Der Brauneberg, 2008 Zarate Albarino (I think Jancis R liked the 2007 so this is worth a punt) and 2008 Pinot Blanc from Domaine Bruno Sorg (pictured).
They are varietals I particularly like and although all were around the ten quid mark I think this is where true value often lies. I will try to remember to review them when I open them…
It is so refreshing not to be treated like an idiot (bogus supermarket discounts and hyped up medal blurb) even if this is not the cheapest selection of wines in town. I think they may have to rethink the Enomatic machines as I am unconvinced that they merit the space and must be a significant investment for a relatively small set up. Better to have a few open bottles, a cheap but effective Vacuvin and friendly banter. They are organising tastings (see site) and currently have a witty competition to design a label for their own claret. Hopefully not the first step in a global branding campaign.
I was saddened to see the plight of Threshers, the 112 year old off-licence chain founded by Samual Thresher, following First Quench Retailing going into administration. Victoria Wine, an important venue in my youth, was merged with Thresher in 1998. Wine cellar recently sold 109 shops after similar difficulties and Unwins had already become part of Threshers in 2005. Oddbins bought by Castel in 2002 was sold at a huge loss. Majestic however seems to be weathering the storm, in part due to the welcome move to reducing its minimum buy to six bottles, but the supermarkets seem to be heading towards an oligopoly (intended or not).
It is hard for conusmers to resist the retail advantages of the supermarkets. Even harder perhaps for producers to negotiate in a marketplace where they are so ‘outgunned’ by retailers. And, as for the critics and bloggers, what is their role in the wine economy? I like to think of myself as a relatively independent blogger due to my main job as a Psychologist, and I try to retain some objectivity when tasting (though would not be naive enough to proclaim a Ralph Nader inspired unimpeachability). I am aware of more than a few ‘critics’ who are so involved with the trade that their claims of objectivity, which is at best a fragile construct, are laughable.
I hope the Bottle Apostle thrives and will do my best to support it and other similar independents. I have no financial links with it but, ‘call me old-fashioned’, I just like local shops with good stock and the human touch.