Wine, not whine

We need something to see us through these dull grey days of February, right? This is usually in the form of food and drink, if you’re a greedy bitch like me. Luckily two top invites zinged through my letterbox and I found my mood turn from cloudy grey to as light and airy as a mauve marshmallow.

Antidote, a charming wine bar and bistro off Carnaby Street has specialised in natural wines for nearly a decade, an ideal place for a natural wine and food pairing dinner ahead of the RAW artisan wine fair in May. Made with minimal intervention, natural wines are the closest you’ll get to hangover-free drinking thanks to very little added in the making (sometimes just a smidge of sulfites for preserving purposes) Natural wine is not only how wine used to be made, it’s also the future of sustainable, environmentally friendly winemaking.  Isabelle Legeron was our passionate host; she is the first French female Master of Wine and has made promoting and making natural wines the focus of her varied career; RAW is her vision. 

Isabelle is hugely charismatic and enthusiastic; she talked us through each wine, from a bubbly Gamay from the Rhone for aperitif, to her own Georgian ‘orange’ wine (that’s the colour, it’s not made from oranges!)  Made in the traditional way wine has been made in Georgia for 8000 years - poured into clay pots and buried underground for 2-3 months- this was a true taste of history. Tannic and bright with a real freshness, it went fabulously well with citrus cured bream, fennel, and horseradish, though  more robust fare would also stand up well.

My favourite was a 2010 Syrah made by Tom Shobbrook in Barossa, South Australia. I imagined the grapes growing on dark red clay soils and soaking up the Aussie sun, fermented in open oak and then aged in old French oak barrels. The hit of creamy vanilla on the nose is a dream; in the mouth it’s silky and full of finesse, with a pink pepper hit at the end.  It was perfectly paired with chef Andrew Jones’s confit shoulder of mutton, jerusalem artichoke, feta and onion mash. 

Natural wines wouldn’t be worth their must if they weren’t just as lip smacking as their non-natural neighbours.  Our palates have been tampered and hampered by big, jammy new world schlock, so some natural wines may challenge our palates. If you’re in search of vino to lift your jaded tastebuds, natural wine is where it’s at.

 RAW Wine Fair is in London 19th & 20th May with over 200 artisan producers encouraging you to taste their wares. Go thirsty!

Just one night later I found myself at the The Port House, a thin, teetering slip of a tapas bar that looks deceptively tiny from the street but once inside opens up into a lush candle lit palace. Excepting The Savoy, the Strand has never- until now- had anywhere decent to eat.The unlikely location- wedged between a bureau de change and a big, bland hotel- only highlights the sense of delight once you’re inside.  The management is Irish, they serve Spanish tapas, pour Portuguese port and glug English gin.  On the surface it may seem like a confused concept. The surprise is that not only is this NOT a “concept” (thank f*u!k) but the tapas are fresh and moreish; hand carved Jamon iberico and deep fried tetillita cheese, anyone? YES, especially when accompanied by a glass of sweet and salty Tawny Reserve from Kopke, the oldest Port Wine house in the world. I didn’t have time to get on to the gin cocktails, served in giant globe glasses. But at least I have an excuse to go back….soon!