Even I, known for my terrible puns, was able to avoid using some awful pun about czeching out Basket Press Wines and Plateau, Brighton’s brilliant natural wine bar/restaurant in The Lanes, in the title of this article, but I would seriously suggest that you do so.
Plateau has been developing a reputation as a lively bar with inventive food, not exclusively but largely based around a pescatarian ethos, but with plenty of vegetarian options. But where it really scores is as a natural wine bar, with an all naturel list containing bottles you’d be happy to light upon in London (you can check them out, and the wine list here). The take away wine prices seem pretty reasonable too.
I was at Plateau to taste a selection of wines imported by Basket Press Wines (contact via Facebook), which Jiri and Zainab bring in from Southern Moravia in the Czech Republic. Basket Press has been going for around a year and I first met them at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell which I wrote about back on 5 October 2017 (Out of the Box 2017, Part 2).
Plateau was humming, crammed full downstairs in the bar/restaurant on a Wednesday in February (pretty good), and the Tasting was sold out too, with several dozen attendees.
A bit of background first. Moravia is the main wine producing region in the Czech Republic (with around 20,000 hectares under vine), based around the country’s second city, Brno, in the southeast. The region borders Slovakia and Northeastern Austria. The climate is continental, similar to Alsace but sometimes with much colder winters. Soils are mixed too, with loess and limestone dominating rolling hills with south facing slopes planted to vines.
Grape varieties tend to lean towards Austrian and Germanic for whites with a mix of red varieties, Pinot Noir being quite a speciality. French grape varieties have been in the region for centuries, brought here by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th Century.
We tasted eight wines – one sparkler, two whites, two orange wines, and three reds. Naturally I had my favourites, but the wonder of this tasting was that I’d be extremely happy to buy any one of them. The quality of the wine was good, but even more interesting, every wine was stimulating and different, which made the evening exciting (as did the whole atmosphere at the Tasting, a great crowd of people).
The photos are a little grainy/blurry. It was very dark, but they give a flavour, do they not!
Krásná Hora Sekt 2014
We started off with this méthode traditionelle sparkler, which has seen nine months on lees. It was disgorged in November 2016 (so it has had another 14 months in bottle after disgorgement), and has zero dosage. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, it’s a Blanc de Noirs, very fruity indeed with just a hint of toast. Apparently they also produce a version with a little less than two years on lees, but I really enjoyed the fresh, palate cleansing, fruit of the younger cuvée here.
Dobrá Vinice “Kambrium” 2014
The first white comes from right down on the southern border with Austria, and it blends Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The Grüner adds a touch of peppery spice, the Riesling a spine, and the Sauvignon Blanc a fresh grassy/citrus note. I’d describe this as a lightish, aperitif wine, suitable for lighter dishes, very well made.
Ota Ševčik “Pinoty” 2015
Adding a “y” in Czech creates a plural, I’m told, and this white, my favourite of the two, is assembled from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and (Pinot) Chardonnay. Ota Ševčik farms just 2.5 hectares, producing 5-6,000 bottles each vintage. Each year the wines he makes are different, but they all endeavour to reflect the terroir, especially of the limestone hills.
The nose is smoky and the wine is relatively low in acid, but the palate is very interesting with building complexity beneath the soft exterior. It sees 24 hours skin contact followed by ageing in acacia barrels (for their neutrality – acacia is commonly used instead of oak in Moravia). It finishes smooth with a tiny bit of residual sugar. Most of his wines go to the USA, Japan and Scandinavia, apart from the little Jiri manages to bring to the UK. A lovely wine.
Ota was a founding member of the Czech Autentisté movement, which promotes natural winemaking and sustainable vineyard management in the country, with a focus on autochthonous and regional grape varieties.
Petr Koráb “Natur Ryšák” 2015
This is the first of two “orange” wines. It’s fairly pale and you can smell the texture and anticipate the mouthfeel before you sip. Very dry with that orange or mandarin citrus that I always think must be some kind of auto-suggestion with wines like this. Quite gentle with a haunting bouquet that builds slowly into something more exotic (cardamom, perhaps).
The blend is Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Grüner Veltliner, grown on the southern slopes of gently rolling hills between 200-300 metres altitude. The Gewurz comes out as a spicy, floral core. Cold maceration on skins is fairly long at 4 months.
Koráb is a mixed farmer, and also specialises in artisan cheese production.
Richard Stávek “Špigle Bočky” 2015
My favourite of the orange wines, and probably my overall favourite of the night, this has just two weeks on skins before nine months in used acacia barrels. The nose is much more immediate than the previous wine, with hints of clove, smoke and mandarin. Despite having less time on skins than the previous wine, this had more colour and was more like a full-on “orange” style.
This is a field blend of (we think) eight varieties all co-planted in a couple of plots. They include both Grüner and Roter Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Welschriesling. Grapes are foot stomped to extract the juice.
The label (below) is fascinating. Printed on handmade paper, the script comes from a document found by the family, which dates back to the 16th Century, which has been reproduced by hand for printing. The wax on the bottles comes from Richard’s own bees, and he also keeps sheep and goats, and manages a forest. Richard was also, along with Ota Sevčik above, a founder of the Czech Autentisté group in 2008.
Stapleton & Springer Pinot Noir “Ben’s Reserve” 2014
Jaroslav Springer is the producer imported by Basket Press who I’ve tried most often. Not only did I meet these wines at the Out of the Box Tasting mentioned previously, but a couple of them (Blanc Pinot Noir and Orange Pinot Noir) made their way to one of our Oddities lunches in 2016. The first “S” here is Craig Stapleton, who used to be US Ambassador to The Czech Republic. He so liked Jaroslav’s wines that he hooked up with him to produce a range based around different interpretations of Pinot Noir. The domaine is fairly big, around 25 hectares of vineyard.
“Ben’s Reserve” is a fairly pale Pinot which has seen a year in barrique. There is good cherry and raspberry fruit on the gentle nose, good fresh acidity and a bit of grip from the wood ageing. It’s a slightly lighter interpretation of the grape, but given a bit of structure from the oak. It will doubtless soften further in time, but personally I’d drink this now with food, served cool. The 14% abv shows just a touch on the nose, but not on the palate.
Jaroslav Osička “Modry Portugal” 2016
Modry Portugal is the Czech name for the Blauer Portugieser variety which, despite its name, is often found in Austria and Germany. Jaroslav Osička has been a pioneer of natural wine in Moravia since the 1980s, and is very much looked up to in the region. His whites are made with full-on skin contact and often in an oxidative style which some have likened to Jura wines. This red is a little different.
First we have more colour than the Pinot above. The fruit is really crunchy and juicy. It sees six months in used wood and then is stored in inert fibreglass tanks to retain freshness before bottling. Another wine to glug slightly cool, perhaps, despite the darker hue.
Tomás Čačik “Cabernet Moravia” 2015
On balance, my favourite red of the night, Cabernet Moravia is a 1970s Czech crossing between Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt. This wine sees 12 months in large oak. It has a much deeper nose than the other two reds, is smooth fruited, with a good smack of acidity and spice to finish.
Čačik is interesting because he trained as a lawyer before switching to being a chef. When he started out making wine, he did it the “wine school” way, using technology. But he just wasn’t happy with the results, so slowly he began to strip everything back, eventually arriving at natural wine, and presumably a degree of contentment. I tasted a few other wines of Tomás’ at Out of the Box and he’s definitely an interesting producer, worth keeping an eye on.
After the Tasting I had a chance to chat with both Jiri from Basket Press, and Ania from Plateau, and a group of eight of us moved down into the restaurant/bar to eat, and drink more wine. I contributed what was their last bottle of Catherine Riss “Dessous de Table” (sic) 2015 which is a co-fermented Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois blend from Reichsfeld and Nothalten, which sees ageing in old barriques. This is a glorious wine from one of Mittelbergheim’s finest producers, fresh and yet with a touch of stone fruit richness too, really interesting, and way more complex than a lot of Pinot Blanc.
Regular readers will probably be aware I was in Alsace in October and Riss was the one vigneronne I really annoyed myself by not having time to visit. But I did buy up a few Pinot Blancs/Auxerrois, because they (along with the quality of the reds) appeared the most improved grape varieties. I drank a magical bottle from Antoine Kreydenweiss (La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, from the top of Andlau’s Kastelberg) just a fortnight ago.
The next wine was served blind in carafe. I did guess Gamay/Pinot Noir but could not guess the wine (I did hazard Auvergne or Ardèche as a second guess). It was actually a bottle from a producer I’d tried to make a repeat purchase of last weekend, but his “Pink Bulles” had sold out, so karma was working in my favour.
Jean Maupertuis farms around four hectares at St-Georges-sur-Allier and to the really geeky natural wine crowd is one of the most important winemakers in Central France, not least because he has been one of those instrumental in reviving viticulture in the Auvergne, from a state of near extinction.
This cuvée, Les Pierres Noirs, is a name reflective of the black volcanic rocky soils on these high altitude slopes. The grape variety is Gamay, but a strain of “Gamay d’Auvergne”, which Jean insists is different from the Gamay of Beaujolais. The wine has a most striking strawberry glow. There were definitely some noticeable reductive notes initially, quite farmyardy. These blew off to scents of strawberry, gentle cherry, and floral notes. A fun fizz made by the Ancestral Method, reinforcing my increasing view that Gamay is a cracking good variety with which to make fun sparkling wines. Hopefully I’ll drink this again, soon.
I had a brilliant time at Plateau, not least because of the friendliness of strangers, and the genuine warmth and hospitatlity of the staff. Not only that, the Moravian portfolio of Basket Press Wines was, even though I’d sampled some before, quite eye-opening. I seriously suggest that they are worth dipping your toe into if you are looking for adventurous drinking. Everything we tasted retails between £20 to £35, with most within the lower half of that range. I think several will be on the list at Plateau soon.
News just in today that Noble Fine Liquor is to close its Farringdon Road shop on Saturday 10 February. The space is owned by Quality Chop House and was always on a kind of short term loan. Broadway Market and P Franco carry on as usual, and hopefully NFL will have plans for further expansion in the near future. For me it’s especially sad because I’ve heaped the place with such praise recently, naming it as my joint Wine Shop of the Year for 2017.
For those of us who live outside of London, the increasing concentration of the best bars, wine shops and restaurants in East London’s “bus-land” makes for greater effort required to visit them. But I’d like to say thanks and cheers to Ben at Farringdon Road (who has been given a bus map and will be transferring over to Broadway Market once he discovers which routes to alight upon). I’m hoping to make a trip one last time next week, and to discovering the many delights around NFL’s main store (Broadway Vegan Market, folks) as soon after I return to the UK as possible, next month. Goodbye Farringdon Road (“Where the dogs of society howl…”).