For those of us who have been interested in natural wine for some time, it may be hard to remember how we built our knowledge and understanding. For me, my journey began when someone recommended L’Insolite in Paris the first time I stayed in Oberkampf, but it was a long time ago. It is easy to take our knowledge for granted, but I recently found out about a great way into the whole subject at Plateau in Brighton.
Of course you could go out and buy Isabelle Legeron‘s book, and indeed you should. But if you are looking for a more hands on and personal lesson, then Plateau Events Manager, Ania (who was formerly at Sager & Wilde), will devote half an hour or so to taking you through five sample pours (a generous 25cl of each wine) on her #winewednesdays. You get the chance to try a diverse selection for £10 with some fantastic bread and oil, plus a dish of olives, to snack on. Having enjoyed the great atmosphere and vibe on a recent night at Plateau, I thought I’d give it a try.
We began with one of the classic natural wine sparklers, Vouvray “La Dilettante” from Catherine & Pierre Breton. The Bretons farm at Bourgueil, but also have a small vineyard at Vouvray, further east, down the Loire. This is not a petnat but a méthode traditionelle bottle fermented fizz, zippy, delicate and dry. This was one of the pioneer natural wine estates in the region (biodynamic since 1991) and I admit that in recent years I’ve not been drinking their wines too often. Just too much new stuff to try. So opening the evening with this palate cleanser was a delight, and indeed brought back memories of happy trips to visit Les Caves de Pyrene (must return soon, Doug).
Testalonga Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2017 is, like the first wine, a Chenin Blanc, from vines planted in 1972 (but off granite here from Paardeburg/Swartland, South Africa). In fact there’s a kind of Loire quality to the fruit here, with perhaps just the rich plumpness on the middle palate (and a touch of peach) pointing away from France to a slightly warmer location. Craig Hawkins has made a cracker in 2017 and it was really nice to have my first taste of this new vintage.
Dinavolino Vino Bianco is a classic with which to introduce someone to natural orange wine. From Emilia Romagna and a blend including Malvasia di Candia, Ortrugo and Marsanne, just 11.5% alcohol, it sees two-to-three months on skins. It has texture, but, to steal a phrase from Christine Strohmeier at Newcomer’s RIBA Tasting this week, it’s not a “hard core orange wine”. You get gentle spice, apple-fresh acidity and then a waxy finish. There’s a gentleness about it that won’t scare a first timer, yet it has the colour. It’s also refreshing, not always a given with the genre.
Anathème was the first of two reds, made by Thierry Forrestier at Souvignargues in the Gard. Plateau take a lot of wine from Les Caves de Pyrene, but they also work with a number of smaller importers, and this comes from Wines Under the Bonnet. This is a blended wine, unusual in that 50% of it is made up from Aramon (with 30% Cinsault and 10% each of Carignan and Grenache). The vines range in age from 100 years plus for the Aramon to 60 years old for the Cinsault (the youngest vines by far), but the wine is still quite vibrant and not a wine attempting complexity (though it does have a little structure). As the only producer here not previously known to me, it was a nice off-beat selection.
The final wine was a fantastic red from Barranco Oscuro in Andalucia, called Varetúo (2016). “Tinto Varetúa” (sic) is a local synonym for Tempranillo, a variety which Barranco Oscuro do well with. At 14% on the back label, it is surprisingly fresh, and tastes more like a wine with 12% abv. The key is altitude, with the vines for this cuvée growing between 1,250 and 1,300 metres in some of Europe’s highest vineyards. That freshness is retained through just one year ageing in old oak. I love the Barranco wines. Some can have quite high alcohol levels, but these high altitude sites, with their significant diurnal temperature shifts, can nevertheless produce stunning elegance.
I thought the selection was excellent. Ania is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and has the kind of warmth about her which does not always go hand-in-hand with wine education. She explained how she tries to understand the level of knowledge people already have and what they really want to know. She’s not going to go off on one about malolactic fermentation and exact sulphur levels if people would be put off by such geekery, but she knows her subject. More than anything, I can guarantee that tasting with her will be fun as well as an education.
We stayed on to dine at Plateau, eating a great miso and spinach dish, plus one based on roast beetroot and quinoa (both vegan, both delicious), followed by rhubarb ice cream with tofu and apple jam (a star dessert). As I said when I attended the Basket Press Wines tasting at Plateau recently, the food here is very good, based on fresh, local, and preferably bio local ingredients. The Head chef is Will Dennard.
We accompanied these dishes with a wine I tried back in February at that Basket Press Tasting, Krásná Hora Sekt 2014. It’s a blanc de noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir, fresh and palate cleansing, and it was just as good as it tasted a month ago. Try it if you haven’t had a Czech sparkler.
There’s one thing to add here before we leave Plateau, and it is very important. DO NOT go home without looking at the take away wine list. Prices are remarkably generous AND you might be surprised at what you see. I left with a bottle of Patrick Meyer (Domaine Julien Mayer) Zellberg Sylvaner. I was too restrained, on reflection…but I shall be back very soon.
Wine Wednesdays takes place every Wednesday between 5-7pm at Plateau Brighton, 1 Bartholomews, BN1 (right opposite Brighton Town Hall). Booking is preferred but not essential (though it can get busy early evening, with the more discerning post-work crowd). Telephone 01273 733085 (or book online at www.plateaubrighton.co.uk). Note that the wines selected by Ania will change every week, and usually feature bottles which have just become available by the glass. Plateau is open seven days a week for food, natural wines and cocktails. Well worth the effort, and only a little over an hour from London…and you can have a nice stroll by the sea before you head home.