I don’t know if you are like me but I love browsing. Record shops, book shops and yes, wine shops. I find it remarkably difficult to enter one of these establishments and to leave without a purchase. But aside from the pleasure of spending time looking at the shelves I find that physical stores actually encourage me to try new things. Something always leaps out at me that I did not enter with the intention of buying, and quite often that something is a book, record or bottle that I didn’t even know existed. In the age of online shopping the pure pleasure of browsing is being lost to many of us.
There’s another great thing about these physical stores, and especially a wine store. Many of us would like to be adventurous but don’t necessarily know where to begin. Nowhere is this more obvious than wine regions which are new to us and hardly seen in your run of the mill store. This is why you really need to get down to Hackney Road during December.
If you are someone who reads this blog avidly, or even dips in from time to time, you will have spotted that I have a developing interest in the wines of Central Europe. It’s a kind of natural progression from my passion for Austria and her wines. Maybe my relatively regular bottles littering my “Recent Wines” posts may have whetted your appetite, but you have not been tempted to order online. Your prayers may be answered if you might consider dipping your toe in with just two or three bottles, and you’d like a bit of advice in selecting them. Basket Press Wines is opening a popup shop in East London during the month of December. I would suggest that you get down there if you possibly can to check out what’s going on in this exciting wine scene.
Basket Press are specialists in the wines of the Czech Republic (or Czechia if you prefer). This isn’t surprising as Jiri Majerik is a Czech national. But they don’t stop there. They also cover top producers from Slovakia as well as dipping into Hungary, Slovenia and Germany.
Czech Moravia has a long tradition of winemaking but is poorly served in our wine literature (it warrants around 200 words in the new (8th edn) “World Atlas of Wine”). It has around 16,500 hectares of vines which spread southwards, in a kind of triangle, from the apex of the region’s largest city, the regional capital of Brno. It is a hotbed of high-quality natural winemaking, led perhaps by Jaroslav Osicka, one time teacher at the local wine college. The region has its own movement, called Autentiste, with its own festival, Autentikfest, every August. It is this band of winemakers which Basket Press focuses on for the core of their list. Their portfolio is not exclusively “natural”, but all of their producers are either biodynamic or at least organic, with low intervention at the heart of what they sell.
Grape varieties to look out for do include the better known varieties like Veltliner, Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) and Pinot Noir (planted here originally in the 14th century), but also regional specialities like Modry Portugal (Portugieser) and Cabernet Moravia (a high potential Zweigelt-Cabernet Franc cross). I would especially recommend checking out the region’s many interesting petnats. Petr Korab is perhaps the king of Moravian bubbles, for my subjective taste, but he’s not alone.
In addition to the above you will find on their list the wonderful Czech natural ciders of Utopia, as well as wines from Slovakia (do not miss Magula), Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. Jiri and his wife Zainab have just made their first excursion into Germany, having taken on Max Sein Wein from Franken. It’s an estate which is certainly part of the “Alt-Germany” movement, with interesting blends, very old-vine Silvaner, and the rare Schwarzriesling (that’s Pinot Meunier to you and I).
Another star in the portfolio is their Hungarian producer, Réka-Koncz. Annamária Réka makes wines in the very far east of the country, so some of her vines are even technically in Ukraine. They are natural wines made most often with varying degrees of skin contact, and with a strong focus on autochthonous grape varieties. These are sensational wines for anyone with a true sense of vinous adventure, not easy and perhaps challenging for those whose palates may be of a more conservative bent, but I’m not alone in recognising their magic. Do ask advice in-store if you want to try one of the less extreme cuvées, though perhaps you might just go straight in.
So, to the details. The Basket Press Wines Popup will be open from 1 December at 188A Hackney Road, London E2 7QL. It will be easy to find for many, situated across the Road from Sager+Wilde, Morito and The Marksman Pub.
Opening will be from 1 December to 31 December, Wednesday to Saturday from 12pm to 8pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. The Christmas exceptions will be Christmas Eve (24th) when they will open from 12pm until 3pm and then they will remain closed from 25th to Monday 28th inclusive. The shop will then reopen on 29th to 31st December from 12pm until 8pm.
Delivery will be possible, and in any case Basket Press Wines offers a very good next day mail order service throughout the year at basketpresswines.com . However, for the month of December you have the opportunity to browse, and to chat with Jiri and Zainab. Do not miss this chance to acquaint yourselves with these interesting and often genuinely thrilling wines if Hackney Road is within reach. Hopefully during this time we will be allowed to enjoy some of the other fantastic watering holes in the near vicinity as well (lunch sorted).
I should just add, as it is fairly unusual for me to promote something like this, that I am neither being paid or bribed to do so. These wines fascinate me and I’m keen to promote them, and to get people to try a few. There are other very good importers who sell one or two wines from this wider region, but Basket Press has the largest concentration of them in the UK at the moment. I think it’s a good move for them to go for a popup and I hope it introduces many more inquisitive wine lovers to what these regions have to offer.