The community website for Forest Hill and Honor Oak, London SE23
Events | Features | Forum | Local Books | Contact

Forum Archive
Robwinton's guide to local wine lists...

Author Message
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Wednesday, 08 November, 2006 - 01:33 pm:   

With great homage to Baggydave's views on beer & pubs, I thought I would start a new thread looking at that alternative to the brewed nectar and focus on the fermented grape instead.

Wine has become ever more popular in the UK, and there is a good chance that you will find a decent wine list wherever you go these days. However, we rarely get a chance to taste more than one of the wines on the list and it is often a gamble to trade up to something you have not tried before, so I thought I might use this thread to post my thoughts on local wines I have tried.

I have been to a number of local pubs and restaurants and intend to try as many as possible, so this is just a place to store my thoughts. If you have tried anything you think others should try (or avoid) please do add it here.

I should probably state for the record (to be whiter than white) that I do work in the wine trade but this is not about selling wine, this is my view as a local consumer. I trust this comes across in the reviews!!
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Wednesday, 08 November, 2006 - 01:55 pm:   

So, to the first review; Tapastry

When I hear that Tapastry was opening, I thought I would try and find out what the plan was for the wines. As it happens, Jason who runs Tapastry was very keen to hear what his potential customers had to say (there were lots of suggestions on this site:
see ../9/683.html"#f7f7f7">
Joined 18-07-2005
Posted on Wednesday, 08 November, 2006 - 02:02 pm:   

This is great Rob. Had the Rioja and it's pretty good for the money.

Be interested to read your review of the Dartmouth. Sometimes the wine can be a bit indifferent there.
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Wednesday, 08 November, 2006 - 02:54 pm:   

Thanks Simon. I must say I agree to a certain extent about the DA.

Being keen on wine (I almost never drink any other alcohol) I always try and chat to the owners/managers about their selection. I have had a conversation with Michael and Violeta about their list and I think they too would like to liven it up a little, but it requires those of us who like wine to be willing to buy the more interesting stuff.

I will go there again soon with an open mind and report back.
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 05:43 pm:   

OK, so I have only been there once in two years, but in my defence, Babur was shut for the first year or so.

My wife and I finally managed to organise a babysitter and spend a night out at the Babur we had heard so much about before moving here.

It was a recent Tuesday night, but even so it was reasonably busy which is a good sign. I won't bore you with details of the food, this is a wine thread after all, but we both had lovely dishes that were tasty but not too spicy, and felt that the food was very good.

On to the wine.

The Babur list was put together by a well known wine industry consultant (yes, there are such things) who also happens to be a Master of Wine. On the good side it means that there are all sorts of clever and unusual wines on the list. On the down side, most of us would not recognise half or more of them, so would probably never order them.

The wine list is not incredibly long, as I suspect that beer sales are higher than an average quality restaurant, but there are some good choices. It is also handily organised into taste categories (light and fruity whites, aromatic and full bodied, etc.) so if you know what you are looking for, you can skip to the right category.

However, my criticism would be that if you are going to list unusual wines, you have to provide tasting notes so the punter can decide if it sounds worth taking a risk on it. At the moment the list only shows names and where it comes from, so you need to know a lot about wine if you are going to choose wine on anything but the price.

As I have only been once, I have only ordered one bottle, so I shall restrict my tasting note to that and maybe ask you if you have others to add.

We jumped straight to one of the most expensive whites on the list. I must say I love wines from Alsace. These are more full bodied, intense, aromatic and fruity (as in taste almost sweet whilst still being 'dry' or medium dry wines). They are the perfect accompaniment to spicy dishes because the intensity of the flavour of the wine matches the food.

The 2003 "Zind", from arguably one of the top producers in Alsace, Zind-Humbrecht cost us £24 if I remember correctly. This is a large sum of money, but worth every penny. Most restaurants mark up their wines several times, but to my knowledge you would pay £16 in a shop for this, so this was a steal.

I don't want to go all "Jilly Goolden" on you, but this wine has powerful flavours of citrus fruits like lemons & mandarin as well as some notes of honey and more exotic flavours too like lychees. The acidity of the wine is enough to clean your palate even with strong foods (in this way acidity is a good thing, don't get me wrong), and the richness of the fruit means it balances the spice as well.

If you are going to go to such a nice restaurant and you want a wine to suit the occasion, I recommend you try this. It is not for your average Pinot Grigio drinker as it is a BIG wine, but it rewards those with an open mind for more unusual wines.

Anyone else tried their wine list?
Joined 20-02-2006
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 05:59 pm:   

This has very quickly become one of my favorite threads. It's almost like being there.
Joined 09-04-2005
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 06:07 pm:   

My favourite wine at the moment is an Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris. If the Babur has that on the list I'll be there like a shot.
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 06:28 pm:   

Good call, they can be really good wines. What producer do you like?

Unfortunately I don't remember seeing one on the list - in fact I think the Zind might have been the only Alsace wine. The Zind itself is a blend but without any Pinot Gris.

Strange to think that a grape that makes such wonderful wines in Alsace is the same one making so much dull Pinot Grigio in Italy.

One thing to watch out for though [wine geek alert] the EU have forced producers from Alsace and Italy to stop using the term 'Tokay', so it is straight Pinot Gris now. Apparently we might have confused it with the ultra sweet (and delicious) Tokaj from Hungary!?
Joined 09-04-2005
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 08:20 pm:   

Now that's where you've stumped me. Picked up a bottle yesterday retailing for £16.97 and it was a 1998 vintage which was labelled 'Tokay' but at that price I swiftly put it back down again. I've found (probably inferior) Alsace Pinot Gris elsewhere but I hadn't noticed they'd stopped using the term 'Tokay' Why has the EU stopped it?
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 09:53 pm:   

£16.97? Where was that?

The reason is that Hungary produces a really excallent sweet wine they call Tokaj, but pronounced Tokay. [happy to give more information on this, but not likely to be of real interest across the board]

Under all the laws designed to stop South African producers making "Port" and Californians who used to label any white wine as "Chablis", certain regional 'brands' were protected. This is one of the borderline cases where it is change for change's sake, but the ultimate reason, i.e. stopping cheap imitations from outside the EU, is a good one.

Where do the wine drinkers on buy their wines? Mine are mainly online but I have found one or two local wine merchants as well.
Joined 09-04-2005
Posted on Monday, 13 November, 2006 - 11:19 pm:   

Without meaning to go off subject here, I saw this wine in Lewes at their local (and well known) brewery shop. It also stocks a surprisingly vast range of wines including several by Canadian producers but I don't know if that's good or bad.
Joined 09-04-2005
Posted on Tuesday, 14 November, 2006 - 09:37 am:   

Rob I've had some really nice Sicilian wines in the last couple of years - are there any you'd particularly recommend and any chance of buying locally?
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Tuesday, 14 November, 2006 - 09:53 am:   

The key to the question is "being available to buy locally". Unless I am very much mistaken we have only Mr Lawrence (Crofton Park), Green & Blue (E. Dulwich), Sainsburys and Threshers.

The first two are independents and are therefore much more interesting to explore, but I can't specifically recall any Sicilians. I suspect that Mr Lawrence might have one or two though.

The grapes really worth trying are Nero d'Avola and Primitivo. They both make fuller flavoured red wines, but with a nice spicy element that takes them away from being just another fruity red.

You too sound like you like your wines. Have you come across anywhere locally with a particularly good list? I thought I might check out what Kafe La has done (last time I was in there they still had no licence) and also, for shear breadth, Barcelona Tapas Bars as well.
Joined 04-03-2005
Posted on Tuesday, 14 November, 2006 - 01:03 pm:   

Does anyone have any idea why the Sainsbury's on London Rd have reduced its wine selection by half?

I thought it was rather strange, when they opened that the wine they had facing the window was Hock and Blue Nun. Now they seem to have the wine boxes. Why didn't they show off some of the nicer wine they (used to) sell?
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Tuesday, 14 November, 2006 - 01:21 pm:   

They probably reduced it to sell more Christmas rubbish. They will probably be focusing on the volume discount lines so they will offer fewer wines. I hadn't noticed a reduction last time I was in, but I did see that they moved it around a bit.

Of course, supermakets lure in shoppers with wine offers so they probably chose to put it in the window there to get us to walk in. Ironically this is the worst place for wine as the changes in temperature and the light spoil the wine - so they might as well put the rubbish there. Wine boxes will suffer less than glass bottles, so I guess they are adressing this a little.
Joined 19-05-2004
Posted on Wednesday, 15 November, 2006 - 12:28 pm:   

Robwinton and Baggydave currently going head to head. First round decider at Ye Olde Honor Oake, followed by a rematch at the Moor Park Tavern. Referee to be Steve Grindlay.

SE23 watches with baited breath.

Possible franchise opportunities in Hoxton etc, once ELL up and running
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Monday, 27 November, 2006 - 09:44 pm:   

Went to Yune for lunch today (third time I think). This is a very nice, and quiet, place to have lunch during the week.

I have not tried their main meals in the evenings as I am totally sold on their lunch special. For only about a fiver you get a starter, main course, rice/noodles and salad in a Bento Box (which is Japanese as far as I know, but it works - this is a big box with different compartments for each dish).

The wine list here is pretty good, covering all sorts of countries and styles. The only problem is I don't know how they will sell them all. A great Malbec from Argentina is not, in my view, a good match for Chinese/Asian food, but maybe I am being too closed minded.

All I can comment on is the house white. I usually despair when a restaurant like this goes to the effort of putting together a big list, only to put a solitary wine by the glass, but this white was pretty good.

A Vin de Pays from a small appelation I admit I have never heard of, it is actually just about perfect. It has a great freshness and acidity, a good mix of light floral notes to be good on its own, and a delicate fruit flavour that compliments the lightly spicy dishes I prefer (I like garlic but do not go for the full spicy, chilli hot ones).

I have no idea how well they do in the evening, but I remember that when it opened a few months ago a number of others on this forum said very nice things about it, so if you have not been, give it a try.

If you go in the evening, please do try the Argentinian Torrontes (an unusual white with a crispness, but delicate fruity palate that I would guess would be just right for Chinese food). This should be a great match, but a bottle for lunch is just too much, even for me.
Joined 09-04-2006
Posted on Friday, 01 December, 2006 - 04:14 pm:   

Yune is excellent and they do a great offer in the evenings (or at least they did a couple of months ago). You can eat all you want for £12.95 which we capitalised on by ordering everything "tapas-style". A great way to try a mixture of styles!

We only drank beer but they do serve Chang which is top class.
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Tuesday, 05 December, 2006 - 09:49 am:   

A little further afield, and somewhat outside SE23 proper, but still a "local" restaurant for FH residents - The Sea Cow.

I went up to E. Dulwich recently looking for a simple lunch with the family. We came across the Sea Cow - a Fish and Chip shop with a difference. I had been meaning to try it for a while but not had the chance. This is the place near the top of Lordship Lane where they show you the fresh fish and cook it only to order.

This is SO much better than a normal chippie, but still not a restaurant, so the prices not the cheapest, but great for a simple meal out.

The food was very good, very fresh and well done, something I wish more restaurants charging many times the price could achieve.

As it was lunch we couldn't go to town on the wine, but I had a nice glass of white Burgundy from Louis Latour. Simple, crisp and fresh chardonnay. A little too crisp and not enough of the flavours I was hoping for, but as a partner to Haddock and Chips, probably about right. My wife had the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Fairleigh Estate - always a good bet, and this was very good (I was slightly jealous).

Prices were fair, and if you like this sort of thing, you would probably recognise that they buy most (all?) of their wines from Majestic. This means that you have a good chance to recognise something from the list if you already shop there.

All in all a throroughly recommended experience, and the kind of place I would like to see in Forest Hill itself.
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Monday, 15 January, 2007 - 12:32 pm:   

With so much stuff to do (and drink) at home over Xmas, I have not been out all that much recently. However, I have been out to two contrasting places in FH in the last few weeks.

One, which will remain nameless, was shambolic. A poorly constructed list with so many mistakes (factual as well as spelling) that it looked like a joke, and the wine I eventually tried was oxidised. For the sake of this place's survival I hope they take another look at this part of the business.

On the other hand, I have been to the Dartmouth Arms for lunch a couple of times. They have tried to get a good range, offer several different wines by the glass and the wines are reasonable value for money. I must admit I would be keen for this list to be a little more adventurous (without necessarily adding to cost) but that is a small gripe.

The two I have tried recently are the Spanish Garnacha (Cruz de Piedra) and the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, both by the glass. Both were good examples of their category and I would recommend them to you.

Garnacha from Spain is the same grape as Grenache from France and even Australia. It can make rich, soft, fruity wines and if you get nice "old vine" (vinas viejas) it can have a lovely concentration too.

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile is not usually like the wines from New Zealand. Instead of the really sharp, green, asparagus type flavours, these wines are often softer, with more peach fruit notes. Easier to match with food and very gluggable.

I hope to do a much broader note on the Dartmouth Arms' list in future as it has one of the widest range of wines in this area, but that'll take a few visits for me alone. Anyone tried a bottle of something they would recommend?
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Tuesday, 23 January, 2007 - 09:56 pm:   

Went on the Forest Hill Society pub crawl this weekend which gave me an opportunity to try some more wines, ... except I didn't get very far.

I missed Bar Equal (complications getting my daughter to bed) so no review. Maybe next time.

At Tapastry I had a very nice glass of the Malbec. Unlike the 95% of Malbec that comes from Argentina, or the 4% that comes from France, this one comes from Spain and is probably the only one. It was a gutsy wine with good depth of flavour probably best suited to richer food, although I gallantly accompanied it with very nice almonds. Definitely worth a try, but order some food to go with it.

Then we went on to the General Napier. Nice local pub, but unfortunately for any wine reviews, this is firmly a beer pub. I switched to beers here (nice IPA) which also means that when we finally got to the Foresters I chose not to switch back and tempt a big hangover. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the look of their wines on display so I had better go back and take a closer look.

So little time. So many wines.
Joined 09-04-2005
Posted on Wednesday, 24 January, 2007 - 05:49 pm:   

I've had consistently good Argentinian Malbecs, although confess to knowing little about who produces it.
Shiraz is getting very popular isn't it?
I've noticed 2 distinct types of flavour so far, one is more velvety and refined, and the other fuller, spicier and overpowering - almost too much without food. Any you'd particularly recommend? There's obviously good and not so good stuff out there....
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Saturday, 27 January, 2007 - 03:23 pm:   

Well, Malbec can be quite powerful stuff. The best Malbec wines come from "high Altitude" vineyards where the cooler nights stop the grapes from getting too ripe and jammy.

I would recommend the wines from Catena Zapata (their brand names include Argento (cheap), Alamos (medium) and Catena (premium). I think Mr Lawrence might stock this.

As for Shiraz, this has been popular for a while if you drink Australian wine (esp. from the Barossa), but Chile and particularly South Africa are catching up very fast. Of course you could always go back to its roots in the Northern Rhone, but good ones can be pricey.
Joined 19-05-2004
Posted on Wednesday, 18 July, 2007 - 10:39 pm:   

£6.20 for a glass of house Rose? Is this normal Rob?? (the Fire Station in Waterloo, clearly off bounds for SE23)
Joined 07-06-2006
Posted on Wednesday, 18 July, 2007 - 11:00 pm:   

presumably a large glass Baggy?

Normal? Maybe. Right? No, probably not. Unfortunately it is the nature of City living that bars and restaurants in key locations like Waterloo are charged MASSIVE rents and have to pay the bills somehow. I don't know who owns the Fire Station these days , but I could probably safely say they are not making massive profits overall.

It is a shame that wine is often used as the means to make the cash to pay the bills, but if it is on the list at this price, and people are prepared to pay it, then who is to say they are wrong. Did you try it? It isn't beyond the realms of possibility that it was worth it, but I am prepared to be sceptical.
Joined 09-01-2007
Posted on Thursday, 19 July, 2007 - 09:24 am:   

The Fire Station is reknowned for its wines and normally has a long a very varied price list. I havent been there for some time but if time and numbers allowed we tended to buy by the bottle which always works out considerably cheaper
Joined 19-05-2004
Posted on Thursday, 19 July, 2007 - 12:30 pm:   

Thanks Rob

I still canít get my head around wine in pubs. If I am eating in a pub I drink beer. If I am in a restaurant I drink wine. I thought that wine was served in 125 ml glasses, 175 for a large one, and this cost £2.50 - £4. It was a 250 ml serving, of what no doubt was a very good bottle. But if I had known that it was equivalent to almost £19 a bottle, perhaps I would have chosen different (I thought that decent house wine was £10 - £13, and disgusting stuff under a tenner). Iíve been rather scathing in my review on BITE on the Fire Station (written when I was still in shock), but so have many others!

Separately the charge maybe only a 10% premium on their beers Ė so why so much more for their wines which must deliver a far greater profit margin. Oh a fiver for a half cooked slice of haloumi was taking the Michael. Cíest la vie!
Joined 23-02-2005
Posted on Thursday, 19 July, 2007 - 02:45 pm:   

I think that you would be surprised how much these places make on beer.