Andrew Polmear writes for the love of wine . . .
I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT of wine bars as being like the iPad. There we were, happy with our laptops and our smart phones, unaware that we needed anything in between. Then we saw what a lovely piece of kit the iPad was and we made it part of our daily lives. So it is with wine bars. We had pubs, some of which served decent wine; we had cafés and restaurants; so where was there room for something else? Step into L’Atelier du Vin on Dyke Road, just south of the Seven Dials, and you’ll find out. You are immediately cocooned in a warm, old-fashioned atmosphere of good taste, where armchairs have cushions, shelves have books on them, and Charlie attends to your needs as though he has all day just to talk about the wines on offer.
I went incognito and asked for two glasses of white “with character”. He recommended a chenin blanc from the Western Cape, South Africa, made by Indaba. Chenin blanc in Europe is used mainly in the Loire; it’s not thought of as a grape with huge character. So I was interested to find it was full-bodied and complex with a flinty edge to the fruit. It was exactly what I had asked for and reasonable at £7.50 for 150ml. In fact, if you can be bothered, you can get a bottle for £7.95 from winedirect.co.uk but at L’Atelier you are paying for much more than just the wine.
Charlie’s other recommendation was Spanish from an area (Monterrey), a grape (Godello), and a maker (Pazos-del-Rey) that I’d never heard of. It’s from Galicia and it was excellent: full-bodied again with an array of slightly edgy, mineral flavours. It cost £9. I don’t think you can buy it by the bottle in the UK.
Of course, I went back another day and, it being after lunch, had a glass of LBV port. In case you aren’t familiar with this, it’s port from a single vintage that’s been kept in oak casks for twice as long as the basic ruby port, i.e. about 5 years. It’s still ruby in colour but has more rich plumy fruit than a ruby. It was excellent and a bargain at £5.50.
L’Atelier has over 800 wines in stock, with an emphasis on the classic wines of France but plenty from elsewhere. They also have 350 spirits, and if you order a bottle and don’t want to finish it, they will keep it behind the bar for you. And they offer food, mostly cheese and charcuterie, which you can have served on a low table at your armchair. Main courses are available, Boeuf Bourgignon for example, for which you’d be offered a proper table in the dining area. Inevitably, it’s been prepared elsewhere and reheated, this being, above all, a wine bar.
There’s more: wine tastings are offered every month. In February, the date not yet fixed, it will be Rioja and northern Spain, and on 12 March, the Loire. And they don’t just serve wine and spirits; cocktails are a speciality. Go there, whether alone or with others. It’s special!
Andrew received no financial or vinous inducements to write this article.