Thursday, 13 November 2014

Charlotte's Bistro in Chiswick - Wine List review

Last week I visited Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick. I had long wanted to visit Charlotte’s for a number of reasons: both it and its sister restaurant (Charlotte’s Place in Ealing) have been praised consistently for the high quality of their food; but also the Bistro has had a very successful and long-running gin evening called Gin School. When they asked me whether I would come by and take a look at their wine list for Vinspire I didn’t need to think twice!

Charlotte’s Bistro is run by Alex Wrethman and he explained to me that he had been looking at various ways to develop the restaurant’s wine list and to help to broaden the horizons of their customers’ wine options. They considered both enomatic machines (too expensive and too space-consuming) and coravins (for which there are still some reservations), but decided on a different strategy. Alex worked with Matthew Mawtus (previously of 1 Lombard Street, L’Etranger and Berners Tavern) in order to present a revamped wine list. They decided to keep the list simple: there are five sparkling options, three of which are available by the glass and two rosé, eighteen whites and eighteen reds on the menu. All of the still wines are available by the glass (125ml), by the carafe (375ml) and by the bottle (750ml). Alex explained that as the number of different wines on offer is relatively small this allows them to cycle through the wine at a fast enough pace that they don’t need to throw any wine away. On the menu, there are no bottles of wine for more than £60; this is because the focus is on providing excellent quality, affordable wine that people will want to drink all through the year – as opposed to stocking lots of bottles of Bordeaux at £200 - £300/bottle that only get ordered when someone has had their bonus paid. Furthermore, during the day they offer a wine “pot luck” option where for the price of the house wine you could get anything on the menu depending on whatever is open and needs finishing soonest.

What I found most interesting about the wine list was its breadth and depth. In eighteen bottles in the whites Alex and Matthew throw up some very intriguing options. There are some classics in there: Riesling from the Rheingau, Sancerre, Chablis, Alsatian Gewürztraminer; however there are some real surprises too: my interest was particularly piqued by a bottle of Rotgipfler from Austria – as far as I am aware this grape is only grown in Austria and in 1999 there were only 118ha of Rotgifpler under vine (source: Wikipedia). The story is repeated in the reds, just glancing through the menu there were so many wines that I wanted to try: a Kékfrankos from Hungary, an Austrian Pinot Noir, a Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso. It was going to be hard to decide what to try!

We decided that as there were three of us trying the wine we would pick two carafes of white to have with our starters and two carafes of reds to have with our mains. Unsurprisingly I opted for the 2012 Rotgifpler from Johanneshoff Reinisch (Thermenregion, Austria) which was tremendously exciting: pale, gold in the glass it had the most pronounced intensity of flavour on the nose with flavours of tropical (mango) and citrus fruits (lemon), whilst simultaneously exuding aromas of cut grass and smokey notes. On the palate it had green fruit flavours (pear and apple), with some slightly spiced notes (cinnamon, clove) that lifted the finish. It had a lovely length to it too. For the second wine we went for a 2012 Viognier “Les Contours de Deponcins” from Villard (Rhone, France). This was a very classy and elegant wine, a little held back on the nose but with aromas of stone fruits (peach). On the mouth it presented a wonderfully clean wine with lovely balance. Not as showy as the Rotgifler, but this wine went beautifully with my starter of White Onion Soup, Trompette de la Mort and Truffle Oil.

For the reds I again opted to try something unusual along with something more traditional. We started with the 2012 Negroamaro del Salento from La Casada (Puglia, Italy). In truth it was a little non-descript, it had some plummy elements, but it was a touch too astringent for me. However, this was one of the wines at the lower end of the price spectrum (£11 for a carafe), so the lack of complexity here was understandable. We pushed the boat out for the second wine, a 2010 Barolo “Serralunga” from Germano (Piemonte, Italy). Oh my! Deep, plum red in the glass, it had a black fruit nose (blackcurrant and blackberry), along with a vegetal note (blackcurrant leaf) as well as a somewhat deep and earthy note. I could have gone on and on smelling that wine. On the palate it delivered on the black fruit front (black cherry and blackcurrant), it still had noticeable tannins and acidity within the wine but they were nicely in harmony. This was a long, pronounced and regal wine. The Barolo went particularly well with my main course of Slow Cooked Lamb Rump served with Braised Shoulder, Red Cabbage and Sprouts.

I was extremely impressed with the wine list at Charlotte’s Bistro for many reasons: it allows people flexibility, you can try even their best wines by the glass or the carafe; there are prices to suit everyone; there are some truly interesting and unusual wines on the list. It seems that there is a lot more to go to Charlotte’s Bistro for then just gin!

Disclaimer: I did not pay for the wine; I did, however, pay for the food. The opinions contained above are my own. I would like to thank Alex, Charly and the team for their very kind hospitality.       

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