Passive aggressive BYO policy

Whilst in the impressive wine section of M&S Lewisham on Sunday, I marvelled that such riches were available on Lewisham High Street when all around were pound shops and stalls were you can unlock your or indeed someone else’s mobile phone. I assume someone must be buying the Greek whites and Lebanese reds or they wouldn’t stock them. I returned home and read Nicholas Lander in the FT/ One of the restaurants he mentioned was a place that has opened not far from Lewisham called Peckham Bazaar. I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting a bit of it:

“John Gionleka is the Albanian-born chef at Peckham Bazaar. His repertoire extends, however, across the cooking of his native country to Turkey, Greece and Iran and he is ably supported by his sommelier, Florian Siepert , who has carefully put together an unusual wine list from Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary and Turkey.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? About my two favourite things are grilled Ottoman things and East European/ Levantine wines so immediately I went to their website to find out more.

On it was the following statement:

“Free BYO Saturday lunch only. Please no supermarket wine. Please.”

No supermarket wine. Seems on odd sort of instruction. I love the second ‘please’ as if even the idea that someone might argue with them is too painful to contemplate. You can see the owners closing their eyes and shaking their heads wearily as they utter these words. It’s not going to be an easy one to police. When someone comes in with a bottle of Wolf Blass Chardonnay are they going to be given a grilling (pun intended) about whether they bought it from a cornershop or the local Tesco’s Metro?

It’s hard to know why they have this instruction. Is it on aesthetic grounds? Would a bottle of commercial Malbec upset their carefully constructed flavours? I rather think though it’s on ethical grounds perhaps with a side order of snobbery thrown in. The owners think that supermarkets are a bad thing.

I don’t want to get into an argument about the ethics of supermarkets. On the whole I think they’re a good thing for the customer. Moreover, people like them. I’d say that nearly 100% of Peckham Bazaar’s potential clientele are supermarket shoppers. If they want to serve all the local community rather than just the dedicated foodies then they are going to have to put up with people who don’t share their views on supermarkets.

And this is the odd thing about it: they’re trying to impose their personal morality on their customers. It’s like a vegetarian restaurant not letting people in who wear leather shoes. Either have a BYO day or don’t, but don’t have one and then tell people where they can or can’t buy their wines.

The sad thing is that you can sort of see what they’re getting at. Support your local shopkeeper. If you are lucky enough to have good local shops, then for God’s sake use them as much as possible. If there is a good local wine shop why not ask them to offer a small discount to your customers on BYO day? It’s really not that complicated. You can spread a little bit of happiness through the community without having to resort to passive-aggressive diktats.

I’m still planning to go because the food sounds too good to miss. If i’m feeling brave I might even try to smuggle a bottle of M&S Xinomavro past the door police. As they open it, I’ll feel like I’m striking a blow for the ordinary folk of South East London.






Wine articles

Corner Shop Wine Challenge

Due to lack of funds, I have not been buying my regular cases of wine from Majestic or the Wine Society. As a result I am often caught out with no ordinary wine in the house so have to visit my local shop. Recently I’ve had a Lindemans Cawarra Cabernet Merlot – a bit grim, Wolf Blass Shiraz – tasted like an alcopop and a £2.99 Montepulciano d’ Abrruzzo – just about palatable chilled with spicy food. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something wonderful that I had missed? So for the inaugural meeting of my wine club, I decided that we should do ‘the corner shop challenge’. Guests were asked to bring a bottle from a corner shop for not more than £7 (everyone including me ignored this rule).

Planning the evening I turned to Michael Broadbent’s invaluable Wine Tasting for help: ‘do not underestimate the number of people required to help, from supervisor to coat attendant. Numbers and quality of staff will, of course, depend on the nature of the event, it size and the place.’ The staff turned out to be variable. One of them worked hard all day cleaning and preparing delicious snacks for the guests. The other got drunk and droned on and on about his failure to find a publisher for his book

Wine 1 – Yellow label Riesling, Wolf Blass, 2006 – £8.49 (the label was smudged – I thought it said £6.49)

Despite my years of drinking and reading about wine plus two years in the trade, I have never been able to shrug off the childish notion than an old wine is a good wine. When I go into a shop I wonder what dusty gems might be lurking on the shelves rather than thinking logically about what poor storage conditions do to a wine especially ones designed to be drunk young. I hoped that the Wolf Blass would have become honeyed and nutty like a Pewsey Vale Riesling I had a few years back. The colour was pretty, yellow/ green and it smelt like mature Riesling (albeit not a very good one). Sadly on the palate it was clear that it was past it: very little fruit, not much acidity and no honey or nuts. Boo!

Wine 2 – Fleurie, Louis Jolimont, 2009

Cheap commercial Beaujolais is one of the worst wines known to man so from very low expectation this was surprisingly nice. No strange confected taste, no high alcohol without any flavour. Instead it was light, refreshing and a bit bland – like reasonable cheap Beaujolais if not a lot like Fleurie.

Wine 3 – Rioja Reserva, Campo Viejo, 2006 – £10.50

Rioja is a good standby in a corner shop or a supermarket as it is so rarely bad. This one was, however , a disappointment: much too soft and smooth with no bite whatsoever and none of the perfume that you would hope for in an over £10 Reserva. This was like a Rioja-flavoured soup.

Wine 4 – Fantasia Torrontes, Bodegas Lorca, 2009

One of my guests arrived a little worse for wear clutching this bottle he had won in a raffle. This fitted in with the spirit if not the letter of my rules for the evening so I let him in. Torrontes is an Argentine grape that is, I think, related to Muscat. It can be a little cloying but this was nice – slightly sweet, aromatic and refreshing if a little dilute.

Wine 5 – Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir 2010 – £6.99

I like this one; it’s simple, meaty and delicious chilled with none of the jamminess that you can get in cheap Pinot Noirs. Not one to pontificate over but definitely the best wine of the night until we opened the. . .

Wine 6 – Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Max Ferd Richter, 2003, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Blimey what a mouthful! This was the reward to my guests for having braved the mean streets of Bethnal Green to taste such dull wines. Quick explanation of the name, the first part is the name of the vineyard, the second is the grape variety, Auslese means that it was made from specially-selected late harvest grapes which were full of sugar. Then you have the producer and finally the area in Germany where it comes from.

Obviously this was in a different league to the others. It was the only one where people actually stopped gossiping to savour the wine. This smelt of petrol and limes. It had a similar colour to the Wolf Blass but it seemed to glow and shimmer. On the palate it was very full-bodied, sweet, but not incredibly sweet like a Sauternes, with toasty notes. A lovely drop but certainly not great. It was missing that electric charge of acidity that you should get from the best German Riesling – it was a little flabby. The incredible heat of the 2003 vintage might be to blame for this lack of structure or perhaps being kept for five years in the back of my cupboard.

My conclusions for the evening:

1) When in a corner shop buy the youngest wine you can find preferably from one of the big Chilean brands such as Casillero del Diablo or Cono Sur.

2) Better yet just buy a case from the Wine Society. For £7 you can get something worth discussing, for £10 something sublime.

3) Don’t organise a wine tasting around boring wines.

All wines without links should be widely available apart from the Fleurie which is a bit of a mystery. The 03 Auslese might be a bit hard to track down.