While off-licenses in the mould of Threshers (pre-bankruptcy) do deals on cheap fosters, crates of vile-smelling WKD (seriously it's like smurf pee) and those cardboard boxes of wine with the little plastic tap, Bottle Apostle has an entirely different approach. The shop by Victoria Park, Hackney stocks about 350 wines as well as a small selection of beers and spirits. Shying away from big brands, Bottle Apostle stocks smaller unknown names that it thinks warrant more recognition. The Hackney shop has pleasing decor, a great atmosphere and shoppers are encouraged to take their time and try out the wines before they buy. Four enomatic sampling machines let thirsty customers sample one of 32 wines. Samples cost as little as 37 pence and are paid for using an Oyster style Bottle Apostle smart card, which can be regularly topped up. No enomatic sampling for me, though. Bottle Apostle also has an extensive programme of tasting and tutoring sessions in its cellar, including an introduction to champagne that I was going to.
It's a working cellar with stacks of wine boxes and crates against the walls. Three couples, myself and wine expert/general manager, Tom Jarvis (pictured above), sat around a simple rectangle table, which could have been a decorating table. The basic formula of the night was to taste eight different champagnes, a half-glass of each with the potential to go back to our faves. A small table at the back held crusty bread, roasted vegetables, cheese and meats should the bubbles have got to our head and Tom also gave us a handout with a few notes and space to write more about the champagnes we were about to taste.
He told us about the mousse of a champagne - ie how bubbly it tastes and that apparently the smoother the mousse the better quality the champagne; Tom also told us to keep opened champagne bottles outside in winter rather than the fridge door, which is the worst place because it's constantly opened and closed killing off the fizz even quicker and that if champagne is properly chilled then there's no need for a drop to ever be wasted, spilling over the side.
We learnt a lot more interesting stuff but without turning this into a Wikipedia entry on Champagne, I'll get on with the boozing. I particularly liked Henri Giraud Ay Grand Cru Fut de Chene 1998. As a vintage champagne, with all the grapes harvested the same year, it wasn't one you could drink quickly but it's almost creamy vanilla flavour was divine. It cost £130, though, so it's unlikely I'll be popping back to Bottle Apostle for a case but the good thing about the tasting session is that Tom also showed us champagnes that weren't so pricey. Even the other vintage champagne we tried was £37. At £35 a bottle Andre Jacquart Premier Cru Vertus Blanc de Blancs was one of the cheapest of the night and also one of my favourites: excellent cheapish taste. My absolute favourite was the £55 Gosset Grande Reserve Rose. Who - and I'm mostly talking to women here - doesn't love a drop of pink champagne?
While the evening started off relatively quiet, conversation picked up as the tasting went on, all the while Tom keeping up an interesting tutorial on the champagnes we tasted as well as a general guide to the fizzy stuff. His passion for smaller names was really infectious and he's nothing like your stereotypical wine buff. Giving some insiders' knowledge on the champagne brands that quaffers tend to go for, he was refreshingly unfussed by them. Moet is apparently at the bottom of the rung, with Verve Clicquot not far off and Cristal decidedly flat while Bollinger and Tattinger fare better with the general manager.
Anyone who loves champers will enjoy this evening. It's great to see how vastly different champagne can be and to be given the chance to taste rather than simply be told by some up in the clouds wine critic. Tom and the Bottle Apostle team are onto a winner.
Check out Fluid’s guide to the Top 10 Champagne Bars & Restaurants in London.
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